Friday, 30 November 2007

Death, mortality, and badders.

The Bad man is going to think this is cheeky, but come on mate, we don't all have time to just sit around all day reading blogs. So for the non-bloggerati out there who want to suck the juice of deep thought from the mind of Baddeley without actually reading (much), here are a few choice quotes from today.

The question of the day is whether or not the death of humans is part of the created order.

Now frankly, you don't need to hear options 1 and 2, they don't actually match reality so why bother. But here we join MB at #3:

Third, Adam was mortal by nature but immortal by participation. That is, left to ourselves, death is as natural to human beings as it is for all other parts of the animate creation. There is nothing inherently immortal about flesh and blood—which is why flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God but must be put off for us to put on imperishability and immortality. What Adam and Eve were given was a source of life external to themselves that enabled them to enjoy a share in God’s own eternal life and so be kept from death. This was mediated through the Tree of Life.

On this view death is unnatural when at looked at from the point of view of God’s purpose in creating humanity. We were made to stay connected to God through trusting his word and obeying it and so stay in the realm of life by being caught up in something greater than ourselves. Yet death is natural when looked at from the point of view of humanity’s nature. Humanity was made mortal like all creatures and so once we were cut off from God, we faced death like every other animal.

It is the image of God that made the difference, and this worked dynamically, not statically. It related us to God through his Image, his only begotten Son and so we were partakers in Life.

It’s probably clear that I strongly favour this last view, despite the fact that, as far as I can see, it is a minority position within Evangelicalism.

Cop that! The idea is in the Bible, but in case there is any faint residue of powdery doubt gumming up the works, let's highlight a quote from the great man himself (I mean Athanasius), as supplied by Mark:

For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good. By nature, of course, man is mortal, since he was made from nothing, but he bears also the Likeness of Him Who is, and if he preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt.

-De Incarnatione §4

Come on folks, you just know in your bones that this is the right way to think about death and mortality. And I know some of you skimmed that Athanasius quote, so let me just highlight this wonderful phrase: "[man] bears also the Likeness of Him Who is, and if he preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt."


If you're still feeling a bit worried about that, skip everything I've just run through and have a read of this for a bit.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Amy Carmichael poem

I found part of a poem about God's providential grace in the book Ten Girls who Changed the World (reviewed here).

Irene Howat introduces the poem by explaining that "as a little brown-eyed Irish girl", Amy Carmichael had "prayed that God would make her eyes blue." The poem continues:

So she prayed for two blue eyes,
Said 'Goodnight',
Went to sleep in deep content
And delight.
Woke up early, climbed a chair
By a mirror. Where, O where
Could the blue eyes be? Not there;
Jesus hadn't answered.

Hadn't answered her at all;
Never more
Could she pray; her eyes were brown
As before.
Did a little soft wind blow?
Came a whisper soft and low,
'Jesus answered. He said, No;
Isn't No an answer?'

Howat goes on to explain that in India, where everyone's eyes were brown, she was able to fit in better because God's answer was 'no'. Dunno if that's true or not, but it's a nice thought.

OK, so as poetry it's not TS Eliot—but maybe AA Milne?

Ten Girls who changed the world (review)

Ten Girls who Changed the World by Irene Howat. (Christian Focus Publications, 2001)

What a messy looking book! That's a real pity, because the cover art on my edition is elegant, but they managed to trash it through cheap paperback production values, use of a sans serif font, and a few other bits and pieces that even I noticed. That means you're not going to give it away as a present to somebody without risking looking cheap.

The text of Ten Girls Who Changed the World, however, is not half bad. It's got ten and a bit pages each on Gladys Aylward, Mary Slessor, Isobel Kuhn, Elizabeth Fry, Jackie Pullinger, Amy Carmichael, Joni Eareckson Tada, Catherine Booth, Corrie Ten Boom and Evelyn Brand; all great missionary women who one way or another have been used by God to make a big difference in people's lives.

The stories are brief and well told, and there is enough gospel in them to make this more than just a group of inspirational tales. There are some fairly shocking insights into the way life is and the way other religions are.

So we learn, in the Elizabeth Fry story, about Newgate prison in the 19th century holding 300 women and children in four rooms, and that each day the women and men were allowed to mix together. Even this PG version has them "gambling and drinking, fighting and dancing" and spending time in the four rooms "cooking, eating, sleeping and everything else as well." Similarly we read in Amy Carmichael's story of how Hindu girls were offered up to the gods because they were unwanted. "They are given to women who are prisoners in the temples and they are kept there and become prisoners too. Then, when they are five or six years old, they are given to the priests and are slaves to them until they are no longer young and beautiful"

Black Beauty or Saddle Club this ain't. Mary Slessor's story tells of babies, thought to be demon-possessed, abandoned in the African bush, or killed and their mother cast out to die. Corrie Ten Boom's story speaks of the horrors of the Ravensbruck concentration camp. Yet at the same time, the theme of God's grace is strong:

One day, a long time later, a man spoke to Corrie after a church service. He had been a guard at Ravensbruck. 'Isn't it wonderful that Jesus has washed my sins away', he said, holding out his hand to shake hers. So many things went through Corrie's mind. Had he forced her to parade naked? Had he laughted at poor dear Betsie when she coughed herself sick? For a minute her arm seemed glued to her side. The she prayed a quick silent prayer and God filled her heart with forgiveness. Corrie Ten Boom took the man's hand in hers and shook it warmly. And that was a miracle.

Try to ignore the fact that this book looks like it was printed on toilet paper, and buy it for a girl eight years or older. It's no messier looking than the secular Horrible Histories books, popular with this age group, and has the grace of God predominating over the gore.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Mr Kirsop comments

On Gettysburg, here.

Fine words indeed, sir.

Too many, too many

Yes, well said Michael J. There are too many Bible commentaries, and they are TOO FAT.

I usually use 2 commentaries per Bible series, one thin one with exclamation marks and one fat one. Now that I'm writing for Matthias Media, sometimes I only read my own ;-) . At about five paragraphs per chapter of Bible, I reckon I've reached the limit of my learning and by coincidence, the limit of what most people want to read.

Why the Liberals lost

Ross Gittins thinks it was Work Choices.

When there is close to full employment, individual contracts are likely to be favourable to workers and even better than award. When unemployment increases, the workers are over a barrel in negotiation. Howard recognized this and responded too late with a fairness test—so the voters punished the government accordingly.

Other questions of honesty and decency in public life are also addressed in Gittins' article. I agree with him when he says this:

I believe standards of honesty and decency fell under Howard. They were hardly very high under his Labor predecessors, but they declined further under a man who, to all outward appearance, radiated respectability. He was a tricky man, leaving you with a certain impression but then later protesting that you had failed to read his lawyerly words carefully enough.

How many times were we misled? There were the non-core promises, the children overboard, the Tampa (which, for all Howard's ministers knew, may have been carrying terrorists), the weapons of mass destruction and the probably illegal invasion of Iraq, the AWB scandal (which no minister had any knowledge of) and the promise to keep interest rates at record lows.

Howard was never told and so was never responsible. The buck always stopped elsewhere. As to decency, we had the brutal treatment of asylum seekers, the trampling of the legal rights of David Hicks and others, the shameful treatment of Dr Mohamed Haneef.

