Thursday, 27 December 2007

December 27th

After the Williams family visit ended yesterday, what have we been up to?

Unfortunately K has been ill (heavy cold) so that has curtailed activity somewhat, but there has been plenty of washing up, laundry, wiping surfaces and tidying!

We are reading The Purpose-Driven Life together, aiming for a chapter a day for 40 days. We read chapter 2 today and are thus on course for victory. The opening chapters, "It all starts with God" and "You are not an accident" were much better than we expected. The great variety of reviews on, as usual, reveal more about the reviewers than the book...

We are also reading Peter Leithart's A House For My Name, a guide to the Old Testament. It is typical Leithart - fascinating, entertaining, provocative - with clear affinities to James Jordan. A feast of biblical theology and theme-ology with wonderful discussion questions that open up new avenues of thought. In a few places he does not substantiate his story enough, but this book is truly superb. (Rev Cannata's review on says what I wanted to say, better!) Today we discussed the topography of the pre-fall world and how this plays out in the story of Scripture...

After bashing through some Dichterliebe and arias by Britten, Vaughan Williams, Mascagni and Gluck with LDW, "mega baritone", the three Williams boys went to see I Am Legend, in which Will Smith saves what's left of the world from a virus that's made everyone go 28 days later. Like The Purpose-Driven Life, it was better than I thought it would be. Unlike The Purpose-Driven Life it hasn't given me much useful teaching for spiritual living, other than the usual heroic self-sacrifice theme in a human hubris scenario (oh, and barricading your house against crazed albino killers isn't a long-term strategy).

Some idle time on the internet, reading the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, stumbling on an interesting thoughtful Charismatic's blog (see especially his post on innerrancy) and playing through some old games on in preparation for meeting Charles tomorrow. I have lost my last 10 or so games against him (all correspondence) so I have to trust to my patter and other forms of psychological warfare for our over-the-board clashes!

Purpose-Driven Aphorism of the Day

While there are illegitimate parents, there are no illegitimate children.

Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life: what on earth am I here for? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), p.23.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

in conversation with Philip Pullman

Some deep and intelligent discussion from Tony Watkins (of Damaris) and Philip Pullman, famous author and apologist for atheism. Start reading this is you have some time spare and value using your brain!

One day I might even get round to reading the infamous trilogy.

Monday, 24 December 2007


The leaders and the clergy preach up peace
For profit; but they’re willing to preach war
For similar returns. Elites deplore
The sins of weaker, poorer breeds. They fleece
The sheep they should protect; and to increase
Returns, they welcome bribes, solicit more
Rich perquisites, prophetically roar
The message of the times, and grow obese.
When contradicted by the Word, they brook
No opposition. Counting fools and wise,
No longer bound by knowledge of the book
Each one does what is right in his own eyes.
The bottom line transcends the truth; and greed
Becomes the dominating clergy creed.

D.A. Carson, Holy Sonnets of the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994)

reading the "debates"

between various commentators who left a little message at the bottom of this related article lambasting the contraception industry has left the usual nasty taste in the mouth. Certainly the libertarians have come out of the woodwork to attack any pro-family or pro-self-control stance.

Perhaps more profoundly, however, this debate shows the logical conclusion of the rejection of God. We end up with not merely the hidden practice but the public celebration of the idolatry of self and of short-term gratification. Without a robust biblical ethic many of the voices calling for liberalisation are strong ones. In fact, so are the voices calling for Victorian morality and all the bad stuff that entailed. And so are those who argue for a strange mix of freedom and authoritarianism (such as Polly Toynbee's calls to chop the family and replace it with the state and the leftist elite) because the moral basis for making any arguments has collapsed. The whole debate must eventually reduce to 'might makes right'.

Is that too pessimistic?

why are they all in the Guardian?

To be fair, it's not all the Guardian's fault. It is the newspaper that most resembles a newspaper (not that the competition is all that spectacular). But this story was quite foolish. Please read it...

Doctors call for free condoms in pubs and taxis to protect against sexual diseases (18 Dec)

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Something to clear up first. The headline is misleading, since the good Prof said "it might make more sense to give condoms away in pubs, clubs and taxis". This was apparently a suggestion of "doctors", though only one doctor is quoted making this suggestion.

The idea that giving a binge drinker a condom at the point at which s/he is drunk is the answer to the problem of STDs and unwanted pregnancies is, frankly, ridiculous. How many inebriated people who are prepared to sleep with near strangers are going to (a) be in a position to remember that they have this condom, (b) remember how to use it and (c) actually put that into practice?

"Oh, here's a free condom. That gives you a couple of quid extra to spend on booze now you don't have to bother to use your brain and visit that vending machine in the toilets". Nice.

Do these fools really think that lack of access to contraceptive devices (which don't protect against all STDs anyway) is the problem? At least someone was willing to suggest that excessive alcohol consumption might be the problem (Linda Tucker, co-author of the report). But what about the cultural dissociation of sex from marriage?

What a silly question.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

there are plenty of fools here in the UK

Yesterday's Guardian Weekend magazine carried an extract from Somewhere Towards the End, the memoirs of Diana Athill (who?).

"There are some things, sexual infidelities among them, that do no harm if they remain unknown - or, for that matter, are known and accepted. I have only to ask myself which I would choose, if forced to do so, between the extreme of belief that a whole family' honour is stained by an unfaithful wife unless she's killed, and the attitude often attributed to the French, that however far from admirable sexual infidelity is, it is perfectly acceptable if conducted properly. Vive la France!"

I wonder, are there any positions in between those two extremes?

Furthermore, what kind of culture finds X "perfectly acceptable" when X is "far from admirable". Certainly not one I would be happy to choose!

And while I'm here, the frame of reference for doing no harm (first sentence) is underspecified. Maybe it's true that person B is not harmed appreciably (in their own opinion) by an unknown infidelity on the part of their partner, person A. But what of the harm to A? And doesn't deceit harm a relationship, just a teeny bit...? The complex dynamics of relationships and morality are clearly not what Athill is interested in. "Loyalty is not a favourite virtue of mine", she quips, revealingly close to mentioning an act of infidelity against her that clearly caused her plenty of pain. Building a philosophy of life on wound-licking with fingers in ears doesn't seem sensible.

heat and light

have been generated over the past few days after a Turkish concert pianist and composer, Fazil Say, said something unguarded about Islamism and culture in his home country. The story is written up here (Turkish Daily News) in a way that is broadly sympathetic to Say, and vaguely unsympathetic to "Islamists".

Heat comes because Turks are sensitive to negative comments about their home. This is very understandable, though as a Brit, difficult to appreciate.

It is perhaps not entirely to the credit of the UK that if a prominent artist made some rude comments about these shores and a plan to emigrate s/he would be ignored on the grounds that people can say what they like and no one really knows what Britain is about anyway...

Light has been shed on the political divisions in Turkish society between secularisers and moderate Islamists (who are of course 'secularist' in at least one sense). This collection of opinions in Zaman, a pro-AKP paper very sympathetic to Islam, is revealing. Not least, the ultimate value accorded to country in one's self-identity (e.g. He expressed that one cannot abandon his country, “no matter what” and "What does ‘leaving’ mean when Turkey is the most important thing we have?"). Some might call that idolatry.

