Saturday, 31 May 2008


The girls and I took a bus to Balmain.

It was a glorious afternoon.

We made up a little song. Here it is.

Wah! Wah! Wah!
Woof woof.
Brmm. Brmm.
Spotto orange bike!
Spotto green car!
Hey lookat the cat!
Hello, Bebe!

Lily Violet added a bit more, but I forget it now.

It was a good walking song.


Beautiful...Sydney Autumn Day.

The last one for at least 9 months, I confidently predict.

Pornography as art?

I posted a few comments about this subject on the sola panel blog. There's an interesting discussion going on with Michael and a few others right now, in the comments section, which you may also like to check out. What is the best way to respond to art that appears to transgress moral boundaries?

Thursday, 29 May 2008


From Tim Challies, summarizing Iain Murray at a Banner of Truth Conference:

The Need to Pray for a Great Awakening

We can become so accustomed to the status quo that we stop anticipating great change. The keenness of our expectation slowly disappears. Very few ministers keep up the edge on their spirit that was there at first. There is a sense in which being dissatisfied with the present is sinful, but we can still eagerly anticipate God’s works. The extraordinary is not ordinary and there is a real sense in which we need to be satisfied with what God is doing now. But at the same time it is true that we need to expect great things from God.

This really is the only strategy I'm interested in.

Contextualization; a bit more.

I love comments on old posts.

Well, good ones.

So check the post. It's about Acts 17, where Paul (according to some) soft-soaps the Athenians into listening to his message by appropriate contextualization.

But does he?

I doubt it, and Alex does too.

Here's his comment, unedited despite the invitation because Matilda is about to get taken to netball:

[update: edited just a teeny bit. Matilda's at netball, so I sit and edit, as editors do.]

Gordon, my friend, I really have to thank you for initiating this debate on Acts 17 and for arguing strongly against using Paul's speech as an argument for "contextualizing the gospel".

After a bit more research on Acts 17 which I had to conduct in the last days, I am even more inclined to agree with you and want to add three points to your list:

1. What is often overlooked is the context of the Areopagus speech, the framing narrative. The Areopagus speech itself is not the start of Paul's preaching in Athens, it is his last word there.

He apparently started preaching soon after he arrived in Athens. Note that from the beginning of his preaching he addressed not only the Jews and the God-fearers in the synagogue but also gave public talks in the market-place (v 17).

And what was the content of his message to the Athenians? The usual stuff: Jesus and the resurrection (v 18).

So Paul confronted the pagan Athenians with the Gospel right from the beginning, and there is not the slightest hint of "contextualisation of the gospel".

2. In the Areopagus speech itself he is indeed not too nice to the well-educated, philosophy-loving Athenians. His reference to the "unknown god" (agnostos theos, v 23) is often understood as if he were saying: you poor guys, I understand that God is difficult to know; I'll help you.

But that's much too soft an interpretation.

What he actually does in this verse is calling the philosophers, who are terribly proud on their education and knowledge because of which they think they know everything - he calls these guys agnoountes (note the plural): 'those who know nothing', who, despite of their brillant education and knowledge, have not the slightest idea of the true God.

Your philosophical knowledge, Paul says, on which you are so proud, does not help you at all. To put it bluntly, he calls them 'stupids' - wrapped in philosophical clauses.

3. agnoountes derives from ag-noein, literally: 'having no mind'.

Later in the speech, v. 30, Paul uses this compound again, as a noun, ag-noia, together with another compund with -noein: the well-known meta-noein, literally: 'to change one's mind', mostly translated with 'to repent'.

So in v 30 Paul not only characterizes the Athenians again as being in the state of agnoia, of ignorance, but he also calls them to turn their minds!

This is rudest philosopher bashing, and it is a real surprise that they interrupt him not already then but only after he mentioned the resurrection (again!, one has to add).

In consequence, one can't really say with Phil Nicholson (s.a.) that Paul is making adjustments because he wants "to get a hearing for the gospel and make it understood". I think Christoph Stenschke (Luke's portrait of Gentiles, p. 224) has it right that "the speech addressed and revealed at every point the misconceptions behind and the inadequacy of pagan theology, worship and piety, all of which are branded as ignorance of the true nature of God and his worship. ... The best educated Gentiles appear as spiritual 'write-offs'."

One may call this 'contextualisation', if one wants to.

(If this comment needs editing, feel free ...)


"This is rudest philosopher bashing..."


Not all thinkers will appreciate this, however.

Rudd's papers

Annabel Crabb conducts a bit of psychoanalysis on the Rudd papers:

Comrade Ferguson's capitulation suggests that discipline is as crisp as ever in the Ruddocracy.

But the increasing disarray in the Dear Leader's papers suggests intriguingly otherwise.

Mr Rudd has always spread out his papers in question time, constructing neat piles which he rearranges and tends with all the assiduity of a pensioner at bingo.

But in recent days, his piles have become noticeably dishevelled. There were 18 yesterday, as best we could count - although counting them was difficult because they spilled into each other.

At one point, he dragged up another chair and had three new piles going on that, plus another stack propped up behind the brass clock that adorns his desk.

The whole effect was unsettling in its disorder; kind of like the scene in A Beautiful Mind where you finally get to see inside John Nash's shed and it's a flapping mass of newspaper clippings, and you finally understand the true extent of his condition.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Social action and the last day

Tony Payne has a particularly important post on the Sola Panel blog, on the subject of 'Social Action and the Last Day.'

Here's his second point:

# Godly social action will be recognized on the last day, along with all our godly deeds.

Our good deeds are the fine linen we will wear on the great day of judgement; they will not earn our salvation or justification (of course!), but they are evidence of our saving faith in Christ. They will thus be a reason for commendation from our heavenly Father, even if others have not seen them (1 Cor 4:5).

Clearly, he is a supporter of Christian social action.

Take the effort to read the whole post though. This is just one of the basic building blocks of the argument he's making.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008


Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt.

Doctors and the end of life

There's a terrible story about a father dying after an attack in Bathurst St in Sydney, here.

But buried in the article is something else quite concerning:

Although doctors initially said he would not recover from his brain damage-induced coma, his family refused to let him die, demanding that doctors continue to provide "active" care.

"They said he wouldn't recover sufficiently for his quality of life to be good enough," Ms Gilsenan said.

"[But] he did get a lot better … he really did make progress and he got into rehab, which they told us he would never do."

So persistent was his recovery that just before Easter he was able to say the names of his daughters and even leave the hospital in a wheelchair to visit friends.

The article goes on to report that the man died of pneumonia.

What's concerning is that the doctors had clearly made a mistake about the man's prognosis, with the result that the family had to insist that he be given proper medical care. I wonder how often this happens?

I have heard two first-hand accounts of abortion being suggested as an option to parents where the child turned out to be completely healthy after birth.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Seeing the psychiatrist

"Do you know what? I think we solved all our problems, just sitting out here in the waiting room."

-from tonight's episode of Desperate Housewives.

A historian comments on a comment on Acts 17

Alex comments on Acts 17 and contextualization:

Sorry, Gordon, I know you are busy with other things, but I just couldn't resist to comment on this post.

Sarah's thesis that Paul re-contextualises Aratos gets strong support from the (in my view) most important book on the Areopagus speech (Bertil Gärtner, The Areopagus Speech and Natural Revelation, Uppsala 1955). Gärtner's main thesis is that Paul borrowed words and phrases from pagan writers, but the meaning he gives to them is completely different from that of their original context.

Those who defend the idea that the speech is Pauline (although the wording probably is Luke's) also see strong links between Acts 17 and Romans 1.

(For the historian there is also an interesting parallel between Aratos' l. 2: "For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus" and Acts 17,16 "the city was full of idols". Might be worth writing an article on that parallel and dedicate it to Sarah Fordham - if she doesn't want to write the article herself....)


Thanks Alex, yes I am a bit preoccupied, but your comment was worth dragging out of the comments page and reproducing here. Yes, I thought you might like what Sarah had to say ;-)

And I do like that you have referred to a Swede.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Acts 17

This comment by Sarah Fordham on an old post made me think carefully about the usefulness of history.

Paul does something very interesting in quoting the poet Aratus. He re-interprets, or should I say re-contextualises [to place (as a literary or artistic work) in a different context]. He seems to be ignoring the fact the poem is about Zeus and extolling the deity, nay false god, full on. It's like he is replacing the name Zeus with the name Jesus in his mind, and making out this is an OK thing to do. In v 29 we have the turning point: 'being then children of God' and it's a recontextualisation.

Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
For we are indeed his offspring...
(Phaenomena 1-5).

I would link this passage with what Paul says in Romans 1:'the pagans are without excuse because of the things that have been made...' He says that people suppress the truth - 'that which is known about God is evident within them.'

Sur[e]ly mission is about uncovering this truth no[w] it is no longer suppress[ed]? Wouldn't that entirely change the way we approach evangelism?

Sarah, all I can say is 'Pow, Bam' (I'm talking about the effect on me, reading it). It's a phenomenal quote, and quite possibly an answer to something I've been praying about on and off for the last little bit with a friend, which is about the value of the study of history. Thanks for helping clear away some barnacles.

I'm not sure I agree, however, that the truth is no longer being suppressed! (If that is what you were saying)

Friday, 23 May 2008

For all lovers of strategy

For all you lovers of strategy out there, Rick Warren is on your side.

Check this post on the Irish Calvinist website, entitled Rick Warren: "Your Preaching & Prayer will not grow your church, but your skill."

(Warning: If you're not keen on sarcasm, you will need to take a few deep breaths before, during and after the heavily editorialized YouTube video link that's included in this piece. But the points made by the editorializer are completely valid. The Rick Warren quotes, including the one from the blog post title, are spoken by the man himself. Towards the end are some observations by John Piper from Scripture that flatly contradict what Warren is asserting)

Rick Warren is an incredibly skilled and passionate communicator, and this makes his attack on biblical preaching all the more seductive and reprehensible.

Jesus is Lord


Berlioz—Romeo et Juliette

Our choir's singing this on June 6 and 7

Someone cleverly managed some free advertising in the letters page of today's SMH

Next month the Sydney Symphony will perform Berlioz's dramatic symphony Romeo and Juliet, a work paid for by Niccolo Paganini, proving money can buy great art. Freed from the daily grind of writing newspaper articles for a crust, in nine months Berlioz conjured the high point of Western art music. Thank you, Mr Paganini.

Richard Lynch, Waterloo

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Psalm 46

To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A song.

1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.


4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.


8 Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.


Deirdre Bromham

Fiona's mother Deirdre passed away early yesterday morning, Wednesday May 21, 2008.

Her passing was sudden but not unexpected. In God's kindness each of her family were able to say their farewells before she departed.

She'd recently celebrated her 80th birthday with family and friends at a hotel in Berrima.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)

Wednesday, 21 May 2008


We must have one, or the gospel will not reach people!


