Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Defining Faith

One of the great but difficult things about study is the way in which preconceived ideas get knocked over so easily! Consider one aspect of John Owen’s thinking about faith.

Some scholarly opinion would suggest that Owen, becuase he is what is known as a 'reformed scholastic', would first want to define faith. This is so that he could then break it down into its different parts and examine it, much like engineer taking a machine apart so that he might find out exactly how it works.

Owen, however, takes the opposite position, preferring descriptions over definitions:

…receiving on Christ, leaning on him, rolling ourselves or our burden on him, tasting how gracious the Lord is, and the like, […] convey a better understanding of the nature, work, and object of justifying faith, […] than the most accurate definitions that many pretend unto; some whereof are destructive and exclusive of them all. (John Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, 107).

He said this in a sermon which he preached on Romans 4:20:

And whereas the general way, in treating of faith, is, for the most part, to use strictness of expression, that so it may be delivered in a philosophical exactness; the constant way of the Holy Ghost is, by metaphorical expressions, accommodations of it to things of sense and daily usage in the meanest, to give a relish and perception of it to all that are interested in it. (John Owen, Sermon: The Strength of Faith, 20-21)

Owen wants to first define faith for, I think, two reasons. First, Owen recognises that in the Bible the Holy Spirit has chosen to give us ‘metaphorical expressions’ of things rather than exact definitions. Owen doesn’t want to, in his words, ‘…embrace such senses of things [faith] as are inconsistent with them [the metaphorical expressions], and opposite unto them.’ Owen’s primary concern is to be faithful to the biblical articulation of faith.

Second, Owen first defines faith because at its heart faith is active. To draw a somewhat arbitrary distinction, what faith does is of more significance than what faith is. Because faith is what the believer does towards God, and is therefore experiential, it is better described than defined. This is because, at its very core, faith is relational. Faith for Owen is always in the person of God, specifically in the person of Christ, ‘the first and principal object of faith’.

Here is a great lesson for us who are of a more conservative evangelical bent, especially those who are involved in the academic study of theology. While we rightly want to understand our faith and to be able to describe how it works, Owen reminds us that this is of secondary importance. The wonder of faith is not what it is, but what it does - it unites us to Christ, draws us into Communion with God, and brings to us all the blessings of God in Christ.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Moving to Methven

I am excited to announce that next year Amanda and I (and the boys) are going to be going to All Saint’s Anglican church in Methven, in mid-Canterbury.

Methven is located here...

... and
the church looks
(at times!) like this.

Methven is a town of about 1400 people in summer, but doubles in size in winter because of Mt Hutt and other local ski fields.

Unlike a normal curacy (a curacy is similar to an assistant minister), I am going to be on my own in Methven – there is no vicar there. The church is about 40 people, which meets on a Sunday morning, with a small Sunday school. From what I understand (which, to be honest, isn’t a huge amount at this time!) the church is broadly evangelical and keen to have a presence in the community – certainly the people I have met already want to reach out with the good news that the church is entrusted with.

As well as being at Methven, I am also going to be involved in two surrounding parishes which have adopted a form of ministry call ‘local shared ministry’. This means that they don’t have a full time vicar, but rather have a team of parishioners who are ordained to specific roles within each church. My role will be to get involved with these teams, to listen to them, to help them think about their strengths and weaknesses, and to offer them support and training as they need. The split is 60% at Methven, and then 40% with these two other parishes.

We’re very excited about going there, as are a number of friends who are excited about having somewhere to stay so close to the snow! In God's kindness the church comes with a large house, so if you are planning on coming through mid-Canterbury, we’d love to have you stop by.

Please thank God with us for his kind provision, and pray that we would be faithful and fearless in serving Him in Methven.


The intercession of Christ

I have been working on a project on Christ's intercession which is described in Romans 8:34 and Heb 7:25. The issue of Christ's intercession raises a number of important questions. How should it be understood in relation to the atonement and indeed to our justification? Should it be understood as actual communication or metaphorically? In other words, should we understand Christ as interceding by his death or by on-going prayer? If the former, does this fit with a close exegesis of the relevant texts? If the latter, why does the Son need to pray to the Father and if he does pray what is the goal of his prayer? I am hoping to post a few thoughts over the next few days discussing some of these things.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Overstating Love

As part of a course we’re doing here at Moore, Peter and I have been reading through a series of classic works on the atonement. This past week was the other great John (Calvin, not Owen), and his three chapters on Christ’s work in book two of the Institutes. One thing which struck me again as I read it was his comment that God ‘loved us even when he hated us’. His grace precedes his wrath. His love for us - his love for me - triumphed over all.

Some time ago we were looking at T. F. Torrance’s The Christian Doctrine of God, in which he says (more than once!): ‘He [God] loved us more than he loved himself.’ The problem I had at that time with what Torrance says is that he seemed to overstate it. How can the perfect God who is complete in himself and needs nothing love externally more than he loves internally? To say that is surely to go too far? Torrance overstates God’s love, doesn’t he?

But that is exactly the point. How can you overstate love that overcomes, that overrules, that overwhelms that which is loved? How can you overstate love that meant that the one who loves, who is love, gives of himself for the unlovely – indeed he becomes unlovely for the unlovely. How can you overstate love that is unoverstatable?

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Persecution of Christians

The comment is often made that Christians in the West (normally) don't really suffer persecution - certainly not in comparison to our brothers and sisters in, say, Muslim countries. It is undeniably true that Christians in such countries are undergoing severe persecution and we should pray for and support them as much as we can. A good resource is the Barnabas Fund.

That said, 1 Peter has some interesting phrases that are easy to overlook in this regard. 2:12 talks about people who ‘speak against you as evil doers’; 2:23 speaks about Christ being ‘reviled’ (cf. 3:9); 3:16 talks about being ‘slandered’ and this is immediately tied to suffering in verse 17. The point of this is that while physical suffering is certainly a terrible reality (cf. 2:20), to be slandered and reviled for your faith is still suffering. Yes, we can thank God that the suffering we undergo is relatively mild, but we can still encourage the Christian who gets verbal abuse of whatever sort that they are truly undergoing suffering and following in their Master’s footsteps. To deny this is to rob Christians of the encouragement of following their Master and to go beyond Scripture. Would one or two of our many readers like to comment?

Friday, 10 August 2007

Cranmer's Call to Curates

I’ve been doing some thinking in preparation for a paper I’m presenting in a few weeks time. It is a consideration of the place of warnings prior to receiving the Lord’s Supper, and what our practice today should look like (and why). Here are the instructions to the Curate (assistant minister) that Cranmer set out in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Given the plethora of readers of this blog, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on what Cranmer instructed, as well as what you have found/done in your churches (particularly if you come from a non-Anglican/Episcopalian tradition).

So many as intend to be partakers of the holy Communion shall signify their names to the Curate, at least some time the day before.

And if any of those be an open and notorious evil liver, or have done any wrong to his neighbours by word or deed, so that the Congregation be thereby offended; the Curate, having knowledge thereof, shall call him and advertise him, that in any wise he presume not to come to the Lord’s Table, until he have openly declared himself to have truly repented and amended his former naughty life, that the Congregation may thereby be satisfied, which before were offended; and that he have recompensed the parties, to whom he hath done wrong; or at least declare himself to be in full purpose so to do, as soon as he conveniently may.

The same order shall the Curate use with those betwixt whom he perceiveth malice and hatred to reign; not suffering them to be partakers of the Lord’s Table, until he know them to be reconciled. And if one of the parties so at variance be content to forgive from the bottom of his heart all that the other hath trespassed against him, and to make amends for that he himself hath offended; and the other party will not be persuaded to a godly unity, but remain still in his frowardness and malice: the minister in that case ought to admit the penitent person to the holy Communion, and not him that is obstinate. Provided that every Minister so repelling any, as is specified in this, or the next precedent Paragraph of this Rubrick, shall be obliged to give an account of the same to the Ordinary [Bishop] within fourteen days after at the farthest. And the Ordinary shall proceed against the offending person according to the Canon.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.


Monday, 6 August 2007


Some feisty Don to get your week started…

"So which shall we choose?

Experience or truth? The left wing of an airplane, or the right? Love or integrity? Study or service? Evangelism or discipleship? The front wheels of a car, or the rear? Subjective knowledge or objective knowledge? Faith or obedience?

Damn all false antitheses to hell, for they generate false gods, they perpetuate idols, they twist and distort our souls, they launch the church into violent pendulum swings whose oscillations succeed only in dividing brothers and sisters in Christ.

The truth is that Jesus Christ is Lord of all – of the truth and of our experience. The Bible insists that we take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5)."

Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (Zondervan, 2005), 234

Friday, 3 August 2007

Transforming theology

I read recently the outstanding collection of essays entitled Always Reforming (ed. A.T.B. McGowan; Leicester: IVP, 2006). While there are a number of particularly outstanding essays, I was struck by the recurring theme of the necessity of the theologian himself being changed in the theological task. In Gamble’s essay on Systematics and Biblical Theology, he notes that ‘… “theology”, by its very nature transforms the student’ (emphasis added). Of course the theologian must be self-aware in other ways also (their cultural and epistemological presuppositions that they bring to the text; the need to do theology within the community of the church, etc.), but it seems to me that the primary concern of the theologian in the theological task is to sit under and be changed by the Scriptures, which ‘judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’ (Heb 4:12b).

This has really come home to me lately in wrestling with some work I’m doing on John Owen. In the stress of formulating a research method and seeking to identify and define a particular issue to address, I have been aware that I have slipped away from being transformed by the very task of theology. Of course studying Owen is not the same as studying Scripture, but both he and I share the same goal – to glorify God and declare his greatness as revealed in his Word. I think I need to spend more time on my knees as I read.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007


A controversial (but by no means unfounded) opinion expressed here.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Christian Living

Recently I have been reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. The book is a strong attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular. One thing that I found intriguing was that much of his criticism stems from some of the dumb things that Christians have done. I was reminded of the importance of the Christian life in this connection. Peter reminds us that it is … ‘the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people’ (1 Peter 1:15). Doing good. Yes our actions our never enough if they aren’t combined with the words of the gospel – but our words may never be heard if our actions don’t commend the gospel.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Cross Words

Over the past few days I’ve been helping a friend as he writes an essay on how evangelicals should respond to non-violent models of the atonement. One of the big issues identified was, of course, the way in which the Father/Son relationship is articulated in presentations of Jesus dying on the Cross. And I have to say that as I have read some of the ways in which the Cross is explained I sympathise with those who oppose a penal model (even though I strongly disagree with their proposals) – stories of trains crossing bridges at the expense of the station-keeper’s child, or parents strapping their children into electric chairs to free an unrelated criminal, or judges sending themselves to jail seem to naturally lead to the critiques levelled against penal substitutionary atonement. Of course a thoughtful and orthodox theology of the Trinity will help in addressing some of these issues (Barth’s The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country (CD IV/1) is a great place to start, but many of the myriad of ‘trinitarian’ books being published of late will do the trick). But Mark Thompson’s words remind us that it is only recourse to the Scriptures as a whole that will ultimately protect and promote the glorious news of the Cross.

'Despite its faddishness at the moment, trinitarian doctrine is not the great panacea which will solve every theological problem. It certainly will not give us the answer to every criticism made against the orthodox Christian understanding of the death of Christ in our place and for our sin. Too often our theological reflection is built upon a very narrow base. A much broader base is needed, and I am convinced that that base is provided by the teaching of all the Scriptures. We must beware the reductionism that collapses all theological questions into one particular doctrine, particularly when the doctrine, in the way in which is it often the subject of scholarly investigation, is not the focus of attention throughout the Scriptures. A more robust biblical theology, borne of the conviction that what we have in the Scriptures is the word of God to us, is what is needed in the churches and in the theological academy.'

Mark Thompson, ‘From the Trinity to the Cross’
Reformed Theological Review
63:1 (2004), 28.

By the way, anyone who preaches or explains the death of Christ would do well to read pages 329-336 in Jeffery, Ovey and Sach’s Pierced for our Transgressions.

Saturday, 28 July 2007


“The one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better. When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted. So much of our religion is packaged to address our felt needs – and those are almost uniformly anchored in our pursuit of our own happiness and fulfilment. God simply becomes the Great Being, who potentially at least, meets our needs and fulfils our aspirations. We think rather little of what he is like, what he expects of us, what he seeks in us. We are not captured by his holiness and his love; his thoughts and words capture too little of our imagination, too little of our [conversation], too few of our priorities. In the Biblical view of things, a deeper knowledge of God brings with it massive improvement in the other areas mentioned: purity, integrity, evangelistic effectiveness, better study of Scripture, improved private and corporate worship, and much more. But if we seek these things without passionately desiring a deeper knowledge of God, we are selfishly running after God’s blessings without running after him. We are even worse than the man who wants his wife’s services – someone to come home to, someone to cook and clean, someone to sleep with – without ever making the effort really to know and love his wife and discover what she wants and needs; we are worse than such a man, I say, because God is more than any wife, more than the best of wives: he is perfect in his love, he has made us for himself, we are answerable to him.”

DA Carson - A Call to Spiritual Reformation

What's in a name?

Being indecisive (especially Dave) we took a long time to come up with a name for our blog. A close second was ‘Carsonogenics’ which we thought was a quirky take on the fact that we have both appreciated the writings of Don Carson so much and to this end we hope to have a semi-regular quote or two from ‘the Don’. In the end though we went for the short phrase ‘But now’ which appears a number of times in the NT but especially in Romans 3:21 – where the terrible condition of humankind under God’s wrath is met by the work of God in Christ. More than anything we hope this blog will help people understand and appreciate the significance of this amazing work of God more.

The term also picks up on the fact that it is important to us as Reformed evangelicals that we are constantly reforming – and so it reminds us that there will always be a ‘but now’ with our thinking, our theology and our lives. Finally, it picks up on the dynamic nature of our blog as we will move from Scripture to Theology to Pulpit to Pew to the Other things in our lives which are important (and sometimes not so important…but still very funny…and we promise not to qualify everything this much, well except when…).

Dave and Pete


Welcome to our blog which we have set up mainly to write a bit of theological, exegetical, ethical and pastoral reflection. It will be an eclectic mix of topics from an evangelical point of view. We may not post too much for a while as we are both in our final year of seminary, but watch this space...

Dave and Pete