Tuesday, 25 July 2017

"The Christ of Wisdom" by O. Palmer Robertson

Palmer has done it again! This book is a continuation of a number of fine theological books he has produced in recent years. The first was, I believe, "Christ of the Covenants" (1980), a book that has helped many Christians, seminary students and ministers to better understand the biblical covenants. This has been followed up with his book called "The Christ of the Prophets" (2004) and now with "The Christ of Wisdom"(2017).

This latest book is wonderfully researched and it offers rich insights into five biblical books: Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations and The Song of Songs. I take a different line to Palmer on the Song, I believe it teaches about Christ and the Church and not simply about human love, but that aside, this book is excellent.

Here are the main chapter headings:

Proverbs: How to walk in Wisdom's Way
Job: How to Puzzle
Ecclesiastes: How to cope with Life's Frustrations
Lamentations: How to Weep
The Song of Songs: How to Love

There has also been Palmer's book on "The Flow of the Psalms" (2015) published as well on the arrangement of the Psalms in the Psalter. One can hope that Palmer will continue this series and include some presentations on NT books as well. Let us pray and give thanks for this author, for wisdom, strength and insight in these writing projects which are enriching the body of Christ.

Ps Another valuable book by Palmer is called "The Final Word". This deals with the doctrine called the finality of Scripture. If you are thinking through the matter that the office of Apostles, prophets and prophecy have ceased, then this book may well be what you need.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Fight for the Lives of Unborn Children: Green Shoots in Sheffield

Can you believe that there have been over one billion abortions worldwide?1 This year marks the 50th anniversary of the legalisation of abortion here in the UK. More than 8 million abortions have taken place here since then. The latest figures available demonstrate that more than one in five pregnancies end in abortion meaning that on average 523 abortions are carried out every day in England and Wales. It is truly shocking but how do we even begin to respond to this?

A Response
We must pray. We pray to a God who is omnipotent. He can turn situations very quickly, if he so chooses. Many of us can take encouragement from events in the recent past. The ‘Iron Curtain’ fell almost overnight, after many people prayed for decades. Suddenly, there were many opportunities for the gospel. Similarly let us pray that there would be a wholesale change in attitudes to the value of human life.

We must teach people the truth on these matters. Many in society do not know their right hand from their left and some in the wider church are not as strong as they could be on this issue. Yet God’s word is clear: The Bible states that life begins at conception, every human is made in God’s image, and the deliberate taking of an innocent human life breaks the sixth commandment: ‘You shall not murder’. We must stand firm on these truths even when society (and some in the church) accuse us of lacking compassion for not allowing abortion in some ‘hard cases’. This is not merely an ideological issue – abortion not only results in the death of a child, but also many women who have an abortion deeply regret their actions. In 2008 a study found that women who have an abortion are 30% more likely to develop a mental illness. So we must teach with compassion, but also without compromise.
We can also seek to intervene. Is there anything we can do to make a woman reconsider having an abortion? Perhaps many of these women will react with fear on discovering that they are pregnant. Perhaps the baby was conceived in a situation that a woman would not have chosen. These women are now vulnerable – what will they do with the life within them? What options are available to them? It is ironic that those who are overtly ‘pro-choice’ do not offer pregnant women many choices at all – mostly they want a woman to choose abortion. Sadly, also, a woman’s own doctor may recommend an abortion.

Many women will not be offered an alternative or any material to make an informed decision. For instance, last December it was reported that a lady considering abortion felt she was simply on a conveyor belt to end the life of the child after arriving at a Marie Stopes clinic.
However, another choice is available for these women. A number of ‘pregnancy awareness centres’ have been opened across the UK. These offer woman confidential counselling and the opportunity to have a free ultrasound scan. Women going to one of these clinics may change their mind about having an abortion. They can hear about the other options (perhaps of adoption or how to manage the situation) and they can see, through the ultrasound scan, that there is a real baby within them and not a mass of impersonal cells. An ultrasound programme operating in the United States of America estimates that 370,000 lives have been saved since 2004.

The Story So Far
Over the last three years, Kevin and Maria Bidwell, along with others, have been working to establish a Pregnancy Advice Centre. The ethos is to provide wise and directive advice for pregnant women. Our aims are three-fold: to save the lives of babies; to minimise regret among women; and to present a Christian worldview for life. We now have premises and people are being trained so that ultrasound scans can also be offered. We are refurbishing the unit that we have and are setting up a website. We will potentially open initially to offer advice and then in the coming months offer ultrasound scans. Remarkably, the Lord has been answering prayer on many fronts. We have an ultrasound machine, with a couch; it is exciting to see the Lord’s hand upon this, even though we often feel ‘out of our comfort zone’. This work is vital and yet it requires perseverance, patience, faith and trust in the Living God. Will you join us in prayer?

