The similar phrase 'Worldly Christianity' is one used by Bonhoeffer. 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.

Lord's Day March 30 2014

I was away from Childs Hill yesterday down at Pains Hill where I preach from time to time. It's always good to catch up with old friends there. Pains Hill Chapel is a lovely little chapel in the midst of the Surrey countryside. About twenty were there in the morning and a few less in the evening. I preached on 1 Kings 3:1-14 and 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10. The organist was away but we managed okay as she has recorded several of the hymns and it was possible to play these through the keyboard and we sang without too much difficulty eight hymns from a  limited selection available. My assistant Andrew Lolley preached here and got on very well I understand.

Sylvia Plath Bell Jar

In my efforts to catch up on unread novels I downloaded and read Sylvia Plath's only novel The Bell Jar, which first appeared in 1963. A short book, it is apparently very autobiographical. I whizzed through the first part and then as she started to descend it was more difficult to enjoy but it improved after that dip and is a pretty good read on the whole, written well and exploring an interesting subject. I guess they give it to teenagers to read because it is about a young woman. It reads very true to life if I remember rightly. I'd rather be reading it at 54 then 24 I guess. It's apparently not well admired but I think it is a pretty good piece of work. The fact of Plath's eventual suicide shortly after hangs over the whole thing. It is very difficult to know how to live once you throw over biblical morality. It does no-one any favours to live without that. I saw a lovely hardback edition in Waterstones today. The kindle version is a quarter of the price.

Mothers Protest

Many of you will be aware that tomorrow is both Mother's Day and the day the clocks go forward. No doubt many mother's are on the street with others complaining about this juxtaposition. Mothers are basically losing an hour of the one day in the year when they are not doing everything.


(Paul Gamston or Russell Crowe?)
I was able to see the new film Noah yesterday afternoon. I have sent this review to Evangelical Times.
Noah 12A, a Paramount Pictures production in cinemas from April 4
One of my pet hates is the dinky sort of “Noah's ark” you see in toy shops and in children's books. The ark in Paramount Pictures new film Noah is nothing like that. It is a hulking great thing and when the animals come into it and it floats on the surface of the water in a worldwide flood, it is a great sight to behold. However, that is probably the best that can be said for a film that most Christians will be very disappointed with. The very fact I need to use the term spoiler alert here will give a hint at how far from the Bible account Darren Aronofsky's film strays.
Turning biblical narrative into a cinematic experience is fraught with difficulties. The very statement “12A Contains moderate violence, injury detail, threat” seems a little weird. We know that a feature film will never simply follow a narrative but needs to build in its own dramatic tensions. We were pleased not to have to hear an actor giving the voice of God and we were not surprised to see Noah's wife (Jennifer Connolly) given such a big part. We were willing to allow a large part to Shem's wife (Emma Watson, famous from the Harry Potter films) too and we can see that there is some room for argument on how Methusaleh, Lamech and Ham are presented and on whether Noah became a grandfather while on the ark. (The film takes us from Noah's childhood to his drunkenness and repentance with backward glances to the earlier chapters of Genesis). We can even overlook inaccuracies such as ignoring the 120 year gap between the command to build the ark and the flood.
What is much harder to stomach is the blatant rejection of the biblical narrative in favour of a wholly fictitious presentation of Noah (Russell Crowe) as a man with a death wish against humanity and an ark containing seven people not eight, one of them a villainous Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone – who else?) who stows away for months only to be murdered before the Ararat denouement!
One of the problems with suggesting, as the film does, that Noah wanted to kill his own grandchildren and so leave the human race with no future is that far from creating dramatic tension, anyone who is thinking about the plot will be utterly unphased by all the drama that those playing Noah, his wife and daughter-in-law pour into their parts as the very fact that we are here watching the film dictates the eventual outcome.
Perhaps we simply have to accept that when those who are unwilling to treat God's Word as sacred are let loose on the Scriptures they will almost inevitably go wrong, sometimes, as here, spectacularly wrong. The theological problems with this film are there from the outset and throughout. We open with the hopeful words “In the beginning there was nothing”. Everything in the believer cries out “actually, in the beginning there was God” but you say “okay this is as near as we are likely to get from such a source”. A few frames in, however, we are introduced to “The watchers” an angel-like race who are fallen and yet redeemable and who help Noah build his ark. This is highly problematic as is the makers inability throughout to distinguish between the miraculous and the magical. Even when we get a count down of creation the idea that the sun and moon were made on the fourth day is firmly rejected, regardless of what Genesis may say on the matter.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is the way the Bible's chief theme of Messiah has been completely removed. The chief characters in the film come over as clones of 21st century man in all his ignorance and arrogance not as antediluvians who are longing for Messiah to come. This is both anachronistic and verging on the blasphemous.
I was able to see this film ahead of time thanks to the efforts of an organisation called Damaris Media. Led by Nick Pollard, it seeks to capitalise on the existence of films such as this one by encouraging discussion of the gospel with people who see it. (See their website here The groups aims are most laudable and they have produced excellent materials to accompany the film. I just wonder if the task of getting from the fiction that is the film Noah to the story in Genesis will be a step too far in most cases. We do not have to tie our hands behind our backs before we evangelise. Of course, some people will see the film anyway and Damaris may be a help in highlighting how to take discussion forward.

