Clarity in Epistemology, Theories of Truth, Precision in Communication, Facets of Reality, and More Photos of Food

July 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Sunday lunchIn between the innumerable barbecues (the English sort requiring shielding with brollies from the London rain) and having people round for dinner, have been pondering the necessity of clarity in thinking about things and precision in communication. (The Tutor first raised it when we were chatting a few months ago about the setting up of apprenticeship schemes in churches. Female Tutor thought this was one of my (very few) strengths, i am not so certain as most of this blog demonstrates… Was also talking about this with Online Bookshopkeeper and wife last month.)

ox cheek, green beans with hazelnuts, sweet potato mash, grilled aubergines and tomatoes with mozarella

Clarity in Epistemology

Possibility of Clarity
But before we even consider the subject, the question should surely be whether there is even the possibility of epistemological clarity*, both for the unbeliever with his unregenerated mind and for the believer living in this fallen world?

One of the most common presuppositions in modern thinking is that the human mind and all it generates (theories in various sciences, humanities) should have the utmost claim to the authoritative interpretation of reality. But if Scripture is right**, human brain power cannot be the ultimate in the process of evaluation, because it is corrupted by sin:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practise such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practise them. (Romans 1:18-32)

  • If God has established objective reality (“truth”), and
  • humans because of their refusal to acknowledge God as God by worshipping him or thanking him,
  • have suppressed the truth about God, then
  • they have become so corrupted in their thinking that they are unwilling and unable to know the truth and act accordingly.

This is why Jesus didn’t say that we just need to try a little harder to be good or to turn over a new leaf, but that we need to be born again to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3) – we need a whole new existence.

For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:9b-18)

However, as human theories in the sciences and humanities attest, mankind has not been completely blinded to the truth. We have still been made in the image of God (though now flawed), have still been allowed to live in God’s world, and can still observe, dimly, consistencies in the way the world works and, with what we have termed as chemistry, physics, biology etc, have attempted to categorise and explain these consistencies and so predict the outcome of things.

The sad fact is that in our arrogance, we assume that this common grace, this cataracted view of reality should then be the basis on which we judge God. We are ignorant that we are like blind men feeling bits of an elephant.

beef bone marrow with panko and gentlemen's relish, blue sirloinPresuppositions
“How can you believe in God when science says otherwise?” is the usual question thrown about. But this challenge is founded on shaky presuppositions**.

Fundamental to all human thinking, whether in the sciences or in economics or philosophy is that which we call logic and reasoning. However even these are merely epistemological theories following the use of the human mind or human perceptual apparatus. While it is possible that the existence of synthetic a priori stuff or observable phenomena may point to the self-consistency of the Creator, our theories about them cannot limit him, since he alone has established reality and we are merely poor half-blind observers of it. Good try, Descartes, Kant et al.

Further, in logic theory, most science is based merely on inductive reasoning – that is, that its conclusions are merely possible or probable, given the truth of the premises. So its conclusions are actually a not-completely-adequate subset of a not-completely-authoritative theory. To base one’s evaluation of the truth on “what science says” is therefore quite erroneous.

Even further, the scientific method is only one of many ways that humans have come up with to acquire knowledge and analyse the truth. We do not consider the truth in a court of law or in a history book (or even in a newspaper) by requiring similar empirical or measurable evidence.

a forest of carrot and beetroot greensa forest of carrot and beetroot greens

grilled aubergines and tomatoes with basil leaves

Clarity
So then, clarity. There is a sense in which we can and should engage people’s minds in pointing them to the truth. Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles all used language and argument to communicate the truth.

Wonder how many apologetic strangleholds can be broken (humanly at least) by attending to, and interacting with, the other party’s theory of truth. Most of the time, the other party relies on some background in his thoughts but is not yet aware of (i) his truth presuppositions; and so (ii) the diverse methodologies proposed by humans for determining the different sorts of truths. For example, he may assume that all truth must be proved by the narrow epistemological method that pertains to proof of scientific hypotheses, and so neglect the whole school of historiography and historical method in determining the veracity of an account of an event in the past.

But ultimately of course, a change of mind that comes with re-birth, is the work of the Spirit, who is likened to the wind – it blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes (John 3:8).

stack of grilled tomatoes, aubergines, mozarella with basil leaves and balsamic reductiongrilled aubergine, tomatoes, with mozarella

Precision in Communication

There is a need for clear thinking in the minds of believers too in their theology and doctrine. (For further discussion.)

