In the brief reflection on my sabbatical that I gave at our prayer meeting last month, I mentioned that over the last year I’d been struggling for joy. There were lots of reasons for that. In God’s kindness many of them have been addressed over the summer months. But I’d been struggling to take pleasure even in the so many good things that God has given me. And so it was perhaps providentially profitable that I should have to return to that theme when my morning quiet time turned out to be Romans 5!
In the opening verses of that passage, the Apostle Paul states that Christians rejoice. He says it twice. He says it once in (2) where the hope of sharing in God’s glory is the reason for our delight. And he says it again in (3) where Christians are supposed to celebrate even when things aren’t going our way. I’ve always been somewhat sceptical about that verse. I don’t doubt that it’s true. But it always seems so much truer in concept than in practice. That kind of joy is just so elusive. And it sounds trite to anyone actually thrust into the midst of the real and awful struggles of life. I’m sure I should rejoice. But most of the time I don’t feel like it. And so I whinge. And I moan. And I suspect I’m not alone.
But Paul locates the reason for our joy in the glorious doctrine of justification by faith. Don’t quit now. Keep reading. What follows isn’t a dense theological lecture masquerading as a ‘brief’ encouraging blog post. At least, it’s not meant to be.
He argues that there are three unalterable blessings that flow out from Jesus’ work of justifying sinners like us by grace through faith. If we really get these three things so that they become our cherished convictions, then I’ll be able to rejoice, whatever the circumstances. Because they will never change. They’ll never become untrue. They’ll remain irreversibly and permanently in place.
Through justification by faith we have the blessing of peace with God (1). He’s no longer angry with us. Once, we were the rightful objects of His wrath. His personal settled hostility was aimed in our direction. But not any longer. God’s wrath has been averted through the death of His Son in our place. We’re not in the cross hairs any more. We’re not under threat any longer. There is no conflict between us and our creator. Instead there’s been an outbreak of peace. We have been reconciled. And it’s wonderful.
Through justification by faith we have the blessing of a relationship of grace (2). We have entered into a relationship that doesn’t work on the basis of performance. It’s not like so many of our human relationships. God doesn’t like us more when we behave like His Son. And He doesn’t like us less when we don’t. He has initiated a relationship with us, the strength of which isn’t dependent on whether I can avoid being a complete plonker. And that’s just brilliant. Because I can’t trust myself not to mess it up. But I don’t have to. I just have to trust Him.
Through justification by faith we have the hope of glory (3). We have something incredible to anticipate. We all love looking forward to things. Every week, I eagerly look forward to Friday night. I stop working for a day. I eat and catch up with my family. And I often watch a game of rugby with the boys, snuggled up on the sofa. I really look forward to Friday nights. But as a Christian I have something so much better to look forward to. One day I will participate in the full glory of heaven. There’s nothing more exciting to anticipate than the prospect of actually being in glory in God’s presence; enjoying Him, His people and His goodness forever.
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This was not the venue for the conference…
I’ve just got back from the States. Dallas, Texas to be precise.
I was invited back to speak at the Christ Church Carrollton Conference on the Bible. That’s a conference that’s been running since 2006 when Dick Lucas went out from St Helen’s Bishopsgate, London to speak on Mark’s Gospel. After him people like David Jackman, Ed Lobb and David Short have been out there to preach. That’s some line up.
It’s not a big conference. Though when one of my staff saw a picture of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium that I’d posted on Facebook I was able to convince him momentarily it was the venue in which I spoke. The conference used to be much larger, when it was launched out of Trinity Episcopal Church, Dallas. But since the painful but necessary departure of a small and biblical faithful crowd from that church to become a new planted congregation of the Presbyetrian Church of America, the conference is more modest in size. But it remains a great collection of people eager to apply the scriptures to their lives.
I was there because of the recommendation of my good friend and ex-colleague, Gavin McGrath. He talked the Minister, Bill Lovell into giving me a shot last year. And it seems as though I didn’t mess up too bad because they asked me back this year!
