May all pay attention to Elisha

A few months ago, I submitted a 2500-word response to 1 and 2 Kings as part of studying the Old Testament at college. The lecturer invited us to be as creative as possible – poems, board games, flow charts, music albums were all fair game. My response ended up being a selection of acrostic poems following the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (à la Psalm 119), responding to the events of 1 and 2 Kings. My favourite part was reflecting on the comparisons between Elisha and Jesus (as others have also done), and how it highlights the book of Kings’ importance in pointing us to Jesus, the perfect Messiah. This response is below, and I hope it whets your appetite to read more of Kings, and the Old Testament, looking for Christ.


 

Mem מ‎

A maskil. Of the Shunammite woman, 2 Kings 2-6.

 

May all pay attention to Elisha

Meagre farmboy turned miracle worker

Mouthpiece of Yahweh, whose armies surround him[1]

May all who taunt him be mauled![2]

 

May all pay attention to Elisha

Miracle worker amidst death in the land

Made meals for the hungry,[3] restores dead to life[4]

Made way for slaves to be free![5]

 

May all pay attention to Elisha

Minister to Gentiles,[6] he made lepers clean

Master even over Creation’s sway[7]

May all make straight paths for him!

 

May all pay attention to Elisha

Mother and father he leaves behind[8]

Model disciple who mimics his Master

Might he lay down his life for his friends?[9]


 

[1] 2 Kings 6:17

[2] 2 Kings 2:23-25

[3] 2 Kings 4:1-7, 2 Kings 2:38-41

[4] 2 Kings 4:32-37, 2 Kings 13:20-21

[5] 2 Kings 4:1

[6] 2 Kings 5:1-16

[7] 2 Kings 6:6

[8] 1 Kings 19:19-21

[9] John 15:13

Quotes from Semester 1 at Sydney Missionary Bible College, 2017

We’ve just finished our first semester here at Sydney Missionary Bible College, where I’m studying towards a Masters of Divinity.

It’s been exhausting on some fronts – adjusting to life in Australia with a young family, scrambling to build new friendships and relationships, grieving as NZ friends move on with their lives. I don’t think we’ve ever been as sick with colds and flus as this past 6 months.

It’s been enriching on many fronts – drinking from multiple fire hoses gushing with theology, observing examples of godliness, and catching the passion to bring Christ to all the nations – literally. What a special place this is to be prepared for a lifetime of gospel ministry in NZ.

I’ve noted down for posterity what others have said this semester – nuggets of wisdom worth retaining longer than all my ephemeral InstaFaceTweets combined. Most of these were from lectures and chapels; some were from conversations over lunch and dinner with staff and students; a few are quotes from other places. I hope some of them are helpful to you.


Church History: Early Church to 476

“If learning church history doesn’t contribute to your godliness and discipleship, then it hasn’t done its job.” – Stuart Coulton

“The Crusades. Nazi Germany. How could ‘Christians’ do such evil things? They were Christians who failed to critique the values of the world around them.” – S.C.

“We carpet bomb a city to save democracy [Dresden]. Should we kill a man for denying the Trinity [cf. Calvin and Servetus]? Church history gives us provocation and tools to wrestle with these propositions.” – S.C.

“What and where it happened is not as important as why it happened.” – S.C.

“Early Christianity stood out by its holiness. Is our church today known for its quality of life? What difference has Christ made to me?” – S.C.

“You work out what the error is by the way the truth is articulated.” – S.C.

“The difference between an ascetic and and aesthetic comes down to chocolate. The ascetic says no. The aesthetic says, ‘Only Lindt will do.'” – S.C.

“The church sometimes stops at bishops and creeds, but pays lip service to Scripture.” – S.C.

“The church has a need for many things, but what it really needs is good doctrine. We live in a world where pragmatism is the most popular authority. So assume nothing. Go back to Scripture and ask: is this truth biblical?” – S.C.

“Christians in the West treat Revelation in ways that John would be horrified. Does reading Revelation move you to pray for the persecuted church? If not perhaps we’ve missed John’s purpose for the letter.” – Rachel Ciano, Persecution and Apologists

“Fast growth in the early church meant nominal Christians with shallow roots. Christians lived in a time of peace, so were unprepared; many gave themselves up. May it be a lesson to us not to be caught unprepared.” – R.C. on the Edict of 250 AD requiring Christians worship the Roman Emperor.