Additionally, since we should already be of the same mind, there should be precision in our communication with each other (as well as in apologetics of course). How many good-faith arguments (cf. bad-faith trolling) might have been nipped in the bud by parties:

  • having clarity on the exact definition of terms used in the argument – most of the time i find i have been arguing at cross-purposes with someone because we’d neglected to first lay out the contents of the package we called “faith” or “gospel” or “God’s sovereignty” or “reading the Bible for ourselves”;
  • not succumbing to the false bifurcation that so besets so many political rallies; humbly considering that differing views may be complementary rather than contradictory.

Note that none of this suggests that reality is relativistic (in the sense that there is no objective reality, or that such objective reality cannot be determined). Rather, it wonders whether objective reality is so faceted and our human understanding so limited that the same thing needs to be described in several ways that are complementary and not contradictory to each other. We should not quarrel over the priority of one Scriptural facet over another, if Scripture itself does not prioritise one over the other.

rhubard and pear compote, fromage frais and double cream, shortbreadcompote of rhubarb and pear, shortbread crumble, fromage frais and heavy cream

strawberries and cream

*disregarding for the moment questions as to the absolute value of clarity
**how a fallen mind can establish this is a whole other discussion, Münchhausen et al

For own reference, currently reading:
Vern Sheridan Poythress’ Logic
Vern Sheridan Poythress’ Symphonic Theology

Kitchen Experiments and Hermeneutics

June 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Now that School is finally over, have been using rainy days to consolidate and masticate on things. Naturally, this has required the presence of Activities of Minor Distraction – like cooking and baking, the products of which have been greatly appreciated in the innumerable socials that have mushroomed now that summer is really here.

Just like a sustained period of playing around with food gives even an amateur like me some sense of the flavours and textures of ingredients and an idea of how they might fit together, so the last two years of having to handle and teach the Bible daily have been very useful for getting a tiny feel of how God’s word in Scripture works.

So a re-look at my hermeneutics, with loads of chatting with great people in both the Local Church and wider family – not a major revamp but a tidying-up and ordering of material. Hermeneutics isn’t just the preserve of biblical scholars and pastors and teachers – it is essential to understand what God is saying in his word because God’s word is essential to the life of his people; every debate in Christian history would, at least in part, be concerned with hermeneutical issues.

smoked tuna
smoked tuna on Poilâne sourdough bread

Untitled
tenderstem asparagus, rocket leaves, broad beans, Pomo Dei Moro tomatoes, mozarella cheese on Poilâne sourdough bread

rump steak, candied radishes, rocket leaves, baby carrots
rump steak, candied radishes, rocket leaves, baby carrots

ox cheek with red wine and port sauce, on wasabi mash potato
ox cheek with red wine and port sauce, on wasabi mash potato

Parking some transitional thoughts here for the moment (to be demonstrated at a later time: how each of these points should be backed up by Scripture):

