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Exiled Preacher

Displaced fragments: theology, ministry, interviews and reviews

Updated: 2017-11-22T18:31:53.744+00:00


Seven Leaders: Preachers and Pastors by Iain H. Murray


Banner of Truth Trust, 2017, 279pp The author wrote this book out of the conviction that lessons of abiding importance may be learned from godly and able preachers and pastors across the ages. It will be of interest to men aspiring to pastoral ministry, or who are just setting out in that work. Here they will find role models to follow whose example will both challenge and encourage them. More seasoned pastors will also find help here. If we are not careful it is easy to drift into going through the motions of ministry, rather than our work being the overflow of deep communion with God. These pages will provide a necessary corrective. Those not called to preach or pastor will none the less find their souls stirred by Murray’s accounts of seven exceptional Ministers of the Gospel.Attention is given to seven men: John Elias, Andrew A. Bonar, Archie Brown, Kenneth A MacRae, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, W. J. Grier and John MacArthur. Murray does not so much give us potted biographies of these varied characters, as attempt to show what made them tick. These are very different men, called to serve the Lord at different times and in different situations. Some had more academic training than others. All were wonderfully used by the Lord to accomplish great things for him. While certainly not like peas in a pod, these ‘Magnificent Seven’ Ministers had a number of things in common that helps account for their usefulness. They were all strongly Calvinistic in their doctrinal emphasis, some at times when the Reformed faith seemed to be going out of fashion. They maintained their stand for the sovereign grace of God because they were convinced that the great truths commonly labelled ‘Calvinism’ were in fact nothing less than biblical Christianity.The importance of prayer and communion with God in ministry is highlighted in the chapter on Andrew A. Bonar. The thoughtful reader will be humbled, challenged and made to yearn for a deeper walk with God through Bonar’s example. A missing note in some Evangelical circles today is the need for the empowering presence of the Spirit in preaching. The preachers described here were men of the Word, yet they also longed and prayed for the Spirit’s work upon their preaching and in the lives of their hearers. He alone is able to give the Word preached its life-transforming effectiveness.  All were evangelistic preachers, in that they intentionally addressed their messages to the unconverted, aiming at their salvation. In addition, Murray shows that these gifted preachers worked hard to make their content-rich sermons as clear, logical and easy to follow as possible. Helpful instances are given as to how they did just that, especially in the chapters on Lloyd-Jones and MacRae. Martin Luther once wrote, “It is not by reading, writing, or speculation that one becomes a theologian. Nay, rather, it is living, dying, and being damned that makes one a theologian.” The same may be said of pastors and Murray describes how the Lord made these men tender hearted shepherds of the flock by bringing suffering and trials into their lives, This is especially brought out in the chapter on C. H. Spurgeon’s friend and contemporary, Archie Brown. Some chapters are stronger than others. Elias, Bonar, Brown and Lloyd-Jones are highlights. I'd barely heard of MacRae, but enjoyed Murray's pen portrait of the Isle of Lewis pastor. I found the one on W.J Grier a little hard going. The MacArthur chapter was good on preaching and Scripture. The book as a whole is a standing reminder of one vital fact, “what a preacher is as a Christian is of greater consequence than his natural gifts. In the words of M’Cheyne: ‘It is not great talents that God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.’” The great burden of this work is a call to return to the apostolic pattern of gospel ministry, 'we will give ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word' (Acts 6:4). In that order. * Reviewed for Evangelical Times.&nbs[...]

Too young to die? by Andrew Stone


Day One Publications, 2017, 125pp I can't really attempt to review this book, as it's difficult to be objective about the story of a family who are dear friends of ours and members of Providence Baptist Church, which I pastor. But I'm more than happy to recommend it. The book is based on emails Andrew Stone sent to friends and family give updates on his daughter, Hannah's health situation. She was delayed in going to study history at Bangor University, as acute kidney failure necessitated a transplant. Early in the second year of her studies Hannah was diagnosed as having a lymphoma tumor at the back of her nose. Chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy seemed not to have been effective in removing the tumor. The family were told to prepare for the worst. But God had other ideas.  It was a privilege to have been asked to contribute a brief foreword to the book. Reading it brought so many memories flooding back. Some of them painful, some of them joyful. The Lord has not promised to insulate his people from times of suffering and trial in this life. Knowing that in theory is one thing, experiencing the reality of intense suffering is another. This book gives us a glimpse of faith in the crucible of affliction, as the Stone family learned to trust in their God and Father in unimaginably difficult circumstances. Andrew’s emails reproduced here were written to keep family and friends informed of Hannah’s latest news in order to stimulate prayer and thanksgiving to God. As you will see, they are heartrendingly honest, full of gratitude to God, and above all expressive of the reality of the Christian hope in the face of suffering and death. Seeking to give pastoral support to the Stone family during the period of Hannah’s illness and recovery, I often found myself asking the question posed by Paul in connection with his ministry, “who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16). The apostle supplies the answer in following chapter, “our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). As these pages testify, Andrew, Susan and Hannah certainly proved that to be true in their own experience. All who trust in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ will find the same. This is an ideal book for believers facing times of suffering and trial. It is also a powerful and moving testimony to the grace of God to place into the hands of non-Christians.  May it be widely used by the Lord for his glory. [...]