“‘For the church to be marginalised is not a bad thing. It has better eyes to see from the edges.'” – R.C. paraphrasing Miroslav Volf

“If you’ve found something new that no one has ever thought of before, be careful. People have been thinking about things longer than you.” – R.C.

“One of the greatest things about church history is that you’ll never hero worship anyone. You see their black spots; everyone has feet of clay.” – S.C.

“Don’t write these guys off [early monastics]. Otherwise we’ll have nothing to learn. These monks asked: what does it look like to seriously follow Jesus? Part of me is provoked… How much am I prepared to follow Jesus?” – S.C.

“FF Bruce suggests that the Reformation is all about Augustine’s doctrine of the church colliding with his doctrine of salvation.” – S.C.

“If you find yourself separated from the majority of the church, then show some humility.” – S.C. summarising Augustine’s argument about the church

 

Church History: Middle Ages to Pre-Reformation

“Augustine’s view is that we are dead in our transgressions. Pelagius’s view is that we are not dead in our trangressions. The Bible teaches that you’re a prince [in Christ] and a worm. You’re totally depraved and you’re touched by grace.” – S.C.

“Herulean Oduvacar is the perfect name to drop into a dinner party conversation. He was the first non-Roman to sit on the throne. You think Donald Trump is shocking!” – S.C.

“In the Middle Ages, nobody believed in the separation of church and state. The issue at this time is which side is in charge.” – S.C.

“Don’t defend the Crusades. They are a complete blot on the Christian church.” – S.C.

“We are tempted to promote the cause of Christ using instruments of the world. But Zechariah 4:6 reminds us that it’s ‘not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit.'” – S.C.

“The real outrage with Luther was not that he had beer, but that he got married.” – S.C.

“The priesthood of all believers has politically explosive implications.” – S.C.

“One of the temptations for us is to lack confidence in the power of God’s Word. ‘You need topical. You need something else.’ No – it is the means by which salvation is accomplished.” – S.C.

“Lutheranism today is different to Lutheranism 500 years ago. Calvinism remains influential over the years, perhaps because it left a more systematised doctrine.” – S.C.

“Luther is all about stuffing the ark – ‘get them in’. Calvin wants to transform the ark – ‘sanctify them'”. – R.C., on the difference between Luther and Calvin

“One reason laments have lost their place in today’s worship is that we have a problem with saying ‘God, you did it.’ Withhold nothing from the sovereignty of God.” – R.C.

“Your church building says a lot about your theology.” – R.C. on church architecture

“Most of South America is Roman Catholic because of the Jesuits. While Protestants were infighting, they became a worldwide RCC. Parochialism is the enemy of the gospel. Don’t debate each other at the expense of gospel proclamation.” – R.C. on the Catholic counter-reformation

 

 

Pastoral Theology

“To pray for God to be glorified in your life is a dangerous prayer.” – Stuart Coulton, Pastoral Theology

“Beware the disjunct between the handling of God’s word for others, and practising God’s word for yourself.” – S.C.

“Small talk is addressing the 95% of a person’s life. If you are disinterested in 95% of a person’s life, then continue to hate small talk.” – S.C.

“What God does in you will shape what He does through you.” – S.C.

“[I] didn’t realise how dangerous Stuart’s prayer was until later in the year.” – student in the valley.

 

Biblical Theology

“In my class, the answer is usually Jesus, or context.” – Alan Thompson

“Here’s four approaches to the Bible:
1. Exegesis – what’s in the line?
2. Biblical Theology – what’s the timeline?
3. Systematic Theology – what’s the bottom line?
4. Historical Theology – what’s the church’s line?”

– adapted from A.T. explaining the role of biblical theology

New Testament Greek

“Learning Greek shouldn’t make you proud, but make you humble.” – Janet Riley

“Learning Greek is like Jacob wrestling with the angel. You need to hold on to that word and say: ‘I will not let you go until you bless me!'” – Rob Plummer on dailydoseofgreek.com

 

 

 

Old Testament Foundations

“We’re going to look at some of the greatest literature ever written.” – Kit Barker

“In time you’ll learn to use dictionaries, commentaries and journals. But nothing replaces a careful, repeated reflection of the text. Keep asking: what is God doing with this text then and now?” – K.B.

