For those overseas, it may seem a bit strange, but, in Australia, Christmas is the biggest holiday of the year. It’s traditionally a time when people take time off work and celebrate. (For our US readers, think something like Thanksgiving.) Sadly, the celebrations often have little to do with the birth of our Saviour; please pray for our nation.
This is a public health warning for the attention of all those involved in the cure of souls (here’s a representative list). A particularly insidious threat to spiritual wellbeing has been identified, and we need your help in eradicating it. The phenomenon has been dubbed ‘Bible Resistance’. The group in society most at risk from Bible Resistance are Christians who identify themselves as members of ‘good’, ‘faithful’ or ‘Bible-believing’ congregations.
I’ve been reading and enjoying David Ould’s series of posts on Handel’s oratorio ‘Messiah’ (David’s got plenty to say on the subject; make sure you check his archives.) If you get the chance to hear it this Christmas—better, to sing it—grab it with both hands. Even if you’re not a classical music buff, it is one of the most stirring introductions to biblical theology you are likely to come across in this present evil age.
No man is an island. entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Many Christian responses to the environment seem to obscure a very important doctrine. In their call to action, some recent books and pamphlets I have read on the topic hide the biblical notion that this world will be destroyed.
From time to time I’ve been on the receiving end of criticism about ‘playing the man and not the ball’—that is, for raising questions about the character of a speaker, rather than majoring on the content of their teaching. So people have wanted to say, for example, that it is impolite, rude and even ungodly behaviour to label a Brian Houston or a Rowan Williams as a false teacher in danger of hell, and to suggest, furthermore, that they are making their followers twice as fit for hell as they are themselves. (Oops, did it again! Let’s move right along; nothing more to see in this paragraph …)
Should we be extreme or should we be balanced?
You know what I mean by ‘balanced’: be generous, but not too generous; take Christ seriously, but don’t be a religious fanatic; tell the truth, but not to a fault, etc. This approach is as old, at least, as the ancient Greeks. Lots of voices in our lives call out for this balance: parents, colleagues, work, talkback radio, novels and academia. But are these the voices of wisdom?
I am currently working on a book to help introduce a new Christian to the Christian life. And as I have been writing it, I have been wrestling with the question of what should a new Christian expect? In particular, what should they expect about the results of being godly in the world?
Don Carson. John Piper. Mark Driscoll. Tim Keller. Mark Dever. Josh Harris. CJ Mahaney. Rip. Sync. Play.
Remember when you had to read Desiring God to know what John Piper thought? Remember when you had to buy JI Packer’s sermon collections on CD? Remember when you had to travel to a conference to hear John Stott speak?
One of my key roles as MTS Director is to encourage people to think about their life path and consider becoming a ‘fisher of people’ (Mark 1:17). Over the course of the last two years, I have come to realize that your average Christian has a very limited understanding of the different gospel ministry jobs that exist. So I did some ‘market research’ between January and June 2008. In any Christian gathering (where it was appropriate), I asked men and women this question: “I want you to picture in your mind’s eye a gospel worker—someone who is dedicated to prayerfully passing on the message of Christ to people. Picture this gospel worker/minister in your head. Have you got a person in mind? [People answer “Yes.”] Okay, tell me who they are.”
In the 1950s and 1960s, John Stott, amongst others, raised the bar in evangelical preaching. Stott, in his preaching and in his commentaries, showed three generations of preachers how to expound a biblical text. He unfolded the text, showed what was there, connected it with life, and did it all with passion and a clear, memorable structure. Those who heard Stott and the very best of those who preached like him, knew that they had been addressed by God. They knew why this part of the Bible mattered, why God wanted us to have it, and the difference it makes to life as a disciple of Christ. Whether they were being challenged or comforted, they were gripped by the teaching of Scripture and excited about studying the Bible. This style of preaching nourished faith, revitalized churches and taught people how to read the Bible for themselves.
I listened to a fascinating sermon recently on Jonah chapter 2. The preacher taught us about God and his awesome sovereignty, and about Jesus and how the patterns and promises of Jonah looked forward to him. But he also preached about Jonah himself. He talked about what it meant to be chastised by the Lord—to be brought low. He talked about Jonah’s experience of God’s judgement and discipline, and what we might learn from that as we experience God’s chastisement ourselves.
As a new missionary visiting a church recently, this was a question asked by one keen enquirer. He explained that he was a new Christian, he had just joined this church and he knew that it was a church that supported mission, prayed for people overseas and encouraged local mission. But he was a little embarrassed to ask what mission actually was.