Greater Than We Can Imagine – SMBC Praise & Prayer – Set List

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of organising a praise and prayer evening for our bible college community. It all started with a fireside conversation: “Wouldn’t it be great to come together for singing and prayer?”

We’re incredibly blessed at college to spend hours and hours drinking from a firehose of theology, missions, languages and ministry training. Also, God seems to have given us a range of gifted musicians, poets, artists and songwriters at present. So it seemed fitting to set aside a few hours to respond to God’s greatness: both in who he reveals Himself to be, and in how He saves us through Christ.

So on the 28th August, we had a room full of students and families, young and old, all worshipping God in song, prayer and reading His Word. The theme of the night, “Greater Than We Can Imagine”, came from Psalm 145:

“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.”
– Psalm 145:3-7, NIV

I had the job of picking songs for the night, while my fellow music coordinators Luke and Alastair prepared the rest of the program and arranged the space beautifully. I really appreciated how varied the contributions were from everyone, and how there was a real freedom to enjoy God together and to delight in His Word, and to “sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord…” (Eph 5:19)

If you’re interested, here’s a recap of what we did together on the night. We sang a variety of songs from a range of sources including Sovereign Grace Music, Stuart Townend, Indelible Grace, CityAlight, Hillsong, and even a few homegrown offerings from SMBC songwriters.

Part 1 – The God Who is Greater Than We Can Imagine

  1. Welcome & Prayer: an invitation to prefer one another and “let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor 14:26)
  2. Read: Group reading of Psalm 145
  3. Sing: All Creatures of our God and King by Sovereign Grace Music
  4. Sing: How Great is our God by Chris Tomlin (with How Great Thou Art)
  5. Pray: 1-sentence “popcorn” prayers to praise God for who He is
  6. Sing: Psalm 62 (My Soul Finds Rest) by Stuart Townend & Aaron Keyes
  7. Pray: Silent, self-directed reflections on Psalm 145
  8. Listen: Poem on Psalm 145 by Sam Gempton
  9. Listen: You Won’t Forsake Me by Matt Lo
  10. Sing: Psalm 130 (From the Depths of Woe) by Indelible Grace
  11. Sing: Only a Holy God by CityAlight
  12. Pray: A free response
  13. Sing: Great Is Thy Faithfulness (My Treasure) by Thomas Chisholm, John Piper

 

Part 2 – The God Who Saves is Greater Than We Can Imagine

  1. Welcome: a reminder our great God is also the one who redeems us through Christ Jesus
  2. Sing: Come Praise and Glorify by Sovereign Grace Music
  3. Sing: You Are the God Who Saves Me (Psalm 88) by Nick Freestone
  4. Sing: Love, You Will Not Let Me Go by George Matheson, music and lyrics by Brian Leung
  5. Sing: I Stand In Awe by Mark Altrogge (with scripture reading of Rev 4)
  6. Listen: Lord of the Heavens by James Peters
  7. Listen: Poem, “Here I Am” by Steph Leung
  8. Sing: Let Your Kingdom Come by Sovereign Grace Music
  9. Read: Revelation 5
  10. Sing: Revelation Song by Jennie Lee-Riddle
  11. Sing: O Praise the Name (Anástasis)
  12. Pray: To give thanks and close


SPOTIFY PLAYLIST:


 

What’s it like to study at Sydney Missionary Bible College?

A few weeks ago, the promo team at Sydney Missionary Bible College (where I’m currently studying) interviewed several students about our college experience. If you’re interested, here’s my interview (I’ve included a written version of it after the break below). Better yet, I’d encourage you to hear from several college friends:

  • Kim Patterson – “I’m hoping to go into full-time ministry in Ireland, and I wanted to be further equipped and trained to do that well.”
  • Matt Sharpe – “If you asked me five years ago if you’d be at Bible College, I would have said: ‘No way!'”
  • Emma Bott – “Being able to read the Bible in its original languages has been a joyous experience…”
  • Alex Prentice – “I’m really enjoying Greek… which I probably shouldn’t say too loudly!”
  • Dave Bott – “In a way I didn’t want to come to Bible College, because it meant leaving friends and family behind, and that was scary!”
  • Dorothea Amann – “I thought Bible College is for someone who’s really certain to be a pastor or missionary… so probably not for me!”
  • James Peters – “I had put God into a pretty tight neat little box that I thought I could understand and control, and coming to college has helped me to understand how very little I know about our great God.”
  • Joel Abraham – “One of the best things is learning alongside so many different people from different church backgrounds and cultures.”
  • Julian Baalbergen – “I love how it’s not about the numbers or scores on your essays and exams, but it’s about how your heart is being developed and changed to be more Christlike…”

Praise God for raising up all these labourers for the Harvest!


Tell us a bit about yourself, and how you ended up at SMBC.

My name is William, and I’m here at SMBC with my wife Cheryl and our three children. We moved here last year to study at SMBC. Previously I was a medical writer, and also helping out as an intern at my church back home in Auckland, New Zealand. Through that process, and being able to do ministry alongside my pastor, watching him preach and teach and visit people, I had a growing conviction that I’d love to be better at applying, teaching and sharing the Word with others in a local church setting. He encouraged us to consider SMBC. We also knew a couple of graduates whose love for Jesus and knowledge of the Word seemed really compelling for us. I remember observing one of them and thinking, “I want to be more like that person.” That’s a big part of why we decided to come to SMBC.

How have you found life at college?

We moved here last year (January 2017), and it was a bit of a culture shock – lots of people with Australian accents! The scariest thing is when you start picking up some of their little tweaks (e.g. shortening words and phrases). That’s been a bit of a challenge, but we’ve also gained some great friendships as well. This really is an international community we’ve come into. We’ve loved meeting students and their families from places like Pakistan, Austria, Indonesia (Ireland, Ecuador, Germany, Tanzania, Singapore, Malaysia, Vanuatu) – whereever in the world! It’s great being reminded that God’s workers are being sent all around the world with His glorious gospel.

What’s it like to undertake theological studies at SMBC?

It’s a great environment to study in. Things I’ve really enjoyed include:

  • Time together – in the Word, starting and ending the week with chapels, Principals Hour in the middle of the week, and during morning tea and lunch to talk about what we’ve been learning in class
  • A focus on preaching – I love how everyone who studies full-time learns how to preach, to understand God’s Word to us and apply it for a world who needs it
  • Being stretched with theology – we just spent three hours thinking about the role of the Holy Spirit, and I don’t know if I’ve ever had to work my brain so hard!
  • Lecturers as role models – they model not just head knowledge but also apply it to their hearts. For example, I loved how Dave this morning invited us into his devotional life as he taught us about the Holy Spirit. All the lecturers here don’t want to just tell you things, but they also want to get into your lives. They share the gospel, but their lives also (1 Thess 2:8).
  • A focus on global missions – every week during lecturers, we’re challenged by missionaries from all over the world, who give us a global picture of what God’s doing in the world, and how we can be a part of it. When you’re from the ends of the earth (NZ), you don’t tend to think about much more than the ends of the earth. So it’s been refreshing and challenging to have our eyes opened to what God’s doing – and to be challenged by my lack of passion and zeal for global missions as well. This means that, after college, whatever I do needs to have global missions in mind, and a global view of what God’s doing.

What are your plans after college?

Our national anthem ends with the line: “God defend New Zealand”. I feel like that’s part of our call – we’d like to go back and help to defend it with the gospel. New Zealand is a more liberal and secular country than we’ve expected, and is changing quickly – even during the time we’ve been away. We’ve seen changes in society that reveal a lack of the gospel, and a need for people to find their true satisfaction and life in Jesus. We don’t know what that looks like yet, but we’d love to be part of the many men and women who want to give their lives to defending the gospel in New Zealand.


 

Book review: The Extent of the Atonement by David Allen

The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review (B&H Academic, 2016).

by David L. Allen

Genre: Biblical Reference / Christian Theology

Size: 820 pages (and weighs in at 1.7 kg!)

What’s the big idea: David Allen makes a comprehensive biblical, historical, theological case that the majority of Christians, even within those who are considered Reformed, affirm an “unlimited atonement” as the best understanding of the extent of Christ’s saving work.