The Value of a Soul


O teach me what it meaneth:  That Cross uplifted high,With One, the Man of Sorrows,  Condemned to bleed and die.O teach me what it cost Thee  To make a sinner whole;And teach me, Saviour, teach me  The value of a soul(Lucy Anne Bennett (1850-1927)Upon that cross of Jesus  Mine eye at times can seeThe very dying form of One,  Who suffered there for me;And from my smitten heart, with tears,  Two wonders I confess,The wonders of His glorious love,  And my own worthlessness.(Elizabeth Cecilia Clephane  (1830-1869)Two Victorian era hymnwriters. Two quite different valuations of the human soul. Lucy Anne Bennett wants Jesus to teach her the 'value of a soul'. While Elizabeth Cecilia Clephane confesses 'my own worthlessness'. Is that the 'value of a soul', worthless? Stephen Hawking has said as much. More or less, "The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies. We are so insignificant that I can't believe the whole universe exists for our benefit." But he's a self-confessed atheist for whom human beings are mere physical entities. Souls and their value don't come into it. We're "chemical scum". Period. But hang on a minute. While it is not the case that the whole universe exists for our benefit, the 'anthropic principle' is widely recognised. The universe is fine tuned for human life and is understandable, at least to some extent, to the human mind. That in itself tells us something about the unique status of mankind. Maybe we're not so scummy after all. The Christians faith has a high estimation of human beings. We are made in the image of God, who created us as 'living souls'. With that in mind Marilynne Robinson writes, "humankind is the true and appropriate object of [God's] love". She speaks of, "our ontological worthiness to be in a relationship with God" and says, "To properly value this pledge of fervent love, the Incarnation, we must try and see the world as deserving of it" (The Givenness of Things, p. 155, 272 & 201). Jesus asked, "what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26). His words place a high value on human life. When placed in the balance, a single soul outweighs the whole world. To lose one's soul to gain the all the riches of the world is an eternally bad deal. We can go beyond that when we factor in the gospel. It is not the comparative value of the world that defines the worth of a soul, but that "the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). In his classic work on the atonement, The Cross of Christ, John Stott devotes a chapter to Self -understanding and self-giving in the light of the Cross. In it the writer notes Dr. Hoekema's criticism of the words of Clephane's hymn cited at the top of this post,No, no, Dr. Hoekema objects. We cannot sing that. 'And my own unworthiness' would express the truth, but not 'my own worthlessness. Is it 'worthless' be a child of God, a member of Christ and an heir of heaven? So then, a vital part of our self-affirmation, which in reality is an affirmation of the grace of God our Creator and Redeemer, is what we have become in Christ. 'The ultimate basis of our positive self-image must be God's acceptance of us in Christ'. (The Cross of Christ, John Stott, IVP, 1986 p. 283-284).Stott's emphasis is subtly different to that of Robinson. While she speaks of the 'ontological worthiness' of human beings as objects of God's love, Stott highlights the grace of God. This is appropriate because sin has rendered human beings unworthy of God's love and deserving of his judgement. That certainly does not mean we are worthless. Pace Robinson, however, the measure of human worth is not to be sought in our ontology. It is disclosed at Calvary. Stott [...]

The Givenness of Things by Marilynne Robinson


Virago, 2015, 322pp Another holiday read. Over the last few years I have made my way though Robinson's Gilead trilogy; Gilead, Home and Lila. I have been entranced by the fictional world she has created, full of finely drawn, characterful characters. The novels are slow burners rather than racy page turners. They offer a thoughtful and compassionate account of the human condition. We are broken and flawed, yet we may hope for mercy and redemption. Robinson's fictional output is an extended meditation on the meaning of grace. Imagine what it would be like to have Marilynne Robinson expand on some of the theological themes pondered in her novels. You, know where old pastor friends, John Ames and William Boughton discuss predestination, or try and make sense of suffering and evil in God's world. We need imagine no more. For here, without the intermediary of her fictional characters, Robinson attempts to do just that.In a conversation with Barak Obama, a transcript of which appears at the end of the book, the author gives a matter of fact explanation for publishing these essays, "I give lectures at a fair rate, and when I have given enough of them to make a book, I make a book" (p. 289). Fair enough.It's obvious from her novels that the writer is deeply familiar with the thought of John Calvin. Here she avers, "I am a Calvinist...I really am a Calvinist" (p. 116). She loves Calvin's humanistic appreciation of the dignity of human beings and his admiration for man's dazzling achievements, 'the manifold agility of the soul, which enables it to take a survey of heaven and earth; to join the past and present; to retain the memory of things heard long ago; to conceive whatever it chooses by the help of imagination; its ingenuity also in the invention of such admirable arts'" (p. 26). Robinson deprecates reductionist accounts of human consciousness on the part of some Neuroscientists, for whom the "self" is an illusion created by electrons in the brain. As she points out, however, "If Shakespeare had undergone and MRI there is no reason to believe there would be any more evidence of extraordinary brilliance in him than there would be evidence of a self or soul" (p. 11). The old humanists were on the right track, who "took the works of the human mind - literature, music, philosophy, art, and languages - as proof of what the mind is and might be" (p, 11).This should not be taken to mean that Robinson is anti-science. Far from it. She returns again and again to the counter-intuitive world of quantum physics, where the normal rules that govern the physical universe seem to break down into randomness. Robinson sees this as in line with Jonathan Edwards's conception of, 'the arbitrary constitution of the Creator'. What she calls "the givenness of things" (p.84). Things are as they are because that is what they were given to be by God.  Science is the product of the human impulse to understand our world. And understand it we can, at least to some degree, which is a remarkable thing in itself. "Einstein said the the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible" (p. 154). That the human mind can comprehend the universe is testimony to the fact that God has created it and made us in his image that we may see his wisdom displayed in his mighty works. One of the impressive things about these essays is their range. Robinson is a true polymath. Chapters are devoted to the Reformation, the theme of Grace in the plays of Shakespeare, the idea of Servanthood in Protestant thought. There are essays on Metaphysics and Theology. The chapter, Son of Adam, Son of Man, is a mini-biblical theology. While the essays are diverse they cohere around a key thought; the dignity and value of human life against the vast backdrop of universe. She is content to put human beings centre stage because they have the distinction of being made in the image of God. The sustained application [...]

