Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Raised With Christ – online launch

January 7, 2010

As I was going to bed last night I checked my coms (email/facebook/twitter) as I always do before going to sleep and I came across a link to a live webcast on Adrian Warnocks blog. It was, of sorts, an on-line launch of his book Raised With Christ – How The Resurrection Changes everything. Upon my arrival on the site I soon realised that this was not the sort of webcast you can just browse to and listen in – rather, when you entered the site it logged you in and you were instantaneously a part of the discussion – it asked you to turn your mic and webcam on. Me, being on the way to bed, didn’t want to share my webcam (!) but eventually I got my mic working. This webcast therefore was more of a seminar than anything with a chance for everyone to ask question to Adrian.

Having stumbled upon the webcast on twitter rather than purposely planed to be part of it I didn’t really know what to say to start off with! Since I follow Adrians blog I knew a little about what the book was about and so I went for it and asked him a question. From my own experiences in the reformed evangelical world I was bought up in here in Wales I saw that Easter Sunday, the day when we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, was somewhat relegated to second position of importance behind Good Friday the day we remember the death of Christ on the Cross. Perhaps this becomes even more apparent when we look at David Bebbington’s summary of classic evangelicalism: biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all spiritual truth is to be found in its pages); crucicentrism, a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross; conversionism, the belief that human beings need to be converted and activism, the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort. Emphasis is put on the Cross and no mention, in Bebbington’s summary at least, to the resurrection.

I put it to Adrian in the webcast that both events and both days we remember and celebrate today as a consequence should not be seen as if they are in tension but rather both stem from each other. Both events are as of important in the history of our salvation and the scheme of God’s restoration of the World.

Adrian agreed with me, and so I slept quietly through the night.

Diarmaid MacCulloch

December 27, 2009

I enjoyed Diarmaid MacCulloch’s History of Christianity series on BBC 4. Apparently, and presumably because of it’s positive reviews, the series is being re-run soon, this time on BBC 1. So make sure you tune in if you missed it on BBC 4 first time round.

MacCulloch isn’t a Church Historian working from within the Church itself, but he isn’t a secular historian who’s just taken an interest in Church History either. Rather, he counts himself as a ‘friend of the Christian faith’ rather than a committed Christian or a committed Atheist – he’s a rare agnostic I suppose. This perspective is interesting and unique and it comes over in the programmes. Because he stands at arms length from the Christian Church itself he is willing to ask the questions and scratch the surface of subjects some Church Historians would avoid. And because he’s not just another Marxist or other kind of secular Historian he doesn’t just explain deep religious and spiritual movements in history through socio-economic paradigms – he’s willing to see spiritual power at work in history although he himself, at present time, hasn’t found peace in the spiritual sphere.

The television series is a spin off of his recently published magnus opus A History of Christianity. The witty George Pitcher made a good job of pointing out the absurdity of the book when he said in the Telegraph:

I haven’t read this book – but please don’t turn this page yet, because I’m going to provide you with a critique of sorts in a moment. First let me say that I don’t think anyone is going to read this book. It’s 1,161 pages long, for goodness sake. If you missed out the “begat” bits, you could read the Bible in less time.

So just watch the series when it gets repeated on BBC 1 some time soon.

Mark and Books

September 17, 2009

booksOne of my main responsibilities in the Church where I’ve started as a Pastor in-training is to lead the weekly Bible Study. I think I’ve settled on the idea of going through Mark – partly because I want to sort of follow Christianity Explored – I think I’ll be using the course as a’n outline but I won’t be running the course as such. Yesterday I went along to my local Christian bookshop which now gives me a whopping 25% off on everything because I’m a full-time Christian worker. Nice. The books I bought yesterday to help me with preparation were Christianity Explored – Leader’s Edition and Mark for Everyone by Tom Wright. I also couldn’t resist the temptation of buying C.J. Mahaney’s Cross Centered Life because apparently I have to read it and I also bought Mark Driscoll’s Religion Saves + Nine other Misconceptions if only for the amazing artwork.

Please pray as I prepare the series of studies from Mark. In the past I have felt leading studies more of a struggle and hard work than just plain preaching so please pray that I may lead people and open up the Gospel.

(I have added a new category to the blog posts, “Penuel Bangor”, I’ll tag any posts which talk about my work at the Church under that, this being the first.)

