Saturday, 26 January 2008

no time for complacency

Democracy is not a panacea, in case you were wondering. For all the freedoms we enjoy in this country, there's a lot that's rubbish. The nature of the voting system we have could be called into question, for instance, along with successive governments' attitude towards its reform. has sent a trenchant e-mail round in the wake of the release of the Government's review of electoral systems. (What's with that big right-left stripe on the cover? Are we meant to be thinking about rushing back into an ever-vanishing past under the auspices of a poorly integrated Union...?!)

MVC say:

We had not expected the review itself to be much different from what was published on Thursday. What has taken us by surprise, disappointed, even angered, us - and will hopefully galvanise all of us in our campaigning efforts over the coming weeks and months - is the Government's determination to downplay what is actually in the report and close down opportunities for the public to have their say. Voting matters and so do the systems used. Yet the Government no longer seems to care about voters' real world experiences and opinions of elections. That was certainly the impression given by Michael Wills when he claimed (in his Department's press release) that the "current voting system for UK general elections works well". The voting system may be working well for him and other MPs, but not necessarily for voters. He would struggle to substantiate that claim - either from polling data or from the review itself - if he was looking at the issue more objectively from the voters' perspective. The Government is in danger of treating voters with contempt, by not going beyond the academic exercise of the review and now shutting out parlimentary and public debate. For us "democracy isn't deskbound". Together we need to push the Ministry of Justice to take the debate beyond Westminster and the confines of parties and politicians who have a vested interest in the status quo. And we need to encourage Gordon Brown to show the leadership needed to take this issue forward and help realise the new politics that he has said he is keen to usher in.

Sad, but vested interests (in this case the MPs themselves, though the Lib Dems are to be commended for their stand on PR) do have a tendency to arrange things to suit themselves. Conspiracy theories not necessary: greed and inertia survive Ockham's razor and explain rather a lot...

Monday, 21 January 2008

Shaftesbury on Scripture

According to Karl Pfisterer (The Prism of Scripture: Studies on history and historicity in the work of Jonathan Edwards [Frankfurt: Lang, 1975]) the early 18th century Lord Shaftesbury shows what happened to the philosophy of history when taking Scripture seriously ceased to form part of the intellectual pursuits of certain thinkers (318ff.). Shaftesbury’s 1711 Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times reveals underlying assumptions about propriety that caused Shaftesbury effectievely to abandon Scripture as reliable history, and to regret the appearance of the vulgar in its pages and among its interpreters (332-3). His aesthetic judgement came into conflict with his deference to learned divines who traditionally respected the authority of Scripture:

The text ‘was “multifarious” when it should be “single”, “voluminous” and not “short”, “of the most difficult interpretation” and not “uniform”… This authoritative opinion put Shaftesbury both at a polemical advantage and into an embarrassing situation. Over against the “mere enthusiasts and fanatics” he could point out that the Bible was also a learned document. By the same token, however, Shaftesbury also saw that Scriptural variety included examples that from the literary point of view bordered on those characteristics which he had denounced as defivciences in enthusiastic pieces of work.’ (330-1) This led him to a very selective reading of the text: he just couldn’t cope with its multifariousness, or its cast of soldiers, shepherd, maids and plebs. He professed admiration for the Greek allegorists who tried to take the classical texts away from the vulgar by locking up its real meaning in allegory (332), though since he didn’t feel the pressure to take the whole of the Bible seriously he could dispense even with the need for allegory and just ignore the vulgar bits altogether (333).

If I were Peter Leithart, I’d find a clever way to show in just a few sentences how this was gnosticism – a refusal to take material seriously, specifically the material, historical forms of divine revelation, in favour of elitist emphasis on the mind…! Robert Boyle, at the time of Shaftesbury’s birth, had already argued that vulgar subject matter was no bar to the integrity and authority of Scripture – what was at issue was that Shaftesbury privileged certain aesthetic criteria. [Not unlike certain Muslim apologists on the uniqueness of the Qur’an.]

When he mentions Shaftesbury’s admiration for the Greek allegorists Pfisterer makes a grand claim in passing:

‘In this way the vulgar qua vulgar lost its identity and historicity. The classic case of such a loss of identity in Western history was, of course, the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament both in its sophisticated and simplistic ways.’ (333)

I want to ask, whose identity was lost? While the allegorists of the patristic and medieval period (and the Protestants today who simply ignore the Old Testament in practice) might have flattened the Old Testament in order to suck hidden meanings out of it, and might have effectively denied at least the importance of its historicity in their use of the text, this is hardly essential to Christianity, nor universal among Christians. Edwards’ A History of the Work of Redemption, a major source for Pfisterer’s generally excellent work, is just one among many testimonies to the importance of the Old Testament as history, its events and the identities of its characters as necessary steps on the one great journey – God’s people being redeemed by their God.

