J. I. Packer On Church Numbers

Hey Everyone,

I came across this the other day on Michael Newnham’s blog, and thought I would reprint it here. Here’s a little of the faithful churchman, J. I. Packer for your Monday morning musing.

“I have found that churches, pastors, seminaries, and parachurch agencies throughout North America are mostly playing the numbers game—that is, defining success in terms of numbers of heads counted or added to those that were there before. Church-growth theorists, evangelists, pastors, missionaries, news reporters, and others all speak as if

(1) numerical increase is what matters most;

(2) numerical increase will surely come if our techniques and procedures are right;

(3) numerical increase validates ministries as nothing else does;

(4) numerical increase must be everyone’s main goal. Continue reading

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On the Misery of Man

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Living on earth is truly a misery. The more a man desires spiritual life, the more bitter the present becomes to him, because he understands better and sees more clearly the defects, the corruption of human nature. To eat and drink, to watch and sleep, to rest, to labor, and to be bound by other human necessities is certainly a great misery and affliction to the devout man, who would gladly be released from them and be free from all sin. Truly, the inner man is greatly burdened in this world by the necessities of the body, and for this reason the Prophet prayed that he might be as free from them as possible, when he said: “From my necessities, O Lord, deliver me.”6

But woe to those who know not their own misery, and greater woe to those who love this miserable and corruptible life. Some, indeed, can scarcely procure its necessities either by work or by begging; yet they love it so much that, if they could live here always, they would care nothing for the kingdom of God.

Thomas A’Kempis, “Thoughts on the Misery of Man”


6 6. Ps. 25:17.

Alister McGrath on Biblical Spirituality

Alister McGrath on Biblical Spirituality as I found it posted at Metamorpha from 2011.

When I began my life as a Christian, I found my attention focussing on understanding my faith. I continue to regard this as being of the utmost importance. There is a marvellous coherence to Christian doctrine, and wrestling with the great truths of our faith provided me with both spiritual encouragement and intellectual challenge. Yet it often seemed to me that my ‘knowledge’ of the Christian faith was rather dry and cerebral. My faith seemed to lack depth. It was as if my emotions were untouched by what I believed. Sometime, it seemed to me, was wrong.

My realization of the importance of spirituality began about 1989, but really blossomed from about 1992. I was invited to lead a regular summer school course in Oxford on ‘medieval and Reformation spirituality’. This allowed me to engage with some of the great texts of Christian spirituality. As my students and I wrestled with these texts, we found ourselves challenged to deepen the quality of our Christian faith though being more open to God. I found that the quality of my Christian life deepened considerably as a result.

[…]

Enjoyment? Yes! ‘What’, asked the Shorter Westminster Catechism, ‘is the chief end of man?’ The answer given is rightly celebrated as a jewel in Christianity’s doctrinal crown: ‘to glorify God and enjoy him for ever’. This brief statement sets us on a journey of personal exploration – to gain a fresh apprehension of the glory of God, so that we might return that glory to God and have our spiritual lives enrichened by the knowledge of such a God. To catch such a glimpse of the full splendor of God is also a powerful stimulus to evangelism. Was it not by catching a glimpse of the glory of God in the temple that Isaiah reponded to the divine call to go forth in service? Good theology is essential to mission and evangelism! By catching a vision of God in all his radiance and glory, we long to serve him now and finally be with him in the New Jerusalem.

So how can we deepen our faith in this way? As I wrestled with deepening my appreciation of the rich spirituality of the Bible, I found three principles to be helpful:

1.  When dealing with a biblical image, it is essential to pause and allow the passage to generate a mental picture. We have to enter into the world of that image. We need to project ourselves into the image, and become part of it, experiencing its richness and implications. Our faith stimulates our imaginations as well as our minds! One of the reasons why writers such as C S Lewis and George MacDonald enjoy such popularity is that they nourish both reason and imagination.

2.  When dealing with a gospel story, we must enter into it, standing alongside those who witnessed the saviour of the world. We need to meditate on these gospel narratives as though they were happening in the present moment.

3.  When dealing with a biblical idea or theme, it is not enough to understand it. It needs to be applied to our lives, so that it becomes a lived reality, rather than an abstract and lifeless notion. Christianity is not simply about ideas; it is about the transformation of spiritual reality. It needs to become real to us, instead of just rattling round inside our min

On Tradition

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Jaroslav Pelikan on Tradition:

Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.

The Good News Is That It’s Your Fault

 Dorothy Sayers was a really interesting lady. Perhaps best known for her fiction writing, she also wrote on matters of theology with a whimsical and winsome demeanor. I’ve read a bit of her work this past week, and really enjoyed it.

In my reading I came across this paragraph. In it, Sayers is talking about human sin, and the Christian need for clarity on this topic. The less popular the subject becomes, the more important it is for us to be clear about it. Even though she was writing to a thoroughly modern culture and we are living in a post-modern age, the truth of her claim is still important and useful to us.

Read the quote, and we can discuss…

“The final tendency of the modern philosophies—hailed in their day as a release from the burden of sinfulness—has been to bind man hard and fast in the chains of an iron determinism. The influences of heredity and environment, of glandular makeup and the control exercised by the unconscious, of economic necessity and the mechanics of biological development, have all been invoked to assure man that he is not responsible for his misfortunes and therefore not to be held guilty. Evil has been represented as something imposed upon him from without, not made by him from within. The dreadful conclusion follows inevitably, that as he is not responsible for evil, he cannot alter it; even though evolution and progress may offer some alleviation in the future, there is no hope for you and me, here and now. I well remember how an aunt of mine, brought up in an old-fashioned liberalism, protested angrily against having continually to call herself a miserable sinner when reciting the Litany. Today, if we could really be persuaded that we are miserable sinners—that the trouble is not outside us but inside us, and that therefore, by the grace of God, we can do something to put it right—we should receive that message as the most hopeful and heartening thing that can be imagined.” Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? Continue reading

Quotable: How big is your universe?

Once again, what sort of universe do we demand? If it were small enough to be cosy, it would not be big enough to be sublime. If it is large enough for us to stretch our spiritual limbs in, it must be large enough to baffle us. Cramped or terrified, we must, in any conceivable world, be one or the other. I prefer terror. I should be suffocated in a universe that I could see to the end of. Have you never, when walking in a wood, turned back deliberately for fear you should come out at the other side and thus make it ever after in your imagination a mere beggarly strip of trees?

C.S. Lewis (God In The Dock, p. 42)

Screwtape Wants To Detach You From God

Friday with Screwtape 10 (series)

This will be the last in post in the Screwtape series. Ten weeks is good enough I think. Read this book if you haven’t. It is a good read, and very thoughtful.

As a preliminary to detaching him from the Enemy, you wanted to detach him from himself, and had made some progress in doing so. Now, all is undone.

Continue reading