Monday, August 31, 2015

Strangers in your midst

There's a huge refugee problem in the world.

At church we are studying the problem in a sermon series and home group studies using Scott Higgins book "Boundless Plains to Share".

The book is an interesting exercise in anachronism and conflation of the personal, the historic and the present. It brings up the requirements of Israel to look after (its own) widows and poor, and its (occassional?) strangers with nation states looking after the people of other nation states where those states have failed.

It then does the same thing with the New Testament taking what we are to do personally and locally with the ones we are in contact with -- our neighbour -- with the action of nation states with respect to the failures of other nation states.

In a way this puts us on a war footing with the failed nation state!

We want our country to act honourably. I do not think we want it to act foolishly.

The refugee crisis exists because of the failure of nation states. They either descend into war, there is no rule of law (producing inequity, economic failure and oppression), or the culture is underpinned by beliefs that undo it (religious, social, philosophical). Of course, when people see places that do not have these problems they leave the bad and seek the good.

Our call is to do what we can, recognising that the government has a role to govern. It does not have a role to undo the nation.

For example, if Australia accepted 20,000 annually. Over a lifetime with  natural growth this would represent more than 10% of our population, less with assimilation; but assimilation across radically different cultures is slow if it occurs at all. The proportion would lead to enclaving: the problem Sweden faces, and threaten the safety and peace of the country.

The job of the government is to protect its people. The job of the church is to proclaim the gospel.

What then is the best to do? Current intake processes control the intake to a safe level for the long term good and stability of the country and prevent criminal transport of would be immigrants who  bypass safe but less attractive alternatives to Australia.

Other action: support through the UNHCR for people in refugee camps, action in the UN and economically to pressure failed states to not fail...and most importantly, send missionaries to the failed countries to proclaim the gospel.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Problem of Evil

I'm going for the gong for the shortest entry in the 'problem of evil' contest.
Reams have been written on this subject over centuries, if not millennia. I'm going to have a go in a paragraph or two.

The stimulus for this is a long interview I read with Frame of Systematic Theology fame the other day. He treated the issue in typical Calvinistic manner. Nasty. Incidentally, the reviews I read of Frame's ST didn't evoke in me a desire to read it.

Most work I've read on the PoE, including Hick's seem to have or imply a deficient theology of creation; and that, to my mind, is the problem. Some even to the extent of taking their definitions and parameters from outside the Bible.

I agree that 'evil' is not a thing; it is a quality in relationships; a detrimental one.

The nub of the problem is why did God create a world where evil was possible? Was he not powerful enough to create a world where evil was impossible, but free relationship was? This seems to suggest in part that God is some sort of almighty puppet master; but he is not. He is 'the lover of our souls' to quote a hymn and is in relationship with us who are in his image. The imageness needs to be articulated to the question.

Love entails openness to the possibility of rejection. In Adam humanity rejected God, and continues to seek to exclude God from life and relationships, but for Christ in us. To pose the problem as one who excludes God is more than absurd. Of course, to inquire as one who desires God, and rebels against the evil that besets us is to turn against rejection of God but also to misunderstand.

The question can be recast as: 'could God have made a world where rejection of him did not produce rejection of him'. Often detractors entertain this. They complain about a world marked by rejection of God, but they refuse to not reject him.

As man was given superintending custody of the creation his rejection of relationship with God brought all of creation with him. Man turned/turns from God. He drags the creation, the domain given over to him, with it. God in his mercy cushions our rejection to bring redemption.

The scriptures deal with the problem, finally, in Revelation.


I'm reading Grudem's Systematic Theology and have just completed the chapter on creation. What a disappointment! Two other views: A supportive view and one not quite.

Apart from its light skate over the surface, which is the plan, I think, he got derailed on 'creation'.

Grudem allowed himself to become entwined in current debates about naturalistic/supernatural factors, the timing of creation and 'scientific' approaches to interpretation (without being sufficiently critical of the world view that is typically entailed in what are presented as 'scientific' statements).