Dunno. It's just what people keep telling me, a lot, and IN A LOUD VOICE.



I need to pray that next time I'm faced with the reality that life's not in my control, that I won't be surprised. And I need to pray that I start to trust that God's plans for my life are perfect. And that they are good.

That's not an easy thing to pray.

See here.

Contains undiluted heresy

“This book includes undiluted heresy.”

Well, Al, that means it is heresy that has been diluted in the form of a book.

Al is quoted somewhere here.

Sad news

We've experienced a loss in the family, and I will post again in due course. Prayers appreciated.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Zechariah 14: A vision of heaven and hell.

Barry Webb discusses Zechariah 14; a vision not merely of God’s judgement upon the nations attacking earthly Jerusalem, and the rebellious inhabitants of Jerusalem, but of the final coming of the kingdom of God:

But the joy of salvation, in the Bible, never descends into sentimentality; it is always grounded in reality and truth. And so it is here, for the term survivor is a two-edged sword. Not everyone will survive; some will be overthrown by God’s judgment. And the reason is simple: not everyone will go up to Jerusalem to worship the King (17). They will maintain their defiance to the end; and for them there will be no victory, and no joy, but want (no rain), plague and punishment (17-19). Zechariah’s vision of the coming kingdom of God is wonderfully inclusive: it embraces people of all nations. But it is not universalist in a sentimental, truth-evading way. Belonging to the people of God is not merely a matter of survival, as though all that is required is to be alive; it is also, more fundamentally, a matter of personal decision. One must choose to come to the feast, and join the worshippers. And Zechariah is quite clear that not everyone—nor even the majority—will choose to do so.

There is hell as well as heaven.

[bold mine. The numbers in the text refer to the verses of Zechariah 14].

-Webb, Barry G. The Message of Zechariah, from The Bible Speaks Today series (London: IVP, 2003) pp. 181-182.

Images of Hell

By divine coincidence, I came across this description of God's terrible judgement as I was working my way through Tim McMahon's excellent studies on the book of Zechariah, which I'm editing at the moment:

And this shall be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths.

That's Zechariah 14:12.

When I read passages like this, I wonder if our preaching of hell and judgement is somewhat weak and flaccid. I've never once heard the reality of hell preached in such terrible terms as this, and it makes me wonder if we shouldn't do it more. To the suggestion that it is excessive, the answer surely has to be that it's right there, in the Bible. And anyway, anyone who's read Lord of the Rings or played a Playstation video game would be able to connect to this imagery immediately.

(This coincidence relates to my blog post over on The Sola Panel.)

Saturday, 17 May 2008


We keep being surprised by our own suffering, as if it were a stranger or an interloper within our world. But this shouldn't be so. Because even if suffering is a stranger in our world, we've been clearly instructed not to be so inhospitable as to reject it, and by no fewer than four apostles.


1 Pet. 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.


Rom. 8:17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.


James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds

and John:

1 John 3:13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.

Possibly we might add the writer to the Hebrews, assuming he is not one of the four already mentioned.

The crowning instruction comes from our Lord himself:

Mark 8:34 And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

So we should embrace our suffering not as a stranger, but as a friend sent by our Saviour to help us on our way.

Preaching hell to depressed teens

On the Sola Panel blog.

Brendan Nelson

Can't last long.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Poetry Friday

Friday, they do say, is Poets' Day.


Although I've never been a hot shot in the poetry stakes, I thought I should at least do a bit of research to get myself up to speed. A bit of initial groundwork turned up this history of poetry.

I don't know much about poetry, but I know what I like, to coin a phrase. And I quite liked that.

Warning. If you actually do like poetry, I would nae click on that link if I were ye (as Robbie Burns might sae). Ye might find it a wee bit...disappointin'.

Move along poetry lovers, nothing to see here.

To blog or to pray?

Sometimes I think about whether to blog or to pray about some pressing matter, and I realize that it is more effective just to pray.

It's one of the difficulties about talking about Christian inaction in the face of certain issues, especially political ones. For those who have a strong trust that God keeps his word, we are persuaded by that word that the most effective 'action' of all is to ask God for things.

Now this doesn't preclude the possibility of other action being taken as well. But it does mean that a great deal more might be happening that is unseen than our meagre minds can think or imagine.

Zechariah 4:10 says " For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel." It's about the rebuilding of Jerusalem, which will be effective against massive political odds because the LORD has decided that it will happen. The plumb line in Zerubbabel's hand is the sign that the small thing will grow into the big thing.

Prayer is smaller than a plumb line, but the God who stands behind it is a great God. v 10 continues "These seven are the eyes of the LORD, which range through the whole earth."

That's a rather random cogitation and not really a model for how you read Zechariah 4.

(which I'm reading at the moment. If you forced me to explain I'd say my talk of prayer and plumb lines was a tangential application that highlights the key idea of the passage, which is that God sovereignly achieves everything he ever sets out to do, in accordance with his word)

But it struck me that it was more important to blog about prayer than about Burma, just this morning.

And also to pray.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

An evangelical who won't sign

The evangelical manifesto, that is.

US Southern Baptist Richard Land talks about it here.

The more I've gone back to reading it myself, the more questions about meaning are opened up, and Richard offers a good collection of them. The meaning of 'evangelical' in the document is watery, and that's a pretty basic problem.

Good quote:

As I grow more mature in years I am more and more aware of just how wise Billy Graham’s policy is of never signing statements you haven’t written yourself.

Al Mohler's thoughts about it here.

Who gets comforted by judgement and wrath?

I read a blog post from The Pilgrim Penguin that links the judgement of God to the problem of evil.

In it she says

Most arguments for atheism, including one I heard recently from Peter Singer, revolve around unjust human suffering: if God cares about us, why does He allow so much suffering without intervening? Either God doesn't exist, or God is bad.

One facet of a response to this question is to consider the judgement of God.

This set me thinking about who will get comforted by the notion of God's judgement and wrath.

It is counter-intuitive to think of the judgement and wrath of God as a comforting idea. But those who suffer now cry out to God for his help and his justice. In Revelation 6, this call for justice continues even beyond death! In this passage, those who are martyred for the faith ask God to bring his judgement, and soon:

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

Although Revelation 6 is written for all Christians, there will be a special group who should read it and draw particular comfort. They are the people mentioned in verse 11, the "fellow servants and their brothers" of those who have already suffered martyrdom, who are about to suffer in exactly the same way. If you were about to die for your faith, and to die in the most painful and excruciating way, the reminder of coming judgement would be the most wonderful comfort. All will be put right by our mighty avenging judge, the lamb on God's throne who is also the Lion of Judah.

If the thinking behind Revelation 6 is right (and how dare we suggest otherwise), the doctrine of coming judgement ought to be preached with greater severity to those who need comfort and feel abandoned by God. We must never, never, tone down the horror of God's wrath; in doing so we take away the comfort and encouragement of those who feel that God is a long way away.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

I just want some friends

Facebook friends, that is.

If you haven't already, just sign up with facebook (so ensuring that you are permanently stalkable), and send me a friend request.

No reasonable offer refused.

If you send me too many offers of applications, you will be terminated. ;-)

Be warned though, I update my status irritatingly regularly.

Fair trade coffee

A worthwhile discussion of fair trade coffee has started over on the sola panel blog.

We've enabled comment moderation over there, and that seems to be working for us so far. The comments still manage to flow through in a reasonably prompt fashion, which means that a good and thoughtful discussion is possible. Why not head on over and add a comment, if you've had some ideas on the topic?

Burma, China

Here is another way to help; and the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen has launched an appeal that you can donate to here.

We need to keep China in our prayers too. The government there has moved quickly and efficiently to bring help to those who need it.

US beats UN

In deed and not just word, the US has been better at getting aid to Burma, hindered only by Burma's own government.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

How many days?

How many days should you wear a shirt? It's autumn in Sydney, and it's getting colder. If you have a laptop-pushing job like mine, you can actually reach the end of the day without cracking a sweat. Actually, if you have a laptop-pushing job like mine, where you also sometimes work from home by yourself, you can sit there wearing your wife's t-shirt that you slept in with the words 'I'm with stupid' lovingly texta-ed on by one of your daughters, and no-one will be any the wiser (no, fifi has no such t-shirt, but you get the picture).

So is it OK to wear a shirt 2 days straight? What if you get to the end of day 2 and it's still fine, in your opinion? What if you take it off and lie it over a chair for a few days, thus allowing it to breathe, and then wear it again? What if you're only seeing people off in the distance most of the time, or out in the open air where the odour of stale sweat is not nearly as obvious?

All just academic questions, you understand. But the washing does mount up a bit in winter.

Quake in China

SMH report on quake that has killed 5000.

Monday, 12 May 2008


Beautiful...Sydney autumn day.

Fired up about hell

I seem to have gotten a bit carried away with this topic. Blog readers who've joined up in the last little while could be forgiven for thinking that it's a regular subject. But it's really only featured in posts during the last two weeks or so. Who knows what the future holds? But for the moment, if you want to review some of the ground covered, you can go to the following:

1. Politeness and hell

2. Taxidrivers and hell

3. Preaching hell

4. Preaching judgement

5. Do we preach hell too much?

6. Hell: a help for depression

7. Did Jesus preach judgement to all Israel?

8. Broughton Knox on judgement and contextualization

9. Who gets comforted by judgement and wrath?


10. Preaching hell to depressed teens.

11. Preaching hell for the comfort of angry people.

That's not a complete list, but it is enough to be getting on with for the moment.

Broughton Knox on judgement and contextualization

The message of the New Testament:

The New Testament message is a message about the judgement of God on every individual and over every human institution.

-"World evangelism", in D. Broughton Knox, Selected Works Vol II, p 225.

The message of God's judgement is the message which Christians are commissioned to proclaim. It is a very practical and a very pressing message, but within this message there is a word of grace and hope, for the judge is also the saviour...

The message of God's judgement is a very relevant message. It is the point of contact with the hearer, for whatever the culture barrier between the messenger and hearer, both have this common ground; they know the guilt of sin. This is a universal human experience, and it is at this point that the gospel message becomes relevant. For within the message of judgement there is also the message of the victory that Christ has won over sin, so that all who call upon his name as their Lord receive remission of sin and are no longer under judgement but have passed out of death into life. They are accepted by God as his sons and daughters, and stand before him in his favour.

-ibid. p. 226

Broughton says more about judgement and contextualization in other places:

A gospel which contains judgement as a prominent strand as does the New Testament gospel, is relevant to men and women everywhere and in every age and culture. It does not need indigenization [that is, contextualization], so popular a catchword today, but requires only clarity of language and faithfulness in proclamation. The sense of right and wrong is universal in the human race and so is the knowledge that we fall below our own standards of what is right, and that this entails death.

Thus the gospel that contains judgement, and salvation from judgement, is a gospel that is always relevant to the hearer, no matter to what stage of civilization he may have attained. Such a gospel does not need to be assimilated to the culture of the people who are hearing it.

A theology that proclaims the God who saves from judgement by forgiveness through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ does not need to be adapted for Australian audiences, or to be turned into a black theology for the blacks of North America. Asian Christians and Western Christians need the same gospel and the same theology which is based on it, and all are able to understand it, no matter how different the cultural backgrounds of the hearers and preachers may be, so long as the proclamation is true to the New Testament gospel of judgement and salvation from judgement.

-Broughton Knox, "The Everlasting God" in Selected Works Volume I, p. 60

Australian, African—American, Asian, Western. We may as well add young, old, teenagers, men, and women. Or with Paul: 'Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, female' (Gal 3:28)

Did Jesus preach judgement to all Israel?

Well, he preached a lot more than that! His was a message of grace and salvation; so much so that he (or John, it is a little bit hard to work it out) could say "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:17)

Not that judgement and grace are ever separated in Jesus' message. The very next verse of John's account makes that plain: "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:18)

Now all of this is by way of getting back to this post, where I suggested that Jesus preached judgement in the clearest and starkest possible terms. And that he did this not only to the smug religious people but to the whole of Israel, as he instructed 72 of his disciples to take such a message right through the towns and villages of the nation. Speaking to his disciples, he set matters out without any hint of ambiguity:

I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

-Luke 10:12.

Lurid as this warning was, we might ask ourselves whether the 72 disciples, when they went out, were as harsh as Jesus himself when they actually spoke to the people of Israel?

After all, Jesus' words about Sodom were not addressed to the villages themselves, but could almost be read as an aside to the disciples.

We don't have any direct evidence on this question, since the actual preaching of the 72 on this mission is not recorded.

But we do have one reliable judge regarding what was preached, and that is the Lord Jesus himself.

With this in mind, we note that whatever asides Jesus may have made to his disciples about Sodom, the very next words he speaks are addressed not to the disciples but to the villages that they will be visiting

though they still form part of his briefing session for the 72, and so are meant to be heard by them.

They likewise are words of judgement:

13Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.

and they continue the thought that Jesus has begun by his mention of Sodom

and indeed, by his mention of what the disciples ought to do if the message they preach is not received.

Not only this, but Jesus' response on their return

"I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven", Luke 10:18

indicates satisfaction over the way they've fulfilled their commission, showing that they passed on the message exactly as they heard it. We don't have any reason at all to think that the disciples as they preached their way through Israel watered down their message, or the horrifying terms in which it was stated by their Lord.

Not that we need to doubt that the disciples themselves were fired up to deliver a message of judgement on their master's behalf. Immediately before this mission, James and John, foaming at the mouth over Samaria's rejection of Jesus, have asked Jesus:“Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" (Luke 9:54). No wonder Jesus called them Sons of Thunder!

Jesus on that occasion tones them down; the people of the towns of Israel, however, receive no such postponement of his judgement message. As far as Jesus himself is concerned, the news he brings is







and more judgement

every step of the way from the North of Israel, on his journey south towards Jerusalem. Until finally when we see him arriving at Jerusalem, what does he then preach to all his Israelite hearers? Sure enough, judgement.

This is only a selection of some from the central section of Luke's gospel (Luke 9:51-19:27). Many, equally harsh words are addressed to the religious insiders (for example here, here, here, and here, not to mention here.

Yet in agreeing that Jesus pressed home this message of judgement particularly amongst righteous religious hypocrites, we don't lose sight of the reality that Jesus' message for all the crowds he spoke to was exactly the same: You must repent, or face the wrath of God for all eternity. Jesus himself preached this. He required his disciples to preach accordingly.

Small wonder then, that the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed who heard this message of judgement flocked to Jesus, and found in him grace, peace, mercy, and the lifting of their burdens.

Unless we consider ourselves and our audience, for some bizarre reason, to be more righteous than the Israel that heard Jesus' preaching for themselves, then we ought to preach this same terrible judgement of God to our own burdened, depressed, weary and hopeless hearers. We ought to preach it with the full intensity and ferocity and tears that true love demands. As we do, we should pray that somehow they (and we) might not harden our hearts, but instead find mercy in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Responding to Burma

Shane Rogerson has adapted some of John Piper's thoughts on how we ought to respond to the current crisis in Burma. He includes links to some other websites that will be especially useful for Christians in Sydney who want to offer practical help.

Sunday, 11 May 2008


It doesn't mean 'big'.

As this traditional Anglican prayer from the 1552 Prayer book demonstrates:

"From the Bishop of Rome and his detestable enormities. Good Lord, deliver us."

The prayer in context is here.

Saturday, 10 May 2008


Beautiful...Sydney autumn day.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Hell: A help for depression.

I find that I've been checking the Pyromaniacs blog quite a lot lately and being greatly helped by what I read. So I started reading this post and was struck by a quote from Spurgeon, a regular guest on the Team Pyro blog spot.

I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to, but I always get back again by this—I know I trust Christ. I have no reliance but in him, and if he falls I shall fall with him, but if he does not, I shall not. Because he lives, I shall live also, and I spring to my legs again and fight with my depressions of spirit and my down castings, and get the victory through it; and so may you do, and so you must, for there is no other way of escaping from it. In your most depressed seasons you are to get joy and peace through believing.

