David Bebbington is author of Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s and Professor of History at the University of Stirling. In a recent interview with Nick Tucker at Oak Hill College he offers the following perspective on the vital need to have a good grasp of Church History;
I don’t think that people should be blinkered by one point in time – the present. I think it is an enormous diminution of human stature only to be aware of the present. To have a sense of how things have come to be as they are seems to me to be extraordinarily important and only so can one understand anything about the human condition. The dimension of time is part of being human and therefore we must all be historians. The better historians we are the better for humanity.
We might go on to suggest that pastors must be historians for the sake of our congregations and community! Whilst theological training can be undertaken in a growing number of ways whatever training we receive Bebbington’s words are a reminder that we cannot afford to underestimate the need for a grasp not only of the Bible, culture, systematics, but the history of God’s work, witness and wisdom through his church. As Bebbington goes on to note Church History is a reservoir of good ideas which we ignore at our peril. Just one reason why we must train those we ask to lead God’s people well.
Honouring Christ – the Christian and same-sex attraction: some very personal thoughts from Vaughan Roberts
In this honest and compelling interview in Evangelicals Now Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St.Ebbe’s Church, Oxford discusses his own struggles with same-sex attraction.
How many Christians struggle in silence with this same issue? Vaughan’s words will offer comfort that they are not alone and renewed confidence that with God’s enabling power Christians can live for Christ.
I hope too that his example will lead to a greater degree of openness in our churches as we support and encourage one another in the daily fight against sin. In the interview he comments: There does need to be more openness in this area among evangelical Christians, given the rapidly changing culture we live in — and the resulting increased pressure on believers who face this battle.
The closing story of my sermon from Sunday evening and in particular Philippians 1:12…
I want to leave you with the story, the true story of the man who advanced the gospel even on the deck of the titanic. The story is itself told in this book The Titanic’s Last Hero by Moody Adams.
On the night that the Titanic sunk, and those 1500 lives were lost, the widower John Harper was travelling with his 6 year old daughter Nana en route to Chicago. Harper was also a Christian, and a church minister on his way to Chicago to preach at Moody Chapel.
When the iceberg struck and the evacuations began, Harper immediately took his daughter to a lifeboat. He bent down and having kissed his little girl, he said goodbye, telling her that she would see him again someday.
As the waters rose and the ship began to lurch upwards, accounts tell of how little Harper thought of his own situation instead his concern were others in danger of death who did not know Christ. Perhaps he could have pleaded to accompany his daughter who was otherwise orphaned but accounts tell of how he choose to spend those final hours seeking to save others. He was seen making his way up the deck yelling, “Women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats!”
On that fateful night 1528 people went into the freezing waters. Survivors tell of how John Harper could be seen swimming desperately between those in the waters talking to them of Christ and seeking to lead them to faith in him in their dying moments. He swam up to one young man who had climbed up on a piece of debris and asked him between breaths, “Are you saved?” The young man replied that he was not.
Harper tried to lead him to Christ but the man refused him. Harper responded by taking off his life jacket, throwing it to the man saying, “Here then, you need this more than I do…” Harper swam away to seek to lead other dying men to Christ. Amazingly, a few minutes later Harper swam back to the young man and succeeded in leading him to faith in Christ.
You might ask how we know of what happened in that conversation between two dying men. Of the 1528 people in those freezing waters only six were rescued by the lifeboats, remarkably one of them was the young man. Four years later, at a survivors’ meeting, he spoke of how Harper had led him to faith in Christ. He also described how Harper had tried to swim back to help other people, before finally succumbing through fatigue and the intense cold. Harper’s last words before his death in those North Atlantic waters were, “Believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”
God has you where he wants you. For Paul that was a prison cell in a Roman jail. For Harper it was on-board the Titanic and both men knew that God had them where he wanted them so that the gospel may advance.
