Wednesday, 30 November 2016

An evangelical's journey

I have just finished reading 1966 and all that, An Evangelical Journey by Basil Howlett, it is very much his journey into ministry and the great influence that Martyn Lloyd Jones made to Basil's life and indeed to British Evangelicalism at large. My first response is that I owe an apology to the late Martyn Lloyd Jones, especially in regard to 1966 and his passionate plea for evangelicals to come out of their denominations. I've never been part of the established church since not long after conversion through reading Scripture I was convinced of non-conformity and only spent a brief time in a Baptist Union Church, as it was liberal throughout. Yet I've been influenced by what others have said and that as coloured my perception. Basil Howlett has no doubt that MLJ's address was used of God, not only in his own life but in the lives of other gospel men in mixed denominations. Howlett takes us on a journey of how God used Basil Howlett and how his ministry prospered outside of the denomination. This led me to stop reading and start praying thanking God for the work He did then and asking Him to do a work afresh in me.

I was moved by how God worked so that the building they were forced out of was replaced with a gifted building for the church to meet in. I was amazed and in awe of how God used Basil in ministering to lost people not only in the UK but further afield. Indeed one of the most moving chapters is his chapter on mission, having been freed from soley considering missionaries from his own denomination which were sometimes good but often bad, making no mention of God, Christ or the gospel, Instead he was free to see a whole host of evangelical mission societies, getting to see valuable gospel missionaries from around the globe, not only that but to partake in that mission himself.

Thank you for the encouragement Basil.

God Bless

Sunday, 3 July 2016

The Worth of a Soul

I've been reading quite a bit of John Flavel recently, I've loved the way he as a Calvinist outlines the worth of a soul and the extent of the atonement in the same thought.

'If the death of Christ satisfied God, and thereby redeemed the elect from the curse: then the redemption of souls is costly; souls are dear things, and are of great value with God....The whole creation sold to the utmost worth of it, is not a value for the redemption of one soul. Souls are very dear; he that paid for them found them so: yet how cheaply do sinners sell their souls, as if they were but priced commodities! but you that sell your souls cheap, will buy repentance dear.' 

He goes on to say in a later sermon that in Christ's death his blood that was shed is of such a value that it is enough for all of us, even if there were other worlds filled with people, the infinite value of Christ's blood would be enough for all. The price is paid for our sins by Christ, to God be the Glory for ever and ever. 


Thursday, 26 May 2016

If a Wicked Man

Just finished reading the biography of John Lawson, my interest was peaked when I heard him give his Christian testimony of BBC Radio Scotland. During that interview he came across as a humble and articulate man, deeply sorry for the crimes he had committed and someone who now
 loves his Saviour.

The book is a little different, its quite large but very readable, it tells the sordid details of much of John's past including his difficult upbringing in Drumchapel, Scotland and Birkenhead  in England. As well as how he was involved in violent crimes and was in fact a nasty piece of work.

The title of the book is taken from Ezekiel chapter 18 where God speaks to the prophet, telling him to warn people, if he warns a wicked man and he turns from his ways, God in mercy would forget his passed. In his conversion God used this passage as John turned to it randomly.

I found the book a compelling read, from start to finish, for the most part it flowed beautifully and I was taken on a dark journey with a wonderful outcome. I started it on Saturday morning and found myself sneaking off at home to read a chapter or 2 or 3. Yet it is not without disappointments, I was disappointed that the conversion story felt rushed and not as detailed as the sordid past. His Mom for instance was a big part of his life, she gets converted and then we don't hear about for several chapters, yet she must have been around somewhat. Another disappointment is that its full of spelling mistakes, or duplicate words, very poorly edited, in fact one chapter title changes to a previous title part way through. The prologue really belongs to the middle of the book and you miss its presence from where it was taken. It also feels like the book ends abruptly with Lawson newly converted just out of jail waiting to see how God works in his life. I would loved to have seen some of that, how John develops in his walk with the LORD.