Report from the Tony Campolo meeting, Carmarthen

June 16, 2009

photo_1Saturday night I went to the Tony Campolo meeting in Carmarthen. The Chapel was packed out, possibly as much as 500 there, seldom do we see preaching meetings attracting so much people in Wales these days. Most of the people there were from the Baptist Union of Wales’s English convention which was held during the day but also a good number of local folks turned in – many of them Welsh speakers which was very encouraging.

The meeting started with some worship lead by a well rehearsed local (I presume) worship band. They launched through a few modern day classics like King of Kings Majesty, Mighty to Save and Light of the World before powering through the victorious Crown Him With Many Crowns. The Spirit’s present was very much felt during the singing by all who were there. This was followed by a word of prayer and a reading from scripture then Campolo took to the pulpit.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 34-40)

His message was a warm but also hard hitting mix of a call to personal faith in Jesus and a challenge for Christians to live their lives in the light that Jesus laid it all down for them. His delivery was rather eclectic – he used a lot of humor and also used a lot of stories he’d picked up during the years to convey his point. But when needed he reverted to some good old fashioned Baptist staring the congregation out and shouting on us to repent and follow Jesus anew.

photo

He finished his sermon with one of his often used motifs: “When you were born, you cried and everybody else was happy. The only question that matters is this: When you die, will YOU be happy when everybody else is crying?”

The meeting was bought to a close with the very Welsh, at the request of Campolo himself, Guide me O Thou great Jehovah. This was one of those meetings that I will remember for years to come.

The Political Bible

May 11, 2009

It will not do to argue that the Bible provides us with no guidance in political matters. Let us remind ourselves of our starting-point. Man is to serve the glory of God in every aspect of his life as a creature in creation. His religious obedience to his God is expressed in his work as a maker of culture. Politics is very definitely a part of man’s appointed sphere of religious labour. It would be astounding if the volume which is to serve as man’s guide in glorifying God refrained from saying anything about politics. And in fact, the Bible is a surprisingly political book. Is is rather interesting, in the view of the attention being paid at the present time to both the ‘Theology of Politics’ and the ‘Theology of Liberation’ that some of their leading principles were being promulgated in Wales well over a century ago. Gwilym Hiraethog knew his Bible. Worship and politics are not the same thing; but they cannot be divorced from each other without denying that God is God and that this world is his by right of creation and redemption.

Not my words but the words of R. Tudur Jones. Very interesting.

Emerging Vs Evangelical Vs Biblical

April 9, 2009

This post follows on from the last post about Rob Bell and also a kind of reply to a few questions raised by Steffan in his comment on the last post. I do appreciate Steffan and others’ comments which help me keep my feet to the ground and my eyes towards the Cross.

I said that the conservative evangelical scene I was bought up in (and which I still consider my self a part of) was strong on sin management theology (which is of the upmost importance, I’m not arguing otherwise) but weak on going on to seek a deeper understanding of the Cross, a deeper understanding of the restoration through Jesus, and deeper understanding of His Kingdom. Steffan mentions Don Carson, John Piper and Tim Keller, and here in Wales Gwynn Williams as reformed evangelicals who do address the issues I seem to think that have been largely neglected by that very tradition. First of all, I must admit that I am not familiar with the work of John Piper and Tim Keller and I’ll come on to Don Carson in a bit so let me address Gwynn Williams first.

Gwynn Williams

Gwynn Williams

Gwynn’s address to the Aberystwyth conference in 2007 (which is now published as a book called Croes fy Arglwydd) had a profound effect on me and I still regularly listen to the sermons in the car. What Gwynn did was to give an in-depth explanation and defense of the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement based on and exegesis of Romans 3:21-31. But although Gwynn’s addresses were majestic I don’t think even Gwynn himself would claim that he covered the full meaning of the Cross, the full implications of the restoration through Jesus and then it’s outworking through his Kingdom. Gwynn’s emphasis was important, perhaps the most important angle to get right but it was only half the story, the half I had been over fed with in the tradition I was bought up. Carrots and peas are good for you but eating only carrots and peas and nothing else is not good!

 

Tim Chester

Tim Chester

It’s not that I find the reformed evangelical account wrong; only that it tells half the story. There is another half to the story of the Cross and to the story of redemption and restoration. Perhaps Rob Bell and Brian McLaren over compensate a little at times (in the same way as some reformed evangelicals over compensate the other way) so let me put out four other names that get the balance better to bring this discussion back to the centre: in the States one could look towards Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis and here in England and Wales one could turn to the work of Tim Chester and Dewi Arwel Hughes.