"Fetch down some knowledge from the clouds": the pedagogy of Isaac Watts


Isaac Watts 1674-1748Writing up a review of The Givenness of Things by Marilynne Robinson I was reminded of what she had to say on Isaac Watts's contribution to pedagogy. In her chapter on the Reformation, she reflects on the educational impulse of Protestantism, "The bookishness of the Reformation might be said to have generalized itself to become an expectation of legibility in the whole of Creation." This bookish attitude was not at all elitist.  William Tyndale famously wished that a ploughboy might be as adept at reading Scripture as a priest. Robinson explains, "This sense that revelation, scriptural and natural, was essentially available to everyone, pervades Reformation thought" (p. 23).In line with this impulse Robinson points out that the Congregational Minister and hymnwriter Isaac Watts also authored a groundbreaking and influential work on pedagogy entitled, The Improvement of the Mind: A Supplement to the Art of Logic. Watts wanted education to be enjoyable as well as informative for children, drawing on their natural curiosity about the world. Robinson includes a quote from The Improvement of the Mind to illustrate his approach (p. 23-24), Fetch down some knowledge from the clouds, the stars, the sun, the moon, and the revolutions of all the planets. Dig and draw up some valuable meditations from the depths of the earth, and search them through the vast oceans of water. Extract some intellectual improvements from the minerals and metals, from the wonders of nature among the vegetables and herbs, trees and flowers. Learn some lessons from the birds, and the beasts, and the meanest insect. Read the wisdom of God, and his admirable contrivance in them all. Read his almighty power, his rich and various goodness, in all the works of his hands.As a Dissenter Watts was not permitted to study at Oxford or Cambridge. University was only for the communicant members of the Church of England. Nonconformists devised an alternative system of education, the Dissenting Academies. They were set up to to train men for pastoral ministry and provide a the sons of Nonconformist families with a standard of higher education to rival anything Oxbridge had to offer. Young Isaac's earliest education was at the hands of his father, also named Isaac. At six years of age Watts was sent to a Free School at Winkle Street, Southampton. He then headed to London to study at the Nonconformist Academy at Stoke Newington Green. His biographer comments, "Watts was in an educational tradition that has enriched the life of this country. The Dissenting Academies played an important role in the development of modern education." (Isaac Watts Remembered by David Fountain, 1978, Gospel Standard Baptist Trust, p. 76).Isaac Watts penned several works on pedagogy including a number of catechisms, a Discourse on the Education of Children, and The Improvement of the Mind Parts I & II. He championed learning in the medium of English alongside Latin, the traditional language of scholarship. The forward looking educationalist suggested the use of card games to teach grammar, astronomy and other subjects. But there were limits. The Congregationalist Minister was strongly opposed to students attending balls, gaming houses and the theatre. The ways of the world could be picked up more safely by reading the Spectator. In an age when strict, if not harsh, educational discipline was the norm (enough to make Michaela seem soft), Watts urged teachers to endeavour to win the hearts and minds of their pupils, He should have so much of a natural candour and sweetness mixed with all the improvements of learning, as might convey knowledge into the minds of his disciples with a sort of gentle insinuation and sovereign delight, and may tempt them into the highest improvements of their reason by a resistless and insensible force. Dr. Johnson was a great admirer of[...]

God created all men equal


 “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal”, so says the American Declaration of Independence. Race riots in Charlottesville, USA have led to those words being quoted to call out the evil of white supremacy. President Trump’s seeming hesitancy in confronting racism has led to his judgement being called into question by leading lights in his own Republican party. The truth that the framers of the Declaration of Independence held to be ‘self-evident’ is based on the teaching of the Bible, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27). That is why people of whatever nation, race, or creed, whether they be male or female are to be treated with equal dignity and respect. Equality does not mean uniformity, but whatever differences there are between people, the fundamental principle of equality remains. An old song by my boyhood heroes, The Jam bears witness to this principle. In Man in the Corner Shopthey sang,Go to church do the people from the areaAll shapes and classes sit and pray togetherFor here they are all oneFor God created all men equalThe church is not confined to one nation, race or social class. Jesus sent his followers to make disciples of all peoples. The songs of heaven would make any racist decidedly uncomfortable. The saints in glory sing to Jesus,You are worthy For you were slain,And have redeemed us to God by your bloodOut of every tribe and tongue and people and nation(Revelation 5:9)The Bible teaches that all people are equal in three important ways: 1. All people are created equal. 2. All people are equally in need of salvation. 3. All people are equally welcome to receive Jesus as Saviour and Lord. * For Trinity parish magazine[...]



Saw this last Saturday. The film shows the Dunkirk evacuation from the perspectives of land 'The Mole', Sea and Air. Out of the hundreds of thousands involved, Nolan focuses attention on a handful of Tommies, a couple of RAF pilots and the escapades aboard a small civilian boat piloted by Mr Dawson, played by Mark Rylance. While the epic scale of the rescue is brought home we are not allowed to forget the personal heroism of the individuals involved. 

The film is visually stunning, loud, and immersive. The aerial balletics of  the dogfights between RAF Spitfires and their Luftwaffe opponents are especially gripping. The main roles are well acted, including the chap from One Direction, who plays a bit of a baddie. Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance give standout performances, adding emotional weight to the film. 

Talk about tension. So many rescue boats are bombed from the air or torpedoed that you begin to wonder whether anyone got home. Thankfully over 300,000 did. Those who returned to Blighty worried they would be labelled cowards, but Churchill's well judged, 'We will fight them on the beaches' speech set the tone. 

The providential rescue of the British Expeditionary Force was an important factor in the allies' eventual victory over Nazi Germany. No Dunkirk, no D-Day.

Dunkirk is a powerful reminder that rescue involves sacrifice. That was also true of 'The' event that shaped our world. 

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro


Faber and Faber, 2006 edition, 282pp This is the second of two books I read while on holiday in France. The first was The Givenness of Things by Marilynne Robinson. More of that in another review post. Suffice to say that one of the main themes of Robinson's collection of essays is what it means to be human. In the first essay on Humanism, the author disagrees with the view of some Neuroscientists who conclude that the human "self" does not exist. What we think of as "self" is merely the product of electronic impulses generated by that computerised piece of meat, the human brain. Robinson prefers the account given by "the brilliant young humanist scholar, John his praise of 'the manifold agility of the soul, which enables it to take a survey of heaven and earth; to join the past and present; to retain the memory of things heard long ago; to conceive whatever it chooses by the help of imagination; its ingenuity also in the invention of such admirable arts'". (p. 26). The question of what it is to be human also haunts Ishiguro's novel. The story is narrated by Kathy H, a thirty one year old carer. The novel unfolds as Kathy reflects on 'the memory of things long ago' in an attempt to make sense of her current situation. Her life story begins in Hailsham, a special boarding school. While there Kathy made friends with fellow boarders, Tommy and Ruth. The story is limited by her perspective on things as Kathy reminisces about the past until her story merges with the present. Other than that, no explanation is given of how the dystopia Ishiguro has created came about. Slowly the reader begins to grasp that all is not right with Kathy's world. It becomes apparent that Hailsham children were 'donors', a class of people created by cloning as living spare parts. Their destiny was to grow into adulthood and then have their vital organs removed one by one until they died, or 'completed'. Before donating they could serve as carers, hence Kathy's position. Hailsham students could never understand why the art they made was removed from the school and placed in a gallery. A rumor spread that exhibits in the gallery were there to prove that two Hailsham students had fallen in love once they reached adulthood. Genuine couples could be granted some extra time together before donating. Ruth, Tommy and Kathy certainly believed this to be true. Later in life Kathy hears that Hailsham had closed down. However, Together with Tommy she manages to track down Miss Emily and Madame from the school. They are desperate to find out whether the rumuor about the gallery was true. It turns out that what made Hailsham special was that the school pioneered a more humane way of treating 'donor' children, believing them to be fully paid up members of the human race, rather than living spare parts. The art in the gallery was not there to give in an insight into lovers' souls, but to 'prove you had souls at all' (p. 255). Calvin would have approved of that as an indication of genuine humanity, but not of the need for it in the case of Kathy et al.Kathy and her friends are depicted as truly and fully human, not soulless automatons. They form close friendships, they fall in and out of love, they are kind and they are cruel, they create art and literature, they long for a sense of meaning and purpose in life, they want to know where they came from and where they are going. Ishiguro's tenderly drawn characters are flawed, sometimes frustrating, yet lovable human beings. Like us. But destined to die a cold, unnatural death. The writer deploys a 'show not tell' approach to the moral issues raised in his novel. It does, however, provoke some serious bioethicical questions. Currently, embryonic stem cell research involves the harvesting of stem cells from human embryos prior to their destruction. In most cases these embryos are 'surp[...]