Its not written by the humble man, John Lawson who I heard on radio Scotland but by an author John Sealey and I wonder if something of the shame that John Lawson felt towards his former life was lost in the writing. Nevertheless I did enjoy this biography and will be interested to see how John's ministry to hard men, criminals and prisoners develops.

I believe Lawson to be a converted man, that is the man I heard on the radio, I do worry though about his involvement with Tony Anthony of the infamous Taming the Tiger saga, where much of Anthony's story has been discredited. In the dedication he thanks Anthony for being a mentor, he plays a small but significant part in his post conversion experience.  Watching and waiting to see how it all pans out.

Stephen <><

Monday, 16 May 2016

Jerry Bridges

I love the late Jerry Bridges writing, I love that he gets the difference between Grace and works, between morality and Gospel. In this quote he also gets to the difficult that some moral people have with the gospel. I believe it was harder for Nicodemus with his great learning and morality to accept Christ's message than the woman at the well.

I believe that human morality, rather than flagrant sin, is the greatest obstacle to the gospel today. If you ask the average law-abiding person why he expects to go to heaven, the answer will be some form of "because I am good." And the more religious a person is, the more difficult it is to realize his or her need of the righteousness of Christ.' Jerry Bridges The Gospel for Real Life. 

Friday, 25 March 2016

When I was a boy I asked, what is good about Good Friday? I asked a lot of people and got a lot of different answers. I also asked  why did Jesus die, on the day I heard the answer, that its Good because the Holy God, in the person of His Son died in your place I was made new. O Happy Day! If you ask me now when I was saved I'll tell you it was one dark Friday when Christ bowed His dead and declared with triumph "It is Finished".

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Answering Jihad- Nabeel Qureshi

I first encountered Muslims at school, but like my Christianity at the time it was in name only, they were not practising Muslims but had names like Ali, Mohammad and I was called Stephen. My first real encounter with a Muslim as a Christian was at college. A friend of mine Salma,  who I met whilest we were both on the same course at college. She was warm and caring and I was interested to learn about her faith. I remember that I was surprised that Jesus was a leading figure in the Qu'ran, our conversations were always respectful and cordial. Part way through the college year Salma left to get married and I didn't see her again for a few years when she shouted me from across the street, she said hello but advised me she couldn't speak otherwise she might get into trouble with her dad who was walking in front. For me it represented a clash of cultures, not mine and hers, but  hers a British Muslim woman,  practicing her faith in her country.

In the same town as Salma and I come from, 4 people have recently been arrested for Syria related terror plotting.
During my theology degree as part of the Exploring Other Faiths Module I read the Qu'ran and I did find that at its source it was violent. It didn't make me wonder why Islamic terrorism exists but why people like my friend Salma are peace loving and why various world leaders after terrible acts of violence could turn around and say Islam is a religion of peace.
In his first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel  Qureshi answered that for me. He discovered as a Muslim that Mohammad had been sanitised. For him it was a very tumultuous event that he had to work through emotionally, weighing up the cost of everything he knew.

In this book Nabeel  explores that a little further, one of the things he points out is that most Muslims are not Arabs and therefore whilst they can recite the Qu'ran they cannot understand it. Instead they have been taught by scholars from their traditions to trust them in what the Qu'ran and the Hadiths say and mean,  Muslim scholars have for centuries reworked these difficult passages to make them say something else.
Nabeel compares what is happening currently in Islam to what happened at the Reformation, rather than trusting in the scholars to interpret passages for them people are now going back to the sources, they are readily available online and in their native languages. Unlike the Reformation though as the sources are violent it leaves people with a dilemma, apostasy from Islam, apathy or radicalisation. If we are to help them avoid radicalisation as Christians we are called to love our Muslim neighbours, to build relationships with them and to show them a radical alternative which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This will be hard for them as it was for Nabeel but we have a Gospel and a Lord who loves at great cost.

I was shocked how up to date this book is, I got the Kindle version on the 8th of March and at the beginning of the book it is mentioning events that happened up to the start of this year. In spite of that it doesn't seem rushed but it feels urgent. It's not about a political response its about a loving response to people who have a zeal for (a) god but need to know the real God.

I've read a few books on Islam but they have been clinical this is a book written by someone who was loved and reasoned from Islam to Christ and so it is engaging revealing not only a love for Christ and his Gospel but a genuine love for Muslims, even for those radical ones.

God Bless
Stephen <><

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Jonathan Leeman- Don't Fire Your Church Member

Jonathan Leeman's book has two objectives, the first is to provide a defence of Congregationalism and the second is to argue the case for a practical congregationalism to those of us Congregationalists who haven't seen it modelled like this.

Firstly then, the defense of Congregationalism, he does this by interacting with some of its critics, showing there is a biblical case for congregationalism. I wonder if this book comes out of a phd thesis as that's how it reads, he starts with Adam, who created in God's image is God's representative, who failed in the duty that God had given him. Recognising the covenantal relationship between the first Adam and those who are lost and the Last Adam and the redeemed, he argues that what was lost in Adam, isn't the image of God,  which we all possess (though marred by the fall) but our right to be God's representatives. In the Last Adam, the church via its members are all given this right. As you would expect he goes on to present the priesthood of all believers. Whilst I wasn't completely convinced by some of his early arguments, he took several passages from Acts and showed convincingly that if they reveal anything about polity it's a congregational model that they display.
He takes on Robert Reymond showing that for the Presbyterian model you have to read a lot into the text.  I especially liked that he took some Presbyterian authors and showed that they argue against the idea of a synod or a Presbytery in Acts 15. Instead Jonathan argues that it is a gathered local church responding to an issue elsewhere because the trouble makers arose from that church.

 He goes on to show that the reason Acts 15 is binding is not because it was a council of the church but because the letter sent out by the Apostles was by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and as such placed in Scripture and is therefore binding like the rest of the New Testament Letters.

His second aim and more important as its the whole point of the book, Don't Fire Your Church Member, a Congregationalist church is an elder led, not elder ruled church. Where the members are able to function as participants rather than spectators. This is where we get to the nitty gritty, as every congregation I have been a part of has in theory believed in the "priesthood of all believers" and yet in practice the congregation expects the lead (most often sole) pastor to do the evangelism, preaching, pastoral visits and operate for them, some times with the help of Elders and/or Deacons.

Leeman argues that the keys of the kingdom are not just given to Peter and his successor, nor are they given to the Apostles and their successors but the power of the keys is given to every church member.

I can see how the model Leeman presents would work and should work but it would be difficult to get there. Indeed I remember the IX Marks journal itself told a story of a church where a church congregation was known as a church that killed its pastors. A wealthy church where leaders were appointed because they were successful in business rather than because of their standing spiritually and the difficulty came if anyone challenged them, they would take their money and resources elsewhere. The article told the story of how the newly appointed pastor struggled through and nearly lost it trying to transform the church to a healthy church model. This is the weakness of this book, it does acknowledge Congregationalism can be abused and misused but if we trust the Holy Spirit to guide the congregation, we can trust them with the keys, this isn't always the case, I've seen congregations vote for very unwise even unbiblical things, supported and encouraged by elders. However the church is made up of sinners who sin against each other and as Leeman himself points out churches with a different model of government (Episcopal and Presbyterian) have hardly been able to protect orthodoxy themselves.

To avoid those difficulties a church needs to move to meaningful membership, Jonathan Leeman is an elder at Capitol Baptist Church and as such he argues for meaningful membership, as outlined by Mark Dever in his fantastic book,  The Deliberate Church. Meaningful membership means you guard the front door, making sure (as much as you can) your church members are regenerate by having them share the gospel with an elder at a membership interview, opening the back door, by using a biblical pattern of church discipline. If you have this in place then you can trust your regenerate church membership to operate 'the power of the keys'.

