Wednesday, April 27, 2011

turning ninety

I join the multitude of people across the time zones who will this day be thanking God for John Stott on this his 90th birthday.

I cannot be as intimate or as profound as many but his impact on my life nonetheless has been enormous. The Apostle Paul once said "follow me, as I follow Christ." It seems OK to have models and heroes if emulating their lives draws us further into a likeness to Christ. This is how it has been for me. Some people evoke an aspiration that lies more deeply than mere inspiration. I have found John Stott to be one such person. The world has enough inspiration in it. If anything the church is over-inspired. What we need are more people who we can aspire to be like - simply because they carry that whiff of Jesus about them.

John Stott, aspiration and Christlikeness? A handful of qualities immediately drop into my mind (and I mean 'immediately'!):

his humility
It is the sweetest grace of all and John Stott has more of it than anyone else I have ever experienced. Just one little example will suffice. What about all those efforts to answer every single letter that came to him - including my own note to thank him for The Cross of Christ? To attend to these sorts of letters says something ...

his generosity
Imagine giving away all the royalties from your writings to fund PhD scholarships for young leaders from the developing world? As a young man I was so impacted by that discovery. So counter-cultural - and so strategic (as the 300+ recipients all around the world over the past 40 years will tell you).

his simplicity
I am counted among the myriad of people who have enjoyed breakfast with John Stott in his flat in London. I remember almost nothing of the content of the conversation and everything of the starkness of the context. He lived so simply. I guess on that occasion the medium eclipsed the message...

his clarity
From those first compelling moments at Urbana '79 when I heard him preach and through all his writings/sermons since it is his clarity that wins me over again and again. He is not so much clever with the Word as he is clear with it. He takes a biblical passage and goes 'tap, tap, tap' and it just breaks open so easily.

his memory
Oh - that ability to remember names. In my travels this is what is mentioned most. People are so impacted by it. This is why I have said to students over the years "Don't sit there telling me you are no good with names - get good with names. It is that critical." Once when Stott was making this point at a pastors' conference, someone piped up, "But there are hundreds of people in my church - how can I possibly remember all their names?" A little pause. A little peek over the half-rimmed glasses. "You might start by praying for them by name." Those in the know recognise that to be a word of personal testimony.

Interestingly, John Stott's last message (at 87 years of age?) was on Christlikeness - watch a bit of it here. A simple biography has been written recently by Roger Steer. The UK edition is titled Inside Story, while the US title is Basic Christian. The ideal place for the Stottian novice to commence!

If you wish to experience something of the clarity of his teaching travel no further than his commentary on the Book of Acts. Alternatively, you might consider going to the All Souls website and feasting on hundreds of Stott's sermons, downloadable for free.

Of his books The Cross of Christ is tops. I remember my consternation when I had to order it for the Carey library after I commenced there as Principal :).

Rather sadly, John Stott made very few visits to New Zealand, with the last one being maybe as far back as the 1970s. I do find that Kiwis can understate the significance of his influence as a result. And yet in 2005 TIME magazine identified him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world - in the subsection titled "Heroes & Icons". Billy Graham concludes his little piece on Stott by writing, "He represents a touchstone of authentic biblical scholarship that, in my opinion, has scarcely been paralleled since the days of the 16th century European Reformers." That is such a big call - but how could it possibly be challenged? It is true.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Sunday, April 24, 2011

stott and carson, lausanne and gospel coalition

When it comes to naming the biggest influences on my life, the task is easy. No human beings are more responsible for the shaping of my convictions than John Stott and DA Carson. It is a dead heat - and I am forever grateful. In my impressionable early twenties these two men helped me build my foundations for life.

I had 6-8 MDiv classes at TEDS with a much younger Don Carson. His ongoing pastoral and prayerful interest in me and my family has been gracious and humbling. As a 20yr old I heard Stott expound Romans ch1-5 and as I sat transfixed by it all, I discovered my own calling for life. I am one of many who has had breakfast with him in his flat (March 1984!) - and years later I find myself working in the organisation which he has founded.

So I am a privileged chap, aren't I?!
It has been interesting to follow these two men over the years.

In recent weeks both men have been honoured by their friends with publications. Chris Wright has edited John Stott: a portrait by his friends - in time for Stott's 90th birthday later this week. See the review by All Souls' staff member, Mark Meynell, here. Don Carson has had a Festschrift handed to him earlier this month. It is called Understanding the Times: New Testament Studies in the 21st Century. There is a lovely piece written here by his friend, John Woodbridge, to mark the occasion.

And now - in 2011 - their fingerprints can be seen on two organisations whose reach is increasingly global.

John Stott has been at the heart of the Lausanne movement since it commenced in 1974 and his DNA can still be seen in their latest publication, The Capetown Commitment, available here as a pdf - and here, if you like having a little book in your hand. I read it through on a recent flight from Hong Kong to Auckland. It is impressive, ideal for personal study, or small group discussion, or even the basis of a sermon series in a local church.