You can't read too much into these off-the-cuff statements to an off-the-cuff statement, but this other comment by pianist Burçin Büke is plain silly - What’s more important, you don’t have the right to mix music with politics. (a) What do rights have to do with it? and (b) music is already inescapably political. [It wasn't as if Say was mixing "music" and specific party politics.] I guess Mr Büke knows nothing of Nazism and culture, Stalinism and culture, Maoism and culture, conservative politicians in most countries who complain about the effect of various popular musics on the young...

Of course, Say's complaints can easily be interpreted as the whining of the secularist elite that does what it wants while suppressing various types of Islamic (and other) expression, as this Zaman columnist points out.

The heat and light are important for a foreign observer like me, not so much so that I can presume to take sides, but so that I can understand a little more of the tensions in self-definition, in aspirations, in lifestyle, in attitudes to expression that are revealed.

of the making of blogs

there is no end. These pages have even spawned a support industry - a word document on my computer with planned posts. That's ridiculous, in my opinion. Also, "I'll have to blog that" keeps coming out of my mouth. Rarely do the intentions actually translate onto the page, which is probably not such a bad thing, but why am I reorienting my thoughts around this vehicle for drivel!?

Since Christmas is coming, expect the release of posts on Turkey.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Gender thoughts

Having done rather a lot of reading about this over the past year, and produced a 16,000 word essay on the subject, it was nice to be able to pass on some of those benefits to an undergraduate friend of a friend the other week. I don't need an invitation to pontificate, but when I get one...!

These thoughts come without my Christian perspective - I merely describe the debate with a few pointers in a deliberately neutral way. If I get round to it, I might post some explicitly Christian and theological reflections on the debate. For now, a weeny annotated bibliography will do.

Hi there,

If you want something really radical to read, you should try Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body: Gender Politics And the Construction of Sexuality (New York: Basic Books, 2000). She argues that to a large extent the category of 'sex' itself is shaped by ideas about gender. Something similar is also argued in very convoluted postmodern language by Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London: Routledge, 1990), but the Fausto-Sterling is more rewarding - she is a scientist rather than a cultural/literary critic.

So, to ask 'are sex and gender different?' is actually already to be asking a loaded question. Psychologists (see the chapters by Money and Maccoby in Reinisch et al, eds, Masculinity and Femininity: Basic Perspectives (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987) will discuss the question from a slightly different angle.

Regarding a nature-nurture discussion, Anne Moir & David Jessel, Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women (London: Michael Joseph, 1989) gives an argument about 'essential difference', so that you have the other side of the picture from the recent feminist works (like Fausto-Sterling, above, and Barnett & Rivers, below). Also browsing Simon Baron-Cohen, The Essential Difference: men, women and the extreme male brain (London: Allen Lane, 2003) gives a good insight into the arguments of evolutionary psychologists. The work of Lionel Tiger is also interesting - see his chapter in Reinisch (1987), above, for pointers...

Regarding the effects that concepts of gender have, there is some good evidence in Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers, Same difference: how gender myths are hurting our relationships, our children, and our jobs (New York: BasicBooks, 2004).

Most of these authors tend to overstate their case in one way or another. Having read rather a lot of essentially similar works it's pretty clear to me that biology and culture both play a significant role! The final chapter of Lesley Rogers, Sexing the Brain (New York, 2001) has some useful thoughts on this, and the whole book is a good read.

I think your question about equality being 'measured by power, money and politics' is very important. This is certainly a major plank of the feminist movement, but I am not convinced it's the best way to go about things. To keep it simple, the liberal, modernist conception of the person as an autonomous quasi-spiritual ethical blob (think Kant) does not do justice to the fact that people are different not least because of bodily differences. So, a project that tries to flatten this out and make all adult humans exactly the same is not going to work terribly well. For an interesting feminist meditation on this that is open to the idea of difference, see Selma Sevenhuijsen, Citizenship and the Ethics of Care: Feminist Considerations on Justice, Morality and Politics (Routledge: London, 1998).

Hope that helps…

Peer review - pros and cons

Thinking about science for a moment, as you do...

Here's a very interesting paper, by a man with some very odd ideas.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

weak neck syndrome

Some of my mis-spent youth was spent entering competitive classes at local music festivals (aka competitions). Many of my fellow entrants went to a specialist music school down the road in Wells, where they were apparently taught how to wobble and sway at the keyboard. This used to annoy me, a precocious advocate of the ramrod principle of piano-playing.

Nowadays I can sway for England. (Good thing self-consciousness is not in my vocabulary.) And why not!? A Zambian friend recently attended her first Western Art Music concert in Cambridge and was shocked and perplexed to find the audience still and quiet throughout. Whenever I listen to music at home (which is quite a lot of the time) I am always singing along, doing a little dance, waving about the place, you name it. To Sibelius and Brahms no less than Piazzolla or Ravel. Visitors may view this spectacle for a small fee, if they can stand it...

Despite his fondness for the word gnostics, Peter Leithart has hit something here about (classical) music and movement.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

further to my final paragraph below/above

here's an entertaining review of the aforementioned film.

Of course the review is not completely fair - but it's funny!

The Roman Catholic Church

How very presumptuous of this small, generally ignorant Protestant to attempt a post on the sprawling mass that is the Roman Catholic Church. So, I shan't. But I do want to draw your attention to one of the many crises, potential scandals, bubbling arguments and frankly bizarre episodes in its local and corporate life and insider commentary on that.

In other words, take a look at this mess.

The Rape of the Soul - a documentary made by a devout Catholic claiming to expose hidden, embedded images of a highly dubious nature in lots of (Catholic) religious art, old and new.

When I've finished watching it, I may comment further on its contents.

The release and promotion of the film has apparently caused some people to lose their jobs in the Archdiocese of Toronto. It seems to have exposed the tensions between traditionalists and conciliarists (those who think Vatican II was and was not a good idea, to put it crudely) which can be seen between the lines and sometimes in the lines of this discussion thread.

Remarkably, some people in this discussion thread who believe that the film is basically rubbish claim that it must be a fundamentalist [read, "Protestants we don't like"] plot to discredit the church. Having heard him and read his own contributions to a favourable review and interview, I seriously doubt whether Michael A. Calace (producer, writer, director...) is a Protestant!

Following up a few leads on this film has opened my eyes to yet more of the diversity that exists among professing Christians, has reminded me that in the eyes of the conservatives in the 'historic' churches [for want of a better term] I am probably not going to heaven (a funny feeling for a pretty conservative, exclusivist, evangelical Protestant, let me tell you), and made me think again about art and what it has to do with anything.

If you have a spare couple of hours, the film is... probably not worth watching, if I'm honest. Although it has undoubted qualities (as well as some poor structuring, lots of rambling, tacky music, leaps of logic, and worse), taught me a few things and has sparked off interesting thoughts, it is questionable as to whether evangelicals need to be exposed to discussions of possible obscen1ty in art that is not part of their tradition or worship.

The very frail elderly

Rock Baptist church sends in groups of volunteers to run little services and chat to the residents at two nearby nursing homes. The one that Kate and I visit is very much the last stop for most people there. Most residents are unable to walk, some are almost totally physically incapacitated, many are experiencing serious mental difficulties, whether that's memory loss, confusion, dementia, or apparent inability to communicate verbally.

On Sunday we learned of the death of another of the ladies who had been coming along to the services. There are in fact a mere handful of people left from when we started visiting this home in 2005.

