Monday, December 27, 2010

The Eclipse of the Pulpit

The classic Nonconformist conception of the ministry has been to view it first and foremost as a preaching office. In distinction from the Laudian conception of the minister as a priest, the Independents, Presbyterians and Baptists regarded the minister's role as primarily prophetic, not in the sense of receiving new revelation from God, but in the sense of declaring the Word of God to the people. The minister was regarded as God's herald, declaring the Word of the Lord. Hence the form of the traditional English Nonconformist service, dominated by a sermon that typically takes up half the time of the service, more or less. It was a man's power in the pulpit, his ability to faithfully handle the Word of God, that determined his popularity, and the presses were occupied printing volumes of sermons. Thus Spurgeon was "The Prince of Preachers", and Joseph Parker was called "The Immortal Thor of Pulpitdom." The central feature in any Nonconformist chapel was a pulpit, whether a simple wooden box, or the vast marble construction of Parker's City Temple. The pulpit might be any sort of shape, but it was central, and it dominated. From that throne, the Word of God went forth. Typically the Communion Table was central too, below the pulpit, but it was the sermon, not the Sacrament, that was the centre of the service. Indeed, some of our Nonconformist brethren erred in practically neglecting the Sacrament. Of their emphasis on preaching we might say, "This ought ye to have done and not left the other undone."

One result of this emphasis on preaching was that the English Nonconformists had some of the most knowledgable congregations in the world, where cooks and cleaning-ladies could hold conversation on theology. It drove a publishing industry that ensured that millions of copies of sermons were sold at a penny a time in bookstalls and news-stands.

But the pulpit has been eclipsed. The illustration is of a battered and vandalised pulpit salvaged from a derelict chapel, but it illustrates a sad fact that in Nonconformity today the preaching of the Word is devalued. When a preacher takes his cues from the latest blockbuster movie, or 'felt needs', he is not preaching the Word of God. When the emphasis is placed on spectacle, theatre and dance, music and supposed manifestations of the Spirit, again, the Word is neglected. And ironically, whereas in non-evangelical Nonconformity what happened was that the Lord's Table replaced the pulpit as the architectural centre of the Church, the tendency among modern evangelicals is to move both out of the way and replace them with a stage, a performance space!

The imperative given to Timothy was "Preach the Word," and it is still the imperative for the minister today. Word and Sacrament ministry is what we need, not attempts to draw people in with spectacle. The crisis in Nonconformity is one of confidence in the Word of God, leading to a loss of the note of authority in preaching. Restore the pulpit, and let it enthrone, not the pastor, but the Word of God which endures for ever.

Monday, December 20, 2010

'Mere Signs'?

Our Lutheran brethren often complain that we Calvinists view the Sacraments as "mere signs". Now, I grant that there are Calvinists who are actually Zwinglians in their view of the sacraments, and see them as only memorials. But this is not the Calvinistic doctrine. The Westminster Confession describes the sacraments as "Holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace," and adds that "there is in every sacrament a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified."

This is the way it is with signs. The illustration is a road sign warning drivers that there may be children playing in the area. As it is, on a pole beside the road, the sign is not a 'mere sign', but conveys information about a possible danger. Take the sign, old and attractive as it is, and put it in a transport museum, and you do have a mere sign - it has been taken out of its proper context and no longer signifies anything. Take an example where the sign and the thing signified are always together, the speed limit. If a man is driving along a road and sees a round sign with a red border and the number 30 in the middle, he may say "it is just a sign", but if he drives fastyer that 30mph, he has broken the law, and if there's a speed camera in the area, he is going to find out that was no mere sign! So a sign, if it is actually in use, is never a mere sign, but a sign of a present reality.
So it is with the sacraments. In the Lord's Supper God is speaking to us, and conveying Christ's blessings to believing hearts. Therefore we sing with Mr. Spurgeon, "Amidst us our Beloved stands." The elements are not memorials of an absent Christ, but signs of a present Christ, known by faith. In baptism, God speaks to the one baptised assuring that person of his interest in Christ - again, to faith. Faith receives the blessings of the sacraments, and unbelief does not.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Words Mean Things

One of my pet peeves is that sometimes even Reformed Christians can be careless in their use of words. I am told that I was a late developer in learning to read - but I hope I have made up for it since (my personal library contains over 3000 volumes, and that's just serious books). Part of learning to read any language is acquring vocabulary, but then vocabulary has to be used correctly - it is a common type of joke to present a person using real words, but in the wrong way. This is trickier than it first seems, because words may have a technical meaning that is not immediately apparent to the reader encountering them for the first time. The English word 'Expire' is derived from a Latin word meaning simply to breathe out, but in fact it has the restricted English meaning of to breathe one's last, and therefore to die!

When it comes to technical vocabulary, things get even worse. Sometimes this is because the vocabulary is inconsistently used, with some making it more technical than others. In other cases it is because vocabulary is archaic, and words change their meaning. This is often encountered when people read the King James Bible as if its word meanings were basically the same as those of today - which of course they are not.

Theology has its own technical language, and that includes the names of heresies. Clearly it is of the utmost importance that we do not fling accusations of heresy around with gay abandon and nary a thought for the consequences. A particular peeve of mine is the use of the word 'Gnostic' as an insult. Calvinists are told "Oh, you're gnostics." This post was sparked off by a chap on Facebook describing the Puritans as "Gnostic." But what is a Gnostic?

Gnosticism refers to a specific group of heretics in the early Christian centuries. Like 'Anabaptist', it was a title applied to these groups from outside, and so it is of necessity a little broad. Nevertheless we can define the Gnostic heresy.

Gnostics were dualists, holding matter and spirit to be opposed one to another. Matter is evil, spirit is good, and salvation is understood as being set free from the realm of matter. This salvation was attainable through the understanding of secret knowledge (Gnosis in Greek). This, in a nutshell, is the Gnostic heresy. No-one who does not hold these ideas should be described as a Gnostic, just as no-one who does not hold Jesus Christ to be a created being can be called an Arian. Words mean things, and should not be thrown about lightly.

It is also inclumbent upon us monergists to use language appropriately. Pelagianism teaches that all men are not dead in sin, that we are all born as Adam, morally at least, and that man can save himself. If a man teaches that the grace of God is necessary for salvation, he's not a Pelagian. Now, if he teaches that the grace of God is necessary but not sufficient for salvation, he may be a Semi-Pelagian, but that's a different kettle of fish.

Words mean things, and we must be careful how we use them - 'heretic' is another good example. Especially these words, negative labels, must not be used lightly and without thought. Heresy is a serious business, and the accusation must not be made without due care and attention. Words mean things, remember that!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Do Not Be Overcome by Evil...

This morning I was shocked to read on the front of the local paper about an arson attack on the City Central Mosque in Hanley, Stoke on Trent. Now, I am a Confessional Reformed minister. I had a long talk on Wednesday with a local Muslim who was determined to convert me to Islam, and I am quite convinced forst of all that he was wrong, and secondly that Islam is a false religion, and Muhammed a false prophet. I am not a liberal or an inclusivist. But of course, I unequivocally condemn this act of vandalism, and I am very glad that the mosque was not badly damaged. Paul says in Romans 12:21, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." That is to say, when Christians are attacked and persecuted, we are not to take up arms against our persecutors, but to do good to them, to pray for those who persecute us, and do good to those who do us harm. This is a command to us. What Muslims need is the Gospel, not to be forced out of our cities. Of course, I have no delusions that the youths responsible for this outrage thought they were doing it in the name of Christianity. No, they were of the same ilk as those who have vandalised and violated the little Presbyterian Chapel at Saltney Ferry, near Chester, and those who scrawled graffiti on our chapel wall. They were yobs, nothing more.

But they point us to an important fact, that violence is never finally the answer. "All who take up the sword will die by the sword," Jesus said. This is true, violence begets violence. War, I would add, as the ultimate expression of violence, is always an evil. It is just that sometimes it is the lesser of two evils, as it was with Hitler in 1939. As Christians, we are forbidden to fight. As citizens of earthly kingdoms we may, but always remembering that war can never bring in the kingdom of God.

I unequivocally condemn the attack on the City Central Mosque. All Christians should join with me in doing so as well.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Plea for Discernment (2)

In the previous post I called for us to make the main thing the main thing, and not to go off on side issues, let alone our own hobby-horses. The trouble with our hobby-horses is that all too often they are not the issue at all - as witness the case I referred to in the last post, of the radio presenter who used the film The Golden Compass as a jumping-off point for a discussion of the influence of the occult on children's literature, when the central message of the book on which the film was based is in fact atheistic. I drew the conclusion from the programme that the presenter came with her own ideas, rather than letting the film actually dictate the programme content - which is a serious problem when one is supposed to be discussing the film!

Of a rather similar nature, in my opinion, was the attitude of Ian Paisley towards Donald Soper when Soper visited Northern Ireland. Soper was a theological modernist and arch-liberal, yet Paisley decided to criticise Soper for wearing a cassock, a garment he associated with Rome. Now, whatever one thinks of cassocks, one should agree that what Soper was wearing was of far less important than what he was saying! We have to make sure, when we criticize someone, that we keep our sense of perspective - what a man says about the atonement is far more important than what he may wear while saying it! Once more, whether the present Archbishop of Canterbury is or is not a member of the Gorsedd of Bards is not one half as important as his declared and public theology.

