Bonhoeffer uses a similar phrase 'worldly Christianity'. It's J Gresham Machen that I want to line up most closely with. See his Christianity and culture here. Having done commentaries on Proverbs (Heavenly Wisdom) and Song of Songs (Heavenly Love), a matching title for Ecclesiastes would be Heavenly Worldliness. For my stance on worldliness, see 3 posts here.

The Life and Death of Sherlock Holmes

I guess I would have first encountered Sherlock Holmes on TV many years ago and have watched all of the most recent series starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Many years ago I bought the complete sets of novels and short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and read them with much enjoyment. I came across the book The life and death of Sherlock Holmes in a bookshop a few weeks ago and I later downloaded it in kindle form and read it. It is basically everything you ever wanted to know about the subject. Instead of stopping with the death of Conan Doyle the Swedish writer carries on describing what the surviving family did and didn't do and tracing the parallel life of the character in parodies, films, plays and TV presentations, etc. In the end it is too much but the author writes well and keeps you interested for most of the well over 500 pages! It is an exhaustive and through piece of work that name drops all the way written by a genuine enthusiast and probably would not be appreciated by everyone. I would love to see something similar done with P G Wodehouse's Jeeves although I notice that Bostrom thinks Jeeves is a derivative of Holmes. Strangely it didn't create a desire in me to read the original stories or the book of parodies I also have.

Lord's Day December 10 2017

When I looked out of the window n Sunday, being child at heart, I was pleased to see the snow. of course, the downside was a poor attendance with some away anyway, some unable to make it through the snow and potential visitors clearly discouraged from leaving home. We struggled up to a decent number in the morning but in the evening we were only eight! We did have tea beforehand (only six of us for that). The singing was okay but I chose the less well known songs this week and so with so few that was not easy. I also thought the sermons (on Matthew 1:18 and 1 John 3:5) lacked something. At least the evening one had the merit of being short.
I felt rather down about it the next day and began to plot some sort of escape but rescue came in the unlikely form of the song Santa never brings me a banjo a complaint from a child about a Christmas present that never arrives. I began by sympathising and wallowing in my own unhappiness but soon saw how childish it is. Far better the sentiments of another sing I listened to yesterday that includes the line "Santa knows what I want but Jesus knows what I need".

Midweek Meeting Wednesday December 6 2017

For our midweek meetings up to Christmas I have decided to look at the incarnation in light of s series of three objects. On Wednesday we considered an ancient writing tablet with the words written on it, his name is John. We considered Zechariah and the fact he wrote these words in self-denial and in faith and in a sense prophesying what lay ahead. We were a decent number and we prayed well though I left it a bit late to start. Someone di ask me about Numbers 8:25 where it would seem priests retired at 50 raising the question of why Zechraih was still serving as a priest. It would seem that this refers ti the heavy lifting work of transporting the tabernacle, which ceased after a certain point anyway.

Westminster Conference 2017 Day Two

We have had another good day here in Oxford Street. The first two sessions were taken up with the connected subjects of Jacob Arminius and the Synod of Dort. Phil Arthur gaveus the background to Arminius himself and his writings and then Benedict Bird described the Synod of Dort which began nine years after Arminius's death in November 1618 (it went on until the folliwng year). It was good to have the details set out. We had good discussions especially as there were Arminians present. We also touched on the halfway house of hypothetical atonement or Amyraldianism.
Traditonally, the closing paper is a biography with no discussion. This is the third message I've heard on William Williams Pantycelyn this year and perhaps th ebest - may be because it was given by a minister (Mark Thomas from Wrexham).

LORD, I long to be in thy Presence, 
Tis my Joy and whole Delight;
Sweeter than delicious Honey,
Fairer than the Morning Light;

All the Assaults of Sin and Satan,
I could stedfastly withstand,
And would stem all Woes and Perils,
Having Thee at my right Hand.

I can suffer every Affliction,
And encounter every Foe,
And the Depths of flowing Jordan
Venture also fearless thro',

Only let thy gracious Presence
Then my feeble Soul assist, 
Tis thy Strength eternal only,
That can conquer and resist.

Death and Hell, and all Destruction,
Shake and tremble at thy Might;
And thy Presence hush to Silence
All the roaring Wolves of Night.

Lord Jehovah! Lord Almighty!
Is thy gracious holy Name,
O let me, unworthy Sinner,
Feel the Power of the same.

Good days. Next year we meet again, God willing December 4 and 5

Westminster Conference 2017 Day One

About 120 of us gathered once again at the Regent Hall in Oxford Street for the Westminster Conference. Stephen Clark kicked us off with a fairly comprehensive and persuasive exposition of Word and Spirit touching on regeneration, assurance, guidance an other matters seeking to demonstrate the independence of the Spirit with regard to God's Word. With supporting quotations from Edwards, Murray et al I was more convinced than ever that this is a biblical approach. Some found the long paper hard work and certainly anyone unfamiliar with the arguments might have struggled. Robert Striven chaired and we had a worthwhile discussion on assurance.
Dovetailing neatly with the first session we had a paper in the afternoon from Guy Davies on the felt presence of God, majoring on Thomas Goodwin but including references to Owen. I chaired. I did fear there wold be nothing more to discuss after the morning session but we were able to discuss quite profitably God's felt presence and whether it should be sought. There is some divergence among us but a general unity.
The final paper was slightly different as we went back to Calvin and Reformed liturgy with Andy Young. This was again a useful paper and a good discussion under the strict chairmanship of Jeremy Walker. Inevitably one or two exclusive psalm singers felt obliged to make their points but otherwise we seemed to be able to help one another at the end of what had been a very good day.
Here's a quote from Thomas Goodwin I enjoyed
conscience itself, which is ordained, as the urine of the body, to shew the estate of the whole, and therefore is accordingly called good or evil as the man’s state is, this is apt in such distempers to change and turn colour, and look to a man’s own view as foul as the state of a very hypocrite.” (Goodwin Works III, p. 254.)
Looking forward to dat two.

Lunch time lecture at the Library on God's greatness,etc

We had our last lunch time lecture of the year yesterday and there was a good turn out. Ian Densham spoke on the Greatness of God, focusing on his infinity and eternity. It seems that we ran this lecture a little while ago but not to worry it was good to hear again. We also had a library committee later. In between I had time to get two new tyres for the car. They don't come cheaply.

Lord's Day December 4 2017

It was good to be back in Childs Hill again on the Lord's Day. It being the first Sunday of the month we began with communion. A good number were there. I decided to preach on some texts from 1 Peter 4 and 5. In the morning I preached from Chapter 4 on suffering. I am very much aware fo the troubles several are going through at the moment and that we as a church are facing to some extent and so  I outlined seven things we need to do when we suffer. The evening message was about being humble, not anxious and being alert adn sober minded, standing firm as we resist the devil.
There were decent congregations morning and evening, thiugh with some missing as ever. There wa s new Romanian lady in the morning who I hoep we will see again adn then strangely both in the morning and evening there was someone form Botswana present. One, a woman, lives in the area and the other, a man, is visiting the area. I don't think they know each other. Not sire what to make of providences like that. At the very least it should prompt me to pray for that country.
(PS the top pic is a still from Solzhenitsyn's A day in the life of Ivan D wheere Alyosha reads that passage).

Seasonal traditions that are perhaps not so old

It's a long Christmas tradition we are often told but some Christmas traditions are perhaps not as old as you think.
1. Seeing the John Lewis Christmas ad – only since 2007
2. Hearing on the radio Merry Christmas Everybody and I wish it could be Christmas every day – only since 1973
3. Watching league football on Boxing Day – only since 1960 (1971 in Scotland)
4. Watching the Queen's speech on TV – only since 1952
5. Hearing the little drummer boy carol – only since 1941
6. Hearing Rudolph the red nosed reindeer – only since 1939
7. Tuning into Carols with nine lessons from Kings – only since 1928 (the thing itself only goes back to 1918)
8. Pulling Christmas crackers – only since 1847
9. Sending Christmas cards – only since 1843
10. Putting up a Christmas tree in England – only since 1840

Book and Candle

The season is here and so we  have our traditional Advent Candle up and running and our book this year is Paul David Tripp's Come let us adore him

Kate Rusby Angels and Men

One might have thought that another seasonal album of equal quality to the others impossible but Kate Rusby has done it. Her fourth such album, Angels and Men, has just come out and I see no discernible diminution in quality. This is a worthy addition to go alongside Sweet Bells (2008) While Mortals Sleep (2011) and Now the Frost is over (2015). The formula (folk band with some addition of brass or electric instruments and very occassional banjo playing songs ancient and modern, sacred and secular, serious and jocular) is the same and works well once again.
One might have thought Deck the Halls or See Amid the Winter's Snow had been covered before but no, here they are for the first time. I think we have had Sweet Chiming Bells but it is here with an alternative tune. Hark hark hark (also done before) and Rolling Downward are traditionals more off the beaten track. Let it snow is another case of taking an MoR song (compare Kris Kringle and Winter Wonderland) and folkifying it.
The traditiuonal Paradise stand out a little here but without spoiling the ambience.
The other source of material is contemporary folk and so we have Richard Thomson's We'll sing Hallelujah, David Myles' Santa never brings me a banjo and The Ivy and the Holly by Chris Sugden, which I think is very funny.
The final two tracks on the album are Let the Bells Ring and Big Brave Bill Saves Christmas fine songs penned by the lass herself.

Airplane Movies

On my journey to and from Nigeria I took opportunity to watch some movies. I watched

The Wizard of Lies
The Circle
Brigsby Bear
Norman: The moderate rise and tragic fall of a New York fixer

I did try one other but abandoned it. These I enjoyed, although the first (The Wizard of Lies starring Robert de Niro) cannot be recommended because of the bad language, etc, throughout. It is a chronicle of Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, which defrauded his clients of billions of dollars and sent the stock exchange crashing. It is interesting as Madoff appears not to have thought of himself as a bad character despite hiss crimes and their devastating effects.
The Circle, with Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, is an interesting take on the whole Internet world we find ourselves in. A silicon valley company proves to have cultic tendencies and a lot to hide. The film rather ducks out of the case it has built at the end. Hard to get sponsors otherwise I guess.
Brigsby Bear (Mark Hamill) begins rather weirdly but then gets into more recognisable patterns a sit progresses. Having thought about it for a while now I would guess it is a sort of parable in which the people who kidnapped the Mark Hamill character as a baby but gave him an enjoyable but limited life where he loved watching Brigsby Bear's adventures stands for the old studio system in Hollywood. The characters return to his true parents and the making of his own movie helped by friends is perhaps a plea for independent film makers.
Norman (Richard Gere) is a typically Jewish story based in New York among Jews. The Norman character is interesting enough and the plot is very neat. Lovely film.

The Reformation Andrew Atherstone

It was a real joy to get a last bite for the year at the subject of the Reformation in Nigeria recently. Earlier this year I bought a copy of AndrewAtherstone's The Reformation Faith and Flames. I thought it would make a nice coffee table book and to be fair it has sat on our coffee table in the front room only being glanced at a few times to scan the wonderful pictures Lion have provided it with. So, with time running out, I took it to Nigeria and thankfully was able to finish it before returning.
In the course of 10 Chapters it covers the basics of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation to the end of Elizabeth I's reign with an excusable emphasis on Britain and what happened in England and Scotland. I had forgotten that my first exposure to the Reformation was in school, especially doing A level history.
This is a fine introduction for those who are unfamiliar. All the basic names, facts and quotations are here from a historian abreast of his subject. I was surprised that Catherine Parr got no mention (the other five are all named).
I also bought a paperback, Atherstone's Reformation A World in Turmoil at some point also by Lion but with no pictures. The text of both books appears to be the same but I cannot see any reference to the fact in either book.


Urban Fox

My son snapped this cheeky creature in our garden a little earlier today.

Nigeria Report

With Ani Ekpo


Conference Speakers

Old friend Engineer Emediong Samuel, former student at London Seminary

On Monday November 20 last I was up very early to head to Heathrow and fly via Frankfurt to Port Harcourt in Nigeria. It took me the best part of the day to get there adn night had fallen when I arrived. The airport arrivals building is not there at the moment and so a makeshift tent is in use. The waft of warm air, the sound of the crickets, the rain and the air of confusion over prcdures all served to remind me of my previous trip 13 years before.
I was collected by my friend Pastor Aniekan Ekpo abkly assisted by a man I remember from before called "Japan" (he's good with motors). This time I was put in a hotel. Fairly basic but with en suite wet room and seatless toilet, a fan and an AC unit. electicity is as intermittent as ever but the hotel and the church have their own generators and the former would cut in fairly soon after any loss of power.
Apart from the introduction of motorised rickshaws in place of motobikes and the obvious upgrades in 'phone technology I could see little difference in the area. Rumuodara is as dirt poor as ever. The sight of a white man is still a novelty (I saw no other in the period of my seven day stay).
The church on the other hand now has its roof completed and a wooden ceiling so that on the one day it rained heavily the noise was very limited. There is also a day school and a seminary, which had not really arrived when I was here last. About 87 children come to the school. I enjoyed their little drumming band on my first morning, when I addressed the assembled children. Whenever asked to give an off the cuff address to children I always turn tothe story of Naaman, which is very child friendy and instructive.
After this, Pastor Ani, a local Baptist pastor and myself headed for a meeting of Acmin (Akwa-Cross Ministerial Network, see here) a ministers fellowship for ministers from Rivers State where we are and the neighbouring state. It was held in Rehoboth Specialist Hospital kindly made available by surgeon Professor Aniekan Ekere (see here). The meeting was in full swing when I arrived. Fairly Pentecostal in its ethos, it was  mixed affair. Ani had asked me to speak and they listened politely. I spoke on What makes a Christian leader, stressing training and commitment.
The main reason for my coming to Nigeria was to give three addressesat a conference on the Reformation organised at the church (The Reformed Baptist Tabernacle). The conference was a two adn half day 15 session job and I spoke three times on various Reformation subjects. It is not easy to make oneself understood but I did my best. Numbers varied greatly over the sessions but we were just about into triple figures by the end. The other speakers varied in quality but some were very good. On the Friday it was native wear. I was kindly provided with a colourful shirt. The weather was good which may have helped attendance.
On the Saturday it was matriculation and graduation. There were also orindations. This seemd a rather unbaptist way of doing things but it is to do with Nigerian laws and the difficulty of establishing legitimacy. This was  long and unusual day for me. Leaving students were given copies of Ryle on the Gospels courtesy of Banner of Truth.
On the Sunday I preached in the morning and spoke to the Sunday School children and the young people. That was again a privilege.
Throughout the time at the church photographs, formal and informal were being taken adn I must appeared in at least five hundred of these.
Although hard work it was good to be away from the computer for a while and to get some reading done. I thoroughly enjoyed the time there and learned a lot. The cultural differences are huge in some ways but the way Aniekan Ekpo and men round him are getting on with the work is most encouraging. I enjoyed meeting the men from the church and also Sammy, Jerry and Bulo, three young New Calvinists from Abuja, Lagos and Jos respectively.
My flight home was  a night time one. It was good to be back.

Midweek Meeting Wednesday November 29 2017

We were only 10 last night but from soemthing like is different nations all told. It was good just tonshare soemthing of the recent trip to Nigeria. We also ahd a very good time of prayer with most taking parr, including one person we haven't heard pray before - always a treat. Although this is a difficult time for the church with money shortages and many struggling in one way or another (mostly illnesses) it was a very encouraging time.