About Me

My photo
Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Lesson 1 on Apologetics

Lesson 1:

Before you reply to a critic (either a Christian with a different view or a non-Christian) remember the following:

The person who has an objection to your beliefs (your theology or to Christian faith itself) is a human being in God's image. God loves them and values them. They deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. They are not stupid. Their motives may be good (in part, at least). Their objection may have merit and it certainly deserves to be taken seriously. Even if sin is involved in the objection and in their inclination to hold it, let s/he who is without sin cast the first stone.

If only we Christians would remember this a bit more often we would not be so rude, arrogant and, on occasion, downright nasty in the way that we sometimes handle doctrinal disputes between ourselves and in dealings with the likes of Richard Dawkins. I speak as one who also is liable to throw away a harsh remark about someone with whom I disagree (at least, if they are not around to reply).

So speaking the truth does matter but, as Paul said, speaking the truth in love. Without love truth is a weapon to wound rather than a balm to heal.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Thomas Paine and The Age of Reason

I've just been reading a bit of Thomas Paine's classic text The Age of Reason (pt 1, 1794). It really was the 18th century's equivalent of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Unlike Dawkins, Paine was not an atheist - he was a Deist. But like Dawkins he went for the jugular of Christianity and the Bible. His fierce critique of Christianity is, for the period, quite surprising and certainly lost him a lot of friends. It also solicited more than a few published responses (something in the region of 30).

Paine rejected 'revealed religion' - whether Christian, Jewish, or Islamic - and believed that religion should be based on reason alone. His own creed was minimalist:
I believe in God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
I believe in the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

He felt that the social revolutions that were then occuring in systems of government (in both America and France) would inevitably lead to revolutions in the system of religion. To that end he set out to hold the Bible and Christianity up to the bar of reason and to show that they were wanting.

Paine was a fascinting man with fascinating ideas. Some of his arguments against the Bible or against Christianity are not very compelling (revealing his own ignorance of the facts on occasion) but he was certainly no fool and he made some very thought-provoking points which deserve to be heard by each fresh generation of Christians.

So I was just thinking what a fascinating PhD it would make to examine Paine's little volume along with all the published responses it prompted. It would be a great case-study in apologetics and would also be interesting to see how much the Enlightenment was shaping not merely Paine's critique but also the Christian responses to it.

So many things to do and such little time! But if anyone out there wants to do it then that would be great.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Funny Real Comments from Law Courts

These are from a book called Disorder in the American Courts , and are things people actually said in court, word for word, taken down and now published by court reporters that had the torment of staying calm while these exchanges were actually taking place. Thanks to Chris Tiling who sent them to me.

I know this is not theological. Theologically I have been thinking about Calvin's teaching on union with Christ. Calvin was just awesome (esp on this)! However, my laptop battery is nearly flat so this is a cut and paste job of what comes to hand.


ATTORNEY: What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?
WITNESS: He said, "Where am I, Cathy?"
ATTORNEY: And why did that upset you?
WITNESS: My name is Susan!

ATTORNEY: What gear were you in at the moment of the impact?
WITNESS: Gucci sweats and Reeboks.

ATTORNEY: Are you sexually active?
WITNESS: No, I just lie there.

ATTORNEY: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
ATTORNEY: And in what ways does it affect your memory?
WITNESS: I forget.
ATTORNEY: You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?

ATTORNEY: Do you know if your daughter has ever been involved in voodoo?
WITNESS: We both do.
WITNESS: Yes, voodoo.
________ ____________________________________

ATTORNEY: Now doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he
doesn't know about it until the next morning?
WITNESS: Did you actually pass the bar exam?

ATTORNEY: The youngest son, the twenty-year-old, how old is he?
WITNESS: He's twenty, much like your IQ.

ATTORNEY: Were you present when your picture was taken?
WITNESS: Are you shitting me?