CYSK 13 John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom (c. 347–407) was Archbishop of Constantinople and an important Early Church Father. He is known for his preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, and his ascetic sensibilities. The epithet "golden-mouthed" was given on account of his legendary eloquence. The Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches honour him as a saint and count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs (with Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus). He is recognised by the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church as a saint and a Doctor of the Church. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria also recognises him as a saint. Earl Blackburn has done a very helpful biography in the Bitesize series.

Updated book on Bioethics commended

This revised and updated resource is now available from Day One. Inside I have commended it (with the hope that it might promote sales rather than hinder them - ;-))

"This revised and expanded edition of Dr Ling's still concise but broad ranging book on life issues is excellent. It is important for thinking Christians to keep abreast of the vital ethical issues that it covers so clearly. We give thanks to God for such an informative and challenging book."

More here.

10 unusual words in Sylvia Plath's Bell Jar

1. Shantung (I wore a black shantung sheath that cost me forty dollars.) A fabric in plain weave having a slightly irregular surface due to uneven slubbed filling yarns .
2. Villanelles ( ... and sat back enjoying the bright lights and the colored fires and wrote page after page of villanelles and sonnets.) A chiefly French verse form running on two rhymes and consisting typically of five tercets and a quatrain in which the first and third lines of the opening tercet recur alternately at the end of the other tercets and together as the last two lines of the quatrain.
3. Victrola (Well, for about an hour we lounged on Constantin's balcony in two separate slingback chairs with the victrola playing and the balalaika records stacked between us.) Tradename, used for a phonograph or record player.
4. Psychosomatic (He was very proud of his perfect health and was always telling me it was psychosomatic when my sinuses blocked up and I couldn't breathe.) Caused by mental or emotional problems rather than by physical illness.
5. Dybbuk (The night before I'd seen a play where the heroine was possessed by a dybbuk,
and when the dybbuk spoke from her mouth its voice sounded so cavernous and deep you couldn't tell whether it was a man or a woman.) A wandering soul believed in Jewish folklore to enter and control a living body until exorcised by a religious rite.
6. Screak (The soprano screak of carriage wheels punished my ear.) A harsh shrill noise.
7. Corrasable Bond (I counted out three hundred and fifty sheets of corrasable bond from my mother's stock in the hall closet, ...) A trademarked name for a brand of erasable typing paper.
8. Bosky (A big white swan full of little children approached my bench, then turned around a bosky islet covered with ducks and paddled back under the dark arch of the bridge.) Having abundant trees or shrubs; of or relating to a woods.
9. Factitious ("Factitious!" my creative writing professor at college scrawled on a story of mine called "The Big Weekend.") Formed by or adapted to an artificial or conventional standard.
10. Pablum (I smelt a mingling of Pablum and sour milk and salt-cod-stinky diapers and felt sorrowful and tender.) A trademark for an infant cereal (1932).