As I wrote to Grudem, this type of discussion more belongs in an appendix to a systematic theology, not in the body. In the body we look for theology. He didn't provide much, in my estimation.

Here, theology means to me that we deal with the text, as Thielicke says in The Evangelical Faith: "[the] relation of biblical authors to specific points in history means that their statements have to be seen in their historical determination, their contemporary reference."  We then discuss what the text means theologically in the light of what other Christians have thought and do think that it says, dealing with their reasoning.

Coming to creation, then, what should we look for?

Here are some thoughts.

The relation of God to the cosmos (I'd use the word 'creation' but that might become lexically awkward); considerations such as the continuity of rationality and being between God's willing and its result in our experience. God's timing of the creation, whatever one may think of it, is important as it provides (or some may think, purports to provide) an historical location, and moreover an historical location that places it in uniform time-space that we inhabit and from within which we are in fellowship with God: into which God breaks. Its specificity guards against mythic takes on the account in Genesis.

The creation allows us to consider the parameters of the setting for fellowship between God and man. It sets up one 'book end' for the counterpart to come in the new creation, joined by the trajectory of redemption.

It also helps us to make ontological considerations, grounded in what is actually real, compared to the flights of fantasy that idealist philosophers take us on. It tells us that 'reality' is basically personal, not material, and that reality is conditioned at base by love, either positively in God's actions, or inversely, in ours, but for Christ.

The causal, and indeed, ontological connections between the account, which must be the point of reference for John 1:1-3 and Hebrews 11:3 and God as agent eliminates any possibility of either random inherency in the created world being able to bring about the created world, or there being some sort of principle in the creation which would do similarly and displace Christ's mediating agency.

The creation is thus 'really real' in its connection with God. Understanding of it cannot be fueled by idealist frolics such as theistic evolution. If it were (that is, if it were not framed in a concretely real structure) then it would tell us nothing about who we are or who God is...its 'story' crumbles to fantasy.

The final thing I want to mention, and Grudem does mention this, is that the creation being very good at its inception does not allow Christians to despise the material world, or, as it is made by God, worship it.

Apart from the preceeding paragraph, Grudem touches on none of this.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Evening church reflections 2

My first evensong at CCSL: at the urging of my ex and then recently maybe current girlfriend, I took up with my then now local church: Christ Church St Lawrence. Nearby as I was living in Surry Hills.

I was just finding my feet at householding, and on a cold winter night I was chatting to a fellow congregant at supper who was looking forward to going home to a nice hot casserole. I hadn't figured out the logistics of casseroles at that time, so I was going home to a much lesser offering. Felt poor about it, but what did encourage me is the friendship of quite a number at supper.

Simple Christian company warmed me instead.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Talking to children about death 3

But what would I say to a child about death?

First I'd agree that it is horrible. There're no two ways on that! Then I'd say that we all grieve for loved ones who die, and in a way, grieve for all who die; loved or not.

Because my children know that the world has turned from fellowship with God and rejected his life, death, which is separation, flows from this; they also know that God intensely loves us even though we (as in all people over all time) have corporately rejected him and so has provided for us to return to fellowship with him.

Those who want to be in company with God will be with him for ever, those who don't won't, and they probably wouldn't want to anyway.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Talking to children about death 2

I commented on the Lifehacker article by replying to someone who quoted Sagan's explanation to his daughter, who referred to her father's 'scientific' world view:

Less a 'scientific' worldview and more a materialist one. Sagan could not pretend that he was a-religious. His religion was that material was all there is and mind/person is a (mere) epiphenomenon of matter. Life therefore has no purpose or meaning, and is merely a particular arrangement of matter. Death and life are thus equally and our lives, lived dense with existential meaning are not differentiated in any real way from the void of death. Bleak.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Children: teaching about death

This article tells us how Yuppie materialists (or unthinking fashion followers) think and talk to their children about death.

I wanted to hunt up what Christians have to say about this topic. Of course, lots on the net, but this one post on mis-teaching the faith caught my attention.

Just goes to show how poor is the education of Christians in their faith, the Bible and theology. The trouble is, of course, that the average person is, well, average. And half the population is below this mark. A big cognitive challenge for church teachers.

