Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Quote of the Day

Brian [McLaren] makes such a good point about the importance of the subjective encounter with God that he tends, I think, to minimize the importance of the objective truths of scripture. Unlike Brian, I believe that objective, propositional, ultimate truth is of absolute importance.

"We ought not to follow those 'modern scholars'", Brian writes, "who abstract principles from the stories and various declarations of the Bible and then apply those in contemporary settings to inform us how to believe and act". But that's exactly what I think we should be doing.

Tony Campolo.

(Missing the Point, p246)

Monday, May 29, 2006

Book Notes: The Dominance of Evangelicalism by David W. Bebbington

One of the best things about having a term off college is having the time to read some of the books I have wanted to read for ages but which I haven't been able to get to. Here's another; David Bebbington's contribution to the 'History of Evangelicalism' 5-part series (of which parts 2, 4, and 5 seem rather reluctant to appear).
The book presents a nice overview of the period, ideas, politics, theology and some main characters analysing why they developed as they did; and the effect that developments of this period have had for the church. It's easy reading, with themes all nicely illustrated anecdotally from primary sources. So much of what happens in church life today harks back to this period, that understanding us requires understanding them. As my history tutor at Uni used to say, "if you want to be a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree - don't study history".

Sunday, May 28, 2006

New and Improved

Our church has got a new website (at last!). Out goes www.perthbaptist.org.uk and in comes www.perthbaptistchurch.org.uk - much better I hope you agree.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Latest Read

It is an old cliche that geniuses are tortured eccentrics. In her book "Spike Milligan: An Intimate Memoir" his long-time manager and publicist (add life-organiser, psychologist and general cleaner-up-afterer) paints a picture of a deeply troubled man, given both to bouts of unbearable depression and flurries of frantic anarchic creativity. While the world laughed at Spike's antics, Spike raged at the world, raged at his wives and girlfriends, publishers and broadcasters - and at Farnes. It's not as good a book as Humphrey Carpenter's biography of Spike - which is better written and more perceptive; but she knew the subject very closely.

Of the three Goons, Sellers is acknowledged to have been the greatest performer and also the most damaged individual; a man whose eccenticities crossed the line from malevolence to evil. A man of a thousand characters who professed to have no idea who he was. Milligan was the creative force behind the comic revolution of the 50s and 60s, and the surreal world of Goonnery flowed from his troubled mind. It was also Milligan who was the most troubled of the three, taking to his bed for a week when overwhelmed with gloom after seeing some vandalism; and lashing out at those he cared about - unable to maintain relationships with normal people. (Farnes it turns out manages him by herself being a person of unusual character). Then consider Harry Secombe. Farnes describes him as the least talented of the Goons. He was a genial TV host, a good singer and famous giggler; but not the explosive force of Milligan or an international star like Sellers.

However, both Sellers and Milligan said that they were jealous of Secombe. Why? Simply because of his happy home life with his wife to whom he was singly devoted for the entirety of their very long marriage. Sellers and Milligan with their strings of girlfriends and affairs, both during and in-between their marriages knew that he had something they didn't.

So, if it were the case that genius and self-destruction were linked, and that the less-talented are happier; which would I chose for my children (if I were able to do so)? Would I like them to have Milliganesque destructive brilliance, or Secombe's contended decency? Having chuckled to my Dad's Goons tapes as a kid, recited Milligan's poetry, loved his war memoirs and laughed at his novels, and having read Farnes' book about her life working for Milligan; I'd offer them Secombe's contentedness every time.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Deafness Update

Young Norris was visited in Nursery by the hearing specialist yesterday, who made some very interesting observations. Firstly the nursery itself is in a very echoey hall, meaning that he will be able to distinguish very little speech from the backgound noise. Secondly he is spontaneously begining to lip-read, and reacts better to adults to speak directly to him than other children who don't. Thirdly his behaviour is typical of children with this condition and nothing to becomed too alarmed at because experience shows that grommet insertion usually has a positive effect on behaviour.

She also commented that 'glue-ear' cuts out the higher frequency sounds first, meaning that it is actually harder to hear a woman's pitch voice than a man's. The pitch of the female voice can apparently just become lost in the background noise.

