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Showing posts from February, 2014

Why the Trinity is Not Like Water in Any Way

Sometimes I'm made to feel awkward for saying that the water illustration for the Trinity is wrong. 'Jonathan doesn't like the water illustration', someone will say, and then others will look at me shocked and with exclamations of 'What?' or 'Why?' And suddenly I'm transformed into the mean, nasty theologian who quibbles with such 'clear' and 'clever' sermon illustrations. On such occasions it can feel rather awkward to point out to people that it's not that I don't like the illustration, but rather that it illustrates an ancient heresy, rather than the biblical truth! Now, my cries of 'Modalism' would undoubtedly fall on death ears, most people never having heard the name of the heresy in question. And as the constraints of such conversations do not normally permit much explanation, I thought it would be worth-while setting out the reasons why the Trinity is not like water in any way. If you've never heard t

The Remarkable Verse that is Luke 22:43

This morning as I was reading the Bible, I was struck by Luke 22:43. It's the night of the Last Supper and Jesus and His disciples have gone to the Mount of Olives. Jesus is just about to be arrested, and He takes His disciples with Him to Gethsemane to pray. After telling His disciples what they should be praying for, Jesus withdraws from them a short distance and prays His famous Gethsemane prayer: 'Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.' (Luke 22:42) And then, all of a sudden, we read verse 43: 'Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.' One of my all-time favourite songs is I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene . One night after CU (back when I was a student), a friend asked if this song was really biblical. After all, the third verse goes: In pity angels beheld Him And came from the world of light To comfort Him in the sorrows He bore for my soul that night.

What is Neonomianism Anyway?

After writing last week about the big theological issues facing our churches today , several people got in touch to ask me what neonomianism is. (So I suppose that should be a lesson to me in explaining what on earth I'm talking about!) So, today I'm just writing quickly to answer that question, and to show why it matters. Literally, neonomianism is to do with having a 'new law'. (Nomos = law, antinomianism = rejecting the law, neonomianism = having a new law.) But that still doesn't really explain what neonomianism is. So what really is it? Well, neonomianism is basically the following: Christ's death has has made us saveable, but must be coupled with our sincere, but admitedly imperfect obedience. In other words, it's a form of legalism - salvation through our obedience to the law.

Your Christian Walk and Jesus

‘ How’s your walk?’ That sounds like rather a Christian question; but what does it mean? Is it a question about prayer and Bible reading? Or maybe outreach and evangelism? Perhaps it’s a question about defeating sin? Or maybe it’s just not really the right question altogether. Maybe it might be better to ask ‘Where’s your walk?’ You see, how we ask a question can completely transform the emphasis. Just think of how, in a court case, barristers aren’t allowed to ask ‘leading questions’ in their examinations-in-chief. ‘How’s your walk?’ is a leading question, as the question itself puts all the emphasis on you and what you do. But if we ask ‘where’s your walk?’, the emphasis isn’t so much on you anymore. And not only that, but the question actually becomes a bit more biblical, for the emphasis in Scripture is on the location of our walk. As Colossians 2:6 tells us, ‘As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him’ . Our walk is ‘in Him’ – in Christ. So even

The Biggest Theological Issues Facing Our Churches Today

As a pastor, I am constantly bombarded with people telling me what the biggest issues the church needs to face today are. I get emails, phonecalls, even people turning up at church on Sundays, to invite me along to whatever the latest conference is to ‘equip’ me to deal with the latest pressing issue. As a churchman, I sit on committees set up to deal with various issues that the church does need to face or may need to face in the not-too-distant future, and get a steady stream of minutes through from other committees too. As a teacher, I spend a bit of time out in other assemblies preaching, teaching and answering questions, and get quite often other ministers come to me with questions that have come up in their assemblies too. And guess what? The issues that are coming up in the churches are nothing like the issues about which strangers try to pester me into going to their conferences.

What Jesus (not the real one, but the one who came to our church on Sunday), Steve Chalke and the Prosperity Preachers have in common

Jesus came to church on Sunday – at least that’s who he said he was – and, alas, he didn’t much like it. So offensive is my preaching in his name, apparently, that he’s going to get the police to come and shut us down. His need for the police, I thought, rather undermined his claim to be the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given, but hey, it’s not every Sunday that Jesus gets up in the middle of the service and starts ranting at everyone. As if ‘Jesus’ interrupting the service wasn’t bad enough, later on Sunday I encountered some prosperity preachers. To be fair, they were a lot friendlier and smilier than the fake-Jesus, but under the surface their messages were grounded in something very similar. You see, fake-Jesus got really annoyed with me when I tried to tell him what the Bible says, but he was quite happy to quote a few Bible verses to suit his purposes. So, when the Bible fitted in with his message, it was the authoritative Word of God to condemn