Refugee action

We had a 'refugee action seminar to cap off the series of sermons and studies on asylum seekers. It landed with the thud of a dead cat.

The conclusion was that no Australian government would adopt policies that would increase the flow of irregular arrivals so pressure there would be pointless.

We knew that.

Instead, pressure for better processing, community settlement (I'd prefer better detention arrangements) and regional cooperation were recommended. What was missed out was pressure internationally to bring delinquent governments to heal. A hard one I know, particularly when the pressure might involve military action: not congenial to the irrelevant left of politics.

But the end result was recommendation to change people here to promote policy change in the longer term. I'd add missionary activity in the source countries to address their toxic cultures.

We do that...

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

History, science and religion

I will post this comment on a blog that deals with science in ancient Rome:

Attributing the decline of science (or rather the failure to start) in Rome to Christianity is a game started by Gibbon, but he had an axe to grind: he didn't like Christianity. Hardly objective.

The reason that science was lame in Rome and even lamer in Islam is not due strictly to society not being ready, but to society being incapable of being ready because of its religious framework. If your basic beliefs make science impossible, it stalls.

Christianity's basic beliefs made modern science possible because it conceptualizes a creation that is separate from the creator, a reasonable creator making a reasonable creation and our minds being communicably congruent with the mind of the creator, and thus his creation being in principle understandable. This was aided by what's called the 'creation mandate'  that is in Genesis man being told to take care of the creation as his own.

Lists and numbers

With my recent posts on 'top'n'' lists of books (top 10, top100, etc). It occurs to me that we could Christianize list lengths.

The pinnacle of anything would be to be in the top 3: the number of the trinity;
Of course, the top 7 (the perfect number) would be to aspire to.
If we need to cast our thoughts more widely, it would be the top 12: the number of the inner circle of disciples, the tribes of Israel.
A more general list could be 40: the number of days of Yeshua's fast.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


We went to the mountains the other day. My chln, not having seen snow, were keen to see it. At prayer the evening before we went, they prayed that they would see snow.

I held my doubt to myself given the weather forecast for not quite cold enough, a little to wet and no mention of snow in the area.

Next day. At our hotel: dark clouds wafted over and chln, looking out the window saw...snow! Bags of it, teeming in (if that's the word for snow), being blown in great squalls across our view, vision dropped to a few hundred metres. So, down to the forecourt to dance in the snow. It didn't hang around but the flakes plastered our coats.

So...God said "yes" to my little ones, and in bags! Pressed down...overflowing. How wonderful.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Evening church -- recollections 1

My post on evening church experience brought some history to mind.

When still a child the big Sunday event was to attend evening church at Epping Church of Christ, where my mother was brought up and served in her younger days. It was great to go to a big city church, often after visiting relations who lived near by, with good numbers, proper music, and a very smart auditorium. It felt proper.

But the big treat was when we were invited to someone's home afterwards for supper. It was a great kindness shown to us, and probably due to my mothers deep roots there, and always exciting to join a conversation with the grown ups.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Yet another list: Grudem's

Wayne Grudem's list of 12 most influential books.

"After book (1) below, it is an impossible question for me to answer exactly. Many books have influenced me at different times. Here are eleven that influenced me quite early in my Christian life (all but #3 and #10 and #11 while I was still in college, before I went to seminary), plus #12, which influenced me many years later.
(1) The Bible, far beyond all other books combined.
(2) John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion
(3) Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology
(4) J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism
(5) Cornelius VanTil, The Defense of the Faith
(6) D. M. McIntyre, The Hidden Life of Prayer
(7) John Murray, Principles of Conduct
(8) John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied
(9) B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation
(10) B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible
(11) Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology
(12) John Wimber, Power Evangelism"
I've read most of them myself! Pretty chilling for a non-Calvinist.

Calvin is a great read: his brilliance shines through, even though his Stoicism does as well.
Berkhof, Machen and VanTil also mainstays of early to mid C20 calvinistic protestantism, but still good education for a young Christian; although I find VanTil's apologetic enterprise obscure, to say the least.