Does Pfisterer have the Jews in mind here? If so, then he is implicitly standing with those who tacitly acknowledge Rabbinic and modern Judaisms to be the legitimate heirs of the Old Testament – but this is precisely where historic Christianity necessarily begs to differ. The Jews who are heirs to the Old Testament are Jesus Christ, his apostles and the majority of his followers in the generation after his resurrection. Even if in practice the Gentile majority within the church has in various ways misunderstood and mistreated the texts and the physical descendants of Abraham who did not acknowledge the Messiah’s coming, that does not change the essentially supercessionary character of Christian theology. [See Peter Leithart, A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament, pp. 17-26 for further discussion.]

Perhaps Pfisterer did have the Jews in mind. In a footnote on page 346 he claims that ‘Shaftesbury and Edwards shared a common anti-Jewish Occidental tradition. Shaftesbuy expressed the final authority of this tradition by translating it in terms of natural characteristics. Edwards belonged to a way of thinking that opened up that tradition towards a common future history’. Shaftesbury’s incipient racism is obviously deplorable. Edwards’ anti-Jewishness is not so obvious, however. A History of the Work of Redemption calls all believers ‘the church’, whether they lived before Christ or afterwards. His concern is with unity all the way through, not merely eschatological unity. And again, given what has been said about Edwards’ and orthodox Christianity’s attitude to the Old Testament, is Pfisterer mistaking rejection of 18th century Judaism for an attitude of anti-Jewishness? The believing Jews before Christ and after Christ are ‘Jewish’ in an ethnic and cultural sense, and the real question is who is the heir of the Old Testament? Who properly inherits, transmits and augments the faith of Israel before 30AD – Rabbinic Judaism of the church? Has the Messiah come?

Northern Training Institute

Cups of strong tea, low temperatures, fry-ups in a box for £2.50, people with funny accents... This truly is a Northern training institute!

In Sheffield: one seminar per month at which 4 of us discuss papers we have produced on a given topic (so far The Mosaic Law, Pentecostalism and Charismatic Issues, Jonathan Edwards).

From home: one module per month (following a Bible College-esque syllabus) with a straightforward and short written assignment based on guided reading.

In Northants: two 4-day residentials (September and February) with lots of interactive teaching, Ultimate Frisbee, praying, singing and learning from others helping to lead churches around the country.

This is an exceptionally exciting course for part-time church leaders and church-planters. Not got the depth of a full time Bible College course (not sure that these days I could cope with some of these things that David Field is throwing at his students!) or any biblical languages, but a fantastic option for people without the money or the time for another degree. This is a practical course, focussed very much on how to teach and live out the rich theologies we interact with on the course proper.

Praise God for NTI, the generous people who make it happen for a ridiculously low cost, and all my fellow students who continually challenge me to think and act more like a Christian.

Monday, 14 January 2008

shameless utopianism

Way back during the heady days of the MPhil (2003-4), I did quite a lot of reading around utopian literature in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I also wrote a little something for the Jubilee Centre, who generously funded my study in return for some editing and scribing. This longer essay, a kind of apologia for their brand of biblical social reform based on a dismissal of certain strands of critique, may yet see the light of day on their website sometime soon.

Until then the poor public will have to make do with my contribution to the latest Engage.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Smurfs in many languages

A hitherto unknown talent of Mr PG, currently residing with us to mutual delight, was revealed at our church language cafe on Monday night. He started speaking Spanish, and then talked about the Smurfs in Catalan!

Philippians and the city (again)

PJ of Greek participle fame, along with his fine beard, has sent me another...
See these two for more on the context for this post.


Some time ago, I mentioned that I had found an instance of politeuomai in Justin Martyr. I think that I never got round to sending you the reference. It is Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 67 (his discussion of the virgin birith): "[Jesus] was counted worthy of being chosen for the Christ, because he *lived* a perfect life and according to the law." The Greek, which I trust you will be able read soon (if not already?), may be displayed below.

