I noted on Q&A, Monday night that Senator Chris Evans was rather concessive repeatedly saying the Bill was a draft, capable of amendment.

The Senate legal Committee is to report Monday, 18th Feb. I expect there will be a majority and minority report. The majority (Labor/Greens) will propose tinkering but also, quite likely, some narrowing of the religious exception clauses which the Government will not accept whilst the minority (coalition) report will oppose the Bill outright and instead propose a more straightforward amalgamation of the various existing bits of law but including eliminating the section in the existing racial discrimination act that led to Andrew Bolt’s downfall.

I think there is a good chance the Government will quietly shelve the legislation in an election year.

There, you’ve heard it on Sundry Matters.

Goodness me, Tamara O’Dyne, informed us last night on ABC 7pm news that January set new records around the country for the hottest January on record, breaking the record set 80 years ago.

80 years ago?!

Say that again.

What happened to all that global warming that we should have to wait 80 years for the record to be broken….?

For the cessation in global warming the past 15 years see here and here.

(My own position on climate change and what to do about it is to be found here , including the 2011 AP article and longer paper)

Last July I wanted to take on a Baptist who reckoned on being a 5 point Calvinist and therefore Reformed. His name is Jeremy Walker and posts on the blog, reformation 21, which doesn’t allow comment. However Jeremy has his own blog and I posted there. My point was that Baptists belong to the Anabaptist stream of the Reformation and although they, at least initially took up the 5 points, it takes a lot more than the 5 points to be called Reformed.

To be Reformed means to have a covenant view of baptism of children, a certain form of church government which is not independency and a high view of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, i.e. an understanding of the Lord’s Supper as more than a mere remembrance, but rather through the partaking of the elements of bread and wine a real, spiritual participation in the body and blood of Christ.

Anyway, I came across this article by Richard Muller, the present day doyen of Calvin scholars.

Says, Muller,

there cannot be such a thing as a “5 point Calvinist” or a “5 point Reformed Christian” who owns just those five articles taken from the Canons of Dort and refuses to accept the other “points” made by genuinely Reformed theology.

(PS I got to Muller’ article through this post on R Scott Clarke’s Heidelblog – which raises other interesting issues)

I thoroughly recommend Muller as a good and thought provoking read, rather more perceptive than my effort on Jeremy Walker’s blog. However, as Muller says, he will also step “on a few religious toes” (mine included) in the process, but if we are willing to carefully consider what he says in the context of our confessional standards, he does so in a way that is both challenging and helpful.

Coming to Melbourne in 1976 from Sydney I had a big decision to make – which footy team?

Well workmate, Ian Leckie took me to see a number of games featuring Hawthorn, but what a hateful choice of colours! Can you imagine, yeller and brown, the colour of mud.

Well I worked in the Western Suburbs, listened to 3LO’s Saturday footyshow hosted by Doug Bigalow (who I think got into trouble, but that’s another story). Anyway, there was a gang of ex players on the panel and I always liked the dulcet tones and common sense of ex Footscray player, Ray Walker, so it was the Bulldogs for me – a bad choice you might say going from the Hawks to the Doggies, but if you make a choice you stick to it, a bit like marriage.

The Doggies had a shocker last year, but I met Ray Walker yesterday at Richard O’Brien’s Thursday Lunchtime gig at The Assembly Hall (which was terrific and deserved a lot more bottoms on seats) and Ray reckons we might win a few more this year….

Well, anyway, here’s hoping. Go Doggies!

Over the next few months I’m making my way through Romans with Calvin’s Commentary. In his introductory remarks Calvin says “if we have gained a true understanding of this Epistle, we have an open door to all the most profound treasures of Scripture”.

I have been very struck by his comments on Roms 3:21, 22:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – (even) the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction…….”

Calvin does the medieval thing of splitting an action into its component parts saying, when we are justified, the efficient cause is the mercy of God, Christ is the substance (materia) of our justification, and the Word, with faith, the instrument.

I find those distinctions helpful.

However he goes on to say something  I’ve never thought of:

When we are made partakers of Christ, we are not only ourselves righteous, but our works also are counted righteous in the sight of God, because any imperfections in them are obliterated by the blood  of Christ.  The promises,  which were conditional,  are fulfilled to us also by the same grace, since God rewards our works as perfect, inasmuch as their defects are covered by free pardon.

Our own works, not just ourselves are counted righteous in God’s sight, of course subject to the qualifications given by Calvin!

This insight brought to my mind something else.

I’ve always been fascinated by Rev 21:24 where John in speaking of the new Jerusalem writes, by its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, ever since I read Anthony Hoekema’s comments many years ago (The Bible and the Future) to the effect that a reasonable conclusion to be drawn from Rev 21:24 is that there will be some kind of continuity between the culture of the present world and that of the world to come.

In fact Hoekema goes further (p 286) asking;

Is it too much to say that, according to these verses, the unique contributions of each nation to the life of the present earth will enrich the life of the new earth? Shall we then perhaps inherit the best products of culture and art which this earth has produced?

Well, we don’t know the answer to that, but I do find it a tantalising question and I’d like to think the answer is, yes!

I recently purchased Alister Chapman’s Godly Ambition for the exorbitant price of $50.87 – it is a beautiful volume and looks good on the bookshelf. More importantly, it was a good read and I got through it in 2,3 days. Chapman seems to be a youngish guy doing a PhD with access to Stott’s personal  papers. In contrast I took forever to get to p205 (the bookmark is still in place of Timothy Dudley-Smith’s 1st volume (513 p) biography.  Chapman scored points when I discovered he got everything into 222 pages – oh that all authors should consider 250 pages absolute max!

For a person of my longevity Stott was one of those pedestal men. I seem to remember hearing him at EU in General Lecture Theatre 1, Sydney University and probably CMS Summer School, Katoomba as well. Mellifluous voice, careful verse by verse exposition, not excitable but something very special. I remember in the late 1980’s while living in the UK attending All Souls Langham Place, finding seating in the balcony adjacent to the pulpit and the sheer delight which both Chris and I shared when Stott came  forward to preach.

I think Australians mainly know Stott for his preaching and his commentaries. However as Chapman’s book demonstrates he was also a churchman, a leader of evangelical Anglicans who was forever trying, not totally successfully, to hold divergent groups together. Whilst I knew of his 1968 contretemps with Martin Lloyd Jones over Lloyd Jones’ desire for closer unity of evangelical Anglicans and Non Conformists, much of this material was knew.

The other aspect of his life which I  knew a little of, was his efforts to give a social conscience to evangelicalism through the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity and various spinoffs. I learnt something of this while in the UK and for a time was a subscriber to The Third Way, a monthly that fitted with this emphasis in Stott’s life. I was soon, however, writing letters to the editor objecting to some of the views being expressed which I saw as less Biblical and more in common with soft left views (hey, I’m a conservative).  I dipped into his Issues facing Christians Today, now in its 4th Ed, which covers topics such as the rational for Christian engagement in the public square, war and peace, caring for creation, global poverty, human rights, life and relationship issues, etc. I should do a review of it because these issues are important and they do impact on the life of our people.

I think it is true to say that Stott impacted conservative evangelicals (such as Sydney Anglicans, Australian Presbyterians) primarily through his preaching and commentaries, the first part of his life and more open or liberal evangelicals (I tend to put Melbourne Anglicans more into this category) through his later work on social issues and general bridge building work.

Stott explained a good deal of his vision for Christian engagement in society in an interview published in Christianity Today (13 October 2006) in which he makes 3 points

First, that Christians are radically different from non-Christians…. as different as light from darkness and salt from decay.

Second, Christians must permeate non-Christian society as salt must not remain in the saltshaker or light be hid under the bed.

Third, that the salt and light metaphors indicate that Christians can change non-Christian society.

Personally I agree with the first two, but I think the third needs qualification.

However, I think his conclusion,

My hope is that in the future, evangelical leaders will ensure that their social agenda includes such vital but controversial topics as halting climate change, eradicating poverty, abolishing armouries of mass destruction, responding adequately to the AIDS pandemic, and asserting the human rights of women and children in all cultures. I hope our agenda does not remain too narrow.

arguably betrays a certain naivety, and over reach by a member of the clergy into contested public policy that requires a broad range of inputs: economic, political, scientific, technological, though of course in such a broad discourse there is a place for Christian moral teaching. To an extent Stott covers himself by acknowledging the topics to be controversial. The topics themselves are not controversial, it is the way that we frame them (“halting climate change”) and the solutions that are proposed (windmills but not nuclear power) that are controversial.

Well grist for the mill there.

I warmly commend Chapman’s book – pity the price.

My own appreciation for Stott the preacher and writer of commentaries remains undiminished. I admire his courage and tenacity in seeking unity and appreciate his willingness to find common ground.

Eric Kaufmann, a professor of politics at the University of London wrote a book with the title, Shall the righteous inherit the earth?, in 2010. Whilst I’m still ploughing my way through it but already can heartily recommend it, the main idea he presents is that (p)eople are increasingly failing to reproduce themselves and the openly non religious among them are displaying the lowest fertility rates ever recorded in human history: sometimes less than one child per women (p x). He points out that religious people whatever their religion are having more children. He says:

Secularisation  mainly  erodes  unconscious  religion:  the  taken-for­granted, moderate faiths that trade on being mainstream and established. This explains the rapid decline of religion in Europe and, increasingly, the United States.  On the other hand, religious fundamentalists have mobilised against secularism and moderate faith, self-consciously warning their members of its influence . Pronatalism and segregation, the core features of endogenous growth sects, are catching on: we already see conservative Christian theologians advocating these strategies. Mainstream fundamentalist Christians have above-replacement  fertility  rates  and the most theologically zealous are considerably more fecund than average…. (F)undamentalists, combining both high retention and fertility rates, are the demographic equivalent of a coiled spring, whose energy has only recently become apparent. (p 253)