Inventing ourselves: some comments on gender self-identification proposals


The Minister for Women and Equalities, Justine Greening has announced a government proposal on altering the legal requirements involved in a person changing their gender identity. The current legislation includes a number of safeguards before a person is allowed to legally change their gender identity, including a clinical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and the requirement that a person has lived in line with their chosen gender identity for two years. Under these proposals those safeguards will be scrapped, allowing people to self-identify their gender. The intention is to ‘de-medicalise’ the process. But gender dysphoria is a psychological condition that requires expert diagnosis and treatment.  Should a person wish to go ahead with hormone treatment and gender reassignment surgery, that would be a medical procedure. The process cannot therefore be ‘de-medicalised’. The current safeguards should be retained as an absolute minimum. A person cannot simply assert that they are a man or a woman, contrary to their birth gender, and expect society to recognise that as a fact. Birth certificates should not be retrospectively altered to change a person’s birth gender, or so they can identify themselves as ‘X’ opposed to male or female. In terms of genetics and reproductive functions, human beings are born either male or female. That is a scientific fact that cannot be altered. People who feel ‘trapped in the wrong body’ should be treated with kindness and respect, but the best way of dealing with their gender identity issues is to help them come to terms with the person they are by birth (see here). The tiny percentage of people born with an intersex condition is not strictly relevant to this discussion. The matter concerns those who were born male or female, who wish to identify with the opposite sex as a matter of choice. As a Christian I believe that human beings are made in the image of God as male and female. It is part of God’s good creation that men and women are equal and yet different. The differences between men and women should be celebrated as part of the natural diversity of the human race. No attempt should be made to deny or overcome these differences. Giving a man female hormone treatment and subjecting their bodies to surgery in order to give them a feminised appearance does not alter their genetic maleness or bestow upon them female reproductive functions. Similarly with women who seek to identify as male. Biological facts are not malleable and cannot be changed at will, or even by medical procedures. The ‘Trans Movement’, whose agenda the government seems to be championing seems to have a very restricted understanding of what constitutes male or female gender identity. Gender stereotyping needs to be challenged rather than reinforced. A boy who enjoys cooking and dancing is a boy who enjoys those pursuits, not a girl in the ‘wrong body’. A girl who prefers playing football to dressing up as a princess in bright pink is a sporty girl, not a child who is ‘gender fluid’. It is a great disservice to vulnerable children to suggest that they may be suffering from gender identity problems that may be resolved by boys seeking to become girls or visa versa.   The number of children who have been referred to gender identity clinics has grown exponentially in recent years. This is due in part to a culture where children are encouraged to question whether they are in fact boys or girls. Hormone suppressing drugs are prescribed to children in preparation for gender transitioning. Commentators have rightly expressed alarm over these developments. Feminist writer Camille Pagila recently stated, "The cold biological truth is that sex changes are impossible," and "I condemn the escalating prescription of puberty blockers (whose long-term effects are unknown) for ch[...]

Holiday reading


Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by J. Mack Stiles


Crossway, 126pp Evangelism. It's about programmes, right? Special meetings, Christianity Explored, Life Explored. Centrally organised by the church. Partly, yes. Those things have value. But Mack Stiles' book is not about getting churches to buy the latest off the shelf programme. Results guaranteed. Rather, he wants to encourage what he calls a 'culture of evangelism'.But first of all Stiles needs to define what he means by evangelism. Which he does:"Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade."The author then unpacks what that means, beginning with the gospel, the evangel we are meant to be ising.You don't need to run a church programme to evangelise, or bring in an expert Evangelist. Evangelism so defined is a discipleship discipline for every believer. Just as much as prayer, Bible reading and faithful Christian living. A culture of evangelism means every church member will be looking to 'teach the gospel with the aim to persuade' as part of their daily lives. They will take it upon themselves to reach the unreached, build meaningful relationships non-Christians, offer to study the Bible with people who want to know more about the Christian faith, bring friends along to church where they will hear the gospel preached, and so on. Where a culture of  evangelism isn't embedded in the life of a church, people will tend to think that it's the responsibility of the organised church to do evangelism for them. An example is given of well meaning believers stuffing shoe boxes full of essential things a disadvantaged group of people. And then expecting a pastor with links to that community to dish them out. Why didn't they go beyond stuffing shoe boxes and make the effort to engage personally with the needy community? Someone else's job. I certainly agree with Stiles on the importance of creating a culture of every member evangelism. But church-organised programmes can sometimes help to prime the pump. We have a 'Door to Door' Evangelist working with the churches I serve. Members accompany him to visit people in our community. As a spin off from that a church member has organised coffee mornings where men get together for a chat at a local cafe. A mixture of Christians and non-Christians. That was his initiative, not the result of a directive from the church leadership. Similarly, there have been a number of opportunities for developing relationships with parents who attend our Parent and Toddler Group and other church-run activities.It's not a matter of either/or. In fact, I picked up my freebie copy of this book at a Grace Baptist Partnership day conference on 'Evangelism and the Local Church', aimed at supporting a week of mission in the South West of England. The task of the 'organised church' is to equip the 'organic church' to live as everyday disciples of Jesus. An everyday disciple will also be an everyday evangelist. Organised activities can serve as a powerful catalyst for spontaneous, organic outreach by church members. But centrally organised activities can't be the be all and end all. The 'organic church' can and must go to places the 'organised church' simply cannot reach.From the book it seems as though J. Mack Stiles is one of those 'speak to anybody about Jesus, anytime' extroverts. Not all of us are in that category. But the writer provides some practical hints and tips on Actually Sharing Our Faith that even the most shy and retiring introvert will find useful. If we are to succeed in the urgent task of winning people for Christ in this generation, we are going to need churches with a deeply embedded culture of every member evangelism. This title would be a useful aid for stimulating discussion in a Home Group, or a Bible Study series on how the whole church may speak for Jes[...]

Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair B. Ferguson


 Banner of Truth Trust, 2016, 277pp Back in the early 1990's I heard Sinclair Ferguson speak on sanctification at the Banner Ministers' Conference. The addresses made a lasting impression upon me. I remember being struck by the awesome fact that God calls believers to be holy as he is holy. Bits and pieces, of Ferguson's messages have lingered in my memory almost 30 years later. The biblical texts he expounded, the theological arguments he advanced and the practical applications he made have had a lasting impact on my Christian life. We have reason to be grateful that the teaching given at Ministers' Conferences and more besides has been gathered together in this book and made available to a wider audience. Books on 'holiness' can sometimes seem little more than a list of dos and don'ts. But that is holiness divorced from the gospel, which is no holiness at all. It is only through the Father's saving work in Christ and by the Spirit, that sinners can be cleansed from sin and devoted God. Ferguson places his teaching on sanctification within a framework of thoroughgoing trinitatian theology. For that is what the Bible itself does in the 'Blueprint Passages' the writer expounds such as 1 Peter 1:1-25 and Romans 8. Another key theme is that of the believer's union with Christ. As Paul teaches in Romans 6 and Colossians 3, the person who is in Christ has died with him to the old life of sin and has been raised with him to a new life of holiness. We must therefore put to death what is sinful (engage in mortification)  and bring to life what is holy (vivification). It is vital that we grasp the interplay of indicative and imperative, position and performance, dynamic and doing, so that our Christian lives are a conscious expression of who we are in Christ. The New Testament does not teach sanctification by guilt trip, but sanctification by gospel grace. The Holy Spirit's role is to fashion those who are in Christ into the image of their Saviour. The 'fruit' he produces in us is Christlike character. God's ultimate goal is that we should be conformed to the image of his Son by grace and in glory. Ferguson gives attention to the role of the law in sanctification, where he defends the traditional Reformed perspective over and against the 'New Covenant Theology' position. He argues his case with fine exegetical insight, theological skill and practical penetration. While the law in itself cannot sanctify any more than it can justify, it is none the less God's law that provides us with a pattern for holy living. Jesus has fulfilled the law, not abolished it. That same law is fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. The gospel turns the duty of obedience into delight. An appendix is devoted to the Fourth Commandment. The writer anticipates and responds to the objection that while Paul may be helpful when it comes to the general principles of sanctification, he does not enable us to get to grips with  nitty-gritty practical matters. The chapter In for the Kill nails that one, showing how Paul provides the mindset, motives and method for sanctification. While sanctification is a deeply personal thing, Ferguson avoids an individualistic approach by giving due weight to the importance of the church as the community in which we give expression to our devotion to God through love for one another. The 'fruit of the Spirit' in Galatians 5:22-23 are deeply relational and are brought to ripe maturity in the fellowship of God's people and as we serve the Lord in the world. Devoted to God has the makings of a contemporary classic on holiness. It deserves to be read carefully, prayerfully and reflectively. Robert Murray M'Cheyne famously prayed, 'Lord,[...]



We went to see this the other Saturday. In my last film review I noted that when we go to the cinema most of the other movie-goers tend to be getting on a bit. Possibly due to our film choices  these days. Well, for this one it was my good wife, me, another (older) couple, and that was it. Like a private screening. Don't know what the other random couple thought they were doing, gatecrashing our exclusive viewing. Cheek of it. 

Churchill, the filmHistorically speaking almost a case of 'never in the field of cinema have so many facts been sacrificed for so little dramatic effect'. The central conceit was that our eponymous hero was dead against D-Day, haunted as he was by the epic failure of the Gallipoli campaign during WWI. Admittedly, it had been a while since I read Churchill by Roy Jenkins, but as the film unfolded, that didn't seem quite right. It wasn't. Churchill may have had some reservations concerning Operation Overlord, but to depict him calling upon the heavens to thwart the allied landings was pushing it a bit. A lot.

Some have called the film a 'hatchet job', but that's not quite fair. Churchill comes good in the end and delivers his rousing D-Day speech to the nation. Just like the ones he used to give during the Blitz. And they thought he was past it. 

Brian Cox gives a towering performance as the war leader. In turns melancholy, meddlesome, ill-tempered and yet ever the Great Man. Miranda Richardson is almost as imperious as his Clemmie. Verdict: a triumph of acting over plot, but still worth a look. At least you'll have plenty of elbow room in the cinema. 

London Seminary 40th Anniversary Thanksgiving Service


On Saturday we attended the London Seminary's 40th Anniversary Thanksgiving Service. I attended the seminary from 1988-1990. Former principal Philip Eveson chaired the meeting and gave a potted history of the college. It was encouraging to hear that around 400 men have been trained for the pastoral-preaching ministry at the seminary. Its reach has extended to five continents. The ethos of London Seminary can be summed up in the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:7, "by the word of truth, by the power of God". The college was founded in 1977 by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He wanted the seminary to help equip men to proclaim the word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. It has remained faithful to that vision. 

Leaving students spoke of how the seminary had helped prepare them for ministry and shared concerning the work to which the Lord was calling them. Outgoing Principal Robert Strivens gave a report on the work of the seminary in the current academic year. Incoming Principal Bill James read the Scriptures and prayed. 

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky preached the word. His message was based on John 15:18-25. Jesus told his disciples that they would encounter hatred from the world as they heralded the gospel. Not exactly an encouraging thought for budding pastors and preachers. But a healthy dose of realism is needed for those setting out to minister God's word in an increasingly hostile secular world. To withstand this opposition, Mohler reminded us to abide in Christ (John 15:1-8), to expect the help of the Holy Spirit (John 15:26-27) and that Jesus had prayed that we will be kept from the evil one (John 17:14-19). The preacher commended the work of the seminary, which is on a much smaller scale than the one he leads, commenting that faithfulness is measured not in numbers, but density. This particularly dense alumni is certainly grateful for that. 

An excellent buffet tea was served after the meeting. It was good to catch up with some old friends connected with the seminary. Hard to think that it's almost 30 years since I began my studies there. I was in my early 20s - around the same age then as my son is now. Spooky. 

If you are interested in training for the pastoral-preaching ministry that is biblical, theological, practical, contemporary and affordable, why not consider the London Seminary?

