Category Archives: Reading

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

 

 

Thinking about Christian books I’ve read

“What Christian books have you read?”

That was one of the questions on my application form for bible college (more on that here). I scanned the rest of the form and decided that the two lines provided wouldn’t be enough space.

So one night, I sat down, trawled through my memory, our library catalogue, e-book purchase history, and typed out a 3-page list of books I’ve read (book nerds go here).*

Upon reflecting on the last 13 years of reading Christian books, here are some observations:

  • Lots of books on worship, service planning and music ministry
  • A few authors are recurring favourites: for example, Mark Dever, Tim Keller and Vaughan Roberts
  • I’ve only read two books on parenting (either I’m deficient in this area, or parenting isn’t learned in theory but in practice)
  • I’ve read two Rob Bell books (and found both frustrating and concerning)
  • I’ve read three biographies (I’m keen to read more)
  • I haven’t read many books by dead people (I’m keen to read more)
  • I tend to read according to immediate needs and interests rather than looking further ahead
  • For every book I read, there’s another one that I haven’t started. I’m rebuked of my wastefulness, for sucking in literary oxygen from social media feeds instead of the books in front of me.

More importantly, however, reviewing my reading list makes me thankful:

  • I’m thankful for the opportunity to read. What a privilege it is to live in a generation and society where books are freely available.
  • I’m thankful for how certain books have shaped my thinking on important issues: the gospel, marriage, family, worship, music, preaching, and so on. I’ve rarely changed my mind about something over a Facebook discussion. But time and time again, I’ve changed my convictions on something upon reaching the back page of a good book.
  • Finally, I’m thankful that reading books has helped me to love God and neighbour better, by understanding his Word (the Good Book) better.

I know I’m not able to read everything out there (certainly not as much as 500 books a year like Don Carson). But I do want to love God with my heart, soul, strength and mind, as a child who delights in His world and in His Son. And one of the ways I can do that is to read more.

Right – off to read something new.


* This list is just for Christian books – I haven’t made up a list of all the other books that I’ve read.

“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries.”
René Descartes

Who am I? What is my ‘self’?

I_dont_know__Who_Am_I__by_madazulu

In our young adults group on Tuesdays we have been working through the book of Romans. When we were in chapters 6 and 7 there were some great discussions about our true identity as Christians.

In chapter 11 of The Cross of Christ, John Stott explains how a Christian’s identity cannot be recognised accurately without reference to the cross.

Who am I? What is my “self”? The answer is that I am a Jekyll and Hyde, a mixed-up kid, having both dignity, because I was created and have been re-created in the image of God, and depravity, because I still have a fallen and rebellious nature. I am both noble and ignoble, beautiful and ugly, good and bad, upright and twisted, image and child of God, and yet sometimes yielding homage to the devil from whose clutches Christ has rescued me. My true self is what I am by creation, which Christ came to redeem, and by calling. My false self is what I am by the Fall, which Christ came to destroy.

Only when we have discerned which is which within us, shall we know what attitude to adopt towards each. We must be true to our true self and false to our false self. We must be fearless in affirming all that we are by creation, redemption and calling, and ruthless in disowning all that we are by the Fall.

Moreover, the cross of Christ teaches us both attitudes. On the one hand, the cross is the God-given measure of the value of our true self, since Christ loved us and died for us. On the other hand, it is uthe God-given model for the denial of our false self, since we are to nail it to the cross and so put it to death.

Or, more simply, standing before the Cross we see simultaneously our worth and our unworthiness, since we perceive both the greatness of his love in dying and the greatness of our sin in causing him to die.

– John Stott, The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 329-30.

Birdwatching and the freedom of self-forgetfulness

As the hatchback hurtled towards the airport, I asked a most unnatural question to the man in the front passenger seat: “So are you a birdwatcher?”


A few people know me well enough to be able to see and point out a specific way that my proud heart shows itself. When talking with people, I have a tendency to insert myself into the conversation. I’ve done it too many times to count.

“Oh, you’re from Sydney? I was there 3 months ago, and I did this and this and met so and so, and I think this about Sydney even though it’s not relevant to you. I love Sydney, what a beautiful city.”

Sorry dude, your friendly conversation starter just got hijacked by my ego.

If your conversations with others seem to always steer towards topics you want to talk about, you probably have the same self-aggrandising tendency as I have.

True gospel-humility

It was from reading Tim Keller’s “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” with Cheryl earlier this year (best $2 we’ve spent all year) that God switched on a light bulb to my problem, and the solution.

