Sunday, 6 April 2014

Why I am not an Atheist

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:1-2 ESV).

I grew up in a household where I quickly found that I didn't share my parents faith. My parents faith was private to them but it dictated their world view. I don't know how old I was when I came to realise that to my child like brain that their faith was unbelievable. When I was 15 however I rejected their faith completely walking away from it forever. You see at 15 someone shared the news with me that God had sent his only Son into the world to save me, and that even though I was a sinner, God would forgive me because of what His Son, Jesus did on the cross. Right there and then it completely made sense, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that God was real, that I was a sinner and that God was willing to save me.
My parents Atheism had never made sense to me, there was never a day that I can remember where I wasn't sure that there was a god. Yet this idea of god seemed so far away and didn't seem to answer the void that in my very rare silence I would be aware of. I knew there was a god, although it would be several years before I came to see that it was the God revealed in the Bible. As a youngster with shockingly glow in the dark blond hair and a temper I was kind of hoping for the gods of the vikings to be the gods I could place my trust in. I read several of the Norse tales and enjoyed them very much but looking back they were too like me and didn't seem interested enough even if they existed to bring the universe into being.
Whilst I wasn't aware of the arguments for design such as the Kalam theory or Thomas Aquinas' understanding of the Prime mover, I was aware that I lived in a big universe and that everything was designed. I have since read Richard Dawkins both his The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion he tries to argue against design by talking about evolution creating the appearance of design which is a contradiction in terms. This just seems like special pleading to me. I still find the idea that left on its own for billions and billions of years nothing will turn into all the complexity we find on this planet, let alone all the complexity of the universe. 

Not only does the universe and all that I observe point me to a creator the church itself points me to Jesus, its very existence. You see when I first became a Christian I was convinced not by evidence but my an overwhelming sense of the presence of God, an overwhelming sense of my own sinfulness and an overwhelming sense of judgement and mercy. The moment I asked for forgiveness I know I received it as I felt like I had had a bath on the inside. Then I wanted evidence I began to read, I had read as a boy but had given up the practice as a teenager. Now I wanted to know about Jesus and his church so I read, and I found that people I read about in scripture appeared in history books. Paul and Peter especially who suffered martyrs deaths as did most of the Apostles. Yet they believed that Jesus had risen from the dead because he appeared to them. They believed not so much because they were convinced by the empty tomb, an empty tomb would be fairly convincing but someone could say his body was stolen and doubts would creep in.  Yet  the resurrection appearances of Jesus, appearing to a vast amount of people over the course of several weeks, it would take some convincing out of that experience. A resurrected man speaking to you and commanding you to go and tell would make you do exactly that. Now I know you could say it was visions of mad men who were mistakenly convinced that Jesus had risen but this was not something they expected, dead men didn't rise and they didn't expect him to. Paul wasn't even a follower of Christ it was the last thing he expected or wanted. Yet these first followers of Christ were so convinced they gave their lives for this truth. The church grew out of this not a legend that developed,  not that the stories grew more fantastic over time due to an oral period because this wasn't the case they were written down very soon after the events recorded.  I find Christianity easy to believe I find the idea of the universe coming from nothing, The personal coming from the impersonal as unbelievable  I also find the evidence for Jesus to be overwhelming this is why I am a Christian and not an Atheist. 

Sunday, 23 February 2014

A Call To Resurgance By Mark Driscoll

I have benefited from the ministry of Mark Driscoll in many ways in the past including his writing. I especially have appreciated the humour and robust theology of his Vintage Church and Vintage Jesus. I stopped listening awhile ago because I found that he (like most of us preachers) was repetitive and more concerning I was finding his claims to a prophetic ministry out of step with my understanding of the gifts and his claims to 'pornographic clairvoyance' as someone called it off putting . Nevertheless a good friend of mine from church loved A Call to Resurgence and was suggesting that everybody read it so I thought I would give Driscoll another shot.  

