Friday, February 27, 2009


Yes, it's pretty obvious isn't it, I've been pretty busy recently. Last week was particularly bad - I was really struggling and was grateful for people picking up some of the slack. My own diagnosis, which I still think is right, is that I was on a bad downward spiral: I was tired, which led to me experiencing culture stress pretty acutely, which led to more tiredness. Spending Saturday in London last week helped somewhat, though not perfectly. Nonetheless I thankfully seem to have recouped some of my energy reserves. The workload this week hasn't changed but I seem to be dealing with it better. Worked every single night this week! I'm beginning to feel like an investment banker. Well. Pre-credit crunch anyway. And without the money. Though there's heavenly riches yada yada. :)

I'm going to make my debut next week! Am speaking for 10 minutes on who is Jesus to a fairly disparate group of non-Christian international students. Writing this talk has been really hard. It's all about being selective as to what to include and what not to include, having to monitor any cultural presuppositions from creeping into the text - that's harder than you think! - and trying to find the right pitch for it. I have absolutely no experience of preaching evangelistically. Nada. Not even in a training context. So pray pray pray!

I've been reading through Ephesians with a younger Christian, and have found it both hugely enjoyable and challenging. It's been fun digging into a book I haven't looked at for quite a while now, and exciting to watch him grow and discover things he's never seen before. (Ephesians 1:9-10 anyone? Or chapter 2, a huge favourite of mine?). Quick aside: Max Turner in New Bible Commentary's pretty useful. But I'm also thinking through how to help him see for himself how the Bible speaks into his particular situation instead of me giving him canned answers. And more and more I'm beginning to see that if I don't allow God's Word to preach to me, I'm going to have a really hard time helping anyone do the same for themselves.

Day off tomorrow! Looking forward to it!

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Sunday, February 15, 2009


Monday, February 09, 2009

Zac Trust training day

Was at a Zacharias Trust training day on Saturday, which I really enjoyed. Especially when I don't have to pay for it! :) I got sponsored by my church. All four speakers were brilliant communicators, albeit with different styles.

In the morning, we had Alister McGrath and John Lennox on engaging the new atheism. It's the first time I've heard Prof. McGrath in person, and he's an exceptional speaker. His lecture covered what was familiar ground for me, as he exposed the fallacy of assuming that science was incompatible with faith. (I know I often warn against the cult of Christian celebrity, but I was sorely tempted to go and get my McGrath book for him to autograph!) John Lennox then tackled the ethical dimension of the new atheism, concluding that the new atheism had no basis in which to ground its morality.

But it was probably Michael Ramsden's talk that was the most interesting I've heard in ages. He surprised me, and I suspect, virtually all the audience by essentially giving us an economics lecture in the first half of his talk, as he sought to explain, as simply as he could, the nuts and bolts of the credit crunch. His basic point was that the current financial system as it stands is ultimately based on trust, which is a subset of morality. And he then went on to speak, ultimately, the gospel into the situation, and that what we need is more than an economic solution, we need to repent and believe! I'm oversimplifying massively here, and I don't think I've even begun to convey how electrifying the talk was.

We ended the day with a man of much wisdom and experience, the imitable Michael Green, who spoke on the confidence we can have in the gospel of Jesus. After being dazzled somewhat by rhetorical fireworks throughout the day, it was great to be reminded, once again, of what the gospel was. Michael Green expounded the gospel, seeking once again to open our eyes afresh, and proceeded briefly to offer some evidence we can be sure Jesus rose from the dead, and that the Scriptures we possess are reliable. A good way to end, especially since none of us will ever have brains as big as Ramsden and gang. But it is the gospel that forms the bedrock of our confidence, not the intellect of some big names.

Apologetics no longer floats my boat the way it once did, but I was reminded that the body of Christ is made of many parts, all of them indispensable, and so we must pay tribute to Christian apologetics for the service it renders to the glory of God.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

...and a note on Perak...

Raising the next generation

The latest 9Marks ejournal has some interesting stuff on raising the next generation of pastoral workers as the church's job, including a very stimulating interview with Mark Dever. One excerpt:
9M: When you talk about the importance of a church having a 360 degree view of person's life, you are relying on a certain philosophy of ministry. What assumptions are you making about how ministry and Christian growth work? Why not just train me in Greek and homiletics and put me behind a pulpit, like a seminary can do?

Dever: That's a great question. I'm assuming that ministry is more than simple proclamation. Simple proclamation is essential to ministry—it's a non-negotiable. But then that proclamation takes place in the context of a community of people who know each other. They're geographically in the same place; they assemble regularly together; and, as a consequence, they know each other.
There seems to be the presumption in the New Testament of pastoral authority accompanying pastoral relationships, as in Hebrews 13, where the members are told to consider the lives of the leaders (in verse 7) before they are told to obey those leaders (in verse 17).

The importance of knowing one another also fits with what we hear the Lord say in John 13 about our witness: that the world will know we are his disciples by the love we have for one another.
I in no way want to denigrate the centrality of preaching the word. But if we just preach the Word without having this relational web or context for ministry, which is the local church, then we don't know how to do membership, how to do discipline, how to disciple; we're not going to be a very good witness either (or if we are, it's accidental)...
Read the whole thing.

The other interesting section was the profiles of various church-affiliated training programmes, and particularly the one on Ministry Training Course (MTS) in Australia, as that's the one which provided the template for church apprenticeships here in the UK. A few of their reflections on the benefits of these apprenticeships:
Apprentices learn to integrate Word, life and ministry practice.

Apprentices are tested in character.

Apprentices learn that ministry is about people, not programs...They learn that ministry is about prayerfully proclaiming Christ to people, not administrating endless programs.

...Another problem with the academic training model is that it suits certain personalities. But our best evangelists and church planters might be those who struggle to learn in the passive context of the classroom. These people thrive in a context where they were talking and preaching and building ministries and being tutored along the way. In academia they would be deemed failures.

And on seminaries:
"...An apprentice model has the advantage of on-the-job training, but the disadvantage of training with only one man's perspective and capacity. Seminaries have the great blessing of "the multiplier effect," preparing many students under the best minds in their fields of study. And the best seminaries do this with field-service requirements that will also involve students in the real life of the church.

No system is perfect, but the blessings of a good seminary education are seen both in the ministry retention rates of well trained graduates as well as in the increasing availability of first-rate seminary training in the developing world. Such training will do much to curb the destructive health-and-wealth gospel that passes for Christianity in too many nations.

...I believe the best ministry preparation takes place where there is a partnership between the seminary and the local church. Some things are well learned in a classroom. Some things are best learned in the dynamic of a local church..."

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Thursday, February 05, 2009


Two figures, St. James Park; a snow-covered Soho Square in London. [Pics from Times Picture Gallery]

It's not uploaded on my computer, but I had a snowball fight this morning, and got to see my first snowman (never had enough snow to see one built before)!

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Sunday School answer is still the best one

So I was making my way out after listening to the lunchtime talk from Joe Boot on whether Christianity is restrictive or promises true freedom with a non-Christian friend. I confess, I think he did ramble on a bit, and I wasn't sure if he really spoke to the heart as well as to the mind, as it were. But it was all in all a good presentation contending for the intellectual credibility of the Christian faith, and he marshalled the philosophical arguments well.

Anyway, I then noticed a girl whom I had chatted to briefly last night at another event, and so decided to go over and say hi. And got ambushed.

Me: Oh, hi... (interrupted)

Girl: (obviously still buzzing from the talk, speaking at 100mph) Yeah wasn't that a really good talk but I really disagreed with him as I think it was all based on an assumption that needn't be made that life had to find its meaning in God I mean we can obviously derive meaning from other things like family or friends and find fulfillment in that don't you think?

Me: (trying to pick myself up from the bullet train in front of me) Errr...yes...but isn't it, um, true, um, that his central point was how much life would simply be meaningless without a God? And um, what an empty life that would be?

Girl: Sure but do you really need a God for that I mean I don't see why you need God for life to be meaningful at all when you can be perfectly happy with what you've got at the moment...

Me: (screaming silently at brain to come back from lunch break and voicebox to stop stuttering) Yes, I can see where you're coming from... (obviously stalling for time while brain wakes up from siesta) um, what you're saying is that ultimately, there's no reason why it can't be up to us to find our own meaning in life...

Girl: Yes... (looks expectantly at me while I desperately attempt to look to be in deep contemplation)

Me: Errm...(here I started a sentence - twice - before hastily rephrasing it)That's interesting, as um, I think he (Joe Boot) chose a particular line looking at how ultimately only Christianity lends our lives deep meaning. But you're right, why shouldn't we be able to um, make our own meaning? But the question isn't simply pragmatic, it isn't just about where we find meaning or fulfillment or happiness, it's also about truth. If God is God, if he's real, he's there, then surely he's the one who has the final say as to where we find real meaning or happiness? I mean, if there's no God, then you're right, we can invest meaning in whatever we wish. But if God is there, then surely he's the one whom we derive meaning from, and so we want to live in conformity with what he says.

Girl: (finally slowing down a little) I what you're saying is, there's actually another issue at stake here, whether God exists or not...

Me: (Whew!) Yes, exactly, that's what we need to think about first...

Girl: But...I don't see how that question can ever be answered. I don't think there's any way we can ever find out if God does exist or not.

Me: (depending on reflex at this point, and probably the Holy Spirit) That's interesting, because that's exactly what the Christian claim is. You know, in John's Gospel, it says that we can actually find out whether God exists, what he's like because, because, and this is what Christians believe, Jesus has made God known. Look at Jesus, Christians say, and you'll know God.

Girl: ...never really thought about that before...

Me: And so Christians will say, look at Jesus' claims. What's he like? Is he whom he says he is? I mean, if he isn't, then Christianity falls completely. But if he is, can you see how that completely changes everything? (Girl nods) It just turns your world upside down! So we need to find out more about Jesus. He's the pivotal figure.

Girl: So you're saying I need to go find out more about Jesus because he's basically the pivot, the one on which everything stands? Yeah I can see that.

Me: Do you think you'll be exploring more on this then?

Girl: Yeah, I think I will! Got to go!

Me: (still slightly dazed) What just happened??

The conversation lasted, I think, only 7 minutes or so, but I don't think I've quite wrapped my head around it just yet. But I guess, the Sunday School answer is really, still the best one. I certainly hope she'll realise that.

*Conversation not verbatim obviously, but I think I've reproduced the phrasing fairly accurately

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Nearly 3 years ago now I had my first significant conversation about possibly pursuing paid full-time gospel ministry. And here I am, much further on this expedition than I thought was even possible a year ago.

Today, rather unexpectedly, I got to sit down with someone at the same stage I was then: an international student and finalist, taking tentative steps and peeking through that door marked "Full-time paid gospel ministry". And wonderfully, this student, having only peered through a peephole of this weird and wonderful and frightening world, then got up with a glimpse of a much broader vista. Well, ok, those are my words. :) But I hope I did help in some way, as we explored how to think through those questions, and as I got to lay on the table some options and resources that had not previously been considered, I helped this particular person just a little further along the way.

Walking home, I had one of those out-of-body experiences where I was thinking to myself: Man, I can't believe I actually said this or that! Was that me? Ugh!

And then I thought: Cool!

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