“The Pentateuch is meant to persuade you to obey – it’s not to be held at arm’s length. It’s meant to shape us, transform us into better men and women than we were.” – Geoff Harper

“Genesis records history, but it also critiques our own hearts. It’s less about what the sun is made of, but why it is there.” – G.H.

“There’s a diversity of views out there [on Genesis 1-2], but we are Christian. It’s very unwise to die on this hill. We need to love people who are different.” – G.H.

“To help us understand the literary artistry in the Tower of Babel story, let’s read The Gruffalo and see if you can spot any artistic devices.” – G.H.

“[In the Joseph story] Judah’s repentance is real. He’s willing to be Benjamin’s substitute, to be a slave so Benjamin can go free. We see the necessity for repentance to precede forgiveness. If we repent, we’ll get reconciliation.” – G.H.

“As Christians we need to be careful not to have an Islamic [i.e. dictated] view of Scripture. It’s OK if divine inspiration is more complex than we thought. We have a God who stands behind it.” – G.H.

“Let me make some bold statements: Leviticus is not just a relic of Israel’s history; it’s your history. It’s not redundant, but essential. You can’t understand Jesus unless you understand what’s in Leviticus: atonement, forgiveness, care for the foreigner, blood, sacrifice, holiness. So study Levicitus to understand Christ better.” – G.H.

“Leviticus is a wonderful evangelistic text. Lots of people are terrified about being unclean before a Holy God. Jesus is the one who makes us clean. Leviticus pushes us to talk about this.” – G.H.

“To remove wrath from the cross is foolishness. What then did he die for? Then there’s no sense in which God demonstrates his love.” – K.B.

“[The wrath of God] is not just an Old Testament problem. In fact, the NT is far more violent — in both the crucifixion [of Jesus] and in the unleashing of God’s fury on all who reject him.” – K.B.

“The more we understand and accept God’s wrath against rebellion, the more we appreciate the love of God and what Christ suffered.” – K.B.

“One generation is all it takes to lose the nation – to be worse than the culture you’re in. So we must pass on the life-giving words to the next generation.” – K.B. on Judges

 

Preaching Class, Principal’s Hour, Student Chapels

“The goal of preaching is not just to make smarter sinners. That’s what’s called dump truck preaching. The goal of preaching is to give God’s Word, to point people to their saviour, and live for his glory.” – Malcolm Gill

“It’s easy to do dump truck preaching. It’s much harder to be simple.” – M.G.

“‘My son’s birthday party’ – could be kids with party hats, or as it turns out, an adult son released from prison. Find out who you’re speaking to!” – M.G. on evaluating your audience

“In preaching you bring a meal out from the kitchen. You don’t take them into the kitchen and show them all the ingredients.” – M.G.

“If you’ve come to bible college, there probably is a Messiah complex about you. But our effectiveness in ministry is solely by God’s grace. The gospel gives us both confidence and humility in gospel ministry.” – Mark Adams, on 1 Cor 15

“Genesis 38 pictures a man in the midst of rebellion, confronted with his deception, then immediately acknowledging this wrongdoing, who becomes a new person. God transforms the hardest of hearts.” – Kit Barker

“People have a right to see in us a radical reflection of Jesus.” – S.C., on Matthew 5

“Jesus had nothing to add to the commandments except one thing: he kept them.” – S.C. quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The Old Testament is the gospel in bud; the New Testament is the gospel in flower.” – S.C. quoting JC Ryle

“As Bob Dylan sang, ‘You’re going to have to serve somebody.’ The question is, who? Who will you give your heart to?” – S.C., Matt 6:19-34

“There is a difference between having strong convictions and lacking respect for others with whom we disagree.” – S.C., on Matt 7:1-6

“One of the dangers of college is that our skillset outstrips our character. So begin with a command like this: don’t judge.” – S.C.