  1. Assumptions: (i) that the original text of the Bible is God’s word to humankind; (ii) that God has a message that he wanted communicated to its original hearers/readers (as the case may be) and also to his people thereafter; and (iii) that there is therefore a primary meaning to the text (that must be adhered to, precluding postmodern subjective personal “I like to think that this is saying” interpretation) and it is comprehensible to humans.
  2. Original languages and translation issues. The first step in biblical hermeneutics would be to understand God’s word in its original languages – mainly Hebrew and Ancient Greek. This isn’t something that most of us can do, given that we do not have working knowledge of those languages. But if we are reading the Bible in another language, then we need to keep all the issues of translation (see Robert Stein on The History of the English Bible.) in mind as we exegete (one version of) the English Bible: for example, many words in one language may not have an equivalent in another language, so translators would have to make a decision how to render the meaning of the word without inserting it too awkwardly in the sentence. As a poor alternative, D.A. Carson suggests reading several good (query: good) versions in the destination language.
  3. Comprehension skillz. The basic toolkit laid out in books like Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach’s Dig Deeper (and its very imaginatively-named siblings) is useful, but the tools themselves need to be wielded with discernment and finesse in different passages and books of the Bible, without accidentally taking anyone’s eye out. Experience is needed to know which tools to use together and which ones might take precedent over another in each context. Then there are other more specialised instruments generally useful in comprehending any text, eg. understanding the use of rhetorical devices.
  4. Logic and textual context. Beware errors of reasoning and inference (see Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies and Must I Learn to Interpret the Bible). Remember also that meaning is linked to context. Consider the concentric circles of context: immediate context (eg. in an epistle, its place in the argument), book context (how that particular human author uses language, themes), biblical theological context (eg. covenantal – words might be used differently in the two covenants), canonical context (“analogy of the faith” – Scripture is its own interpreter, because behind the whole of Scripture is one Author – see Michael S. Horton’s (am i the only one who feels compelled to scream “Horton hears a Who” everytime i see his surname?) Interpreting Scripture By Scripture). Beware “canon within a canon” (see Carson’s Biblical Interpretation and the Church).
  5. Historical and cultural context. God has not given us a culturally or historically-neutral textbook. Beware erroneous generalisations. In relation to injunctions: (i) beware absolutising one-off commands; (ii) understand God’s rationale behind command – what God wants and so how to apply in different cultural context.
  6. Beware presuppositions. Be aware of how your own historical, cultural, theological presuppositions are affecting your reading of the Bible.
  7. Getting to Christ. In respect of point (4) on biblical theology and canonical context and point (6), consider (i) the Biblical evidence for Jesus Christ being the controlling factor in all exegesis; and (ii) what this actually means! Consider law and gospel, redemptive-historical, covenantal, typological, anti-type, kingdom of God (God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule), promise-fulfilment etc perspectives. See Graeme Goldsworthy’s Biblical Theology and Hermeneutics.
  8. Remember that it is God’s word: therefore, any exegesis is done reverently, with a view to sitting under his word.
  9. Reality check. Remember that we are fallen creatures – therefore our intellect is imperfect. Yet, remember also that we who are God’s children have God’s Spirit within us.

homemade scones scones with homemade strawberry jam
afternoon tea from scratch – homemade scones with homemade strawberry jam

raspberry bakewell cakes
raspberry bakewell cake

deconstructed apple pie
deconstructed apple pie – apple confit, crushed Digestives, homemade caramel, whipped double cream, cinnamon dust

strawberry watermelon gluten-free cake
strawberry rosewater watermelon gluten-free cake

strawberry cheesecake
stacked strawberry cheesecake

John Frame, Doctrine of the Word of God

 

Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog

June 17, 2014 Leave a comment

We were brainstorming films for movie night, and I thought that you could never go wrong with a Kieslowski. (This was proved erroneous by the averse reaction to someone’s independent choice of Decalogue I for film night on the Long Weekend Away.) His Dekalog television series is a masterful example of film-making and effective story-telling. It is also a good observation of how the complexity and breadth of the so-called Ten Commandments and how the utter fallenness of this world affects our obedience to the commandments.

The characters in all 10 films appear to live in the same drab apartment block neighbourhood. They are dressed in normal dull clothes, live in normal dull apartments, are balding and aging; normal people wrestling with these issues in everyday life. And then there is a man who appears in most of the films – he never gets involved, be is always observing.

Only slightly coherent blurbs below:

Dekalog I: “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me.”

Computers, mathematics, logic cannot answer the questions of death and souls. They cannot reveal meaning and purpose and the dreams of loved ones. They can’t be trusted to predict the future. They are not God. The computer is a false god.

Dekalog II: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

Powerless doctor is pushed to play God. He is Christian (see Dekalog VIII).

Dekalog III: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

Sabbath equated with Christmas Eve (or Christmas?). The sacredness of Christmas eve (Christmas?) is understood universally – a day to be set aside for family, for going home. We think it a sacrilege that it should be spent with other people, elsewhere. Even though we understand that Christmas is the day we celebrate God-with-us, yet we do not rejoice in putting aside the Sabbath to spend time with God.

Dekalog IV: “Honour your father and mother.”

People are not one’s father and mother merely by blood. Rather, it is when a female chooses to honour a male as father, rather than merely a member of the opposite gender, does he truly become her father.

Dekalog V: “Thou shalt not kill.”

A prohibition against harming another. But who harms who? The law decides. But the law doesn’t adjudicate all wrongs. And don’t the enforcers of the law also harm the perpetrators? Jurisprudence, philosophy of sentencing. Who decides when taking a life is wrong in one scenario and right in another?

Dekalog VI: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

A teenager wants to possess (in a non-sexual manner) someone who isn’t his wife; an older lady has multiple sex partners without loving any of them. Adultery either way since adultery is lust for another person outside a marriage relationship.