Pregnancy Advice, Sheffield: How you can be involved
The website currently being constructed has an address (www.sheffieldpac.co.uk) but this will be a front for pregnant women coming to the centre. We are conscious that we need to actively build awareness among Christians and to raise funds to run the centre each month. If you would like to be added to the email database then contact us at kevinjbidwell@gmail.com and we will send brief bite-sized updates. Of course the need for prayer almost goes without saying, but also if you are in Sheffield you might like to visit us. The centre is five minutes from Junction 34 off the M1. Do contact us in advance (appointments would be needed for this to make sure we are available).

This year, sadly, marks the 50th year since abortion legislation was passed in the UK. On Friday 3 November we will host an evening to increase pro-life awareness. It will be held at Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe Common, Sheffield S9 2AD (just three minutes walk from the centre). Kevin Bidwell, the minister of Sheffield Evangelical Presbyterian Church will speak on the biblical theology of pro-life and Chris Richards will speak on ‘Putting the ethics into practice: experiences from the centre in Newcastle’. The Newcastle centre (http://www.tyneside-pregnancy.org.uk) are planning to extend their service also to Sunderland in the near future.

Kevin J Bidwell

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Are you interested in training for the ministry within a confessional framework? Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary is the only Presbyterian seminary in England and we are growing.

We have flexible options for studying for a MDiv or a Masters course to suit the needs of the student. Our aim is simple. To train for the work of pastoral ministry to serve as a teaching elder in a confessional Presbyterian church.

Here is the website link: http://presbyterianseminary.org.uk

If you are interested in knowing more then please contact me through the Sheffield Presbyterian Church contact page and we can talk. Do pray for this seminary as England urgently needs men for the ministry who are called, competent, equipped and godly. The church website for contact is: www.sheffieldpres.org.uk

"You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything". 2 Timothy 2:1-7

Monday, 3 July 2017

Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth".
2 Timothy 2:15


A minister who teaches the church MUST be equipped in sound systematic theology. Why? How else can he rightly divide the Word of God if he does not comprehend the unified system of truth, as presented in Holy Scripture? A minister has to preach the whole counsel of God and systematic theology provides the tools for such a man to do this. A man in the pulpit without training in systematic theology is like a plumber working on a boiler without a tool bag. It is that serious!

Many men who are allowed into pulpits with no theological training; but would you allow such a man to function as a primary school teacher, an electrician or a nurse to work without formal training? Of course not. So why do we place the bar so low at times for the minister serving in the church of God?

I have several book shelves with various authors presenting their systematic theologies. One that has remained a faithful friend to me over many years has been Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology (in one volume). Furthermore this work comes in three sizes.

A Summary of Christian Doctrine: This is the slimmest of the three possibilities. It is published by the Banner of Truth and it provides a succinct summary of Christian truth.

Manual of Christian Doctrine: This is the medium size book and it is most useful to train a man who needs to be further equipped for Christian ministry at the early stages.

Systematic Theology (one Volume): This is the full work comprising some 738 pages without the index.

This work is highly reliable, doctrinally stable and it equips the church in what is known as the analogy of faith. We must interpret Scripture by Scripture. The Westminster Confession makes this plain in its first chapter, 1:9.

"The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly".

Friday, 30 June 2017

Theology and Ecclesiology MUST be part of preaching!

There is a certain mood in our day which suggests "drumming things down". A minister friend of mine was criticised once for using too long theological words in his sermon and explication. Perhaps this could be wrong in some circumstances, but my friend rightly explained that if you are ill then you quickly become familiar with difficult words from your Doctor. We must not unnecessarily over-complicate things in the church and neither should we over-simplify things either. The latter is mainly the problem in British evangelicalism! The church needs a full-bodied recovery of theology and ecclesiology in its preaching.

We cannot preach Christ, without also preaching the doctrine of the church! Why? It is because the LORD Jesus Christ is the head of the church and He died for the church. Rev Brian Norton, a friend, mentor and faithful pastor in Durham Presbyterian Church, is now in heaven. But he modelled as a minister an attitude of pouring out his life for the church. Why did he live in this way? It is because Jesus died for the church, and not for projects, he lived as a minister for what primarily counts, the health of the Christian church. We must live for the upbuilding, strengthening and equipping of the true church. Do you live like that as a Christian? Selfishness is culturally acceptable and it is a part of our decadent British; it is an accepted cultural norms. But, we should not be living a selfish life as a Christian, this should not be so amongst the church and professing Christians. Let us live godly, self-effacing and with a servant heart to support the church.

Colossians 1:18 "And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent".

Ephesians 5:22, 24-27 "Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour ... Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish".

Many Christian ministers and churches never mention ecclesiology in their preaching and they show no interest in it. That is often, until problems arise. And problems will indeed arise if the doctrine of the church is not opened up, because spiritual darkness will be tolerated in the church. Ecclesiology is part of the whole counsel of God and it must be preached. One of the best books I have ever preached on was the Book of Titus: a book full of ecclesiology and doctrine. When it is opened up for the people of God it is like "smelling salts".