My wife is sending me for grommets immediately.


Little Doris has started crawling. No longer can I leave her in one place with a few toys, safe in the knowledge that she will remain safely where I left her. Guarding stairs, coal buckets, extra cleaning, safely storing away small objects; with three mobile kids, parenting threatens to get frenetic.

Book Notes: The Curious Enlightenment of Professor Caritat by Steven Lukes

I spotted a reference to this book and followed it up thinking that it sounded entertaining. I wasn't dissapointed. The novel charts the adventures of Professor Caritat as he travels through different countries each of which enshrines a different ideology as its organising principle; Militaria, Utilitaria, Libertaria etc.

Without long and detailed explanations of each system, Lukes provides a hugely entertaining introduction to the benefits and foibles of each; as his character ends up imprisoned in Utilitaria and destitute in Libertaria, for example. The book gets off to a rather slow start, and only really gets going when the Professor escapes from Militaria and begins his travels. The first few chapters are worth persevering with in order to enjoy what is then to come.

What makes the book all the more fun is the authors penchant for throwing in dreadful puns and some barely disguised caricatures of real people. Who could the free-market obsessed female Prime Minister "Jugula Hildebrand" possiby be? Or indeed the Rev Thwaite, communitarian priest and hostage negotiator?!

The book has reviews which suggest that it does for political philosophy what "Sophie's World" did for general philosophy and there is a parallel. While it is hugely enjoyable, provides loads of insight into political ideology and is carried along at a rip-roaring pace by the strange narrative; it isn't as subtle, engaging or absorbing as Sophie's world. Nevertheless, great fun and thought provoking reading.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Norris, Doris and myself have spent a happy afternoon watching a seal fishing in the Tay in the centre of Perth. The river was teeming with fish today, so he was in the right place. Norris' delight at seeing the seal up close was expressed a little too loudly for the seal, who took fright and dived under, only to re-appear a few hundred metres downstream.
Young Norris can whisper or yell; one day he will develop the ability to achieve something between the two.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

What Have We Ear Then?

Young Norris (3) has been seen at the hospital today, had various tests and proddings and pokings. He has been put on the waiting list for the insertion of grommitts in his ears and the removal of his adenoids. I was a year or so older than he is when I had my adenoids removed and so remember well the bewilderment that my hospital stay caused. What we long to see is an improvement in the wee-man's behaviour and social skills, what concerns us is the thought of the little soul having general anaesthetic.

Really Nothing To Say

Really Nothing To Say

One of the more honest blogs I've read

Monday, May 08, 2006

Red Face of the Week

II am both ashamed and proud to announce that I have been awarded the red face of the week award. The wife and I were in a bit of hurry getting ready to leave our hotel to get to St Leonard's church, Padiham; for John & Vicky's wedding. All was going well until I realised that although I had packed my shirt, tie, shoes, and jacket - my suit trousers were msising. The only trousers I had with me were a pair of pale cords which somehow didn't quite go with my dark suit jacket and black shoes...

I couldn't just dress-down and sneak in at the back for the service either..... becuase I was preaching at it! Stress!!

Fortunately an Asda store 10 minutes from the hotel were able to furnish me with a cheap and cheerful pair of black trousers in a hurry. They did look a little perplexed when I ran from the changing room and jumped on the the checkout so that they could scan the trousers which I was wearing, though!

Gladly the farce ended before the proceedings got underway and the service went off smoothly. John and Vicky, had a great day celebrating with their friends and family. We enjoyed meeting all the weird and wonderful characters that make up these occasions, having our eardrums bleed in the loudest disco in the North, and are still trying to successfully imitate the Lancashire accent!

Friday, May 05, 2006

'No Vacancies'

So my little daughter has graduated from being a 'baby' and is now officially enjoying her first day as a 'little-girl'. Contrary to popular misconceptions however, this does not create a vacancy.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Happy Birthday

Little Doris is 1 Today.

Not crawling, never mind walking. Just smiling!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Quote of the Day

"This is when people get to see if I really believe all I've been preaching about all these years".