Dekalog VII: “Thou shalt not steal.”

Who is stealing from whom in this film? Is attempting to possess what one should not legitimately have a right to, even if that thing isn’t property but a person, stealing? Is attempting to reclaim what rightfully belongs to you, stealing? But to whom does a child rightly belong – biological mother or functional and legal mother?

Dekalog VIII: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”

A web of lies. In 1943, a Catholic couple back out of an agreement to hide a Jewish girl, citing incompatibility with this commandment. In fact, they were lying – they backed out because someone had themselves given false testimony against the people who brought the girl in, saying that this was a sting operation by the Germans.

Dekalog IX: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.”

Perhaps this commandment is less about coveting and more about being content with what one has – flawed and little as it may be (a beautiful voice, an impotent husband, a childless future).

Dekalog X: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods.”

“You can covet everything,” sings the younger brother at a metal concert,”because everything is yours.” Not so cool when he and his brother inherit valuable stamps that other people want. The brothers are obsessed with completing a final valuable collection that they give up their families and careers and one kidney – is stamp collecting a type of legitimised coveting? But all for naught – in the end, they lose everything to another’s avarice.

Benvenuto Cellini, Performance in Preaching

June 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Benvenuto Cellini, London Coliseum, English National Opera, LondonLast evening’s outing to the opera was the most extraordinary treat. Three hours of Terry Gilliam (for the English National Opera) x Hector Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini flashed past, with exuberant mardi gras balloon figures, colourful tumblers and fire jugglers and acrobats who would fit right in a Cirque du Soliel troupe, Roman soldiers doing the can-can, and little illusion delights – Fieramosca falling into a “well”, characters switching places.

The Piranesi-inspired set and costumes were a crazy muddle of centuries and styles. It was hard not to wolf-whistle when Willard White’s somewhat lecherous camp Pope Clement VII dressed in Mikado grandeur appeared with ironic deus ex machina timing. Smooth onstage set changes in Act I were of West End musical quality, while the acting was a mash-up of classic opera and slapstick.

Benvenuto Cellini, London Coliseum, English National Opera, LondonWould it be fun to get back into theatre? Yes, but all the time spent on rehearsals would be put to far better use elsewhere. Plus i was never much good any way.

But a strange thing past training is. It resides in your so-called sub-conscious and emerges sometimes in the most strange ways: i was so nervous about having to lead the church in corporate prayer on Sunday that hurling lunch all over the music team was a real possibility (exacerbated no doubt by motion sickness from trying to write out the allocated 7 minutes on the coach back to London from an exciting but tiring weekend away). A brother had to patiently counsel me, calmly repeating that it was their pleasure to have me do so, and not to worry. Upon taking a microphone from the Rector however, a sudden calm descended to the point that i observed, 3 minutes in on the lectern egg-timer, that not only had i fallen asleep while talking, i’d deviated from my notes and…in fact, appeared to have started preaching (the horror!). Managed to steer self back, then scampered off as soon as possible.

You’d have thought that corporate prayer could not ever be seen as a performance. Unfortunately, in addition to the nice strangers who came up to say thank you for the moving/helpful time of prayer, there were two people who said they wanted to stand up and applaud afterwards. Even more unfortunately, i didn’t manage to control myself enough to not express shocked anger, which scared them away. Oops – my double bad.

The driving force for what we do must never be performance, nor must any act be perceived as drawing attention to self rather than God. Still, how much of what we do up in front of a body of believers should be influenced by rhetoric/oratory theory? How can we ensure that the message can be conveyed in an accurate and memorable manner? Paul’s letters suggest that his boast in his lack of eloquence does not equate to a total disregard for the use of rhetorical devices in the communication of gospel truths.

Hand-painted Cards, Tarts and Cakes, Preaching from the Old Testament

May 30, 2014 Leave a comment

This last May bank weekend has been fantastic: three couples got engaged, then we had a crazy birthday celebration in the church office, and several more planned for the next few weeks, together with many engagement parties. So much happiness all around.