And, while I'm on the subject, about the celebration of Christmas. I have no problem with our brothers who refuse to celebrate it. Just, please, don't call me 'pagan' for it. After all, there is nothing pagan in getting up early and going to the chapel to proclaim that God has given his Son as a saviour for the world. Nor is there anything pagan in going there. We shall not be making sacrifices to Osiris, or anything of that sort.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Plea for Discernment

With the first part of the adaptation of the last Harry Potter book hitting the big screen, the Christian media (and particularly the fundamentalist portion) is full of claims that this is encouraging the occult. Now, this is not a defence of Harry Potter, or a condemnation. It is a plea for us to get beyond simplistically attacking the mere fact that the books and fils use the imagery of magic and witchcraft, and to address what is behind these trappings.

A few years ago I was treated to one of the worst, most superficial Christian responses to a film that I have ever heard (naming no names). It was supposed to be a response to the film The Golden Compass (remember that?). Now The Golden Compass was an adaptation of the first book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. While using the genre of fantasy, complete with magic and witches, Pullman's books are in fact designed to teach atheism, and he is quite explicit about this. Yet this review treated the film as though it was occult propaganda. It seemed that the reviewer was unable to get beyond the trappings of the novel to its core message. I was deeply embarrassed by the review, and I have to say that I have never listened to the podcast in question since. Why? Because the review was utterly superficial, and there are more substantial things one could listen to. There was the problem, you see. Now it seems to me that to say of the Harry Potter stories, "The involve people who do magic, therefore they are bad" is on the same level. It simply fails to engage with the stories at all. Now you may say, "Christians ought not to engage with worldly entertainment", but if you do, then that is reason enough not to engage with Harry Potter without invoking a superficial argument about witchcraft. If you are going to try to say that it is all right for Christians to watch secular films and read fiction, but that they ought not to have anything to do with Harry Potter, then you need to actually offer substantive reasons.

The books and films do not encourage children to participate in the Occult, for in Harry Potter's world magic is something you are born with. The divide between the magical and the non-magical is absolute and unbreakable. Harry Potter has magic powers because he was born with them, just as Clark Kent has the powers of Superman because he was born a native of the planet Krypton. No character in the Harry Potter books acquires magic powers, they possess them by virture of their birth. Thus J.K. Rowling has actually done all she can to depict magic as non-transferrable. Secondly the magic in the books works 'mechanically', without the invocation of spirit-beings. Magic is not a religion in Harry Potter, it is a super-power, like Superman's X-ray vision, but with the trappings of English folklore. Unlike Spider-Man's Peter Parker, Harry Potter did not get his powers in an accident. Nor did he gain them by his own ability. He got them from his parents, like Superman. Thus, at least in J.K. Rowling's mind, the world of Hogwarts is necessarily separate from the world of her readers.

For this reason I am unconvinced by the argument that Harry Potter encourages dabbling in the occult. There are shows and films that do that, as well as books. So a critique of Harry Potter must go behind the stylized, fantasy magic and address the actual messages of the books. That I do not intend to do - merely to challenge Christians to think about content, and look beyond trappings. Otherwise we shall make ourselves look foolish, and may even find that we are ourselves doing the right thing for the wrong reason - and in such a way as to fail utterly to make the case for others doing the right thing, as in the case of The Golden Compass. And by the way "It's just not my sort of thing" is a thoroughly good reason for not doing something!

Friday, November 12, 2010

In Many Bookshops with Pastor Charmley: Eleos Christian Books, Welshpool

Welshpool is an attractive little markey town in North Wales. Close by is Powis Castle. Like many small Welsh towns, it has a main shopping street, with various streets off it. It is also the home of Eleos Bookshop.

The shop is associated with the Kingswood Church, an old-fashioned Pentecostal Church (so I am told), and located above the Church meeting-room in what must be a former Church school that belonged to the Church of England. It is a welcoming, attractive bookshop, well-ordered and well-laid out. The staff are helpful, which is always a good thing. But best of all, the stock is good, and there are a lot of books in stock that are worth buying. It was a pleasant surprise to find Eleos in Welshpool, as Christian bookshops are becoming rare today, following the closure of many former Wesley Owen and SPCK stores. This one is very good indeed. While specialising in new books, there is a reasonable seletion of used books in stock too. This is another bookshop that is to be recommended.

Monday, November 8, 2010

In Many Bookshops with Pastor Charmley - Buxton Christian Bookshop

The picturesque spa town of Buxton in Derbyshire is not to be confused with its smaller namesake in Norfolk (where I received a part of my education). Buxton (Derbyshire) is divided roughly into two parts, the lower town and the upper town. The lower town contains the main shopping centre and the spa. The upper town is centred on the old marketplace, where one may find Buxton Christian Bookshop - as pictured here.

This small shop contains two rooms, a new books, music and media section in the front, which is so-so, and contains the sort of stuff one expects to find in a Christian bookshop these days, and a Secondhand room in the back. It is this which makes a trip to Buxton Christian Bookshop worthwhile, because this room contains a veritable treasure-trove of old books of all sorts, where one may freely browse. In addition I found the staff extremely helpful. This is a nice little shop, and ought to be well-used. In addition there is a huge secondhand bookshop in Buxton, and a little way out of the town there is a similarly vast remaindered book store that has some great bargains in it. So go to Buxton - it looks nice, and it has bookshops!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

In Many Bookshops with Pastor Charmley: St. Paul's, Westminster

Last time I was in London, I sang the praises of the Catholic Truth Society Bookshop. This time it is the turn if its near neighbour in Westminster Cathdral's piazza, St. Paul's Bookshop.

St. Paul's is a proper bookshop, though it does sell other items, such as vestments and church furnishings (including some very nice lecterns, if you're looking for one that doesn't look like a music stand and have a spare three hundred quid or so). Refreshingly there was no canned music in the shop, which is dominated by towering bookcases arranged in an attractive number of spaces, so that the main shop feels like a maze of books - though an easy one. This shop feels like a serious bookshop, and is all the better for it. It also sells serious books, though of course there is some popular stuff in there. It had in the sets of the Church Fathers published by Hendriksen, and the sort of serious books that the student will welcome. Of course it is a Roman Catholic bookshop, and the stock is slanted towards Roman Catholicism. But on the other hand, it is serious Roman Catholic material, and not all of it is Roman Catholic. Visiting bustling London, I was very glad to be out of the bustle for a while in this literary oasis. The atmosphere of the shop is enough to lead the serious student to enter St. Paul's and to wonder why on earth there aren't more bookshops like this in the world? I suspect the answer is economics, and the relentless dumbing-down of Christianity in this country.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Review: 'The Trail of Blood'

J.M. Carroll: The Trail of Blood (Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, Lexington, KY)

This booklet of 55 pages is famous. It has practically given its name to the whole Baptist Successionist dogma, and is referred to by just about everyone in that context. But how good is this booklet? Frankly, I was disappointed. There is no detail at all given of the supposed 'ancient Baptist groups', they are assumed, not proven - and yet no reputable historian today would agree with this. In fact, outside of a very small group of fundamentalist Baptists, no-one today would agree with the Successionists - and that includes many, many Evangelical Christians, even the Baptist writer N.R. Needham. Successionists like Carroll rely on a highly speculative historiography that is based in particular on works written before the 1890s.

Carroll's work contains no original research - and avowedly so, it is after all a record of a course of popular lectures, not an historical work. Yet even so, the work is lacking in details of the 'ancient Baptist groups'. In fact he has assumed that practically every heretical group from the early Church through the Middle Ages rejected infant Baptist, and that these groups were connected. So on P. 19 we read of "'Montanist,' 'Tertullianists', 'Novationists', 'Paterines,' etc." Now these are three different groups (no-one today thinks that a group called 'Tertullianists' ever existed). The Montanists were a charismatic group that taught the continuance of prophetic gifts, all centred on Montanus, their founder, who was regarded as a prophet. The Novatian Schism, on the other hand, was over the question of church discipline - Novation refused to re-admit those guilty of 'Mortal Sin' to the Church on profession of repentance. Both of these groups may have re-baptized, but that would have been because they did not recognise 'Catholic' baptism as valid! 'Paterines' is another name for the Medieval Bogomil movement. They were dualists of a sort, who believed that Jesus was the brother of Satan, and whose'baptism' was being patted on the head with a copy of John's Gospel! Thus each of the three groups mentioned here that actually existed were very different theologically.

More seriously, Carroll's understanding of the history of the Church is rather sketchy at times. He writes: "The fourth [ecumenical council] met at Chalcedon, AD 451, and was called by Emperor Marian; 500 or 600 bishops or Metropolitans... were present. During this council the doctrine of what is now known as Mariolatry was promulgated. This means the worship of Mary, the mother of Christ" (P. 21). In fact Chalcedon was called to correct mistaken view of the person of Christ, and the title 'Theotokos' applied to Mary was Christological in intent - to emphasise that the one born of Mary was indeed God. Only later was the Chalcedonian declaration used to glorify Mary herself (see K.S. Latourette, A History of Christianity [London, Eyre and Spottiswoode Ltd., 1964] 171-2 and Harold O.J. Brown, Heresies [Peabody, Mass., Hendrickson, 2003] 172-3). Harold O.J. Brown writes: "The term theotokos originally was intended to affirm the deity of Christ, but it gradually came to be a title of honour for Mary." Mariolatry was not imposed at Chalcedon - it arose as a corruption in popular piety.

