Category Archives: Blog

Appreciating God’s Law

King David was able to say, “O how I love your law, I meditate on it all day long.” He also says “I delight in your commands” and that “The law from your mouth is more precious to me that thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (Psalm 119:97, 47 & 72). He even described the law as “refreshing the soul” and “sweeter than honey” (Psalm 19:7 & 10)

If we’re honest, we would probably be inclined to disagree, even though we know we shouldn’t. Or maybe we try to be theological about it and say that this was just because David was in the Old Covenant. But really, we ought to cultivate the same kind of appreciation for God’s law as David had. After all, Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17). That doesn’t mean it has the same application for us as it did for God’s people before Jesus, but it still has some purpose for us in which we should delight.

In our most recent Men’s Book Group, the author of the book we’re studying wrote this: “Christians often speak of the three uses of the law. The first is to lead us to Christ by convicting us of sin. The second is to restrain wickedness in the world. The third is to help us to learn the nature of the Lord’s will, acting as a kind of blueprint for holiness” (‘Hole in our Holiness’ by Kevin de Young, page 50.)

With the law explained in these three ways, it clearly has abiding significance for us. We still need our sin pointing out, society still needs restraining and we certainly need to see God’s holy nature, which never changes. But there is also something significant that changes in the coming of Jesus.

Another article I read recently (ftc.co/blog/posts/christ-fulfilled-the-law) was pondering how the law was that which made it possible for a holy God to dwell amongst his unholy but saved people in the Old Testament without them being obliterated and dying – by following the 613 commandments. But as they couldn’t fully keep the law, God’s presence left the Temple and left his people. But Jesus makes it possible for God to dwell amongst us, by granting us his righteous fulfilment of the law as if our own righteousness, and so he lives in the believer by his Spirit.

But we know from the New Testament that the Old Testament law doesn’t apply to us in the same was as it did before Jesus came (see for example, Acts 10 & 15, Galatians 2 & 4, Romans 6). But the law is also not negated. How then it carries over to us today requires carefully consideration.

So, beginning at the end of this month, we’re going to spend eleven weeks tackling the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20. We’ll spend the first sermon introducing them, and then the next ten weeks taking one commandment at a time.

Graham Beynon, pastor of Grace Church in Cambridgeshire, who also preached through the Ten Commandments and then wrote a book about them, he said this: “For me, and for the church, there was a sense of rediscovering the Ten Commandments, and so coming to appreciate and value them afresh.” (‘Surprised by the Commandments’ page xii.) I pray that the same will be true for us.

(photo credit: Joshua Daniel O. 10 commandments via photopin (license))

Off to Aber

At the end of this month, I’m heading off to Aberystwyth, not on holiday but to help out with a CU Mission. I, and another minister nearby (James Sercombe from Crickhowell) have been asked to help by giving the talks at their weeklong mission at the university.

University is a great time to reach people with the good news of Jesus. For the most part, people have come away from their comfortable home environment, are mixing with people of different backgrounds and ideologies, and they’re figuring out who they are as they grow into adulthood. As a result, most people are open to at least thinking about something they’ve never considered before, like Jesus!

As a warm up, I was asked to go up at Christmas and give the talk at the Christmas banquet. I actually used my Christmas Day message from Luke 1, though adapted it for the different audience. The large room was packed with around 140 people, and I was told that 99 of them were not from the CU and were not yet Christians – what an opportunity!

So, mission week is 18th to 20th February. I’ll be giving the lunchtime talks as follows:

Tuesday: A liberating story; what does it mean to be free?

Wednesday: A trustworthy story; how can I trust the Bible?

Thursday: An honest story; why do Christians say one thing and do another?

Friday: A better story; is there meaning in my pain?

I’d value your prayers for preparing those talks, for delivering them, and for good conversations to follow them. And not just for myself but for the other speakers as well and for the CU members as they invite friends and follow them up afterwards.

(This article originally appeared in the February edition of the church magazine)

Photo credit: milesmilob at https://flickr.com/photos/77305702@N00/21244839398 under license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

God is a Woman

Since I tend to have Radio One on in the car, there’s no escape from hearing the odd tune I wouldn’t normally listen to. Ariana Grande’s latest offering comes with the title “God is a Woman” and repeats the phrase, “You believe God is a woman”.

Of course, Ariana is not trying to make a theological statement, nor trying to correct another person’s errant theology. My hunch is that the person addressed in the song has put the female object of their affections on a pedestal to the extent that they are godlike.

Pop songs aside though, is God a woman? Or can we speak of God using female pronouns, referring to God as she?

There’s a certain Bishop in the Anglican Church, Rachel Treweek, who has campaigned for this for a few years and in her own practice uses the female pronouns for God. Another article has been published in the Telegraph about her appeals just a couple of days ago.

First thing we’ve got to say on this is that God is not a gendered being as we are, because God is not a physical being. God doesn’t have the physical attributes of gender, nor the chromosomal make-up. As Spirit, God is not physically and biologically gendered.