There are a great many things that trouble me about this method of 'caring' for the elderly in our society. Too many to discuss coherently here. There is a great deal that is very upsetting, unpleasant and ennervating about the place.

I often wonder what good we accomplish there in our 2-weekly visits.

However, there are encouragements - moments of actually connecting with some of the residents, and occasions when we do see that we have brought them some joy. Touch is important, and so is the simple giving of time and attention to people starved of both. Little things like getting a certain cheese for a resident. And we are able to sing with them, and tell them of the hope found in Christ. Remarkably, while I almost never look forward to going, I am usually sad to leave once I've got there.

There was also a lot of encouragement at a recent conference held in London about ministry among the elderly. Quite a few of us (aged from 28 to 70!) from Rock went down for the day. Shame that so few young people attended, but wonderful that so many (older) people were there.

teddy bear madness

Nice to know it's not all madness.
Well done the Muslims of Canada.
The real question is, where do all these Sudanese Muslims find the time to march about a soft toy?
Perhaps some time spent in quiet reflection or acts of mercy to the poor might be time better spent.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Genesis 4 and interpretation

Commentators on texts differ. That's not my most original insight, it has to be said. But why they differ is often quite interesting. Particularly so when there doesn't seem to be an obvious, or even hidden, reason. Neither theological persuasion, relative immersion in the Documentary hypothesis, publishing house style or anything else seem adequate to explain why A chooses a and B chooses b in the following examples of commentary on Genesis 4. Nor why A chooses b' and B chooses a' (where a and b are the interpretations I find more convincing in each case...!)

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man." 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Eve's words in verse 1 are heard by Ross (1988: 156) as expressing hope and faith in God's ongoing provision, but Waltke (2003: 96) claims that they reveal an underlying poor theology of divine sovereignty that borders on the synergistic. Ross gives his most generous nod to the first clause, while Waltke focuses on the second.

The brothers' career choices are considered fairly immaterial by Waltke (2003:97), but Ross claims that there is the barest hint in the text that Cain's closer connection with the soil and with plants puts him more dangerously close to the substance (fruit of a tree) that was the formal cause of the expulsion from Eden (188:156).

Ross and Waltke agree that the material offerings in themselves were equivalent: Ross does not even really address the issue of plant vs. meat, moving straight to the clear problem in Cain's heart, though Waltke takes the time to acknowledge that Gerhard von Rad suggests that "the sacrifice of blood was more pleasing to Yahweh". Against both Ross and Waltke, there is the colourful James Jordan, who argues forcefully (1985:159) that the principle of substitution had been articulated by Yahweh already (the provision of animal-skin coverings at the expulsion) and that Cain should have raised or purchased a lamb for the purpose of this offering.

This third point does appear to have more theological stuff packed into it - it's a question of how tightly and richly you want to weave your biblical theology. But on the first two differences of opinion I am at a loss to explain the reasons for the choices made.

James Jordan, Judges: God's War Against Humanism (Tyler, TX: Geneva Min., 1985).
Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988).
Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).

Thursday, 13 December 2007

African Americans and religion in British America

As Eliga H. Gould (‘The Christianizing of British America’, in Norman Etherington, ed., Missions and Empire [Oxford: OUP, 2005]) summarizes it, Atlantic slavery violated and uprooted Africans, but it also distorted and broke the shapes and powers of many socials frameworks and traditions. While there were places in the Colonies in which blacks were able to replicate some traditional social groupings, ceremonies, titles, etc., which contributed to some of the acts of slave resistance (New York 1712, Antigua 1736, “Maroon War” in Jamaica 1665-1739), in general the systems qua systems were destroyed.

Compounding the tragedy of enslavement with a further gospel tragedy…

‘Despite the possibilities for evangelization, Protestant religious leaders and slave owners responded ambivalently to this crisis. In part, this reluctance to proselytize reflected the assumption that ‘slavery was unlawfull for any Christian – as the SPG’s [Society for the Propagation of the Gospel] Anthony Gavin wrote in 1738 – and that slaves who converted automatically became free. Although colonial legislatures passed laws barring faith-based manumissions from the mid-seventeenth century onward, the association of salvation with freedom continued to worry slaveholders, a group that included George Whitfield and the SPG . Not surprisingly, there were few Christian slaves on the SPG’s own estate on Barbados.’ (Gould, pp.33-34)

Further ironies in this practice and discussion of slavery by white evangelical and conservative Christians revealed themselves over time…

‘Two developments helped to produce an upsurge in slave Christianisation starting in Virginia during the 1740s and proceedings several decades later in South Carolina and the West Indies. The first was the SPG’s repudiation of Christian liberty for the doctrine that slaves owed their masters ‘absolute obedience’. As Thomas Bacon observed during the 1740s, slaves were obligated to do whatever their owners command as if they ‘did it for God himself’. Although not all Anglicans accepted this harsh principle, the SPG emphasis on slave obedience set the dominant tone both for its own clergy and the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians who inundated the region from the eighteenth century's middle decades. Despite their emphasis on a spiritual equality of all humanity, even Moravians preached submission of the Christian slaves who worked on their settlements in North Carolina. Consequently, slave conversion came to seem much less threatening to colonial planters. Only in the West Indies and only at the century's end these evangelicals become an abolitionist phalanx. Yet on the eve of slavery’s abolition, the humanitarianism of evangelicals like William Knibb of Jamaica and Antigua's Anne and Elizabeth Hart remained suspect in the eyes of many Protestants, including evangelical missionary societies in Britain and the islands’ Anglican clergy.’ (Gould, pp.34-35)

On the plus side, African Americans and whites did worship together in the early 19th century, particularly in the Methodist and Baptist congregations. This slowed the growth of distinctive Black churches and had effects on the powerful, too…

‘...according to Mechal Sobel, African death rituals and reverence for ancestors even influenced white religion, encouraging Southern Baptists and Methodists to reconceptualise Heaven is a place of reunion ‘with those we love’ and to make deathbeds into scenes of ecstatic happiness and joy.’ (Gould, p.35)

Fascinating. Not least because I feel the influence of those ideas on my theology of deathbeds and heaven (or, more properly, the intermediate state and the New Creation!) More reading to be done here –

– starting with Catherine Hall, ‘William Knibb and the Constitution of the New Black Subject’, in Martin Daunton and Rick Halpern, eds, Empire and Others: British Encounters with Indigenous People 1600-1850 (Philadelphia, 1999)…

Vive les amateurs!

The audience was the same size as the orchestra, the piano was a very creaky centenarian Steinway, but St Luke's, Victoria Road was the occasion of a very special concert this evening (and the venue for a packed tea made by Mrs W, who was off at her school Xmas dinner) given by the Cambridge Sinfonietta under Peter Britton.

Berlioz, Overture to "Benvenuto Cellini"
I noticed that the cymbal-player looked like my Dad did in the 70s. His shoulder-length Jesus hair got wafted each time he crashed the cymbals, leading to a gradual build up of styled stray hair that resembled the result of a short van der Graf generator demonstration.

Saint-Saens, Piano Concerto No. 2
Very spirited performance from a cool soloist who normally plays violin with this band. He looked a bit like a banker. This brought back memories of when I managed the first movement of this concerto with the King Edward's School (Bath, the VI, of course) orchestra back in the mid-90s...