Last year we looked at the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians with a particular eye on addressing Christ Church Carrollton’s church planting situation. This year I’ve spent some time working on, thinking about and refining my understanding of the great little Old Testament Prophet, Jonah. And so I thought I’d give them my understanding of that reluctant evangelist. The evening congregation at Christ Church Balham heard the material first, in a fairly raw form if I’m honest. Then Beacon Heath Church from Exeter got the refined version on their weekend away. And it was there, with the opportunity to preach the talks back to back rather than separated by a week, that I began to work harder at how the whole book fits together. That brought clarity and coherence to shape and message of the book, which I hope is reflected in the talk series.
The fruit of my labours, the Spirit’s illumination and productive interaction with thoughtful Christians resulted in the following four talks.
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‘Who does he think he is?’
Growing up as a disillusioned teenager in a disastrous Anglican Church, we were required to recite the same liturgy every week. My mood would rise or fall depending on which version of the Rite for Holy Communion we would be using. Some seemed significantly shorter than others.
But it was the prayer of humble access that really used to press my buttons. It’s that phrase ‘we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under your table’. ‘Who does he think he is?’ God, I mean. To an arrogant fourteen year old they were enough to light the inner blue touch paper. They’re no less easy on the ears of a slightly less arrogant forty year old. But I don’t struggle with them in the same way that I used to. They’re true. I’m not worthy to gather up the crumbs from under the Lord’s table. And I’ve come to see that. Or rather, God has persuaded me.
What’s changed? Well, I’ve come to appreciate who God is and who I am. God is immeasurably, inconceivably, breathtakingly wondrous in the perfection of his righteousness, love and wisdom. I am not. I’m far from that. Even in my regenerative state as a man under divine reconstruction, I am not worthy. The Spirit of God may be making me more like Christ, but I’m still a work in progress – as are you. And we’re not worthy.
But that’s not the whole of the story, is it? Even though being permitted to scrabble around on the floor picking up the things that God brushes off his table would be a privilege, God goes further. He goes so much further. He invites us to sit with him at his table as a guest, to enjoy his companionship and to enjoy all the good things he lays on for us. It’s the difference between what we are by nature and what we are by grace. God graciously get us up off the floor, pulls up a seat and welcomes us to himself so that we might know him and enjoy him. For ever. He is the same Lord who ‘delights in showing mercy’.
It’s good for us to say the prayer of humble access. I actually love saying it these days. It’s very good for my soul to be reminded what I have because of God’s generosity to me. It may stick in our throats when we first hear it. But as we become more familiar with the God of the Bible and the wickedness of the human heart, we’ll discover it’s true. And we’ll be able to say it with conviction. And with joy. As many of us already do.
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So that’s it then. I’ve almost caught up with my sleep. And there’s a bit of distance between the week of mission and now. People at church asked me what I’d made of the week. And so I had to begin formulating and articulating an answer. It’s overwhelmingly positive. I’m very grateful for the week at Brookes. It was good for me. It was good for the students. And most importantly of all, it was good for the gospel.
Here are a number of random observations.
Student leadership can work. I’ve had some ropey experiences of student led ministry. Students can sometimes be painfully disorganised. But I have to pay tribute to the Brookes’ Christian Union. They were magnificent. Student leadership isn’t always the most effective way of ensuring that the gospel gets heard on campus. You need good leaders. And Brookes has a number of those. It meant that people knew what was going on, where it was going on and who was doing it. They’d plastered the campus with publicity so students could access the events that they’d organised.
Lunch bars are really effective. People came. Where we were wasn’t the busiest campus in the world. But people pitched up and lots of them had no Christian faith at all. Lunch is a good time to provide something that people can access. And if you offer a student free food then you can guarantee a crowd! But since there’s no such thing as a free lunch, they had to listen to me for 20 minutes. But most of them seemed very happy to do so. And the interaction afterwards encouraged me to think that they’d really engaged with the issues, even when I hadn’t been at my engaging best!