Democracy, the worst form of Government


 For years to come pundits and political historians will discuss why the predicted Conservative landslide failed to materialise. Was it the unpopular Tory manifesto? The Brexit factor? The youth vote? Who knows? One thing’s for sure, you can never be sure what the Great British Electorate is going to decide. Not these days anyway. Now we have a weakened government that faces the huge challenge of negotiating our exit from the EU on the best possible terms. Democracy, eh? Winston Churchill once rather gloomily mused, “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”Benign dictatorships usually end up malignant, corrupt and oppressive. The same goes for rule by a small group that cannot be held to account by the people they govern. Tony Benn suggested that five questions should be but to those in power: 1. What power have you got? 2. Where did you get it from? 3. In whose interests do you exercise it? 4. To whom are you accountable? 5. How can we get rid of you? Every system of government needs checks and balances to stop rulers abusing their powers. That is why in our system the government is held to account by parliament and is subject to the rule of law. These checks and balances are necessary because as has been said, ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. We might wonder why that is the case. Churchill gives us a clue in the words quoted earlier. We live in a ‘world of sin and woe’. Human beings have a destructive tendency to mess things up spectacularly. We daren’t give too much power to any individual because we are all sinners. That’s why ‘democracy is the worst form of government apart from all those other forms’.Democracy can’t solve the problem of sin, it can merely help stop it getting out of hand. But of one it is written, ‘You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’. * For White Horse News, News & Views & Holy Trinity Parish Magazine [...]



Given a choice between the unelectable and the uninspiring the latter got my vote. Not so much 'things can only get better' as, 'could be worse'. Much worse. 'Red Tory' has it. 

A choice between the unelectable and the uninspiring


I don't know. In my political convictions I'm stuck somewhere between Red Tory and Blue Labour. Progressive when it comes to the state using its powers to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get on in life. But a social conservative when it comes to traditional marriage and the family, the importance of work, the need for society for have strong moral values, and so on. Big on the importance of free speech. Robust discussion of political, moral and religious matters are a Good Thing. I have little patience with factional identity politics. Not convinced at all by Corbyn's leftist tax & spend programme. Soft on defense. Cosying up to the IRA, Hamas, etc. Diane Abbot [get well soon]. Lib Dems need to suck up Brexit and move on. Leave we must. Remainers (like me) are just going to have to hope that we get the best possible deal on exiting the EU. Tim Farron has had a disastrous campaign. Ukip? Nope. But the Tories. What an uninspiring lot. 'Strong and stable' became 'weak and wobbly' when manifesto commitments subjected to scrutiny. The dementia tax debacle. There's a good argument to be made in favour of the policy. It's an improvement on the current situation where people have to sell their homes when still alive to fund their care, with only £23k protected. You could even say that it's progressive to get people with valuable properties to fund at least some of their own care costs. We brought nothing into this world and we can carry nothing out. Leaving 100k for middle class, middle aged kids to inherit isn't so bad. Personally, I'd prefer some kind of social insurance against care costs to spread the burden, but there we are. Pressure was applied and the PM buckled.Security should have been May's strong point, having been Home Secretary for so long. She sounded impressive in the wake of the Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks. But it's no good saying 'enough is enough' when you have been in personal charge of the nation's security. Especially as it seems clear that the terrorists involved in both atrocities were known to the authorities, but left at large to kill and maim at will. What's been going on under Theresa May's watch? Would we be any safer under Corbyn & co? Diane Abbot as Home Sec. Please.On education, what we need is fairer funding for all schools that keeps pace with increasing pupil numbers. No additional Grammars. Under the Tories the education system is a messy hybrid. We have a mixture of LA die hards, Orphan Annie stand-alone academies [it's a hard knock life for them] and MATs in which schools are deprived of their autonomy while crazy money is awarded to CEOs. A mess.I could moan on some more, but that'll do.This election presents us with a choice between the unelectable and the uninspiring. [...]

Voting Intentions


No, I'm not going to try and suggest who you should vote for on 8 June. 'That's a relief' you might respond, 'I wouldn't have taken any notice anyway.'  Fair enough. It isn't really the job of church leaders to meddle in party politics.

Elections, eh? Some people cast their votes tribally because theirs has always been a Tory/Labour/Lib Dem family. Couldn't think of voting any other way. Others take a more considered approach. They read the manifestos, watch the TV coverage and consider what the newspaper columnists have to say before making up their minds on who they would like to see running the country. Then there's the, 'don't vote, it only encourages them' brigade. Personally I just can't be bothered with that kind of apathy. 

After all, governments have the power to make a  difference in a whole range of areas that impact on our everyday lives. Defense and security, law and order, the economy, education, health, etc. And through the ballot box we the people get to have a say on who wields that power. 

That said, we shouldn't pin all our hopes for a better world on politicians. They are only human after all. Their grand plans and promises are often  overtaken by unforeseen events. Plans may need to be adjusted and sincerely made promises may prove impossible to keep. The Bible wisely warns us, “Do not put your trust in princes” (Psalm 146:3).

Only God is worthy of our total trust. He was willing to send his own Son, Jesus to die on the cross and be raised from the dead that we might be forgiven and enjoy new life. We can be sure that God’s plans will never fail and his promises will always hold good. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord... to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11). That gets my vote. 

* For June's Holy Trinity and News & Views  parish mags. 



We wanted to see this in the cinema, but it wasn't mainstream enough for our local Odeon, so we had to wait until it was on the telly. A powerful film on the civil rights movement in 1960's America. At that time blacks in the Deep South were denied their constitutional right to vote by an obstructive voter registration system. The town of Selma was a case in point. British actor David Oyelowo plays Martin Luther King Jr. The civil rights leader masterminded peaceful protests in Selma with the aim of pressurising President L. B. Johnson into legislating to remove barriers to black people registering to vote. Fellow-Brit Tom Wilkinson plays the President. The clashes between MLK and LBJ are well done. The President explains that as a politician he has to be concerned about many things, while as an activist King is only focused on one thing. Johnson sympathises with the cause, but needs time. King wants urgent action. All the main parts are well acted, offering convincing portrayals of the characters involved. You'll wait in vain for Oyelowo's rendition of the 'I have a dream...' speech, as the King family denied the film makers the rights to make use of MLK's speeches. The sermons and speeches shown in the film have been cobbled together, but they seem to hit the right tone. Things turn nasty in Selma when black people attempt to stage a protest march from the town to Montgomery, the Alabama Sate capital. The road was blocked by police at the far side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The police charge the protesters, mercilessly beating unarmed men and women. A black man is shot in the clear up operation. King rallies people of all colours to the cause, especially inviting Christian Ministers to join a second march to Montgomery. King leads the marchers to within sight of the police line that once more blocked the road at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Rather than risking another confrontation, the preacher drops to his knees in prayer and then turns around, leading the protesters back into town. The act of preaching is rarely explored in Holywood movies, so it was interesting to hear the dialogue between two Ministers involved in the protest as they discussed King's actions. One of them complains that Dr. King had betrayed them. He called and they came, yet at the crucial moment he turned back. The other suggests that MLK's actions may have been instinctual, "like in preaching when you are just flying. You are not on your notes, not on memory, you're tapped into what's higher, what's true. God is guiding you....Maybe that's what happened to Dr. King on the bridge. He prayed, God answered, and he had the courage to do what God had said."  On third attempt a protest march to Montgomery finally took place, winning much needed publicity for the cause. Publicity turned into political pressure and Johnson comes round in the end. His 'We will overcome' speech is a highlight of the film. The Voting Rights Acts was passed August 1965, paving the way for black votes without obstruction.Like all films based on historical episodes this one doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story. It's not a documentary after all, but the main message comes through clearly without it being too preachy (for a film about a preacher). All human beings are created equal. On that basis racism, whether  casual or institutional is a moral outrage and should be opposed by all people of good will. [...]