If we (I speak as a confessional Presbyterian affirming inerrancy, etc) can put aside our distaste for the term fundamentalist for a moment I suggest the people we have in our churches – generally, though not necessarily all – are the kind of people that Kaufmann describes. Our young people for the most part marry young and have children, not waiting too long and more like 3,4,5 or more children rather than 1 or 2 (always exceptions for various reasons!). Most of us selected faith based schools for our children or else home schooled – how segregated is that!

Certainly it is one of my burdens that in the church we recognise the utterly corrosive influence of secularism, including popular culture: music, drug scene, TV, films. Parents need to be discerning for their children and teach them discernment in turn. Family worship should be a given. Personally, I rate the correct order to be: public worship, family worship, then lastly but certainly personal quiet time.

I grew up in a Sydney (evangelical) Anglican church in a new area in the 1960’s. We had a smallish youth group, taught the Bible, played games, had an annual houseparty and did all we could to bring young people to faith in Christ. The nearby Presbyterian Church in contrast ran dances which were immensely popular. Today that Anglican Church is a large church with many people whilst the Presbyterian Church went into church union and no longer exists.

Kaufman identifies himself as an atheist and secularist but clearly sees the future belonging to the religious, with secularism having entered a period of ideological exhaustion – – he is taking the long view, say 50-100 years ahead.

Kaufmann has some very quotable statements:

….notwithstanding the New Atheists, one has to admit that religion is more rational than unbelief… As a utilitarian, I believe that the maximization of collective happiness is the proper end of humanity, and on that score, religion seems more rational than irreligion. A growing body of research suggests that the religious live longer and are happier than skeptics. (p 266)

Having attended the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, April last year I thought the atheists attending lacked any of the joy found among Christians and the only excitement was when one of the Great Ones slagged off at religious faith or when one of their dirty minded comedians (think Catherine Deveny) told a particularly salacious story (I avoided Deveny, she was one step too far).

Here’s another quote:

Dry atheism, even with the leaven of humanism and modern art, can never compete with the rich emotions evoked by religion. (p 260)

How interesting that Kaufmann has come so close to faith himself…..

So, all you Presbyterian and other fundamentalists, do you think Kaufmann has overstated the argument (possibly for devious purposes) or do you think he is right? BTW he sees the ongoing vigour of Christianity as coming largely out of the global south.

When I was a young Christian back in the early 1960’s I remember sitting under ministers who would include references to “our Lord” when speaking of Jesus Christ. I felt uneasy with this form of address for it did seemed to hold my Saviour at a distance and lacked the intimacy of the relationship with Jesus that I had entered into on becoming a Christian.

However, time passes and I don’t know how many times I would have read through the New Testament or engaged in reflective thought regarding the second person of the Trinity over the past 50 years or so, but I know I’m convinced that the almost exclusive way nowadays of Christians, including preachers referring to God’s Son simply as “Jesus” fails to reflect the Biblical testimony of how he is to be known.

My point is simply this. For his followers, Jesus is both Saviour and Lord. He commands our allegiance. He calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him. Overwhelmingly in the pages of the New Testament He is referred to as “Jesus our Lord”, “the Lord Jesus”, “the Lord Jesus Christ”, Jesus Christ our Lord”, “Jesus Christ”, “Christ Jesus”, “Christ” and the like.

To refer to God’s Son as “the Lord Jesus” certainly doesn’t negate the intimacy of the relationship that the believer is drawn into as a member of God’s family. However the constant use of “Jesus” as the sole way of naming God’s Son does mitigate against the Biblical understanding that Jesus Christ is the mighty creator God, judge of the living and the dead, one day to return in power and glory for purposes of judgment, separation and the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth.

Where the New Testament does restrict itself to “Jesus” it is in the context of his humanity being to the fore – principally the Gospels and parts of Acts and Hebrews. So, being Biblical, when we refer to Jesus in His life 2000 years ago in a tiny little country in the region now known as the Middle East, we too talk about Jesus and His exploits and mission.

But in relationship to us and our interests He is always Lord and Saviour, so let us acknowledge this truth by the words with which we address him and talk about Him!

There is a deeper issue at stake and that is the importance of maintaining our confessional stance in acknowledging the two fold nature of Christ as both God and man, and further that God is three persons in the one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In other words our language used to signify the second  person of the Trinity needs to reflect His twofold nature. To focus exclusively on denoting the Son of God as ‘Jesus’ is tantamount to failure to acknowledge His divinity and therefore to fail to properly describe the nature of our relationship to Him.

So, what do you think?