 

I didn’t get round to talk about Carson, next time it must be.

I write this on the eve of Good Friday. Jesus died on the Cross for our sins, for my sins but Christ dying on the Cross was so much more than that. It was the crux of his restoring plan and the setting groundwork for the future establishment of a new heaven and new earth – the forgiveness of our sins was an important part of this but it wasn’t only that.

What can be learnt from Rob Bell?

April 8, 2009

Rob BellThe logic thought of great twentieth century evangelical intellectuals such as Francis Schaeffer, Herman Dooyeweerd, E. L. Hebden Taylor etc… was very modernistic in it’s outlook. They argued till death with modernism and it’s thinkers but they did it, ironically and probably unknowingly, in a modernistic way. They all, of course, loved their saviour, but their word view, one could argue was not a Jesus follower one but a modernistic one and they battled against modernism using modernism’s own intellectual tools rather than a humble Jesus from Nazareth way.

Rob Bell by going down a different route to the last generation of evangelical thinkers is not a heretic just for coming up with new post-modern approaches to intellectual dialog. He is simply doing what the previous generation did and what, of course, Paul did at the biblical Mars Hill! (Acts 17) One must engage the thought of the day to present Jesus as a personal saviour and as a universal redeemer.

I have been very much influenced by Mark Driscoll’s sermons since I first listened in 18 months ago. But if I think about it he doesn’t introduce any different ideas or emphasis from the emphasis I was taught growing up in a Conservative Evangelical Church here in Aberystwyth. He does it in a more cool/hip/rad/street-cred/cussing way, but content and emphasis wise it’s nothing new for me.

Rob Bell 1

Bell on the other hand balances me off nicely from an emphasis that was missing in my conservative evangelical upbringing. I became a Christian around the age of 14 I think – but for many years after that I didn’t grow in the faith because the only thing I was taught was sin management theology – I already got that and what I needed was a deeper understanding of the Cross, a deeper understanding of the restoration through Jesus, a deeper understanding of His Kingdom. From the age of 18 onwards I saw that there was more to Christianity than sin management theology and by the age of 23 when I first got hold of books by people like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell I discovered that there were other Christians out there who had been through the same journey as me!

Sure, some things Bell says I don’t agree with but are there any people out there who would agree that men like, say, Martyn Lloyd-Jones got it right on every single issue? Of course not.

Ok. Testimony over. Thanks for listening!

Should we explain or change the world?

March 11, 2009

I spent a good part, at least six months, of the first year of my PhD researching the Puritans. At first that might seem odd considering my PhD thesis is about the Christian political philosophy of a 20th Century man. At the time I did feel that I had wasted six months of my precious research time but now three years on it’s becoming ever clear to me that to understand politics and nationalism from a Calvinistic perspective one must start with the Puritans. Dr. Pope, my research supervisor, I forgive you.

Just a quick post today to share a brilliant quote I re-turfed from the big PhD box file today. Ironically it’s not a quote by a Christian it’s a quote by atheist marxist historian Christopher Hill, but it’s a brilliant quote about the Puritans:

Previous theologians had explained the world: for Puritans the point was to change it.

Magic isn’t it? That Puritan ethic is massive encouragement to Christians today; with all the new violence in Northern Ireland, the immorality of our economics and the sad sad news about the shootings from Germany, the puritan ethic spurs us on to bless and change society with the gospel.

Would the Apostole Paul have used short haul flights?

March 9, 2009

Highland AirwaysI read more of Dewi Arwel Hughes’ Power and Poverty last night. The thrust of what I have read so far is that God has ordained us to cultivate the land and that our laziness and shabby work in doing that cultivating leads to poverty and even death for millions of people elsewhere. Of course, Dewi presents the argument in a fuller and more articulate way. The reason I’m bringing this up now is because today I’m admitting to being part of a big structural carbon sin. I’m traveling down from Bangor to Cardiff and back to a meeting via aeroplane!