Walton, Viola Concerto
And as Patrick said of the violist, "Penelope Veryard? You don't want to mess with her." (say it out loud...) At the end of the first movement, a car went past in A minor, just as the final double-stopped tonic chord faded away... Polished and juicy - and until tonight I have never really enjoyed that work, worthy though I knew it to be.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Beef is back

in Bovril!

After several years in which the small print betrayed that there was no beef in Bovril, it is now back. Thank you Unilever.

Not that I noticed the change in taste, but once one of the many Mrs Williamses (sister-in-law in this case) had pointed it out to me, things were not right for months...

Please note that Bovril is not to be used as a drink - it tastes like nasty fake soup. Instead, spread it like a superior Marmite, sparingly but not stingily. Especially good with mild cheeses and on crumpets.

Isaiah 8

(1-4) narrative
(1-2) the LORD commands Isaiah reagarding a tablet, a name and reliable witnesses
(3) narrative of conception and birth of Isaiah’s son
(4) the LORD tells of imminent judgement on Syria and Israel, related to this son’s name

(5-10) prophecy of near-destruction of Judah
(5-8) Judah trusts in Syria and Israel, so a river is coming
(9-10) addressed to Judah as an epilogue of hope? Or to a remnant? Or by a remnant?

(11-22) narrative and prophecy mixed

The LORD speaks and Isaiah also speaks to his disciples (16-18, “biographical note”). The focus is on how God is to be trusted, so don’t listen to the whisperings and occult dealings around you.

(6) Rejoicing over: in the sense that Ahaz’s folly in linking himself with Assyria might have appeared to be a cause for rejoicing as Samaria and Damascus fell. But Assyria did not stop there, and in the reign of Ahaz’s own son (Hezekiah) the cruel empire turned its devastating attention to Judah (look at the understated way this horror is narrated in Isaiah 36ff.).

Isaiah’s children, and even Isaiah himself are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts (18), that’s why they are to have funny names. But of course, the names are not ‘funny’, they are both terrible and wonderful. Maher-shalal-hashbaz is all about imminent destruction, and Immanuel (see discussion of Isaiah 7) is all about God’s presence with the faithful. This child Immanuel is alluded to (vv. 8d, 10d) just before and at the end of the mysterious epilogue to the destruction (verses 9-10).

The reason why this is a little mysterious is that vv.5-8 are talking about Judah, and the thrust of the passage is ‘you have trusted in Assyrian men , and they will betray you once they have destroyed your other enemies’. So, why is Judah called ‘O Immanuel’ (God-with-us) at the end of verse 8, a title that seems to speak not of judgement but protection? And who are the peoples and far countries who are taking counsel in verses 9 and 10? Why this change of tone? – such that the Immanuel of v.10b is clearly a positive invocation of the name…

Recall chapter 7, in which the sign of the child Immanuel is a sign first of judgement on Syria and Israel (7:16) and then on Judah herself (7:17). The name of the child is, proximately, a rebuke to Ahaz and his cronies, a reminder of their failure to trust that God was indeed with them. But the actual meaning of the name is that God is with us. With whom? With at least some of the people of Judah – perhaps a ‘remnant’, whose existence is hinted at in the name of another of Isaiah’s sons, Shear-Jashub (a remnant shall return) whom we met in chapter 7 before the arrival of Immanuel.

We will of course hear a lot more about this remnant in chapter 10, but my concern is with what we know so far…

So, Immanuel is all about the remnant, and this is how the prophecies can both threaten and comfort Judah at the same time. And of course, the remnant is in some ways a type of the whole [faithful, if only] nation, so this shifting ‘us’/‘people’/etc. is not linguistic equivocation but rich theology.

Thus, verses 9 and 10 seem to be the words of the remnant as they speak to the nations – Israel, Syria, Assyria and even to apostate Judah (Ahaz’s administration and the sinful nation as a whole, since v.17 says that God is hiding his face from the [whole] house of Jacob) about successive waves of physical calamity: “Do your worst militarily. God is with us!”

(12) so-called conspiracy: Aram and Samaria plotting against Judah. God’s message is clear – as it happens you don’t need to worry about these trifling kings, you need to worry about me (HOLY and the rest of verse 13) and about judgement coming on both houses of Israel (14-15).

(14-15) are terrifying in the Hebrew [see Grogan in Expositor’s Bible Commentary]: just seven words, five concatenating verbs, four of which alliterate.

(16-18) the biographical note from the prophet himself, to underscore the importance of this testimony, a testimony that contradicts all the chatter of the politicians and their plots and manoueverings. (19-22) yet more on the importance of that testimony, in combination with God’s instruction [=the Law?] as people are surrounded by the temptation to look for wisdom from occult sources, something not unheard of today.

In fact, speaking in accord with this testimony turns out to be the litmus test (20b): either you curse God angrily in darkness, or you enjoy light and relief from distress (9:1)…

Isaiah 9a

In the spirit of shuffling the order around... This discussion between me and Gordon was about 8:19-9:7

(8:19-22) Enquire of the LORD, not of the dead, which will lead to stumbling in darkness and distress
(9:1) distress and gloom will end for some, and God will honour Galilee of the Gentiles
(9:2-7) poetic promise
(2-5) scenes of joy: darkness to light, harvest, victory, destruction of yoke and even of weapons.
(5-6) a child is born who will reign forever, over everything, named with divine names; ‘the zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this’.

What is the connection between the end of chapter 8 (warning against mediums and spiritists) and the incredible prophecy at the start of chapter 9? Linguistic and thematic.

present problems (8:19-22) = darkness (22)
darkness (9:1-2) – will not be for all because of coming light (1-7)

Darkness and lack of spiritual guidance link the passages. But does history link them? What does the Messianic hope of 9:1-8 have to tell the people of Isaiah’s community, the remnant (8:18)? Alec Motyer says that the remnant are presently sustained by future hope (idiomatic use of the prophetic past tense throughout the passage) that is certain. The darkness was fulfiled very soon – apostate Jews did turn to mediums and spiritists (8:19) and Zebulum and Naphtali (9:1) were the first regions to fall to Assyria. So the take-home question is, what reading of our experiece are we going to live by? – we can sink into gloom or we can live in hope, sustained by trust in the word of God.

Hope is part of the constitution of the here and now (Motyer).
Think about Heb 11:1, and ‘faith is the substance of what is hoped for’ (R.C. Sproul on a Ligonier video) – which I have glossed as ‘the bringing to present manifestation that which will be fully realised in future reality’. That’s what faith does – it makes real by action now a taste of what God has promised. At a simple level, the child trusts its mother’s “Everything’s going to be alright” by calming down at those words, and acting as though everything is OK (thereby assenting, “Oh, it is OK for me, whatever’s going on outside and whatever I think I lack”) even if that state of affairs takes an hour or so to prove.

So the remnant around Isaiah get some joy through this hope and their faith in God’s promises. Zechariah, father of John the Baptist gets more joy (Luke 1:68-79) and even alludes to this prophecy of Isaiah. We get more joy post-resurrection, post-Pentecost… It’s all moving on the continuum towards the New Creation.

Who is the child of vv.6-7?
Unlike the children of chapter 7, this child is not a Jewish boy of Isaiah’s day; it is not Hezekiah, son of king Ahaz…
• Hezekiah is already a teenager at this point
• it was in Hezekiah’s reign that the darkness would most dramatically fall
• his kingdom was far from everlasting, etc.