The Howard Government ruled by fear and behind-the-scenes bullying of bureaucrats, journalists, business economists and business people. It raised the abuse of incumbency to new heights, especially taxpayer-funded market research and political advertising.

In all these things, it had two standard defences: first, you may care but the electorate does not and, second, our Labor predecessors did it, too.

I would like to believe this election shows that, in the end, the electorate does care about declining standards of public morality.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


From a soon-to-be-published article by John Woodhouse on justification:

Being 'justified’ by "his grace as a gift” means that, as far as God’s acceptance and approval of you is concerned, everything that makes you feel good about yourself is completely and utterly irrelevant. Not only that, it also means that everything that makes you feel ashamed or rotten about yourself is also completely and utterly irrelevant.

Coming soon to The Briefing



Love at first hearing

Svetlana sucks lemons across from me,
And I am progressing abominably.
And I do not know my own way to the sea
But the saltiest sea knows its own way to me.
The city that turns, turns protracted and slow
And I find myself toeing th’Embarcadero
And I find myself knowing
The things that I knew
Which is all that you can know
On this side of the blue.

-Joanna Newsom, "This Side of the Blue" from The Milk-Eyed Mender

Illegal mingling

Thomas Friedman writes:

One of the most talked about stories in the Middle East last week came out of Saudi Arabia, where the Government affirmed the sentence of 200 lashes for a 19-year-old Shiite girl who was sitting in a car with a male acquaintance last year when they were attacked by seven men who gang-raped both of them.

The Saudi Justice Ministry said the young woman deserved 200 lashes and six months in prison, even though she had been raped, because she was guilty of "illegal mingling" - sitting in a car with a man who was not related to her.

See the article here.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Soul mates

I walked into a building recently and was greeted by the shout 'Hey! Didn't we fire you?' This was a seriously funny (ha-ha) experience for about half-a-dozen reasons. Not least of which was that the man who called out told me that we were Soul Mates on the facebook movie application.

He also mentioned that the next movies he wanted to go and see were Halloween and Hitman.

What do you think, gentle blog-reader? Are we really soul-mates, he and I?

Friday, 23 November 2007

Remember Tampa?

Robert Manne is frequently overwrought, including in this article from today's Age. But it's hard not to agree with this bit:

The abandonment of both the aspiration for multiculturalism and the quest for reconciliation had no direct electoral impact. The Government's callous treatment of asylum seekers, fleeing from the Taliban or Saddam Hussein, did.

At first, using Labor's dangerous mandatory detention legacy, the Howard Government imprisoned these refugees for indefinite periods in appalling desert camps. With the arrival of the Tampa at Christmas Island, in late August 2001, it decided on an even more brutal strategy — to use military force to drive all asylum seekers away. To legitimise its cruelty, the Government let the people believe a lie: that the Iraqi refugees had thrown their own children into the ocean. In the long term, mendacity and a carnal desire for power at almost any cost became the trademarks of the Government. In the short term, "border control" hysteria helped Howard win the November 2001 election.

And nothing much has changed in government policy.

Anyway, that's the issue I'm steamed up about. But for analysis without favour, I 've always appreciated Michelle Grattan's work.

Thursday, 22 November 2007


Here I stand head in hand
Turn my face to the wall
If she's gone I can't go on
Feeling two foot small
Everywhere people stare
each and every day
I can see them laugh at me
And I hear them say

Hey you've got to hide your love away
Hey you've got to hide your love away

How can I even try?
I can never win
Hearing them, seeing them
In the state I'm in
How could she say to me
"Love will find a way?"
Gather round all you clowns
Let me hear you say

Hey you've got to hide your love away
Hey you've got to hide your love away


The greatest rock group of this age, or indeed of any age!

Sur le Même accord

I bought this CD up in Leura and must have listened to it half a dozen times now. Bartok's Violin concerto #2 I am loving, and I can't see how any right-thinking person wouldn't especially and what with Anne Sophie-Mutter playing it. But Dutilleux's piece, Sur le Même accord, written especially for A S-M and released on this premiere recording, remains opaque. Maybe this piece of information:

The entire piece is based on one six-note chord, heard at the beginning of the piece, which is manipulated in various ways

from the Wikipedia article is going to help me. I sure hope so.

I am going to give it another half-dozen listens or so, and if I haven't got it by then I'm giving up.

Bartok —ah! the brass! and those East European harmonies. Delight.

A Really Bad Blog

I am enjoying Mark Baddeley's blog heaps, and will be returning to it regularly. It's pretty new. I'm glad these thoughts are being preserved in one place (I mean apart from inside Badders' head) as to trace the Baddeline corpus has required a knowledge of loopy websites and a Sherlock Holmesian cunning, until now.

Here's a recent fave quote from the Bad man himself:

And there’s something impressive about Origen’s freshness in how he reads the Bible. He doesn’t assume that asking the cup to pass from him means that Jesus is trying to avoid death. He looks at outside the box and suggests that it meant that Jesus wanted an even more intense kind of death than crucifixion. And looking outside the box is a good ability to have—if we are going to avoid just reading our own ideas into the Bible, it’ll only be because we’re prepared to take roads not just less travelled, but never travelled.

But this is one time when staying in the box would have been so much better.

And so it goes on. This quote was taken from the post "And you were doing so well". I believe Mark has managed to expose an Origenal sin.

2 more preschoolers' Christmas presents? Well, one.

Read-Aloud Bible stories vol. 1 by Ella K. Lindvall; Illustrated by H. Kent Puckett.
The Nativity Play. by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen

I'm only going to recommend one of these.

These are two books for preschoolers, and they’re both pretty good in the sense that pre-schoolers will love them and they are readily available. I got mine at Moore Books in Newtown, but they should be easy to get in other places or, failing that, online.

You’re not looking for complexity when you pick up a book for a preschooler, and on the patented Cheng ‘non-complexity’ scale, both books are doing well. If you or your kids love the TV show or book Kipper the Dog, you and they will love The Nativity Play by the same creators (Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen) . Although at nearly $AUD16 where I bought mine you would want to love them quite a lot, as there are plenty of high quality secular pre-school books available for cheaper.

This one is the story of a kids’ Christmas play and is a lot of fun. I enjoyed the little kid dressed up with the donkey’s head, and the bit where they nearly lost the shepherd with the key line to a toilet break. And what was that key line? “The Saviour of the World is born.” That’s pretty good, really, and if I was giving a present to a family where eyebrows might be raised over the giving of a childrens’ Bible story, I would consider this as a fun and acceptable alternative.

The other book, Read-Aloud Bible Stories Vol 1. caused me more problems, although the problems won’t bother the kids at all. At least not until they reach adulthood and they start to reflect on their childhood and wonder why their Bible reading skills are so dodgy.

In fact, based on my own experience of several years of reading to little kids, this one is a winner from a storytelling point of view and you can see why it is still in print after so many years. Here’s a sample:

Too-little Zaccheus started to run.

(Go, Zaccheus. Go fast.)

He came to the tree.

(Climb, Zaccheus. Climb fast.)

Now Zaccheus was up high.

He could see the daddies coming.

And the mommies.

And the grandpas.

And the grandmas.

And the uncles.

And the aunts.

And the boys.

And the girls.

And the friends.


(well, you’ll have to turn the page, won’t you)

This is good stuff for parents who want to keep the attention of one or more restless children. Short, part of a series, and plenty of interactivity. The pictures are big, bold and simple. I don’t like them, but there’s no reason kids wouldn’t enjoy them.


My main difficulty with this and, often, so many other Bible stories and story books that I pick up, is that apart from the fact that they’ve been taken from the Bible, both the stories but especially the way they are applied are almost incidental to the gospel message. God cares for you and knows you by name, that’s true. But to use the Zaccheus story of Luke 19:1-10 to establish such a point (as this read-aloud book does), is dodgy indeed. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” is what this incident is really about (Luke 19:10), but in the version here Zaccheus is not so much lost as short, or should I say TOO LITTLE (the story does). There is no indication at all, in this retelling, that he was a corrupt and sinful man who, in the face of grace, exemplifies repentance. That’s not good.

It’s not the only slip-up either. It’s true that God hears us, but this is not the main point of the Bartimaeus story, which is to contrast the faith of a blind man with the unbelief of those who shoud’ve seen who Jesus was, but didn’t. Jesus does welcome little children, yes, and he welcomes you—but the reason the story is there in Mark 10 is to teach other people that their understanding of the kingdom of God is wrong, and that they must become like little children in order to receive it. (see Mark 10:15).

Some of the stories are better, but in a volume where 3 of the 5 stories either miss the point, obscure it or get it wrong, why would you buy volume 2?

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Euthanasia candidate?

I've just found the perfect candidate for Dr Nitschke's assisted suicide programme! Here he is. Yep, I'm talking about Bob Geldof, Sir Bob to you. He's unclean and unwashed. He's clearly not green, because he thinks the Kyoto protocol is a bit of a waste of time. He's almost certainly been depressed, just take a look at that linked photo of him. And he's downright unAustralian, because he said something bad about us.

What do you say, cobbers? Let's put him on the list.

Euthanasia, Nitschke, and the death of troubled teens.

Last night euthanasia advocate Dr Philip Nitschke was interviewed on Enough Rope with Andrew Denton (The transcript is here).

In the interview he expressed outrage at being frequently described as someone who advocated that troubled teens should be assisted to commit suicide, claiming that he had been misrepresented on the basis of an interview he’d done with a US right-wing magazine. Yet when Denton took him through the details of the question as to how this ‘myth’ had arisen, he didn’t actually deny any of the logical steps that led to this conclusion.

That is: he stood by his definition of an adult as someone over 18, noting that such a person was being sent off to kill people in a war. And he further believed that suicide was a choice that should be open to those who wanted it. And that should they want it, then we should be allowed to help them get what they want.

So the idea that Nitschke would agree with assisting the death of a ‘troubled teen’ may be to focus on a part of his logic that he doesn’t like; but this is a long way away from being an urban myth. In fact, it very much sounded to me as if he’d confirmed the truth of it.

Part of his outrage rests on the fact that as a general rule, he only opens his assisted suicide seminars to people over the age of 65. so he is not advocating helping kill troubled teens willy-nilly. But unfortunately for his logic, it is not a rule without multiple individual exceptions, one of which is referred to here in the July 2007 issue of Exit International, where his view—that long-term prisoners who want to die should be assisted to do so—is repeated.

Here's the relevant part of the transcript from the Denton interview, with apologies for Dr Nitschke's language:

ANDREW DENTON: You were quoted in a US magazine called National Review as saying that your workshops were potentially for the elderly, for the bereaved, for the depressed or the troubled teen. Is that a correct quote?

PHILIP NITSCHKE: No, that’s a not a correct quote and I didn’t exactly say that. They, I got asked in this, a long ranging interview by National Review, sort of right wing journal in the US, about what my beliefs were about this issue, about who should have control. And I outlined the idea that I thought that people had to be adult — we’re not talking about children — and they had to be mentally well. In other words able to give accurate, valid consent. And they said “Oh adults?” I said at that point, “Yeah, adults.” And she said, the interview if I remember vividly, “Oh you mean like an 18 year old?” And I said “Yeah, that’s an adult.” You know an 18 year old, you can go off and kill people in war, that’s an adult. They said “So you basically saying that 18 year olds should have access to these best drugs.” Next thing I know, I’m ad, I’m advocating suicide…

ANDREW DENTON: But did you, how did you answer that question?

PHILIP NITSCHKE: Well I said “Yes,” stupidly.

ANDREW DENTON: Why did you allow yourself to be to be so caught out there, to give so much ammunition to your opposition?

PHILIP NITSCHKE: Yeah, well I mean, look it was a mistake to have said that because at the time what I hadn’t factored in, as much as I now do, is this idea that you have to have life experience, so I can see good reason, and I’m quite happy with that good reason.

ANDREW DENTON: How did you not know that then?

PHILIP NITSCHKE: Well, I guess I was, I think I was, I think I was caught. There’s always every meeting I go to now someone will leap up the back of the yard and say “You’re the person who said that troubled teens should have access to the peaceful pill.” And I think “Oh Christ I’m never, I’m never going to live this down,” and it’s a mistake and I wish I hadn’t said it but I said it.

Yes, you did say it. And nothing you've said since then really offers genuine reassurance that you didn't mean it, Dr. Nitschke.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Bennelong, Koreans, Chinese, etc.

Bennelong is the federal seat where I live, and here's an article about it from Chris Johnston of the Melbourne Age. He phoned me to get background for the story and asked about the Korean vote. About which I know nothing. I was able to tell him that I kept getting letters written in Chinese from both John Howard and Maxine McKew, including one inviting me to a reception for the Chinese community to meet with JH.

I wonder why they think I'm Chinese. No-one ever writes to me in Swedish, but it's the only other language (apart from New Testament Greek) that I can read. Come to think of it, no-one writes to me in Greek either.

Sunday, 18 November 2007


It seems to me that if you get soap to smell like roses and toothpaste to smell taste like peppermint, both roses and peppermint tend to lose out from the transaction.

Which reminds me slightly of the old joke that when Shane Warne tours New Zealand, the average IQ of both Australia and New Zealand goes up. Or something like that.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Lily's birthday party

Was today, although her birthday is not until next month. A mermaid birthday party, together with another friend Charlotte.

She is about to turn five and is about to start school. I told all my daughters that they were to stay the same forever, but it hasn't worked. Matilda said that she had heard it worked if you put a brick on kids' heads and left it there permanently. See, that's a kind of a grown-ups' joke and, sentimentalist that I am, it made me feel slightly sad as I laughed.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Bennelong in the balance-vote for sale.

As regular blog readers will know I live in the Prime Minister's seat, Bennelong, where with little more than a week to go until the fed election the seat remains hotly contested. Maxine McKew and John Howard are running neck and neck in local polls.

Today I got the girls home from school to discover some lovely letters from both Maxine and John in the mailbox. Unfortunately Kevin Rudd had helped Maxine with her effort and so it was all in Mandarin, or Cantonese—I couldn't tell from looking at the writing, and it was all Greek to me. I do read a bit of Greek, actually, but it still wasn't making sense. "What's Grafton to you is Rangoon to me", it seemed to be saying.

Anyway, this is just to let you know, Maxine and John, that your little notes were appreciated and that my vote is, indeed, UP FOR SALE. The first of you to take me, my family and Grandpa out to Yum Cha at Rhodes gets my vote, guaranteed. I can't speak for Fifi, she's a bit of an ideologue in these matters. But, Maxine and John, you get to decide whether I neutralize her vote or make it count for two.

Think about it. It's going to be a close one remember, and when the half-dozen readers of this blog read about your response, I'm sure their opinions will be swayed inestimably. Which is to say, I can't estimate what they'll think.

Oh, and my youngest daughter likes you both and would like us to put posters of both of you in our front yard.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Pilgrim's Progress V

Oh, and just to round out this mini-series, here is the entire original Pilgrim's Progress in various e-forms.

If you are completely strapped for cash this Christmas, I suppose you could buy yourself a ream of discount white A4 and print the whole lot off. That should take care of one bookaholic teenager for you.

Pilgrim's Progress IV

If you really want to introduce young readers to Pilgrim's Progress before taking them through the original, then the adaptation to get is still Dangerous Journey by Oliver Hunkin.

If you click through on the link you will get the first few pages, courtesy of Amazon.

Pilgrim's Progress III

So, did John Bunyan believe in the creatures of hell? You tell me...

Who would true Valour see

Who would true Valour see
Let him come hither;
One here will Constant be,
Come Wind, come Weather.
There's no Discouragement,
Shall make him once Relent,
His first avow'd Intent,
To be a Pilgrim.

Who so beset him round,
With dismal Storys,
Do but themselves Confound;
His Strength the more is.
No Lyon can him fright,
He'l with a Gyant Fight,
But he will have a right,
To be a Pilgrim.

Hobgoblin, nor foul Fiend,
Can daunt his Spirit:
He knows, he at the end,
Shall Life Inherit.
Then Fancies fly away,
He'l fear not what men say,
He'l labour Night and Day,
To be a Pilgrim.

-John Bunyan

Hear the tune here. There's a great version that Maddy Pryor does too, but you have to buy it.

Pilgrim's Progress II

Which brings us back to Geraldine McCaurean's enjoyable retelling of the original. A few years back this particular book won a couple of Blue Peter awards, and you can see why. The sex changes of one or two of the characters comes as a minor jolt, but I don't suppose the kids will notice or mind that Hopeful is now a woman, for example. Many of the names have been changed to protect the guilty—'Pliable' has become 'Mr Bendy'; a certain 'Mr Alec Smart' appears on the scene to offer advice.

Other changes are slightly more disturbing, and all the more because they need a bit of close reading to pick them up. Bunyan's "cartloads of...wholesome instructions" that the King (i.e. Jesus) had commanded to be sent to fill in the Slough of Despond , in McCaughrean's version, has expanded to include " stone statues of saints, plaster madonnas, oil paintings in heavy gilt frames...and any amount of beautiful quarried marble". That's hardly the sort of material that the Protestant Bunyan would depict God sending to help his people out of despair, and it's not a helpful addition to this book.

Here's another. In Bunyan's version, Hopeful and Christian are very close to the end of their journey when they are shown a door in a hill by some shepherds. Here it is in the original:

Then I saw in my dream, that the shepherds had them to another place in a bottom, where was a door on the side of a hill; and they opened the door, and bid them look in. They looked in, therefore, and saw that within it was very dark and smoky; they also thought that they heard there a rumbling noise, as of fire, and a cry of some tormented, and that they smelt the scent of brimstone. Then said Christian, What means this? The shepherds told them, This is a by-way to hell, a way that hypocrites go in at; namely, such as sell their birthright, with Esau; such as sell their Master, with Judas; such as blaspheme the Gospel, with Alexander; and that lie and dissemble, with Ananias and Sapphira his wife.

We're in no doubt that those who turn away from God are destined for hell. Here it is in the McCaughrean retelling.

"What's in there?" asked Hopeful, intrigued."

"Oh, just the way back," said the shepherds..."Do you want to see?"

The shepherds carefully open the door.

No horned demons or impish ghouls streamed out, no bubbling tar. There was just a chute of blackness on the other side, a tunnel falling away into Nothingness, a fast route to Nowhere.

That's not what Bunyan wrote, and it's not even close. You couldn't read Bunyan and conclude that he was an annihilationist, a man who believed that after judgement we simply disappear into oblivion. But by contrast, you can't read this retelling without feeling that the full biblical doctrine of judgement has been not so subtly undercut.

One more thing, and that'll do. You can't read Bunyan's original without ending up knee-deep in Bible quotes by about the second paragraph, all meticulously referenced. They are all gone from this retelling, or only hinted at. Yet the solid ground of Bunyan's story is that, although allegorical, it is bedded down firmly in the truths of Scripture. Without that truth, it's just another (good) story.

There's enough of the grace of the original—and of the Bible—to make this rewritten version a book that could still have value. But I wouldn't buy it for my kids. I'm going to wait a couple of years and put the original Bunyan in their hands. Or maybe, read it with them and appreciate again the rich reminder of God's grace against the backdrop of his real and terrifying judgement of sin.

Another Christmas book—Pilgrim's Progress I

Sitting next to me on the desk here in the office is John Bunyan's A Pilgrim's Progress, retold by Geraldine McCaughrean and illustrated by Jason Cockcroft.

Whenever I read retellings of Pilgrim's Progress it reminds me how much I love the original. The main character, Christian, is a deeply attractive person who struggles with all the normal doubts and fears of a Christian life. He is sometimes easily led astray by shortcuts and apparently wise companions—although with names like Obstinate, Pliable, Mr Worldly Wiseman, Formalist, Hypocrisy, Talkative, or indeed

"Mr. Smooth-man, Mr. Facing-both-ways, Mr. Any-thing; and the parson of our parish, Mr. Two-tongues"

you occasionally think that maybe Christian could've picked up a few more clues (Is anyone else thinking "My name's Smoke-too-much, Mr I-smoke too-much" from Monty Python?)

One of the best parts of the book is where Christian and his friend Hopeful come to a river of deep waters that all must pass through before they attain the Heavenly city, the New Jerusalem. Peter Jensen read from this passage at Bruce Smith's funeral a few years ago:

Hopeful therefore here had much ado to keep his brother’s head above water; yea, sometimes he would be quite gone down, and then, ere a while, he would rise up again half dead. Hopeful did also endeavor to comfort him, saying, Brother, I see the gate, and men standing by to receive us; but Christian would answer, It is you, it is you they wait for; for you have been hopeful ever since I knew you. And so have you, said he to Christian. Ah, brother, (said he,) surely if I was right he would now arise to help me; but for my sins he hath brought me into the snare, and hath left me. Then said Hopeful, My brother, you have quite forgot the text where it is said of the wicked, “There are no bands in their death, but their strength is firm; they are not troubled as other men, neither are they plagued like other men.” Psa. 73:4,5. These troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters, are no sign that God hath forsaken you; but are sent to try you, whether you will call to mind that which heretofore you have received of his goodness, and live upon him in your distresses.

Then I saw in my dream, that Christian was in a muse a while. To whom also Hopeful added these words, Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole. And with that Christian brake out with a loud voice, Oh, I see him again; and he tells me, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.” Isa. 43:2. Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. Christian, therefore, presently found ground to stand upon, and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow. Thus they got over.

Now, upon the bank of the river, on the other side, they saw the two shining men again, who there waited for them. Wherefore, being come out of the river, they saluted them, saying, We are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for those that shall be the heirs of salvation. Thus they went along towards the gate.