To live is Christ, to die is gain
The book’s tribute continues
While the flames of other ambitions flickered and died, John Harper’s burned even brighter as he sank into a watery grave. When death forced others to face the folly of life’s pursuits, John Harper’s goal of winning men to Jesus Christ became more vital as he breathed his final breaths.
(HT: Gerard Chrispin and his commentary Philippians for today: Priorities from Prison in which I found this remarkable story.)
A while ago I stumbled across an extract from a CH Spurgeon sermon in which he urges his congregation to pray for his preaching. Without it, he said, his preaching was useless.
Here’s a great post from Joe Thorn giving you 4 different things you could be praying for your pastor this weekend.
Reading some of the media output of the last 24 hours and you’d be forgiven for thinking a new ‘gospel’ had been discovered shedding light on the life of Jesus and challenging our traditional understanding of him. Let me assure you that no such document has been found.
Quite simply the only ‘gospels’ in existence that tell us anything about the real Jesus come from those very early gospels of the New Testament that were all written within the lifetime of the eye-witnesses of the events of his life. True, many other gospels were penned from the 2nd century onwards all by those who never knew Jesus. These gospels don’t tell us anything about Jesus although they are useful in the study of the development of ’chrisitan’ groups and the development in particular of a christian gnosticism.
Bart Ehrmann (no friend of evangelical Christians) writes:
The oldest and best sources we have for knowing about the life of Jesus – are the four gospels of the New Testament. This is not simply the view of Christian historians; it is the view of all serious historians of antiquity of every kind, from committed evangelical Christians to hardcore atheists. This view is not, in other words, a biased perspective of only a few naïve wishful thinkers; it is the conclusion that has been reached by every one of the hundreds (thousands, even) of scholars who work on the problem of establishing what really happened in the life of the historical Jesus.
We may wish there were other, more reliable sources, but ultimately it is the sources within the cannon (that is the four gospels in the Bible) that provide us with the most and the best, information.
Simon Gathercole,a leading expert at Cambridge University, has written this compelling response to those who wish to find a whole lot more than really exists in this new discovery.
Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Fellowship is one of 8 signatories to a letter published in today’s Telegraph newspaper. In a blog post Peter highlights just how the disabled are discriminated against even before they are born.
Jake Eggertsen has put together a great post having collected wisdom from a number of ministers on the books they read and believe all preachers should read.
Here are my answers to his three questions (at least my answers for today):
10 ways to keep talking
What makes witnessing to non-Christian family so difficult? For some of us it’s awkward family dynamics (maybe you live in a home where you just ‘don’t do God’ in conversation) for others it’s that we’ve talked a fair bit but that was in the past, in the early days and now you’ve reached some kind of stalemate.
How do you keep going in witnessing to family?
For some of us we need a two-stage approach to get conversations onto God. The first battle may be to move any conversations from trivial to ‘serious’ ie. a conversation in which ideas, values, are discussed and world-views open up. It is a whole lot more natural to move on to issues of faith and spirituality, even Christ, once a conversation gets more serious.
2. Listening well
If we are to ever gain a hearing for the gospel then we can do no better than demonstrating a genuine interest in the lives of family members. So make sure you listen well. Learn to be interested in them. That might even mean taking an interest in something you have no interest in to build common ground and strengthen a relationship. From a growing trust may well come more opportunity.
3. Asking genuine and open questions
People find it easier to open up about themselves and their own thoughts. As you ask questions you gain new insights and build trust and understanding in a relationship.
4. Easy does it
The wisdom we need in long-term relationships is to know when to speak and when to be silent. Knowing ourselves will help us to think are we being too quick, too direct, too aggressive, too confrontational in our attempts to talk of Jesus. Talk it through and pray it in with other Christians to gain a better perspective on how you’re doing.
5. Working the angles.
The more you’ve talked with family about Jesus, religion, the Bible, etc., the harder it seems to re-visit conversation directly on those issues. When you’ve been a Christian for some time it might be that a new, less direct approach will get you further. So how can we open up spiritual conversations using a less familiar path?