Easy to read? It was OK. It’s certainly an extensive tome on the atonement’s extent, so I’ve read through about a third of it so far. The sheer size of the book will probably appeal to those interested in the topic, rather than general readers. That being said, B&H editors have helpfully indexed the book by subject, author and Scripture passage. If you know how to search through this book, it becomes easy to read and a goldmine of information.

What I appreciated:

  • It’s comprehensive. From Irenaeus to Al Mohler, Allen surveys what every well-known (and more unfamiliar) Christian leader has believed regarding the extent of the atonement. You’ll need to discern between the historical data and Allen’s own commentary and assessment interspersed throughout. But a lot of research has gone into this book, which we can be grateful for.
  • I appreciated the tone of Allen’s work. He doesn’t play the man but seeks only to critique the positions that they hold. This kind of writing style is often lacking in the intramural debates on this topic.
  • He provides two helpful charts (p.xxviii, 766) – one is a summary of four different views of the extent of the atonement. Another is a comprehensive list of theologians and their view on this matter.
  • Part 3 of the book comprises a chapter-by-chapter critique of Jonathan and David Gibson’s From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, the most comprehensive defence of definite atonement to date. Even for someone who’s persuaded by the arguments for definite atonement, I found it helpful to understand the objections from Allen’s side of the fence. He summarises each contributor’s arguments fairly, and offers thoughtful and persuasive rebuttals.

What I would have liked to see:

  • For an 800-plus “tour de force”, there was surprisingly little discussion on OT conceptions of the atonement. For example, the Day of Atonement is only referenced twice (p402 in a discussion of Robert Lightner, and when Allen critiques the article on definite atonement in the OT in From Heaven He Came And Sought Her).
  • A bit less of an inquisitionary tone. I understand that this is meant to be a comprehensive historical survey, but Allen seems to take aim at any and every author who’s ever published about the atonement’s extent. In some cases, he pulls apart their arguments in the kind of lengthy, meticulous manner one normally associates with blog posts you disagree with (e.g., poor Paul Jarvis in p.610-12). At times, it seemed like a meeting or phone conversation would have sufficed in place of the extended critique.
  • Some more trimming. I appreciate how extensive the data is out there, but there’s no reason why some of the historical surveys couldn’t have been abbreviated.
  • Allen sometimes adopts unclear labels to describe his and other viewpoints. He insists that no Baptists can be “Reformed” in the confessional sense (p.xv), and goes so far as to call his own view not Arminian, or Moderate Calvinist – but simply, a “Baptist” perspective (p.xviii).

Who I’d recommend it to: Anyone who is interested in the debates about the extent of the atonement. Carl Trueman (an advocate of definite atonement) offers a warm endorsement: “While David Allen and I disagree on the matter, this work is an irenic and learned contribution to the topic which carries the historical, and thus doctrinal, discussion forward in an extremely helpful way. I am thus happy to recommend this work of a friendly critic. It deserves wide readership and careful engagement.”

Verdict: Not for the faint-hearted, this extensive tome about the atonement’s extent serves as a thorough, critical companion to From Heaven He Came and Sought Her.

More info:

  • Jeff Johnson offers a detailed critique of Allen’s book from a definite atonement perspective.

(I’m grateful to B&H Academic who provided a review copy of this textbook, which has not influenced my opinion of the book.)

 

Book review: Amyraut on Predestination

Amyraut on Predestination: The First Published Translation from the French (Charenton Reformed Publishing, 2017).

by Matthew Harding, with a biographical sketch by Alan Clifford

Genre: Church History, Theology

Size: 190 pages – a 30 page biography, some translation notes, and then 100 pages of Amyraut’s own words from Brief Traitté de la Predestination et de ses principales dependances (Brief Treatise on Predestination and Its Dependent Principles).

What’s the big idea: Never heard of Amyraldianism? This English translation of his seminal work on predestination and the atonement (which sparked three heresy trials!) will help you understand where the idea of “4 Point Calvinism” or “Moderate Calvinism” originated from.