What will happen around him?
(1) honour Galilee of the Gentiles – the only time a prophet refers to the place like this, hinting of the future unity between Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ (Ephesians 2).
(3) you have enlarged the nation – great news for a small, pressed remnant
(7) universal government from David’s throne – picking up the current mess. The Northern kingdom is spiritually dead and on the brink of military disaster [‘despite the magnificent defensive action of the prophets’, AMGD] and the perimeter of David’s throne seems to be shrinking rather rapidly. Set this perimeter in the wider biblical context, and we see the sanctuary from which to transform the world:

Eden – Israel (waxes, wanes, remnant holds it together) – Jesus (holy seed)

The sanctuary theme thus narrows to one man [in Isaiah 9 we are in the midst of the narrowing and get a foretaste of the one man], who is the temple, who is the presence of God, who is the representative of God, who does bring salvation, joy, light and honour to his people!

This prophecy signals a new tone in the book. Less judgement against Judah now until chapter 21.

Random thought
How does this all fit with Tim Chester’s exciting new millennial typology? What do these strands in the early chapters of Isaiah have to say about this?

And can we demonstrate (not just nod our assent, tempting though that might be) how to fit the various eschatological writings of the church over the years into this typology?

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Neither Dad nor I have laughed as much in weeks

Except at Kate's little jokes of course.

Here is something worth a look. Thanks for the pointer, Pete!

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Cam: Cambridge Alumni Magazine

Never in the history of human thought have so few been taught so little by so many

The words of C.D. Broad, a Cambridge philosopher, referring to the new moral sciences Tripos after WWII.

I am tempted to apply those words to the Cambridge Alumni Magazine – interesting reading, and many people have gone into its making, but how many alumni actually read it or remember anything from it? Anything, that is, except a nagging sense of inferiority at not being among those millionaires, stellar academics and public figures that the university has produced in recent decades. And what a lot of them there are. Actually CAM is often a surprisingly good read, and a useful reminder of just how small and insignificant I am! How wonderful that the LORD has chosen the weak things of this world to shame the wise. Though let that never become an excuse for mediocrity or indolence.

Speaking of which, no more blogging for a day or two as I have articles on utopianism to write for imminent publication, reviews of books on church life for NTI and research on the history of mission to Islamic people to crack on with, never mind two music recitals (incl. programme notes), a sermon and the laundry.

Mustard Seed Foundation

Here are some interesting folks. Wonder if they want to give me any cash to look at church councils pre-Nicaea?

Velmirovic vs Planinc

Chess, of course. My latest e-correspondence game against Charles has ground to a halt - I discovered that I was analysing the position with his f-pawn in the wrong place. Whoops. It saves me losing by more conventional means, I suppose, which has become something of a habit recently.

Whereas this game is a treat. White wins with 1. a3, and nearly a whole queen down at the end!

Paper blog

Ever since I was an undergraduate I have carried around with me a little notebook for recording interesting things I come across and jobs that need to be done. Rather like a commonplace book. Constitutionally I am a hoarder, so this sort of book comes in very handy for information- or thought-hoarding: I prefer to hoard things that are not really of any value! Perhaps that is often the way with hoarders. Initially I cannibalized (wrong word, but I wanted to use it anyway!) old school notebooks that had a few pages of German vocabulary or early 90s basic, basic computer science in them (these blue books, smaller than A6, have also come in very handy for some piano pupils over the years, and now that I have so many students such books are essential for the poor teacher’s brain). More recently I have moved to A5: am I more prolix with advancing age or do I notice an increasing number of interesting things?

The current book is almost full, and flicking through I came across something written to be put up on noearthlycity this time last year. I was not a happy bunny that morning as I made my slow way to the office in Huntingdon…

Tuesday. Freezing frozen bikes. Icy cold seat. Brakes first not working then broken (loose) then unaccountably wedged on at back. Walking back home also led to me missing first two buses. House wasted! V. cross. Read Garrison Keillor which was cheering, but also kind of sad. Thought I didn’t even have this book, in which to record my thoughts but then it turned out I did. Nice bus driver let me get warm – then found week old banana skin in side pocket of rucksack. Funny tingling in left fingers and achey back.

Concerts to come

Both are at Emmanuel URC, Trumpington Street, at 1pm.

5th December
Schumann, Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op.101
Elgar, Violin Sonata, Op.82

Rarely-heard profound works from the mature pens of great Romantics – one of the first and one of the last.
Jane Foottit, violinist extraodinaire, will be taking centre stage and I will be in accompaniment mode.

12th December
Brahms, Fantasien, Op.116
Mompou, Impressiones Intimas
Gershwin, Preludes

I seem to be learning a lot of short pieces at the moment, and I prefer to play whole collections if possible (as in the Grieg concert). Not sure why – perhaps in order to see if there is a deep unity to these sets of occasional works or if one can be conjured up in performance, at least.

Moment of doubt: Why do I do this!? Three concerts in just over three weeks, with completely different programmes that are all just beyond my technical powers! Well, I love music, and life would be dull without a challenge, wouldn’t it? Plus, one must keep up one’s bluffing skills (otherwise known as musical interpretation – don’t tell my students)…

Concert just gone

Postcards from Norway (sent on Thursday 22nd Nov, from Emmanuel URC, Trumpington Street, a gorgeous acoustic, a fabulous piano, and a generous lunch in their Fair Shares Cafe afterwards. There are some perks to the life of a musician!

Edvard Grieg, 1843-1907

Lyric Pieces

Op. 12 [1867]

1. Arietta
2. Valse
3. Vektersang
(Watchman’s Song)
4. Alfedans (Fairy dance)
5. Folkevise (Folksong)
6. Norsk (Norwegian)
7. Albumblud (Album Leaf)
8. Fedrelandssang (National Song)

Op. 43 [1884]

1. Sommerfugl (Butterfly)
2. Ensom vandrer (Solitary traveller)
3. I hjemmet (In my native country)
4. Småfugl (Little bird)
5. Erotik
6. Til
våren (To Spring)

Op. 71 [1901]

1. Det var engang (Once upon a time)
2. Sommeraften (Summer’s eve)
3. Småtroll (Puck)
4. Skogstillhet (Peace of the woods)
5. Halling (Norwegian dance)
6. Forbi (Gone)
7. Efterklang (Remembrances)

For colourful music with colourful titles commentary is largely redundant. However, a few facts about Grieg’s life and work may help pass the time. He was born in Bergen and lived most of his adult life in Oslo, returning to a lakeside house in Bergen, now a museum, for his final years. His great-grandfather was Scottish, hence the ‘Grieg’ (which was his middle name, his actual surname being Hagerup) and he had strong ties to the British Isles, often touring here to great acclaim and receiving honourary doctorates from both Cambridge (1894) and Oxford (1906 – a little slower to recognise his genius!). The ten sets of Lyric Pieces reveal his fascination with folk music and with the human voice, and act as a barometer for his increasing maturity as a composer. The first set, Op.12, dates from the year of his marriage to his cousin Nina, a soprano with whom he often gave concert tours. Though these works are extremely simple, sometimes almost twee, they hint at the dark passion to come. The third set, Op.43, displays a greater variety of character and brightness, full of chromaticism and exploring the sound world of unusual keys. The final set amplifies the dark and plaintive moods gestured at in the earlier sets but it is not without its jolly and rambunctious side. Finally, with Efterklang Grieg turns his gentle, straightforward Arietta of 1867 into a sliding, modulating waltz – a fitting farewell to the characterful drawing-room piece from this most lyrical of composers.

