Sunday, January 31, 2010

There is A God

Anthony Flew made his name as an academic philosopher - one of the leading voices of atheism in the latter decades of the twentieth century. There Is No A God the fascinating story of the reasons that Flew changed his mind and now is firmly convinced that the evidence points clearly towards existence being the result of the planning of a divine mind.

Flew is clear that he has not accepted any specific religion - and has not accepted any claim to historical or personal revelation from a divinity - rather that the force of evidence and argument makes a Theist conclusion inevitable to the open mind.

The book covers autobiography, charting both Flew's academic sucesses as well as the development of his ideas. It also maps out quite usefully, the ways in which his views have changed as a result of his acceptance of the divine - how he once saw the evidence, and how he views it now.

Flew's engagement with science is fascinating, arguing strongly for the "fine-tuning" of a universe that was "expecting us". In so doing he engages with the problems of origins, consciousness, physical laws and order, personhood and time. He is generally cordial in his tone - but is especially savage when it comes to dealing with the mathematics of evolutionary theory as a total-theory of origins. In short he argues that physics has showed that the earth is not remotely old enough to contain enough possibilities for random variation to produce unaided the life, order and complexity we now observe - and which biological theory demands. He points out that the speculations towards a "multiverse" might tilt the numbers game back into the realms of the possible, but that not one single jot or shred of a hint of any evidence for a multiverse exists and it is entirely a step of faith to accept such an idea. Furthermore, if a Multiverse were demonstrable, the question of it's origins would still be unanswerable.
The book is aimed at the general reader - not the philosopher, but I found on one or two chapters, that he strayed into some areas of technical philosophical language with which I was not familiar. The book is somewhat uneven in this regard, being neither comprehensive enough to satisfy the academic philosopher, not accessible enough for the average reader - and so maybe unsatisfactory for both! Having said that there is a wealth of accessible material here which is guaranteed to make the theist nod appreciatively, the atheist get very cross (oh - and they have!), and the undecided to think very carefully.

The surprise move comes at the end of the book when N.T. Wright is invited to submit a chapter on the possibility of divine revelation, and to this he contributes a summary of his views on the historical reliability of the orthodox Christian view of Jesus Christ. Flew stops well short of accepting Wright's view, so the book argues powerfully for a rational concept of the existence of God, but the question of His involvement in His creation is but dangled tantalizing before the reader.

A fascinating read..

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Some hae meat and canna eat,
and some wad eat that want it,
but we hae meat and we can eat,
and sae the Lord be thankit.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mother and Daughter

A case of "mini-me" going on here...

1 Kings Resources

This blog has been a bit quiet over the last few weeks while I have been absorbed (all consumed?) in leading a short Bible-teaching series on the book of 1 Kings for a local church. Although I was only asked to cover the first few chapters, which feature the comparatively good reigns of David and Solomon; these chapters have still thrown up several difficult issues of interpretation.

In response to an enquiry, here's four recommendations of resources that I have found particularly useful in understanding and applying the text.

Donald J. Wiseman's Tyndale OT Commentary on 1& II Kings is exceptionally good. It has three particular strengths to highlight: (i) The introductory essay which alongside the standard author/date stuff, contains a fabulous section on the 'theology of the book', with a very helpful overview and illustration of main themes. I'd recommend that anyone teaching from Kings at any level get hold of this introduction. (ii) On the details of the text, The Tyndale commentaries are thorough but not so excessively technical that they become impenetrable, saving for instance foray's into the subtleties of language and translation for occasions where some serious point of interpretation is actually at stake. Wiseman's textual commentary is hugely helpful with countless little points of reference which add depth to the narratives. (iii) The book is also enormously useful for its biblical cross-referencing, pointing out (for instance) where the author is drawing on older biblical stories; and where later writers would develop the points.

Dale Ralph Davis' "1 Kings: The Wisdom and the Folly" is a different sort of work to Wiseman. While the Tyndale series examines each sentence of the text - this 'Focus on the Bible' commentary takes chunks of text, and focuses on application for Christians in a New-Covenant context. Davis writes warmly, with anecdotes, touches of humour and with a strong applicatory emphasis - as such he makes a good contrast to Wiseman.

Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, has a number of sermons on 1 Kings available from Keller's ability to relate the individual Old Testament narratives to the Bible's central narrative of God's reconciling grace to sinners is inspiring. What is equally impressive is his use of ancient narrative to search the hearts of contemporaries. In his hands these texts are not points of antiquarian disputation, but mirrors by which we expose the condition of our own souls before God. These are worth hearing, not because they can be emulated (if only!), but in order to embrace the real challenge of Bible teaching and to see how high the bar must be set!

One final resource to mention is the IVP reference collection, a treasure trove of background to the Bible-books and dictionary resources to give clarity to the concepts under discussion. For instance, Solomon (famously) was wise enough to ask God to give him wisdom above all else. The reference collection has a brilliant essay on what the Old Testament concept of 'wisdom' is, and why that includes everything from philosophy to common sense to musical skill or science and engineering!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Marriage Course - Perth

Plans are afoot to run the marriage course again in Perth starting in mid-Feb. Hopefully there'll be a handful of couples who will want to spend seven evenings with us, watching the DVDs and then discussing the issues raised in private discussion times.

To see a 2 minute introductory video to the Marriage Course click here:

The course is fun to do, stimulating, thought-provoking and sometimes quite challenging. It is not a theology of marriage, but focuses on intensely practical matters such as communication.

It will be the first time that we host the course with the new updated materials, so Mrs Hideous and I plan to complete the course ourselves again - not only to review the stuff for our own good; but also to see what the new resources are like. Past experience ourselves plus the response from other couples who have completed the course has amply demonstrated the value and benefit of it. We've had amazing feedback from all kinds of couples, from those married less than a year through to some who have been married for almost forty years!

If you are in Perth and are interested in finding out more, either e-mail me from my "blogger profile" page, see the Perth Baptist Church website here, or the official Marriage Course website here. If you are not in Perth, to find a Marriage Course near you, click here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Enrolment #3

After spending half the morning filling in forms, checking with friends that it was OK to list them as emergency contacts, looking for phone numbers, and searching for a birth certificate, child benefit letter and council tax document; I took little Doris to enrol for primary school.

Every August, on the first day of the school year, we have taken a photo of the kids as they start school - or move up to their next class. It is still a slightly surprising thought, that this year there will be all three of them in school uniforms ready to walk down the road!

Opinion in the family is divided about the significance of 'Doris', joining her older siblings, 'Boris and Norris' at school, however. Mrs Hideous is already bemoaning the loss of her babies, and lingers under some delusion that a vacancy is thereby created. No doubt, little Doris actually going to the school, in a uniform, will be an occasion on which she is one of the watery-eyed Mums at the school gate! Personally I think its great that she's going to school soon - not that I won't miss her cheerful, bossy and hilarious presence in the day. I reckon she's ready for school and needs the next challenge and will soon begin to outgrow nursery. Our local primary school is a ten-minute walk from the house, and is generally a very good school too.

Little Doris herself seems in two minds. If I ask her how she feels about the prospect of education and she says that she thinks it will be good - but she was clearly very daunted when going into the place today, and wouldn't speak to the teachers but clung to my leg and wouldn't look out from under the hood of her coat - preferring instead to inspect her shoes intently! This is a far-cry from the eagerness with which she runs into the familiar nursery environment four mornings a week. No doubt she will gain similar confidence once school starts, as she was equally suspicious of the nursery on her initial visit there too.

Life rushes past at a constant pace. Our perception of time though is uneven - and there are times; milestones such as these, at which its' rapidity is suddenly breathtaking.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Heartbreak Radio

More often than not, when the "afternoon play" comes on Radio 4, I switch off a few minutes into the show. I have always appreciated R4, but have had an aversion to their plays since I was a child. A recent exception was the profoundly disturbing Afternoon Play yesterday. This slot is billed as presenting plays that will "delight and surprise" - but this did neither, rather it was unsettling, infuriating and appalling - for all the right reasons.