Easy to read? Definitely. Harding’s translation is lucid and clear, and even sounds like a “French” person is saying it. I found the book easy to use when preparing a theology essay on Amyraldianism.

What I appreciated? A few things:

  • The fact that this work now exists. A lack of primary sources has been a longstanding barrier to evaluating Amyraut’s teachings accurately – for example, if you want to know what Calvin himself taught you can read his Institutes. Matthew Harding and Alan Clifford have done a service to the church by publishing the first English translation of Amyraut’s most well-known work, This will hopefully provide clearer insight into Amyraut’s teachings.
  • The biographical sketch by Alan Clifford reads well. While he comes across as very adoring of Amyraut (complete with photos of the archway he used to walk under!), it doesn’t seem to seep into hagiography.
  • Harding is a careful guide – his explanatory notes are helpful, particularly when Amyraut seems to his metaphors or says confusing things, e.g. a “predestination unto salvation” and a “predestination unto faith” in Chapter 13.
  • Amyraut’s words exude a warm and pastoral tone. It certainly helped me to gain a fuller picture of his teachings, not just as an abstract theology, but motivated by real issues from real people. It’s much harder to see Amyraldianism in this way if you’re reading him through the lens of secondary authors who seem more interested in dissecting his theology rather than listening to his words.
  • While I don’t agree with Amyraldianism myself, reading his words directly helped me to appreciate his view as a legitimate view of the atonement within the Reformed evangelical tradition.

Who I’d recommend it to: Two kinds of people – those who call themselves Amyraldians (e.g. Sydney Anglicans) but have never read Amyraut’s own teachings; and those who are wrestling with the idea of the “L” in “TULIP” (limited atonement). Don’t discount Amyraut’s views before studying him first-hand.

Verdict: Lisez-le s’il vous plaît! (Please read it!)

Get the book from Amazon or Book Depository.


(I’m grateful to Dr Alan Clifford who provided a review copy of this book, which has not influenced my opinion of the book.)

Quotes from Semester 1 at Sydney Missionary Bible College, 2018

The sun sets on another semester here at Sydney Missionary Bible College. Year 2 has been harder. We’ve felt busier. God has been good amidst our failures. His Word has searched us deeply and illuminated Christ to us when we needed gospel hope. We’re looking forward to the next few weeks to connect with friends and family and prepare for the second half of the year.

As I’ve compiled previously (Year 1.1, Year 1.2), here are some quotes of what others have said this semester – nuggets of wisdom worth more than the baubles of World Cup football. 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 these “proverbs” are helpful to you.


From Greek Week

“Congrats on getting through first year. You’ve done the hard yards, now you can start digging for gold.” – Mal Gill

“I pray this will be a difficult year for you, so that you’ll find your identity in Christ.” – M.G.

“Romans is just Isaiah by Paul.” – M.G.

“John’s Gospel is the simplest. But he’s also the most theologically profound. We can be profound and easy to understand.” – M.G.

“Greek is like underwear. Offers good support, should rarely be seen in public.” – M.G.

A post shared by William Chong (@lemmingz) on


On Theology

“If your mind is stretched, that’s OK. We’re talking about the depths of God, and He’s not going to be in simple dot points.” – Mark Adams

“There’s a difference between evangelicals and Catholics regarding attitudes about tradition. Yet we have our own popes. We’re loathe to call them that, but I suspect they function that way. You’re probably inserting their names in your head now.” – Ian Maddock, on the danger of church tradition functioning as a ruling (or co-ruling) norm in theology

“Part of me would love for you all to be carbon copies of me. But that would short-circuit your learning.” – I.M.

“Good theology is often a matter of good grammar. Leviticus tells us sacrifice is not an act of giving up, but giving to God costly acts of devition. Leviticus 1 answers the question: what shall we willingly give to the Lord for all he has done for us?” – Geoff Harper

“Natural theology offers helpful tools. But we can’t argue people in the Kingdom. We need to have confidence in the gospel.” – M.A.

