A few weeks ago, Apple took the covers of the much awaited new iPhone. It didn’t quite live up to all the hype (iPhone 5 anyone?) but did mean that Apple remain top dogs in the Smartphone market. Much less eagerly awaiting was the news a day later that Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple had died after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. Even his enemies admired his bullish determination and technological savvy.
Steve Jobs was undoubtedly a prickly character, as testified by many who had to work or trade with him. In the height of the battle between Apple and Microsoft, the adage was that Microsoft had terrible software but a very amiable CEO (Bill Gates), while Apple had great software but a nightmare for a CEO. He was intense, driven and totally single-minded, which is why in many ways, Apple products turned out so well. They weren’t designed by committee, they were designed by a PR genius. Steve Jobs had a knack of knowing what people wanted when they didn’t.
As the new of Steve’s death spread across the web, the talk he gave when he was given an honorary degree at Stanford Uni went viral. In it he expresses his philosophy about life, death and everything else. Here’s a quote:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
He’s right about the first bit. No one wants to die, or few people do, but I think he’s terribly wrong about death being the single best invention in life. The reason no one wants to die is because death is the ultimate enemy, not a great invention. In fact, ironically, the death of Jobs has meant the techie world will be worse of without him for many many year. Death has a nasty habit of clearing away the best as well as the worst. Death is always unbelievably tragic.
I also think he’s wrong when he says that no one has escaped death. The Bible’s view is diametrically opposed to Steve’s. The hope of Christianity, the central hope is that death is not a full stop, it’s not the end, but a beginning of something greater.
The great news of the Christian gospel is that everything sad will not remain sad, but one day come untrue. Tim Keller notes that right at the end of the Lord of the Rings, there’s a brilliant insight into the Christian hope:
In the last book of The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee wakes up, thinking everything is lost and discovering instead that all his friends were around him, he cries out: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?” (Tim Keller)
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A few weeks ago I spoke at Trinity Baptist Church on the subject of the Shekinah Glory of God. The Shekinah Glory being “the radiance, glory or presence of God dwelling in the midst of his people.” according to the New Bible Dictionary. Basically the talk became a walk through of five passages in the Bible that talk about God dwelling with his people.
I called the talk Two gardens, two mountains and a city. The two gardens being eden and gethsemane. In Eden God walks in the garden in the cool of the day. God dwells with his people but when mankind sin they’re banished from God’s presence. However in Gethsemane Jesus says: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death“. This time God is in effect banished from the garden, from the presence of God so that we could come back in.
The two mountains were Sinai where God appeared before Moses and the Israelites in terrifying glory and the mount of the transfiguration in the Gospels where Jesus appears with similar power. The contrast there, is that while God demonstrated his transcendance to the Israelites (God is holy), in the person of Jesus, God demonstrates his immanence. A touchable God now dwells with his people. The city points to the New Jerusalem in Revelation when God finally dwells with his people permanently.
If you want to listen to the talk, you can download it here:
If you’re a visual learner, here’s a word cloud:
I read C.S. Lewis’ sermon/essay The weight of glory for the talk and throught I’d post that on here as well.
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Four Ways ‘New Calvinism’ is So Powerful
- Old Calvinism was fundamental or liberal and separated from or syncretized with culture. New Calvinism is missional and seeks to create and redeem culture.
- Old Calvinism fled from the cities. New Calvinism is flooding into cities.
- Old Calvinism was cessationistic and fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. New Calvinism is continuationist and joyful in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
- Old Calvinism was fearful and suspicious of other Christians and burned bridges. New Calvinism loves all Christians and builds bridges between them.
The issue I have is that this is just bitesize revisionist history. The message that comes out is that Calvanism 1.0 was a bit rubbish and now we have shiny new Calvanism 2.0 which is far better than the old one. Now I don’t deny that there weren’t problems with some of the reformers or their ideas, but at least be a little be more grateful for the theological shoulders that you’re now climbing all over.
The other issue I have is to assume that all calvinists who want to engage with culture are Pentecostal. Now I appreciate that there are many movements that are reformed and pentecostal and believe they’re doing a great work. But there are just as many culturally engaged calvinists who aren’t Pentecostal. I think times have changed and rabid cessationism is a thing of the past, but there are many practical cessationists who may believe that God can work through miracles today but feel that those miracles are somewhat less common and they’re still movers and shakers in the calvinistic world. Tim Keller and Mark Dever spring to mind. To say that historic Calvinism was ‘ fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit‘ is simply ignorant of most of their works as well.