From the President

Here is some hard evidence of the existence of a reader of my blog who is not related to me by marriage or blood*. Two other individuals have intimated to me that they have read these ramblings on occasion, but until now I didn’t have anything in writing. Touching, touched, amusing, amused…

Dear Celal,

I had to chuckle when I read your post about my post. If I try to comment on it in this post I will have trespassed further into embarrassing self-referentiality and disappear up my own blog. But I would like to ask one question: how did you discover the existence of the fan club?



*Full disclosure: Celal Birader is related to me by adoption.

how to talk about music

as the previous post shows, it's almost impossible! But someone who has done a very good job of trying is Jeremy Begbie in Theology, Music and Time (CUP, 2000). His insights into the underlying pulses of pieces of music as they are experienced is fascinating, and the analogies and resources for theology are fruitful.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Enescu and Scharwenka

What makes a winning melody? What makes a melody winning?

It seems that how it is harmonized and accompanied is absolutely critical. But to consider the melody per se does not enable us to answer the question in the fullest possible fashion. We need to ask what came before, and what is about to happen. Two case studies...

Georges Enescu, Symphony No. 1 in E flat, Op.13, 3rd movement, second theme
About 2 minutes into this movement (and again at 6 minutes), we hear a long version of the second theme in a minor mode. It's basically a rising scale starting on the tonic, preceded by the dominant falling to the leading note, in one way outlining a perfect cadence, some sort of closure, in another way launching the yearning scale which culminates in a compression of the three-note opening motif. After this it winds its way down again. The building blocks of the theme have all appeared before so it feels familiar yet new. Its harmonization includes some surprising jumps, and the orchestration involves strings melting into winds and back. Its balance of pausing and moving on again is calculated to move one's internal organs very effectively. Each time it subsides into thematically-related material. These brackets of the quasi-familiar and the overall major tonality of the movement make this minor theme stand out in performance.

Xaver Scharwenka, Piano Trio No. 2 in A minor, Op.45, 1st movement, main theme
This theme is announced in skeletal form by the piano, and the whole opening is quiet, though once the strings get going on the melody proper this is the quiet of an extremely powerful engine operating well below its true strength. At this point the piano turns to a rippling accompaniment the strings are well-supported and the harmony moves tonic-relative major-tonic, which if it were not part of such a serious melody could almost be described as lilting or folksy. This theme is always looking forward, its internal repetitions drive it on rather than backward, and Scharwenka knows how good it is so is not afraid to use it a lot! Each time it comes back, we are left wanting more, and he does not disappoint!

Enescu was one of these frightening child prodigies. His musical gifts were such that before he was an adult he could play from memory at the keyboard all of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, Symphonies and String Quartets. Scharwenka was one of the most successful performers touring the world at the turn of the last century – he was decorated by most of the royal families of Europe and had no less illustrious a career than Enescu, he just appears to have got off to a slower start!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Isaiah 5

Found my notes at last! Stuffed into Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, My Brother’s Keeper

(1-2) preamble, the story of the vineyard

(3-7) the lawcourt and threat of punishment / (7) summary of charges

(8-23) SIX WOES

(8) – the charge of “joining field to field”

(11) – the charge of luxury

(18) – the charge of deceit and mocking God

(20) – the charge of moral reversals

(21) – the charge of self-assurance

(22) – the charge of bad, drunken judges

(24-25) the LORD will judge those who have rejected him and his justice

(26-30) the LORD will call in foreign armies to complete the judgement

The message of judgement continues. Here in chapter 5 it is unremitting. The setting is the lawcourt, a three-party system – plaintiff, defendant and judge. In this scenario YHWH ironically calls upon the men of Judah (3) to be the judge between himself as plaintiff and his vineyard (the whole people). Under this system someone was always guilty (either of the crime in question or of making a false accusation) and someone was always innocent. The system is outlined when Israel’s own corrupt judges are lambasted in verse 23 – there are the guilty (acquitted) and the innocent (denied justice).

This calls to mind another Hebrew lawcourt in Scripture, Romans 1-3. In that setting God is both judge and plaintiff, and humans (both Jew and Gentile) are the defendant. One of Paul’s concerns there is to undermine the smugness of the Jew who presumes himself to be plaintiff against the Gentile with the Law as his witness (esp. Rom 2:17ff.). But the overall scenario is there to face up to the question, how can God justiy the unjust? (Rom 4:5) Only by the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ – if the wicked are to be justified, someone else must be punished on their behalf (esp. Rom 3:21-26).

The WOES, the charges against the people here in Isaiah 5 are not pleasant reading…

8-10 The Jubilee principle is broken, and the greedy rich paint themselves into a corner that they fondly imagine gives them security. Like the rich fool in Jesus’ parable (Luke 12:13-21) they are all alone, not even enjoying abundant life now despite their great riches and still storingup judgement for themselves and the removal of those riches.

11-17 Alcohol comes in with arrogance: both the workaholic rich and the lazy rich turn to drugs and alcohol today. God’s justice towards them exalts him – of course it does, for he is proved just by his judgement. Deep down we cry out for judgement, we need it…

18-19 Denial of God’s immanence enables them to support their own dodgy behaviour

20 False prophets always call evil good and good evil, for they are usually on the side of the oppressor

21 Pride, and pretending to deserve congratulation for their injustice simply because it has rendered them materially wealthy

22-25 Wine is back! Reminds us of the vineyard setting, and the abuse of something good. This leads to the perversion of justice elsewhere, too, “and the rest is history” (AMGD).

This passage is of course developed by Jesus in his tussle with the Pharisees in Matthew 21, the Parable of the Tenants. [The Parable of the Two Sons that precedes it also recalls some of these vineyard themes.] Here is an outline of some similarities…

Isaiah 5

Matthew 21, 23 & 24

1-2 Story of the Vineyard (version 1)

3-6 Story of the Vineyard (version 2)

21:28-32 First Parable of the Vineyard (Sons)

33-41 Second Parable of the Vineyard (Tenants)

5-7 summary and promise of judgement

42-46 summary and promise of judgement

8-23 WOES against people, especially their leaders

23:1-39 WOES against the Pharisees (leaders) including a coda about the people

24 Judgement on Judah through foreign invasion (Assyria, Babylon)

24:1-51 Judgement on Israel (and in AD70 there was an unprecedented foreign devastation)

Episode 11

Ex-President Logan: “I get regular intelligence updates, and I still have my sources” [soft background neighing].

Smart bit of cheeky sound effect.

And of course, regular doses of
We don’t have a choice…
Do everything you can…
How long? Within the hour...

Monday, 19 November 2007

Isaiah 7

This is a particularly artificial place to break the text. 7:1-9:7 is all one section.

During the reign of Ahaz – a bad king – who was under pressure from Aram and Israel (Syria is in league with Ephraim, 3) to create a 3-way alliance against Assyria, which he was so far resisting (good choice) but this led to military action against his kingdom…

(1-2) Judah beseiged and afraid

(3-9) God’s reassurance to Ahaz via Isaiah: a message of “trust or bust” (Motyer)

(10-17) Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign (bust) so God gives it to him anyway!

(18-25) Assyrian invasion is coming against Aram and Israel

It is not clear whether 7:18-25 also tells of judgement against Judah. Certainly, the Assyrians are used as agents of God’s judgement on the Southern Kingdom by the time we reach chapter 8 (we are told of a flood up to the neck in 8:8 and only Jerusalem will be unharmed) but here the focus of the trouble, apart from v.17, seems to be on Rezin and Pekah, while the focus of the words is indeed for Ahaz and Judah.

722BC – Assyria overruns Aram
722BC – Assyria overruns Israel (this invading king in Isaiah 7, Pekah, is the penultimate ruler of the northern kingdom [2 Kgs 16-17] so his sabre-waving did his line no good)
701BC – Assyria scours Judah, though the nation survives this time…

Having just seen the amazing kingship of YHWH in chapter 6, we pass over a human king (Jotham) and move to Uzziah’s grandson, Ahaz. 2 Kings 16 shows him (later on in his reign) undermining the kingship of YHWH out of deference to the King of Assyria (see the stimulating thoughts from Peter Leithart on this intriguing passage). He also breaks the Law with his innovative sacrifices, so it is no wonder that in Isaiah 7:7-9 we find him as a man without faith. Ahaz is the first recorded person to fall under the judgement promised in Isaiah 6:9-13, one of the people who hear but who do not understand, who see but do not perceive.

What is going on with the sign that YHWH gives?

The elements are a boy called Immanuel (14), during whose lifetime, indeed while he is still a child (15), Aram and Israel will be laid waste (16).

Curds and honey (15) are not to be seen as a reference to the land flowing with milk and honey (promise of blessing) but are such as a devastated land might produce (21-25). [Note that the Assyrian army/rage is pictured as a bee in verse 18!]

Who is the child?
Perhaps the son of a favourite courtier. Perhaps Isaiah’s son – since this whole section features another two of the prophet’s children as specially-named signs (7:3, 8:3-4 and the summary in 8:18). In any case, his name, “God with us” will be a constant reminder to Ahaz of what he refused to grasp and trust in – the presence of God with his people to protect and save them. Verse 11 was God giving him a chance to demonstrate faith – and with his false piety he betrayed his lack of trust. So, the sign is for a faithless man, to remind him of coming judgement on him and others who will not trust (17).

In what sense does Matthew 1:22-23 work, then?
The context of the nation and the message God has for his people is very similar…

  • a sinful people
  • ruled over by a bad king with foreign alliances
  • but a faithful remnant (Isaiah’s son, Shear-jashub, “a remnant will remain” [3], stand for those people who are not faithless like Ahaz, oppressing the poor, etc., as chs 1-5 have decried)
  • in particular, a faithful woman
  • chosen to bear a special son
  • who will be the presence of God with the faithful
  • preserving them through imminent judgement (710BC and 586BC vs. AD70)
Hope at a time of judgement is crucial. That is what Jesus offered and continues to offer

Ken Bailey enthusing

A bald middle-aged man, jacketed, shirt buttoned to the top but without a tie, sits at a desk in the corner of a tidy, but dull study. Long-fingered, sporting a large tasteless wooden cross round his neck and an unfashionable pair of large-framed plastic specs, a few books scattered in front of him, he speaks without eloquence or poise. Tears roll down my cheeks.

Get hold of this man’s teaching on Christ’s birth narratives. Get hold of him unpacking Jesus’ own words about the cross and about mission. Get hold of his magna opera on the parables in Luke’s gospel. It’s all on video and DVD (and his academic books on that particular subject are now available in one handy volume, thankyou Eerdmans). When you have heard the parable of the Prodigal Son as the Middle Eastern peasant audience heard it, you will not be the same again. Grace and repentance come alive in his hands. If you do not weep as you hear Jesus’ tender treatment of the former prostitute and sting at our Lord’s rebuke to Simon the Pharisee you are probably dead.

Isaiah 6 (ii)

Some of these ramblings may be of interest to anyone reading Isaiah. Most of them may not, but this is my blog, and I'm very excited each time Gordon and I study a chapter together!

Remember the kingship of YHWH – don’t jump too soon to His holiness.

And yet, is the whole earth… filled with his glory (3) because of his holiness? We know that under the right circumstances God’s holiness is communicable – Leviticus has a lot about conagious holiness in it. And is the temple shaken because the seraphs are shouting loudly, or because they are shouting about holiness? [GD; whereas I think that this probing tends towards making divine attributes mecahnistic. It’s easy to be distracted by questions about the relationship between matter and the being of God (as in the resurrected Christ’s eating of fish in a creation still subject to decay) but probably it doesn’t add much…]

Holiness – people need protecting from God’s holiness (a moral, rather than ontological category) and that’s what much of the detail of the law was about – to permit God to dwell among his people without breaking out against them for their sins. So the altar is operating in the temple (which is surely the real temple in Jerusalem, not all in Isaiah’s head) as verse 6 tells us. Perhaps all that smoke (4b) is coming from the altar, serving a dual purpose of being a pleasing aroma to YHWH so that he will not immediately destroy the impurity around him and also protecting Isaiah from clearly seeing the figure on the throne (1).

The temple’ curtain is now torn in two (Mark 15:38), such that God can get out and come and sit next to us, while we can get in to him – in Christ alone. We have access to the most holy place through Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:19-25), we are washed and purified, and all this is happening now. Hebrews 12:18-25 reminds us that God is still just as formidable, and his word is still as powerful. But now there is access, not smoke, access to the real temple (Heb. 9:11-12) on the real Mount Zion.

The purification of Isaiah’s lips is a wonderful, personal picture, but it’s still within the system of repeated animal sacrifices. This raises the question of what those sacrifices do for him after this event [not to mention the question of whether or not the coal gave to Isaiah, a faithful member of the (remnant?) covenant community, assurance (much more likely in my opinion) rather than initial salvation, though we have to be careful about our NT spectacles in all this…]. Remember Leviticus I have given you an atonement, so we know that atonement is not self-generated by the worshipper and the intrinsic quality of his offering.

And there is the dimension of fellowship around food that the sacrifices display and embody – the LORD consumes part, the priests get their portion and the worshipper and his family eat as well.

We say that the thinking Jew knows that the animal per se does not make atonement – that is a gift from God. So existentially where does their knowledge of justification come from?

GD: in the once-for-all moment of realisation

JW: possibly in the ongoing covenant observance

And yet, the sacrificial system had built-in flaws – its endless repetition and the use of animal for human. Hebrews 7 is very scathing about its efficacy! And before we leave Isaiah 6 altogether, it’s time to draw stumps…

Saturday, 17 November 2007

a day in London

Started with an early morning prayer meeting with people from Cherry Hinton Baptist church who are down the road from our new church plant - praying for the area, for our outreach and for unity among us. Cold, but inspiring!

Then two piano lessons postponed from yesterday (when I was in Sheffield for the second seminar day with Northern Training Institute), followed by a dash to the station in time to stand in a queue and miss the train we'd wanted to catch.

Got a faster train and then some underground shenanigans to Highgate to meet Nick (best man best friend at Cambridge) and Kate (recently married). We stepped off the Northern Line train to find Nick and Kate stepping off the same train a few carriages down!