6. Speak personally of God’s grace in your life
Not every time or you’ll soon never be asked but why not try when asked ‘how are you?’ or ‘did you have a good summer’ including God in some way in the conversation. Eg. ‘It’s been a tough year this year. I don’t know how I would have coped without my faith’ or ‘I’m really grateful to God for a great bunch of work colleagues who make life a whole lot easier.’
7. Speak of common grace
Common grace is God’s goodness to all humanity as seen in creation (c.f. Matt. 5:45) e.g. good health, natural gifts or talents, the world God has made, etc. We can talk of our thankfulness to God in so many ways as well as in our witness to Christ’s death on our behalf.
8. Share in struggles
CS Lewis said – The Christian has a great advantage over other men, not by being less fallen than they nor less doomed to live in a fallen world, but by knowing he is a fallen man in a fallen world.
Often the very best thing we can do is acknowledge our weaknesses, inadequacies, fears and anxieties so that our non-Christian family see that we are in so many ways just like them but then talk about how the gospel and our relationship with Christ aids us in our struggles with falleness and brokenness.
9. Understate things.
One author suggests ‘try some shorter, incomplete, statements that point your family toward the gospel.’ Provoke discussion, raise questions, don’t give the ‘full’ answer, learn the art of being ‘interesting’ in comments you make.
10. Connect with gospel truth in our culture e.g. Hillsborough
Over the last couple of days the revelation that police-officers colluded to cover-up failings in the policing at the Hillsborough tragedy have led to repeated claims in our press and tv media for justice to be done. Such a story allows us to (with due sensitivity) raise questions about justice in a god-less world or an expression of confidence on our part that God will one day ‘right every wrong’.
As we look for common ground and shared values we can show that the God of the Bible stands behind such ideas.
Don’t give up on your family. Continue to pray, after all if God brought you to life in Christ why not them! Remain focused and faithful.
For more ideas and a helpful overview of the issues can I suggest Bringing the gospel home by Randy Newman.
What if Jesus had never been born…how the lives of even the irreligious have been shaped by his life
Something from Tim Keller’s new book Center Church to get you thinking:
In his history classes, C. John Sommerville used to demonstrate to students how thoroughly Christianized they were, even those who were atheistic or antireligious. He would list the values of shame-and-honor cultures (like those of pagan northern Europe before the advent of Christian missionaries) and include values like pride, a strict ethic of revenge, the instilling of fear, the supreme importance of one’s reputation and name, and loyalty to one’s tribe.
Then he would list corresponding Christian values, which had been hitherto unknown to the pagans of Europe — things like humility, forgiveness, peaceableness, and service to others, along with an equal respect for the dignity of all people made in God’s image. Many of Sommerville’s most antireligious students were surprised to learn just how deeply they had been influenced by ways of thinking and living that had grown out of biblical ideas and been passed on to them through complex social and cultural processes.
His point was that much of what is good and unqiue about Western civilization is actually “borrowed capital” from a Christian faith, even though the supernatural elements of the faith have been otherwise neglected of late in the public sphere.
I’ve just started a 3 week seminar track at City Church on relating to family. Last night we began with relationships with our parents.
Here’s the section on relating to Christian parents. I grew up in a loving home but not a Christian home in which Christ and his priorities governed our lives as children. It’s easy for me to think that growing up in a Christian home has all the advantages and should be very easy compared to others. Well that’s not necessarily so, as a number of friends at City and elsewhere have highlighted.
A. What makes it so hard?
1. Them being disappointed in us
Some Christian children have the sense, as they enter adulthood, that they have not lived up to the expectations of parents.
a) Do they feel perhaps that we have not made the most of the privileges and opportunities they did not have ( if they were first generation Christians and we grew up in a Christian home). The thought that we should be further on in our faith or more committed to Christ. Maybe they think we should be in Christian work as they are/were.
b) or perhaps they think we are taking them for granted (because we are busy, maybe busy doing Christian things) and not honouring them into adulthood
c) or perhaps they struggle with our failings and lack of wisdom. Parents can fail to remember how immaturity impacts our living. They think back to their earlier selves and suppose they wouldn’t make the mistake we are about to make (job, relationship,etc.) forgetting that wisdom is learned over a lifetime.