The subtitle is "a confession of faith and a call to action" and this provides the structure to the booklet. Part One affirms "the Lord we love" and works its way through various things "we love" in a confessional way: the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the Word, the world, the gospel etc.
Part Two affirms the "world we serve". John Stott would be so pleased with this! The coverage of topics is remarkable: the arts, emerging technologies, the media, ethnic conflict, the poor, people with disabilities, creation, oral cultures, slavery, children, other religions, leadership, cities, "disordered sexuality", power, success, greed, men and women, prosperity gospel, theological education etc - like I say, it is very impressive in its attempt to capture what God is saying to the global church through the Lausanne movement. If I was still pastoring a local church, I'd make it the focus of a day-long retreat for all staff and ministry leaders - asking "what is the Spirit saying to our church through this statement?"

A random quote?
"All children are at risk. There are two billion children in our world and half of them are at risk from poverty. Millions are at risk from prosperity. Children of the wealthy and secure have everything to live with, but nothing to live for."

A random omission?
I was surprised that there was not a more searching critique of patriotism and the way nationhood is an obstacle to the 'committed internationalism' so advocated by John Stott.

Don Carson is at the heart of the rapidly growing Gospel Coalition movement in the United States - with a breathtaking website that is appreciated all around the world. If you haven't already, do some surfing. It is a-mazing. They just had their gathering earlier this month and so the site is full of new material. If you surf carefully you will come across two documents under "About Us" - a Confessional Statement and a Theological Vision for Ministry - with its focus on epistemological, hermeneutical and contextualisation issues, together with practical implications. These absorbing statements have no little Carsonian DNA in them! So much is just brilliant.
If I was still teaching in a theological college I would rush to include an assignment that compares and contrasts these two statements with the Capetown Commitment. It would be a fascinating study into the streams of evangelicalism today.

A random quote - or three?
"To eliminate the propositional nature of biblical truth seriously weakens our ability to hold, defend, and explain the gospel. But to speak of truth only as propositions weakens our appreciation of the incarnate Son as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the communicative power of narrative and story, and the importance of truth as living truly in correspondence to God."

"Reading “along” the whole Bible. To read along the whole Bible is to discern the single basic plot–line of the Bible as God’s story of redemption (e.g., Luke 24:44) as well as the themes of the Bible (e.g., covenant, kingship, temple) that run through every stage of history and every part of the canon, climaxing in Jesus Christ ... (and) Reading “across” the whole Bible. To read across the whole Bible is to collect its declarations, summons, promises, and truth–claims into categories of thought (e.g., theology, Christology, eschatology) and arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches summarily."

"The gospel itself holds the key to appropriate contextualization. If we over–contextualize, it suggests that we want too much the approval of the receiving culture. This betrays a lack of confidence in the gospel. If we under–contextualize, it suggests that we want the trappings of our own sub–culture too much. This betrays a lack of gospel humility and a lack of love for our neighbor."

It is brilliant stuff.

A random omission - or two?
As the logo above suggests, it has a very 'NA' identity - North American, with a little bit of North Atlantic thrown in. That just does not cut it in terms of what God is doing around the world. Is it wise, or just, to pour so much energy and resourcing into a movement so narrowly focused?

And I find the niche which women occupy - or don't occupy, as is the case - to be regrettable. Many people will shut their ears to so much good stuff simply because of this. Again - it is more narrowly defined than is necessary. So not just ethnicity - but also gender. One of the most breathtaking discoveries on the website is to go to "About Us" and click on "Council Members" and scroll through the photos (on and on it goes) of 52 men and no women! For the record the key sentences in the Confessional Statement affirm the following:

"In the ministry of the church, both men and women are encouraged to serve Christ and to be developed to their full potential in the manifold ministries of the people of God. The distinctive leadership role within the church given to qualified men is grounded in creation, fall, and redemption and must not be sidelined by appeals to cultural developments."

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

the glorious south

It has been fun to spend a few days travelling with Jonathan & Margaret Lamb (Director, Langham Preaching - and so he is my boss!) around the south of the South Island, my ol' stomping ground - and revisiting the places I love...

like the wakatipu basin

and arrowtown

and milford

and st bathan's

and the lindis pass

and the ida valley

and the cookie monster

and seeing that water again (even at the end of a bungy cord - something I was doing thoroughly and completely vicariously)

nice chatting


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

ecclesiastes reloaded

How ironic is this?!

It is in Ecclesiastes that we find the celebrated quotation - "of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body (Ecc 12.12)." And then it is yet another commentary on this very same 2500 year old Ecclesiastes which demonstrates the value of even more wearisome study and the publishing of even more books...

Maybe I am a behind the times and you already know this. But Craig Bartholomew's commentary on Ecclesiastes is breathtaking.