Now you must note, that the city stood upon a mighty hill; but the pilgrims went up that hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them up by the arms: they had likewise left their mortal garments behind them in the river; for though they went in with them, they came out without them. They therefore went up here with much agility and speed, though the foundation upon which the city was framed was higher than the clouds; they therefore went up through the region of the air, sweetly talking as they went, being comforted because they safely got over the river, and had such glorious companions to attend them.

John Bunyan writes with insight and sympathy about the fear of death, and because he does this so well, the comforts he offers about the glories and joys of heaven are all the more reassuring. I find it hard to read this passage without tears in my eyes.

Brand New Cold Case retold after being polled

Some of you sharp tacks out there in blogland managed to work out the small problem with this. 'Brand new Cold Case!' was the advert from the breathless voice over on telly last night.

Can you imagine the internecine departmental warfare at Police HQ if there actually was a brand new cold case?

A: I'm sorry but we're not taking this, constable B. It's a brand new cold case. We only do old cold cases here.

B: That's all very well, constable A, but as you can see the file definitely says 'cold case', and we just can't handle it in the 'brand new case' department.

A: No I'm sorry, we are only interested if it involves a lot of money. Old gold cold cases go right to the top of the priority list. We might be able to squeeze this one in if it's a brand new gold cold case. Especially if it involves politicians in the current election campaign. It will then be a brand new gold polled cold case, and we would give it special consideration.

B: I'm sorry?

A: Never mind.

B: Can't you do me a favour on this one?

A: Alright then, I'll go ask my supervisor. Just wait here.

[Ten years elapse]

A: Thanks for waiting. We'll take it now.

By the way, any of you smarty blog readers know what is the difference between an old case and a cold case?

Bicycle time

Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle

I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like

-Queen, 1978.

Hey, what about this for an idea? From today's SMH. You hire a bike from a bike station, you ride it wherever you want to in the city, you drop it in to one of many other bike stations. They're already doing it in Paris. And if they can do it there we can do it here, since the car drivers are no less crazy.

Anyway, do you think Fifi will take the hint I've been dropping and get me an electric bicycle for Christmas?

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Brand New Cold Case

Assuming the third word is true, there is at least one error in this title.

Can you spot it?

Not congregationalist enough!

Tony Payne speaks about how American evangelicals think we're not congregationalist enough, here in Sydney!


I've been told that qualified or generalized writing in the passive voice may not hold interest.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007


I am feeling quite sad at the moment, having just heard news of a separation of a couple who have been married a long time.

May God grant them to remain in his peace and to live in his grace, whatever that now means for them.

You will not taste death! Until...

From a comment on the previous post:

v27 "But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

I don't get it. Even Jesus has tasted death. Unless its a different kingdom?

The verse is difficult, for sure, because the immediate context gives no clue about what "the kingdom of God" exactly refers to. There is a crisis, we know that much, because the words let us know that this thing that has been expected for centuries is now about to happen—even within the lifetime of the hearers.

But what does it mean to "see the kingdom of God"?

As we read further we find that the very next thing that happens is the transfiguration, which serves as a divine confirmation on Peter's confession in 9:20 that, "you are the Christ of God." Then there is the humbling incident of the demon that the disciples (for all the privilege of their position as followers of this Christ) have been unable to dislodge. Both these incidents are, I would say, linked to the confession of the Christ and the challenge that Jesus has laid down to forsake all to follow him.

Then in Luke 9:51, "Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem." This is a major statement by Luke, its importance reinforced just a couple of verses later by repetition (v 53 "the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. ") In fact, this statement governs the next 10 chapters or so, because from now on Jesus is indeed heading towards Jerusalem, where he is to meet his death.

He will die, yes—but all the others who heard Jesus' saying that "there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God" will still be alive, with the possible exception of Judas (See Matt 27:5-8, and also Acts 1:18, neither of which tell you when he died).

So the first candidate, to my mind, for the timing of the coming of the kingdom is Jesus' death in Jerusalem.

This would also explain the urgency of the mission of the disciples then recorded in Luke 10:1-24.

Although come to think of it, when the disciples return from this mission, perhaps the kingdom has already come—noting Luke 10:18, " saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven"; followed up almost immediately by Jesus' acknowledgement:

Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

-Luke 10:23-24

Anyway, maybe this question of timing is like watching a car accident unfold. When is the accident happening? When the car hurtles through the red light at 80 ks? When the other car fails to notice the first car? When the first car, realizing what has happened, begins to swerve and brake? At the point of collision? Or when both cars have come to a screaming standstill?

You could argue that all these events are part of the one accident. In a similar way, you could argue that the miracles and teaching of the Christ; the transfiguration; the mission of the seventy two; the trip to Jerusalem; the rejection by the elders; chief priests and scribes; the killing of Jesus, and his raising on the third day—that these are all part of the single coming of the kingdom of God. It has come, and now we (the angels of God) are preaching it to the nations.

Another verse I don't like

Here's another Bible verse or five that I don't like:

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

-Luke 9:23-27

It is obvious to me that whoever said this needed to get some sound marketing advice about how to effectively grow a religion. And possibly find a good backing band.

Another immigration bungle

This time, a man was wrongfully detained for five-and-a-half years (The Melbourne Age has a fuller version of the same story here). I saw the story of this on Lateline last night, and it was heartbreaking. The man, Tony Tran, was shunted around four different immigration centres over the period while his marriage broke up and his son was placed into foster care. The immigration department at one stage tried to get the son out of Australia and placed into the Korean welfare system. It was just bungle after bungle.

And Mr Tran still doesn't have permanent residency, so could be deported at any time.

I hear many stories that involve similar bungling and hard-heartedness on the part of Immigration and they make me very angry about our current policy and treatment of asylum seekers. To then see election slogans around like 'A strong economy is the centre of everything' makes me less likely rather than more to support a government that comes up with such a mantra while treating weak people in the way it does.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Carless Sydney

An idea whose time has come.

Save the world? I doubt it.

The Sydney Morning Herald is promoting one of its many secular religions:

ON A bonny spring day, three generations of Sydneysiders numbering in their thousands marched to express their concerns about global warming.

Among them was six-year-old Thomas Dimech, who announced their collective aim: "I want to save the planet," he said.

The eco-movement is full of the language of salvation and redemption, and not without reason. That's what is on offer, if you and I work hard enough to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

It's a much easier problem to deal with than the problem of sin in the human heart, and doesn't require much in the way of repentance. Idealism, censoriousness, moralism and a larger-than life cause all rolled into one.

A genuinely Christian response to this religion won't mean either blanket acceptance or blanket rejection of the morality it preaches. But we have some work ahead of us to uncover the toxic ideas that are feeding into it. Save the world? Not by this method!

Tim Challies makes some related observations here in a piece entitled 'Environmentalism—A New Religion'.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Speaking of Christmas—Bethlehem's got talent.

A while ago I mentioned I was drafting a short tract based on the Paul Potts story. So I did, and the result is here.

Click through for the full text, and to order copies.

Jago the illustrator.

After posting about the Jesus Storybook Bible I got a very nice comment from Jago, the illustrator, whose personal blog can be found here.

In it he lets us know that

Jago is an internationally published, award-winning, extremely modest, illustrator of the finest children's picture books. He lives in a wetsuit in Cornwall with his lovely wife Alex and beautiful daughter, Lily Peach.

That must be some wetsuit.

I hope you click through on the link to his blog, because it will give you a lovely sense of how well he uses colour and emotion in his paintings and drawings. That's good because the cover of the Storybook Bible itself doesn't give you the best idea, and feels a little bit cluttered for mine. It's when you open up and read that the charm of the pictures becomes fully apparent.

Jago also provides a number of useful links on his website to other reviews of the Storybook Bible. It is, quite deservedly, already a best-seller, even though it's only been out there for a few months. I believe that as well as being good for Christian parents to use with their children, it is the sort of book that you will be able to give away to non-Christian parents and, unless they have taken a strong ideological set against Christianity, they will be genuinely happy to have and to read to their kids.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

That was lucky

The kitchen was spotless but thankfully, a large, heavy, newly sharpened knife was in the sink just when I needed to grab something to fight the intruder.

On TV.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Children's Christmas recommendations

From the comments on a previous post.

The See With Me Bible is great for pre-readers. The only words are a small summary at the end of each story (which should mostly be ignored). Very detailed pictures help kids to remember the stories really well. It does rely on the 'reader' knowing their bibles.

Candle Bible for Toddlers. One line per page. Simple stories. Lovely pictures. Great for the littlies.

The Lion Storyteller Bible. The author is employed as a storyteller, so the stories are really well written and even include suggestions for some stories for group involvement. The story is over two pages, so better for infants kids than toddlers since there won't be enough page turning for the younger crowd.

Yes, the little ones want to see those pages turned, don't they! I did like your comment that the words in the first one you recommended "should mostly be ignored". I know what you mean.

I'm interested in hearing more from other blog readers, and also why you like what you like.

Reading level of this blog.

cash advance

So come on, all you high-school level readers. What's a 'Noachian redux', eh? Answer me that! Or if not, then back to primary school for you.

I've always thought of myself as a tabloid journalist and this test confirms it.

The Jesus Storybook Bible

After my previous post suggested that most children’s Bibles don’t give you the big Bible picture, I was really happy to pick up another children’s Bible that proved me wrong. To be honest I haven’t been this excited about a book in ages, and I wasn’t expecting to be either, given my random flips through children’s Bibles over the years.

I’m going to go on about this for a bit, so if you don’t like reading long blog entries in multiple parts, then stop now and just get yourself in to Moore Books in King St Newtown having first phoned ahead to make sure that they still have this one in stock.

Or jump onto the net and order more than one. Order more, so that you will have them in time for Christmas, to give to your own children and the children of your friends. Since it only came out this year it is unlikely that they will have their own—but don’t worry, if they do then there will be plenty of grateful parents you can give this away to.

Let’s start at the beginning, which is the cover. It’s a small hardback, nearly square, and it looks like a better quality children’s storybook. The artwork by Jago is quite lovely, and is like the simple artwork that is used in some of my favourite recent fairy story books, or perhaps the work of Pauline Baynes (if you have the opportunity, check her work on Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham or Adventures of Tom Bombadil). The illustration for Goliath in the David story is a hoot. The waves in the storm before Jesus speaks words of calm are shaped like the stylised waves depicted in traditional Oriental art. The Pharisees and Sadducees—boo and hiss—look like they stepped out of the Spanish inquisition, with their Pythonesque blood-red robes and hoods. Fire, water, sky, stars and the green, green grass are textured and the colours are suitably primary where they need to be.

But all this would be worth nothing if the words themselves weren’t up to par. Sally Lloyd-Jones is a natural story-teller, and as well as carrying you along, these stories are funny, friendly, sad, scary, joyful and playful. This from the crossing of the Red Sea:

What were God’s people going to do? In front of them was a big sea. It was so big there was no way around it. But there was no way through it—it was too deep. They didn’t have any boats so they couldn’t sail across. And they couldn’t swim across because it was too far and they would drown. And they couldn’t turn back because Pharaoh was chasing them. They could see the flashing swords now, glinting in the baking sun, and the dust clouds, and chariot after scary chariot surging towards them. So they did the only thing there was left to do—PANIC!

This is better than the kids' Bibles I remember from when I was little.

Next post, I'll get onto theology.

A bucket of snakes

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

-Mark 16:15-18

On textual evidence it's unlikely that these verses are actually a part of the gospel of Mark. The surprising advice about picking up serpents and drinking poison is not found anywhere else in the gospels, although if we look for fulfilment of these words in the rest of the New Testament, Acts 28:1-5 is quite striking.

However, discretion being the better part of valour in the house of Cheng, I confine my snake-handling activities to the worms next to the rainwater tank by the side of the house. This morning it was raining so naturally I was out there with a bucket of vege scraps, poking around the worm farm and rearranging compost in the mud.

I lifted the non-functioning worm farm (the one that doesn't work, as opposed to the two that do) and discovered there a fistful of writhing worms, submerged in about an inch of water.

Now when you speak to worm people or read books about compost they will reassure you that worms, although they don't like water and will drown in it, can swim short distances and get themselves out of danger. You know, the sort of danger that would normally be represented by an inch deep puddle only short wriggles away from lovely loamy well drained soil where many of their worm companions live, or from the easily accessible functioning worm farm not 2 feet away.

But I have noticed this tendency for worms to plunge themselves lemming-like into puddles before; a Noachian redux that lies well within their capacity to avoid.

Anyone else observed this phenomenon? Any theories, fellow composters? Perhaps Mark 16:15-18 is somehow finding fulfilment, despite my shaky faith in the authenticity of these verses, and the non-viperous nature of these tiny serpents.

Advice for a financially distressed husband and young father

A friend of a friend left a comment on that friends' blog, responding to the latest (and undeserved) financial woes the blogger found himself in.

Dude, don't ya just hate that? I get the same sometimes. We don't think rationally about fatherhood/husbandhood when we're under financial pressure. Relax, you are not mis-handling money. I mean, you're not gambling are you? You're not buying grog at the local instead of food for your family are you? Sydney's a VERY expensive city and the first couple of years of marriage, a new job, a new baby on top of that fact mean you really don't need to considered yourself a bad husband and father because of it. Ps 73 is always nice to read at times like this. It's not until about verse 16 or 17 - when he goes into the sanctuary of the LORD that things get much clearer and much more hopeful. I'll be praying for you.

As I read it, it seemed to me a good combination of practicality, sympathy and Christian encouragement; all areas in which I struggle. So I thought I'd preserve the advice here in case it is of help to anyone.

Carbon sequestration—get it right!

I'm impressed with Dr Karl for admitting he got it wrong, misled as he was by Tim Flannery's calculation which was out by a factor of ten.

That's a fairly big 'oops' though, isn't it, if it leads you to reject an entire technology and advise politicians accordingly.

Just as well we found that zero digit in time. Assuming no more mistakes, at least.

The pictures in the Big Picture Bible

Two of my readers asked about or made comments on the illustrations in the Big Picture Story Bible, and fair enough too.

I thought the illustrations were well done and had some interesting theological pointers on the way. The 'God's-eye-view' of people was not something I'd seen often before in a kid's Bible, and I thought that was interesting and potentially useful in a conversation. The pictures were large, colourful, and slightly cartoonish—simplified, without being exaggerated or distorted. I wouldn't say I warmed to them personally, but then the book's not for me is it?