Have been ordered to rest completely today, and was even given money with strict instructions that the notes must be used for “relaxing and having fun”. The argument that meeting up with people and reading the Bible with them was really my idea of fun was universally scorned.

hand-painted hand-lettered naif art thank you cardIt’s been difficult to dismiss the nagging feeling that i should to get on with writing a talk for next week, as well as thinking about what to say when leading the whole church body in corporate prayer this Sunday…But i’ve given my word not to work. So am casting around for things to do. Used the money to purchase a Winston & Newton bamboo box of half-pan watercolours and have thus far painted a card for a family, complete with pirate paraphernalia for the 4-year-old, and another that turned out to resemble (but did not attain to) the naif art of Rifle Paper Co. and Quill & Fox (eek, look at the somuchfail word spacing and the horrible hand-lettering!).

raspberry and blueberry fruit  tartHave also made a raspberry and blueberry fruit tart, garnished with leaves from our house’s mint plant, for Associate training this afternoon.

Raspberry Ground Almond and Semolina Bakewell CakeExperimented substituting semolina for ground almond in raspberry bakewell cakes. Interesting how traybakes of this cake x jam variety (think Victoria Sponge) are favoured by the British, compared to the sweeter sheetcakes favoured by the Americans.

And the story about eating the cake was this:

people eating the cake: this is really good cake!
me: can you taste the salmonella in it?
people who suddenly stopped eating cake: what?!
me: the salmonella
people: *silence*
me: no wait, i meant that thing that doesn’t kill you!
people: you mean semolina…
some wise guy: i was wondering if salmonella had a distinct taste

Apple Sheet CakeNot something done today but for the record, words cannot describe how mundane and ordinary, and even ugly, this traybake is. Fortunately, the apple and caramel cake went down well with tea-drinkers after last Sunday’s morning meeting.

I’ve been thinking lately about preaching from the Old Testament narrative. Amongst evangelicals, there seems to be two main views:

  • the hodge-podge of lecturers at the School leap very quickly to Christ either via biblical theology (covenant, promise-fulfilment, shadow-reality-thanks-to-Hebrews) or by typology (though not allegory). If you don’t get to Christ, they say, you would not be preaching a Christian sermon. The Principal is fond of quoting Charles Spurgeon on this: “Don’t you know…that from every town and every village and every hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London? So from every text of Scripture there is a road to Christ. And my dear brother, your business is, when you get to a text, to say, now, what is the road to Christ? I have never found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if ever I do find one, I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it”. After all, all Scripture is fulfilled in Christ…; and
  • the Tutor at the Local Church likes to train people in the somewhat converse view (an issue of emphasis perhaps?) – that the Old Testament text must first and foremost and primarily be read in its historical context, unless there is a clear line to Christ. Dale Ralph Davis, i think, holds the same view -  that not every text speaks of Christ directly.

Winston & Newton Watercolour Half-Pan Bamboo Box SetListening to many of my coursemates’ sermons though, make me wonder about the first view – in practice, they miss alot of the detail of the Old Testament text and sometimes appear to shoehorn the cross into the sermon, making it predictable and not an entirely honest exegesis of the passage. Within my practice groups, I am quite alone in this opinion. Of course, bad disciples don’t discount the validity of a theory.

Perhaps the better way is not to attempt to navigate between these views but to commence by considering:

  • how the New Testament treats the Old Testament – the New Testament is infused with the Old Testament and the Old Testament was incomplete, awaiting the New Testament. What Sidney Greidanus says in his Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: a contemporary hermeneutical method seems most reasonable: the Old Testament must be interpreted not only in its own context but also in the context of the New Testament. Given the unity of the two Testaments, we are left with a hermeneutical circle where one can only really understand Old Testament passages in light of the New Testament and its testimony to Jesus Christ, and also, one cannot really understand Jesus Christ until one knows the Old Testament.
  • what it means to “preach Christ” – preaching sermons that authentically integrate the message of the text with the climax of God’s revelation in the person, work, and/or teaching of Jesus Christ as revealed in the New Testament (more than 10 words, Mr. Greidanus!)

So Greidanus suggests:

  • first understand the passage in its historical context;
  • next, understand the  message in the contexts of canon and redemptive history (redemptive-historical progression, promise-fulfilment, typology, analoygy, longitudinal themes, contrast).

I don’t think either of the above viewpoints would disagree. The issue is really linking the testaments as the Spirit intended. Loads more to be read/said/discussed. But now to pack for the weekend away!