καὶ ὑμεῖς τὰ αὐτὰ ἐκείνοις λέγοντες, αἰδεῖσθαι ὀφεί-

λετε, καὶ μᾶλλον ἄνθρωπον ἐξ ἀνθρώπων γενόμενον λέγειν τὸν

Ἰησοῦν τοῦτον, καί, ἐὰν ἀποδείκνυτε ἀπὸ τῶν γραφῶν ὅτι αὐτός

ἐστιν ὁ Χριστός, διὰ τὸ ἐννόμως καὶ τελέως πολιτεύεσθαι αὐτὸν

κατηξιῶσθαι τοῦ ἐκλεγῆναι εἰς Χριστόν, ἀλλὰ μὴ τερατολογεῖν

τολμᾶτε, ὅπως μήτε ὁμοίως τοῖς Ἕλλησι μωραίνειν ἐλέγχησθε.

I have not thought much about what this instance contributes to our understanding of the Philippians passage.


Well, I'm not yet good enough at Greek to presume to find these nuances in this text in particular, but it seems to me that when Jesus lived his life according to the law, that living was a very full kind of living. It wasn't the mere 'existing' or 'abiding' (as distinct from his practices, habits, politics, etc.) for which we often use the word living in the modern age. Jewish life according to the law was deeply political - infused with ritual, worship, deference and much more besides. This living was rich - and it's not an accident that politeuomai is used. Conceptually, habitually, necessarily life was already-in-community(polis) back then. And if the Scriptures and the Christ lived like that - as citizens in the ancient sense - why can't we?

Chiasmus in James 4

PG and I are studying the letter of James together over breakfast (in theory) each week. Out of a recent study came this observation…

The opening of chapter 4 is chiastic, with its focus on the great claim that friendship with the world is emnity with God (v.4) and scriptural illustration of that and promise of rescue from the predicament (v.5).

(1-3) Sins build up…
(4-5) Friendship with the world = hatred of God / humble yourself = God will raise you
(6-9) Counter-instruction cascades…

Verse 10 then summarises the essence of the matter

As further illustration verses 11 and 12 remind us (as the Sermon on the Mount did) that it’s not enough merely to avoid certain obvious harmful actions, harmful words are just as bad – in fact they represent a grotesquely inappropriate attempt to become like the divine judge.

And, as PG said, at the last day no one will ever wish they had been more selfish or arrogant.

Echoes in John 4

Thoughts about two of these echoes, one in each direction…

Feeding into John 4 is Ezekiel 37:15-28, a prophecy about Judah and Ephraim [Jew and Samaritan] being joined together again. Jesus effectively announces the fulfilment of this prophecy when he contrasts the Temple-mountain split (John 4:21-24) with the spiritual worshippers [from everywhere] that the Father now seeks. The link is made closer as the worship language employed by Jesus draws on Ezekiel’s discussion of the people’s former false worship and their new fellowship with God.

The first outworking of this is in Acts 8 when the apostolic gospel comes to the Samaritans, however I want to draw attention to Ephesians 2:11-22, especially the purpose to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross (15b-16a). In Ephesians Paul was talking about Jew and Gentile, an even bigger division than Jew and Samaritan – so anything he says about that will certainly apply to the lesser fracture. Jesus makes peace in his body. Jesus reconciles enemies to God and to each other. He does this in his body.

Now look back at John 4:39-42 and a faster outworking of Ezekiel 37 even than Acts 9. Jesus stayed with them for two days! A Jew broke all the rules and actually, physically stayed in Samaritan homes – eating, drinking, sitting alongside, talking, touching, sleeping, defecating, you name it.

In his body he made them one, and in his body he yet makes us one.

17½ words about John 4

Adam used a very helpful technique to help us get inside John 4 at homegroup this week – making us summarise chunks of narrative using only 20 words, then getting us to summarise the import of the text in only 15 words. Here are a few selections (bearing in mind my comments in the previous post, can you tell which ones are mine!?)...

What’s going on? [in 20 words]

(Verses 1-15)
Jesus, his following growing, went through Samaria, addressed historic enemy female, challenged her, proclaimed living water, which she then wanted.

Jesus met a Samaritan lady at Jacob’s Well. He offered her special water not from the well. She wants it.

Jesus stopped by a well in Samaria, asking a Samaritan woman for water. She was surprised: he offered eternal life.

