Tuesday, November 28, 2006


I'm a bit like the Queen. We're both British, we both live in Berkshire (the Royal County, no less) and we both have two birthdays. Today is exactly seven years since I was born again! Praise the Lord for his grace. During a baptism service of five of my friends at Carey on November 28, 1999, each of them gave their testimony. I remember realising then that despite my best efforts (and at that time my efforts weren't great anyway) I hadn't become a Christian by coming to church each week and having lots of knowledge about the Bible in my head. God convicted me that I needed to stop trying to save myself, and trust wholly and only in Him. I did, and received assurance then that my sins were paid for wholly and completely by Jesus' death on the cross.

I didn't receive any gifts to mark this occasion, except the opportunity to come back to Reading for a few days to research my dissertation. Today I walked around all of the city centre, marking which premises are shops, and which shops are independent rather than part of chains. Tomorrow I'll head in to some and survey their owners on how Reading has changed since the Oracle shopping centre opened... 7 years ago.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Thanksgiving time? Well, I'm thankful to have lived for 22 years non-stop as of today! I received some very exciting gifts:

Better give up all hope of graduating then...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The things I do for the CU...

We put on a student carol service every December, and invite as many people as possible. This year we're having 4 services on Sunday 10th December, and are expecting at least 2500 people to turn up! As we're offering free mince pies and mulled wine after the services, we need a lot of supplies.

As such, the task fell upon me to drive to France last Saturday with two girls from the CU to buy 120 litres of extremely cheap wine!

Each 5 litre box cost €4.10, which is about £2.50. Thus the total cost was £68, as opposed to about £320 for the cheapest wine we could have bought in England! Quite a saving.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bible Doctrine (4)

[Updated 21/11/06]
Since the fall, the whole of humankind is sinful and guilty, so that everyone is subject to God's wrath and condemnation.

This week we considered what it means to be human: how did God create us, what were we like, and what are we like now? Firstly I'll look at Man as the image-bearer of God; secondly, at the effects of the Fall.

True humanity: God's image-bearers

Genesis 1:26-7:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule
over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all
the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

What are the hallmarks of true humanity?

  • Male and female: both genders were created to work together. Eve is described as the "helper" of Adam, but this is the term used of the Holy Spirit - essential and indisposable for Adam. Man and woman were designed to be together, to both be human in its ultimate form, and to have different but complementary roles in ruling over creation.
  • Holy: we think of God as the only holy person in the universe, but are the angels also holy? We are called to "be holy, as [God is] holy" (1 Peter 1:16). Adam and Eve were holy until they fell - they were "very good", the pinnacle of creation.
  • Like God: We have been created in the likeness of God.
"Man is like God and represents God" (Grudem, p.189), which means that we are "similar but not identical" to God in many of His aspects (not all, though!). Some of these aspects are (Grudem, p.191-2):
  • Morally - our conscience tells us right from wrong, and when we act justly then we reflect God. Accordingly, we will be judged and held accountable for the moral decisions we've made.
  • Spiritually - we can "act in ways that are significant in the immaterial, spiritual realm of existence" not just the temporal world we live in. We are also immortal and will not cease to exist at bodily death. John Stott, in his commentary on Romans, suggests that "God originally had something better in mind, something less degrading and squalid than death, decay and decomposition..." (Stott, p.166) - perhaps like Jesus' transfiguration, or Enoch and Elijah's translation into Heaven.
  • Mentally - we have the ability to reason and think. This causes us to develop both personally and corporately, in fields of technology, philosophy, agriculture, science and so on.
  • Relationally - we can relate not only to God, but to each other in a way that is deeper and more significant than animals' communities: in marriage, a family, or a church. We were also created to rule over the rest of creation, and we can assert our authority on our planet and our fellow inhabitants.

What does this mean? Well, we should rejoice in our great Creator. Every time we follow God's precepts and live in a way that is like Him then we reflect His glory and show the great dignity of the human race. Remember, too, that we have a great Saviour - the ultimate image-bearer of God, God Himself as Jesus Christ, "the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:16).

Are we just animals?

We had a brief discussion on the differences between man (the species, not the gender) and the rest of creation. Just some thoughts...

Firstly, there's no reason for animals to be stupid. God created them as "good", and they bear the same hallmarks of design that we do - albeit mostly in a physical sense. Thus we shouldn't be shocked or surprised that elephants are self-aware, that dolphins can sing or that primates understand human communication.

However - it's almost too obvious a point to make - we are so far advanced in nearly every way that it is clear from a cursory glance which species on the Earth is most dominant. While many animals have advanced techniques for catching food, building nests or finding mates, there are no philosophical porcupines. In fields such as agriculture, education, language, art, religion, philosophy, military technology and many others mankind continues to develop and advance our knowledge and ability. Termites may build amazing anthills, but they do so the same way they've always done.

How else do we differ? In the bullet points above about our likeness to God, we are also unlike animals. Moral accountability (although look at Genesis 9:5), spiritual awareness, mental agility and changing relationships with each other. We have instincts, but we can over-ride them.

Were we created ex nihilo or formed of animal stock? Interestingly, John Stott thinks the latter (p.164): it makes sense given the biological evidence of DNA likeness and so on that God 'chose' Adam as the creature to bear the divine likeness. Whether God then conferred the same likeness on other human beings in existence, or whether we are all descended from Adam and Eve is another interesting quetion. I tend to oscillate between positions on this debate.

Fallen humanity: imagining ourselves as God

Genesis 3 recounts the invasion of sin into the previously perfect world. I'm going to think very briefly about these implications.

Genesis 5:1 says that when Adam had a son (Seth), he was "in his likeness" - ie. like Adam, in sin. After that, Adam eventually died. So did Seth... so did everyone. Sin leads to death, inexorably.

We inherit two things from Adam: guilt and corruption. Guilt in the eyes of God, which would lead to punishment on its own; corruption which causes us to desire to sin. Our accountability means that punishment must be meted for sin.

Is it fair for God to punish us? Is infinite punishment for finite sins just? Are we just being punished for something we haven't done?

Romans 5 says that "sin came into the world through one man and death through sin", and through Adam's sin "many were made sinners". Adam, as our representative, sinned, and thus we all fall under condemnation. In western culture this seems unfair, yet in many cultures this is the way of things. If we think it unfair to be represented by Adam, we should also think it unfair to be represented by Christ, because God imputes righteousness to us in the same way that he imputed sin to us through Adam (Grudem, p.214).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bible Doctrine (3)

The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour.

What is it that we base our faith on? Is it merely on "feelings", emotions, experiences? Or is there a more tangible, reliable, logical basis for belief?

Thankfully, the answer is yes! We have the most detailed and reliable ancient document in existence - the Bible. Let's delve into the various parts of the statement above:

The Bible

What is the Bible? The collection of 66 books written by dozens of authors across a 1600 year time period throughout the ancient world is a mixture of different writings: poetry, history, prophecy, genealogy, letters and so on.

As originally given

God inspired the writers of the Bible to write exactly what they did. While there are no complete original documents, by comparing many hundreds of fragments and dating them, we can be certain that over 99% of our current Bible is the same as the original text, except for translation. God may not have inspired any particular translation, but He has providentially maintained the text for us to read, and blessed us with many good translations... at least in English. Spare a thought for the 2500+ people groups in the world yet to have any of the Bible in their own language!

Is the inspired and infallible

There are several terms we can use to describe the authority of the Bible. None of them seems to quite hit the mark, and so we end up with combinations.

  • "Inspired" means that God has decreed what should be written, within the context of each writer's personality and culture. It doesn't just mean that the Bible is "inspirational". "All Scripture is God-breathed..." (2 Timothy 3:16) - this translation is probably most accurate regarding "inspiration".
  • "Infallible" means that the Bible will not fail us, whatever test we may put it to: it's perfect... but a criticism is that it might just be perfect for what we use it for, ie. "faith and practice" as Grudem says (p.43), and not for some historical or scientific facts. This goes against the teachings of Paul (Acts 24:14), Jesus (Luke 24:25) and various psalmists (Psalm 12:6, Psalm 119:96), who state that all the Bible is true and reliable.
  • "Inerrant" is the other frequently used term, although not in the UCCF doctrinal basis above. It means that the Bible is without error: perfect and truthful in every way. It has a different emphasis than infallible - it's stronger in what it does affirm, but arguably starts from a negative viewpoint.