The general thesis of this book is that for Christianity to have a future it needs to stop with the infighting,  seeing what is essential and what is non-essential. Being ready to fight with wolves and heretics who deny essentials but work together putting aside our secondary issues.  Some of these secondary issues are the Calvinist/Arminian debate, the role of the gifts today, the role of women etc. In many respects I agree with the general thesis, if we agree about the Gospel then we can and should be able to recognise each other and work together for the sake of the Gospel. Whilst recognising and even endorsing this general thesis I was concerned of some of the "tribes" that Driscoll wants us to recognise including, Joel Osteen, Joyce Myer and T.D.Jakes. I was surprised at this as Driscoll has been a big mouthpiece for rightly pointing out the errors of the prosperity gospel and these are three of its leading proponents. Jakes isn't even a Trinitarian being part of the Oneness Pentecostal movement.
Driscoll also says that Martin Luther caused one of the biggest tribes to come into being when he moved from Rome. Its unclear what Driscoll meant be this but in the opening chapter he identifies his Latin Mass loving Roman Catholic grandmother as a Christian alongside his R.C Charismatic experience orientated mother.

While arguing for a bigger more generous Christianity he then proceeds to take his own strand as the definitive form and belittles those who disagree with him on these secondary issues. He does also rightly champion orthodox Christianity as opposed to the liberalism of Rob Bell, he takes a stand against Bell and names him as someone who has moved out of the Christian camp. If only he had done that with Osteen and co too.
Driscoll places himself within the Reformed camp but his theology is more Amyraldian four point Calvinist, (he calls his understanding limited-unlimited atonement) that's not a problem for me so was J.C. Ryle and his writings are excellent.

Driscoll has been accused of plagiarism in this book I am not sure if that's true but he certainly has used most of this material before in his other bigger works.  

The book doesn't read very well and is a bit of a smorgasbord of stuff that he has said elsewhere. No wonder he was trying to give it away for free at the Strange Fire Conference. He may have been better off attending the conference than high jacking it for publicity purposes he clearly believes that experience validates experience.  I was greatly disappointed with this book and with the direction that Mark seems to be drifting.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Strange Fire by John MacArthur

I've just finished Strange Fire John MacArthur's latest offering on the Charismatic movement and it was an interesting read. I am not a Charismatic, not even one wearing a seat belt, I am not even a continuationist, its fair to say I place myself squarely in the cessasionist camp like John MacArthur. Yet this book is one that I nearly didn't finish as the first couple of chapters expressed MacArthur's distaste for the Charismatic movement with lots of words but very little reason. The only thing I got from these chapters is that MacArthur really doesn't like Charismatics. Also I felt that for some parts he was dependent upon Hank Hanagraaff's Christianity in Crisis. For me it the first two chapters were something of a paradox, I agree with his assessment: 'The "Holy Spirit" found in the vast majority of charismatic teaching and practise bears no resemblance to the true Spirit of God as revealed in Scripture. The Holy Spirit is not an electrifying current of ecstatic energy, a mind-numbing babbler of irrational speech, or a cosmic genie who indiscriminately grants self-centred wishes for health and wealth.' Yet before he gives any evidence of this he spends page after page saying the same thing so anyone who doesn't agree with him on this would struggle to go any further with the book. I know lots of Christians from the charismatic movement that are genuine believers who love the LORD and have a passion for the lost and that the first two chapters was unfair to them.

Much better for me was the history of the movement he points out that the original Pentecostal movement had strange beginnings and that what they experienced of tongues they thought was the gift of foreign languages so much so they thought they could go on the mission field and preach without language study. He rightly shows us that the name Pentecostal comes from Acts 2, which was languages understood by the hearers on the day of Pentecost. When their tongues was shown not to be anything other than gibberish they had to go back to the drawing board and come up with something else. 

He has been accused of concentrating on the fringes and revealing the most extreme forms of the movement. In some sense I can see this is the case as for large parts he concentrates on the Word Faith Movement, people like Benny Hinn et al, and I would argue that these people are not charismatics they are outside of the charismatic movement. However Charismatics are the people who keep buying their books and giving them airspace. Even good reformed Charismatics like Terry Virgo and Adrian Warnock have said in public that they believe the Toronto Blessing and Lakeland Revival are genuine moves of God. Yet Toronto was started by Rodney Howard Brown and the Lakeland Revival was centred around the "ministry" of Todd Bentley both Word Faith Movement, Health and Wealth preachers. 