Let me first of all explain the economics of it. Compare these:

Train
Cost: £72.10
Out: Depart Bangor: 6.02, Arrive Cardiff: 9.58 
(Journey Time: 3 hours 56 minutes)

Return: Depart Cardiff: 17.20, Arrive Bangor: 21.40, 
(Journey Time: 4 hours 20 minutes)

Air
Cost: £53.90
Out: Depart Valley: 8.55, Arrive Cardiff: 10.00, 
(Journey Time: 1 hour 5 minutes)
Return: Depart Cardiff: 16.15, Arrive Valley: 17.20, 
(Journey Time: 1 hour 5 minutes)

The only catch with the aeroplane is that I have to drive 20 minutes to Valley from Bangor and I’ll have to take a taxi for 20 minutes from Cardiff Airport into the city itself; but three of us are going from Bangor via aeroplane so we’ll share a lift over to the airport and share a taxi the other end. Both services are heavily subsidized by the government but the aeroplane receives the most subsidy. 50% of the service is subsidized as I understand; so for every pound I pay Highland Airways the government give them another.

Arriva Trains WalesI’m not going to try and defend my flying antics but just look at the difference in journey times before you excommunicate me. I usually take the train, I really do, but this week I’m just too busy and the temptation, considering the convenience and time difference of the plane, was too much to resist.

What is the answer then? Massive investment to the rail infrastructure and rolling stock in Wales. Compare these services:

  • Bangor and Cardiff are separated by 130miles the train journey between both centers takes around 4 hours.
  • Birmingham and London are separated by 100miles and the train journey between both centers takes around 1.5 hours.

If Wales was served with rail infrastructure and rolling stock on par with England the journey between Bangor and Cardiff, in theory, could be cut to only about 2 hours; half of the time it takes now.

The cost of the upgrades to the Welsh lines would be colossal but that is the price society at large, humanity at large even, must pay to cut our CO2 emissions and thus show more respect and care for God’s creation. I might take Dewi’s book with me to read on the plane like some kind of catharsis!

R. Tudur Jones’ Christian Nationalism

March 9, 2009

R. Tudur JonesAfter the Second World War, the feeling that Welsh identity was in danger increased. For the Welsh Congregationalists this conviction exploded to the surface in the Undeb Ystradgynlais in 1950. The Undeb was the annual gathering of Welsh Congregational Churches who were members of the Union of Welsh Independents. The story is reported in the Tyst newspaper (the Tyst was and is the denomination’s weekly newspaper) in June 1950; this utopian report is in the June 15 edition:

The armies of Catholicism, Philistinism, materialism and totalitarianism are marching boldly and presumptuously. But among the principalities of the heavens, angels of ideals are at work. The country is waiting for the denomination’s unconditional declaration that it is on the side of the angels.

The following week, more flesh was put on the bones as the Tyst reported that the Reverend R.G. Davies had proposed that:

…in the face of the serious condition of the language in many of our churches, and also the constant threat to its prosperity in areas that are completely Welsh, this conference brings to the serious attention of the churches the appropriateness of establishing a branch of Welsh speakers in every church…

Promoting culture had been part of the denominations’ agenda for a long time, however Reverend Owen Williams’ next motion proved to be very controversial. He said:

That we the representatives of the Congregationalist Churches of Wales, firmly declare our conviction that we are acting according to God’s will in demanding self-government for Wales immediately.

Although it is not reported in Y Tyst, and although it should not surprise anyone, there are grounds for believing that Gwynfor Evans was partly responsible for the motion. The Congregationalists turned to R. Tudur Jones in 1952 in order to calm the storm of objections that rose against the Congregationalists’ stance on self-government for Wales. The pamphlet ‘The Congregationalists and self-government for Wales’ was published by Tudur Jones. In this publication, the young theologian makes his beliefs and convictions public to all.

Let us consider what Tudur Jones had to say about nationalism in this pamphlet. A key question that nationalists have to deal with is ‘why the nation?’ What is so special about the nation that measures need to be taken to protect and sustain it? First of all, Tudur Jones turned to Genesis 11, and the story of the Tower of Babel and the mixing of the languages and he argues that God destroys imperialism and places diversity as the order for the earth. He said: ‘Where men constructed uniformity, God demanded diversity.’ He said that uprooting the Welsh nation ‘…in the name of a kind of shallow internationalism’ repeated the crime of those who built the Tower of Babel. He is certain in his conviction that nations are part of God’s order and considers that his role, as a Christian, is to safeguard and protect God’s order to the extent that in 1972 he declared that promoting nationalism was ‘…one of the many ways of declaring the glory of the one who took us from darkness.’