What does inerrant mean? Well, it makes allowances for things like "loose" quoting as we would see it. When the New Testament quotes from the Old, the wording is often slightly different, or maybe many verses will be combined into one. We live in an age of search engines and libraries, where precise wording is necessary for a reliable quotation. In ancient times, the purpose of quoting was to convey the meaning of the original text.

Inerrancy also allows for authors to use ordinary language. God speaks through the authors using human language, but never compromises His holiness or perfection in so doing.

Word of God

How is the Bible God's Word? It displays God's characteristics: it is pure, truthful, holy, trustworthy and faithful, to name but a few. "Every word of God proves true" (Proverbs 30:5).

The "Word of God" is revealed to us in the Bible. But God's ultimate speaking is through Himself - in the person of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament prophesies about him, and the New Testament provides testimony of eye-witnesses to him. Thus the whole Bible focuses on Jesus, and the words that he spoke.

It is the supreme authority

The Bible is reliable because it is the Word of God. It attests to this itself many hundreds of times: in the Old Testament the words "Thus says the Lord" indicate a direct revelation, and because all the words of the Law/Covenant were to be treated as such, the whole Old Testament is God's Word: " After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD : "Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you." (Deuteronomy 31:24-26)

Similarly, the New Testament makes claims about itself - and the Old Testament. Jesus frequently quotes from the Old Testament, making clear that he regarded it as reliable (not surprisingly, as he wrote it!). The famous 2 Timothy 3:16 states that scripture is theopneustos, or "breathed out by God". The word he uses for "scripture" usually means the Old Testament Jewish scriptures - but several examples include New Testament writings as well, for example 1 Timothy 5:18 quotes from both the Old and New Testaments, and Paul calls them both "scripture." Peter affirms Paul's writings as scripture in 2 Peter 3:16.

Some object that using the Bible to prove the Bible is a circular argument. Well... yes and no. Every appeal to a supreme authority has to use that authority to prove itself. For example, "I believe in the physical universe only, because nothing I have experienced is outside of that". The Bible makes claims about itself, but if you examine the Bible, you come to see that its claims are true and that God is faithful. Grudem describes this as more of a "sprial" than a typical circular argument (p.38).

In all matters of belief and behaviour

The wonder of the Bible is that it is not just cerebral theology - it is applicable to us in our lives. Theology is, of course, very important - the Bible tells us about Jesus' life, death and resurrection and provides the basis for our faith. We don't just find out about this core teaching from the Bible, but also many great doctrines of God - like the ones I am hesitantly exploring on this blog.

When we say that the Bible "is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour", it means that secondary sources, for example the writings of theologians, the teaching of pastors, and our own experiences, must come secondary to the Bible. It alone is the revealed Truth.

How should we act in response to this great revelation? Firstly, let's praise and thank the Lord for giving us his Word. Without it our only way of seeing Him would be through our conscience - which provides a guide and conviction - and creation - which reveals the glory of God. Because of the Bible, we can know so much more about God; primarily because of the embodied Word, who became flesh - Jesus Christ.

Problems of interpretation

It would be great if Christians always agreed on what the Bible says. Once the problems of quoting out of context, and mistranslation are taken care of, we still end up in the situation of disagreeing on various secondary issues: the historicity of Genesis, the application of the Law in the New Testament, whether or not to have women preachers, eschatological issues arising from Revelation, and so on. I have found that my opinions on many of these issues have altered over the years of being a Christian. We can be confident that there is a correct interpretation of each of the contentious passages of Scripture - what we can't always be confident of is whether we have it! How to resolve them? Read your Bible and pray... next question?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Casino Royale trailer

The name's Craig... Daniel Craig.

Ohhh yes!

Monday, November 06, 2006

God's sovereignty in a busy weekend

After a rather academic post last time, I've been blessed with so many examples of God's providence over the past few days I had to collate them!

I have to write a 10,000 word dissertation on a topic of my choice by March 12 2007. The date is still a long way off, but we're supposed to start the project over the summer and do the research we need. I did start, but found that my project was not feasible, so I had to change - and then the same thing happened again! After those two disappointments I was feeling downhearted about finding a new topic. I'd been praying for guidance on a new project, but felt that time was ticking by - so last week I prayed fervently (I think of it as banging on God's door) and then on Friday I talked to the professor of one of my courses, and he gave me some great guidance on a new dissertation. Praise God!

It was supposed to be the CU's houseparty weekend, but the booking for our venue fell through. We already had Roger Carswell booked to speak though, so we merely relocated to Southampton for a day of activities on Saturday, as well as Friday evening's meetings. You can download his talks here. The ones I heard were really excellent, and very applicable to student life - as you'd expect from Roger. Praise God!

I had other things to do than stay in Southampton, however. Every year Carey hosts a barbeque/bonfire/fireworks evening with a short evangelistic talk to mark Bonfire Night, which everyone is welcome to attend. I got back to Reading at 3pm and headed almost straight for the farm where it's held. Sadly I got there a little too late and had to cook vegetarian "burgers" and "sausages". Yuck. After the fireworks were over (and they were excellent this year) Frazer and I stood at the gate counting people out. We normally cater for 500, but this year there were (about) 680 people there - praise God!

On Sunday a group of us had been invited to a friend's house outside Reading for Sunday lunch to celebrate his 21st birthday. We left in several cars to head there after church. The road to his house is quite narrow and winding, and we were all several minutes apart... well, I don't want to over-egg the pudding here, but the first car with five people in (not me) crashed at about 50mph. Its driver had to swerve to avoid an oncoming car on the narrow lane, and then got the wheels caught in the bank at the side of the road. The car spun, flipped, and rolled 1 3/4 times, ending on its side. The aftermath looked like this:

Incredibly, all five of my friends climbed out of the car with only a stiff neck and a bumped head between them. Praise God! We arrived (in the red car above) 2 minutes after the accident, by which time they'd all got out of the car, but were pretty shocked by the ordeal. As you can see there were other vehicles around, and the emergency services were raised immediately. Within 10 minutes 4 police cars, 2 fire engines and an air ambulance all arrived!

We were all able to continue eventually to our friend's house and enjoy a (slightly subdued) lunch. But what a lunch... three joints of roast pork and four desserts - praise God (for Acts 10)!

I'm blessed with a great friendship group at church. Many of us are away much of the time, but we keep in touch, and in praying for the salvation of those of us who aren't yet Christians. On Sunday night my friend James told us he'd been saved! He had previously prayed for the Lord to save him, but didn't have assurance of it until yesterday. In any case... praise God!

I had to get back to Southampton last night for a 9am lecture this morning (praise God...) so went to the station to catch the train - only to discover that there were no trains to Southampton all night! Great. It just so happened that my friend Steve was driving back to Portsmouth - also for a 9am - so he could give me a lift. Praise God!

WOW. How much do we have to give thanks to God for!? I've been feeling very aware of God's grace and providence this weekend, and I pray that it continues through this week and beyond, so that I can worship Him wholly with my life.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bible Doctrine (2)

[Note: I am not a theologian! These notes are probably more beneficial to me than they are to you. If I have made a mistake, then please add a comment.]

God is sovereign in creation, revelation, redemption and final judgement.

God's providence is one of the most mysterious subjects that it is possible to study. From our perspective it can seem impossible to reconcile the following truths:

  1. God is totally sovereign
  2. We are totally responsible

Grudem defines three areas in which God is sovereign: preservation, concurrence and government.


This is probably the simplest (and least controversial) concept of providence to understand. Jesus, having created the universe, continues to sustain ("The Son is ... sustaining all things by his powerful word" Hebrews 1:3) and uphold it constantly ("for by him all things were created ... he is before all things, and in him all things hold together" Colossians 1:16-17).

God's preservation applies not only to the universe as a whole, but to everything created within it. The basis of civilisation and science is that objects retain their properties, and the laws of physics do not alter. We also, as his people, are sustained by his word, whether we are Jews ("The Lord made a covenant with Abram and said "To your descendents I give this land"" Genesis 15:18) or Gentiles (""I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep"" John 10:11).


This is the concept that "God co-operates with created things in every action, directing their disctinctive properties to cause them to act as they do" (Grudem, p.143). God brings all things about to fulfil His will and add to His glory. By "all things" Grudem refers to a host of creation, from inanimate objects, through plants and animals, to humans. For brevity I'll not go into detail on most of these, but skip to humans.

We work every day to earn a salary, and yet pray for God to "give us today our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11). Why is this? Do we not have to work? Do we not have to pray? No on both counts! God works in an invisible way, yet far more powerfully than we do. He, therefore, is the primary cause of any action. Yet we, the creation, act in ways consisten with our natural properties: if we don't eat then we go hungry, so we earn money to buy food.

Our direction and movement are ordained by God: "a man's steps are ordered by the Lord" (Proverbs 20:24). Whether or not we pass an exam or get a job promotion is similarly the doing of God, and our natural and spiritual gifts, of course, are given by God: "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" (1 Corinthians 4:7) In receiving it, though, we have a responsibility to use it. Our actions are significant and responsible, and God will hold us accountable for how we live - so we can't let ourselves off the hook because "God causes everything"!

If God causes "all things" to happen, does that include evil? Clearly, as God is totally good, He cannot perform evil - that would be contrary to His nature ("For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you" Psalm 86:5). In terms of concurrence, we have learned that God and Man are fully responsible for their actions and both cause events to occur. This can be seen in Exodus, where Pharoah hardens his heart, and God also hardens his heart. If God and Man are both fully responsible, then both can cause Pharoah's heart to be hardened. Pharoah was punished for his sin, and God was glorified by causing His will to be done.

God can righteously bring about evil events; He uses all things for His glory, including evil. The supreme example of this is Jesus' death by crucifixion. Judas betrayed Jesus to death, the Jewish authorities and Romans arrested him, the mob called for his death, and the soldiers crucified him. All were fully responsible for what they did. Yet without those actions we could not be forgiven! God not only glorifies Himself (although that would be a perfect reason for Him to do anything) but brings about our good as well ("Herod and Pontius Pilate ... [did what] ... your plan had predestined to take place" Acts 4:27).

Having said this, it is important to remember that God never does evil, and is never to blame for evil. The blame for evil is on the responsible creature (Grudem, p.150). Even if we object that we cannot resist God's will, we must accept that we willingly choose to do evil, and even if we are tempted, we do not resist the temptation. God's righteousness demands that He punishes evil according to His perfect justice. Does it make sense? Well... not exactly. This is the most mind-bending piece of theology to understand, in my opinion. Anyone who understands this is probably already dead and in heaven!


God providentially directs all things to happen according to His purpose ("For from him and through him and to him are all things" Romans 11:36). He is supremely powerful to ensure that this happens (""I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted"" Job 42:2). As a result we can be confident that "in all things God works together for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28). Praise God!


So... theology is not about male bonding, or head knowledge. What does it mean? Well, if God is sovereign, then we can trust that whatever happens is ultimately good. Yet we must take responsibility for everything we do. In prayer, recognising the truth of both God's sovereignty and our responsibility means that we should be fervent and passionate prayers. In evangelism, we must pray all the more that God would convict people of their sin, but not fall into the trap of thinking that we don't have to worry about what we do.


As a brief note, there are approximately four positions that Christians hold with regards to providence. I have been espousing a Calvinist point of view, which seeks to hold (1) God's sovereignty and (2) human responsibility in balance, without necessarily understanding how they fit together. The other evangelical position is Arminianism, which leans more towards (2) than (1). Grudem lists a lot of objections to this position, but I won't go into them. The other two positions, open theism and hyper-Calvinism, are way out on the spectrum of (2) and (1) respectively. There isn't much Biblical basis for either.