Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Radical Disciple - John Stott's final book

After visiting All Soul's Langham Place last year and realising the enormous debt I owe to the ministry of John Stott, I was moved to support the work of Langham Partnership International - the organisation charged with continuing the legacy of John Stott's ministry.

In response to my modest donation, I was sent a little package of information (leaflets, brochures and bookmarks) as well as a copy of John Stott's final book, The Radical Disciple.  What was really exciting was that John Stott had signed it!!  Well, at least a sticker placed inside - still very special though.

I will not provide an extensive review of the book - that would be somewhat arrogant and you can read a really good one here.

Suffice to say that it is a privilege to read what are the reflections on discipleship of arguably the most outstanding evangelical leader in the last 50 years.  'Uncle John's' eight characteristics of disciples are:
  •  Non-conformity
  •  Christlikeness
  • Maturity
  • Creation-care
  • Simplicity
  • Balance
  • Dependence, and
  • Death
I particularly enjoyed reading the final two characteristics.  Given that JS was 88 years old when he wrote these chapters, they are especially poignant.  Here are a couple quotes to whet your appetite:

p.100 "... life is a pilgrimage between two moments of nakedness ..."

p.112 "I sometimes hear old people including Christian people who should know better say 'I don't want to be a burden to anyone else.  I'm happy to carry on living so long as I can take care of myself, but as soon as I become a burden I would rather die.'  But this is wrong.  We are all designed to be a burden to others.  You are designed to be a burden to me and I am designed to be a burden to you.  And the life of the family, including the life of the local church family, should be one of 'mutual burdensomeness'.  'Carry each other's burdens, and this is the way you will fulfil the law of Christ' (Galations 6:2)

p133-134  "If life means Christ to us, then death will be gain.  Indeed the life to come will be 'far better' than life on earth.  For example:
  • If worship with God's people on earth is profoundly satisfying (which it is), then worship with all in heaven will be more thrilling still.
  • If our heart burns within us whenever the Scriptures are opened to us, all truth will be even more moving.
  • If the glory of a sunset stirs us now, what will the beauty of the new heaven and earth be like?
  • If cross-cultural fellowship moves us now, the great crowds from every nation and language will cause us to rejoice when we finally come together.
  • If sometimes we have known what is is to 'rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory', we shall expect it more often where there will be neither sorrow nor tears.
 Do you get the sense of a man looking forward to heaven?  Praise God for the ministry of John Stott!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book Review: "How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership"

Personally, I am not sure that I have ever changed my mind about women in leadership.  I was raised in a conservative rural Baptist church and my Dad came from a brethren background so it was a given that women did not have leadership roles within our church and there was never any mention of women pastors etc.

I left these safe environs in 1972 and headed to DDIAE (now USQ) where with three other (female) friends we started a small Christian fellowship group.  They were exciting times as we shared together how best to witness for Christ on campus.  It never occurred to me that there might be a hierarchy in our leadership - we laboured together.  Much of my spiritual growth and development in the following years took place with the para-church setting of Scripture Union where, thank God, women exercised leadership and had a heavy influence on me - women like Betty Benn, Ruth Armstrong, Glenys Palmer and many others.

So for many years, while I understood that I was in a minority with my 'liberal' views on women in leadership, the issue did not bite until recently when at the church I attend, we decided to invite Greg and Ruth Peckman to out church as pastors.  Without going into a blow-by-blow description, suffice to say that a number of folk left the fellowship over this issue.  Suddenly it became real and not academic - suddenly I knew people with strong feelings on both sides of the debate!

I loved reading this book - it is not a theological book (though it does deal with the theological issues very well); it is not vitriolic book (though there is much passion and emotion in many of the stories - Tony Campalo does state his views with typical robustness!) - it is a book filled with 'eyewitness' accounts of what it has been like over the past 50 or so years to deal with this issue; to be branded as rebellious, liberal or unbiblical to hold a more inclusive view.  I felt sometimes saddened and mostly heartened as I read the stories.

Here is a taste of the various stories of how different leading evangelicals changed their mind on this topic

In the introduction (page 13), editor Alan Johnson writes:

"I was struck a few years back by a statement from the distinguished News Testament scholar, Dick France [who wrote that] ... 'he knows many evangelicals like himself who have changed their minds about women in leadership and pastoral ministries from a more restrictive view to an inclusive view. but he has never met an evangelical who has changed their mind in the opposite direction.'"

Chapter 2 was very moving.  Ruth Haley Barton describes her journey from a brethren style background and in a few short pages she describes both the journey and gives a succinct overview of the relevant biblical teaching.  While she did not directly deal with the 'difficult' passages relating to women in ministry, I appreciated her explanation of why not:

"One of the hermeneutical principles that I allowed to guide me ... was the idea that we are to look at the broad themes of Scripture and look at difficult passages in light of those great themes [such as] ... freedom for all who are oppressed ... when we require women to pay over and over again for Eve's transgression with their silence and submission, we negate the full redemptive power of the gospel.  Rather than becoming an example of relationships that have been redeemed, we model the curse ... I learned that an examination of Scripture's themes reveals that 'more than a hundred passages in the Bible affirm women in roles of leadership, and fewer than half a dozen appear in opposition,' and I was shocked to realise that we as Christians have built an elaborate system of belief and practice on only a few difficult passages.  These passages have loomed so large that we have allowed them to colour everything else we read."