On P. 23 we have another catalgue of names by which 'True Baptist Churches' were called: "Donatists, Paterines, Cathari, Paulicians... Petro-Brussians, Arnoldists, Henricians, Albigenses, and Waldenses." Who were these groups? The last was indeed an orthodox evangelical group - but today is rather inconveniently paedobaptist! The Donatists, like the Novatians, rejected all Catholic Baptism, but were not necessarily anti-paedobaptist! They could also be quite violent against Catholics. Paterines, Paulicians, Cathari and Albigenses are all names given to Medieval dualist groups. The Petrobrussians were the followers of Peter of Bruys, an ascetic who burned crosses and opposed the Catholic Church. He was, however, the originator of his party, not a member of an existing group. The Petrobrussians did not last long after Peter's death - unsurprisingly, really. The Arnoldists and Henricians were similar groups, also about the same time. All of these thrived in the 12th century, but they all have the same problem - they do not emerge from existing groups, but begin with a charismatic, ascetic leader. They were reactions against the corruptions of the Catholic hierarchy, and certainly de Bruys and his followers rejected infant baptism. It seems, however, that Henry of Lausanne, founder of the Henricians, and Arnold of Bresica, did not. Henry did however reject all sacraments administered by corrupt priests as invalid - so that he would re-baptize his followers if he had any doubt about their baptisms!

Waldensianism seems to have begun a little later, as a lay-renewal movement in the Catholic Church. Originally it was accepted, but in 1179 the 3rd Lateran Council refused to authorise them, and they were excommunicated in 1184, after which they merged with an Italian group called the Humiliati, who had broadly similar aims. Unlike the Petrobrussians they were not violent, and unlike the Arnoldists they did not ally themselves with political dissidents. As a result they remain in existence to this day. They sought to follow the New Testament. Although at first they tried to remain within the Medieval Catholic Church, they were finally forced into a separate existence. Persecution finally restricted them to the valleys of the Italian Alps, where they remained until the Reformation. Since at least some of them held, with the Henricians, that sacraments administered by corrupt priests were invalid, many joining the movement were re-baptized. The Waldensians themselves did not oppose infant baptism if performed by godly clergy.

Baptist successionism relies on the idea of an unbroken 'trail of blood' through the centuries. The book The Trail of Blood fails to establish such a trail - and indeed Carroll admits that he is assuming, against the evidence, that these groups were all orthodox!

On Pp. 32-33 we read, "During all these hard struggles for Reformation, continuous and valuable aid was given to the reformers, by many Ana-Baptists, or whatever other name they bore. Hoping for some relief from their own bitter lot, they came out of their hiding places and fought bravely with the reformers." This makes for good rhetoric, but is unfortunately untrue - I have been unable to discover references to any pre-existing baptistic groups who joined with the Reformers. All of the Reformation-era Anabaptist leaders, Balthasar Hubmaier, Conrad Grebel, Hans Denck, Menno Simons, were former Catholics. Hubmaier and Simons were both former priests, and they were by no means alone among Anabaptist leaders in being so. Grebel and Denck were both humanist reformers who rejected infant baptism. It is a fact that not one Reformation-era Anabaptist leader was from a pre-existing group, or gained his views from one.

In short, Baptist successionism is a speculative dogma, not a proveable historical fact. It is therefore something that should not be stated as such, and certainly cannot be the basis of any doctrine of the Church, any more than the dogma of Apostolic succession.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Utter Silliness!

Editing my review of Bennett's Catholicism: East of Eden, I came across this quotation from Faber's History of the Ancient Vallenses and Albigenses on P. 67. My reaction was one of disbelief followed by deep disquiet that this sort of thing is still believed by a worryingly huge number of Protestants. I quote:

"The Albigenses were a group of Christians, influential for their godly lives, who were condemned by the Church of Rome. George Stanley Faber, writing in 1838 provides an example of papal work, 'Avcording to the plan adopted by the inquisition of Langedoc, it was morally impossible for any of the accused Albigenses to escape [the charge of Manichaeanism]... No rational being can, by any conceivable possibilty, believe a syllable of the tales of Manicheism related of the Albigenses, when those tales rest upon such a foundation as that which has been laid by the Council of Narbonne..."

Note well. What Faber is in fact saying is that, because of the methods adopted by the Roman Catholics, we should discount all the evidence then available as to what the Albigenses believed. Faber's method utterly amazes me. Remember, the only actual evidence of the beliefs of the Albigenses (otherwise known as Cathars) available to Faber was found in the registers of that inquisition. Yet Faber decided to discount that, and amazingly to assume that in fact these people were "Protestants before the Reformation', on the basis that the Roman Catholic Church persecuted them. Yet we know that the Roman Catholics persecuted Jews in Europe and Muslims in Spain. In other words, merely being persecuted by Rome is no sign of orthodoxy! At most, therefore, all Faber should have been able to conclude is that the charges of dualism against the Albigenses were not proven. Instead he assumes them to be false, and projects onto the Albigenses the character of the Waldenses, an entirely different group!

Historians can only work with what exists, not with what does not, but Faber in effect reverses this procedure. Rome cannot be trusted, Rome says that the Albigenses were dualists, and therefore the Albigenses were in fact orthodox Protestants. Such reasoning condemns itself.

Contrast this method with the account of Albigensianism given in Harold O.J. Brown's magisterial Heresies Pp. 256-261. In brief he shows its links with Eastern dualistic groups, from which it derived its ordination. He writes: "As far as the Bogomils and Cathars are concerned, the testimonies that attribute moral purity to the leaders, but license to the generality of followers, are too numerous and unanimous to suppose them all to be hostile fabrications" (P. 257). This is the historical method - we use what sources we have, not uncritically, but with care. As far back as the 18th century, the Lutheran historican von Mosheim affirmed that the Alibigenses were dualists, and as Church history moved into the 20th century, so did other writers, for example the Frenchman Andre Lagarde, in his The Latin Church in the Middle Ages (Edinburgh, T. T. Clark, 1915), and Principal Adeney of Manchester in his The Greek and Eastern Churches (Edinburgh, T. T. Clark, 1908). By the time of K.S. Latourette's A History of Christianity (London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1964), a clear distinction is made between the Albigenses and the Waldenses. A modern work by a conservative Reformed Christian, N.R. Needham's 2000 Years of Christ's Power takes this line as well - one now taken by all but a few who cling to works that are derived from such unhistorical writings as that of Faber.

Thus we see (or ought to see) that the whole 'Trail of Blood' theory is based on writings that simply do not take history seriously!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Don't Call it Persecution!

What is religious persecution? Le me state what it is not. It is not religious persecution to say that another person is wrong, and that their religion (or lack of it) will land them in hell if they do not repent. Sadly some people seem to think that is the case. Let me be a little more provocative - it's not even rudely telling someone that their religion (or lack of it) will land them in hell if they do not repent. That's just bad manners, but it's not persecution. It's my opinion that Christians ought to politely disagree with people. I have been trying to model that with a Jehovah's Witness on my doorstep recently. We finally parted still disagreeing, but amicably, and with him saying that we could be friends if it was not for the fact that we disagreeon some fundamental issues. But the people who rudely told him to push off were not being persecutors!

No, religious persecution means (as the dictionaries say) "to oppress or harrass with ill-treatment" for religious reasons. Ill-treatment is important. In a world where people are routinely killed for their religious convictions, to call being insulted by some witless fundamentalist hell-bent on living up to Lord Soper's definition "persecution" is an isult to those rotting in prison for the sake of Christ. The funny mentalist may be rude, he may be obnoxious, but he's not a persecutor. I speak as one who has been on the receiving end of King James Onlyism! Let's reserve 'Persuction' for the real thing, and adopt 'Religious irritation' for everything else. I speak as a former rligiously-irritating student! Not that I am any less outspoken - I'm just generally more polite!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Very Disappointing

What is? This is. Now, I am just a pastor in a small Church in a small city in the Midlands. They call it 'The Church next to Tesco', and Tesco is due to move this year. But then, perhaps I'm representing all small-church pastors, especially those with a small mosque round the corner, where the second largest religious group (though by quite some way) is Islam (3.2% at the last census).

As Islam becomes more visible in the UK, and minarets start to join the spires and church towers in our cities, pastors and other Christians look around for books and resources to help us to understand this newcomer religion (the oldest mosque in Britain is only about 100 years old) in our land. The tragic thing is that some people will do what I did a few years ago, and buy Unveiling Islam by the Caner brothers on the basis that these two men are former devout Muslims. The trouble is, they're not! Ergun has pretended to speak Arabic, but has in fact been speaking gibberish. They pretended to be experts in Islam, in fact they are not. The use of references to 'Hadith such-and-such' should prove that - as I now know, there are no fewer than 6 authoritative Hadith collections, all different!

The facts are known now. But Ergun Caner is, according to this article, quite unrepentant. To be honest, it saddens me. First of all, and most importantly, because Dr. Caner shows his own condition to be bad. He has not repented of bearing false witness, and therefore shows that he is in a morally precarious position. He needs our prayers. Secondly, it saddens me because it affects our witness to Muslims. They already believe a lot of nonsense about us (my fellow ministers and I in this city have to reply to the assertion that we are paid by the government!), the last thing we need is Ergun Caner making things up about them!

This man is not an expert on Islam, he pretends to be. Avoid him, and tell your Muslim neighbours that he does not speak for you - he certainly does not speak for me!
[Additional note: I am reading right now the Autobiography of R.F. Horton, a noted Congregational pastor in London about 100 years ago. In it he refers to a difficult period he had when a cousin of his decided to become a Roman Catholic, and repeats, a statement this young man made when confronted with an example of deceit by a man who was in the process of becoming an RC. The cousin said, "But you may deceive in the interest of Religion." Now, I hope that today no Roman Catholics would agree with that statement. "Love hopeth all things". In 1917 Horton could count on all Protestants to agree with him. But by approving Ergun Caner, many Evangelicals have practically affirmed the sentiment of Horton's cousin. This is why I have been one with Dr. White from the beginning on this controversy, unless I condemn unequivocally the lies of Dr, Caner, I cannot hold up my head as an Evangelical. Those men like Norman Geisler who continue to give Caner a platform and credibility are bringing disgrace upon Evangelicalism. Had I been a Roman Catholic in the room with Horton and his cousin, I would have hung my head in shame at the statement. Now I say this - you may not deceive in the interest of religion. And if any man does so, let him beware of falling into the condemnation of the father of lies.]
Illustration: The former Bedford Chapel in Shelton, now a mosque

Saturday, September 25, 2010

On Reading Good Books

One does not have to read a lot of books on any subject, if one reads good books on the subject. It was the wisest of men who said, "Of the making of many books there is no end" (Eccles 12.12). It is simply impossible to read every book published on many subjects! So the answer is to read good books. To give an example. In her latest brick, Gail Riplinger has a (thoroughly unnecessary) section on the Knights Templar. When I criticised it, Riplinger's defender accused me of having made a special study of the Templar. The accusation is false - I had merely given a lecture on the Da Vinci Code, and read two books on the Knights Templar to do so, both popular books, not academic volumes. In contrast Riplinger's section on the Templar quotes more than a dozen works - all of them completely worthless! Why? Because they are books of fables and myths! (The reader is directed to Riplinger, Hazardous Materials [A.V. Publications, 2009] Pp. 843-851). They include the books underlying the Da Vinci Code, works by men described by leading British academic historian Prof. John Charmley as "Fabulists" (to come clean, he's my Dad, and it was a private conversation. The full quotation was "They're not historians, they're fabulists"). Therefore before reading a book one has to consider several points. First of all, origin. Who wrote it, and what else have they written? What qualifications do they have for writing it? If there is a brief description of the author on or in the book, what does it say? Then look at the bibliography, if there is one. Who are they citing? A large number of self-references and references to self-published works ought to set the alarm-bells ringing. Some authors are always worth reading, such as D.A. Carson and John Calvin.

Time is limited, so ask the question, is this the sort of book I'm looking for? If it's for leisure reading, the style is most important. Some academic writers have a terrible written style and should be avoided as leisure reading. So don't get Martin Gilbert's volumes on Churchill, get a smaller biography. Reading for serious information, make sure that the author has actually researched the book, and always be aware that where a passing reference is made to a person or event in a book not specifically dealing with that person or event, the author may well be in error. For example, John Pollock's description of Spurgeon in Moody Without Sankey is utterly inaccurate, but then it's not a biography of Spurgeon!

Particularly in terms of history and biography, there are volumes that are basically 'fluff', popular-level book relying on other popular level books. Avoid them like the plague they are. They will not help you at all. On the other hand, some classics ought to be read by everyone. In theology, where there is an early Cunningham Lectures volume on a work, it is usually worth reading ('Early' referring roughly to the preiod before 1900). This series produced Buchanan's standard work on Justification, Smeaton's on the Holy Spirit, and A.B. Bruce on The Humiliation of Christ. If you read the best, you will not have to worry so much about the rest.

Read more than one era. Old books are always worthwhile if they are good. But also modern writers are building on what has gone before. In terms of history it is most important to remember that historical research is always going on. Older books may be based on mistakes committed in the past that have now been corrected. And remember, a popular-level writer may well simply be repeating the mistakes of others!

And read well-written books. Reading good English will help you to write good English. Conversely, reading bad English will have a detrimental effect on your English style!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book Review: Catholicism: East of Eden

Catholicism: East of Eden – Richard Bennett. Pp. 336. £ 8.50. Paperback. ISBN 9781848710832
Banner of Truth

This is one of those books that I always want to be more positive about than I find I can be. One has a great deal of sympathy for Richard Bennett. He was brought up a devout Roman Catholic, and decided to dedicate himself to missionary work. He was priest in the West Indies, and clearly a very devout, though mistaken man. He is a very intelligent man, and his decision to dedicate himself to missionary work was at the expense of a university career.

As a former Roman Catholic priest, Richard Bennett has first-hand experience of the Church of Rome, and learned Roman Catholic theology from Roman Catholics. He is therefore qualified to present an insider’s view of Rome. This is the great strength of the book. Bennett is able to see through the smoke-screen Rome has erected, and through the confusion of ecumenical statements that are all give on the Protestant side and all take on the Roman side. The book is strongest as a personal testimony with theological reflection. Richard Bennett’s expertise and personal experience are obvious in his treatment of Roman Catholic theology and practice.

There is a very perceptive section on ecumenicism, pointing out that in fact what we have in the Ecumenical movement is a unity that is based almost ccompletely on the use of equivocal language. The chapter 'The Mystic Plague' is quite helpful too, and related. Mystical experience, divorced from doctrine, is a fruitful basis for the union of people belonging to groups with fundamental disagreements.

The section on marriage deals with matters that I for one was unaware of until quite recently, when another Christian remarked that a member of his family was kept from becoming a Roman catholic when he was told that, because his marriage was not a Roman Catholic one, it was no marriage at all, and his children were all illegitimate. Today Rome rarely speaks like that - but it lost at least one person many decades ago! If there is one criticism it is that perhaps Bennett tries to pack everything into a relatively short book. I personally prefer those works that seek to point out the most important differences between Rome and the Reformation churches - but that is just a minor criticism.

On the other hand, this book has a very serious weakness. In writing about the history of the papacy it is obvious that Bennett is far outside of his area of expertise, and he relies almost entirely on 19th century popular works that have since been superseded. The trouble is particularly with his treatment of certain medieval groups which 19th century Protestant groups assumed were evangelical, but which more recent discoveries have shown were not. This mars what is otherwise a good book. I was surprised that the only 20th century work he cites from is from a Seventh-Day Adventist.

Why is this a problem? It is a problem because all of these works treat the Albigensians and Paulicians as orthodox theologically. Yet today, with access to more information about these groups than 19th century Protestant historians had, no serious historian takes such a view. N.R. Needham's 2000 Years of Christ's Power is by no means an academic work, and he distinguishes between the orthodox Waldesians (whom he describes as "Protestants before the Reformation") and the heretical, dualistic Albigensians and Paulicians (Vol. 2, Pp. 114-7,309-313). Given that some of the works cited by Bennett are somewhat obscure, it will not do to say on this point "he is merely a popularizer". No, he has made the mistake of relying on outdated scholarship. We have to be very careful here. Our Protestant forefathers in their conflict with Rome often made the mistake of assuming that those who opposed Rome in the Middle Ages were of necessity in more or less full agreement with them. While there were such groups - like the Waldensians, the Petrobrussians and the Hussites, there were also groups that were not at all orthodox. Readers are directed to Harold O.J. Brown's magisterial work Heresies (Hendrickson, 2003) and chapter 14. For an in-depth study of dualist religions, see Yuri Stoyanov, The Other God (Yale, 2000). An older but still authoritative study is Sir Steven Runciman, The Medieval Manichee (Cambridge, 1947). It is telling that most of the works cited by Bennett are not actually studies of the Albigensians, but either Wylie's History of Protestantism, or studies of the Waldensians. This is undoubtedly the reason why they have merely repeated others' mistakes. However, given that Brown and Needham are on the market, there is really no reason for any modern writer to make such errors. Wylie in particular focuses on the Reformation era, not the Middle Ages.

It seems to me that Bennett is attracted to the idea of an alternative 'Apostolic Succession' of churches reaching back to before the rise of the Papacy and preserving the true doctrine. While understanding the appeal of such ideas to a former Roman Catholic, I have to dissent from it. For one thing, the Reformation came from inside the Medieval Catholic Church, not outside.

Having said this, it must not be forgotten that there is much in this book that the reader will appreciate, all relating to Bennett's area of expertise - modern Roman Catholicism. In my opinion it would be much improved if the ‘historical’ sections which deal with pre-Reformation times were either removed or revised in the light of research carried out in the 20th century. Read it carefully, and pay particular attention to the statements about modern Rome. The Reformation was necessary because of false teaching, and that teaching has not been reformed in Rome.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

International Buy a Qur'an Day!