The best way to get a feel for these illustrations is to click through on the link (which is to Amazon) and have a look at excerpts for yourself using the 'Search Inside' function.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Kahlil Gibran, not.

A Moody friend, noting perhaps that too many poems have appeared on this blog recently, sent me this piece...

Expansive and yet vacuous is the prose of Kahlil Gibran,
And weary grows the mind doomed to read it.
The hours of my penance lengthen,
The penance established for me by the editor of this magazine,
And those hours may be numbered as the sands of the desert.
And for each of them Kahlil Gibran has prepared
Another ornamental phrase,
Another faux-Biblical cadence,
Another affirmation proverbial in its intent
But alas! lacking the moral substance,
The peasant shrewdness, of the true proverb.

O Book, O Collected Works of Kahlil Gibran ,
Published by Everyman's Library on a dark day,
I lift you from the Earth to which I recently flung you
When my wrath grew too mighty for me,
I lift you from the Earth,
Noticing once more your annoying heft,
And thanking God-though such thanks are sinful-
That Kahlil Gibran died in New York in 1931
At the age of forty-eight,
So that he could write no more words,
So that this Book would not be yet larger than it is.

My Moody friend tells me it was written by Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The Big Picture Story Bible

Two things made me walk into the bookshop at Moore Theological College in the last few days and emerge with an armful of kids books. One; the first kids’ Bible we ever owned is wearing out (our three girls are 4, 6, and 8 and it has done great service over the years). Two; the principal at Moore, Dr John Woodhouse, had mentioned some books that he thought I ought to be reviewing and top of the list was David Helm’s The Big Picture Story Bible .

And actually, the third reason is that it is not far from Christmas, and now is the time to start stocking up on stocking fillers that may actually help my girls spiritually, not just feed their materialism.

At any rate, blog readers who are into this sort of thing will hopefully also benefit from that armload of books, since this is the first in a series of maybe half-a-dozen reviews of Christian children’s books that I plan to post both here and on the Matthias Media website in the next few weeks.

Top of the list is the one I just mentioned, David Helm’s Big Picture Story Bible. And yep, the pictures are big, and the book is too, though not too big for manhandling at the dinner table. The parental reader will appreciate the size of both book and illustrations when faced with the regular complaint “I can’t see!” Because this one, you can see (so sit quietly!).

But the real reason this particular Big Picture Bible is so well-named is that it actually does provide, in the course of 26 parts, the Big Bible Picture. It begins with an explanation of Adam and Eve as made in the image of God, ruling over the world (and incidentally shows one of the few pictures I have seen where there is more than one lousy tree in the garden during the conversation with the snake, who is clearly identified as Satan). The promises to Abraham are clearly explained and referred to in the rest of the Story Bible. David receives the promise that a son of his will be the ‘forever King’, and once again, the story from this point on reminds the children hearing the story that we are looking forward to the one who will fulfil these promises. The Passover and temple sacrifices are explained and provide the groundwork for understanding that the Lord Jesus, who is the ‘forever King’ promised, is also the one who offers a sacrifice for sin and dies in our place. His bodily resurrection is clearly taught, along with his divinity and the power of the (divine) Holy Spirit.

Nor does this Bible shy away from the notion of divine judgement as God’s kingly rule, taught and anticipated from the very beginning of the Bible, is established through the preaching of the disciples. In this version of Revelation, John “saw the holy room of God and the throne where Jesus sits. He saw the place of hell for everyone who rejects Jesus as God’s king. He even saw Satan crushed forever.”

Most kid's Bibles line up one story after another like pearls on a string. Great treasures, but really their order could be rearranged with no great harm to the final necklace. But this is not true of the Bible read by grown-ups, where the story of God’s promises unfold until they are fulfilled in Christ. The great strength of this children’s Bible is that, almost uniquely amongst children’s Bibles, the big Bible Picture is clearly taught.

For the Cheng family at least, we have found another Bible for our children to wear out.

Christian books for children

This morning Fifi and I got into car, drove the girls to preschool and school and headed in to Newtown. We had brunch, and then went to Moore Books. There I proceeded to load up on children's books with the dual purpose of keeping the girls in books at Christmas time—eek!—and picking up some things I could review for purposes of my day job at Matthias Media.

I am about to try and bang out a few hundred words on the Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm, recommended to me by John Woodhouse, the principal of Moore College, when I was asking him about books to review.

Also on the review 'to do' list:

Ten Girls who changed the World by Irene Howat.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (ed. Katherine Lindskoog)

The Children's Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.

The Lion Storyteller Bible

The Nativity Play by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen (that's the Kipper the Dog people, if you know the TV show).

Read-Aloud Bible Stories Vol 1. by Ella K. Lindvall.

John Bunyan's A Pilgrim's Progress retold by Geraldine McCaughrean.

What is Heaven Like? by Beverley Lewis.

My main interest here is going to be theological. If you have other kid's books that you think are terrific, mention them in the comments on this post. Yes, Yes, I've heard of Narnia!

Tuesday, 6 November 2007


A German friend told me on Sunday that the German theological students who read Karl Barth become universalists.

A bald generalization, no doubt, but having read a bit of Barth myself it is easy to see the temptation. Barth is full of gracious-seeming trapdoors.


I loved you – and my love, I think, was stronger
Than to be quite extinct within me yet;
But let it not distress you any longer;
I would not have you feel the least regret.
I loved you bare of hope and of expression,
By turns with jealousy and shyness sore;
I loved you with such purity, such passion
As may God grant you to be loved once more.

-Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin

(thanks to sandra j)

"Religion does have a role in politics"

Here's quite a good opinion piece on the subject in today's Age, entitled "Religion does have a role in politics".

It's by the religion editor for the Age, Barney Zwartz, who is also a keen evangelical Presbyterian.

Sydney following Melbourne

Sydney, in a move approximating civilization, is doing what Melbourne has done for years. Nice.

Fear in a handful of dust

There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu.
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?

-From The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot, 1922.


Thanks Matt. I don't know why I found this quite as amusing as I did, but I laughed a lot.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Peace in a cup of tea

Peace in a cup of tea
is what I am seeking.

If I find it I will tell you.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Early morning work, the Jews and Hitler

Woke up sometime after four am, and finished off a near-final draft of some Bible studies on Romans 6-11.

It is pretty clear to me, reading these chapters, that God has not given up on his Old Testament promises to the Jewish people. And that the rest of us non-Jews should in no way be complacent or smug when we consider the dire straits that the Jews have experienced in the last 2000 years.

In an effort to illustrate some of the more rebarbative attitudes, I briefly looked up some of the things that Hitler had said in Mein Kampf. I won't quote them here, they are readily available in too many places.

I was reminded that one of the most frightening things about Hitler was that he was so clear, direct and compelling as a communicator. Reading quotes from him is like reading quotes from Martin Luther. He is direct. He is stark. He invokes not only the forces of politics but the forces of heaven and earth, God and Satan.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Public transport 'round Sydney

It could work, you know, it really could.

As this article in today's SMH points out. We have a number of suburban centres that mean you don't have to travel far in Sydney to get stuff you need, despite the overall geographical sprawl.

Neither State Labor nor State Liberal governments in recent decades have served us well on this. But State Labor of recent times has dropped the bundle, multiple times.

P.G. Wodehouse

Unseen, in the background, Fate was quietly slipping the lead into the boxing gloves.

-P.G. Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves,1930.

This is an average quote used to introduce a boring article in today's SMH.

But Wodehouse! Read him while you yet can!

In an adolescence spent reading Billy Bunter, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, he shone like a literary star in a dark generation. And he was funny! The one that sticks in my memory was the book where they were running a sweepstakes on how many minutes the sermon would run for in the local village churches on a particular Sunday. They had a dead cert for under 10 minutes, but at the last minute an over-enthusiastic curate had to step into the breach...

Thank you, Epping Public Library.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Gospel growth conference panel discussion

Noah's excellent live blogging of this conference continues with this panel discussion between Phillip Jensen, Tony Payne and Mark Dever.

Conventional music

I recently attended one of those conferences that makes you glad to be a Christian living in Sydney. It was run by the Katoomba Convention people, who stand in the tradition of the great English Keswick convention movement that has spawned offshoots and imitators in many parts of the world, not just Sydney.

What I love about the Katoomba conventions are that for sheer quality of Bible teaching, they almost invariably hit the mark. It’s quite astonishing really, as there are so many other situations in life where you feel you’ve blown your money and worse, your time. The take-away food places that end with uncomfortable moments in the smallest room. The movie that you know five minutes in is going to be a waste of time, but there you are trapped to the bitter end with your friends. I mean come on—the third Lord of the Rings movie could have ended 45 minutes early and only the two people who weren’t sleeping would have complained.

But in the twenty plus years I’ve been to Katoomba, I’ve never felt let down and I’ve often come away exhilarated and excited by the power of God’s word, powerfully expressed.

The recent ENGAGE conference, with speakers Justin Moffat and Chris Chia addressing workers’ issues from Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah and other parts of the Bible was no exception. The most spectacular surprise was the music, which was brilliantly led, technically tight up-to-date and with carefully thought through words and some stellar renditions of new tunes to the old words of some glorious hymns. Not a false start or technical glitch in sight. No in-jokes amongst the musicians. No sermonettes from the song leaders. Only half a hint of a PowerPoint slip-up, but even that is, in my book, a cause for rejoicing. I was transported.

My only problem is where I was transported to. I can be quite specific, actually. I was transported back, in my mind and heart, to the Hillsong Annual Convention at Homebush Bay, Sydney 2006. Hillsong 2006, where the medium was the message, where speaker after speaker happily contradicted themselves and each other, and at the end of the day, it was all just one glorious delightful party with a great big hole in the centre where you would normally expect the theology to be fitted—and a large, almost unfilled absence where you would expect the cross and the atonement to be.

‘Right…’ some discerning reader will respond. ‘So you’re telling me that you went to a conference where the music was every bit as good as Hillsong, on a lower budget and with all the theological problems fixed, along with good speakers and great coffee. Doesn’t that mean…er…that it was a good conference?’

Well, yes, it does. It really does.

But here’s my two niggles worth.

The first niggle is that the antennae go up when I get the sense that we as Bible-believing Christians are being led down a path by an organization (Hillsong) where the gospel, if not completely absent, has receded a very long way into the background. Are we, Bible-believing Christians, running our music this way because that is how Hillsong is doing it?

There are a number of indications that we are. In the case of this conference, one not insignificant indication was that the whole style, sound, volume and appearance of the music was the same (not the words. Thank you God, not the words!) And especially when one of the key organizers of this convention, a man I respect greatly, tells me that ‘yes, we are in competition with Hillsong. We are aiming for the same market.’

Nothing necessarily wrong with that, of course. But if it is true, then it is at least worth asking ourselves a serious question. As we pursue headlong this great glittering prize of music that lifts and inspires our souls, and as we try to do it at least as well as ‘those people over there’, are there any traps that we may have stumbled into?

For me that question has been asked but not yet satisfactorily answered, and that is a concern.

The other niggle is much easier to name and claim. I loved the music and I loved the songs at this conference, and enjoyed it far more than at many other conferences I have been to, certainly including Hillsong 2006.

So why was I getting more and more annoyed? It struck me that my annoyance was not at the musicians at all, but that I (possessed of a singing voice that is probably too loud) couldn’t even hear myself shout. And being a man who loves the sound of his own voice, that bothered me. I certainly couldn’t hear the voices of the two people on either side of me, or anyone else for that matter—apart from the clear and beautiful voices of the singers on stage.

So I stopped singing, and promptly discovered that I was no longer annoyed. I loved the experience of the convention music, when I learned to treat it as a really well put together Christian music concert.

Which is a problem. Because if there’s one thing that the Bible is clear about when it comes to singing, it’s that the words we sing as a congregation, when we sing them are addressed to each other. Here’s Paul writing to the Ephesians:

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart…” (Ephesians 5:18-19)

Now don’t get me wrong here. The words of the songs at the convention were crystal clear, aided by the fact that as they were being sung they were being projected onto the screen in front of us (although I now can’t remember the words, and I have no easy way of referring back to them, which is an advantage of the old hymn books over the new technology). And it’s clear that I was indeed being addressed by the singers and songleaders.

But what I managed to lose somewhere in all the technical excellence—and let’s face it, the juiced-up volume—was the sense that we as a congregation were there to edify each other by what we sang to each other, and to God.

It was still a great, rockin’, foot-stompin’, Bible teachin’ convention. And I am going to be encouraging others to go along next year to hear Don Carson and Mark Driscoll. But part of me is a little anxious about where parts of this are heading, and why.

Matthias Media conference right now, in the US

Most of you know that I work for Matthias Media. Right now the US branch of Matthias Media (Marty!) is helping run a 'church growth vs gospel growth' conference featuring Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne from here, and Mark Dever of 9 Marks ministries from there.

There's a good detailed blog about it from one of the participants, and the latest update is here. Check it out! Will appeal to Oz patriots and Calvinists alike.

The "prayer" of "St Francis"

Does anyone else dislike this piece of kitsch as much as I do? Anyway, I subjected the longsuffering members of another forum to this rant, so you blog readers might as well get it too:

The prayer was discovered (and possibly written) anonymously in 1912. As the wiki article on it notes (you can find the words there too), the prayer has been used and promoted by Roman Catholics, although it has become popular in other circles.

It is an essentially Christ-free poem that makes the individual pray-er the focus of God's work on earth, and where the true source of grace—the cross—has been eclipsed. In its place, I have become the channel of God's grace and the one whose work will bring knowledge of God.

There are a few other surprises in it, too. It is news to me, for example that I will be the one who brings about "true faith in you", as the ditty purports to request.

Like many fluffy and ambiguous hymns and choruses that we tend to sing in churches today, a good lawyer could probably get it off the charge of semi-pelagianism by appealing to the ambiguity and general vagueness of almost all of the words. "He didn't mean it, yer honour. In fact, he didn't mean anything." On these grounds, of course, most of our TV advertising and jingles could be sung in church with only the slightest of tweaking.

eg. ‘Oh what a feeling! Lord Jesus!’ might well be sung to the tune of the Toyota ad.

It's my slightly belated Reformation Day wish that we might extirpate this pseudepigraphal prayer of St Francis from all Protestant hymnody and, incidentally, from the walls of some of the houses of our elderly aunts, where it sits in all its cheesy needlepointed or tea-towelled glory under a picture of those praying monkish hands.