The Jonestown Letters told the true story of two sisters who ended their lives in the People Temple mass suicide of 1978, through letters sent between the sisters and their parents (who were not cult members and harboured some suspicions about Jim Jones and his organisation). The story of how two normal, happy, well-intentioned young people became recruited and devotees of the cult is shocking; their absolute unquestioning devotion to Jones deeply frightening - and the horrible end to the story is deeply, deeply sad.

The editing and reading of these letters (as well as real interviews with the 3rd sister who did not get involved) was done very well indeed; the complexity and humanity of the girls shone through, even as the plot descended into ever more impenetrable darkness. The final scene, which uses the infamous audio recording of Jones' from the suicide itself was chilling.

While obvious lessons about the need for questioning, the danger of self-promoters and personality cults, mind-control, and cults with weird doctrines are there -this play wasn't primarily about such judgements. Rather, it lamented the bereaved, the lost, the suffering, and the tragedy of the whole affair. Quite compelling radio, on the BBC iPlayer for six more days.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Piano Blues: A Film by Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood's film, "Piano Blues" is a feature-length documentary about the history, players and styles of the blues piano. As is well known, Eastwood himself is a pianist, what is less well known is his lifelong affection for the rolling piano-blues, barrel-house, boogie-woogie, stride, bluesy-jazz and and black-gospel, that filled the air of the African-American communities for much of the twentieth century. For him - making this film was clearly a labour of love.

Clint Eastwood tells the story of the music with both archive footage of great exponents of the art (Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino etc), but in the company of several legends who were still alive at the time of filming, such as Ray Charles, Dr John, Dave Brubeck, Pinetop Perkins and Jay McShann. As such it is a wonderfully evocative exploration of the music, in all its forms.

I will never forget the first time I heard the blues. When I was a teenager, a programme in honour of Fats Domino was screened by Channel 4. Fats himself was engagingly entertaining, Jerry Lee Lewis faintly absurd, Paul Shafer not bad at all - but what took my breath away was Ray Charles short set at the end of the show. Charles in his later career had somewhat swamped himself with orchestras and choirs, and overly indulged his penchant for ballads. That night however he let loose an explosive piano-blues performance with just himself and a small band. It sent a shiver down my spine which still affects me when I hear that music played that way.

After that I began to explore Blues music, beginning - as with so many other people with Paul Jones weekly radio show, as well as Egham's great 2nd hand record shop - the now lost and lamented 'Musicwise'. For me then, it was all piano blues. Many blues fans talked about their guitar heroes - Stevie Ray Vaughan, Elmore James, the three Kings, but I began with the same stuff that Eastwood explores in his tribute -like early Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Champion Jack Dupree, as well Memphis Slim, Specked Red, and many others.

Sociologists, and record-sleeve writers often ask the question of the British Blues Boom of the 1960s - why did white British suburban kids feel such a deep affinity with the Black music of the Delta; when their life experience had so few points of contact with the bluesmen? I'm not sure that the question has ever adequately been answered- either in respect of the thousands of people who flocked to the American Folk-Blues festival UK tours in the 60s - or for strange teenagers like myself playing Albert Ammons LPs in my bedroom in the mid 1980s.

Whatever the explanation, the blues remain an intense, powerful, gritty, affecting genre that has spawned great creativity and inspired incredible loyalty. Moreover when the blues has got inside you - it never lets go; and always retains its power to move you - the piano blues in a unique and special way. Eastwood's film is a fitting tribute to this great genre, and the players who shaped it.

Not from the film - but a nice example of some of the sounds that filled my teenage years.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Spot from which I blog

Endlessly Restless recently responded to a challenge posted by Lucy, which I'm going to do as well! The idea is to post snapshots of the place from which you blog, without tidying or re-arranging anything - just presenting it as it actually is!
The contrast with Endlessly Restless' meticulously ordered space and my cluttered existence is quite marked!

Definitely time to tidy up!


The Hanging Gardens of, er Perth!

Friday, January 08, 2010