Monday 31 August 2015

Book Review: Ed Shaw, “The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-sex Attraction”

Ed Shaw, “The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-sex Attraction”, Nottingham: IVP, 2015.

This book comes with a foreword by Vaughan Roberts and fourteen other commendations at the front. The breadth of Christian leaders which celebrate this publication, includes Dan Strange of Oak Hill; Terry Virgo, the founder of New Frontiers (Virgo claims to be an apostle!); four female “church leaders”; and the Bishop of Winchester.

Ed Shaw is an Anglican minister currently working with a new church plant called Emmanuel City Centre in Bristol. He is very open in this book, in that he explains that he is same-sex attracted to “beautiful men” (p 31). He seeks to handle this sensitive subject pastorally and from an evangelical perspective. The opening chapter is called “The Plausibility Problem” which paints two fictional scenarios of two separate same-sex attracted (SSA) individuals called Peter and Jane. Both of them end up embracing a liberal Christian position and living in same-sex relationships. Shaw explores how we can prevent professing SSA Christians from leaving the evangelical church.

He contends that just citing proof-texts on homosexuality to such situations is an insufficient response and that this is an approach that lacks credibility today. He asserts that the evangelical church need a more robust approach and he seeks to offer a way forward, part of this is to suggest celibacy as a vibrant Christian lifestyle, one that can plausibly be without crippling frustration.

He approaches this “plausibility problem” by offering nine chapters, to handle what he perceives as “missteps” by the church in caring for SSA professing Christians. The author works hard to create “space” in the contemporary evangelical church for SSA Christians, and indeed chapter 8 on “Celibacy” was one of the best chapters. However, this book offers insufficient biblical exegesis and careful thought beyond the author’s own experience. This is a highly sensitive subject, one which needs handling with biblical thoroughness.

It is a tenuous foundation when we mainly present broad-based solutions for what is a complex and sinful world and this is what this book does in many ways. The author left me with unanswered questions, such as: Why is the book light on answering key questions exegetically?; Why does Shaw cite female ministers and Roman Catholic writers to support his arguments? (pp 24-25, 74, 88, 92, 114); Why are the words lust and sin avoided in describing SSA temptations?; Is it legitimate for a Christian minister to hold office, be open as a SSA man, and still meet the biblical qualifications of eldership?

The primary value of this book for the evangelical church is perhaps a stimulus and much-needed catalyst for the church in the coming years, to think through their care of SSA people. That is to find a spiritually healthy way that is intentional, diligent and biblical. However, considering the breadth of endorsements and authors cited in this book, we also need to revisit the question: “what is an evangelical?”.

Monday 24 August 2015

The importance of physical rest and holidays as a Christian

Mark 6:31 "And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat" (KJV).

Someone once said to me years ago about this Bible verse with respect for the necessity of physical and mental rest: "If you do not come apart, you will come apart". Some people are workaholics and thankfully I am not one of them. I was a workaholic once, when I worked for a very pressured, yet successful corporation and I resolved when I became a Christian to never to become a workaholic again. Taking rest is essential for Christians, families, husbands, wives, and children. What I am talking about primarily in this blog post is appropriate holidays.

My primary aim in writing this blog a number of years ago was to "sow seeds" to move people in a more biblical and Reformed direction. This continues to be my primary aim. However, what has become ever more clear me to me in the succeeding years is that due to sin, it is hard for all of us to live balanced lives. For example excess "zeal without knowledge" (Romans 10:2) can lead any of us to holding imbalanced doctrines. Though we may hold to Calvinistic or confessional truth, this does not mean that we hold all truths with biblical balance or that we practice all truth with balance. We can easily and unknowingly be out of harmony with Scripture.

Taking holidays is part of the sabbath rest principle that is found in Scripture is therefore a good, wholesome and biblical practice. This kind of holiday I am mentioning is beyond the norm of the weekly Sabbath rest, especially for ministers because our Lord's Days can be very busy and simply having a day off during the week does not compensate for a proper holiday. Quite often for myself over the years, it takes me 5-6 days to fully unwind mentally when on holiday. If Jesus called his disciples to "come apart" may we ensure that we do not walk in disobedience by acting in a way beyond our master by failing to take appropriate rest. Someone also warned me years ago about the importance of "listening to your body".

Enjoy your holidays, take your Bible with you and some good wholesome Christian books as well, while enjoying nature, swimming and whatever else!

Monday 17 August 2015

Book Review: The NIV Proclamation Bible (Hodder & Stoughton, 2013).

The dust jacket of this newly updated NIV Bible asserts that this is “the clearest and most accurate modern English Bible translation”. The NIV was first published in 1978, updated in 1984, and again in 2011; therefore one may ask, “why are further significant revisions needed?”. It is assumed by the NIV translation team that there has been a shift in the English language, which apparently required (in 2011) a gender inclusive translation to reflect “common” English (p ix). Where necessary, it refers to “they/them/their” instead of “he”. However, in taking time to read this translation for review and while comparing it with the original biblical languages, I have asked myself this question many times: “Is the English language changing or are the theological views of the translators changing?”.