I was particularly struck by her gracious approach.  I loved her concluding comment:

"By God's grace, I rarely find myself in settings these days where women are not received as equals in ministry, and this is a great blessing.  I have chosen not to speak on these issues anymore, nor do I even argue the point.  I have become convinced that it is much better for me to just do it - ministry that is - as God leads, and to do it to the best of my ability." (Page46)

A number of the authors, no doubt due to the fact that most come from an American background, draw a comparison with abolition of the slave trade.  Stanley N. Gundry (Chapter 7) explains how, during his doctoral research on American church history, he noticed that many church leaders opposed abolition stating that, "The defenders of slavery within churches all claimed the Bible as their starting point, and all developed their defense by appealing to Scripture ... With one voice Southern churchmen defending slavery charged that to reject slavery as sinful was to reject the Word of God."

He goes in to say that, "I had heard this reasoning before ... I was appalled and embarrassed that such an evil practice had been defended in the name of God and under the guise of biblical authority ... it slowly began to dawn on me that I heard every one of these arguments before ... to defend heirarchialism and argue against egalitarianism ... it hit me like a flash.  Some day Christians will be as embarrassed by the church's biblical defense of  patriarchal hierarchialism as it is now of the nineteenth century biblical defense of slavery."

The strength of Cornelius Plantinga's chapter (15) is his defense of the hermenuetic used by egalitarians to develop their position.  His explanation is based on a comparison with the hermeneutic used to defend the abolition of slavery.  Two relevant quotes will suffice, the first from FF Bruce:

"In general, where there are divided opinions about the interpretation of a Pauline passage, that interpretation which runs along the line of liberty is much more likely to be true to Paul's intention than one which smacks of bondage or legalism." (p194)

"Alongside the pain and humiliation it visits on women, besides the dminishments it brings to churches that drain or dam half their talent pool, the policy of exclusing women has become deeply embarrassing.  Males discuss somberly whether we ought to 'allow' women into church offices.  The discussion sounds so much like that of parents trying to decide whether their adolescents are ready to assume adult responsibilities.  It sounds so much like the majorities dithering over whether they ought to invite minorities into their club. It sounds like the church belongs to males." (p195)

All in all, an excellent read and one I would commend to those on both 'sides' of the debate.  Frankly, I found the theological arguments presented compelling (but then again, you would some would say!).  But more than that, I found the overall graciousness and humility of the various stories humbling and very encouraging.  For those who use this issue as some sort of test of Christian orthodoxy, please read and listen carefully! 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Learning to read with purpose

I have always enjoyed reading widely.  Unfortunately (a) my busy lifestyle in responsible positions and (b) my other love of watching sport on TV (often as a means of relaxation), and (c) lack of self-discipline has meant that I have probably not benefited as much as I could from this past time - particularly the more serious tomes.

Since commencing retirement from full-time senior management, I have been determined to read more widely - and after 5 months I have been doing quite well.  I have read a few novels and read/partly read many more non-fiction titles.  It is a chance to read for enjoyment and also to bring together some of the thinking that has impacted on me over the years.

This little post declares my intention to try and wring more benefit from this activity by:

(a) trying not to have too many books on the go at once but to actually finish some of them!
(b) to write a reflection on each book that I read with an emphasis on how it has affected me.

In terms of (b), I would not describe what I am doing as a book 'review' - lots of other people will have read the books I get into and will have done a far better job of it.  When I find one of these that I think is particularly helpful my intention is to reference it.  My focus will be on how the book has impacted on me and why I would/would not recommend it to friends.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Colossians 'Wordle" - what was Paul thinking?!

I am been asked to do the introductory session on the book of Colossians in early March at TCBC.  I came across this idea - a 'wordle' from Quaerentia.  What a great way to get a sense of the emphasis of the original author.  Guess it would be even better if you could do it in Greek!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Thank God for the New Atheism - Alister McGrath

Alister McGrath is publishing a series of posts on the New Atheism on the ABC website - one every two weeks. Here is the first in the series:

Thanks to "Jack Lim" for the tip off!!

Travelling across the Grand Canal - Venice

This is a favourite photo from our overseas trip - speeding across the Grand Canal at sunset (James Bond style boat), I managed to get the sun just right!

Conflict Looming - thoughts on Luke 5:17-39

Over the Christmas season, our church (Toowoomba Community Baptist Church) engaged in an advent series based on Luke 1 and 2.  Three things struck me at the time as I put the series titles together:

"The Bible of Training"

Recently I attended a Certificate IV Training and Assessment Course during which the trainer, referring to a particular VET website commented, "This will become your bible of training."