After a walk up a hill (something of a novelty for us) alongside the barbed wire security fence protecting Highgate Station and an intriguing adjacent cottage hunger overtook us and we stumbled into an odd pub, with remarkable speed for a party of 4 boasting three indecisive people (and me!)

Long pub lunch (The Woodman) - entertained by the chef, Xavier ("I try to cook a different menu every day... You must finish everything... I don't wan to see any food on the floor...") and sated with his excellent food. More meat in a meal than in a normal fortnight (wanted to alliterate with 'month' but it would have been something of an exaggeration)! Cambridge pub prices in London, and incredible quality - a rare treat. Pint of IPA and then farewell to Kate who was off to China for a 2-week holiday to see her Mum and some friends.

Then a wander round Highgate cemetery with Nick, stumbling across Shura Churassky, Douglas Adams and a cosmopolitan cram of corpses from across the world. Notable numbers of Chinese and Poles, but more other countries than I can remember. We missed Karl Marx, but then had a guided tour of the restricted side of the cemetery with another colourful character (a volunteer with the Friends of Highgate Cemetery) who spun a lot of good stories and gave us some intriguing Victorian social history and an explanation of the art of grave sculpture.

Always rewarding to walk round graveyards, this one no exception. Huge variety of sculptures, lots of plants interwoven, bits of biographies... But I am always astounded by the amount of money spent on these monuments. (The many immigrant families represented here were not the poor ones, let me tell you!) And the pathetic - in every sense of the word - sentiments on some of the tombs and headstones set the mind a-spinning.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Halloween (ii)

Here Ladybug gives a much more intelligent and meaty post than me.

Isaiah 6 (i)

My notes on Isaiah 5 have gone walkies... :(

(1-4) In the year King Uzziah died, the LORD appears, enthroned in the Temple, surrounded by seraphs who proclaim his holiness

(5) Isaiah’s response – woe is me, for I have unclean lips

(6-7) atonement for Isaiah as a result of the operation of the altar

(8) The LORD calls out for a messenger

(9) Isaiah’s response – here I am, send me

(9b-13) Command to proclaim the people’s unrepentance to them – for how long, O Lord? – until there has been almost total devastation. But the holy seed will yet survive…

NB. King Uzziah was generally a decent bloke, but he entered the Temple unlawfully (2 Chronicles 26) in an act of hubris. So his last few years were marred by a nasty disease.

The year Uzziah dies, is also the year that another king, Jotham, is crowned – so at the time of changeover we see the contrast – YHWH doesn’t die, succeed anyone, need crowning with human hands, etc. The splendour of YHWH’s kingship [the international kingship of God is prominent in chs 2 and 9, as well] is also needed to put all the discussion of rulers, kings and kingdoms in the rest of the book into perspective (and to provide context for the Servant Songs, for the servant is a divine ruler, too…).

Do we play down the kingship of God and all its trappings because of our disillusionment with contemporary politics – both in its structure (which we pretend to support, though we pay it only lip service) and its practice (which, in rather self-defeating fashion, we delight in mocking)? It’s very easy to dash onto the holiness of God in this passage, but we should focus first on the kingship, and seek to work this out in every area (including science, for example, as Alexander & White’s, Beyond Belief, which denies the existence of ‘methodological naturalism’, as some believers want to call it, since God is king of all and there is no autonomous ‘nature’).

The kingship of God also keeps the fatherhood of God from becoming sentimental in our thinking. [NB. The Pope is not the Holy Father, God is – sorry to bring that up, as I feel a lot more ecumenical than I did when I was a firey undergraduate, but certain elements in Roman Catholicism are really offensive.] Kingship and Fatherhood are together through the whole Scripture – just look at Adam, son of God, steward/vice-regent of God…

The kingly fatherhood of God comforts us when we have to deal with Alzheimers and all the other effects of ageing. Not a sentimental pat on the shoulder from an ineffective beardo, but the Almighty Himself is a Father to us and guarantees our inheritance and our glory as part of his care for us.

For all this comfort, we must remember covenant judgement. You can’t try to set up on your own (10-13). God is holy, indescribably so, and this gives Isaiah the willies, rather than the awesome majesty of YHWH the King. This holiness means that sin and corruption must be judged and destroyed, which spells bad news for us, unless God provides a way for us to ‘catch’ his holiness and participate in it somehow, unless he forgives our sins. Which he does for Isaiah (6-7), and this transforms the distraught, hopeless viewer into a dynamic servant of the King (5 versus 8b).

cheeky scriptwriters?

24, season 6: President Wayne Palmer, curiously young and lacking in charisma, commenting on the least plausible development so far (up to episode 5), remarks

It’s a desperate measure, but it’s a measure of our desperation

which is painfully akin to The Sphinx’s manner of speaking in the ingenious and bathetic spoof, Mystery Men, starring William H. Macy, Ben Stiller et al about a group of dysfunctional superheroes. [Why is this film not more popular!?] The Sphinx’s best saw is of course, If you learn to balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack, though it turns out that he can split guns in half with his mind as well.

Yes, we have caved in again and are watching 24 before the Christmas holidays…

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Film Fandango


Went to this one on an Orange Wednesday, slightly wishing I was going to see Stardust and fearing corny sentimentality, but came out rejoicing! Apart from The Incredibles (da da da dah, da daaah) this is the only Disney-Pixar/Dreamworks product to come close to the magic of Toy Story, first and best. Production values were stratospheric, the voices were delightful (even though real French people might find them rather hammy), the plot full of interesting twists and details, and there were plenty of belly-laughs. It even had moments of depth and profundity that brought a tear to my eye.

For some reason it did not do so well in the US. I wonder whether the lack of family relationships in the human story (and where were the female rats, may I ask?) was behind that, along with the replacement of the sentiment “there’s no place like home” (Wizard of Oz, but cf. Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Antz, Bug’s Life, etc.) with “life is really about change” – a scary thought for some people, obviously…


We're up to S in the marathon that is listening to all the classical CDs that have accumulated in our possession over the years (OK, let's be honest, I've bought a lot of music, probably indulgently at times).

Saint-Saens is much under-rated, as are most composers of art music, IMHO. I was enjoying again his Fifth Piano Concerto, the 'Egyptian' (not genuinely Middle Eastern, by any stretch of the imagination), and wondering whether I might get another concerto opportunity in the next couple of years. S-S wrote some unusual chamber works - particularly the Septet (piano, trumpet and strings). This is an odd piece, almost a compilation of ditties and 'training' moments, but full of surprises and beauty, too. This time round I could have sworn that the trumpet's main melody in the second movement is 'These are a few of my favourite things' from The Sound of Music.

Friday, 2 November 2007

smart voice recognition software

I am the chuffed owner of Dragon 9.5, courtesy of Kate! It's been up and running for a while, and this afternoon for the first time I'm using it to write a sermon (Colossians 4 for Hope Community Church on Sunday). It's not coping too badly, though I've got a long way to go before I can think cogently as fast as I can speak (as anyone who knows me will testify). It's also quite easy to leave the microphone on by mistake when talking about other things, especially when there's someone to talk to (we're both working from home today). Scandalised by something I read on the front page of the Guardian Sport, I said,

And goodness there was at the unpaid the sports section which is the most top earners John Terry hundred and 35 you really should Anco and 21 that all is not too much approximate weekly salaries weekly salaries so getting £6 million a year and prancing around kicking up the ladder in the final at its raw things

Or words to that effect...