Friday, December 7, 2007

Book Release: Tell Me the Story

For something completely different (if Chris's post on The Clash wasn't enough!)...Here's a great Christmas gift.

Last night, I had the pleasure of going to a book launch for the release of a fascinating new book by Alex MacDonald (Senior Minister, Buccleuch & Greyfriars Free Church of Scotland, Edinburgh) entitled Tell Me The Story.

Originally given at evangelistic guest services at Buccleuch, these story-sermons are based upon personal encounters with Jesus recorded in the gospels but are told from the first person perspective. From the back of the book, "The people who tell their stories include: Mary--the mother of Jesus; Gaius Maximus--centurion; Joanna's story of John, the Baptist; the woman at the well; Simon the Pharisee; the Gardarene demoniac; Jarius; Simon Peter; the rich young ruler; blind Bartimaeus; Zacchaeus; the Apostle John and Marcellus, a Roman officer. " These stories creatively narrate firsthand accounts of the greatest story ever told. Using a unique blend of imagination and proclamation, Alex puts you face-to-face with Jesus.

For more details, go to Christian Focus Publications.

Two of the sermons not in the book are available online. Unfortunately, there is no direct link. From the church's website, go to sermons>scroll down>audio stories>'He Died My Death' or 'He Invaded My Dreams.'

Here is what others have said about Tell Me the Story:

Having heard the chapter on Joanna I can appreciate the living situation from which the skilful telling of these stories has come. They are a practical and helpful reminder that we often fail to capture people’s imagination in telling the exciting story the narrative of the New Testament provides. The writer’s motivation is that of an earnest communicator of the gospel who commendably tries every helpful approach to help his readers and listeners to understand the greatest good news there is.

Derek Prime
Former pastor of Charlotte Chapel, Edinburgh

Good stories have a way of getting round people's carefully constructed defences. Through imaginative retelling, these tales bridge the centuries. We feel like contemporary witnesses, participants even, seeing the truth and feeling its power. May these stories draw many to the hero of the biggest story of all.

Alasdair I Macleod
St Andrews Free Church

Alex MacDonald has managed here to present us with a series of stories that superbly manage to retell well historical facts in a way that magically take us to the lands and times in which they actually happened. A book for young and old, for seasoned preachers and truth-seekers, and ultimately for anyone who simply likes stories well told.

Manuel Reãno
Principal, Bible Seminary of Columbia
Medellin-Colombia, South America

In his new book Tell Me the Story, Alex MacDonald retells the ancient tale of Jesus in the contemporary tongue of narrative account. With delightful turn of phrase and surprising perspective, we are invited to hear afresh the storyline of the Gospel message...These dozen eyewitness accounts of Bible figures and their companions will stir your heart to treasure again the old, old story of Jesus and His love!

W. Duncan Rankin
Senior Minister
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Friday Fun: "English Civil War", c.1979

This may be the first time the words punk and puritan have ever shared the same blog-space.

Even though it's thirty years old, punk rock continues to exert a strong influence on pop culture today (cf. Goth culture, Green Day and David Beckham's hair). The Clash was one of the first groups to introduce this dynamic and sometimes jarring style of music to the world.

But their message was not one of nihilistic hedonism, like that of some other groups. The Clash were thoroughly political. Frankly, I don't agree with many of their leftist lyrics, but I do commend them for advocating something other than than illicit sex and drug use.

Take this song, entitled "English Civil War". It's about the threat of a second Puritan Revolution, which they felt was real in the late '70s. (Speaking of unexpected attacks, our hats are off to all Allied veterans this Pearl Harbor Day.) As Wikipedia, that quasi-reliable information resource, explains:
The song is derived from an American Civil War song, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", written by Irish-born Massachusetts Unionist Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, which is in turn derived from the Irish anti-war song Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye. The American Civil War song was popular with both sides of the conflict.

Having learnt the song at school, Joe Strummer [R.I.P.] suggested the band update it. Those on the left saw the rise during the mid-1970s of far right groups such as the British National Front as alarming and dangerous omens for Britain's future. The song is about this state of politics in Britain and warns against all things uniformed and sinister - shortly after the song was first performed live at Rock Against Racism Joe Strummer said in an interview to the music newspaper Record Mirror:
"War is just around the corner. Johnny hasn't got far to march. That's why he is coming by bus or underground" (as in the song's lyrics).

Complete lyrics:

When Johnny comes marching home again, hurrah
He's coming by bus or underground, hurrah
The woman's eye will shed a tear
To see his face so beaten in fear
It was just around the corner in the English Civil War

It was still at the stage of clubs and fists, hurrah
When that well known face got beaten to bits, hurrah
Your face was blue in the light of the screen
As we watched the speech of an animal scream
The New Party Army is marching right over our heads

All right

There you are ha ha, I told you so, hurrah
Says everybody that we know, hurrah
But who hid a radio under the stairs?
Who got caught out on their unawares?
New Party Army is marching right up the stairs

Johnny comes marching home again, hurrah
Nobody understands how it happened again, hurrah
The sun is shining and the kids are shouting loud
You gotta know it's shining through a crack in the cloud
The shadows keep on falling when Johnny comes marching home

All right Johnny
OK Johnny
All the girls go whoah oh oh oh
Whoah oh
Get his coffin ready
Cause Johnny's coming home

A trivia question: Of what actual military corps is the term New Party Army reminiscent? Leave a comment if you know the answer.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Frodo Baggins, Doctoral Student

For anyone whose life has been touched in some way by the spectre of doctoral research – an insightful comparison between the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the arduous process of earning a PhD:
On their way to file the dissertation, Sam and Frodo separate one time. The separation is the result of a deception spun by a fallen soul named Gollum -- aka, the doctoral candidate who will never finish.

Gollum lived with the ring for many years and it destroyed his life, mind, and well-being. Gollum is the living image of what Frodo will become if Frodo cannot complete his task. Frodo in fact pities Gollum, while Sam can only feel disgust and distrust for the miserable creature.

If the ring is to be destroyed -- and the dissertation finished -- new alliances must be formed. Without that fellowship, Frodo's quest is doomed. But a partner alone cannot provide enough support for the difficult mission.
Read Susie J. Lee's "Frodo Baggins, A.B.D." on the site of the Chronicle of Higher Education

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

CT's Doug Sweeney: Top 5 Books on Church History

I'm glad to see one Edinburgian included – Dr. Andrew Walls, who has contributed much to our knowledge of missions history. Here's the list:

1. A History of the Christian Church, Williston Walker

2. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Roland Bainton

3. The Burning Heart: John Wesley : Evangelist, A. Skevington Wood

4. The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in Transmission of Faith, Andrew Walls

5. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Philip Jenkins

See the Christianity Today article.

Two new books

A great service has been rendered to the church by the Rev. Steven Dilday, pastor of Presbyterian Reformed Church of North Virginia, located in Warrenton.

Dilday has translated the massive Bible commentary of 17th-century puritan Matthew Poole into English. The first two volumes are now available. See the Matthew Poole Project site for more details (HT: R. Andrew Myers, who works on the Encyclopedia Puritannica Project – on which we hope to post more in the near future).

We're told the following about Poole's mammoth work in Beeke and Pederson's Meet the Puritans: With A Guide to Modern Reprints (pp. 485-86):

His first major work was Synopsis Criticorum aliorumque Sacrae Scripturae Interpretum (1669–1676), a five-volume work that compiled and abridged the work of biblical commentators from all ages and nations. The first four thousand sets sold quickly, and by 1712 it had gone through five printings.

The merit of this work is partly its wide range of contributors, including rabbinical sources and even some Roman Catholic commentators. The other strength is Poole's skill in condensing lengthy comments into crisp, helpful notes. This work, though famous in its day, was never translated from Latin into English.

An interesting note on Poole's diligence (and eccentricity):

Poole began compiling Synopsis Criticorum in 1666 and worked on it every day for ten years. His plan was to study from 4 a.m. until supper, stopping only to eat a raw egg at 8:30 a.m. and another egg at noon. In the evening he visited friends.

(What? No raw bacon to boot? If I had taken this approach to doctoral work, I might have finished my thesis by now, but I would also be divorced and perhaps bed-ridden from salmonella poisoning.)

Our pal Allen Mickle, who is an assistant to historian Michael Haykin, also recently informed us about what looks to be another worthy read: Great Themes in Puritan Preaching, edited by Mariano di Gangi. (Is it just me, or is everyone using Owen's image on their covers nowadays?)

From the Sola Scriptura site:

The Puritans, though often caricatured in modern days as narrow, gloomy and austere, were those with a deep and vibrant faith whose high view of the Word of God distinguished them as serious students of the Scriptures.

Their preaching was marked by careful exegesis of the great themes of the Bible and the practical application of these doctrines to the life of their hearers. Puritan divines such as John Owen, William Gough, Thomas Watson, John Flavel, Richard Sibbes, and many others, were used of God to powerfully preach the riches of the Messianic work of Christ, the new birth, repentance, justification, sanctification, assurance, and many other foundational biblical themes.

In this volume, Dr. Di Gangi brings together the words and writings of some of these Puritan preachers and presents a summary of Puritan preaching on the great themes of the Word of God. May this book be used to revive in our hearts a love for biblical truth and a desire to see the Scriptures faithfully preached and applied in our day.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Puritan Preaching & Conscionable Hearing

Derek Thomas picks up this theme in an article in the new reformation21.

More Trueman on Owen

Derek Thomas talks with Carl Trueman about his latest book, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man, over at reformation21. Here is the conclusion,

[Owen] is the supreme example of a theologian who integrates a Trinitarian doctrine of God (drawing heavily on Eastern emphases) in the context of an anti-Pelagian soteriological framework along with a thorough articulation of Protestant justification. He thus brings little originality to the table in terms of specific content; his genius lies in the integration of these different aspects of the Christian tradition, especially Eastern theologians such as Gregory Nazianzus, into one theological whole; and his application of this to the Christian life. He is the peerless Protestant Trinitarian practical theologian.

For more with Trueman, check out Edwin Tay's recent interview in our Conventicle Q & A series.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Christmas: The Day and the Doctrine

In 1676 an anonymous tract was published entitled, The Holy time of Christmas defended against non-conformists and all other of its prophaners and opposers. These prophaners and opposers were our dear friends, the puritans. The opening lines of this book kind of tell it all:

‘Unhappy times in which we live! That we should all believe that sixteen hundred years ago, a certain man, who was also God, called Jesus, was born in a stable for the Salvation of mankind; and yet that there should be certain amongst us, who should count it a piece of Religion not to keep Holy the Day on which our said Great Redeemer was born. O unhappy times! O cross Manners of mis-instructed Zealots!’

The work has all of the balance and nuance normally associated with anonymity. However, reading this made me take a moment to think about Christmas ‘the day’ and Christmas ‘the doctrine’. I wondered if the puritan rejection of the day might give us pause to examine our own reception of the doctrine.

I love Christmas. Our tree has been up for over a week! I like lights, Jimmy Durante narrations, early experiments with clay-mation reindeer, and carols of most descriptions. I like to walk in the city centre with my family and watch shoppers. I confess I can be a trappings kind of guy. That is why when I read of the puritan rejection of the day, I immediately think, ‘Spoil sports!' But deeper thoughts beckon...

Puritan sermons, tracts, and confessions tell us that they treasured the doctrine of the Incarnation. They gloried in the Word made flesh. They simply rejected a day that had been so closely associated with the Catholic ecclesiastical calendar. Our dear anonymous critic made the mistake that many contemporary believers do: he so treasured the day that it actually became the doctrine. Thus he surmised that to reject the day, with all of its feasts and fancies, was to belittle the doctrine.

The question is, if the puritans treasured the Incarnation and appropriated it into their entire year, why then would believers (like me!) be offended that they did not celebrate the day? Could it be that we have made the two inextricably linked? If a day should come when economies fail, Bing Crosby is forgotten, and carols cease – would the glory of the Incarnation be enough? Or are these just the ramblings of ‘mis-instructed Zealots’?

Obviously, I do not believe that celebrating the day belittles the doctrine. I will also grant that puritan rhetoric erred many times by vilifying those who celebrated the day. But I do believe that Christmas the day can be dangerously sentimental. In these days of advent the world sings together as though this child in the manger made no demands. We talk of His peace, but forget that he also brought a sword.

To celebrate the beginning of the season when we focus on the Incarnation (and the Salvation it promised!), I offer this parting thought:

Wonted scenes and ancient sounds
bring word of Mary’s treasure found
by shepherds dazed and rapt by the sight
of a child, still, and wrapped in night.

When God said ‘hush’ to pride and fall
through a Babe asleep in a lean-to stall,
prophets smiled at the angels’ delight:
The Word, flesh, and wrapped in night.

As subjects bowed and heavens danced,
Joseph touched gold and sensed fragrance,
but none could dim this wakeful sight:
The Son, here, and wrapped in night.

The stillness came and sped away,
the sun emerged and birthed a day;
through many more he knew our plight -
The Man, once still, and wrapped in night.

From stall to cross, a span so brief -
from Mary’s arms to the side of a thief,
from splintered stable to Roman spike -
The Lamb, once held, and wrapped in night.

Today with shepherds we attend
a Child at rest in her arm’s soft bend ,
come down to rise to Calvary’s height-
in darkness deep, but wrapped in light.

Have a merry and doctrinal Christmas,

Tim Bridges


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