Tuesday, 26 February 2008

UnFair Trade?

This report from the Adam Smith Institute (thanks to David Field's excellent blog) has really made me reconsider Fair Trade. For the last 5 years or so it has been axiomatic for me that one should buy Fair Trade where possible. Now I'm not so sure.

It really is worth a read, though it's far from perfect. Criticism of the large number of Mexican Fair Trade products does not quite do the job of detailed figures showing how much is actually spent on those products as opposed to the ones coming out of Africa. And charity does not have to go to the "most" deserving/destitute in every case - how could we decide that anyway!? (Cancer Research or the NSPCC? Famine relief in Darfur or in Bangladesh?) The mechanics don't involve a perfect utilitarian calculation, but are all about who we can reach, how much we can help them, who we know about, etc.

As for me and my house, we'll continue to buy Fair Trade products. The coffee and tea come not from Mexico but from India and Africa! The chocolate (Green & Black's and the Co-op's own brand) we particularly like, and the fact that it's slightly more expensive is a useful curb on my consumption. Bananas await further investigation. But at the very least, I am no longer a Fair Trade fascist...

Friday, 22 February 2008

more musical echoes

Dvorak, Piano Quartet No. 2 in E flat, Op. 87.

Listen to the opening (main) theme of the first movement. Then watch the credits of Russ Abbott, cheesy BBC sketch show from the late 80s. Don't know who wrote the music to that, but methinks they liked the Bohemian maestro...

Info about The Russ Abbott Show is hard to come by on a cursory glance, though Russ is still hard at work, but I'm sure you remember it if your British and watched any TV during the 80s. Basildon Bond? Bella Emberg? Several other things best consigned to cringeworthy history!?

fruitful diversity

I am torn in at least two theological directions at the moment.

On the one hand we have the church of my fathers (low, free, conservative evangelical) invigorated by a real focus on community, not just talk about community, and an Anabaptist shot in the arm - such as we find in the Crowded House, the thoughts of Tim Chester, Steve Timmis et al. Their Total Church (IVP, 2007) is so good it brought tears to my eyes.

On the other hand, pulling almost as hard (and harder on the brain right now, if not on the body) we have the Reformed Reformed, paedobaptist, fairly high church, literary, juicy guys like Jordan, Leithart, Field, etc. A typically stimulating contribution on Levitical offerings may be found here.

What's a boy to do? I love the heritage and high theology of communion of these Reformed Reformed types, and their careful discussions of all sorts, and their focus on culture, though there is almost nothing about overseas mission, evangelism and day-to-day sharing of the gospel in their writings. Which seems a bit odd. And in practical terms, the "missional community" approach of the "Reformed" household churches seems to meet a pretty urgent need in the UK, more so than Doug Wilson, fine contribution though he may be making in Moscow Idaho and elsewhere. So, you can see which way I'm leaning, but for cheeky theological contraband, I will probably continue to peruse and plunder BiblicalHorizons and their ilk. And meanwhile Kate and I may well become paedobaptist homeschooling Crowded House types...!

Bosch rather generous

I hate to be a meanie, but Bosch (Transforming Mission) seems to be going too far when in his final appraisal of the medieval paradigm of mission he says...

‘Still, our appraisal cannot only be a nagative one. Was anything wrong with the idea of attempting to create a Christian civilisation, to shape laws consonant with biblical teaching, to place kings and emperors under the explicit obligation of Christian discipleship? There can be no doubt that the paradigm we are exploring in this chapter certainly had its dark side, and yet it had its positive contributions as well. In addition, one has to realise that it was only logical that things would develop the way they did after Constantine’s victory; it was, moreover, and given the particular circumstances, inevitable that they would. So as we criticise our spiritual forebears, and do so relentlessly, let us remind ourselves that we would not have done any better than they did.’ (237)

Now there’s a philosophy of history if ever I heard one. It smells of determinism and sounds fairly happy to let the Christian faith exist as a victim of its circumstances. Bosch is elsewhere clear on certain irreducible features of Christianity that prevented and still prevent it from being overwhelmed by external cultural pressures (testimony to a historical incarnation, the historicity of the resurrection, celebration of Eucharist, etc) but here he seems to have slipped.

The World We All Want and what is wrong

Last week at TWWAW, which we are running at Hope Community Church, we had some really interesting discussion of Genesis 1-3 and the Bible’s aetiology of what is wrong [shorthand, ‘sin’]. It’s always rewarding to look at these foundational passages – and doing it with people who aren't Christians added a freshness and insight to our discussion.

One thing that a friend returned to several times was that people may do lots of bad things but they don’t always do them in order to do bad. In fact they often act for the 'right' reasons, or at least in the absence of conscious malice.

I was reminded of this again a couple of days ago when I looked at David Bosch’s Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission (New York: Orbis, 1991) and read his verdict on the Medieval Catholic paradigm. In similar manner the missionary wars, direct or indirect, and the entire project of Western colonization of the rest of the world were – in spite of all the horrors that went with them and even if we, today, find them totally incomprehensible and indefensible – expressions of a genuine concern for others, as Christians understood their responsibility in those years. (p.230) That is a little generous, I suspect – didn’t greed have rather a lot to do with it at, especially for the agents even if not for all the authorizers? However, the important insight is there, too – as we sin, we do not always have full consciousness of the evil of our actions, and often our plans and activities are carried out with ‘good’ intentions.