Dr. James White has suggested that instead of a 'Burn a Qur'an Day' on 11th September we ought to have a 'Buy a Qur'an Day' instead, Christians should be buying copies of the Qur'an, reading them and finding out what it actually says. We have to make sure that we don't behave like ignorant Fundamentalists who have no understanding at all.
Now, it just so happens that I had already decided to do so. That and three of the authoritative Hadith collections, namely Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim and Sunan Ibn-i-Majah. The volumes arrived at my door today in two huge boxes, which rather amazed me. Then I found that Sahih Muslim and Sunan Ibn-i-Majah were both in small boxes inside the huge boxes. Despite the blurb on the internet, Sahih Muslim is in four volumes, not three! But Al-Bukhari, in nine volumes, came wrapped in the most amazing sackcloth and cardboard box, which was in turn wrapped in brown heavy-duty tape! The Islamic Book Service is certainly determined to make sure no harm comes to Al-Bukhari! But I persevered, and as the second picture shows, the books are now out of their boxes, and on my shelf, ready for serious study.
So go on, if you really want to engage with the Muslims, buy a Qur'an, read it, compare it with the Bible - and be amazed!
Now, if only those JWs would come back for a chat!
Update: They did! I pointed to John 1, Colossians 1 and 2, and then... well, then they had to go, leaving a JW Bible sudy book, and Proverbs 8. I in turn pointed out that Wisdom in Proverbs 8 is female!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Found at Mow Cop

Last week was the Book Festival at Mow Cop Methodist Chapel, held in support of the Primitive Methodist Museum at Englesea Brook. I went up and down the Cop more than once. These books illustrated here are the cream of the crop. Clockwise from top left we have:
1. C.T. Bateman: John Clifford. 1904. This biography of the General Baptist leader was written during his lifetime. Clifford was Spurgeon's more politically-involved counterpart. Clifford heard Spurgeon first in the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Wellingborough - where I have preached.

2. Joseph Ritson: The Romance of Nonconformity. 1910. This book, 100 years old this year, was the sequel to Ritson's Romance of Primitive Methodism, and gives an outline of the history of British Nonconformity. Ritson was a Primitive Methodist writer.

3. A.C. Pratt: Black Country Methodism. 1891. A rare volume that gives a sketch of the rise of Methodism in the Black Country. For non-British readers I should explain that this is the area around Wolverhampton, and was called the Black Country because it was a centre of coal-mining. The book also has a good ornamental binding.

4. George Sudlow: Sammy Brindley and His Friends. 1905. Sammy Brindley was known as the 'Staffordshire Billy Bray'. He lived at Audley, near Newcastle-Under-Lyme. This delightful little book includes a great deal of dialogue in North Staffordshire dialect, as well as the history of local Methodism.

5. Frederick Overend: History of the Ebenezer Baptist Church Bacup. 1912. The bicentenary history of a Lancashire Baptist Church. Sadly there will be no tercentenary, Ebenezer Bacup closed in 1962 and the buildings were pulled down. Overend traces the history of the church back to its origins in the 17th century.

6. Edward Carey Pike: English Nonconformity. 1896. This volume was published by the Bible Christian Methodists, and embodies a series of lectures tracing the history of Nonconformity to the 19th century. The final lecture deals with the controversy with the Oxford Movement. The lectures were originally given to a ministers' fraternal.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kregel has revised its description of the Caners

A while ago I posted a blog entry noting that Kregel publications had a misleading description of the Caner brothers on their website. I quote:
"Raised as Sunni Muslims, their father a leader in their local mosque, brothers Ergun and Emir Caner were immersed in Islam. Now Christians, respected evangelical scholars, and theologians, the Caner brothers are fully qualified to present an inside view of the Muslim life".

The actual product detail page said: "Raised as Sunni Muslims by a leader in the faith, brothers Ergun and Emir Caner have lived the Muslim life. Now Christians, and highly respected theology professors, the Caner brothers are particularly qualified to present an unprecedented insider's look at Islam."

Both of these have now gone (though may still be found on sites that took the original blurb from Kregel). Instead Kregel simply says that they were "Raised as Sunni Muslims" (which still seems to be stretching things). The Product detail page has been altered to read: "Raised as Sunni Muslims, brothers Ergun and Emir Caner converted from Islam to Christianity as teenagers. Now respected evangelical scholars and theologians, the Caner brothers are able to present an inside view of the Muslim life from a Christian perspective."

Note that they are now only said to be "Able to present an inside view of the Muslim life from a Christian perspective", they are no longer "Particularly qualified to present am unprecedented insider's look at Islam." The truth is out, and the Caner brothers have been demoted from experts to people who know something about Islam.

Thank you, Kregel, for responding to our concerns.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Book Review: Why Johnny Can't Preach

T. David Gordon: Why Johnny Can’t Preach (Philipsburg, P. & R. 2009) Pp.108

This slender volume deserves to have an influence far above its size. Many have lamented the terrible state of the Evangelical pulpit today, that so many evangelical pastors are, frankly, lousy preachers. They can get up into the pulpit and ramble on for 45 minutes, and no-one has a clue what the point of the sermon was five minutes after it was delivered.

There is general agreement that this is so, where there has been little work is on why it is so. Gordon’s book is an essay in that direction. He argues that the problem is not, at least in Reformed circles, that the seminaries have declined, but that the students going in are rather different from what they were, having been formed by a culture where reading texts and writing considered, careful, structured essays are less common than they were in the past. Simply put, our preachers are suffering from an overdose of the trivial, and have not been taught how to read or how to write – at least not carefully.

Chapter 1 is dedicated to the thesis that “Johnny Can’t Preach.” R.L. Dabney’s criteria for preaching are used as a framework for good preaching, and some preliminary points as to why this is the case are set out. The next chapter is entitled “Johnny Can’t Read (Texts),” and argues that modern people, on the whole, do not know how to read a text deeply. Chapter three is entitled “Johnny Can’t Write,” a fact that most teachers today – and magazine editors – can attest! Chapter four is “A Few Thoughts About Content”, where Gordon explains some examples of bad preaching, and suggests that Evangelical preaching needs to be… well, Evangelical! The final chapter, “Teaching Johnny to Preach,” suggests some ways forward.

This is a unique work, and deserves to be read by all involved in ministerial training – especially the students. I then prescribe a volume of John Henry Newman (for style alone, I’m not going Roman Catholic), the works of Benjamin B. Warfield, and plenty of Calvin, all read carefully for style as well as information. Where possible ministers ought to write book reviews for a magazine – there are plenty of magazines out there, and part of writing a review involves reading a book carefully. Sadly the blog doesn’t help as it should, since there is no editor to tell the minister that his writing style is atrocious.

Get this book from your local Christian Bookshop. But if you think you'll get funny looks asking for Newman, you can get one of his books online. Or just ask for G.K. Chesterton.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Review - D.A. Carson on Scripture

D.A. Carson: Collected Writings on Scripture (Leicester, Apollos, 2010) Pp. 335, Hardcover

D.A. Carson has, it seems, now reached the point where he merits a “collected writings” volume. This opening sentence should not be read as a criticism, because it isn’t – this book is an unalloyed good thing. The binding is another matter, however. Real cloth binding would have been far more appropriate than the rather cheap hardcover binding that needs to be hidden by the attractive dust jacket.

With the criticism out of the way early, we can move on to the contents. This book collects five essays and five book reviews that are broadly united by the theme of Scripture. They cover a period from 1983 to 2008, and all are worth the effort in reprinting them.

D.A. Carson is an excellent writer, and one of the men that our modern preachers need to read simply for style, let alone content! He is also a very thoughtful writer, and when he publishes a book, it is usually required reading. This book, although its various parts were originally published in a variety of places, is another required reading piece.

It begins with an essay on “Approaching the Bible” taken from the IVP New Bible Commentary, which serves as an introduction to the whole book as much as anything else. The second piece, “Recent Developments in the Doctrine of Scripture” deals with “recent developments” in 1986, when it was written. The realisation that we are now some 24 years from that date is rather staggering! Given the passage of time, it is remarkable how relevant this essay is, since it still falls within the period during which writings may be seen as “dated” rather than “classic”. The third essay, “Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: The Possibility of Systematic Theology,” is excellent, as it shows that Biblical theology and Systematic theology are not opposed to one another if properly understood. Chapter 4, on Redaction Criticism, is perhaps a little dated, since Redaction Criticism is no longer as much in vogue as once it was. Still, it is a helpful essay and useful in thinking through the application of literary tools in Bible study. The last essay in the first section, “Is the Doctrine of Claritas Scripturae Still Relevant Today,” is timeless, as it addresses the perspicuity of Scripture, and what this means and does not mean.

Part 2 is headed by two lengthy reviews, each of three books on the Bible, and then rounded off by three shorter pieces. Each review deals with questions that are still buzzing, the nature of inspiration, the Incarnational analogy as applied to Scripture, and the question of the truth of the Bible. Even if the reader has not read the books dealt with, he will be left informed about the current state of the question among Evangelicals.

This is a surprisingly easy book to read, considering the subjects dealt with, and ought to be required reading for anyone wanting to get a handle on the questions agitating the Christian world about the Bible today. Order from your local Christian Bookshop where possible.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Ergun Caner is Guilty!

The title of this post is one no reasonable person can doubt now. Yet Norman Geisler and others seem to think otherwise! The evidence is all against them, as are the actions of Liberty Seminary - you simply do not demote a man who has done nothing wrong! The evidence is all out there, including audio presentations and videos of Caner disamminating his mythological past. Note well, plural, videos. Nor are the things said in the most recent of these videos (here) just off-the-cuff remarks or exaggerations. Caner has said, over and over, that he came to the US from Turkey as a teenager. Not just once or twice, but repeatedly, and in situations where he was recorded saying these things. At the same time, in other situations involving print media (including his books) he was telling the truth, that he came to the US at a very early age from Sweden.