Banner Ministers' Conference 2017 report


There was something special about this year's Banner. Can't quite put my finger on it. Was it the new venue, Yarnfield Park Conference Centre, Staffs, rather than Leicester Uni? It proved a fine place for the conference, but it wasn't that. Was it waking up on the Tuesday morning to an unexpectedly snowy scene? That was great, but, no. The theme of the conference was 'The Living and Enduring Word'. There was a clear focus on Scripture as the Word of God and also on the One who lies at the heart of Scripture; Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. But the overarching theme doesn't in itself explain what made this a vintage Banner conference. Doctrine can be dry and deadly, even the high and holy doctrines of Scripture and Christology. In his second address on 'A Functional Doctrine of Scripture: the Living Word of God' Garry Williams urged us to consider whether the reason why some people have introduced elements of drama into their services was that our communication of the gospel is lacking in that dramatic element. Preachers mustn't play act their sermons, but we should know and feel something of the wonder of the truth we are proclaiming. The preaching of the Word should also equip our people to play their roles in the drama of redemption, not just stuff their minds with doctrine. Now we are getting there.In his opening sermon Jeff Kingswood tried to explain what it was to be a 'Banner Man' in terms of Ezra 7:10: Ezra was a man who Loved the Word, Practiced the Word and Taught the Word. Helpful stuff. But as the conference showed, while we would all aspire to model ourselves upon Ezra, there is no such thing as an identikit 'Banner Man'. Each speaker had his own cast of thought, way of putting things and manner of delivery. That's the way it should be. 'Banner Men' aren't peas in a pod, but they share a common burden for a certain kind of preaching. A ministry that is rooted in Scripture and centred upon Christ in terms of content. And that is expositional, doctrinal, practical and experiential in style. It's about preaching the whole of Scripture's witness to the whole Christ to the whole man in the power of the Spirit.Seeing and hearing that exemplified by speaker after speaker was what made this year's conference so special. Sinclair Ferguson led us through Philippians 3 in three sessions on 'Christ at the Centre' under the headings: 'Conversion to Christ', 'Communion with Christ' and 'Consolidation in Christ'. His expositions were full of exegetical insight, theological depth and were warmly experiential in tone. In his first address Garry Williams spoke on 'A Functional Doctrine of Scripture: the Literary Word of God', urging us to give careful attention to the details of Scripture in order to keep our preaching biblically grounded and fresh. David Johnston showed us how Hebrews provides us with 'A Paradigm for Preaching' and set before us 'The Word at Work' by the empowering presence of the Spirit in Nehemiah 8. Stephen Clark spoke on 'Christ's Witness to Scripture' and 'Scripture's Witness to Christ'. It was good to hear a couple of younger men preaching. Andy Young spoke helpfully on 'Marks of the Master's Ministry' from Luke 4:13-30. Ed Collier gave the closing sermon on the Parable of the Sower from Mark 4:1-20, emphasising that as we sow the seed of the Word there will be frustrations and fruit. On top of the organised programme of ministry sessions, there were opportunities to have fellowship with old friends and meet some new people too. On Wednesday evening we had our traditional Taffia me[...]

Their Finest


Time was when we'd take our two to the cinema to see the latest Disney release, surrounded by other youngish parents and their brood. Additional soundtrack: sweets loudly unwrapped and chomped, some brat having a tantrum because the popcorn's run out, etc. Quite liked the Toy Story series and other kid-flicks. Up was amazing. So, didn't mind all that. Years went by and our two became teenagers. Then it was all Marvel actioners, and (please don't tell) High School Musical sequels - for our daughter's sake, honest. Additional soundtrack: noisy sweet wrappers, popcorn crunch, coke slurps, and stupid smart Alec remarks from teenagers unaccompanied by a responsible adult. A year or so ago the wife and I went to a Marvel movie and it dawned on me that I don't actually like all that Super Bat knocking down skyscrapers stuff any more. Once you've seen one moody bloke in a cape wrecking things...Last Saturday Sarah and I went to see Their Finest. Looking around I suddenly realised that all the people in Odeon Screen 6 were old. Apart from us. And we're the older side of young. Additional soundtrack: hushed mansplaining. We enjoyed the film. Nostalgic, gentle, but with a real emotional pull. It was all about the production of an uplifting propaganda film during by World War II. Loosely based on the escapades of twin sisters involved in the Dunkirk rescue [kind of]. But without allowing 'facts to get in the way of the truth'. Gemma Anderton's character, Ebbw Vale girl Catrin Cole showed that when it came to script writing she was as good, if not better than the chaps. She ended up doing far more than writing 'slops', the women talk scenes between the more actiony stuff. A fine comic turn by Bill Nighy as past his best actor, Ambrose Hilliard. Not exactly keen on the 'corpse part' of the twins' drunken uncle, but coming good in the end. For film goers interested in the process of movie making Their Finest is a treat. Tricks of the trade revealed; scripting, retro  special effects, the more difficult than you'd think business of acting. Some great lines on the relationship between cinema and real life, 'film is life with the boring bits cut out'. In movie-land, points out jaded writer Tom Buckley, stories have a structure and purpose, which isn't always apparent in real life. Not without some notion of Providence, anyway. Unsure why a 12A aimed at a 'mature audience' had to feature some bad language. Pity. But there were laughs aplenty and heart strings were pulled. The trailers flagged up some more WWII flicks for 2017 including Dunkirk and Churchill. Think we'll give the next Thor vs Hulk tosh a miss, though. Getting older has its compensations. [...]

Banner Ministers' Conference


Off to this later. Looking forward to what promises to be a good time of ministry and fellowship. Will hopefully post a report when I get back. 

1966 and all that: an evangelical journey by Basil Howlett


EP Books, 2016, 128pp I was a student at the London Theological Seminary (now London Seminary) from 1988-90. During the summer of 1989 I did a summer pastorate alongside Basil Howlett when he was pastor of Copse Road Evangelical Church, Clevedon. I was only there for a month or so, but during that time I learned some valuable lessons from him concerning the work of the ministry. The seminary was founded in 1977 by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who was concerned that evangelicals were having to train for pastoral work in colleges dominated by theological liberalism. Rather than being fired up to preach the word, they were struggling to maintain their faith in Christ and love for him in the face of sustained attack from teachers who had little time for the biblical gospel. In October 1966 at the Second National Assembly of the Evangelical Alliance, Lloyd-Jones had issued a call for evangelicals in the mixed denominations to come together and form a loose alliance of gospel churches. Why should they remain any longer in denominations where the gospel was being denied?Some have tried to suggest that the preacher's call was something of a damp squib. But in fact it was a turning point for evangelical witness in the United Kingdom. Basil Howlett for one was becoming increasingly unhappy with his situation as a Baptist Union pastor. His training for the ministry was undertaken by men who denied and indeed derided essential gospel truths. A number of Basil's fellow BU ministers were evangelicals, but others were out and out liberals. Church members were not as clear as they should have been on basic Christian beliefs and principles of godly living. Partly as a result of Lloyd-Jones' call, Howlett and the church he served took the costly step of leaving the BU. Many other evangelical ministers and churches in Baptist Union, Congregational, Presbyterian and Anglican denominations did the same, Evangelicals today have become used to belonging to church groupings like the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, In these groupings we stand unitedly for the gospel and there is no argument over essential truths. Time is not wasted on trying to advance the interests of a evangelical 'wing' of a denomination. Men can train for pastoral ministry in evangelical seminaries and colleges. These gains are at least in part a consequence of  '1966 and all that'.   Basil's story is a reminder of the price that was paid by his generation of preachers as they endeavoured to ensure that churches were gospel-centered, and that the church groupings to which they belonged were united in biblical faith, not just denominational allegiance. It was prophesied that those, who, like Basil left their denominations were heading for the wilderness. But as his account shows, the Lord blessed their faithful stand and much fruitfulness followed. The basic principles for which Lloyd-Jones argued back in 1966 still hold good today. We need to be clear on the gospel, what it means to be a Christian and what is a church. The gospel must be allowed to define the limit and extent of fellowship between churches. Where false teaching is rife in a denomination, separation is called for. Secession should not involve sectarian isolation, however, for the gospel of grace unites us together in faith, love and mission. "Come out of it! But also come together" urged Lloyd-Jones. I for one found this a very moving and challenging read. Evange[...]

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way edited by Katharine Birbalsingh


John Catt Education Ltd, 2016, 309ppThis was a, 'what's all the fuss about?' read. And there's sure been a lot of fuss about this book. Cheerleaders gonna cheer and haters gonna hate. Not being especially biased either way, I wanted to give the book a decent hearing. You'll have to judge for yourselves whether or not this is in fact a fair minded review. Also, the 'hymn' bit in the title appealed to me. Most of the books I read are in the fields of theology and biblical studies, or have something to do with me being a Baptist Minister. Knowing a good hymn when I see it is part of the job. I'm also chair of governors of a LA maintained secondary school, hence my interest in the world of education. First up, the things that got my goat. Michella exceptionalism. You know, the 'we're the only school that does this, that and the other' bit. Even as you're thinking, 'Eh? We also do this, that and the other in our school.' Things like every day is an open day, the promotion of an ethos of hard work and kindness among students, and so on. No doubt, like all schools, Michella has its distinguishing features, but sometimes it felt a bit like me as a Baptist preacher leaning over my pulpit one Sunday morning and grandly telling my flock, 'Look, we're the only true Baptist Church in Britain, holding to the doctrine of the Trinity, baptising believers, and such.' I can imagine our longsuffering people responding, 'No we're not, silly, how about all the other ones?' Well, yes. Michaela's exceptionalist tone is alienating, where instead the school could have positioned itself as a unifying force for the new educational traditionalists on the block. Whether they find themselves in free schools, academies, MATs, or bog standard LA comps. Plus, a bit premature, isn't it? I mean, writing a book on how amazing your secondary school is, when you've only got a Key Stage 3. All progress measures must be based on internal assessment. No GCSE or A Level results to benchmark how you are doing against the national picture. How's your Attainment 8/Progress 8 figures/Post 16 performance measures? That's the proof of the pudding. I hope that Michaela lives up to its promise and results are up there with the top 10% of schools year in year out, but that remains to be seen. Not having a Key stage 4 also means you haven't got Year 10 & 11s coming into that 'difficult age'. That's where things can start to get complicated. More to behaviour management then than getting kids to pick up a grape without throwing a strop. May have been better to have waited until there was some hard evidence to back up the claims made here. Then there's the martyr complex, 'everybody hates us' thing. Look, it's not just new-fangled free schools that get dissed. Try turning around a forever RI comp and you'll have grief. Shed loads, occasionally. So what? It's all about ensuring the best outcomes for students. Worth taking a bit of negative publicity for that, isn't it? You could call it the 'Luke effect', "Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets". (Luke 6:26).Multi-author works can often appear fragmented and lacking in coherence, which is fine if the book is a collection of essays exploring variations on a theme. Not so fine if the work is billed as an exposition and defence of a 'way'. I wasn't expecting expecting the conceptual clarity of the Definition of Chalced[...]

Easter: bad news/good news?


People sometimes give us a choice over whether we want to receive bad news or good news first. Bad news to get it out of the way, followed by good news to cheer me up a bit is my preferred order. At first glance the Christian message of Easter seems like bad news. Jesus, a man renowned for loving words and deeds was condemned as a criminal and crucified. Jesus’ followers thought that was the end of him. Disillusioned, it seemed to them that the kingdom of grace and justice he proclaimed was just another false dawn. What they failed to see was that the death of Jesus was no accident.  It was God’s appointed way of bringing in his kingdom. Jesus had said as much, telling his followers that he had come to ‘give his life a ransom for many’. In other words, Jesus paid the price of sin by dying for us on the cross. Now we can be forgiven and put right with God through faith in Jesus. And his death wasn’t the end. Jesus rose from the grave on the first Easter Sunday morning and appeared to his followers, showing them that he was alive from the dead. It was the last thing they expected. They could barely believe it, but it was true. The same Jesus who was crucified, was alive.  First the bad news: the world crucified the King of Love. Then the good news: the King of Love was crucified for world and rose again from the dead. That is the glorious message of Easter. *For News & Views & Holy Trinity Parish Magazine [...]