Let the full light of ecclesiology shine in the church so that Scripture guides our view of church government, our practices in worship (and not our preferences) and our doctrine. This is why we cannot allow women to hold church office as elders, ministers or deacons. Why? The Scripture forbids it. Period. End of discussion, except that we will explain why God teaches thus and so, but we must submit to the Lord's wisdom and not push forward our own wisdom upon the church where it contradicts the plain teaching of Holy scripture.

What about theology? Theology means the study of God. The church must preach God and then we can rightly understand man. The church should fill our thoughts about the Triune God. Where else can this knowledge be found? The Lord Jesus Christ is the theologian par excellence. Why do I say that? Just read the Gospel of John. It is full of theology and the church needs this.

Let us pray for a full orbed recovery of ecclesiology and theology in all facets of the life of the church. So that the life of God can be visibly seen in the church's love for the Triune God.

Monday, 19 June 2017

O for a Closer Walk with God

The title of this blogpost is taken from the opening line of hymn by William Cowper (1731-1800). Here is the first verse:

O FOR a closer walk with God,
a calm and heavenly frame,
a light to shine upon the road
that leads me to the Lamb!


And the last verse, verse 6.

So shall my walk be close with God,
calm and serene my frame;
so purer light shall mark the road
that leads me to the Lamb.


I love Reformed theology, Reformed ecclesiology, systematic theology, the whole of the Bible and my historic biblical and Reformed heritage. However, the crucial part of it all, is that we cultivate a loving communion with the Triune God. Our prayer postures in the "secret place" of prayer should include at times kneeling as an act of submission or being prostrate before the Lord as a sign of submission at times and a heart being poured out before the throne of Grace (Hebrews 4:16, Psalm 62:8, Ephesians 3:14, Deut 9:25). Look at Moses on Mount Sinai in Deuteronomy 9:25-26 "So I lay prostrate before the LORD for these forty days and forty nights, because the LORD had said he would destroy you. And I prayed to the LORD ...".

How is your communion with the Living God? We need Christians to be refreshed and revived in their personal communion with the Covenant LORD. This does not replace the public means of grace, but it should supplement and undergird the public means by the private means of grace.

Listen to the Lord Jesus Christ: Mark 6:30-32 "The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves".


We need to come apart from the distractions of the internet, TV, sports and so forth, in order to be renewed in our communion with the LORD. Oh to be restored in our first love!

We often talk of revival, but our own lives need to be revived before the Living God with renewed holiness. Holiness meaning being set apart for the Lord Jesus Christ. Iain Murray wrote this in his recent book "Seven Leaders" in reference to the life of John Elias.

"Thomas Charles and John Elias were of one mind on the remedy for this [a spiritual dullness with a loss of vigour in the church]. It is not speaking more about revival or the Holy Spirit, but renewed faith and renewed communion with the Lord Jesus Christ" (page 41).

Oh for renewed communion with the Lord Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit lead and guide the church into renewed faith and renewed communion with the Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

What's missing in English Evangelicalism?

It is indeed important for every church in different countries, to critically examine themselves, including their own congregation and/or denomination. A minister friend who is from another country remarked to me how few English ministers he has met, are interested in theology! As I asked him to explain more, he did. He seemed to "hit the nail on the head" in my view in that theology is not on the radar for ministers, elders and churches in England. We have ideas, doctrine and preaching without theology. A theology-less church leads to a downgrade in who God is, what is salvation and a host of errors enter in to the church when this happens.

What is missing in the English Evangelical Church? In my view it is theology and ecclesiology. One of the principles of interpreting the Bible is to compare Scripture with Scripture. This leads the church then, to a body of theology, known as the Reformed understanding of Scripture. When theology is not mentioned, never mind ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church) as well, in the church, two huge "puzzle pieces" to rightly understand the Lord, salvation and other matters are then missing.

What is the answer to this problem? Someone once said that the first step to solving a problem, is to acknowledge that there is a problem in the first place. Once we recognise this significant theological problem, we need to repent, if this problem includes ourselves. We should pray for a recovery and a love for, the theological doctrines presented in Holy Scripture.

The Seven churches in Revelation present the critique of the Lord (chapters 1-3), of those churches falling short. With the state of the nation in the UK, it is not a surprise that the church is falling short in many areas. In each letter to each church the answer is to repent and for them to amend their ways.

Revelation 2:5 "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp-stand from its place, unless you repent".

Revelation 2:16 "Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth".

Revelation 3:19-20 "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me".

For people reading this blog who would like to become more theologically informed, here are some resources for you to make a start.

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology

Louis Berkhof, A Summary of Christian Doctrine

J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness