Sunday, February 27, 2011

Very useful for the student of logic

Our Descent from Israel Proved By Cumulative Evidence by Hew B. Colquhoun

(Available from New Boston Fine and Rare Books for $US 56.40)

British Israelism is the idea that the British people are descended from the Ten Lost Tribes and are therefore the People of God in a special sense. There was a time, it seems, when it was all the rage - that time being eighty years ago. The combination of the end of the British empire and the founding of the modern state of Israel after World War II has virtually put an end to the idea.

This book isn't of merely historical interest, however. It also functions as a textbook of logical fallacies. I mention a few below, but I'm sure the careful reader will be able to find many more.

Of course, the book is not all bad. It made two sound biblical points. Firstly, there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that Jews have any distinct appearance. Paul gets mistaken for an Egyptian in Acts 21:38, while Jonah has to tell the sailors in Jonah 1:8 where he is from. Secondly, being Jewish is not, fundamentally a racial thing. Esther 8:17 says that "many people of other nationalities became Jews."

Anyway, here are some of the fallacies in the book.

1. False dichotomy: This is a false choice between two statements, when the reader may want to adopt a third statement.

So we have a choice of two theories, either that all our British ancestors were woad-painted savages in Caesar's time... or that we, as a race, have been civilised for at least 5000 years. (p. 31)

2. Argumentum ad hominem: Connecting a belief with a person's character or intelligence.

The man must be mad who, in the face of universal antiquity, refuses to believe that Constantine and his mother were Britons, born in Britain. (p. 43)

3. Contextomy: Quoting something out of context in order to support one's argument.

J. Foster Forbes... traces the builders of the megaliths, whom he calls the Iberians (i.e. Hebrews - H. B. C.) to the Egyptian city of Hu-Ra... (p. 62)

4. Argumentum ad verecundiam: (literally, "argument to respect") an appeal to authority.

The tracing of the Royal line of David to the present day fortunately presents no difficulty, because there is in the Royal archives at Windsor a chart showing the descent of our Royal Family from David the shepherd king, in unbroken line, and it should be borne in mind that no document finds its way into the Royal archives which has not pased through some Government department which is responsible for its accuracy... (p. 112)

5. Post hoc ergo propter hoc: (literally, "after this, therefore because of this") assuming that because one thing comes after another, the earlier must cause the produce the later.

We find the Trident on a coin of Antigonus, King of Judea, circa 39 BC, also on a coin of Berytus, Beruit in Syria. We follow the Trident to Eubaea in Greece, to Tarentum in the South of Italy, also on a coin of the Bretti, where the Kingdom of the Brittani first existed. A comparison of this coin of the Bretti with our modern English penny should satisfy anyone as to their identity. (p. 128)

Really, this is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Children's books in Tetun

John's sister, Jo, has been writing Christian children's books in Tetun (also known as Tetum), the language of East Timor. She has written and illustrated books on the Christmas story and the story of creation, and is currently working on a third book - Miguel Nia Jardin - looking at the story of the Fall. Actually, this current book is also in the Mambai language. Jo is working in partnership with a number of members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Timor Leste, who do the translation.

Anyway, Jo is busy blogging under her imprint name, Grasa Mesak ("grace alone"). Why not visit her blog and encourage her?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Radically biblical, but not quite the full picture

The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

This book has been much discussed in the Presbyterian Church of Victoria. One congregation has a reading group which has been studying it, and the METRO committee has given a copy to every minister.

The book has two core ideas. The first is that programs and organisational activity in a church (the "trellis") often get in the way of the real gospel work ("the vine"). The second is that real gospel work involves discipling others.

Now, I need to say at the outset that I am in fundamental agreement with these two emphases. Yet, it must be said that they are emphases only. It is very easy for a discipleship system to become a new trellis. The book's discussion on discipleship, however, is sufficiently nuanced to make it broader than just 1:1 discipling.

There were two things I particularly appreciated about the book. Firstly, Marshall and Payne make the point that the aim of Christian ministry is to "make disciples who make other disciples, to the glory of God," and not, for example, to get more people into small groups. This is very important for me to remember, since I would dearly love to see more people in my congregation join a small group. But that is only a means to an end, and not an end in itself.

The second thing I appreciated in this book was the argument in chapter 9 for investing time in more mature Christians so that they would join in the "vine work". Although a pastor may be naturally inclined to spend time with those who are struggling or those who need to hear the gospel, this book recommends an approach to ministry that trains others to do this - and suggests that the pastor focuses on those who need either the equipping or the encouragement to join you in the work. This is radical and controversial - yet it is the way Jesus carried out ministry, focusing on twelve disciples who would (at a later time) teach and disciple others. This is very different to the way many people view pastors and ministers - yet it is biblical.

This book is therefore one that stimulates thought and provokes disagreement. I was fine with the controversial point mentioned above, but there were two things that I didn't like about the book. In the first place, there is more to Christian ministry than discipleship, while in the second place, there is more to discipleship than just discipling individuals.

The book contains a truly hideous chart on page 101, which contrasts the "pastor as clergyman," "pastor as CEO," and "pastor as trainer." Naturally, the table is skewed towards making the reader approve of the third column and disapprove of the first two. It reminded me of the chart that D. A. Carson included in his Exegetical Fallacies (p. 109 of the 2nd edition). Apparently, the "pastor as trainer" approach sees Sunday as a "gathering of worshipping disciples with their Lord," while the "pastor as clergyman" model views Sunday as a "service of worship," and the "pastor as CEO" looks at it as an "attractional meeting." But surely it is possible to view it as both a "gathering of worshipping disciples with their Lord" and a "service of worship."

Perhaps it would be helpful at this point to draw on a modified version of Mark Driscoll's model of the pastor being prophet, priest and king. Following John Frame, Driscoll has suggested that some pastors are gifted as prophets ("thinkers"), others as priests ("feelers"), and still others as kings ("doers"). The point being, of course, is that we need all three of these aspects in a well-rounded ministry, and we need all three types serving as pastors. Maybe there is something similar going on with the three approaches that Marshall and Payne discuss:

Pastor as clergyman - prophet - focusing on public teaching
Pastor as trainer - priest - getting alongside people
Pastor as CEO - king - focus on organisation

Now, this book upholds the biblical and strategic importance of preaching, and views discipleship as being much bigger than meeting with individuals, but even with the widest possible definition, we can still see more to pastoring and teaching than this.

The second concern I have is that there is more to discipleship than discipling individuals. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells his disciples to "make disciples of all the nations," (NASB). Marshall and Payne take the line that "full time Christian ministry" is worthwhile for all people, and that there is a distinction between "gospel work" and "other work." They dismiss the idea that people in secular work are contributing in some way to the growth of God's kingdom, and criticise those who say "we shouldn't call people out of their secular careers; we should encourage them to stay where they are for God's glory" (p. 139). They then assert, "We don't make disciples of Jesus by building better bridges, but by prayerfully bringing the word of God to people."

There are two problems with this idea. The first is that it views the Great Commission as replacing (rather then supplementing or expanding) the creation mandate. The second is that it fails to realise how big discipling the nations really is. To take one example - Bible translation is an important component of discipling a nation. But Bible translation presupposes an entire discipline of linguistics. Would Marshall and Payne also say that "We don't make disciples of Jesus by building better verb paradigms"? Someone involved in linguistics is part of the progress of God's kingdom in the world. The Kingdom of God is bigger than individual disciples - it's about the reformation and renewal of families, churches, societies and nations.

In conclusion, this is a stimulating book, that may well prove to be one of the most influential books of 21st century Reformed evangelicalism.

John Dekker

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Birthday doings

On Saturday I turned 33. That's right - the age Jesus died.

Kara gave me a couple of P. G. Wodehouse books and some photos for my birthday. She made me breakfast - bacon, eggs and fried potatoes.

After a leisurely morning, we went out to get some birthday freebies. A number of stores give out free stuff on one's birthday - I got a 6-inch sub and drink at Subway, a serving of poffertjes at Planet Chocolate and a drink at Boost Juice.

We then went to the coin and stamp fair at Malvern Town Hall. Kara bought me a lovely Swedish coin, commemorating Oscar II's silver jubilee.

We spent some time wandering around shops - we visited a couple of stationery shops, and found some second-hand books in an antique shop. Then we went to dinner. We had taken the 2011 Good Food Guide out of the library, and decided to find a place to eat in that. We settled on mr. wolf, a pizza place in St. Kilda, and it didn't disappoint. Kara ordered a potato pizza, and I had one with pancetta, ham and eggs - which meant that in a satisfying sort of way we had begun and ended the day eating the same food.

Finally, we went to the free concert of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. About 10,000 people who were there were treated to Bernstein, Barber and Beethoven's 5th symphony.

And today we had a wonderful tiramisu which Kara made for me:


Thursday, February 10, 2011

A playful, yet serious, paradox

Four Faultless Felons by G. K. Chesterton

The title is meant to be paradoxical. This is a series of stories about four men who do seemingly criminal acts - attempted murder, fraud, burglary and treason - yet act in perfect righteousness. The paradoxical nature of the book makes it similar to Chesterton's The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond, though it is not quite as brilliant.

Chesterton was a great purveyor of paradox, and his playfulness and wit come through in this volume. Yet there is also a serious point being made. These four faultless felons are being radically counter-cultural. They are turning the world upside down, or at least their little part of it. Indeed, they are shocking in their pursuit of righteousness.

In fact, this book is really a fictional representation of Chestertons's maxim in The Everlasting Man: "A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."

I can recommend Four Faultless Felons to anyone. It is also available to read online.

John Dekker

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Creation Revealed in Six Days

I plan to blog in a new way this year. Instead of just listing the books I am reading monthly, I plan to post some proper book reviews, hopefully weekly.

Creation Revealed in Six Days by P. J. Wiseman

This book contains a little-known proposal on how to reconcile the narrative of Genesis 1 with geological evidence that suggests that the earth is millions of years old. There have been several different attempts at reconciliation - the Young Earth theory says that the universe was created in 144 hours and that geological dating which suggests otherwise is erroneous; the Day-Age theory suggests that the days of Genesis 1 are much longer periods of time, such as geological ages ; while the Gap Theory posits a long time between Genesis 1:1 ("In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth") and Genesis 1:2 ("And the earth was desolate and deserted"), so that the six (literal) days of creation occur when the earth is already very old. Gerald Schroeder has the ingenious theory that creation occurred in six days within the relativistic framework of the things being created, which equates to billions of years for an earth observer. Wiseman's theory is different to all of these - he argues that God revealed the story of creation to man in six literal days.

Wiseman's thesis argument rests on the hypothesis that the "generations" statements in Genesis refer to what come before rather than (as traditionally interpreted) headings for what come after. This is sometimes called the Wiseman hypothesis. Thus, Genesis 2:4 ("These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created,in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens") refers to the whole narrative from 1:1 to 2:3. Furthermore, Wiseman argues that generations means "written account" or "histories" and concludes that God's revelation of creation to man took six (literal) days.

This is an attractive theory precisely because it allows for a literal interpretation of the word "day", while at the same time accepting geological and other scientific evidence for an old earth. It is ultimately unconvincing in its argument about the word "generations" - how, for example, could Genesis 36:1 be referring to Genesis 35? Yet it does remind us that there are avenues of interpretation that we have hitherto overlooked, and ways of reconciling apparent contradictions that are still undiscovered.

The book is quite pleasant to read, although his arguments are not always clear. He does pay careful attention to the text, and that gives value to the book regardless of whether or not one agrees with his argument.

Wiseman was an Air Commodore in the Royal Air Force who became interested in biblical archaeology through his service in the Middle East. He was also the father of Donald Wiseman.

John Dekker