When I went to the quote in context I found a really terrific sermon that just kept exhorting the hearer to find their joy and peace in Christ by constantly returning to him. Now Spurgeon wasn't going to ignore medical advice:

I believe there are some persons who are beyond the reach of the preacher and who must be dealt with, if treated at all successfully, by the ordinary physician. Their case has gone beyond the limits of argument. Their mind has got into a disordered condition and the body, also, and therefore both body and mind must be set right by some other means before it is likely that spiritual reasons will prevail upon them. Provided you are sane people in some measure of health, and that you are sincere persons, we think that with God’s blessing we may be the means of comfort to you this morning.

and being a serious depressive himself, you have to believe that he didn't offer the qualification, or hold out hope, lightly.

If like me you are someone who struggles with depression, then go to the sermon by clicking on the link—I think you will be helped by what Spurgeon says, and I pray that you are.

But what jumped out at me, and what I hadn't expected, was how bold Spurgeon was in directly addressing his hearers with the reminder of God's terrible wrath and the very fires of hell—yes, even as he spoke of dealing with the depths of depression. He says for example:

Can you see the Son of God agonizing in the garden? Your Maker lies on the ground. Can you see Him taken before Herod and Pilate, and there mocked and scourged and spit upon? Can your eyes endure to see that spectacle of grief when the plowers made deep furrows on His blessed back? Can you believe that He is very God of very God, and yet is suffering thus? Can you see Jehovah grind Him to powder between the upper and the nether millstone of His wrath?
Can you hear Him say, “It is finished”? Can you mark the fearful shriek of “Eloi! Eloi! Lama Sabacthani?”

Can you believe that this is the Son of God—standing for sinners and suffering all this weight of wrath and punishment for us—and yet think that He is not worthy of being trusted to do that for which He died?

or again, he says:

But being what I am, unworthy, undeserving, and Hell-deserving, I trust Christ to save me—and if He does not save me, He is not as good as His word!

Spurgeon urges his hearers to trust in Jesus alone, and to expect joy and peace as a consequence. But if they don't, what then?

But if I wait for joy and peace, and afterwards trust, I go the wrong way to work, and put the cart before the horse. Then I have begun to expect a harvest before I sow the wheat—to expect the flower before I cultivate the stem—and I shall be mistaken and go down to the pit with a curse because I would not obey the command, “Believe and live.”

[bold mine]

As Spurgeon drives to his conclusion, he imagines the state of mind of the depressed person (or perhaps he simply reports!):

Now, I will finish with this declaration. If you can get into such a state that all the sins that were ever committed should swear that they will block your pathway to peace. If all the suggestions of Hell that ever came up from the infernal pit should surround you at one time. If, in his own proper person, the very Prince of Hell should stand across the way and swear to spill your soul’s blood...

Yet, yet in that fearful extremity, if you can believe, you are saved!

Spurgeon uses the power and horror of hell to bring comfort to his own soul, and to those of his hearers.

His text?

“Joy and peace in believing.” (Romans 15:13)

The horror of hell highlights the triumph and goodness of the grace of God in Christ, and brings joy and peace in believing for the depressed heart.

By the way, how wonderful for those preachers among us incapable of improvisation to see that Spurgeon chose to preach from a full text! His hard labour in this matter means that we all share in the blessing of he wrote.

Do you think Spurgeon would have been a blogger?

Blogging partners

Nicole and Jean have blogged at another blog by Sus about their blogs.

Letters in the Australian

The ‘marriage’ issue was ‘most talked about’ in the Australian today.

I got a letter in:

PETER Jensen is right. Defining 'white' as 'grey' doesn’t change the way light works, it just brings confusion. In the same way, redefining marriage as anything other than a voluntary union between one man and one woman can only bring confusion, and also pain, as experiments with alternatives show.

Gordon Cheng
Kingsford, NSW

My favourite letter was this one; thoughtful and intelligent:

RECENT experience leads me to affirm Peter Jensen’s call for "spending a lot more time and energy thinking about the moral meaning of marriage between a man and a woman".

Two months ago I married my first couple, and attending the wedding were people from all sorts of backgrounds. After the ceremony, I was struck by the number of people commenting on how revelatory the teaching from the Bible was. One woman who had been married for many years had never realised how prudent the Bible’s teaching is on the relationship between a husband and wife. This wedding confirmed what I already held in principle, that is, sometimes to progress as a society we need to return to basics, and that involves accepting the Bible’s framework for human relationships.

Murray Campbell

Mentone, Vic

Murray’s the minister at Mentone Baptist, and trained at Moore College.

Several other supportive letters too; check the link.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Population crisis

Al Mohler comments on Japan's population crisis:

The population explosion prophets are still warning of a population crisis to come, but they got the story almost perfectly backward when it comes to nations like Japan. Russia and several other European nations face similar crises.

They will've lost 70% of their workers by mid-century.

Peter Jensen in the Oz.

He writes about marriage.

An evangelical manifesto.

From Justin Taylor: This morning a document was released at the National Press Club in the United States entitled An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment, spearheaded by Os Guinness and signed by over 80 evangelical leaders.

Justin Taylor comments: The full document is over 7,400 words, and I encourage you to read the whole thing. It’s an imperfect but nevertheless (in my opinion) remarkable document that deserves serious attention. The press has latched on to the political dimension of the document, but the critique of theological liberalism is much more extensive and pointed.

Justin has a short interview with the manifesto's chief organizer Os Guiness, here.

The manifesto itself is here.

UPDATE: Here's my early and provisional response:

I've read the manifesto twice now, and will need to do so again, far more carefully.

The word 'judgement' occurs once, and not with reference to God.

At second reading, there is no clear explanation of what the resurrection is about.

The question of Scriptural inerrancy seems to have been carefully avoided.

These are early responses only, and I am keen to go back and see if these early impressions are valid. Especially, even if the vocabulary of judgement is absent, I'm keen to discover whether or not the idea of divine judgement is clearly stated. I would have thought it would be linked in some way to the resurrection (see Acts 17:31). I'll need to look more closely to see if I've missed it.

Many good things too. This statement from page 8:

...Evangelicalism must be defined theologically and not politically; confessionally and not culturally.

is surely right (but if so, it makes the initial appearance of reticence on the subject of divine judgement more troubling rather than less).

The desire to put distance between genuine evangelicals, and those evangelicals who have pursued strong secular political affiliations in the name of evangelicalism, is a good one, and I hope this part of the message gets out clearly within the US political scene, and more broadly.

UPDATE II: This is a fine piece of rhetoric:

Our purpose is not to attack or to exclude but to remind and to reaffirm, and so to rally and to reform.

Remind...Reaffirm...Rally...Reform. They have been taking lessons from Obama (and I don't mean that as cynically as it might sound).

But why would you make a deliberate decision 'not to attack or exclude?' Aren't some bad things worth attacking and excluding?

A million lives at risk in Burma

This is a terrible tragedy.

The current online version of the SMH (6.09 am) has this story below the US presidential nominations and a story about the Pope maybe apologizing for sexual abuse when he gets to Sydney, and is at equal level with stories about Medicare, the Sydney Harbour boat accident where six people died last week, and John Howard's farewell.

That said, the Chinese newspaper is worse, leading with news of the Olympic torch. The news from Myanmar (Burma) is tucked away under 'More Stories' below a story about Chinese T-bonds.

It is the top story in Svenska Dagbladet, the Swedish Daily for today, May 8.

It is the top story in the Age at 6.40 am. The Age also has an opinion piece by Graham Reilly on the Burmese government's response. But in the Australian, it appears when you scroll down the page, below a story about NZ withdrawing legal action against Japan over whaling.

Alcohol increases the risk of cancer

SMH today.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Peter Bolt living with the underworld

I made some comments about Peter Bolt's Living with the Underworld at the new Sola Panel blog.

The book is good for Christians, but will also suit an intelligent non-christian with an interest in the supernatural.

Death toll in Burma

Now over 22 000.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Ethicist Peter Singer debates Andrew Sloan

About 2 weeks ago some of my buddies from Melbourne Uni days organized a debate between ethicist Peter Singer and Christian ethicist and OT specialist Andrew Sloan. You can watch it here, the subject is "Do You Need God to be Good?", and this is the question time.

I'm about 17 minutes into watching it now. Andrew Sloan at about the 15 minute mark has just done a brilliant job demolishing a straw-man that Peter Singer puts up about Christians supporting the institution of slavery out of Scripture.

Will get back to you when I've watched the rest of it, or you can click on the link and watch it yourself.

Fifi and I shared a house with debate moderator Andy for about a year. He made a mean spag bog. Boy was it mean.

John Woodhouse on 1 Samuel

This one's for you, Alex!

I see that you can get at least some of John Woodhouse's comments on 1 Samuel by going to the website for his book and clicking around a bit. You get to find out whether fat old Eli wears a black hat or a white hat. I think. Or maybe not.

Click on through, it is easy reading and helpful for anyone who is interested in this part of the Bible. John's book on 1 Samuel is great stuff for anyone who missed him speaking on this at CMS Summer School.

Do we preach hell too much?

Not in my experience. Whether for good or ill, the churches I've been involved in—all Bible-believing, theologically orthodox churches—for the last 33 years, have not had a huge amount to say about hell. Nor, for that matter, has the preaching of hell been a large feature of the evangelism I've been involved in or witnessed on tertiary campuses in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane over the same period. Nor do most of the Bible-believing church attenders I've asked at various times report anything different. Claims to the contrary are, as far as my experience goes, a slightly puzzling furphy.

I remember a lady years ago, a regular church attender who sang in the choir, offhandedly dismissing Billy Graham as a fire and brimstone preacher. As I lived across the road from her for nearly 10 years, attended the same church for a time, and sang in the same choir, I can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that she never heard Billy Graham preach. I don't doubt that Billy could have preached up a fire and brimstone storm if he'd wanted to, but it didn't happen when I went along to hear him speak at the crusade in 1979, and John Pollock's biography doesn't at all speak of his preaching in these terms. Billy Graham's description of hell on his website is straightforward, unembellished and biblically based, sparing a lot of detail and pointing to Christ.

So, maybe my friend from across the road was telling the truth as she saw it, but I really think her description was wrong to the point of being untrue.

And I wonder if a similar distortion occurs in the portrayal of Bible-believing teachers and preachers within Sydney Anglicanism. If so, it's a problem.

Pray for the people of Burma

At least 10 000 have died after Cyclone Nargis.

Abortion help

Doug Groothuis has recommended this 'Abortion Changes You' website, being promoted by Prison Fellowship specifically for women who are dealing with having had abortions, and those close to them.

I've not had a look at it yet, but it comes via Justin Taylor, whose judgement is reliable.

A commentary on the launch of the website from Prison Fellowship Ministry President Mark Earley:

Rarely have I been as moved emotionally as I have been by reading these stories.

There is the teenage girl whose parents insisted she have an abortion; the husband who drove his wife to the abortion clinic against his own better judgment and later watches his marriage unravel. One is about a grandmother who each year, as the date nears of her daughter’s abortion, silently mourns the loss of the grandchild she never knew. These stories will change you. They will make you look at this issue differently, just as the experience has changed the people involved.

The founder of the Abortion Changes You movement and author of the book Changed knows full well. Michaelene Fredenburg shares her own experience in the book. She says, “There are still many times that are painful for me. Mother’s Day is particularly difficult. The year my child would have graduated from high school was filled with pain. . . . If my child had gone to college, she would have graduated this year. This child would now be a young woman with gifts and abilities, hopes and dreams, her whole life ahead of her. There will always be a hole in my heart,” she says, “a hole in the fabric of our family and our community.”

Monday, 5 May 2008

Preaching judgement

I'm occasionally told that Jesus only preached the full horror of judgement to self-righteous, smug, religious people who were felt assured of their place at the heavenly banquet. The sick, the sad, the sincere and the sorry (on this view) were exempted from such harsh language.

But that's sentimental nonsense, as Jesus' public mission to Israel shows. In Luke 10, Jesus gives 72 disciples their instructions for the mission throughout Israel:

10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

Jesus' public message, publicly stated, and publicly delivered through Israel was that all the towns that turned against their Lord would be subject to a judgement worse than the one that befell Sodom. All Israel was to know of the consequences of disobedience to her Lord, and was to know in the most graphic of pictures, a picture that had become a byword for the LORD's anger.

Very much a 'turn or burn' message, delivered in terms that even the thickest Israelite could not fail to understand.

Folding t-shirts in 2 seconds

I was practising this yesterday.

I'm a lot slower than the lady in the video, but:

How To Fold A T-shirt In 2 Seconds

I originally saw it on Better Homes and Gardens, which the whole family watches on Friday nights when Hub Club isn't on.

(Ruth, this one's for you ;-) )

Independent schools

Some ideas on school reform from the Swedes.

A proliferation of independent schools that didn't undercut the public system or discriminate on the basis of ability to pay would be a neat idea. I don't know how well the Swedish system has worked but it would be worth a closer look.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Preaching Hell

Excerpted from the book Why we're not emergent (by two guys who should be):

Granted, there is no place for giddiness concerning God's wrath, but isn't there a place for passionate, blood-earnest warning? Isn't it biblical to move past agnosticism about hell and implore people on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20)? Could it be that our evangelism languishes, our preaching loses authority, and our congregations lose focus because we don't have the doctrine of hell to set our face like a flint toward Jerusalem?

Other quotes too, from the Pyromaniacs blog here.

These two guys are right to pick this up. I don't actually know that many hellfire preachers. In fact, I'm not sure I know any. It seems to me that claims of such preaching abounding are grossly overexaggerated (which could be tautological, but isn't in this case). Perhaps it would actually be a good thing if there was a bit more of it, seeing that the Bible itself is so full of the message of judgement. If no judgement, then the grace of the cross makes no sense.

Climate comments

Michael Duffy makes some observations about climate change in today's SMH.

Commenting on the fact that global warming has stopped since 2002 (some argue 1998) Duffy says:

But because the figures since 2002 might raise doubts about the orthodoxy, there has been a great silence. Most of those involved in public discussion of global warming simply ignored what was happening to the temperature record. The media have continued to interpret any minor weather event as proof of global warming. Political leaders have continued to crank up the panic.

It's a response that has to raise concerns about the relative roles of reason, emotion and propaganda in public consideration of global warming.

The implications of the past six years for public policy are the same as for science: we need to be cautious. We simply don't know enough about this matter to justify urgent and dramatic action. It's worth reflecting on the number of scientists who are certain about what the temperature trend will be in a 100 years, yet in 2001 were unable to predict what would happen in the next six.

The whole article is worth reading, and includes references to some useful websites.

As usual, Tim Blair is somewhat more forthright:

The same people who only now predict a twelve-year cooling still expect to be taken seriously about eventual massive warming. They’re making this up as they go along. And it’s your fault for believing previous warming threats:

The projection does not come as a surprise to climate scientists, though it may to a public that has perhaps become used to the idea that the rapid temperature rises seen through the 1990s are a permanent phenomenon.

From whom might the public have gotten that crazy idea?

Deuteronomy 18:21-22 comes to mind.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Grand Theft Auto IV

The video game is released this week.

That's right -- this is the most popular game among 12- to 14 year-old boys. This shocks even one of the game's creators, Lazlo Jones, who told the Post, "If you let your child play this game, you're a bad parent."

From Al Mohler's blog.

John Cargher dies

John Cargher has died. He presented the programme Singers of Renown for 42 years. My mother listened to the programme every week.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Jean's Ph.D

This is nice. Apparently one of my many stray comments helped Jean get started on her PhD on puritans. Which was five years of hard work for her, but blessing for the rest of us who read what she now writes. Generally my stray comments do more harm than good, so it is nice to find one that didn't.

I'm trying to think of a suitable Bible verse to go with this, but Genesis 50:20 isn't doing it for me.

Taxidrivers and hell

Had to catch a taxi from the city to work. I talked to the driver about death and judgement, and warned him that every one of us would have to stand before God and give account for our lives before him. I also told him that our good works would not be sufficient to gain us entry into heaven.

Not being a teenager, he just laughed it off.