And this leads me to a few more concluding comments. I find it quite hard to accept that traditional calvinists were supposed to have fled the cities when Calvin spend most of his life reforming Geneva and also find it hard to see how calvinists seperated from culture when their main aim was to see its reform.
All in all, I love the resurgence but comments like this are simply not very well thought out.
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Scientific triumphalists may realise that what they saying about the origin of the universe is ludicrous. Yet they persist because of their fear of the alternative explanation – God.
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Thanks to WPTouch at the click of just two links in the WordPress admin panel I now have an iPhone enabled view of the Theonology blog. If you have an iPhone why not try viewing this site in mobile Safari? I still can't quite believe how easy it was to get this working. It shows how far open source blogging has come that this sort of thing is so easy to get working.
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But when I think of how many overpaid sports figures, and how many haughty business executives, and how many self-consumed celebrities, and how many prideful political leaders have, in their bloated self-conceit, tried to arm-wrestle with God, and in doing so, walk over people, I think of this verse.
Listen, if you’re all caught up in this world’s values; if you’re fresh out of options this morning; if you feel that you’ve been dealt a crumby hand in life, then I have a message for you: Bring your case to the Almighty. Don’t fawn after actors and make fame or wealth your great goal. Don’t despair over which party wins the most seats in congress. Don’t lose sleep over how unfair your boss treats you. And don’t seethe over how wronged you have been in your life.
Let the song of Mary comfort you: God’s just letting the powerful strengthen their position and exhibit their puny influence for a little while. But one day, He will say, “Enough!” One day, “justice will flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream” (Amos 5:24), washing away the wrong and setting all things right. Bring your case to the Almighty. He is the Helper of the helpless.
Preparing a talk on Mary’s song (the Magnificat). Came across this quote in a sermon online. Good stuff.
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I would like to suggest that the best parts of our human nature can be seen in sacrifice or surrender. A mother sacrificing her time for her child, a teacher devoting her afternoons to help students off-the-clock. These are truly our most incredible moments as a species: moments of unmerited kindness. Goodness. Virtue. Nobility. Grace. Morality. These are the truly remarkable moments. Perhaps our current economic climate of debt needs a fresh perspective on worth and value. Maybe our monetary crisis indicates a broader loss of perspective.
We live in the land of plenty, the land of milk and honey, where the lottery of birth has given us the advantage of education, of wealth, and of opportunity. Ammon Hennessy puts it this way, “You came into the world armed to the teeth with… the weapons of privilege.” A trip south of the border can be an incredible reminder. We are living in the land of entitlement, one of the wealthiest nations in the history of mankind. And yet, money cannot buy us the true wealth of happiness, or peace, or of a deeper form of a meaningful life.
Perhaps the current climate of uncertainty would be the appropriate time to ask the question: what are we aiming for? Our technological achievements as a species are impressive. Our cities, our advancements in flight and our iPhones are all fairly remarkable. But there is nothing heroic about my cell phone. There is nothing sacrificial about it. Where is the song that’s worth singing? What is our measure of success? Renown psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl says that “success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as a byproduct of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”
Maybe the fix is not the money. Maybe two and a half hours in a theatre isn’t enough time for a hero to be born. Maybe it takes a lifetime- a lifetime like John M. Perkins. John Perkins is a man who devoted his life to those around him in simple and profound ways. He was quick to forgive, quick to utilize resources to help those in need. He has been a tireless civil rights worker who has endured beatings, harassments, and even prison for what he believes. With the help of his wife, Vera Mae, and a few others, he founded a health center, leadership development program, thrift store, low-income housing development and training center in his hometown of Mendenhall, Mississippi. His is a story of reconciliation, of forgiveness, of patience. He endured the suffering, holding on to a cause greater than himself.
John Perkins has is a song I want to sing. A song of a great man, the story of a legend. How do you replicate this goodness? Do you monetize it? Do you subsidize it? No. It’s bigger than Washington, it’s bigger than Wall Street. And it looks better than Hollywood. His is the story of a hero, a song of hope. His is a story that reminds me of a goodness beneath the system. Though Perkins was a devout Christian, he was quick to point out that this goodness is bigger than stale religion. Mr. Perkins once said that “many congregations do nothing but outsource justice.” John Perkins said it right- you can’t outsource justice. You can’t farm out goodness to someone else. Your life is yours alone. Those decisions are yours to make.
Great comments from Jon Foreman – lead singer of Switchfoot in his recent blog.