ATTORNEY: So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th?
ATTORNEY: And what were you doing at that time?
WITNESS: Getting laid

ATTORNEY: She had three children, right?
ATTORNEY: How many were boys?
ATTORNEY: Were there any girls?
WITNESS: Your Honor, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new

ATTORNEY: How was your first marriage terminated?
WITNESS: By death.
ATTORNEY: And by whose death was it terminated?
WITNESS: Take a guess.
___________________ _________________________

ATTORNEY: Can you describe the individual?
WITNESS: He was about medium height and had a beard.
ATTORNEY: Was this a male or a female?
WITNESS: Unless the Circus was in town I'm going with male.

ATTORNEY: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition
notice which I sent to your attorney?
WITNESS: No, this is how I dress when I go to work.

ATTORNEY: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead
WITNESS: All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.
ATTORNEY: ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK?
What school did you go to?
________ _________________________________

ATTORNEY: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?
WITNESS: The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.
ATTORNEY: And Mr. Denton was dead at the time?
WITNESS: If not, he was by the time I finished.

ATTORNEY: Are you qualified to give a urine sample?
WITNESS: Are you qualified to ask that question?

And the best for last:

ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a
ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing?
ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began
the autopsy?
ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing

40 Years ago today (I can relate to this)

Monday, 20 July 2009

The End of the World!

400th anniversary of Baptists

Baptists are 400 years old (sadly I'm only 40 so they would not let me be a Baptist). But seriously

"In the early 1600s a group of religious refugees from England gathered in the back room of an Amsterdam bakery to pray and study the Bible together. By 1609 a group of them had formed what we have come to know as core Baptist convictions, especially the necessity of a believers’ church, separated from state control and practising believers’ baptism. From these modest beginnings the Baptists spread through England, North America and Europe and beyond to become a worldwide movement with a community of around 100 million members today."

I am not a Baptist but I do have a Baptist heart. I am a credo-baptist (as opposed to a paedo-baoptist) with a believers church ecclesiology. I also affirm the importance of a free church and of a free state (and am perplexed that some modern Baptists seem to aspire to a having Christian state).

Anyway - I'm glad that the Baptists have been around and impacted the global church in the way that they have. So - "Happy Birthyear to y'all!"

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Why 'Secular' Voices should be heard on BBC Radio 4's "Thought for the Day"

Radio 4 are thinking of allowing non-religious speakers to do slots on "Thought for the Day" (read about it here).

The Evangelical Alliance and other religious bodies are not over-happy. However, I think that there are good reasons for allowing 'non-religious' people to offer their thoughts for the day.

First off, many Christians have long-argued that there is no such thing as religious neutrality. So-called 'non-religious' people are only non-religious in the sense that they do not belong to a religious body with historic roots. But they are very religious in the sense that they affirm various metaphysical beliefs (even if only at a presuppositional level) with implications for life which are deeply religious. The belief that there is no God is a religious belief. The belief that we don't know whether there is a God but it does not much matter is another. The belief that we don't know whether there is a God but it is a shame because it does matter is a religious belief. The belief that the concept of God is unhelpful and we need some other vision of 'ultimate relaity' is a religious belief. Everyone is religious in this sense. Secular people are just as religious as Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.
It has always seemed to me odd to put secular humanists in one box (non-religious) and Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. in another box (religious). There are many ways of cutting up the cake here and this religious people/secular people one has a limited value.

Second, "Thought for the Day" is not currently a slot for offering Christian perspectives. It is a slot for 'religious perspectives'. So you will hear Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, etc.. From a Christian perspective "Thought for the Day" is already offering insights that are coming from worldview perspectives that are fundamentally flawed in various ways. But we are OK with that because we live in a plural society in which people should be allowed freedom of speech. But if, as I believe, secular perspectives are also religious then why should we object to them being able to offer a blessed thought for the day? Sure, non-God-centred worldviews may be false in some fundamental ways (and I include Buddhism here along with secular humanism) but so too are many other religious worldviews and we don't mind them on this sacred Radio 4 slot.

Third, Christians have always acknowledged that there is real and inspiring truth to be learned from those who have mistaken worldviews. In fact, the writers of the Bible are quite happy to draw on insights from pagan cultures and reframe them within a monotheistic worldview. OT writers did it. NT writers did it. And the early Christian fathers drew discerninglyfrom pagan philosophy. So I know that I have a lot to learn from secular humanists and I don't mind them offering their thought for the day alongside everyone else.

In fact, I think such a change could mark a minor breakthrough. Secular humanists have always wanted to position themselves as non-religious. But by pushing for inclusion on the religious slot on Radio 4 they may inadvertly play a little role in helping people to see that we are all ultimately religious and that there is no neutrality in one's position viz-a-viz God-in-Christ.

Excellent Science and Fath website

If you are interested in issues raised for faith by science then you'll love the new Test of FAITH resource (DVD and study course). OK - I know that we publish it but it really is great. Check out the website where you can find clips of the DVD and sample pages of all the different resources (as well as a growing number of articles on issues in science and faith). It is easy to understand and oh soooo cool!

Friday, 17 July 2009

An invited audience of scientists, church leaders and the media attended the launch at The Royal Academy of Test of Faith – a suite of resources including an award-winning documentary on science and religion, with a book and study materials for small groups.

Produced over the last three and a half years by The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, and with the documentary put together by Contrapositive New Media, hopes are that the resources will help lay people get stuck into the issues behind the commonly perceived antagonism between science and religion.

Speaking about the film, project leader Dr Ruth Bancewicz explained: "This documentary goes way beyond the black and white entrenched views of atheist science versus faith. Our aim is to help people to engage with some of the most important issues that confront us today in an interesting and intelligent way.

She described the resources as "a set of tools helpful for people inside and outside the church community". She added: "Science is a way of finding out more about the created world. Everyone has some kind of question about science and faith at some point in their lives."

The first section of the documentary - entitled Beyond Belief? - was shown and then a discussion was launched by Revd Dr John Polkinghorne KBE FRS, who was Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge before becoming an Anglican priest.

"Science tells us how the world works, but religion tells us there is a meaning and purpose, something being fulfilled in the unfolding of the history of the world," he said. "So I need both those perspectives if I am truly to understand the really rich and remarkable world in which we live."

He outlined his views that all scientists, whether they admit it or not, engage with metaphysics, which is all about their world view. "It is either materialism – the physical world is all there is, or theism – there is a divine Creator. Science must acknowledge its limits, yet faith must be consistent with what we know."

He added that his watchword Bible verse came from 1 Thessalonians 5: 21 "Test everything. Hold to that which is good."

The film Test of Faith (DVD, £8.99, 90 minutes plus 78 minutes of bonus features. Published by Paternoster) is the centrepiece of a set of resources that have been designed to inform and inspire the Christian community and many others to engage constructively with cutting edge science. It won Silver in the category of Best Documentary at the 2009 ICVA Awards, and features leading scientists and committed Christians from the UK and the USA.

Alongside it comes a book: Test of Faith: Spiritual Journeys with Scientists (Paternoster, £7.99), which tells the stories of 10 of the scientists featuring in the documentary, charting their faith and lives at the cutting edge of science. And accompanying this is the Test of Faith course, with study guide for participants (A5, £3.50) and leader's guide (A4, £15.99) (Paternoster).

Further resources and tasters are at www.testoffaith.com and future plans include schools materials (RE lessons for A-level and GCSE developed by The Stapleford Centre, out next month); online resource materials for youth leaders (working with 11-18s) developed by Youth for Christ (autumn 2009) and materials for 8-11s, to be published by Authentic Media in 2010.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Paul Helm's review of book about Anne Steele

Check out Paul Helm's review of Cynthia Aalders' monograph, To Express the Ineffable: The Hyms and Spirituality of Anne Steele.

Steele (1717-1778) was an 18th C hymn writer much loved in both the UK and the USA. She is significant because she was
(a) the first major female hymn writer, and
(b) the most popular Baptist hymn writer ever.

You can read it here. Then you can buy the book here.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Evangelical Spirituality

I have been reading some stuff on 18th C evangelicalism. I seem to have a love-hate relationship with the spirituality I find there. At times I feel so inspired. They took God very seriously, there was a real affection and passion in their faith. In many ways they put modern charismatics to shame. Such deep devotion! Such zeal! Such love of scripture!(Obviously I am generalising here)

And yet ... at times they seem so stern (and not just the Calvinists - Wesleyans could be more than a tad scarey) and so inclined to induce depressive bouts of wallowing in guilt. It is hard, for instance, to read Jonathan Edwards' influential biography of David Brainerd (in which the subject was presented as a paradigm of godly devotion) without feeling sorry for the poor chap (Brainerd, that is). He seemed to fluctuate from one day to the next - from the heights of ecstacsy to the depths of spiritual depression. He was like a spiritual yo yo. I don't know how much I want to see him a role model. Yes, I have a lot to learn from Brainerd - he was an amazing man. But he was also a man who, or so it seems to me, needed some help. Surely God does not want us in such constant psychological turmoil! I don't see that model presented in the New Testament. Calvinism has warmed up a few degrees since those serious days.

But I am the heir to such a spiritual tradition. And I am proud to be. These evangelicals were men and women of faith, hope and love. They may have got a whole bunch of stuff out of balance but they got a whole bunch more spot on. And I think I have more to learn from them than I have to reject. I don't want to be exactly like they were (I'm not sure I'd get on well with all of them) but I want to learn to be who I should be in the light of who they were.

Perhaps we are right to both love and hate the spirituality of our ancestors as we seek to walk in the ways of the Lord today.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Interesting fact of the day

Did you know that basket ball was invented by James Naismith, a YMCA instructor based in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891. He was told to invent a new game to enthuse a class of new YMCA recruits. The baskets were only an accident - he was looking for boxes but only peach baskets were available.


Saturday, 11 July 2009

Will eternal life be boring?

We had a discussion at Tyndale Conference in Cambridge this week (led by David Leal) on whether eternal life would be boring. It was not a boring discussion.

Will eternal life be boring?

To answer this question I suppose that we need a clear analysis of what boredom is and what makes us bored. Then we need to consider what we know of the resurrection life of the age to come.

However, I don't have time for that so here are a few thoughts off the top of my head.

If we were timeless beings in the new creation then (of course) we would not get bored (do I need to spell out why?). However, this is a non-starter for various reasons not least of which is that the Bible gives not the slightest reason to think that we shall be timeless and plenty of reason to think that we shall not. A timeless existence would hardly be a human existence at all.

So - let's suppose that we are everlasting instead. Well, here the problem of boredom does raise its head.

If new creation is like an eternal church meeting then boredom is guaranteed. But why need it be like a church meeting?

God's presence will be so tangible! Evil will be eradicated!

There is no doubt that the new creation will be wondeful, awesome, and thoroughly enjoyable. However, our current experience indicates that we can become bored even doing things that we love. And if there are no challenges ...

But perhaps there will be challenges and tasks and difficulties.

And perhaps God will modify our psychology a bit so that we don't get bored.

And perhaps, like C.S. Lewis says at the end of The Last Battle the new creation will always be drawing us ever-on, ever-deeper into God. The adventures will never cease. Standing still is not on the cards (if you'll excuse the expression).

I have no doubt that God can sort it that we won't get bored. The big mistake is to suppose that new creation will simply be like our lives now but extended on to infinity (that would be boring).

And, weird as it might sound, perhaps there is a place for boredom in the new creation. Obviously not longterm crippling boredom. However, it is possible that there is a contructive place for short bouts of boredom. In our lives now it is part of being the kinds of creatures that God has made us. We cannot cope with constant excitement, we don't want artificially stimulated spiritual orgasms all the time. Short episdoes of boredom can play a contructive role in human life here and perhaps they will do so even in the new age. I don't know if there will be boredom in 'heaven' (not keen on using that phrase in this context) but if there was a bit I would not mind.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Calvin at 500!

Yes - the great man is, so I am told, 500 today! So make sure that you read some Calvin and also a good book on Calvin (perhaps this forthcoming one edited by Sungwook Chung).
Foreword by Alister E. McGrath

1. Knowing God: Calvin’s Unerstanding of Revelation
Michael Horton

2. Calvin on the Trinity
Kurt Anders Richardson

3. Calvin on Creation and Providence
Oliver D. Crisp

4. Calvin’s Theological Anthropology
Henri Blocher

5. Fromn Ordered Soul to Corrupted Nature: Calvin View of Sin
Lanier Burns

6. Calvin on the Cross of Christ
Mark D. Thompson

7. Calvin, the Theologian of the Holy Spirit
Elias Dantas

8. Calvin on Justification in Evangelical and Ecumenical
Gabriel Fackre

9. Taking Up Our Cross: Calvin’s Cross theology of
Sung Wook Chung

10. Election, Pedestination and the Mission of God
Antonio Barro

11. Calvin’s Ministry in Geneva: Theology and Practice
Jung-Sook Lee

12 Exploring the Usefulness of Calvin’s Socio-Political
Ethics for the Majority World
Dieumeme Noelliste

13 “A Pearl and a Leaven”: John Calvin’s Critical Two-
Kingdoms Eschatalogy
John Bolt

14 Calvin and Religions
Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen

Friday, 3 July 2009

A 'Blessed Thought' from The Odes of Solomon

I was praying through Ode 1 from The Odes of Solomon this morning.
Ode 1
The Lord is on my head like a crown, and I shall never be without Him.
Plaited for me is the crown of truth, and it caused Your branches to blossom in me.
For it is not like a parched crown that blossoms not;
For You live upon my head, and have blossomed upon me.
Your fruits are full and complete; they are full of Your salvation....

The image is of God as a crown woven from living plants that blossom and bear the fruit of salvation. God is this crown ever-present on our heads. The thought I had was that in the image the blossom and the fruit (salvation) is not something distinct from the crown but a part of it. Sometimes we think of salvation as a gift, distinct from God, that God gives to us. But at a deeper level the gift of salvation is the transforming presence of God himself.

A similar thought is found in John's gospel. There Jesus gives living water that wells up to eternal life. But this 'water' is the Spirit of God. In other words, for John, eternal life is not simply God enabling us to exist for a long time. It is the very life of God himself - the Spirit - indwelling us, animating us and drawing us into communion with the Father and the Son.

Salvation and eternal life is, in the words of Henry Scougal (1650-1678), "the life of God in the soul of man."

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Elhanan Winchester in 18th C London

Several days ago I wrote about a sermon by an 18th C American Baptist called Elhanan Winchester.

It interests me that Winchester was in London for nearly 7 years (from Sept 1787 to July 1794). He used to preach at a chapel in Glass House Yard in the mornings and in the General Baptist church in Worship Street in the evenings. At the end of 1792 at the age of 41 he set up a congregation of Universalist Baptists at Parliament Court in Artillery Lane (off Bishopsgate).

The Parliament Court building is still there and is now a Synagogue (the oldest Ashkenazi congregation in London established in 1854). So yesterday I went to see it (and the wonderful Wesley Chapel which is just around the corner). Very interesting to see the building that Elhanan preached in. Here is a picture.

After Elhanan left his co-pastor William Vidler took over (and engaged in a series of writted debates with the wonderful Particular Baptist Andrew Fuller on universalism). Sadly Vidler later converted to Unitarianism and this divided the Parliament Court congregation.

The same story was repeated in the Philadelphia congregation. After Elhanan the church went Unitarian very fast.

Personally I think that it is a real shame that the fledgling Universalist Baptist church got side-tracked so early into heterodoxy and thereby sank itself as an orthodox Christian church. In my view, by abandoning the Trinity (albeit sincerely) they abandoned the very heart of Christian faith and were left with a mutilated version. Were the seeds of its heterodoxy inherent in its embrace of universalism or could things have gone differently? I suspect I'd need to know a lot more about the lure of Unitarianism and Socinianism in the 18th C churches to answer that question. My suspicion is that the two come apart quite easily but that some of the drives towards the one also motivated the drive towards the other.