“Some advice for bible college graduates – don’t whine, don’t shine, and don’t recline.” – from an OT lecturer at Moore College

 

Other quotables

“Competence without character in Christian service is not just unattractive, but incredibly dangerous.” – S.C.

“Ministry Matters [hearing from missionaries every week] will help us lift our eyes away from parochialism and our tendency to only look locally.” – S.C.

“Some cultures don’t even have a word for guilt in their language. How do you explain Romans 3 to them?” – Richard Hibbert, on cross-cultural communication

“[Why are we missionaries in an unsafe country?] Safe is relative. You could be in Australia and get hit by a car. Is Christ worthy for West Asians to praise? If so then it is worth being here for the sake of the gospel.” – X+X, missionary family with young children

 

 

The best 1600 words on church history I’ve read

I’ve just read a breathtaking summary of 2000 years of church history by Bruce Shelley. It’s from his Epilogue to “Church History in Plain Language”. The way the author flows through the warp and weft of two millennia of Christianity is a sheer masterclass of writing.

I can’t share the whole epilogue here – for that you really should buy the book. It flies through early persecution and heresy, the Imperial age from Constantine, councils and hermits, Eastern Orthodoxy, the fall of Rome, the reconversion of Europe, Charlemagne and Cluny, the church as empire, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the Enlightenment and Evangelical Awakening, the Age of Ideologies – all in the space of 1600 words.

But here is how it ends (emphasis mine):

“Christians can hope because faith always reaches beyond earthly circumstances. Its confidence is in a person. And no other person in recorded history has influenced more people in as many conditions over so long a time as Jesus Christ. The shades and tones of his image seem to shift with the needs of men: the Jewish Messiah of the believing remnant, the Wisdom of the Greek apologist, the Cosmic King of the Imperial Church, the Heavenly Logos of the orthodox councils, the World Ruler of the papal courts, the monastic Model of apostolic poverty, the personal Saviour of evangelical revivalists. Truly, he is a man for all time. In a day when many regard him as irrelevant, a relic of a quickly discarded past, church history provides a quiet testimony that Jesus Christ will not disappear from the scene. His title may change, but his truth endures for all generations.” – Bruce Shelley

Truly inspiring.

Reflections on the modern hymn In Christ Alone

(This article was first published in the NZ Baptist Magazine website: http://www.baptistmag.org.nz/discipleship/in-christ-alone/).


When was the last time you remember singing about God’s wrath? If the modern hymn “In Christ Alone” is in your playlist, then it was probably more recently that you realised.

“In Christ Alone” was the first hymn that writers Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty produced together, and to this day, it remains their most well known. Since its release in 2001, “In Christ Alone” has been referred to as “surely the worship song of the century so far.” The song has been covered by scores of artists including Owl City, David Archuleta, and Natalie Grant, and has been translated into several different languages.

 

The hymn takes a linear approach in unfolding the gospel narrative (the life, death, and resurrection of Christ). The first verse introduces Christ as solid ground, a cornerstone that we can find safety and refuge in. In the same way that stonemasons in biblical times relied on the precise placement of a cornerstone to set the foundation for every other stone, Christ promises to be “a cornerstone chosen and precious” (1 Peter 2:6) that we can rest every triumph and tragedy upon.

The second verse invites us to gaze at the wonder of the incarnation—the fullness of God in human form—before zooming into the life and death of Jesus. Despised and rejected by the people he came to save, the Messiah willingly poured himself out during the drama of the cross, where gruesome death and sacrificial love satisfied God’s righteous anger that our sins deserve (Romans 3:21-26, Romans 5:9).

The third verse begins with gloom of the tomb, but gives way to unabashed celebration of the risen Christ. The melody climaxes alongside triumphant news: Jesus is alive, victorious over death! We can now have the confidence to claim him as our own! The resurrection proves that sin’s death grip no longer remains: “…for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Powerful stories demand a response. In the final verse, we are invited to sing our reaction to the good news of Jesus. His unmatched power provides assurance that guilt need not plague us, death need not scare us, and hell can never take us: there simply is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). With King Jesus in command of our destiny, we stand with confidence, awaiting the day we finally meet him face-to-face.