Also:
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament
David Helm and John Woodhouse at The Proclamation Trust’s Senior Ministers’ Conference 2014

Mother’s Milk, MacIntyre Coffee, New Row Coffee, God Word that Keeps Us from Falling

May 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Some weeks, the weight and yet otherness of people’s existence presses insistently upon one’s own consciousness – exciting it, almost overwhelming it. A disjointed account follows:

Mother's Milk Coffee, Little Portland Street, London Mother's Milk Coffee, Little Portland Street, London
Mother's Milk Coffee, Little Portland Street, London Mother's Milk Coffee, Little Portland Street, London

Met a bunch of coffee folk from Malaysia at Mother’s Milk Coffee (12 Little Portland Street, London, W1W 8BJ). We chatted about the scene in Kuala Lumpur and in Singapore – current state and future plans. I tried to explain what I was doing in London and why I was reading a book on sex. A strange otherness. Meanwhile, the boys attempted some form of continuous pour latte art. That’s the sort of place Mother’s Milk is – small, cosy, informal, with self-deprecation by the milk jug-ful, serving Kaffee Kommune‘s Odyssee Espresso (70% Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Worka, 30% Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Adado) like a blueberry burst.

MacIntyre Coffee, Hoxton Street, London MacIntyre Coffee, Hoxton Street, London
MacIntyre Coffee, Hoxton Street, London MacIntyre Coffee, Hoxton Street, London

The interior of MacIntyre Coffee (facebook, 13-21 Hoxton Street, London, N1 6NL) was an exercise in practical plywood simplicity. Ceremony Coffee, I think, but was too busy reading to remember. :-(. Grabbed a few whisky bottles of Sandow’s Cold Brew Coffee Guatemalan savoury goodness (very Brand’s chicken essence-y!) for friends at the upcoming sunny weekend away. Regulars came and gave updates on how their days were going. The otherness of lives shared, yet not quite.

New Row Coffee, London New Row Coffee, London
New Row Coffee, London

Made surprisingly fast friends with some of the other attendees at the Oakhill Theological College Open House – long chats about life with God as we walked the grounds and had lunch in the canteen before they gave me a lift to town. Read in New Row Coffee (24 New Row, London, WC2N 4LA) before going to dinner with some folk from Word Alive 2014 who were down from the north for a conference. We talked about the situation in Beijing and Shanghai, how the statistics of Christian growth in China did not and could not show the numbers who though claiming faith, had no concept of the gospel, nor others who, for lack of good teaching, had started to put their trust in everything other than Jesus.

One person at the hotpot dinner was going out to a Chinese city, fairly sure that she would not see her loved ones in this life again, but trusting that her priority must be God’s priority – the glorification of his Son Jesus and the growth of Jesus’ kingdom. For her, there was neither the cowardice of hiding behind familial excuses, nor the blind fanaticism of youth, but a cool weighing of costs, and a considering that there is nothing more important in this world than to do God’s will by teaching his Word to people to convict them of the truth and keep them safe.

What strange dissonance too in having a brother round for a meal before he left for a country in Africa, both of us aware that he might soon be an article in the Barnabas Fund newsletter. How strange to lope across London Bridge with Curate, chattering on about mundane things, yet realising the ultimate futility of placing any value on the things of the world as the setting sun brought us a day closer to the inevitable persecution that must accompany the proclamation of gospel (see the Book of Acts, amongst others) and also the day of Christ’s return (see 2 Peter, also amongst many other books in the Bible!).

Fabrique Bakery, Geffrye Street, Hoxton, London Fabrique Bakery, Geffrye Street, Hoxton, London
Fabrique Bakery, Geffrye Street, Hoxton, London
Fabrique Bakery, Geffrye Street, Hoxton, London Fabrique Bakery, Geffrye Street, Hoxton, London

In the meantime, there is the weight of the fallenness of this world: being told how a brother in Singapore was caught scheming to commit adultery; one day, being at Fabrique Bakery (Arch 385, Geffrye Street, Hoxton) with a friend, feeling the weight of my mate’s depression brought on by burden of responsibility trying to help victims of atrocities that might not even have made the news anywhere – the helplessness of a human trying to play God. The weirdness of sharing the last bits of a very excellent cinnamon bun while talking about this. And just a fortnight ago, consoling someone whose best friend and beloved grandfather were both diagnosed with cancer just before her exams, and urging her not, in her distress, to distrust that God is both in control, and good and loving.

Peloton & Co Cycle Cafe, Spitalfields, London Peloton & Co Cycle Cafe, Spitalfields, London
Peloton & Co Cycle Cafe, Spitalfields, London Peloton & Co Cycle Cafe, Spitalfields, London

Read Romans with two different people on successive Sundays, as we sat in the sunshine at Peloton & Co Cycle Cafe, persuading them from Scripture of God’s sovereignty, and exhorting them to honour God by letting God be God; not presuming that we knew better than he, praying that they would not fall. Then today, one of them met with a bad accident at work. Oh Father, will she remember your promises and not stumble.

After dinner last night, two housemates and I were discussing the so-called evangelical emphasis on Scripture. The people who scoff at this as academic and only for the intellectuals should be locked up as traitors. What unspeakable sabotage is performed when sheep are dissuaded or prevented from hearing the voice of their Shepherd and so wander off cliffs or fall prey to wolves. How deceitful to encourage these vulnerable ones to stumble about in darkness by withholding God’s word that God meant as a lamp to their feet and a light to their paths.

Bluebell Woods, Foraging for Wild Garlic in Cemeteries, Tweed Run 2014, Integrity in Ministry

May 20, 2014 Leave a comment

carpet of bluebells, Church Wood
carpet of bluebells, Church Wood

How time flies (when you’re having fun)! You blink and find yourself, somewhat dismayed, in the middle of May.

Church WoodInundated with:

  • prep for the two Bible study groups i help lead – a mixed group of young workers and a women’s group of City professionals;
  • meeting up with the 15 people from both groups who have the misfortune of being under my care;
  • shakily training up new leaders;
  • loads of controversial experimental practice talks at the School; and
  • next month (only two weeks away!) travelling up north(ish) to do a real talk.

The last worries me most – the organiser called today to say how they “loved” hearing me previously and that they’re now moving to a new venue because of the number of people coming. Truly dislike upfront ministry – to stand there feeling the weight of expectation, cringing from the full force of critical stares, is not my idea of a good time. Being neither a competent speaker, nor possessing any natural charm or charisma, the chances of it all going horribly wrong are very good. Am thinking of taking a wingman/woman along who will hopefully so outshine me that they’ll spare me the next time!

rump steak with portobello mushrooms and wild garlic leaves wild garlic omelette

wild garlic leaves (they grow plentifully in parks and cemeteries) with rump steak and in an omelette

Still, perhaps there is an important lesson here: do i rely heavily on God only because i don’t think i have the skills for the job? Shouldn’t i rely on God all the time for all things because any small amount of skill could only have been given by Him, and he, being sovereign, is in charge of how everything turns out regardless of how wonderfully gifted i might (not) be?

Tweed Run in London 2014 Tweed Run in London 2014
Tweed Run in London 2014
Tweed Run in London 2014 Tweed Run in London 2014
Tweed Run in London 2014
Tweed Run in London 2014 Tweed Run in London 2014
Tweed Run in London 2014
Tweed Run in London 2014 Tweed Run in London 2014

Tweed Run, London 2014

Lee Gatiss’ church history exposé on the real reason why Wesley was allegedly told by a church warden after he had preached at St. Helen’s Church on Bishopsgate “Sir, you must preach here no more” (his unbiblical denial of the complete sovereignty of God and the unbecoming manner in which he made that known (“[predestination] is a doctrine full of blasphemy”) – see page 35 of Gatiss’ The True Profession of the Gospel), the George Whitefield and John Wesley spat, and Wesley’s later meanness to Augustus Montague Toplady (love that name and also his tunes) and his deliberate and devious altering of Toplady’s pamphlets, was talked about amongst friends for some time. Could John Wesley plead an unhappy marriage to Molly Wesley as the reason for his ranting and outbursts and inability to think clearly (see Clare Heath-Whyte’s Old Wives Tales)?

Few of us will be famous enough for people in later centuries to want to study our lives, but if they did would they find our good reputation unjustified or would false charges against us be dropped and our persons vindicated?

And does it really matter? It is not a state of equanimity that is proposed, but the clear realisation that it is only before our master that we stand or fall.

yuzu poppyseed loaf cake
yuzu poppyseed loaf for a very hot day

We’ve been working our way through the Book of Revelation in our Sunday morning meetings. Last Sunday’s passage on Sardis was a very good reminder that success in ministry doesn’t look like having a great reputation:

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ (Revelation 3:1-6)

Whatever reputation we have amongst our peers, whatever the history books say, whatever fruitfulness or lack thereof we might see in ministry, whatever accolades or criticisms, it is Jesus’ opinion of us that we should be concerned about. God alone sees all things (“I know…” he says), and will therefore be the just judge of all.

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