There is simply no way that any rational person can come to any other conclusion than this - Ergun Caner has been telling blatant untruths to make himself sound more impressive than he actually is. These are not "misstatements". A misstatement would be my saying I first preached at Wattisham Strict Baptist Chapel in 2004 - it was in fact 2005. Or that when I was a child I almost set fire to the crib scene in St. Thomas' Church, Norwich, by leaning against a candlestick. My memory has, according to my mother, falsely placed this one, it was in St. Giles' Church. But St. Thomas' was the church we usually went to, hence the error of memory. The point is that both of these events actually took place! In terms of the candle incident, I was very young, and so I forgot where it happened, but it still happened. Caner did not go to a Madrassa in Beirut - and so that is a lie, not a misstatement. My saying that I almost set the crib scene alight in St. Thomas' Church in Norwich would be a misstatement, I am afraid that what Caner has said are mostly lies.

They are lies, please take note. Lying is a sin. "Everyone who loves and practices falsehood" is condemned to spend eternity outside of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 22:15, along with the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, murderers and idolaters! It seems to me that sadly far too many Evangelicals ignore this passage. God does not give ministers a pass on telling lies. What is more, lies can never serve the truth - let us beware of thinking that they can!

It appears that Liberty may be "letting Dr. Caner go," as they say. I was once "let go" from a job - it means being fired. Frankly, I am not surprised that Liberty's giving him the boot!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

We are Not Infallible!

Recently a friend gave me a copy of a work by J.C. Ryle entitled The Fallibility of Ministers. Based on Galatians 2.11-16, it is of course directed primarily against the dogma of Papal Infallibility. But the title reminds us that the truth is not merely that the Pope both can and does err, but that all ministers and teachers are subject to error. God alone is inerrant and infallible - and that is why His Word does not err and contains no mistakes. The Biblical authors were "Carried along by the Holy Spirit", as Peter says. We are not.

Whenever a teacher gets it into his or her head that he or she is infallible, that person is in for trouble. Firstly, because he or she has become a fanatic, and secondly because he or she has just placed his or her self above all criticism. In other words, that person has become a little pope, no matter how opposed to Rome he may be, or how warm are his protestations of protestantism.

Ministers are not infallible, we make mistakes. This is plainly seen when we consider that some men are Presbyterian, others hold to Independency to be the church order instituted by God. Some of us believe Baptism is rightly administered only to those who profess faith in Christ, others that it is rightly administered to their children as well. Both of us cannot be right (though both of us may of course be wrong). So neither my teaching, nor that of any other man should be regarded as in and of itself true. Ordination does not confer infallibility, any more than faith does.

So beware the man or woman who refuses to admit mistakes. One suspects that this idea that the minister is infallible has contributed to the cover-up over Ergun Caner - his defenders feel they must at all costs conceal the fact that they were so mistaken about the man! And, at the risk of re-opening an old controversy, this is Part of Gail Riplinger's problem - she refuses to admit she is capable of basic factual error, resulting in New Age Bible Versions still being in print, riddled with all the errors it contains! When I contacted AV Publications concerning a factual error in Hazardous Materials, I received a reply that was nothing less than a defence of a demonstrable factual error. What was it? Well, I pointed out that R.C. Trench did not choose to put the sybol on his title page, and it was in fact the publisher's logo. The reply, instead of accepting that an error had been made, said words to the effect of "well, why was he using an occult publisher?" The answer was that he wasn't, he was using a general publisher!

Beware the infallible teacher - and doubly beware the infallible female teacher!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Looking for Answers in the Wrong Place

One of the most amazingly daft ideas I have ever come across is that somehow natural science can decide for us questions of morality. This is foolish, because natural science (I possess a batchelor's degree in environmental science from the University of Liverpool, so I think I know something about natural science) can only describe what is. Morality, however, is a matter of how human beings ought to behave, and that cannot be the same as how human beings do behave. Why? Because we are all agreed that there are boundaries to acceptable human behaviour. It is an unarguable fact that murder, pederasty, incest, rape and torture happen. Yet there are (thankfully) very few people who think that they are fine, good things - and quite right too!

So why is it that there are attempts to argue that we should accept homosexual behaviour because it is 'natural'? If natural science tells us that some people are disposed to homosexual behaviour, while others are not, then does it follow it's good? No! Moral questions are outside of the realm of natural science - and rightly so. Natural science tells us what is, it cannot tell us what is good.

Which is why you will not see our lawmakers going to scientists to learn ethics.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Distorting Mirror

This article crystallises certain thoughts I have expressed on other occasions in conversation. One of the great influences on the life of most of the population of this country, and of the world, is television. For this reason, television broadcasters have, potentially, a great deal of power. Television brings both reports of the factual (news and documentaries), and fictional drama, into the home.

As a 'factual' source, the spin that the broadcaster puts on the facts is all-important, and if only one side is shown, it appears to be the only side. Thus television's depiction of an issue is important for the formation of public opinion on it. It as said that the Vietnam war was lost, not in Vietnam, but in the living rooms of America, as the public at home saw a war that seems unwinnable (though arguably no more so that World War 1). It makes some of us wonder what would have happened had the Trenches of Flanders been shown on television in America? Would America ever have entered the First World War?

But this is just an example. More dangerous, in terms of opinion-forming, are dramas that are set in 'the real world'. I have always argued that Eastenders is far more dangerous than Harry Potter for children. Harru Potter, after all, lives in a fantasy world of magic, with dragons and other such magical creatures. Eastenders, on the other hand, is supposed to depict real life. But it cannot. After all, real life is not dramatic enough to hold an audience! The audience do not want their life to be depicted on TV (after all, they already live that!), but excitement, danger and adventure. Now, it is one thing for that excitement to be shown in a thriller, but the Soap Opera is supposed to be a realistic depiction of life. In fact the modern soap (with the possible exception of police soap The Bill) is a distorting mirror. The soaps have adopted ever more improbably storylines over recent years, in one case even bringing a character back from the dead! And so the depiction of a Christian pastor as a deranged killer is only to be expected - after all, the religious nutter is a common trope in sensational fiction (and let us be honest, that is what modern soaps are).

If this were an isolated incident, I would mutter something about a lack of imagination and go and do something else, but this is part of a pattern. The BBC has also been responsible for a number of dramas in which 'Christian' terrorist groups have appeared, despite the fact that no such group has ever existed. It is almost as if in the world these fictional characters inhabit it is Christians, not Muslims, who are making terrorist threats!

Despite the increasing Muslim population of many British cities, and the mosques rising among the chimneys and church towers in these cities, Islam still has the status of a "foreign" religion on TV, and therefore the BBC generally depict it favourably. All well and good. But it seems that there is an undue bias against Christianity, with Christian characters often being depicted in a negative way. What is the danger? It is that this distorting mirror will encourage people to think of Christians as "nutters", and all the while the protest is "we are just being true to life." Nonsense, TV is a distorting mirror. And if what people see on TV does not affect their behaviour, why does anyone buy advertising on commercial TV?

It has been said of the press that they possess power without responsibility. The BBC would do well to remember what Uncle Ben told Peter Parker: "With great power comes great responsibility," namely the responsibility to use that power wisely. As fr the viwers, we must recall that TV does not, and cannot, depict reality. Drama depicts the world the writer creates.

Incidentally, the murderous religious nut is a tired, hackneyed idea as well, and indicates a failure of imagination. Plus the writers of these negative potrayals (I myself saw the offending episode of the dire BBC series Bonekickers, which is second only to the BBC's Robin Hood in terms of direness) seem to have done minimal research on Christianity, leading to their characters acting like no real Christian on earth, mixing Protestant and Roman Catholic practice freely... and now I will be silent, before I burst a blood-vessel.

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Moral" means more than sexual!

One of the most frustrating things about the whole Ergun Caner affair has been the insistence from some quarters (including Norman Geisler) that Ergun Caner has done nothing "Morally wrong." I beg to differ. It seems almost as if the only moral failing recognised in some quarters today is sexual. I used to think that the claim that some quarters of evangelicalism were obsessed with sex was a canard, now I'm not so sure.

Morality is about far more than one's relations with the opposite sex. Take this example. Was this man guilty of moral wrongdoing? Well, I don't see how you can say otherwise! He disobeyed the deacons and damaged church property, then tried to pack the church with new members. He was no heretic, guilty of no financial crime - but morally wrong.

Ergun Caner has not been caught with his pants down. He has, however, been caught with his pants on fire. Lying is a serious sin: "everyone who loves and practices falsehood" are listed with "the sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters" in Revelation 22.15 as being "Outside" the city of God. Liars beware!

So let's show some integrity. Let's admit that pastors who lie must be disciplined the same as pastors who sleep with their secretaries, pastors who fiddle the books, and pastors who break into the chapel after the deacons (or, more biblically, other elders) try to fire them.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Mis-selling an insurance policy or a mortgage is a serious offence. Mis-selling a book is much less serious - but it is still serious. Consider those "memoirs" that have been revealed to be works of fiction. People really believed (though in many cases really ought to have known better) that they were reading factual works, only to find that in fact they were reading fantasy!

Ergun Caner is a published author. I have read only one of his books, Unveiling Islam, from Kregel Publications. Recently I contacted Kregel with my concerns about the fact I bought the book on the srength of Caner's now-exposed false biography.

Looking on the Kregel website, I found the following description of the Caner brothers on the site: "Raised as Sunni Muslims, their father a leader in their local mosque, brothers Ergun and Emir Caner were immersed in Islam. Now Christians, respected evangelical scholars, and theologians, the Caner brothers are fully qualified to present an inside view of the Muslim life". The actual product detail page says: "Raised as Sunni Muslims by a leader in the faith, brothers Ergun and Emir Caner have lived the Muslim life. Now Christians, and highly respected theology professors, the Caner brothers are particularly qualified to present an unprecedented insider's look at Islam."

We now know that both of these decriptions are false. Ergun and Emir were in their mother's custody following a divorce when both brothers were under ten. Now, it so happens that my own background is similar in that point. Like the Caners, my mother was my custodial parent, while I saw my father at week-ends. Now, if Ergun and Emir Caner's mother was their custodial parent, they were in fact raised by their mother, not their father. If, as Emir has said, their mother was not a Muslim, then they cannot have been "immersed in Islam."

Which brings us to why Ergun's false story about the Madrassa was necessary. He was converted at 14, 15 or 16. This is very young for someone who received instruction in Islam only every other week-end from a non-custodial parent. Again, I was in a liberal Anglican church until I was 18. I learned liberal theology at secondary school - but I am no expert in liberalism! Only if I had been a liberal theological student could that possibly be the case - and hence Ergun Caner's non-existent training in the madrassa. Smoke and mirrors to get us to buy his books, and to make his reputation. Note Kregel's description of the Caner brothers: "Highly respected theology professors." For Ergun, this may change, if he does not repent and confess his lying!

Incidentally, the fact that the Caner brothers edited the series "the Costly Call" is rather unfortunate in the light of the now-revealed fact that Ergun has consistently represented himself as uffering far more than he actually did for becoming a Christian.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Church is not a Democracy

Recently our government here in Britain invited members of the public to suggest which laws they would like to see abolished. Predictably someone suggested the law of gravity. There's always one, isn't there?

Now, in a democracy, laws change. Drivers are no longer forced to be preceded by a man with a red flag (and a good thing too!). Dog owners no longer need a licence for most breeds, I don't need a licence for my aged Phillips Stealla radio. And in a democracy, the will of the majority is behind changes to the law. That is all well and good - in a democracy.

The church, however, is not a democracy. The Kingdom of God is a monarchy, and not a limited constitutional monarchy either! So the laws are not up for re-negotiation. The Episcopal Church USA has forgotten this in its mad dash to look just like the most liberal part of western culture, and the Church of England is not far behind. To be honest, if a man can be a clergyman and deny every essential tenet of the faith, I'm not going to get too excited just because suddenly a man who lives with another man as with a woman can be a bishop. They began with a doctrinal down-grade, it does not surprise me that "Where there is no revelation the people cast off all restraint." The will of God trumps the will of the majority every time, especially in the church. Now, one can go off and join the Unitarians, or found your own little group, if you think that Christianity's wrong, but please, don't call yourself a Christian! If you (British language coming up here) say you are a republican, but uphold the monarchy, you are not "a new kind of republican", you are a monarchist!

And this goes for all God has said. Norman Geisler is trying to defend Ergun Caner, but has actually ended up saying that lying is acceptable if it is "one of us" who lies. No, lying is never acceptable, especially if it is "one of us" who is guilty of it. Lying is a sin! But Geisler is bending over backwards to deny that Caner ever did anything wrong. Liberty University beg to differ, and I would not be at all surprised if Caner was no longer on faculty there in the 2011-12 academic year.

We are not at liberty to re-write any of God's laws, for any reason. Not even because we're sure he's a nice man and a friend. Now, is Jeffrey John's situation worse than Caner's? In one way, yesm because Jeffrey John is an apostate. But in another sense, both involve men flouting God's law, and others covering up for them. And now I need to see about the sparrow that just did a Kamikaze run on my study window.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Shame of a Drunk Culture

The BBC report the findings of a worrying recent study here. This is deeply worrying. We need no-one to tell us that drunkenness is a serious problem in our cities - at least, those of us who live in cities don't. Stoke on Trent police report that, while there has been an overall drop in crime, there has been an increase in drink-related violent crime.

Contrary to the traditional beliefs of some Protestants, the Bible does not forbid the drinking of alcohol - Jesus turned water into wine, not unfermented grape juice. There is nothing at all wrong with drinking alcohol. But what the Bible clearly forbids is drunkenness. "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whoever is deceived thereby is not wise" (Prov. 20.1). Drunkenness makes a man beastly, it takes away rational thought and leads people to behave foolishly, violently and shamefully. Secondly, while "a little wine" (1 Timothy 5.23) may do some good, drunkenness leads to damaged health: "Who has woe? Who has sorrows? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine" (Prov. 23.29,30). It is these folk who are to be found in the Accident and Emergency unit of your local hospital at the week-end, and these who are going to require serious treatment for their livers in the future. And all because we are trying to escape from the emptiness of our lives. We ought to be reading Ecclesiastes and facing it, not getting drunk and trying to hide from reality. "Do not be drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery, but be filled with the Holy Spirit." A man filled with wine is the opposite of a man filled with the Spirit.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

On Narcissism

Recently I watched through the run of the modern-day Battlestar Galactia. It is, as expected, quite different from the original in many ways. Very sensibly, characters are played with little if any similarities to the originals. Though it is great fun to watch Jamie Bamber as Lee Adama opposite Richard Hatch as Tom Zarek. Obviously the two Apollos work well together.

One of the most interesting of the new versions of original characters is Gaius Baltar. The original Baltar was a thoroughly rotten villain who deliberately sold humanity out to the genocidal robotic Cylons in exchange for power, alternately vicious and cowardly. John Colicos played the character perfectly, and is still great fun to watch in the role today.

In the modern version of the show, Gaius Baltar, played by James Callis, is weak, yes, but the defining characteristic of the character is his narcissism. Gaius Baltar has only one loyalty, and that is to Gaius Baltar. His narcissism blinds him to mistakes that he makes (which result in the genocide of humanity at the hands of the Cylons). James Callis portrays the character wonderfully.

Baltar is a villain in both versions of the show. But the modern Baltar is a villain because he is so utterly self-centred. At one point, discussing why Baltar did what he did, a character notes that Baltar always sees himself as the victim, never as the perpetrator. And that is the genius of the show's writers, they see this for what it is. The man who always sees himself as a victim is finally a villain, because his world revolves around himself. Only the man whose world does not revolve around himself is capable of doing truly heroic things - because he is the only man who is actually selfless.

It is therefore hugely ironic that modern evangelical preaching has tended to be self-centred, "be the best that you can be." But this is not the Bible's focus at all. The Bible focuses on God and what He has done, in Christ, for us. To Baltar, it is all his story, to the Christian, this is all God's story.

This is the first time I have written anything based on popular culture. It may well be the last.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Christians ought to tell the Truth! (updated)

We, as Christians, follow Him who is the Truth. As such, we ought to be truthful. It is therefore profoundly disappointing to read this. Not overly surprising, but definitely disappointing. Liberty University has not "exonerated" Ergun Caner. If he was innocent of all wrongdoing, then he would have been retained in post as president and dean of the seminary. These are not merely honourary posts, at least if Liberty functions like a secular University. The deanship is no sinecure, the dean has many responsibilities. The president functions as the public face of the seminary. For Ergun Caner to have been removed from the deanship and presidency is a real demotion, and indicates that the Seminary leadership are in fact convinced that there was real wrongdoing on Ergun Caner's part.

So for the SBC Today blog to say: "This matter is behind us and we praise God that Dr. Caner is exonerated as he is retained at Liberty on faculty." is simply delusional, a failure to face facts. Men are not demoted wen they are found to be without guilt! We can all be glad that there have in fact been real consequences for Ergun Caner as a result of his falsehoods. What we all look for now is a statement from Caner apologising for what he actually did wrong.

As far as I am aware, the issue in Christian circles has never been that Caner was never a Muslim, it is that he claimed an expertise in Islam that he never possessed. It seems that the SBC today blog has forgotten this, and read only the words, "The committee found no evidence to suggest that Dr. Caner was not a Muslim who converted to Christianity as a teenager," without going on to read that he was nevertheless found to have uttered factually incorrect statements about his past. It is therefore less than completely honest to act as if the only real charge was that brought by certain Muslins, that Ergun Caner was a "fake ex-Muslim."

What is at issue, though, is whether or not he was ever a devout Muslim, whose father was a scholar. Many people bought Unveiling Islam because it was written by an ex-Muslim, a former insider with knowledge not available to those outside of Islam. I was one of them. If the book had merely been marketed as written by two Evangelical scholars of Turkish origins, I would not have bought that book. And herein lies another point - Ergun Caner has profited from his deception. His demotion will have brought with it a cut in salary. Unless Liberty is engaging in extremely dishonest behaviour (and there is no indication that they are), Caner will suffer financially.

Now, will he please put an end to this whole saga and make a public statement of repentance for the wrongdoing that led to his demotion? A pattern of embellishment has been recorded, and that pattern can only be denied by shutting one's eyes to reality.