2. We being disappointed in them
a) Seeing sin in their lives
Maybe we think they are not living
As consistently, as radically, as faithfully as we think they should given the gospel.
Here’s one comment from a friend:
‘Another challenge can be when you see un-Godliness in your parents. As an adult you are more aware of your own sin, and many of your attitudes are often passed down. When the Spirit highlights these to you, it can be difficult when you see them in your parents too, and easy to get angry and frustrated with them. As children you don’t consider that your parents are sinful and are battling sin. As now fellow adults we must remember that as much as we still sin and are a work in progress, so are they. We have to give them as much grace in their sanctification as they have given us for 18+ years!’
3. Theological differences
Consider the following three testimonies
1. ‘When I moved church it did create a fair amount of tension with my mother. She saw me as abandoning my local church, turning my back on the things I was involved in at my ‘home’ church and moving to a church whose theology she didn’t agree with and, indeed, vehemently opposed with regards to some issues.’
2. ‘I’ve seen people bulldoze in when they ‘discover’ a different way of doing things and really insult their parents with their new-found way of doing church etc. This can also have an effect on younger siblings still at home. If their older siblings start being openly critical about your church and so on, this can be very hard to handle if you are still at home.’
3. One of the challenges can be when you take a different line on something e.g. your ecclesiology, views on baptism etc. I guess this can be particularly difficult if your parents are very sure and thought through. A change in view can understandably be taken as a verdict on your up-bringing and your parents’ current beliefs and practices. The thing is, it is in a way a judgment! There is never an easy way to disagree with your parents.
How we honour our parents in such situations is a vital part of our Christian lives. Whatever we might think of our parents’ faith, home church, etc. we are not to stand in judgment over those for whom Christ died (c.f. 1 Corinthians 8, Romans 14-15).
For some children of Christians the battle can be parents who want us to go on in our faith but they also want us to succeed in ‘worldly’ terms.
One person’s said:
Their normal desires as parents for their children (go to uni, get a good job, get married, buy a house have kids etc.) clashes with God’s desires for you. these don’t necessarily have to be different. Let me give an example, if a child express an interest and feels called to overseas mission but the parents advise, focus on getting a good job, house family and then you can go
Why would that be so?
a) Worldly Pride: They want us to be seen to be succeeding as they talk with friends and family about us
b) Human Fear: In some cases, the risks that we are willing to take ourselves are risks our parents struggle to let us face as their children, in case things don’t work out.
c) A parent’s instinctive concern: Sometimes they love us too much to let us go!
Conclusion - When it comes to Christian parents..
1. It can be pretty short-sighted, not to say ungrateful to God, if we choose to focus on what is ‘wrong’. Is it all we can do to criticise God for giving us parents, however imperfect they may be, when they have served us well and sought to raise us in the faith?
2. Christian parents are a powerful testimony to the providential grace of God.
One very helpful comment from a friend:
‘Did we choose that family? Did we pick faithful parents? The fact that God placed us there to receive the gospel is a powerful picture of his election before we were even born. 5 year olds who get converted (like me) are very clearly pursued by God, not the other way around!’
3.Christian parents are a reason to thank God
‘I often hear Christians talk about being brought up in a Christian home with a sense of embarrassment.’ It shouldn’t be so.
4. Honouring our Christian parents gives them a great opportunity to grow in their own faith
As our parents see us living out our faith before them in a humble yet godly way, knowing how and when to challenge the wisdom of parents and how and when to submit they are blessed.
One father and grand-father said:
A Christian can have a very positive effect on their parent, just by their example and can often be a release for them from their rigid ideas…I am amazed when I sit and listen to my children’s wisdom and spiritual understanding. Parents need to let go and earn the respect and love of their children.
(With special thanks to those who offered their wisdom – you know who you are!)
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