Tim Keller writes:

“The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself: it is thinking of myself less.”

And:

“True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself.”

The ultimate self-forgetter

So the problem essentially is that I think about myself too much. The solution is not to think less of myself (“Oh I’m so terrible, I must tell you that” – a false show of self-pity, and really just another expression of selfishness), but to think of myself less.

It’s immensely difficult to change this consciously, especially if you’ve spent your whole life thinking about yours truly, and talking about yourself and what interests you. Blogs and Twitter/Facebook feeds aren’t the problem, they merely amplify the narcissism already in my heart. I’ve been a self-promoter since my youth.

But with the strength of Jesus — the ultimate self-forgetter, advocate and example in true gospel-humility (Phil) — I’ve been given grace to work on dying to myself.

I’ve been practising trying to listen better in conversations with friends or strangers, asking questions and adding responses to encourage the other person, and resisting the temptation to assert my points of interest.

Biting my tongue

So instead of asking Don and Joy what they thought of worship music trends, debating the recent Christian trends, or over-inflating my understanding of Don’s bibliography, I just bit my tongue.

I listened to them retrace where they went on their holiday, excite me with descriptions of the various birds they encountered (Australian birds, I’ve learned, are much more raucous than New Zealand species – perhaps a parable of two nations’ temperaments). I laughed with them upon their discovery of the ubiquitous pukeko (or “water chickens”, as I told them).

“So are you a birdwatcher?”

“Oh, not in a professional sense. But I’m familiar with the different types of birds in our area, local and migratory.”

I’m not there yet. Please tell me, then forgive me the next time I “convojack” you.

And by God’s grace, let’s journey together towards self-forgetfulness.

Half-year update on us trying to read more books

It was sometime towards the end of last year that I realised that, in comparison to the hundreds of articles, blog posts and Facebook updates that I skim through on a daily basis, I wasn’t really doing very well with old-fashioned book reading.

So this year we’ve tried to build it into our family routines more. When we’re home for dinner, we try to read a portion of the Bible (right now the girls all get to listen to Jeremiah, since that’s the book being preached at this year’s Stand Conference). In addition, we try and read as a family after meals (alternating between fiction, non-fiction, biography, etc.). And then I read a few books myself too (usually ones that Cheryl wouldn’t find interesting).

It’s actually nice to look back and see that God has used the time to help us engage with quite a few books. So far in the last half year, we’ve read:

  • The Chronicles of Narnia (all seven books) – aside from the unfortunate tale of Emeth, really enjoyed this. Cheryl had read the series as a kid, I had not. Even E was able to say Aslan after we’d gone through a few of the books.
  • The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield – so much helpful thoughts about hospitality, parenting, evangelism, and an insightful look into the life of a former lesbian feminist professor turned Christian (I reviewed this last year – we read it together this time as a family)
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl – a delightful tale about a girl who loves to read and is very intelligent, but misunderstood by her parents and headmistress at school. Very humorous. We have a whole lot more Roald Dahl books to enjoy.
  • Hints on Child Training by H Clay Trumbull – we are up to chapter 20; it’s meant to be our date night book but I often forget to pick it out and read it (perhaps because it’s an e-book)
  • The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller – we started this last night (a short book about pride,  something we both want to work on).

During the day, Cheryl has been reading to E. They’ve gone through dozens of books in this way, including Big Picture Bible, Jesus Storybook Bible, Dr Seuss’s Library, Goodnight Moon, Peepo and others (thanks, Auckland Libraries!)

In addition, here is my personal reading:

    • A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke – I’m stuck in chapter 10. It’s a really boggy book to be in… I’m determined to read more though.
    • Engaging with God by David Peterson – A biblical theology of worship. Very detailed and scholarly, some of it going over my head but lots of helpful thoughts. Very succinct big idea: “Worship is engaging with God on the terms He proposes, and in a way that He alone makes possible.”
    • Passing the Baton by Colin Marshall – A short book outlining a vision for ministry apprenticeships
    • The God Who Is There by Don Carson – Started this and got a few chapters in before getting sidetracked
    • Desiring the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith – Started this too, a little underwhelmed. I got the big idea fairly quickly (we are not containers for ideas or beliefs, but rather beings who desire a vision of the good/ultimate life, and this should shape how we think about worship, education, culture), but I don’t see why he has to take so much time and use so much complexity to get his points across.

Also, Cheryl is working through Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley with Kelli and Kat from church.

What books are you currently reading? Any suggestions on what we could read next?