Apologetics talks just stand alone. They don’t need wrapping up and hiding in something more appealing. The talk titles were reason alone for people to come. They didn’t come because we were putting on an evening event of Turkish Belly Dancers after which one of the members of the Christian Union would give a five-minute talk about why Jesus will fulfil you more than dancing. Just for the record, this wasn’t an event. At least not at Oxford Brookes. People came simply because the topic was their issue. Sure some probably came because their friends nagged them. And there was the free lunch. But it was hardly ‘Pret a Manger’. But lots simply came because these were talks that addressed their objection to pursuing any interest in the Christian faith. And they came back because they realised that they were being taken seriously. I’ve come away thinking that we need more apologetic preaching dropped into our regular preaching programme and not simply wheeled out for the annual mission. It’s not the first time I’ve had that thought. But I seem to park it every time I get back to church ministry.
Students benefit from discipleship. It’s no coincidence that the leadership of the Brookes’ Christian Union is strong and that there are (at least) two mature Christians reading the Bible with these fine young men and women. During the course of the week I met a male UCCF worker and a local male church worker. They make themselves available to the CU to encourage them in their Christian lives and train them in ministry. And so it’s no surprise that there are a number of male leaders right out of the top drawer. The young women were also excellent. But, in my experience, CUs are often less characterised by having good and godly blokes to take a lead.
We all too easily lose our passion for the lost. I felt chastened by the evangelistic zeal of the Brookes’ students. They were involved in the lives of their non-Christian mates. They were intentional about who to invite. They set aside time to pitch up to events. This week was big for them precisely because it was a chance for their mates to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. I left rebuked at the way that I’ve settled into a lifestyle that doesn’t always put evangelism at the top of the agenda. Our kids have been in primary school for six years, perhaps longer. That’s a long time of friendship with a large number of people. I’m not sure that all our kids’ friends’ parents have heard the gospel from us as we’ve shared a meal around the kitchen table. That’s not great. Lots of the students I met weren’t going to die wondering. They believed the gospel was the power to save, they loved their friends and they made the time to be involved. I felt rebuked. Rightly so.
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Well I wasn’t expecting that. Three people said they wanted to follow Christ after the suffering talk on Thursday. Isn’t that amazing? And wonderful? And a whole load of others have signed up for the Christianity Explored course being run at a local church after the formal dinner in the evening.
After some late night alteration, I was pleased with the apologetic talk this time round. I’d managed to work out how the cross significantly helps us to understand God’s purpose in suffering. I’m pretty sure that Henri Blocher says something very similar in his book ‘Evil and the Cross’. But if I’ve read it (which I doubt) then I’d forgotten all the useful stuff he says. But the impact of the cross on suffering meant that I could spend some time legitimately explaining what was going on in Jesus’ death, which is not only more familiar territory for me, it’s also what people most need to hear!
I explained that three wrong answers are usually given to explain the existence of suffering in the world. There’s the ‘get rid of God’ approach so that suffering just is. There’s the ‘get rid of God’s power’ approach so that he’s well-meaning but impotent. And there’s the ‘get rid of his compassion’ approach so that he’s mighty but merciless. None of those tallies with the presentation of God in the Bible. The God of the Bible exists, for starters. So that’s a problem for solution one. And the Bible records his mighty acts of power. So that’s a problem for solution two. And he is love, which rules out solution three. And so I suggested the Bible gives us another option. It’s that this God is not only almighty, all loving but also all wise. And in his wisdom he has good reasons for allowing suffering in his world. To establish that this is the answer we looked at the cross.
As you might expect, given the subject, there was a tangible sense of engagement with the issue. And there were a number of quality conversations afterwards.
Friday’s talk was entitled, ‘Exclusive: Is Jesus the only way?’ This was the talk I was most anxious about. It has the potential to make people disproportionately worked up. I’d also left the preparation of the talk till the last minute. It was the first issue that I’d thought about during half term. And it all made sense back then. I’d even sketched out the rough outline of a talk. But I hadn’t looked at it in over a week. So it was far from fresh in my mind. And by the end of the mission my brain was nearly cooked. In the end I was greatly indebted to Paul Williams’ book ‘If You Could Ask God One Question’. He has a terrrific chapter in there on the issue of sincerity. He looks at Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus tells this moral, sincere, devout devotee to another faith that he needs to be born again if he’s ever to see the Kingdom of God. And so Jesus answers the question of who will be accepted by God for us. The talk I gave wasn’t quite plagiarism. But it would be fair to say that Paul would recognise much of the better material in the talk!
And so the week came to an end. When I get some time. And after some sleep, I’ll share my impressions of the week.
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That’s better. It felt like we got somewhere. Numbers were down on the previous day, which was a little disappointing but to be expected. This was Wednesday and we were competing against sports’ fixtures. But word may also have got round about the historicity talk! This time the audience engagement was considerably better. Perhaps the innovation of a phone number to text questions helped. I certainly think the quality of the talk helped. It was a whole load more engaging. The topic was ‘Outdated: Has Science Killed Christianity?’ I tried to argue that the approach of the New Atheists is to abuse scientific method rather than use it to investigate the evidence for Jesus. And so they hijack in the service of naturalism and ask it to justify an ideology that it simply can’t support.
It generated a fair few questions. One of them was brilliant. And, as you might expect, I fluffed it! The question said something like ‘does creation point in the direction of a creator, or not?’ And I ended up rattling on about the presuppositions which we bring to the debate whether we’re Christian or not. That’s not wrong. And it may have been helpful. But I failed to talk at all about God’s general revelation, which was an oversight! What I should have said was something along the lines that the Bible says that creation speaks of God’s existence and his invisible power and divine nature (Romans 1:18-20). But we suppress the evidence. And the reason that we do that is because we’re predisposed to keeping God at arms’ length. And so although God is ‘speaking’ to us in creation, we do not have ears to hear. But wonderfully God provides another word for us to listen to in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. He’s less easy to ignore.
I did wonder whether I was the best person to be giving this talk. I’m not a scientist. I was an engineer. Once. But there are reasons why I got out of engineering. And they had to do with not being much good at it and not being remotely interested in it. But an engineering degree from Warwick University is not to be sniffed at. But it raises the question of whether I should have been doing the talk at all. I’ve had guys in our congregation say that people like me (non-experts) shouldn’t do talks where a specialist is needed. They’re not entirely wrong. If you had the choice between Professor John Lennox and me, it’s a no-brainer. But there’s only one of him. He’s large brained, clear thinking and engaging. That combination is rare. Specialists in a subject can be unbelievably dull. I really don’t have anyone in mind. It’s just the kind of sweeping generalisation that I’m in the mood for making. And so I want to speak up for the specialist communicators, the run of the mill pastors who are used to understanding stuff and explaining it. We may not be experts in the field of apologetics but at least we can be understood and engaging. We’ll need to work hard at understanding the arguments. And to do that we’ll usually try and climb on the shoulders of experts like John Lennox, especially but also other apologists. But when we do, perhaps being able to speak apologetically is a speciality! My own view is that you want people who want to win people to Christ not simply people who want to win the argument. Evangelists have to be better than experts because they’ll head for the gospel rather than simply their learning. But I’ve seen John Lennox do both. And it was electric. But apparently he wasn’t available!
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Late night, early morning. After the disappointment of yesterday’s decidedly disengaging performance, I went back to the drawing board on the science talk. When I got to bed, I couldn’t sleep because my mind was spinning with Richard Dawkins quotes. And they’re hardly designed to lull into a deep slumber even the most committed Calvinist. The alarm clock had a five on it when I woke up. And I hadn’t even set it that early.