Like Ergun Caner, I was converted out of a false religious system - liberalism. But most of my in-depth knowledge of liberalism comes from after my conversion. Why? Because I was a liberal in the pew, not a serious student of liberal theology. I freely admit this. Yet I attended a liberal Anglican church until 1998, and was confirmed in that tradition, with Bishop Montefiore's Confirmation Notebook, a volume that I have jokingly said teaches its readers how to say the Apostles' Creed without meaning a word of it. There is no evidence that Dr. Caner's knowledge of Islam was any greater than my knowledge of liberal theology was at conversion. I am no expert on liberalism. I was converted at 18, he was converted at 15 or 16 (I can understand that he might be a little hazy about the date, I was until I checked up on some immovable date-markers in 1998).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rev. Robert Jones

In the old Primitive Methodist graveyard at Saughall, on the Cheshire side of the English-Welsh border, there is the grave of the Rev. Robert Jones, a Primitive Methodist minister. The picture of it was taken yesterday. The inscription is most interesting. It reads:
"Rev. Robert Jones: He was called to the joy and service of the higher life while preaching in the Primitive Methodist Church, West Bromwich, on Sunday morning June 8th 1902, aged 52 years. 'I have finished the work Thou gavest me to do.'"
This is one of the things that ensures that the service is cut short!

Monday, June 7, 2010

"Lost" Gospels?

Every so often someone finds (or finds that someone else has found) that there are other documents known as 'gospels.' Immediately they conclude that this somehow proves that Jesus was not the way the New Testament says He was. So what shouls Christians think of these things?

Christians should not worry about these discoveries at all, because they affect absolutely nothing. Contrary to all the hype, they have no affect at all on our understanding of who Jesus is. At best they help scholars to understand the heretical sects that produced them.

So why is there so much fuss about them? First of all, people talk about them because they can be used by unbelievers to undermine confidence in the Bible. A classic case in point is The Da Vinci Code’s claim that there were “more than 80” gospels considered for inclusion in the New Testament. This is utter nonsense. At no point was there ever a meeting that decided which books belong in the New Testament. But to say that the early Christians held various radically different views of Jesus means that we can pick and choose which Jesus we want to believe in ourselves. It is a way of avoiding Jesus’ claims.

Second, people love a good conspiracy theory. This is why The Da Vinci Code sold as well as it did. The conspiracy theory TV series The X Files ran for years. We live in a day and age when people tend to distrust authority, and so the claim that the truth about Jesus was covered up is a sure seller.

Thirdly, most people today, even Christians, are woefully ignorant about the Bible. A poll showed that the best-known Bible verse among modern American is “God helps those who help themselves” – which is not in the Bible at all. Thus people can make the wildest and silliest claims about these documents, and people still believe them.

One of the problems is with the language used of them. What we understand by a Gospel is a narrative like that in our Canonical gospels. The so-called “Lost gospels” contain nothing of the sort. Instead they are usually collections of sayings attributed to Jesus. My advice to anyone who is worried about the lost gospels is that they should read one or two of them. I have read all of the most popular ones myself. You will soon see that they are a radically different sort of literature from the canonical gospels. Another name they are known by is the “Gnostic gospels”. This refers to the fact that they are the product of a varied movement known as Gnosticism that flourished from the 2nd century and into the 4th century. The name comes from a Greek word meaning “to know”. To the Gnostics salvation was a matter of having esoteric knowledge – and that is what these Gnostic texts teach. Secondly, the “Lost Gospels” are all very late documents. None dates from before about AD 150, while our Gospels, particularly Matthew, Mark and Luke, can all be dated with confidence to before AD 70. Matthew and John were written by people who knew Jesus. There is an old tradition that Mark’s Gospel is based on the preaching of the Apostle Peter, and Luke explicitly states that he interviewed eye-witnesses. In contrast the Gnostic gospels were not written until more than a century after Jesus’ death, and have no connection at all with the eye-witnesses. No Christian group ever accepted any of them, for their teaching utterly contradicts the canonical Gospels. The Jesus of the Gnostic gospels came to give deep teaching, the true Jesus came to die for our sins. The Gnostic Jesus would never have been crucified.

Friday, May 21, 2010

How NOT to Answer those you disagree with

It amazes me how many people in our post-modern culture take everything personally. Instead of saying "I disagree with you," or "you're wrong", the first answer some give is along the lines of, "You're being mean," or "You're lying!"

And this seems to crop up even in conservative Christian circles. James White has posted an e-mail received from a Caner defender that is sadly all too typical of a certain sort of person. Instead of replying to White's arguments, he attacks White personally. The amazing thing is that in the course of this diatribe he describes White as a "fraud". Now, the reason I am amazed by this is simple. The Caner Controversy is over the allegations that Ergun Caner is a fraud by some measure, as he has fabricated a back-story for himself that does not fit the facts. Yet instead of answering the charges, Caner has been silent, and those who are "defending" him, having no real answers (since Caner has not deigned to give us any), are therefore left with the temptation to resort to insults.

This is very much what "the Puritan" has done with my criticisms of Gail Riplinger. Instead of showing where I am wrong, and how Mrs. Riplinger's flagrant dishonesty in abusing the words of a dead man is really justified, he accuses me of "defending the devil", as if the worst sin in the world was daring to defend Westcott from flagrant lies. Gail Riplinger herself prefers to abuse her critics rather than engage with them. In her latest rant she suggests that the only reason anyone disagrees with her is pride - not the fact that her research is piecemeal and shoddy. To say that C.J. Vaughan sat in the House of Lords as "First Baron of the Realm" is incredible, and I am literally at a loss to think where she could have got such a ludicrous idea!

Both Mr. Daliessio and "the Puritan" have in common is this - they are attached to a leader in such a way that they take any criticism of that person very personally. Rather than attempting to show that the criticism is wrong, they attack the critic. Yet in both cases they do so with a double-standard. "The Puritan" criticises me for noting details in Riplinger's books, yet Riplinger herself majors on the details in the books of others! (What is more, how on earth can you criticize poor research without giving examples of individual problems?). Mr. Daliessio calls James White a "Fraud", when Ergun Caner is a documented fraud.

Neither actually helps. I have no anger towards Mrs. Riplinger, or Ergun Caner. They have both done things they should not have done, both have lied to the people of God in order to sell books and make a name for themselves. But what they need is prayer. They must come to repentance for what they have done. However, the manner of bringing men to repentance is not an easy one, and may require excommunication, not in a censorious spirit, but "in a Spirit of gentleness."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My bit on Caner

I have hitherto refrained from commenting on the Ergun Camer saga as it plays itself out. Not because I am not convinced by the documentation that has been presented, but because I was not sure what to say. Tom Chantry has written a good piece on the use of exaggeration in the pulpit. however, that finally brought me to say something.

Chantry is quite right that there is an over-use of anecdotes in some preaching. What is worse is the mentality that thinks it is better to represent these anecdotes as having happened to me. This is just plain wrong. Now, I am not against the use of stories in preaching, but I believe that we must always be utterly truthful in what we say - I am reminded of the story of the British preacher who was preaching American sermons on the sly and was found out when he began a sermon by saying something along the lines of "As I looked out of my study window this morning at the Rocky Mountains..."

First of all, nothing justifies making out that something happened to you when it did not, nothing at all. That is not exaggeration, it is lying. Exaggeration is when you say that the fish was this big, when it was a great deal smaller, or when you refer to a trip that took an hour and a half more than it should have as taking "hours." If, however, I were to talk about my trip to Australia, I would be lying. I have never been to Australia!

So let me suggest that anecdotes must be told truthfully, predicated with "I heard of a man who..." or "the story is told that..." or some such phrase indicating that this is someone else's story! That will in no way reduce the ability of the anecdote to communicate meaning, and it will certainly improve honesty. Spurgeon, who had many interesting experiences himself, more often than not told stories that he had heard, and told them as stories he had heard. No-one ever complained that it lessened the impact!

So why do so many preachers today tell these stories about themselves? As I see it, there are two reasons:
1. This will increase the impact of the sermon. The idea is that a first-person anecdote is more effective. It seems to me that this is what is behind Caner's thinking. Instead of talking about other people being trained in Jihad and coming to America thinking all Americans hate Islam, he claimed that this was the way he had been. The trouble is, it's not true. How can we, who serve Him who is The Truth, possibly think that a lie, which is of the devil, can serve God's cause? The ends can never Justify the means, and indeed attempting to use means incongruous with the ends will never work! Chantry points to many people who have been so disgusted with this falsehood that they have left the church they were attending when it happened.

2. The preacher wants to be a star. Sadly I suspect that the reason anecdotes previous generations would have introduced as "I read of..." are now retailed as "This happened to me" is simple egotism. The preacher has become a star, it's all about him, and so he holds himself up as the example to everyone. Now, since many of us have rather unexciting lives, and may well have men and women in the congregation who lived very exciting lives, the only way I can make myself a star is to exaggerate, to embellish and even to lie.
Undoubtedly part of the problem here lies in the Victorian era's glorification of noted preachers. Joseph Parker, for example, was a star, his authorised biography is frankly terrible. One reveiwer described it as "a four hundred page essay in incense-burning", and this witness is true. What is far worse is when the one doing the incense-burning is the preacher himself!
It is not wrong for the preacher to refer occasionally to himself and his own life from the pulpit, but never is this to be done in such a way as to draw attention to the man in the pulpit. Our emphasis, to refer to an anecdote I believe I read in a Spurgeon sermon, is to be "not the man in the pulpit, but the Man in the Bible." The celebrity preacher mindset totally reverses this. Brothers, we are not stars, not celebrities, we are ministers, servants of Christ and the Gospel. We are but the instruments, like a pen in God's hand, and as Baxter put it, "What praise is due to a pen?"

God does not need falsehood, for He is Truth. "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." For His sake, I think Caner should resign - but I pray that he will be restored, and that this will be a good discipline for him.