Quick Quote 8 – complimentary tickets

Please do not ask management for complimentary tickets for your friends. If your friends will not pay to see you, why should the public?

Quoted in Bradford Theatres summer 2014 programme

According to rumour, this quote was placed on the dressing room doors of the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford by its founder, Francis Laidler. The man has a point!

Quick Quote 7 – free, undeserved, eternal love

When John Owen writes about saints, he is referring to all Christians, not those who have been specially recognised by the church.

The chief way by which the saints have communion with the Father is love – free, undeserved, eternal love. This love the Father pours on the saints. Saints are to see God as full of love to them. They are to receive him as the One who loves them, and are to be full of praise and thanksgiving to God for his love. They are to show gratitude for his love by living a life which pleases him.

John Owen, Communion with God

Do not call anything impure that God has made clean

I’m currently reading through the book of Acts in the Bible, and in chapter 10 the apostle Peter has a famous vision in which God tells him to eat animals which are impure for a Jew to eat. When Peter refuses, God tells him three times

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Acts 10:15, NIV

The meaning in its context is clear. Acts is the story of God’s word spreading throughout the world, and the inclusion of Samaritans (half-Jews) and Gentiles (non-Jews) in God’s kingdom. Peter has this vision just before being asked to preach to a Gentile called Cornelius, and Peter says to him

“You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection.”

Acts 10:28, NIV

The gospel is now open to the Gentiles, and it is no longer important to become a Jew to be right with God. This is indisputably the primary meaning of what God said, and I certainly don’t wish to detract from that.

However, as I was reading this a few days ago, another implication of this struck me for the first time. Those of us who are Christians are made clean by God, yet how often we fail to recognise this. How often we focus on our own impurity, our sin. Yet once God has made us clean, we are clean, and we are not to call ourselves (or other Christians) impure. We are still sinners, and it’s right to fight against sin, both in our own lives and the lives of other Christians, but let’s not lose focus on the cleanliness God has given to us in Christ. We should not be despondent about sin. Instead, we can rest confidently in the God who has made us clean.

Quick Quote 6 – would anyone trust the conviction of a monkey’s mind?

In this quote, naturalism is the belief that physical matter is the only thing that exists, and that the universe is a system of cause and effect with no external person (e.g. God) who can interact with it.

Is there a test for distinguishing illusion from reality? Naturalists point to the methods of scientific inquiry, pragmatic tests and so forth. But all these utilize the brain they are testing. Each test could well be a futile exercise in spinning out the consistency of an illusion.
For naturalism nothing exists outside the system itself. There is no God … There is only the cosmos, and humans are the only conscious beings. But they are latecomers. They “arose,” but how far? Can they trust their minds, their reason?
Charles Darwin himself once said, “The horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust the conviction of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” In other words, if my brain is no more than that of a superior monkey I cannot even be sure that my own theory of my origin is to be trusted.

James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door

Stating your opponent’s case

One of the things I have on my life plan is that I want to always seek to understand others’ ideas and perspectives, and always represent them fairly when explaining them. It is my conviction that when we state an opinion that we disagree with, we should do so with such clarity that someone who does hold that opinion would recognise their own opinion and acknowledge that you did it full justice. If you think someone holds an opinion that no sane person could possibly think was a good one, you probably aren’t representing your opponent well. If you can’t find any appeal in their views, maybe you haven’t understood them rightly. It seems to me that only once we have understood and appreciated an argument can we then argue against it.

I was reminded of this recently, while considering the writing of Erasmus at church. I believe that Erasmus was, quite simply, wrong in his debate with Luther, but it struck me as important that we allowed Erasmus to speak for himself, rather than only reading Luther. It is difficult to be persuasive in how we express the viewpoint of someone with whom we disagree, but to read Erasmus’ own words removed that problem. Indeed, in several places he wrote with great persuasiveness, and people found themselves challenging their own beliefs. This challenge to our own ideas is what makes this sort of exercise valuable, and it is only when we feel the same force of an argument that its proponents feel that we can benefit from it. We do not have to accept the truth of someone else’s view, but only by appreciating it can we learn from it and sharpen our own views.

The importance of representing opinions well even if they are not our own was also brought home when I was reading a commentary on Philippians recently in preparation for a talk I’ll be giving in a few weeks, and found the author had suffered from someone not accurately portraying his opinion.

“In the process of making a case for his interpretations, there is a tendency to represent the views of others in less than accurate fashion. In several instances … my own position has been badly misrepresented… It appears to me that other scholars have also not fared well, but they will need to speak for themselves.”

Moisés Silva, Philippians (2nd edition) in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series, p33

Let’s all make sure that we take the time to portray others in a fair light when we disagree with them.

Equipped to Serve: Erasmus

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is my intention to summarise some teaching I have been blessed by at Trinity Church Bradford. The topic is church history, and more specifically the reformation (for now at least). As our starting point, we took some excerpts from On the Freedom of the Will by Desiderius Erasmus (written in 1524). This was a work written in response to Martin Luther’s teaching on free will. It was a David and Goliath in intellectual terms, with Erasmus regarded as one of the most learned men in Europe at the time.

'Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam' by Hans Holbein the Younger

‘Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam’ by Hans Holbein the Younger

I’d never read any of Erasmus’ writing before, but I was immediately struck by how much we can learn from the way he argues. He is very clear and methodical in his argument, and grounds much of what he says in the Bible. He sets out Bible passages which seem to agree with him, Bible passages which seem to disagree, and responds to the arguments employed by Luther. In all of this he attempts to interpret the Bible in a way which is consistent with those Christians who have gone before him. I would hope that we can all agree that, although Erasmus got much wrong, his approach is one we would do well to imitate today.

It is not only his style of argument which is notable. The Freedom of the Will is also notable for Luther’s own commendation of it! He wrote

“I praise and commend you highly for this also, that unlike all the rest you alone have attacked the real issue, the essence of the matter in dispute, and have not wearied me with irrelevancies about the papacy, purgatory, indulgences, and such like trifles (for trifles they are rather than basic issues), with which almost everyone hitherto has gone hunting for me without success. You and you alone have seen the question on which everything hinges, and have aimed at the vital spot; for which I sincerely thank you, since I am only too glad to give as much attention to this subject as time and leisure permit.”

Another commendation we can apply to Erasmus is that his motives in writing are extremely good. He does not go searching for a fight, as if an argument is happy sport, but aims to avoid arguments which generate more heat than light. As he says,

“who will learn anything fruitful from this sort of discussion – beyond the fact that each leaves the encounter bespattered with the other’s filth?”

He is eventually persuaded to enter the fray, largely from a concern that God’s character may be misrepresented by what he sees as false teaching. While Erasmus is wrong in much of what he says, here again we can learn from him. When we enter any dispute, may we always be motivated by a desire to safeguard the truth of who God is, not stir up trouble.

I won’t try to summarise all the arguments Erasmus makes, but the general gist seems to be that although human free will was damaged in the fall of Genesis 3, it was not extinguished and man is still able to choose to keep God’s law. He argues this from the many passages of the Bible which give commands, and he writes

“What end do all the myriad commandments serve if it is not possible for a man in any way to keep what is commanded?”

He can see no possible answer to this question, and decides that if someone ought to do something, they must necessarily have the ability to do it.

A year later, in 1525, Luther wrote a response. The content can be largely guessed from the title he gave it, which makes clear that he was unpersuaded by all that Erasmus wrote: “On the Bondage of the Will”. That will be the subject of my next in this series, which will probably be in a couple of weeks.

Quick Quote 5 – a three-tier distinction

When talking about homosexuality, I think it is helpful to make a three-tier distinction between attractions, orientation, and identity. … The first tier is same-sex attraction. Using this term is the most descriptive way people can talk about their feelings. This is the part of the equation they can’t control. … The next tier is homosexual orientation. When people talk about having a homosexual orientation, they are essentially saying that they experience a same-sex attraction that is strong enough, durable enough, and persistent enough for them to feel that they are oriented toward the same sex. …  The person is simply describing the amount and persistence of their own attraction, which is based on what they perceive attraction to be. … The third level, gay identity, is the most prescriptive. It is a sociocultural label that people use to describe themselves, and it is a label that is imbued with meaning in our culture.

Mark Yarhouse, Homosexuality and the Christian