This project has now been taken up by Hodder & Stoughton, with the help of an editor Lee Gatiss (the director of the Anglican Church Society) and consultant editors. In addition, a cast of well known church leaders have written Bible notes to support this translation. There are three aspects to the NIV Proclamation Bible for serious and careful consideration. First is the accuracy of the translation itself; second are the summaries of the message of each Bible book (with notes on other major Bible themes) by a prominent pastor or scholar (men and women interestingly!); and third the extent of the wholehearted endorsements from within the English speaking evangelical world.

There is the need for further treatment of this subject, however this review understandably, can only “paint with broad brush strokes”. In reference to the gender inclusive nature of this translation, the most prominent shift is from the word “brothers” in the NT Epistles to “brothers and sisters” instead (1 Cor 1:10, 11, 26; 2:1; 3:1 as a sample). For consistency, this theme is “rolled out” across the NT, including the introduction of Galatians where Paul writes “and all the brothers and sisters with me” (1:1); thus implying Paul’s travelling team included men and women, which it did not. Similarly, while in prison with his male co-workers in writing to the Philippians, the NIV mistakenly reads at the end of the Epistle “the brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings” (Phil 4:21).

There is a subtle shift in theological intent in this translation. Let me cite a stark example. In 1 Timothy 2:12 we read: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man”. This nuanced thought now suggests doctrinally, that a woman must not “assume authority over a man”, but that it can be given her by men. Thereby opening the door for gender equality in ministry, the public reading of Scripture and church governance. I contend that such changes to the Scripture open the way for a doctrinal drift, rather than reflecting an English language shift.

An area of further concern was when I read 1 Timothy 3 and the qualifications for elders and deacons. With a “stroke of the pen”, the editors undermine the office of deacon by asserting in the footnotes that the “word deacon refers here to Christians designated to serve with overseers/elders” such as Romans 16:1, Philippians 1:1. The bold step is made to translate Romans 16:1 “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae”. The way is deliberately opened for a multiplicity of ways for women to exercise ministry and governance, while failing to uphold the biblical difference between the office of deacon and diaconal work.

While the summaries of each Bible book are quite helpful, the quality of contributions is uneven. There is a standard format required by the editors and this includes three commentary suggestions for each Bible book. The late John Stott appears as one of the most frequently cited, but questions arise when Mark Meynell recommends N. T. Wright on “Philemon” (p 1319). Is N. T. Wright really a safe and reliable evangelical teaching guide for the church?

I cannot write this review without noting that a number of women have been asked to write contributions to the Bible book introductions. The editors and endorsers of this NIV Proclamation Bible are clearly signalling their aim, one which is to give women the responsibility to teach “brothers and sisters” doctrine in the church. This drift is now upon us in the evangelical world.

Finally, the breadth of high profile evangelical endorsements means that this translation will quickly gain acceptance and be used by preachers, as well as become a popular pew Bible, most especially, but not exclusively in evangelical Anglican circles (and by The Proclamation Trust). The four primary endorsements (p ii) are from Timothy Keller of New York, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen, Wheaton College pastor Joshua W. Moody and Carrie Sandom, associate minister for women and pastoral care at St John’s Tonbridge Wells.

In conclusion, there is a great need for ministers to be equipped in the biblical languages to be able to scrutinise assertions that will be made in the years ahead, because this translation signals a subtle but seismic evangelical shift. The question to be contended is: “Is it a shift in a biblical direction or not?”. This reviewer is disappointed at the wide-scale “wind of change” towards an egalitarian model for church ministry and governance, one which does not have biblical, historic or theological warrant in my opinion. For churches seeking to use a new translation, I suggest that they look elsewhere, than to adopt this Bible.

Saturday 15 August 2015

Promoting the book called "Engaging with Keller"

This book was published in 2013 but it is far from out of date. It carries endorsements from R. Scott Clark and Ian Hamilton. Tim Keller has been invited to two conferences in England this year and he continues to exert a significant influence upon evangelical thinking in the English speaking world.

Though I am one of the contributors in this book (my essay is called "Losing the Dance: is the 'divine dance' a good explanation of the Trinity?"), I am unashamed in commending this book to as wide an audience as possible. Kellerite contextual approaches to the church, theology, preaching and worship abound. The church must be guarded against unbalanced doctrine. This does not mean that all that Tim Keller does is wrong, however there are significant flaws in his theological system.

Our supreme guide in the church is Holy Scripture and the right interpretation. Listen to Acts 8:30-31 'So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him'.

There are two key questions in this passage.

1). Do you understand what you are reading?

2). How can I unless someone guides me?

Our source of authority is Holy Scripture but we need reliable teachers to guide us. The book "Engaging with Keller" strengthens the church to engage with doctrine. For the first essay by Iain D. Campbell called "Keller on 'Rebranding' the doctrine of Sin", the book pays for itself.

Buy it and pass it on to others.