The Great Gadsby

Trueman on Medieval Theology

My current interest in Medieval theology has taken me most recently to a series of lectures given at Westminster Theological Seminary by Dr Carl Trueman. These are available from WTS on the iTunes U. These 11 lectures look at Anselm, Bernard, Aquinas, heresy, mysticism, etc. They are quite thorough and are marked from time to time by the legendary Trueman humour. They are in a league with the previously mentioned lectures from Douglas Kelly given at RTS. I'm not sure how old the lectures are but some of them contain an instruction to turn over the tape (!) so they can't be hot off the press. There is also some sort of problem with the audio probably caused by the recording being voice activated. You cans till get a lot of these lectures nevertheless.

Bitesize Gadsby

Perhaps this is the best way to produce a bitesize biography - from a  well researched position but giving the salient facts in a brief and interesting way. It does mean sacrificing 10 pages to endnotes that probably won't be chased up by most. Ian J Shaw covers the ground in 11 chapters with a short preface and a timeline beforehand. The final chapter argues that Gadsby the High Calvinist Baptist pastor is worth studying because he shows that an effective and successful ministry in an urban setting is possible, the primacy of preaching in the ministry and that urgent and earnest preaching should be combined with a warn pastoral heart. We can learn from his theology even though it was defective. Others have spoken highly of him. He was a humble man who gave God the glory. This brief biography is well worth getting hold of. 

10 Doctor Comedians

1. Graeme Garden
2. Graham Chapman
3. Phil Hammond
4. Harry Hill
5. Jonathan Miller
6. Matt Iseman
7. Ken Jeong
8. Simon Brodkin
9. Paul Sinha
10. Tanveer Ahmed

Bitesize Festo

There are three more modern biographies in the bitesize series so far. I have enjoyed skimming through Eryl Davies on Dr Lloyd-Jones and Mostyn Roberts on Francis Schaeffer.
Festo Kivengere, however, was only a name to me and so I read with even more interest South African Frank Retief's slightly outsized (by about 30 pages) biography of the East African evangelist and bishop. I must admit to wondering why EP had decided to put this book out about an Anglican Arminian who believed in women preachers and whose most famous book "I love Idi Amin" raises big questions with regard to his theology (Jesus called Herod "that fox"; he did not say he loved him). On the other hand, it is good to read about a real Christian and an African one at that who was clearly used of God and who was converted in a time of revival. Retief's epilogue, where he hides behind Jonathan Edwards, just about convinced me that this book ought to be out there and that it ought to be read. I wonder what someone like Conrad Mbewe would think of the book.

Lord's Day March 23 2014

So back to it yesterday. Numbers were a little lower than last week but it is always good to be with God's people. We completed 1 Corinthians 12 emphasising the role that we all have to play in church life by drawing out eight principles (unity, belonging, diversity, interdependence, weakness, sympathy, variety, ambition). In the evening I completed Isaiah 40, always an encouraging chapter. How good to be with God's people.

Bitesize Farel and Knox

Another two biographies in the bitesize series cover the Reformers Farel (1489-1565) and Knox (1514-1572). These two biographies stick to the remit quite well, the latter written by a retired pastor (John J Murray) and the former by an academic.
There are eight chapters on Farel, the eighth being an assessment looking at his character and mission; Scripture, God's will and true righteousness, the Sacraments and his spirituality. The book does well to show that Farel was an important figure in his own right even though he was clearly not of the stature of Calvin. It made me want to hunt out the brief theology he wrote and look at it again. The style is fine although certain sentences read like bad translations. Was it translated from French by its Canadian author, Jason Zuidema?
No problems of that sort in John J Murray's fine survey of the life of Knox. Slightly shorter, perhaps, it has 12 chapters, the final one being on the Knox legacy and noting that he was the man for the hour, impelled by the fear of God, a preacher of God's Word, a Reformer by conviction, one who made Geneva the model for Scotland, who laid foundations for the future state and who made Scotland over I his own image. It is good to be reading about Knox in this anniversary year and with the Scots voting next Autumn too. (Steve Lawrence's contributions in the Banner are good too).
The Farel paperback has a glossy cover for some reason. All the rest are in matt. 

Nunn so blind

You may have heard reports of Sir Trevor Nunn's jibe about Shakespeare being a hundred times more wise and insightful than anything in the Bible. See here. Quite apart from the fact that Shakespeare builds on the Geneva Bible, doesn't it make poor Sir Trevor look such a klutz when he speaks that way. Is he even aware of a line like "The fool has said in his heart there is no God"? I would guess most apparently educated people in this country are not even sure what's Shakespeare and what's the Bible. For example here are 20 quotations. Simply say if they are from Shakespeare or the Bible?
1.) Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
2.) Eat, drink and be merry.
3.) Nothing but skin and bones.
4.) A man after his own heart.
5.) They do not practice what they preach.
6.) She’s the apple of my eye.
7.) Give up the ghost.
8.) Cast thy bread upon the water
9.) The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
10.) By the sweat of your brow.
11.) How the mighty have fallen!
12.) Cast your pearls before swine.
13.) In the twinkling of an eye.
14.) He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
15.) Holier than thou
16.) I escaped by the skin of my teeth.
17.) Like mother, like daughter.
18.) A law unto themselves.
19.) All they that take the sword shall perish by the sword.
20.)  The ravens of the valley shall pick it out
Answers below:
.esruoc fo, elbiB
eht morf lla era yeht, tsrif yrev eht rof tpecxE

Latimer and Cranmer Bitesized

I like the series of Bitesize biographies EP are putting out. I recently read the ones on the English Reformers Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer. The two writers stick to their remit in presenting their subjects in a straightforward way over just over 100 pages but differ in approach. Richard Hannula, an American, is a High School principal and he writes giving us the story in seven chapters (with Grisham-like headings - The convert, preacher, parson, bishop, outcast restored, trial, stake) each with a Bible text. He is aiming at a 15 year old and up I guess. He gives a one page summary at the end. Both books include an intro, a timeline and a bibliography. Colin Hamer aims to be more analytical, his eight chapters being followed by an assessment in Chapter 9. He also has a preface and an author's note. His slightly more academic approach manages to avoid footnotes but requires a glossary at the back. Hamer brings out well how Cranmer's thinking developed.
Both books were useful in reminding me of important reformers of the past and their example. It made me pull down D C Wood's old Such a candle and send for MacCulloch's fat volume on Cranmer. But will I get round to reading them.

10 Writer Doctors of medicine

1. Dr Luke the Evangelist
2. Dannie Abse
3. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
4. A J Cronin
5. Alexander McCall Smith
6. William Carlos Williams
7. Oliver Goldsmith
8. Tobias Smollett
9. Robert Bridges
10. Anton Chekhov

Novelists 38 Arthur Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930) is best known for stories rather than novels as such. A Scot, he was a medical doctor who became a writer, most noted for his fictional stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes, which are generally considered milestones in the field of crime fiction. He also wrote about a second fictional character of his own invention, Professor Challenger, and for popularising the mystery of the Mary Celeste. He was a prolific writer whose other works include fantasy and science fiction stories, plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction and historical novels. I've read all the Sherlock stuff but nothing else. He was born exactly a hundred years before me (and Morrissey of the Smiths).

Harold Douglas dead

Hal Douglas is not a name I knew. His voice was well known it seems. You'll enjoy this self send up from a while back. His real name, unsurprisingly, was Harold Cohen.

Lord's Day March 16 2014

I got home from South Wales on Friday and was really ill. I don't know what it was exactly. Anyway I felt a little better Saturday but was still unwell. I watched all three rugby games (when I wasn't dozing). Being ill on a Saturday is a dilemma for any preacher (it's one reason why I try and arrange to be ill on a Tuesday if I can). At what point do you say "I'm not going to be well enough, I need to call on someone else". I decided to take it right up to the wire, even though we had at least three or four who can preach with us the next day. I woke a lot better on the Lord's Day morning but pretty tired and not 100%. In the past I have had the experience where you feel rotten and then you get up to preach and all is well. In fact it was a temptation to preach just to feel better. Anyway it wasn't quite the tonic I hoped for but I got through the morning meeting not too badly. I had decided to go back to 1 Corinthians and so we started on Chapter 12. Not an easy chapter but I am pretty clear about what it is saying. One of my sons got winched to safety by a helicopter this week so I had a ready made children's story about praying (dialling 999) and being rescued from above. It was good to be there.
We had two Romanians there, as we do from time to time, desperately looking for work.
After, we sang happy birthday to one of the students. We then had my elder and his wife (fresh back from South Africa) and a deacon and his wife and son around for lunch. That was really nice. My illness had put me behind with preparation and so I preached a golden oldie. (I actually told them in the morning that I was going to preach on Isaiah 6 but because I had been ill I would preach on Isaiah 40 - which makes no sense said like that). Robert Strivens, my elder, kindly led the communion service beforehand and I was able to preach okay from Isaiah 40:1-11, though my wife thought I was a bit tied to my notes.
It was census Sunday which I remembered and then forgot but my assistant Andrew Lolley had remembered to write everyone's name down as I had asked in a passing moment of thinking ahead. I see that we were 44 (counting 4 u-10s) in the morning and 25 in the evening, which is fairly typical I guess. That would include 10 Nigerians, 3 Filipinas, 3 Jamaicans, 2 Romanians and Brits from England, Wales and Ulster, etc. Need to find the form now. 


I know we ignored the England game but this was such an excellent performance against Scotland (even allowing for the sending off) that it's worth noting. Wales have only lost three Six Nations games in the last three years.

The modern world

In South Wales again. En route I stopped for diesel at a BP garage. "What number?" he says when I go to pay. "18". He looks confused as 18 is already paid. I check again and I am right. it turns out the man at number 19 has paid the wrong bill. The difference is about a pound so they ask me if I have change, which I don't as I'm saving my cash for the bridge. In the end the customer whose mistake it was stuck with my bill and let me pay his, losing a pound or so but getting us all out of a problem.
Then I'm in Cwmbran shopping centre trying to get change for a £10 note. The shops won't open their tills except for a purchase. No problem, I'll try a bank. The banks won't give you change unless you're a customer (my bank is the other side of the centre). They say it's to do with money laundering but they are quick to volunteer that the Post Office will do it (queue too long). So if you are planning to launder money go to the Post Office not a bank, I guess.
Meanwhile I drive my nephew into my old school (Croesy Comp). Can't remember when I was there last. It's now like a prison. Everywhere is fenced off to keep kids out of the woods and fields. It's looking pretty tatty all round but the fencing doesn't help I'm sure.

Bragg about the Trinity

I was beginning to lose faith with Melvyn Bragg and In our time but the latest programme on the Trinity is worth a listen. See here. (I meant to thank Guy Davies for the tip off. 

Justin Welby

I came across this book on the (relatively) new Archbishop recently in the Oxfam in Aber the other day and picked it up. It is very brief and simply gives the bare facts plus some interviews with friends. Welby had a rather dodgy background on his father's side but the rest is pretty predictable - Eton, Cambridge, CICCU and Bash camps, Charismatic Renewal, oil executive, study and ordination, rector, international peace promoter, higher office. Over the years he's managed to dabble in high church as well as low church ways and so I'm sure is an ideal candidate for what is wanted. I learned from the book that the Welbys had a daughter die young and that there are more Anglicans in Nigeria than anywhere else. I was also left as bemused as ever by the whole Anglican scene.

It's a fast paced world

I saw this picture being taken just over two hours ago. My google alert on Childs Hill now tells me it is up with the story too here. Pretty quick I'd say.

Bob Crow dies

I see from the BBC here that Bob Crow the Union leader has died from a heart attack. People had me down as his lookalike, which I can see. He was two years younger than me.

Spring in London

Had a nice afternoon by the Thames last Saturday

Lord's Day March 9 2014

I was not preaching yesterday but enjoying the discipline of sitting and listening. In the morning my assistant, Andrew Lolley, preached on Cain and Abel from Genesis 4. In the evening Paolo Patuelli of LTS preached on the woman who anointed Jesus in Luke 7. I led for Paolo who is Italian and read Proverbs 9 for Andrew. Both did very well. We had the students around for lunch (plus my oldest son and his wife before they headed back to Aber) and a nice tea together in the church parlour in the afternoon. Attendances were okay morning and evening. As few away though.