Yes, I know that is a strong word to use for a boring commentary, but it is true. I've been reading commentaries on Ecclesiastes - the first biblical book I took seriously as a Bible teacher - for more than twenty years. The exegesis from Bartholomew is so refreshing. For example, with the allegory in 12.1-7 he suggests that "Qoheleth clearly has something much larger in mind than old age and death (348 - not many evangelicals have gone there in recent times)..." OR take his way of translating hebel/meaningless as "enigmatic" because the word "does not indicate that there is no meaning but that it appears ungraspable or incomprehensible ... (and so) 'enigmatic' leaves open the possibility of meaning (93-94)" - and for this reason 'meaningless' carries the wrong nuance.

In the introductory pages, Bartholomew's discussion of the genre of Ecclesiastes (61-81) is a highlight which I am still absorbing. Then there is "Reading Ecclesiastes within the Context of Proverbs and Job and Its Connection to the Torah" (84-93); the four crucial pages on the "Message" of Ecclesiastes (93-96, arguably the best pages to read first); and "Ecclesiastes and the New Testament" (96-99).

Then what about his Postscript? It is titled "Postmodernism, Psychology, Spiritual Formation, and Preaching" (375-389). Say no more! No - I'll say one more thing ... He closes the commentary with a quotation from a Philip Jenkins' book (the very one I reviewed a few weeks ago). How cool is that?

However the undisputed heavyweight highlight of the commentary is the way he takes off the handbrake in the sections entitled "Theological Implications". In here he wanders and imagines his way all over the place. While some of it is pretty philosophical, given his desire to engage the 'autonomous epistemology' of Qoheleth, the scenery of the places where he roams is spectacular. Let me try to capture this for you by listing some of the names which appear in the footnotes of these sections:

Langdon Gilkey to David Bosch to Jacques Ellul to Anne Lamott to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Oscar Romero to Paul Ricoeur to Henri Nouwen to Eugene Peterson to Karl Barth to Elie Wiesel to John Paul II to Karl Popper to Hans-Georg Gadamer ... and those are only some of the ones I recognised!

Like I say, it is breathtaking...

nice chatting


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

the cup doth not runneth over - yet

You'd think that this child of India would be ecstatic about India winning the cricket World Cup. [The only other time they won it was the only time I didn't follow it, immersed as I was in theological study in Chicago - a long way from cricket and a long time before the internet...]

No - I can't say that I am ecstatic.

While I wouldn't begrudge the luminous Sachin a World Cup, I do begrudge the way Indian cricket controls world cricket and I fear that this will become worse now. The global game is desperate for an ICC with FIFA-like power in the face of the Indian BCCI. They seem to have a UN Security Council-like veto on all decisions - but they are the only country with that veto! It compromises the integrity of the game when India can rig the quarters and the semis to ensure they have home games. That is just a joke. And why is it that the ICC can't force the BCCI to align with everyone else and use the umpire review system? Maybe now that Sachin had nine lives in the semis, they may rethink their position ... and I am no fan of the IPL either. But don't get me started. It is chewing-gum cricket - tasty and vigorous for awhile, but you spit it before too long AND it is ruining the game in countries with limited cricket wealth. Oops - I just got started.

So I am a bit of a grumpy sod at the moment.
[I guess I could spend more time watching Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls to lift my sporting spirits...] But also things have brightened considerably as I have contemplated the make-up of the NZ team which will win the World Cup in 2015. It goes like this:

1. Martin Guptill
He will be entering his prime, only made riper with John Wright's guidance.

2. Brendon McCullum
While I thought about dropping him down the order, I am confident that Wright will get inside the head of someone who can hit a patient test double century in India AND hit a blistering Twenty20 century against Australia. It is the combo that we need.

3. Daniel Flynn
I am a big fan - and I reckon he has a second coming coming. And a leftie as well.

4. Ross Taylor
He could well be regarded as one of the top three ODI batsmen in the world by 2015.

5. Jesse Ryder
For all his personal problems, he has a stillness about his batting which will be ideal at #5.

6. Kane Williamson
Yep, in four years time he'll be the one able to adapt his game to anything from short singles to hitting over the top - and as a future captain he will demonstrate the mental toughness needed to bat at #6 in ODI cricket.

7. Nathan McCullum
He never lets NZ down and as the older brother he'll want to play for as long as possible and at 34 he'll be ready for a swan song in 2015.

8. Daniel Vettori
Yep - long before the media mentioned it today, I was thinking similar thoughts. I reckon he'll focus on Test cricket for 2-3 years (maybe intent on becoming the first person to take 500 wickets and score 5000 runs?) - but when 2015 rolls around he'll remember that he is a far better ODI bowler than he is a Test bowler and the lure of being on a World Cup winning side at home will be too much for him. He'll be back.

9. Tim Southee
I've always been a believer - and next time around he'll be that much better and two places higher in the batting order, contributing as a batsman as well.

10. Neil Wagner
A leftie - and he is quick, with South African DNA. That'll do me just fine.

11. Adam Milne
I hope he doesn't go the way of so many before him: young quickies bowling too much, too fast, too early and disappearing too quickly. But pushing 150kph at 18 years of age?! Here's hoping...

12. Doug Bracewell
If there is a Bracewell with skill hanging around, you gotta put him in - because you'll get plenty of attitude in the package.

nice chatting - oh, yes it was!