(Verses 16-26)
Jesus exposed her promiscuity with supernatural insight. Jewish worship preferable to Samaritan, but God seeks spiritual worshippers, as Messiah announces.

Jesus asks woman for her husband: his knowledge amazes her. They discuss worship. She gradually realises he is the Messiah.

Jesus identified her sin. She changed subject to theology. Jesus brought it back to God’s call, saying “I am Christ”.

So what? [in 15 words]

(Verses 1-15)
Old hostilities broken by Christ through compassion for marginalised. Eternal life on offer like water.

(Verses 16-26)
Now we can worship Jesus anywhere without constraint. Jesus addresses sin so we can worship.

(Verses 26-38)
Jesus is Christ. He gives us spiritual food and service opportunities in spiritual harvest fields.

my style

Writing well across registers does not come naturally to me. Whether or not I get it right is quite a hit and miss affair (like the old-school homily). Often my style is pretty poor.

There's the wrong blend of familiar and formal.

Sometimes it's too crabby.

Sometimes it's too crabbed (usually as a result of trying to compress long, rambling thoughts...)

There are too many long sentences.

Although I edit and rework I don’t make enough proper changes because I am perversely attached to what I’ve set down already even when I can see it’s not well expressed.

Generally I am caught up in over-qualifying. No one else’s mind would ping all over the place like mine, so there’s no need to disappear up my own sub-clauses with all this hedging and nodding, but still I do.

Probably I am not focussed enough to improve, at least in the blogosphere. Jack of all trades and Master of none.

A couple of old friends from Cambridge (and millions of other people) have blogs with fewer posts but a much better style. More appropriate, easier on the reader, but lacking nothing in depth. They've also worked out how to do pictures and general aesthetics rather better! Prof Bras (who, alas, appears to have abandoned his blog!) and Shaz.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Homiletic afterthoughts

Just came across this blog from the States in which IrishCalvinist says what I wanted to say, what I should have said, more gently, more clearly, more charitably, more powerfully and with greater depth of experience.

Please read his thoughts on exposition from across the pond...

Homiletic thoughts

Disclaimer: These are the words of an observer and listener, an analyser and participant in conversations about preaching. These are not the words of an experienced practitioner or someone with illusions about his own ability to preach or teach.

There is a kind of sermon in many Evangelical/Reformed churches that takes the text as a springboard for associated exhortation rather than something to be explained and applied. It is somewhat “old-school” today since John Stott’s influence has been making itself felt in the evangelical world via the Langham Partnership, the Cornhill Trust, etc – emphasis on actual exposition rather than pious, doctrinally sound homilies. Nevertheless, this “old-school” style has not yet vanished, unfortunately.

While the 3-point Stott sermon lasting precisely 22½ minutes might be lacking in some areas, at the very least it seeks to be faithful to the text. It may not be imaginative, and it may lead to a feeling of torpor after many weeks on the trot, but it is at least instructive in that it models how to do applied exposition through paying attention primarily to the text rather than to cross-references and juicy phrases from Spurgeon, Wesley et al.

Both methods in practice often involve relatively poor application – but that is more about the preacher and the expectations of the listeners than about the method. More on that below…

Recently, at a wonderful church Kate and I visited one Sunday morning, we heard such a sermon, and felt disappointed, despite the genuine eloquence of the preacher, his godliness and his concern for both his congregation and for upholding Reformation doctrine.

It was a classic non-exposition of Hebrews 5:11-6:3.

The first take-home message, a warning against spiritual immaturity, was grounded in the text. But the immaturity of the original readers was not related to any comparable temptations in the modern world. Partly this was because of a failure to look at the context. Although the Hebrews’ immaturity was linked to the diffiult doctrines about Melchizedek that begin chapter 5, we heard no more about that after the first few minutes and were left with the impression that it was a result of taking their eyes of Jesus. This may be true, but it’s not in the text, so we are no closer to understanding 5:11-6:3. This ‘sound’ manoeuvre led the speaker to another take-home message, “fix your eyes upon Jesus”. But this is more suited to Hebrews 12, which was frequently cross-referenced, not to Hebrews 5 and 6. After all, 6:1-3 specifically mentions that the original readers should have moved on from elementary doctrines about Christ, baptism, the resurrection, etc (and the speaker did not mention 1b-3 at all, probably spotting that it ostensibly undercut what he wanted to say). So although it is true that we must always fix our eyes on Jesus and it is important to teach and learn it, to communicate it clearly, that is not really what Heb 5:11-6:3 is all about. It’s not what 5:11-13 is about either.

And of course, although Stott-expositions can ramble, the old-school method, not tied to expounding this passage rather than that passage, is in particular danger of going on too long, of getting caught up in resonant sentences that paraphrase the last resonant sentence ad infinitum. The old-school method is heavily dependent on oratorical skill, which makes it vulnerable: when the speaker does not have vast rhetorical gifts can lead it to being an unhelpful experience for everyone.

There are other weaknesses particular to the old-school sermon, but let’s not get blogged down! My final note is about a general weakness in how the Bible is taught… This is a big problem in my preaching – I have not got it sussed by any means, but it’s an issue that needs to be brought out into the open.

Direct application of a practical nature was scarce. There was insistence on fine-sounding phrases (“fix your eyes on… concentrate on… meditate on…”) but no practical advice about how to do that. All preachers, whatever their style or method, run the risk of giving pious platitudes when it comes to application of the biblical text. What is needed is for preachers and teachers to confront the habits of everyday life, the psyhology of the modern Christian, the spiritual and devotional disciplines of the church, and bring those things together with the perlocutionary force of the text in hand. We must not be afraid to give specific advice about, e.g., how to resolve conflict with a fellow Christian, about the humility and brokenness and pain this might involve, rather than just paraphrase a bit of Scripture that commands that.

Here endeth the lesson.

Mathew 1:19 and the character of Joseph

18This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

That is how the NIV renders Matthew 1:18-19. The original (a peculiar Greek expression, according to Carson) raises some questions. Why ‘because he was a righteous man’? Surely a righteous man would have followed the Law, which more than permitted stoning in such cases? Overlooking the offence might be laudable in come cases, but righteous?

Despite the apparent problems with ‘because’ for it is favoured in many translations, and by some scholars For example, Jeremy Duff, who actually uses this phrase as a teaching example of how participles can imply a causal meaning (The Elements of New Testament Greek, 3rd edn [Cambridge:CUP, 2005], p.162). Ken Bailey is also exercised by this, and argues [in his lectures on the birth narratives] that Matthew was in part redefining ‘righteousness’ from ‘strict legal adherence’ to ‘godly compassion and mercy’. He finds this in Isaiah 42:3, the centre of a mini chiasm about the Messianic establishment of justice (vv.1-4): a bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.

‘Although’ is the preferred rendering of quite a few translations, and is how the Word Commentary on Matthew (Vol. 33a by Donald Hagner, published in 1993) argues. The neat online Christmas tract at also goes for ‘although’. It seems that many people are slightly troubled by the implication that Joseph’s ‘righteousness’ might imply criticism of the Law.

It should not be surprising to find this ambivalence in characterisations of the Law, characterisations we sometimes need to infer rather than read off the page, as it’s a thorny issue. But we can’t escape it. No text is an island, and this teeny exegetical question forces some hard thought about our framework for understanding Torah.

Like all good evangelicals puzzling over Matthew or John I turned to Don Carson (in Vol. 8 of The Expositor's Bible Commentary, ed. Frank Gabelein, Zondervan: 1984) to find out what he thought…

His solution was a bit of a fudge, to be honest. He accepts that the participle phrase means 'because', but rejects the Bailey gloss of this causal phrase [though not by name, because Bailey's slant on this interpretation was published later than Carson's commentary] on the grounds that righteous would have to mean '"merciful", "not given to passionate vengeance," or even "nice"' (p.74). Of course, "nice" is a dilution of what Bailey argues, so to include it in the list of rejected senses is a slightly cheeky rhetorical device to which the Don is occasionally prone - of course it doesn't mean "nice", so it must not mean "merciful" either, he hopes we will think...

'Because he was a righteous man, Joseph therefore could not in conscience marry Mary, who was now thought to be unfaithful. And because such a marriage would have been a tacit admission of his own guilt, and also because he was unwilling to expose her to the disgrace of public divorce, Joseph therefore chose a quieter way, permitted by the law itself' (p.75). This way of structuring his sentences suddenly forces out into the open something hitherto silent in my discussion: which of Joseph's actions is in view when he is called righteous. Of course righteousness is a whole-life thing, but the commentators, possibly without realising it, have focused their minds primarily either on his decision to divorce (Carson) or on his decision to be quiet (Bailey).

Carson continues, 'That was what Joseph purposed. It would leave both his righteousness (his conformity to the law) and his compassion intact'. So for Carson, the compassion of Joseph is to be inferred from the text while his righteousness is elucidated, but for Bailey Joseph's compassion is so remarkable that it must be inserted into the very definition of righteousness.

The underlying issue is: do we note Joseph's being righteous (δικάιος ων) merely as a little detail, part of his being a good Jew, or are we prepared to find the concept redefined by these narrative touches? Do we want to separate righteousness from mercy conceptually, or to broaden our understanding of what justice really is...

I'm not sure I'm sure, though I'm tempted by the Bailey approach. But before I go off onto the Reformed doctrine of particular atonement which I can see lurking behind some of these questions, I'm off to have my breakfast!

Monday, 7 January 2008

Tim Chester's blog

To prevent me from getting too high church with all that Leithart, Jordan, Field and whatnot, I have taken to reading the blog of the great TC, reformed anabaptist church-planter.

He directs the Northern Training Institute which I enrolled on in September, and which is proving even better than anticipated!

A sample of creative teaching that Kate showed me was this excellent story about Joshua 10...

It inspired me in a recent sermon on Genesis 4 to open with a retelling of chs 1-3 in story form. Paying attention to the reality and power of stories is liberating and empowering in Christian teaching. Of course, the Reformed Heavy Brigade are big on that, too, and had previously inspired my wedding sermon for A&L. Story is a big word these days, so watch out!

What is Turkishness?

Something so fragile that it needs protection in law, apparently. However, this looked like a promising reform. But actually the changes to Article 301 are cosmetic.

"Turkishness", "Turkish nation", "Turkish Republic", "State of the Turkish Republic"... whatever. Why it should any of these things be off limits for critical discussion? Don't tell me that all cultures are commensurate, equal, equally valid or that all cultural practices are neither here nor there.

Religion and Politics

A starter. One of the leading Catholic thinkers in America gives more than a glance to this. How to piece this together with libertarianism is another matter...!

Arab right to return?

Something biased to make you think.

The largest banner ads around the article are for the dating agency www.singlemuslimcom. Is that ironic, or what?


Whoa there, bessie! You seemed to be saying on that last post that these free-market economists and libertarians were your best buddies. There's a lot of drivel and hot air spouted by hard-nosed libertarians, too, James.

Yes, that's true, just follow comments to this post on the samizdata blog. And it doesn't take much digging to find out that many libertarians are very rude about Christ. Nevertheless, they have many interesting things to say, too. Here's a witty introduction from Time about libertarians. It's a very fluffy piece but worth looking at to see how much Ron Paul resembles Sir Ian McKellen.

Should I put a disclaimer on noearthlycity to the effect that listing, linking, etc. do not constitute wholehearted endorsement...blah, blah, blah...?


Trying not to be dismissive

But it's a challenge.

As you'll see from this post, I was quite annoyed by what I listened to this morning. Pastor Meyer was brought to my attention as an eccentric with some powerful things to say. I wanted to give him a fair hearing, not dismiss him just because he's a small-town pulpiteer. So I listened. He is a confident and gifted orator, and in no way do I question his sincere desire to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. But most everything else (as the Americans might say) I do wish to question.

Last Trumpet Ministries, run out of a small church in Wisconsin. At this address the files were too big for my poor computer and broadband connection. At this address I was able to sample Pastor Meyer.

I listened to a good chunk of three of his unreasonably long messages...
(1) The Waiting is nearly over
(2) The Folded Napkin
(3) Divided we stand, united we fall

I'm not even going to post what I thought of this. Among many (and I mean, with great weariness, many) other eisegetical manoeuvres Ezekiel 12 is marshalled at great length to imply and claim (though not argue or demonstrate, even amid the multitude of words) that the Second Coming is just round the corner. That tells you most of what you need to know. Don't seek for biblical exposition, biblical theology, spiritual nourishment, logic or charity here...

Contained an interesting discussion of why the grave clothes of Christ were folded. It signified to the culture of the day that the master had not finished at the table - he was coming back. Also, a sensible warning (buried, of course, in the rhetoric and twaddle) against dependence on the state or on various types of legal and illegal medication or on habitual stimulation by the media. But why did he feel the need to go on quite so long?

The start of the message Divided we stand, united we fall (inspired by Luke 12:51) was: "We are going to open our bibles this morning. I love the word of God and I'm sure you do too. We need to love the word all the more as we see the day approaching, and gather together to hear it. Blessed are they that hear the word of God AND keep it. Amen." Noble sentiments, though even the sleepy listener might smell something funny in the way Meyer said all the more and approaching.

Casting doubt on the world's claims of unity, he says "Do we have unity in the world?" No, for to be united, we need to have the same father. And they don't. Whatever the insight or lack of it here (he seems to have missed a trick in omitting to claim that they do all have the same father, Satan, surely?!), he is undercutting the whole 'New World Order' rhetoric of dodgy witches and masons who are, according to him, "running the world". A few minutes later he rescues this by claiming that at the moment "they" are fomenting chaos so that they can usher in their NWO after "George W. Bush's Word War III". After all this, for anyone who was worried, there is a little reassurance. Meyer promises to show us that the world never will unite into a One World Government, despite its best efforts. And somewhere in his subsequent 50-minute summary of world history that is (apparently) "showed". Oh, that's OK then...

Back at the ranch we learned that "Anything you do in the kingdom of God is stress free [such as prayer, yes "there's a burden, a heaviness, but there's no stress"] - everything you do in the world is stress-full." Oddly, I was moved to wonder why this little aphorism was helpful to anyone...

The take-home message, after this great flatus of nods, winks, misquotation, repetition, pop history, paranoia and hollowness, which itself is peppered with random asides in condemnation of various celebrities, governments, false Christians, etc, is basically "It's a strange world, but the gospel is a gospel of fire and it will divide you from all error." Don't bother opposing the devil's works [so what was the last hour of drivel about the machinations of the world all about?], but oppose the devil himself, which you do spiritually.

But for some reason he doesn't tell you how to do this. Something that important you'd think would merit some time, some careful suggestions, but strangely, it didn't.

(They're not quite sure what they think)
Meyer displays the usual ambivalence towards "our country" betrayed by many of these proudly independent fundamentalists (technical term, not abuse). They can't quite decide whether or not they like the US. On the one hand, it lets them have space for their shouting, for their small businesses, for their gun-cabinets, for their family values, and it has nurtured many believers past and present (even if most of them are now apostate for rejecting the KJV, reading books by Rick Warren, tolerating Catholics, etc). On the other hand, it was founded by Masons, infected with Illuminati, part of all manner of messed-up plots to dominate the world especially in recent history, has abandoned conservative morality, poisons people with fluoride, pesticides, additives, etc. [That's just half the problems listed in one of Meyer's rambles.]

Of course, the wackos are hardly of one mind. For example, Christian Media Research (who initially look half-respectable, but turn out on closer inspection to be prophecy-mad loons) doesn't like Meyer - largely because they can't find out much about him regarding certain doctrines and apocalyptic interpretations (some of which are slightly important, most of which are mired in irrelevant iterations of watered-down, myopic dispensationalism). Their complaint that he is mostly "against" everything and so doesn't seem to be "for" anything is a fair one, however.

Their fear that Al-Queda's alleged plan to detonate 10 suitcase nukes on American soil is predicted by the Bible is less than fair, shall we say, not least because it was posted on July 15 2005 and the 90-day timeframe has rather expired... [more uncharitably, I might call it a pile of cr*p]

Now, a lot of these people rail against the state, the US government, other governments, conspiracies, and so on, but they do it in a non-systematic, generally ignorant way. If you want some hard-nosed thinking by political scientists, economists and commentators who aren't stuck in tiny churches in the Midwest founded by themselves and who don't waste their time trying to read contemporary politics off the pages of Daniel and Revelation, then take a look at these sites. They will challenge you and make you think.

Look at the links to Samizdata, The Acton institute, The Mieses Insitute and other thinktanks on the right of David Field's blog.

I don't say they will convince you - they each have their flavour and slant, and are selective with their writing (just as their betes noires, the crypto-socialist economists are) - but they represent a quality of thought and expression that is sadly absent from much of the conspiracy theory movement and the foolish Christian speakers dabbling or immersed in it.

The World We All Want

Is a great new(ish) course for introducing people to Jesus Christ. It covers the whole sweep of biblical theology, is concerned to combat individualistic notions of salvation and deals with the human condition (sin and rebellion) well. It's by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester of The Crowded House (a Reformed wing of the Emerging Church, for those who want jargon) a network of household churches in Sheffield and Loughborough .

This review does a far better job than me.

We'll be starting a course at Hope Community Church in the fourth week of January!