On the one hand this reveals the power of sin to delude and darken our minds. Calling it good in our heads, even doing so 'innocently', doesn't make it good in the final analysis. On the other hand, what place is there for conscious rebellion, such as Paul speaks of in Romans 1? Even if it doesn’t manifest itself in the ‘visible’ noetic scaffolding of our every activity, it must be there at the heart of who we are. Psychologically it may not be frequently experienced at a conscious level (though the struggles with our consciences that we frequently go through are surely part of this attempt at suppression) but does it not nevertheless lie beneath all our projects? Those projects are as filthy rags in God's sight, after all…

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Chess fun

A jolly collection of games from the annals of chess history put together by an enthusiast on the endlessly fascinating chessgames.com.

Meanwhile, I'm back playing Charles at correspondence. What do you reckon...?

1. e4 c5
2. d4 cxd4
3. c3 dxc3
4. Nxc3 Nc6
5. Nf3 e6
6. Bc4 Qc7
7. Qe2 Nf6
8. Nb5 Qb8
9. e5!? Ng4
10. Bf4 Bb4+
11. Kf1 a6
12. Nd6+ Bxd6
13. exd6 b5
14. Bd5!? 0-0
15. Bxc6 bxc6
16. hmm

Shameless Pentecostalism

NTI Papers now includes a rather chewy piece from me on the rise of Pentecostalism worldwide. It ends up where it started, and could be a lot better-written, but I certainly leaned a lot doing the research (back in October and November 07). And it occasioned much praise to God for his amazing work in saving so many millions through the zeal and witness of Pentecostal and Charismatic churches across the world.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Chess tragedies

The World Champion lost as White (to the Armenian No.1) for the first time in more than a year.

The latest Guinness Book of Records has no entries for chess, preferring underpants, shaving, and other trimphs of human ingenuity and endurance...

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Chess futures

The long-promised and eagerly-anticipated Christmas posts on Turkey are about to burst forth. As far as current affairs go, this blog is more of a (b)lag, I fear...

First up is a superbly encouraging interview with the President of the Turkish Chess Federation, Ali Nihat Yazici. He is enthusiastic, he has a proven track record, he has great ambitions and he knows how to apologise when he makes a mistake. What a guy! I wish Turkish chess all the best, and wish there were more organisers like him around the place to promote and plan chess.

The fact that the Women's Super-Tournament is named after Ataturk barely raised a chuckle, so impressed was I with the TCF!

Blogs I won't have time to read (1)

Here's a smiley guy doing a PhD at Bob Jones University who writes graciously on a wide variety of theological topics. I always though BJU was a bit backward, but that was clearly prejudice!

Suggestive posts with links to follow up on NT Wright, Islam's God and the Trinity, the Hitchens-Wilson debate (great reading) and much more besides.

Just another blog I wish I could emulate not to mention have time to read!

Monday, 11 February 2008

Northern Training Institute Residential

Just come back from a wonderful week in the depths of Northamptonshire with the NTI crew. Inspiring and engaging teaching [ethics, leadership, integrity, eschatology and the cross, wisdom literature, Romans...] in inspiring, engaging and humbling company.

It's hard to imagine how part-time theological study could get any better! Of course if this particular student was more dilligent...

books I won't have time to read (1)

Unfortunately there are not enough hours in the day for this inspiring book. The video clip is powerful, though, and a reminder of the sovereign grace of God to save even when his servants do something foolish (Rassamni's wife married him when he was not a believer). How violence and hatred simply will not solve the problems of the world.

Jerry Rassamni, From Jihad to Jesus.

It reminded me of what John Piper (the link is to wikipedia as I can't get the Desiring God website to work) said soon after 9/11, like Islam the gospel does advance by death and killing and bloodshed - the blood of Christians, the deaths of Christians, the killing of Christians.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

bus subsidies

bring out the best in people...

The Cambridge Crier (Feb 1, 2008,page 7) carries a story about how Cambridge residents will have to pay an extra £440,000 per year in Council tax [not actually such a huge amount per taxpayer, it has to be said!] because of a shortfall in money allocated for funding free bus travel for pensioners. This is a national scheme so it doesn't seem unreasonable for Whitehall to cough up [leave aside for a moment hesitations about state subsidies], especially from the perspective of a county with an unrepresentatively old and ageing population.

The city council has already forked out £943,000 to make the scheme work after the Government bungled the introduction of district-wide free travel which left thousands of Cambridgeshire pensioners stranded or forced to pay more to get into towns and cities.

Get past the Local Journalese and it does seem as though someone in London didn't do the math.

The Government claims it has given "sufficient fundin" for te scheme to work but that it did not "take explicit account of authorities' own views about the likely cost impact of the new concession".

Even allowing for the odd placement of the Local Journalese speech marks, that strikes me as a bit odd. Is the Government saying "There is enough money - we know that because we didn't listen to local authorities, and if local authorities don't have enough money it must be their fault"?


Saturday, 9 February 2008

Keller on work and rest

He de man. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NY is always worth listening to.

This sermon on work is fabulous for those who are in dire need of rest. But for those like me who underwork because of fear of failure (another idol) there is a powerful word right in the closing prayer.

Set aside some time, especially if your schedule won't allow it, to listen to God's word explained with penetrating contemporary relevance.