“Is God three? Yes. Is God one? Yes. Is Jesus fully God? Yes. Is Jesus fully human? Yes. We shouldn’t be surprised that the Bible is full of antinomies.” – I.M. on reconciling two apparent truths

“There’s something really neat and tidy about TULIP. There’s lots in it that’s true. But there are lots more strands and threads in the Bible. We should be cautious of collapsing everything about salvation into an acronym. It’s not everything.” – I.M. on understanding Arminian objections to Calvinism

“When we can’t trace your hand, help us to trust your heart.” – Morgan Renew, a prayer concerning God’s sovereignty and the problem of evil

“We’ll get into sticky territory if we use the Trinity as a model for male-female relationships.” – M.A.

“Our culture’s obsession with sex as a core human need makes it hard for Christians to be safely single.” – M.A.

“The bible is mainly interested not in answering, ‘Who am I?’, but ‘Whose am I?'” – M.A.


On Hebrew

“[Biblical languages are vital] because on the mission field, you may end up being the only person who knows Greek or Hebrew.” – Geoff Harper

“No second hand knowledge of the revelation of God for the salvation of a ruined world can suffice the needs of ministry whose function it is to convey this revelation to men, commend it to their acceptance, and apply it in detail to their needs.” – B.B. Warfield


On missions and ministry

“After the terrorist attack in our school, people asked us: is it safe to go back? Well, God will care for us, whether we live or die.” – G.N., former missionary in Pakistan

“The first 20 years of ministry are the hardest. The hardest person to deal with is not other people, but myself, my own sin and weaknesses.” – LT Hopper, who shared about ministry with physical and spiritual arthritis

“We don’t realise how immersed in secularism we are. I was a water-logged Christian in port; or even a submarine Christian.” – Josh Apicezek, CMS France

“Religious freedom is a uniquely Christian contribution.” – Michael Kelleher speaking at the Navigate conference [read a review here]

“I was never converted out of homosexuality, but out of unbelief.” – Rosaria Butterfield at Navigate Conference

“The gospel comes in exchange for the life you love, not in addition to it.” – R.B. at Navigate conference

“[For your LGBTI neighbour to listen to you share Christ], you must have a relationship that’s stronger than your words.” – R.B. at Navigate conference

“I used to think being a missions mobiliser meant presenting Matthew 28 [Go into all the world…]. But what’s actually been more effective is to present Matthew 27 – Jesus dying as a perfect sacrifice of atonement for our sins. Then the rest will flow on from there.” – DB, missionary in South East Asia

“Terrorists as well as saints are the outcome of spiritual formation.” – Dallas Willard on the importance of spiritual formation, Renovating the Heart p.2

“We don’t just learn spiritual formation to prepare for cross-cultural ministry. Entering cross-cultural ministry will lead to spiritual formation.” – Jonathan James

“For every three years you’re away, it takes a year to feel readjusted to home.” – DN, about returning from missions in Pakistan

A post shared by William Chong (@lemmingz) on


From chapels, books and life

“Our goal at this college is for God to form the image of Christ in you. We want to deliver you from barren academia.” – Stuart Coulton’s commencement address

“One of the worst catastrophes for the church is Christian leaders whose capabilities outstrip their character.” – S.C.

“For those so inclined, study and books are a lot more attractive than people and pastoral problems; indeed, because the book that is our chief study is the Bible, we may actually justify our callousness towards people by claiming the priority of the study of the Bible, when a little self-examination suggests that at least in part we are pursuing our preferences.” – Don Carson, The Trials of Theology: Becoming a Proven Worker in a Dangerous Business, p.119 [article here]

“Unity only works when we remember what God has done to make us one – it cost him His Son.” – Kit Barker, on Psalm 133

“You can’t walk away from the supremacy of Christ and doubt your forgiveness. You also can’t walk way and think Jesus is only moderately important.” – S.C. on Colossians 1:16-23 [audio here]

“I LOVE weeding! It’s like pulling out SIN!” – Heidi Sham

“[For the early Israelites,] Presenting a present to God was a bloody and self-involved affair. It’s worship with an apron.” – G.H. on Leviticus 1

“So has your character changed in any significant way? Or have you just grown fat and useless?” – S.C. on Psalm 19