In fact, in terms of God’s characteristics, though God displays many typically masculine attributes, God also displays many typically female attributes. God is even referred to as mothering on some occasions (For example, Isaiah 49:15 & 66:13).

If God is neither male or female in that sense then, should we just use neutral pronouns and call God, “it”? Well, that would be inappropriate on a different level. To refer to a person as “it” depersonalises them and is belittling, turning them into an inanimate object rather than a person. You and I could well take offence at being called “it”. As such, it is even less appropriate for the greatest being in the universe who is a person — God

If “it” is out of the question, can we therefore pick and choose whether we refer to God as male or female? I don’t think we can. And that’s all because of the nature of God and of revelation.

Because God is so much greater than we are on every level, we cannot figure God out on our own. We must rely on God’s self-revelation in order to grasp who God is. For us to decide we know what God is like reduces God to less than God. But if God is greater and therefore needs to be revealed to us, then God remains lifted high as God should be and we remain humble in our pursuit of God.

How then has God revealed himself in the Bible? With masculine pronouns. God is always “he” in the Bible, not “she”. God is revealed as heavenly “Father”. God is never referred to as our heavenly “Mother”. What’s more, the eternal Son is revealed as a masculine Son, and when incarnated in human form, Jesus came with masculine biology. Even the Holy Spirit is referred to as “He”.

Those occasions when God is described as mothering, they are to draw out the depths of compassion and care and other roles that are more typically associated with mothering. Perhaps it’s similar to how I, as a male parent, might occasionally do things my wife is more inclined to as the female parent. But doing so does not make me any less male.

So, referring to God as “she” is wrong on several levels. It’s wrong because it elevates ourselves making us think we’re able to make up our own understanding of who God is as we please, which then reduces God. But even worse, it’s reversing and therefore abusing God’s revealed pronoun (not just his preferred pronoun but his actual pronoun). To do so is belittling and degrading to God. I think the third command might have something to say about that.

photo credit: lindsay neilson photos Ariana Grande via photopin (license)

The Peterson Phenomenon

Back in January, I started reading a book by Jordan Peterson. I posted a few quotes on twitter, and people started asking me my opinion of him. It took until last month to actually finish the book – it’s a long (albeit not too difficult) read, and my reading pace has significantly slowed down of late! But now I’ve read it I decided I’d give some brief thoughts.

For those who’ve never heard of him, Jordon Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology. Throughout last year he was gaining significant popularity, especially on YouTube, and particularly amongst evangelical Christians and those of less ‘liberal-progressive’ political persuasion.

He particularly gained notoriety when he was interviewed by Cathy Newman on Channel 4. This interview exposed Newman’s biased agenda and lack of research and enabled Peterson to clearly explain his rational position on topics like masculinity, the gender pay gap and transgenderism. Two thirds of the way through, Newman was left speechless! The interview is well worth a watch.

Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, evolved from an internet post where Peterson posted some suggested rules for how people ought to live. He expands these into chapters that explain and expound the rules using his experiences and knowledge as a psychologist and his research into all kinds of things, including his study of the Bible.

One thing that strikes me about Peterson is his common wisdom. In other words, he offers wisdom that God has graciously made known apart from the special revelation of scripture that enables us to live well as humans. Peterson simply has lots of wisdom to share on all kinds of topics – wisdom that can be gleaned by thinking carefully about how life works at its best and learning from others.

One particular chapter that I’d love every young parent to read is “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.” It’s a brilliant corrective for lacking parenting trends today. He also speaks into masculinity in several chapters, which is certainly worth tapping into and learning from.

Peterson has become popular amongst evangelical Christians largely because he is an ethical ally. On topics like gender and transgenderism, he’s willing to speak frankly from the conclusions he has come to. In an age when all is permissible, gender is flattened, and feelings trump reason, Christians may feel like what they stand up for is completely ridiculous. But to have a secular academic championing ethics and morals that resonate with Christians is affirming.

One eye opening moment for me was when he pointed out that you cannot say that gender is merely a social construct and also say that a woman was born in a man’s body. The two are incompatible statements – think about it! It’s also nice to have someone fighting against those who insist we should only have one or two children for ethical reasons.

However, there is not complete accord with Peterson, especially evidenced by his liberal theology. He doesn’t have a high view of scripture (even though he quotes and refers to it extensively) and he doesn’t have an orthodox view of God. He considers the Christian faith as a source of ancient wisdom rather than divine revelation, and therefore one source amongst all other religions.

If I were to sum up his position, I’d call it realistic humanism. He considers humans as capable of great evil, but challenges us to make ourselves into better people, especially in his coda. This runs opposite to the biblical perspective where we are totally incapable of fixing ourselves and need divine redemption in Jesus.

Peterson, then, is certainly worth reading, especially as a corrective to our increasingly permissive and irrational society. I enjoyed it very much. It’s not a quick ready and is at times quite challenging and provoking. And Peterson must not be swallowed without thinking carefully from a biblical perspective. But parts of it are gold dust!

(Originally posted in the September edition of our church magazine)

photo credit: Gage Skidmore Jordan Peterson via photopin (license)