The late Nigel Lee, the respected evangelist, on learning that he had terminal cancer.
(Friends report that "they have and he did").

"All" My Diseases?

2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits
3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases

In Psalm 103, David couples together two reasons to praise God - complete forgiveness and healing. However, despite the fact that in this verse David treats the two equally, most Christians believe that while the former is offered completely and immediately, the latter is at best sporadic.

Ps 103:3 is then problematic for us, in that if we wish to exegete it consistently we are invited either to proclaim at best a sporadic and patchy forgiveness of sin; or adopt an extreme Pentecostal view of healing in which the presence of pain is the result of a failure of faith. Sadly, the only attraction of either view is its consistency. The patchy-forgiveness approach falls at the hurdle of the rest of Psalm 103, in which our sins are removed "as far as the east is from the west"; the believers confidence in total forgiveness being one of the main points of the whole song. The illness=sin view is not only pastorally outrageous, but stumbles at numerous other texts, not least Job, 2 Cor 12:7, or John 9:1-3.

What then can we do with Psalm 103:3? In my church housegroup last night, several ways of interpreting it were suggested: Cultural, Sociological, Literary, and Eschatological.

Perhaps we can handle this text culturally in that there is a tendency for western Christians to individualise promises of God made to communities. Most of the proof-texts used for prosperity (health and wealth) theology involve taking promises of God to bless the nation of Israel and misapplying them to individuals. So, where Deuteronomy promises that the people will not just survive but thrive in the land, it means that God will provide the nation with sufficient health - not that every individual will live a pain-free life.

Perhaps we can handle this text sociologically in that the notion of what constitutes 'good health' is not a biological absolute but a social construct, governed by expectations and experience. Is it not feasible that David might have been praising God for his health, in the same physical state that we might be moaning to Him about our infirmities?

Then perhaps we could handle the text in regard to its literary type. This is, after all, a song not an epistle, an outflow of praise from the heart, not a thesis in systematic theology. David might be merely then expressing a testimony of what was true for him at one particular time but doing so in poetic absolutes. That a poet might have once have "wandered lonely as a cloud" is not lessened by being read during thick fog.

Or then perhaps we might interpret Psalm 103:3 eschatalogically as a reference to a future state in which healing will be as absolute as forgiveness is now. Certainly some commentaries take this line. More properly perhaps we might want to view this statement as proleptic, that is to say that David experienced the incursion of the future reality into the present. This view would see the healing David testifies to as a foretaste of the universal healing to come.

What then are we to make of these views? Last night's consensus was that the cultural method was probably true in regard to many other texts especially in terms of handling prosperity promises - but not this one where David is speaking personally. Psalm 103 starts off personal and ends up cosmic its scale and this verse is located at the heart of the personal section. The sociological view was thought to be generally useful in handling texts but not ultimately solving our dilemma.

The literary-type approach was far more helpful for most people. If David's praise is testimony, then we are invited to join him in praising God for the measure of life and health we enjoy. We need neither deny the possibility of healing, not universalise its immediate availability. This in turn is compatible with some of the sociological insight that we considered, especially in regard to the fact that many in our world joyfully and profoundly thank God for their daily survival, while we complain if our elevated western expectations are not met.

The eschatological approach was also found to be biblical and theologically powerful, undoubtedly true, but in all honesty probably not what David had in mind when he wrote this Psalm. However - that should not prevent us from interpreting the Old Testament in the light of the New and finding more hope in these words than the author intended. Just as Jesus rose from the dead - so we will rise from the dead, not as disembodied spirits but completed with non-decaying resurrection bodies.

When we are finally with The Lord, our constant testimony will match this outpouring of praise for God's total healing that David offers here. In fact, there is no good theological reason why we may not begin to praise Him for that already! While the Psalm is dominated by spiritual forgiveness, the 'benefits of the Lord' do not exclude the physical; and so it is inappropriate to miss, skip, ignore or Ps103:3. Far better to praise God now for the life we have had, do have and will have in Him - if as the rest of the Psalm stresses, we walk in fear of Him and embrace His forgiveness.

2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-
3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases