Bonhoeffer uses a similar phrase 'worldly Christianity'. It's J Gresham Machen that I want to line up most closely with. See his Christianity and culture here. Having done commentaries on Proverbs (Heavenly Wisdom) and Song of Songs (Heavenly Love), a matching title for Ecclesiastes would be Heavenly Worldliness. For my stance on worldliness, see 3 posts here.

In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson

Some time ago I downloaded a copy of Sinclair Ferguson's In Christ alone partly because it was free. I have been reading its nearly fifty chapters mostly one by one and have now completed it. It is a wide ranging book full of rich doctrine and good practical advice. It is well written and full of gems. Most of it reads like magazine articles for style and it would be an ideal devotional aid for use day by day or as a Sunday afternoon reader. What a blessing to the church Sinclair Ferguson is. I notice he is speaking in London in the summer, at the Proclamation Trust meetings.

My operation


I have to ring the hospital tomorrow to confirm my place for a heart bypass at The Heart Hospital on Monday. Do pray for me as I face this. I expect to be in the hospital for the next week.

Novelists 39 Kenneth Grahame


Kenneth Grahame (1859 – 1932) was a Scottish writer. He is most famous for The Wind in the Willows (1908), one of the classics of children's literature. I've read that and indeed it has been hard to escape it in one form or another. He also wrote a book with a chapter called The Reluctant Dragon which is apparently a Disney film but I've not seen it.

Barcellos on the Lord's Supper

Richard Barcellos's meticulous little book on the Lord's Supper is not an easy read. He makes his point clearly and convincingly, however. Some of us are tempted to say that the Lord' Supper is only  a memorial. Barcellos argues well here that we cannot stop with that statement. Whether we are full blown Calvinists on this or not, there is something more going n and the supper is a means of grace in  which the Spirit himself blesses those who come in faith.

I'm home!

So I am home from hospital. No, I'm not planning anything silly like basketball but I am glad to be back here. They were a good bunch in the ward I was on and the professional staff brilliant but I just needed to get out after a week away. I now have to await a date for the big op. Hope it's soon. Thanks for all the emails, Facebook thingies, texts, cards, visits, etc, etc.

To kill a mockingbird Harper Lee

In my ongoing project of catching up on books I've missed I have just read Harper Lee's To kill a mockingbird. I was on the Southbank the other week and just over the millennium bridge a man was selling battered paperbacks and a picked up a copy for £2.50. I started reading it the other week and since my unforeseen circumstances kicked in have been able to complete it already. Its reputation as a fine novel is deserved. Because it is written through a child's eyes it is understandably a GCSE favourite. Set in the thirties in the southern states it first appeared in 1963. I had assumed it would be tackling the whole race question head on but is much more powerful for being very oblique. Perhaps the most powerful moment is when a racist woman denounces Hitler. The mockingbird theme is done very lightly and the Boo Radley theme keeps interest while at the same time giving the treatment of the subject breadth. A Shakespeare moment indeed.

10 interesting facts about Charles Hodge

I have tried reading biographies of Charles Hodge the Princeton professor of systematics before but not finished. The bitesize one by S Donald Fortson III is a great overview.
 
1. His grandfather and great aunt would have heard and appreciated Whitefield
2. Benjamin Franklin was his wife's great grandfather
3. George Muller taught him German
4. He heard Charles Simeon preach in Cambridge
5. He heard Schleiermacher (who he disagreed with but thought was a Christian) preach
6. He became a lifelong friend off Tholuck in Germany
7. On his return from Europe he developed a leg problem that left him lame. When he could walk again he had to use a cane.
8. His study door was always open to his children (and grandchildren)
9. His sons A A Hodge and C W Hodge also taught at Princeton
10. His first book was on Romans and came out in 1835 (the same year as Albert Barnes' work)

Lord's Day April 6 2014

This Lord's Day turned out to be rather different to what I was expecting. Even last Friday afternoon I was expecting to preach on 1 Corinthians 13 and Isaiah 6. That was not the Lord's will, however. Since I became a Christian in the early seventies I have only missed gathering with the Lord's people  a handful of times. This was one of those rare occasions. I didn't aim very high at keeping the day to the Lord given the circumstances. I left the newspapers for a change and read the bitesize biography of Charles Hodge that has recently appeared. There were visitors in the afternoon which was very nice. My assistant Andrew and fellow elder Robert kindly stood in for me (Andrew also took a funeral and spoke to the kids in the evening on Friday!) - providences abound. Some of the congregation were a little shocked to hear the news but are adjusting. So not a great day in some ways but pretty good considering.

A Spell in Hospital

So, where were we? I was having these mild chest pains when I walked which seemed to me must be indigestion. Then on the evening of March 14 I had what I thought was a really bad bout. I was able to preach on the Sunday (see this blog) but was then convinced a visit to the GP was wise. So I got here last Wednesday to the clinic for an ecg. Anyway they were not pleased - they think I have had a heart attack. So it was from there to A&E and on the ward where I have been ever since. They gave me an angiogram and it confirmed the worst. So I am sat here with three other blokes (all very different and very interesting Londoners) waiting for one or two procedures and then a trip to the heart hospital for a bypass. It was a bit of a shock at first but the mind adjusts. So I am trying to look to the Lord and not be too apprehensive. Thank you to everyone who has been in touch. Much appreciated. Sorry it's bad news but it helps us all to think about eternity I hope.

Long lost Beatles album out today

I notice these two interesting articles on the net, one in Rolling Scone and the other in MNE.
 
 
LOST BEATLES ALBUM
By April Foles
01.04.14 01:04 AM ET

A long-lost Beatles album will see the light of day today, some 47 years after it was first recorded. The Beatles own Apple Corps will be releasing Four sides of the circle, an album they recorded in 1965 that was never released and has never been heard before, The Associated Preps reports.

The Beatles recorded  Four sides of the circle  between February and September 1965 at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London. The producer was George Martin. Parlophone never released the recordings and Apple never tried to acquire them. It was George Martin's son, Giles, who discovered the forgotten tapes in a cupboard deep in the vaults of the Abbey Road studios, having been tipped off about their existence by surviving band member Ringo Starr..

The Beatles were under some pressure after the release of Beatles for sale at the end of 1964 left some fans disappointed. Several months were spent in the studio when time would allow working on a projected new album that, it was hoped, would strike in new directions. Half the album had been completed when Help was released in August 1965 as a stop gap. The project was finally abandoned at the end of September 1965 when work began in earnest on the acclaimed Rubber soul.

"We were looking for a new sound," Ringo Starr told the AP. "We really wanted to extend the boundaries but we finally felt it was a step too far and that our fans would not be ready for such a radical departure”. The group were also under pressure from EMI to be more commercial and when initial recordings were leaked to the suits doubts were expressed.

Although Parlophone never saw fit to release the recordings, Giles Martin claims there is something special about the 12 tracks, which include George Harrison playing koto (in his little known Japanese phase), a guest appearance by Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) and a fully orchestrated number with Paul and Ringo sharing the vocals. Martin says that the album is not the Beatles at their best but it is full of interesting material that fans will want to hear.

Four sides of the circle is due out today.

These 12 "forgotten" recordings are not demos or outtakes, according to a press release. They were unearthed by the Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin, at the end of last hear after a tip off from Ringo Starr. The album includes George Harrison playing koto with Japanese musicians, a guest appearance by Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) and a fully orchestrated number with Paul and Ringo sharing the vocal (Train back to Liverpool). The track Resolution #19 is highly experimental and anticipates later experiments. Two tracks are credited as being written by Starkey (Ringo Starr) "Baby take it easy" and "Train back to Liverpool".

Produced by Giles Martin, the material was recorded at Abbey Road in London over several months in 1965. The restoration of the album was handled by Giles Martin with the full co-operation of the surviving Beatles and of Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, as well as his father George.

Four sides of the circle:

01 Four sides of the circle (Lennon McCartney)

02 Baby take it easy (Starkey)

03 She used to love me more (Lennon McCartney)

04 Haiku for one (Harrison)

05 Sunrise sunset (Bock)

06 Freight train (Cotten)*

07 The man with the passive fist (Lennon McCartney)

08 Train back to Liverpool (Starkey)

10 Rock and Roll Shoes (Willis)

11 I found a girl (Sloan, Barri)

12 Resolution #19 (Lennon McCartney)

* With Captain Beefheart

Lord's Day March 30 2014

I was away from Childs Hill yesterday down at Pains Hill where I preach from time to time. It's always good to catch up with old friends there. Pains Hill Chapel is a lovely little chapel in the midst of the Surrey countryside. About twenty were there in the morning and a few less in the evening. I preached on 1 Kings 3:1-14 and 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10. The organist was away but we managed okay as she has recorded several of the hymns and it was possible to play these through the keyboard and we sang without too much difficulty eight hymns from a  limited selection available. My assistant Andrew Lolley preached here and got on very well I understand.

Sylvia Plath Bell Jar

In my efforts to catch up on unread novels I downloaded and read Sylvia Plath's only novel The Bell Jar, which first appeared in 1963. A short book, it is apparently very autobiographical. I whizzed through the first part and then as she started to descend it was more difficult to enjoy but it improved after that dip and is a pretty good read on the whole, written well and exploring an interesting subject. I guess they give it to teenagers to read because it is about a young woman. It reads very true to life if I remember rightly. I'd rather be reading it at 54 then 24 I guess. It's apparently not well admired but I think it is a pretty good piece of work. The fact of Plath's eventual suicide shortly after hangs over the whole thing. It is very difficult to know how to live once you throw over biblical morality. It does no-one any favours to live without that. I saw a lovely hardback edition in Waterstones today. The kindle version is a quarter of the price.

Mothers Protest

Many of you will be aware that tomorrow is both Mother's Day and the day the clocks go forward. No doubt many mother's are on the street with others complaining about this juxtaposition. Mothers are basically losing an hour of the one day in the year when they are no doing everything.

Noah

(Paul Gamston or Russell Crowe?)
I was able to see the new film Noah yesterday afternoon. I have sent this review to Evangelical Times.
 
Noah 12A, a Paramount Pictures production in cinemas from April 4
 
One of my pet hates is the dinky sort of “Noah's ark” you see in toy shops and in children's books. The ark in Paramount Pictures new film Noah is nothing like that. It is a hulking great thing and when the animals come into it and it floats on the surface of the water in a worldwide flood, it is a great sight to behold. However, that is probably the best that can be said for a film that most Christians will be very disappointed with. The very fact I need to use the term spoiler alert here will give a hint at how far from the Bible account Darren Aronofsky's film strays.
Turning biblical narrative into a cinematic experience is fraught with difficulties. The very statement “12A Contains moderate violence, injury detail, threat” seems a little weird. We know that a feature film will never simply follow a narrative but needs to build in its own dramatic tensions. We were pleased not to have to hear an actor giving the voice of God and we were not surprised to see Noah's wife (Jennifer Connolly) given such a big part. We were willing to allow a large part to Shem's wife (Emma Watson, famous from the Harry Potter films) too and we can see that there is some room for argument on how Methusaleh, Lamech and Ham are presented and on whether Noah became a grandfather while on the ark. (The film takes us from Noah's childhood to his drunkenness and repentance with backward glances to the earlier chapters of Genesis). We can even overlook inaccuracies such as ignoring the 120 year gap between the command to build the ark and the flood.
What is much harder to stomach is the blatant rejection of the biblical narrative in favour of a wholly fictitious presentation of Noah (Russell Crowe) as a man with a death wish against humanity and an ark containing seven people not eight, one of them a villainous Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone – who else?) who stows away for months only to be murdered before the Ararat denouement!
One of the problems with suggesting, as the film does, that Noah wanted to kill his own grandchildren and so leave the human race with no future is that far from creating dramatic tension, anyone who is thinking about the plot will be utterly unphased by all the drama that those playing Noah, his wife and daughter-in-law pour into their parts as the very fact that we are here watching the film dictates the eventual outcome.
Perhaps we simply have to accept that when those who are unwilling to treat God's Word as sacred are let loose on the Scriptures they will almost inevitably go wrong, sometimes, as here, spectacularly wrong. The theological problems with this film are there from the outset and throughout. We open with the hopeful words “In the beginning there was nothing”. Everything in the believer cries out “actually, in the beginning there was God” but you say “okay this is as near as we are likely to get from such a source”. A few frames in, however, we are introduced to “The watchers” an angel-like race who are fallen and yet redeemable and who help Noah build his ark. This is highly problematic as is the makers inability throughout to distinguish between the miraculous and the magical. Even when we get a count down of creation the idea that the sun and moon were made on the fourth day is firmly rejected, regardless of what Genesis may say on the matter.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is the way the Bible's chief theme of Messiah has been completely removed. The chief characters in the film come over as clones of 21st century man in all his ignorance and arrogance not as antediluvians who are longing for Messiah to come. This is both anachronistic and verging on the blasphemous.
I was able to see this film ahead of time thanks to the efforts of an organisation called Damaris Media. Led by Nick Pollard, it seeks to capitalise on the existence of films such as this one by encouraging discussion of the gospel with people who see it. (See their website here http://www.damaris.org). The groups aims are most laudable and they have produced excellent materials to accompany the film. I just wonder if the task of getting from the fiction that is the film Noah to the story in Genesis will be a step too far in most cases. We do not have to tie our hands behind our backs before we evangelise. Of course, some people will see the film anyway and Damaris may be a help in highlighting how to take discussion forward.

CYSK 13 John Chrysostom


John Chrysostom (c. 347–407) was Archbishop of Constantinople and an important Early Church Father. He is known for his preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, and his ascetic sensibilities. The epithet "golden-mouthed" was given on account of his legendary eloquence. The Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches honour him as a saint and count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs (with Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus). He is recognised by the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church as a saint and a Doctor of the Church. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria also recognises him as a saint. Earl Blackburn has done a very helpful biography in the Bitesize series.