I've not read (7), and may have read (8). The title and author very familiar from my Capernwray days. I've also not read (12) and have no plans to.

The most stimulating of all of them (saving (1), of course) was Vos. Difficult and intense, and maybe that's why.

The great frustration was that as I was reading these books I had no one with whom to discuss them, not even the minister of my church was suitable (no, not you Bob, RK).

Some years later I and a pal read and discussed Thielicke's Evangelical Faith, at least for a few chapters, and that was  truly wonderful experience.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sunday School: what do we teach?

I've read that most young people cease church participation because their questions (their quite reasonable questions) about faith, life and everything are not answered respectfully; that is, they are not answered, but side-lined with a 'just believe' response.

Not good, and not part of the tradition of inquiry that has marked Christian theology from the get go [I think of Peter writing about Paul, and Paul's discussion with Peter].

Answering questions has to start in Sunday School, and be continued through teen age years.

Children need to be taught both the Bible and theology: how to question, how to extract belief from the Bible and reason to their own experience.

In my SS experience, long ago as it was, I don't recall this happening, although some teachers did invite 'life questions' as I grew older.

One approach might be a modernised catechism as a structure for this part of training the young. For example, talking about who God is, why we believe in him and how we reason about belief and question both it and pickings for all ages, properly structured.

Even working through the Apostles Creed as a theological framework would be helpful, I think. Not just learn and recite, but study and think about from the Bible.

Another angle would be to look at God's self-defining actions in history, starting with the creation, through the patriarchs to the rescue of Israel to the resurrection as the first step in helping children to develop a rigorous doctrine of God (without using those terms, of course).

Saturday, August 8, 2015


I went to the Eerdmans website to check the delivery date of Thiselton's new one volume systematic theology: November, so I'll have to wait.

However, interestingly I came across their blog, and saw the most recent entry on same sex 'marriage'.

I liked this comment (don't know how long it will stay there though):
The Christian support for 'same sex marriage' seemingly arises from the desire to be fair or loving or inclusive of difference or diversity, but it is not. It rather represents a failure of critical rationality and participates in the delusion that a same sex partnership could be sexual, noting that marriage provides sexually diverse companionship and for the bringing of children into the world.
In principle two people of the same sex do not couple with that inherent diversity nor are able to bring children into the world, obviously. So, in short, no possibility of a zygote, no possibility of a marriage.

People of the same sex do not and cannot have a sexual relationship; they might have a anti-sex relationship, as they are not characterised by the difference (ironically) that a sexual relationship requires. Mere collision of sexual apparatus does not make a relationship sexual, only sexually perverse.

It seems more than odd then, that Christians would seek to advance a non-sexual relationship as being anything like marriage when it is a socially inert arrangement that is unproductive of children in principle. It constitutes a biological dead end and is barren. Some advance the objection that not all marriages can or do produce children. However, this objection sidesteps the obvious point that it is only male and female together who are able to produce children, while in the particular they might choose not to or not be able to such a relationship is ethically and socio-biologically contiguous with one that does; whereas male and male or female and female cannot, period.

In fact, to put the lie to the idea of same sex marriage, if they do want to reproduce they must put aside the exclusivity of marriage and include a third party to produce the required zygote. But this results in a child cut off from one of its natural parents and exposed to the Cinderella effect. A hideous outcome that at its worst turns children into a commodity,  denies them the nurturing complexity that is designed (or evolved for those who prefer that idea) and marriage into a hollow black comedy.

Friday, August 7, 2015

In the old days

We may sometimes think that medieval times were full of piety and godliness...even if society did not always act congruently with such preoccupations. But no:

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Theology resources

Adding to my lists:

New Testament Gateway

Old Testament Gateway

Church Fathers

Theology on the Web, Robert Bradshaw's site.

Biblical Studies on the Web, another Bradshaw site.

A couple of theology sites that I browse from time to time (not endorsing or necessarily agreeing, but some 'good for thinking' resources):

After Existentialism

Trinity Foundation