He shared a story from his own church of how he was approached by one member of the church concerning an incident involving another member. Leeman said it was obvious that he was approached as an elder so that he as an elder should deal with it, Leeman referred it back to the member to deal with for his own growth and maturing. A healthy church has members visiting each other and pastorally supporting each other and disciplining each other.

He points out that a healthy church points members who live a great distance away from the church are encouraged to join a local healthy church nearby. Of course that assumes that there are healthy churches nearby which isn't always the case.

A congregational church should make sure you have spiritual elders, who have the gift of teaching, not so they can stand at the pulpit but so as they can guide and guard, train and rebuke, having a well developed understanding of the Gospel and the Word. If you have these in place then Leeman's model works well. However it seems to me most churches have a practise of appointing people successful in their chosen field rather than appointing those who are biblically qualified.

Overall I gained from this book as a Congregationalist a greater confidence in Congregationalism both historically and more importantly biblically. Not as sure my Presbyterian friends would be convinced but that wasn't his target audience.


Thursday, 18 February 2016

Church in the Hard Places

Just finished reading this book, fairly hot off the press and I have been anticipating reading it for a few months since I first heard it was coming out. I also enjoyed Mike McKinley's Church Planting is For Wimps book and have heard Mez McConnell speak a couple of times. Overall I enjoyed the book and have learnt from it, I wondered what I would need to add to my toolkit to do ministry in an urban poor setting such as a Scottish Scheme or an English Council Estate, this book affirmed me in my conclusions that I already have the toolkit necessary.

I love that they don't patronise people like me, I am from a Council Estate and remember hearing a guy say "Christians on Council Estates, don't do theology and they don't read books". I was puzzled by this as at the time I had around three large book cases full of theology books that I was in the process of reading in my home on a Council Estate. This guys whole talk left me feeling pitied and misunderstood. Neither McConnell or McKinley do this, they both assume that not only can people from backgrounds like mine learn theology but it is necessary and beneficial for them to do so. 

I liked that the book squarely argues that ministry in Hard Places should be centred on the Gospel. Not any Gospel but THE Gospel consider this quote from Mez, "This is the Jesus that the poor need: a sin-bearing, atonement-making, guilt-cleansing, living Redeemer. A christ who merely affirms us as we are is a saviour who doesn't actually save." p48 As they both rightly go on to show, this is because urban poor people,  like all people are sinners. We cannot approach ministry to the poorer among us as if they are victims- some are victims but a victim mentality doesn't need to be smoothed over, it needs to be confronted with the gospel. Mez and Mike have tried and tested ministry in the hard place and not settled for a leftish soppy social work understanding of what people in Hard Places need and who they are. Mez at one point says that it is only a robust understanding of the atonement will get you through when helping a drug dealer for example that you are dealing with a rat,  but remembering that you too are a rat.

As much as I enjoyed reading this book I was left disappointed, I was disappointed because I've read it all before. You see at one point Mike McKinley in the chapter on Church membership and discipline said, "My guess is that when you opened this book, you weren't expecting a chapter on church membership and discipline". He was right, when I opened it I wasn't,  but after a couple of chapters I would have been more surprised if it wasn't in. I love IX Marks and have read a lot of their stuff already, so to find them going over 'what is the gospel', 'appointing elders', 'preaching', theology, evangelism in a typical IX Marks fashion was disappointing. Not that I disagree, I affirm all these things, just that I am worried that this good book will be read by people like me who don't really need to go over the basics again. I wonder if it had been better if it didn't come with a IX Marks label if more people who need to read it would pick it up, rather than singing to the choir?

I enjoyed the stories of real people who have come into contact with ministry on the ground and have been changed, it was helpful that they didn't romanticise this and also included real life situations of people who came along and then disappeared.

This is a useful book, especially for people who haven't read much from IX Marks

God Bless
Stephen <><