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A friend of mine passed on some talks by Tim Keller, a pastor in New York, about preaching. As a young preacher I'm always looking out for advice about how to improve and this series of talks he gave really delve into what makes a good preacher.
Prepare the preacher before preparing the sermon. He wasn't talking about prayer (although it's good to pray in order to prepare) but more about how a preacher develops. Most of the time preachers only plan for specific sermons. They prepare in a task oriented way. Keller argues that the best sermons are the ones that aren't specifically prepared. In other words, if you read widely, sermons are "discovered". In many ways they find you. Reading widely also helps the preacher become more rounded. The preacher who reads one opinion is in danger of being narrow and rigid, the preacher who reads two opinions can easily become confused but the preacher who reads six opinions is more likely to become balanced.
Read magazines across the spectrum. A good preacher immerses themselves in the world to which they preach. Keller argues that for his ministry in New York the best sources for doing this are magazines: political magazines (liberal and conservative), current affairs, post modern magazines. Anything your congregation will be reading and basing their opinions on. We need to apply this to our context.
Read book reviews rather than books. Magazines are a great way of sourcing information quickly and so are book reviews. Which preacher has the time to read lots of books? Even if you're a full-time minister it's impossible to keep up (physically and financially). The best way to overcome this is to read good book reviews. Reviews in broadsheet newspapers that go into detail about the latest books. This gives you the information to know where new books are coming from.
Read church history. Church history is largely neglected outside of theological college and yet it's a mine of great ideas. Reading church history shows you what's been important to the church throughout history. It also stops pride, when you realise that your insights have already been discovered and written about. It's humbling to realise we stand on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before us.
Listen to shed loads of sermons. It's easy to listen to sermons by contemporary preachers and be tempted to copy them. Listening to sermon tapes from the 50's and reading classic sermons stops you doing that (obviously you can't download Luther's sermons on MP3). People will think you're odd if you deliver a Jonathan Edwards' sermon off pat. To hone the craft of good preaching it's essential to listen to / read the masters.
Movies, plays, novels are windows into our culture. TV may provide a few tit bits but the good stuff is in the creative arts. They're also a good bridge over which to take the gospel. More aspects of the gospel are in books, plays and films that we think. They're especially good at analysing the nature of human sinfulness and need.
Don't right people off just because you don't agree with them on everything. I thought this was a great observation and much needed in evangelical circles. There's a massive temptation amongst evangelicals to caricature people. Just because we don't agree with everything a theologian says doesn't mean they have nothing to say. For example, just because someone like NT Wright may misinterpret aspects of the cross doesn't mean he doesn't have great things to say about the resurrection.
Read rapidly through the Bible. This is something I really struggle with, but it makes sense, not only to develop in our relationship with God but also in a strategic way. If you're reading through the Bible rapidly you're keeping the big picture in view all of the time. The better we understand the big picture of the Bible, the better we'll be at understanding the details.
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Recently I posted a link to a quote Tim Keller gave at a Preachers convention from Sinclair Ferguson about how the whole Bible is about Jesus. It’s a great quote (read it here). There’s no record of it on the web but the Proclamation Trust have published a similar article. Download pdf version is available here for free. Definitely worth a read.
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I saw this on the internet a while ago. Bono (of U2 fame) has long facinated me. I’ve read a lot of short descriptions of Christianity on the internet but this one caught my eye. Rarely have I read an explanation that puts it better than this and it comes from a rock star!
Is Bono, the lead singer and songwriter for the rock group U2, a Christian? He says he is and writes about Christianity in his lyrics. Yet many people question whether Bono is “really” a Christian, due to his notoriously bad language, liberal politics, and rock star antics (though he has been faithfully married for 23 years). But in a new book of interviews, Bono in Conversation by Michka Assayas, Bono, though using some salty language, makes an explicit confession of faith.
The interviewer, Mr. Assayas, begins by asking Bono, Doesn’t he think “appalling things” happen when people become religious? Bono counters, “It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.”
The interviewer asks, What’s that? “At the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one,” explains Bono. “And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that. . . . Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.”
The interviewer asks, Like what? “That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge,” says Bono. “It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.”
Then the interviewer marvels, “The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.”
“The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death,” replies Bono. “It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of Heaven.”
The interviewer marvels some more: “That’s a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has His rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that farfetched?”
Bono comes back, “Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: He was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says, No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: ‘I’m the Messiah.’ I’m saying: ‘I am God incarnate.’ . . . So what you’re left with is either Christ was who He said He was—the Messiah—or a complete nutcase. . . . The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me that’s far fetched.”
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