Just as a diamond’s brilliance and sparkle depends on the number and placement of its many facets, God’s beauty shines most brightly in light of his many facets. In 2013, one of these aspects came under scrutiny when the American Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song voted to exclude “In Christ Alone” from its hymnal, in light of the words in verse two, which speak about God’s wrath being satisfied. The decision attracted media interest and sparked a firestorm of controversy. There was much wrath about God’s wrath: some criticised the hymn writers for not allowing a change to the lyrics, while others accused the hymn committee of holding an unbiblical view of God.

Talk about God’s wrath brings unsettling images to the minds of 21st century Kiwis. We rightly reject caricatures of God having the uncontrollable anger of Jake “The Muss” from Once Were Warriors, or spewing forth hateful words at protest marches. Yet God’s wrath—revealed in the Bible—means God was willing to confront the cancer of sin hollowing out his beloved image-bearers, and Christ was willing to absorb the consequences of this cancer in our place. Without it, God’s love becomes saccharine and ill-equipped to respond to the horrors of human sin; whether anti-Semitic violence, or our own Samaritan blind spots; whether selfish exploitation of workers, or our own self-absorbed materialism.

That’s why when we sing about the wrath of God, we actually sing about ourselves: sinners in need of the rescue that Jesus willingly offers on the cross. To minimise any one of God’s attributes from our vocabulary is to rob ourselves of the full brilliance of God’s beauty, and to make Christ’s sacrifice less costly.

“In Christ Alone” depicts a God not made in our own image, but as he presents himself in the Biblical story: beyond us yet with us; holy yet gracious; angry yet loving; just yet merciful. And all of it is worth singing about.

 

Five laments your church could sing this week

“What can miserable Christians sing?”

A couple of years ago, pastor and church historian Carl Trueman posed this question in an article. He was reflecting on contemporary worship music and its limited ability to lament. Cries of pain are largely absent from our gathered worship vocabulary, and so in the wake of a terror attack, or terminal cancer, or the loss of a child, we find ourselves mute.

Here’s five songs, written or arranged in the last decade or so, that could help you or your church to cry out in lament.

1. Though You Slay Me (Shane and Shane)

(Lyrics / Sheet Music)

I like this one because it’s raw and honest. For example:

I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You strike down to bind me up
You say you do it all in love
That I might know you in your suffering

The melody is easy to sing along with, and the chorus helps to turn our tears back to trust: “Though you slay me, yet I will trust you…”

2. Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul (Indelible Grace)

(Lyrics and Sheet Music)

This is one of our favourites from the folks at Indelible Grace. Anne Steele’s words give us permission to honestly say to God that sometimes, our hope is fainting, it’s hanging on by a thread. The guys at Capitol Hill Baptist use a different tune, though I prefer this one personally – there’s space to almost “sigh” after each line as we “breathe our sorrows” to the ear of sovereign grace.

3. Darkness – Psalm 88 (Matt Searles)

(LyricsSheet Music)

Matt Searles has been putting out some excellent settings of Psalms, and this is no exception. I like the easy to sing tune, and how it pretty much tracks with each line of Psalm 88.

4. Hide Away in the Love of Jesus (Sovereign Grace Music)

(Lyrics and Sheet Music)

We’ve sung this regularly at Howick Baptist. Each verse talks about a type of person that needs to hide away in the love of Jesus. The first verse in particular helps me put my tired and weak heart into the hands of Jesus:

Come, weary saints, though tired and weak
Hide away in the love of Jesus
Your strength will return by His quiet streams
Hide away in the love of Jesus

5. God Moves (William Cowper, arr. Bob Kauflin)

(Lyrics and Sheet Music)

Veteran worship leader and songwriter Bob Kauflin wrote this arrangement in response to the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. Cowper’s words were written in the midst of terrible depression. The combination of text and tune has been good for our church to sing over the years:

So God we trust in You
O God we trust in You
When tears are great
And comforts few
We hope in mercies ever new
We trust in You

 


I’m really only scratching the surface here, so please feel free to suggest other laments. I’m particularly interested if you know of songs / psalm settings that are bold enough to stay with the singer in darkness (e.g. Psalm 88, which ends with “darkness my closest friend”).