On the morality of the movement I felt he was unfair as he said he could give hundred of examples, but the examples of lapsed morality he gave were the ones I also thought of Hinn and White, Bakker, Ted Haggard etc. Although he was right to point out these guys are disqualified from ministry but they don't stop, they just keep going and still claim to be anointed by God. 

As he worked through the book it seemed to be that he didn't see there was any difference between moderate reformed charismatics like Wayne Grudem and John Piper and that he was writing them off with the same brushstrokes as Hinn and the Word Faith Movement. However the closing chapter has a very warm pastoral letter to his continuationist friends, the book would have been better in my opinion of he had started with this letter. 

MacArthur closes with an appendix on the cessassion of the gifts throughout church history pointing out some key quotes from notable figures in the 2000 year history of the church. 

Much of what MacArthur says in this book has probably needed to be said for a long time, maybe he isn't the person to say it but no-one else has stepped up to the plate.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

major time with the minor prophets

Every year since I can remember I have read the Bible cover to cover every year,  yet at times it feels like I am flying through it especially in December when I at lightening speed race through all of the minor prophets. For this year I am trying something new, there are 12 months  and 12 minor prophets so I am reading one a month, reading it slowly meditation on and reading a useful book or two about it. The first month was dedicated to the prophet Hosea and this has been a prophetiable exercise (I groaned too).  I have read Hosea before I have even preached on his relationship with his wife Gommer and how that parallels God's relationship with his unfaithful people. However I have always thought of this in terms of God's extravagant grace yet the picture in this section of the prophet's writing and indeed throughout his book is one of extravagant love. whilst there is a major judgement theme in the book, judgement is coming because God is a lover scorned by an unfaithful people and yet the judgement's purpose is bring about a restoration and renewal of the relationship. Not that God has given up on love but is pursuing it from an unfaithful people who repeatedly make promises with their lips but their hearts are from Him. He doesn't want a half hearted response He wants a loving heart commitment just like His. So in judgement He promises to take the people back just like in the wilderness where He allured you, He promises to win them over in desolation again. Even though they have betrayed Him by kissing goats and worshipping at foreign alters.For Hosea God is one who relentlessly pursues His wayward people. commentator says Amos's message is turn and avoid destruction but Hosea's is turn and see God behind you. I have never liked those modern choruses that say that God's heart is breaking they aren't biblical but Hosea is as close as they come, God is one who is a lover scorned and yet will not stop revealing and wooing His undeserving lover. 

Looking forward to getting to know Joel better this month.

Stephen <><
ps coming soon a review of MacArthur's latest book Strange Fire

Monday, 27 January 2014

Mez McConnell and Marsala

It was a real joy to be present at Smithton Free Church last Thursday to hear Mez McConnell's testimony after enjoying a delicious chicken Marsala. Mez is the pastor of Neddrie Community Church in Edinburgh but he is not your run of the mill pastor. For starters Mez was in and out of children's homes growing up and that was during the good periods. The worst of times were during the times his dad showed up he was unsure if he would be fed, clothed or general taken care off. He felt very much alone in the world. Mez became an angry young man, hanging out with druggies and smoking at a very early age. He came to believe that the world had done nothing for him and so he decided he would take whatever he could. This led to a vicious cycle of drugs and stealing including breaking into homes. He watched friends die from drugs, a friend of his was killed by Mez's ex girlfriend, this was a young man in trouble. A Young man that didn't care that he was in trouble, a man who felt the world owed him a living, heartbroken and betrayed by those who should have taken care of him he took his due from others. Mez's life of crime caught up with him and he was eventually jailed, he had come into contact with Christian's prior to this and found that he had a name and address of one of them. He eventually wrote to them and he came in to see him. Mez was ready for the obligatory Jesus talk but it didn't come instead they asked him how he was doing. He had spoken to him of Jesus before but his asking him about himself and how he was doing as well as the gift of tobacco and stereo showed they cared. This got Mez thinking about Jesus, he went to the library and took a book about Jesus  written by a man in jail, but it had stories of Angel's showing up in pinstriped suits and so Mez binned it and any thought of Jesus. Or so he thought but he couldn't get Jesus out of his mind. Once he had served his two prison sentences he supplied them with the address of a Christian and went to stay. He found the whole Christian thing weird, and this is where we need to watch out. We use a whole load of language that are completely nonsense, like "speak to your heart" even the word testimony is lost on those outside. If Christian's were weird,  church was weirder with stand up sit down, read this, listen to this and everyone suited and booted. In spite of Mez's reaction to these things he was secretly reading the Bible and Matthew Henry's commentary. It was the book of Romans that finally got him, you see the message of Romans told him that he was a sinner and he was under the wrath of God. Do-gooders had previously claimed that you would be a descent chap if it wasn't for your background. However Paul in Romans laid it out. You have sinned against God and you deserve His wrath. This thought eventually led to Mez repenting and becoming a believer. The old life stuck a little but God was at work. Mez eventually went to Bible college and then worked with street children in Brazil. Now Mez is working as a pastor in a church in Edinburgh, he is not a run of a mill pastor and the church he pastors is not a run of the mill church. You see Mez is working in  a Scheme where, drugs, alcohol and crime are high and employment is low. He is reaching the most hopeless of people as one who was once without hope. You can read his story in his autobiography. Is there anybody there? Published by Christian Focus.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

We All Made The Naughty List

If Santa was really making a list he wouldn't have to check it twice,  that's because every single person who has ever lived and is alive today makes the naughty list. However Christmas is about the one exception a baby boy who is Christ the LORD, born without sin into a sinful world. - Roman's 3: 23 says, 'All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That's pretty bad news, of ourselves we have nothing to sing about at Christmas because we all miss the mark. But here is the good news we are offered a gift, not just any gift but the greatest of all gifts, The baby born is not just Christ and LORD but is also called saviour because he came to save sinners from their sin.  The Christ child grew and bore our sins upon the cross, the just for the unjust. So that we can experience Romans 3:24 And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith'. As the old Christmas Carol, Hark! The herald Angels Sing, reminds us, Christ came to 'raise the sons of earth, come to give us second birth' That is something more wonderful than any gift sat under a tree this Christmas time, that we can be reconciled to God and know his peace. May you know something of that today!

Merry Christmas
Stephen <><

Friday, 11 October 2013

Forging the Future on the anvil of the past

Forging the future


To burn white hot and be molded by the Spirit of God we need to ensure that we are indeed people of the book. If we are to forge the future as preachers and as churches we need to look to the past, both in terms of faithfulness and at failure. The history of the church is littered with faithful churches who preached for generations only to be replaced by less faithful churches that died out very quickly. If we are to forge the future it must be on the anvil of Biblical faithfulness married to a contextual relevance. John Stott in his very useful book The Contemporary Christian suggests that there are two errors we need to avoid. The first one is where a local church consider themselves to be faithful because they are faithful to the scriptures but don't engage the modern world so they are unfaithful. The second one is seeking to be relevant but they don't open the Scriptures so are irrelevant. To convey truth to our generation and leave a legacy for the one to follow we need to be people of the book, soaked in scripture aware of the Word's life changing power and to speak it with authority. Yet we need to do this winsomely and with wisdom, the word if relevant for every generation yet we might not be. Stott  points out elsewhere that to be faithful preachers we need to cross the bridge from the world of the Bible to the contemporary world. If we do the first probably we will be well on our way to the second. The orthodoxy of tomorrow is the same as the orthodoxy of the past and will be the orthodoxy of the future. Its why when we begin a journey we need to keep hold of old maps, even in an electronic format for there are people who have been on the same journey from whom we can learn. Yet we need to make sure we are speaking our orthodoxy in a way that our hearers hear the authentic word of God through the scriptures in a way that they can understand.


Our Generation needs to leave a legacy of faithfulness so that in the next generation the Works of God will be commended to them.


Our faithfulness must also be to the Gospel, it has been said that we lose the gospel once we start to assume the gospel. As evangelical believers we need to make sure that when we talk about the gospel we are faithful to what is revealed in Scripture. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, to unpack that in our generation and throughout our live times is to forge the future for white hot worshippers who will one day gather around the throne of God, with white hot worshippers from every tribe and tongue.

The mission of God will not fail, the mission of denominations and churches will only be a success if we are engaged in His mission to go into all the world and preach the gospel, teaching them everything that He has commanded.


God Bless

Stephen Barton