The talk title for today is Outdated: Has science disproved God? It was pretty stressful until late last night, when in God’s kindness it all started to come together. I just couldn’t work out what I was trying to do in terms of answering the question. But God gave me something to say that may even be quite helpful! And, God willing, it’ll do the job. I hope it provokes a few more questions than yesterday’s talk on the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts. In hindsight, it could well have been that I gave the seminal twenty minute talk on the trustworthiness of the biblical testimony to Jesus, and everyone was simply left speechless. I’m just saying it’s a possibility. It’s not what I think happened. Something else accounts for the tumbleweed moment when I asked for questions.
One of the things I’ve discovered in preparing these talks is how little I enjoy leaving stuff out. If the art of a good talk is knowing what to leave on the desk, then I’m artless! I quite like showing what I know. And if I’ve just learnt something then I want to show it before I forget it! Leave nothing of my extensive research out tends to be my modus operandi. But I’m repenting of that and the talks are much better because of it. I’ve read some terrific treatments of the science issue, among the best of which has been Andrew Sach’s UCCF booklet. I’m stealing one of his illustrations because it makes the point about the abuse of science so well. It’s the one about the light machine, if that means anything to you.
The effort that the Christian Union has gone to in running this week of events has been hugely encouraging. This is a big week for them. And they’ve done a great job. Both the UCCF student worker and a local pastor have clearly provided invaluable assistance to the Committee, and especially to the President. There’s been momentum building throughout the week and the numbers at the lunch bars have held up well. There must have been 50 or 60 in attendance yesterday.
The lunch bar concept is a great one. Occasionally people have 12pm lectures and so they can’t make it. But lots of people have been able to get along. Brookes is a split campus university. But we’re on the main one. Though I’m amazed how quiet it is. At Warwick (back in the day) the Students’ Union was heaving. The SU at Brookes is pretty quiet. I suspect that the student life is located in Oxford. When you live in a place like Oxford, that’s your campus. We didn’t have a resource like that on our doorstep. As much as I’m fond of it, who wanted to spend an evening in Coventry? Especially as a student. No, the SU was where we headed. But even though it’s quieter than I might have expected, I’m struck by how lunch bars are a great way to reach students. I suspect in a London context, like ours at CCB, lunch bars are a brilliant way to reach student who commute to university each day from their homes.
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So now to the responses to the objections I raised a couple of posts back.
Don’t we simply paint ourselves as homophobic bigots when we speak against the Government proposal to redefine marriage?
Perhaps, but it’s not necessarily homophobic to oppose gay marriage. Obviously, people who oppose it could be. I’m not. I don’t hate people who feel same sex attraction. So let’s not use the accusation of homophobia simply as a way to shut down legitimate and temperate discussion on this issue. In opposing the redefinition of marriage, I’m not actually denying any legal rights to any gay couple. They have the same legal rights as a married couple, if they want them, through entering into a civil partnership. I disagree with the Government proposal because of my support for traditional marriage. That doesn’t make me homophobic and more than stopping breweries from calling lager bitter would make me lager-phobic.
Aren’t we being unjust when we discriminate against gay couples and deny them the same right to marriage as heterosexual couples?
First of all, it’s not necessarily unjust to discriminate. We do it all the time. Unjust discrimination is unjust. But not all discrimination is unjust. Not everyone is treated equally by the law, we make distinctions. We don’t let minors drive cars for example. So not all inequality is unjust. The question is whether the inequality is justified. Obviously some think that it’s unjust to deny gay couples the right to marriage. But the question is why we think that. Obviously, as a Christian who wants to live by the Bible, I’m persuaded that acting on the desire of same sex attraction is a decision of which God does not approve. Consistently doing so, in a habitual unrepentant manner excludes us from the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6). In God’s eyes, it’s that serious. And inevitably that will inform my view of what the Government should approve. I just don’t think that they should approve something the Bible calls sin, any more than I would expect them to approve of theft, greed or drunkenness, to quote three more examples from 1 Corinthians 6. I’m a Christian and of course I’ll want my Government to approve what God approves. There’s nothing remarkable about that. But anyway, gay couples already have all the same legal rights as heterosexual couples through the civil partnership legislation. It’s just that since the dawn of time, or thereabouts, marriage has been understood to be that public, covenanted relationship between a man and a woman. The gender complementarity has been part of the essence of that relationship. That’s up for grabs now.
Aren’t we just arguing unnecessarily about the meaning of a word?
After all, no one’s saying that a heterosexual couple who get married are no longer considered married because homosexual couples can go through the same ceremony. Let’s be clear, we are arguing about the meaning of a word. But sometimes that’s worth doing because you lose something when you redefine a word. For example, if I use the word bungalow, you immediately know what I mean. It’s a one story home usually inhabited by pensioners living near the sea (ahem). There’s no such thing as a two storey bungalow. That’s a house. A house is not a bungalow. It doesn’t stop the bungalow being a bungalow if you call a house a two storey bungalow. It’s just not a bungalow. It’s a house. You can redefine it if you like but it therefore changes the meaning of the word ‘bungalow’. For donkeys’ years, marriage has universally been taking to mean an exclusive lifelong commitment between one man and one woman. Under this Government proposal, ‘marriage’ no longer means the same thing. We’d have to use the adjective heterosexual or homosexual to clarify what type of marriage it is. And describing your marriage is homosexual is like saying you live in a two storey bungalow.
There’s more to come so hold your horses on the comments. Don’t vent your spleen just yet. I may be about to tackle the very issue you raise. Keep your powder dry, just in case I don’t.
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I don’t know what you think of your local church. I don’t really know what significance you think it has in your Christian life. I know it’s the church that you attend. It may also be the church of which you feel a part. I’m pretty sure that you appreciate it, and perhaps especially the other people who make it what it is. But, in my view, we consistently underestimate the significance and importance of the local church. We simply don’t share God’s view of it. In all fairness, it’s easily done because the Bible writers tend to use such exalted idealistic language. We can’t help wondering whether they’re exaggerating (or whether they even had our church in mind). It’s one thing to write about the local church from the isolation of the ivory tower. But we live with the reality!
So following on from last week’s threefold description of the Christian, it’s lucky (as Calvin would say) that in the 1 Timothy passage for this Sunday morning’s sermon, the Apostle Paul provides us with a threefold description of the church of which every Christian is a part (1 Timothy 3:14-15). For those of us at CCB, this may be worth remembering as we drag ourselves out of bed in the morning, or away from the Antiques Roadshow for the evening meeting, to unpack church from a school cupboard and meet in a venue in which there’s no natural light and the heating never works as we want it to.
We are the household of God. The Greek word that Paul uses means ‘house as in building’ or ‘household as in family’. And it’s in that sense that he uses it here. Our church family is actually God’s church family. We have been born again by the Spirit of God so that we might become a part of the family of God. God is our Father and he has brought us into relationship with him as sons. And we are brothers and sisters to one another with bonds stronger than blood. When we go to church there’s a sense in which we’re pitching up to the ultimate family gathering. I’m hoping that whets your appetite. But I guess that depends on your experience of these things. For the record, I always enjoy them infinitely more than I think I’m going to. But that’s why getting to church early and lingering around afterwards is almost as important as what goes on during the ‘service’ bit of the morning. It’s family time.
We are the church of the living God. The Greek word that Paul uses means ‘gathering’ or ‘assembly’. It’s not actually a religious word at all. We’re a crowd. But we’re a very special type of crowd. We’re the crowd in which God makes himself at home. He dwells among us. And we meet him when we gather together to listen to his word, sing his praises, express our dependence on him in prayer, love one another and encourage one another to respond to what we’ve heard. And that’s why being in church frequently and not just regularly is so important to our spiritual health. An isolated infrequent church member is like a log removed from the fire. Together with other logs it burns brightly. But on its’ own, the fire soon dims and the heat goes out of it. But by being part of God’s crowd, gathering together with our Christian family, we’ll burn with passion for God and the gospel.
We are the pillar and foundation of the truth. The pillars are the columns that lift the roof of any building into the air. The foundation is the thing that stabilises the building so that it doesn’t crumble. Therefore our local church is what God has ordained to hold ensure that the truth of the gospel is maintained under the weight of false teaching. And our local church is what God has ordained to elevate the truth of the gospel before a watching world. And so church is the place where the truth of the gospel is held firm and held up so that it might be held out to an unbelieving world. Can you appreciate just how significant a little church like yours is? Your town needs you. They may not realise it. Almost certainly they won’t. They may not appreciate you. But they need you. You’re hugely significant for the people of your neck of the woods. No one else is talking about the gospel in your area (apart from the other churches, I mean). People aren’t going to find the good news of the gospel anywhere else. We must remember what significance God has given to us.
Your little, local, imperfect church is infinitely more important than your thoughts betray, isn’t it?
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‘The curse of the gifted amateur’, that was how Phillip Jensen berated English Evangelicalism. It was one of his off-piste comments that, had he known he was going to be quoted, he may well have wanted to kill with a thousand qualifications. But he didn’t, which is what makes him so worth listening to! But at the time, his point was that as a theological constituency we had far too low a view of the value of theological education. He was probably right. And there were good reasons for that. We hadn’t had it and we’d had to survive without it. Lots of our flagship churches were run by men who were extraordinarily gifted in intellect, initiative and instinct but whose theological education had ill equipped them for evangelical pastoral ministry. I’m not saying that they weren’t good. They were. And are. And I still benefit hugely from their ministries. But most of the people who went to the theological colleges in Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and Bristol in this period say that they learnt how to do ministry by being involved in student ministry and participating in their local evangelical churches. They weren’t helped by their theological training, which was overwhelmingly liberal in flavour. These men were ‘naturally’ gifted and on their watch they raised up the next generation of young church leaders. Those men now have the privilege of being able to choose between some fine theological institutions that are geared up to helping us teach the truth and refute error. But it’s possible to overplay the theological education card. My Co-Mission colleague, Pete Woodcock, repeatedly reminds us that attending a theological college isn’t a New Testament requirement for consideration for eldership. And he’s right. It’s not. And then there’s Nehemiah 3.
One of the striking features of this narrative is the sheer number and diversity of people who joined in. Just look over the chapter to get an impression of the frequency with which different people are named. The variety of different people is astounding. Every Tom, Dick and Harriet is involved in rebuilding the Kingdom of God. We get a flavour of that from the people mentioned who rebuilt the area around the Jeshanah Gate.
The Jeshanah Gate was repaired by Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. Next to them, repairs were made by men from Gibeon and Mizpah—Melatiah of Gibeon and Jadon of Meronoth—places under the authority of the governor of Trans-Euphrates. Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired the next section; and Hananiah, one of the perfume-makers, made repairs next to that. They restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section. Adjoining this, Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house, and Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs next to him. Malkijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-Moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters.
Uzziel the goldsmith participated. Did he really know how to wield a trowel. Perhaps DIY was a hobby. Shallum the ruler got involved and so did his daughters in. But what I especially love is Hananiah the perfume maker. The man was a beautician! What could he possibly know about bricklaying? But God used him and all the others to rebuild his Kingdom. This is a grand theme that the New Testament picks up in places like 1 Corinthians 12. God uses gifted amateurs and not simply the professionals to grow his churches. He gifts his people with whatever he thinks they need in order to grow the church in maturity and numbers. Very few of us are professionals. But no matter. God does it this way so that he gets the credit. And rightly so. He uses the glorious diversity of gifted amateurs like us.
To build the Kingdom of God in this country I’m not sure that we need more professionals as much as we gifted amateurs who are prepared to get involved in building the work of the local church.
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