Zip Trick

I'm not sue if it's because I'm fat or a cheapskate but anyway I have zipper trouble from time to time. Someone passed on this excellent trick, which you can find here.

10 VC winners

The Victoria Cross is the UK's highest military award. A total of 1,357 VCs have been awarded since 1856 to 1,354 men. Among them are these.

1. Andrew Fitzgibbon - youngest recipient (15)
2. William Raynor - oldest recipient (61)
3. Noel Chavasse - twice awarded
4. Arthur Martin-Leake - twice awared
5. Charles Upham - twice awarded (only non-doctor)
6. Charles Davis Lucas - first recipient
7. John Gough - only recipient whose father and uncle were also recipients
8. William Congreve - one of only three recipients whose father was also a recipient
9. Frederick Roberts - the other son whose father was a recipient
10. Lloyd Trigg - the only recipient to be vouched for by the enemy

James Ashworth (2013) is the most recent recipient at the present time.

10 boys names starting with J and ending with N

I was trying to remember someone's name - was it Justin or Julian. Turns out it was Jason. A lot of boy's names begin with J and end with N, it seems. Here are ten

1. John
2. Justin
3. Julian
4. Jason
5. Jordan
6. Jonathan
7. Jaden
8. Jefferson
9. Jackson
10. Jocelyn

Diary of a man in despair

I currently seem to be drawn to books about the world wars. Diary of a man in despair came out in English translation in 1974. I became aware if it reading Richard Evans trilogy on the whole Nazi movement. It's taking me a little while to get round to reading it. Friedrich Malleczewen was a very cultured writer who the Nazis eventually caught up with and killed even though he was a minor character in every sense and no agitator. He kept a secret diary through the year wars and before which is a fascinating and well written read. Not sensationalist in any way it gives a good idea of the horror of those years. Malleczewen's Catholic faith peeks through at certain times. It is difficult to see how anyone can look at those years with any degree of composure without a theistic worldview. Always the remarkable thing for many of us is that it happened here in Europe and not so very long ago. How sobering. 

Free kindle book on Romans 8

Derek Thomas's book How the gospel brings us all the way home is currently available free in kindle form. See here.

Carl Trueman and Courtney Love

So I'm listening to a recording of Carl Trueman on Bernard of Clairvaux and he begins "On Courtney Love ... see the chapter ... on Courtney Love". He's a hip guy, I guess, so I wasn't too phased and I soon cottoned on that he was actually talking about courtly love, of course. Still going deaf.

Erroll Hulse One in a thousand

Most of those who know the name of Erroll Hulse will be aware that he had a stroke while in South Africa last year and although he is now back in England his progress to health continues to be slow. Meanwhile his book One in a thousand has appeared. It is an excellent book on pastoral ministry made up of a series of an introductory chapter followed by eight studies first in the New Testament (The Chief Shepherd and Paul the inspirer of pastors) and then in church history. With each biography he seeks to draw out one aspect of the ministry. We begin with a Martin, Martin Luther, and end with a Martin, the recently deceased Martin Holdt. With them we have William Perkins - application in preaching, Richard Baxter - the pastor as evangelist, Jonathan Edwards - the pastor as theologian and Martyn Lloyd-Jones - the pastor as preacher. We thus learn some church history at the same time as looking at pastoralia. This EP book works as both an entry level book for budding pastors or those still wet behind the ears and for those longer in the tooth.
PS See what I did there with the title to this post?

Lord's Day March 2 2014

Quite behind with this but it was good to be back in Childs Hill last Sunday. We started with communion. We were rather few for that but numbers picked up. Still quite a few away, however. I covered the end of Matthew 4 with what proved to be a relatively long sermon. Briefer in the evening looking at that fundamental text in Hebrews 11.6 on faith. I have an LTS student on placement with me so I asked him to read Proverbs 8 in the morning and to pray in the evening, which he did well. So a good day rather than a great day. Good to be there though.