Athanasius on Penal Substitution

Critics of the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement (the fact that Jesus suffered the penalty for our sins in our place) often portray it as a new idea that arose either with the Reformers in the 16th Century or with Hodge in the 19th Century. But here are a few excerpts from On the Incarnation by Athanasius (writing in the 4th Century) where he teaches it, showing the Penal Substitution has always been an important part of the Church's biblical understanding of the Cross.  But beyond all this, there was a debt owing which must needs be paid; for, as I said before, all men were due to die. Here, then, is the second reason why the Word dwelt among us, namely that having proved His Godhead by His works, He might offer the sacrifice on behalf of all, surrendering His own temple to death in place of all, to settle man’s account with death and free him from the primal transgression. (De Incarnatione IV.20)

Restoring Confidence or Undermining Confidence?: Steve Chalke on the Bible

Steve Chalke is at it again . First it was the atonement, then biblical teaching on marriage, and now his chosen object of ‘clarification’ is the Bible itself. It isn’t really that much of a surprise after the other two, and particularly after the direction his article on marriage last year was heading with regard to the biblical text. As in each of the previous controversies (for controversies is what they have been, and deliberately so – as Chalke puts it this time ‘I want to encourage a global discussion’), Chalke isn’t actually saying anything new. He’s not an innovative theologian coming along with fantastic proposals that everyone who has gone before has been too blind to see. No – everything he says has been said before, over and over again and for a very long time. It’s just that they’re not the things being said, promoted or advanced by evangelicals. Rather, they’re ideas which evangelical theologians and biblical scholars have been soundly refuting for generations.

Reasons for Rejection (of Images)

Okay, yesterday I had my rant about the stealthily creeping in of images to evangelical worship. You may possibly already have concluded that I'm mad, so today let me just give you a (much more rational) quick list of my reasons against using images of Christ. The 2nd Commandment forbids us from making images of the true God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man, so any image of Christ would either: Break the 2nd Commandment OR Divide His Deity (which cannot be represented in an image) from His humanity, which is the Nestorian heresy. Any image of Christ is limited in its representation of Him. Any portrayal of His sufferings shows only the physical aspect. And so images have the tendency to limit what we see of Christ and His work. We don't know what Jesus looked like. The Bible gives no physical description. So any image of Christ would be projecting human ideas onto God. God has instituted His own chosen way for us to see Jesus - in the ordinary means of Word an

The Worshipful Image - Really?

Take One So there you are, standing in the midst of a huge crowd, singing your heart out in praise of Christ and His redeeming blood. The band is outstanding, and loud. The lights are dimmed. The words are projected for all to see. And behind those words, just to make sure you really get what you’re singing about, there’s a picture of Jesus with His hands outstretched and nailed to the cross. It just fits the mood perfectly and seems to bring home to many of the people there the reality of the price He paid at Calvary. Tears stream down a few faces. Others light up in joyful smiles. The creative one on the worship team has done his job well and that picture has helped people worship. Take Two So there you are, standing in the midst of the huge crowd, singing. The music is outstanding, and loud. The lights are dim – just some spots at the front gently flickering really, giving a nice ‘authentic’ vibe. The smoke rises at the front of the church (perhaps not everyone’s cup

Jesus is the Gospel

John’s Gospel famously begins with its prologue about the Word who was in the beginning with God and who was God (John 1:1). So John sets the scene for his Gospel with the message that Jesus is the Word of God. That keys us into the fact that John’s Gospel is going to be a bit different from those of Matthew, Mark and Luke – or does it? Mark’s Gospel is the shortest and gets straight into the action. There’s no time for prologues or infancy narratives here; even Jesus’ baptism and temptations get set out quite quickly to get straight into His ministry. Or that might be how it often seems, but I’m not so sure that it’s really the case. I think Mark does exactly what John does – he introduces His gospel by telling us that Jesus is the Word – he just doesn’t do it in the same way John does. Mark introduces the identity of Jesus through narrating the action, and He tells us that Jesus is the Word by using another word. He tells us that Jesus is the Good Word, the Good News, the Gospe

Irenaeus on Revelation, Justification and Jesus

Since, therefore, Abraham was a prophet and saw in the Spirit the day of the Lord’s coming, and the dispensation of His suffering, through whom both he himself and all who, following the example of his faith, trust in God, should be saved, he rejoiced exceedingly. The Lord, therefore, was not unknown to Abraham, whose day he desired to see; nor, again, was the Lord’s Father, for he had learned from the Word of the Lord, and believed Him; wherefore it was accounted to him by the Lord for righteousness. For faith towards God justifies a man. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies , iv.v.5) Irenaeus was a disciple of a disciple of the apostle John. Just three quick Irenaean points here: