Sunday, 14 November 2010


Australian Biblical Scholar Honoured
Recently a Presentation Dinner was held at the PTC to honour noted Australian Biblical scholar and author William (Bill) Dumbrell for his significant contribution to Australian Biblical scholarship (including teaching at the PTC). Bill has helped generations of students and readers to see how the Bible fits together. An Everlasting Covenant: Biblical and Theological Essays Presented to William J. Dumbrell is edited by John Davies and Allan Harman and published by the Reformed Theological Review in its Supplement Series.
This volume of studies, organised around the theme of covenant, includes contributions from Australian and overseas scholars (former students and colleagues of Bill's), including several PTC staff and postgrads (Steven Coxhead, John Davies, John McClean and Joe Mock).
It is available from RTR, PO Box 635, Doncaster, Vic., Australia 3108. $35 plus $3 postage in Australia (Asia $8.80; elsewhere $13).

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Bavinck on the Trinity

"The moment monotheism is not supported by the doctrine of the Trinity, it risks losing its purity, being threatened by pantheism or monism, on the one hand, and by polytheism and pluralism, on the other." Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2. God and Creation J. Bolt, ed. ; J. Vriend, trans. (Baker Academic, 2004), 119.

A great insight. Without the doctrine of the Trinity the pressure for unity will force us to include all things in God, or the pressure for diversity will lead us to splinter our idea of God. Only the doctrine of the Trinity allows a view of God who is both the transcendent and immanent Creator, the source of both unity and diversity.

Wilberforce's 'A Practical View' - Get to Know the Classics this Monday night

It's Federal Election season in Australia, and one of the issues that has already arisen is the relevance of 'religion' (or irreligion!) to political policy and action. How timely - for this coming Monday night my topic in Get to Know the Classics is William Wilberforce and his A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes of This Country Contrasted With Real Christianity published in 1797.



OK: the title is not pithy, but the topic is vital. How should evangelical Christians act on their personal Christian convictions when they reach the 'public square'? We know that Wilberforce - 'the conscience of England' in his time - did act, and left a lasting legacy. Having studied his life and times in the last few weeks, it seems clear to me that the world in which we live today would not be as it is, but for God's work through this man, and the other like-minded men and women who surrounded him.


Could it be that Wilberforce and his book might still have something to say to us - even to challenge us - in our own day?



Here are some quotations from Wilberforce and others about his intentions and achievements in A Practical View.

'The subject is of infinite importance; do not let it be driven out of our minds by the rush of life and the empty pleasures. Soon this present scene, with all its cares and gaieties, will be rolled away, and we will all stand before God’s judgment seat’ (Romans 14:10). This awful consideration prompts the writer to express himself with greater freedom and justifiable frankness, and will, he trusts, secure him a serious and patient reading.



'If what is stated appears needlessly austere and rigid, the writer would ask not to be condemned, without a fair examination as to whether or not his statements accord with Scripture' [William Wilberforce, Introduction as printed in the 1885 edition]

'I deem it the most valuable and important publication of the present age… I shall be glad to look to you (at least to your book)… to strengthen my motives for running the uncertain remainder of my race with alacrity.' [John Newton]



'[A Practical View has given me]… unspeakable comfort… If I live, I shall thank Wilberforce for having sent such a book into the world.' [Edmund Burke having spent most of his final two days reading it]


[For the first time I] understood the vital character of personal religion, the corruption of the human heart and the way of salvation through Jesus Christ' [Legh Richmond, leading evangelical, about his reading of the book when he was a somewhat worldly curate on the Isle of Wight]


The story of Wilberforce is both inspiring and instructive, and my goal for Monday night is to give you a hearty feed of both.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Sex: the Bible says go for it

I've been at the Religion in the Public Square Colloquium in Melbourne over the last few days. It was a well conceived and executed event. Two of the presentations on sex have made it to the front page of the Age today. Kamal Weerakoon and his mother Patricia presented on the support of recent studies for the biblical view of sex and Melinda Tankard Reist spoke about the sexualisation of children. Have a look at the article here.

Scott Rae was the keynote speaker and did a great job. He will be at PTC this week - and it is not too late to book for Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Seminars for Christian Leaders

Places like PTC often have visiting scholars doing lectures and seminars for students, faculty, theology graduates and a few others who are interested. It is exciting to be running something quite different. Dr. Scott Rae a leading Christian ethicist is visiting PTC in July, and we are hosting two events for Christians leaders in health and business. These are for "lay" leaders (though of course all God's people are part of the "layity" since the word just means "people" and ordination does not mean that you graduate from God's people to a new class of being!) Ministers and theology students are not invited to these seminars (well, they can come if they wish, but we hope the rooms will be packed both times with people who work on the coal face).

On Tuesday, 27th of July at 7:30-9:30pm at the PTC Scott Rae will hold a seminar for Christian health professionals on "Dealing with Euthanasia". The next morning, Wednesday 28th of July, there is a breakfast for Christians who work in business, the corporate world and government at the Burwood RSL across the road from PTC. The evening seminar costs $30 (student discount $15) and the breakfast is $35.

Invitations with more details are available in the events section of the PTC website.

Scott Rae is Professor of Christian Ethics, Talbot School of Theology, California. His primary interests are medical ethics and business ethics, dealing with the application of Christian ethics to medicine and the marketplace. He has authored The Ethics of Commercial Surrogate Motherhood; Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics; Brave New Families: Biblical Ethics and Reproductive Technologies; and Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics, Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics (Zondervan 1995), “Calling, Vocation and Business,” Religion and Liberty (Nov‐Dec. 2004): 6‐8 and “Money Matters—Ethics in the Workplace, MHEDA Journal (May 2005). He is co‐editor of Beyond Integrity: A Judeo-Christian Approach to Business Ethics (Zondervan, 2004, 2nd ed).

Friday, 14 May 2010

Strange reporting!

In the Sydney Morning Herald today there is a very sad story about a priest in Newcastle Anglican Diocese defrocked for sexual misconduct. Part of the reporting struck me as extremely strange. The reporters claim that although there were no criminal charges "church doctrine dictates sexual relations between a priest and anyone else must be sanctioned by the hierarchy". Now that seems odd, doesn't it? Surely no Christian church has a process of approving sexual relations outside of marriage. In very liberal churches committed same sex relationships may be accepted: but that is different to the "hierarchy" approving a sexual relationship.

The Diocese professional standards say what I would expect a church to say "You are to be chaste and not engage in sex outside of marriage and not engage in disgraceful conduct of a sexual nature". However the standards also say “If you intend to make physical contact with another adult or speak to them about a sexual matter you should... seek permission.” Commonly in professional standards this simply means that if you are going to put your arm around an adult parishioner at a funeral to comfort them you should say “do you mind if I give you a hug?” or if you are going to demonstrate how to participate in a children's game you should seek the child’s permission by saying “do you mind if I put my hands on your shoulders.” Perhaps the reporters have completely (and bizarrely) misinterpreted this guideline (and called it church doctrine!)

The reporters seem to have no idea that Christians believe that "do not commit adultery" still applies. Here's some more proof that we live in a post-Christian society. In terms of sexual ethics we are counter-cultural. So counter-cultural that it seems that two journalists from Sydney's leading newspaper cannot comprehend a Christian framework.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Missional Church


"Missional Church" is a hot topic at present, and almost everyone in church leadership says that they are committed to church being 'missional'. But what does the term mean? And what implications does it actually have for how we understand church and, more importantly, how we live as a church? Like lots of these kind of terms, "missional" has a history and comes from a specific discussion. A key figure in the development of missional thought about church is Leslie Newbigin (1909-1998), a Church of Scotland missionary in India who, in light of his Indian experience, challenged the churches of Europe to give up the idea that they lived in Christendom and to start thinking and acting as missionary churches.

On 25th May PTC will host a lecture on Missional Church entitled "For the sake of the world: a missional ecclesiology" by Mike Goheen from Trinity Western University in Canada. Mike is a popular speaker in North America on the topic and is a well published author. His PhD was a study of the theology of Leslie Newbigin. I am expecting that Mike's lecture will be worth hearing for at least three reason. First, he will get beyond 'missional' being a cliche and explain what the term means for people who have taken Newbigin seriously and show how it actually challenges what we think about church (not just giving us a new name for old practices). Second, Mike brings a distinctively Reformed view of the issue. Third, he won't leave the discussion in the realm of 'theory' but will talk about how it should change church life.

For a fascinating afternoon reflecting on church and God's mission and the implications for our churches join us at PTC. The lecture will run from 2-3:15pm and will be followed by afternoon tea. The cost is $10, simply pay at the door.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

"I said you are gods"

There is a great series of posts over at Berith Road on the intriguing text in John 10:34 "I said you are gods" in its context and against its OT and ANE background. This issue has been doing the rounds of the blogs lately, and I find Steven’s the most insightful treatment and one that underscores the uniquely divine-messianic role of Jesus. There is also a couple of good follow-up posts relating to divine postures of sitting and standing. Well worth a read.

Monday, 19 April 2010

New Lecturers Nominated

Some exciting news about staffing for PTC is now public. The two nominated lecturers both have strong connections with PTC, one was a part-time lecturer in the 1990's, the other is a current student. They both bring great strengths in their respective areas.

The executive of the Theological Education Committee Executive (the governing board of the PTC) has nominated Murray Smith and David Burke to be full-time lecturers at the PTC. These nominations need to be endorsed by the Standing Committee of the Theological Education Committee (in April) and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Australian in NSW (in July). The nominations are for the Rev. David Burke to be lecturer in Ministry and Practice from January 1, 2011; and for Mr Murray Smith to be lecturer in Biblical Studies from July 12, 2010.

David Burke comes with extensive ministry and academic experience, having been the minister of the Presbyterian churches in Henty, Strathfield, and Orchard Road, Singapore. He has been the Christian Education Director for the Presbyterian Church in NSW and he has lectured at several theological colleges including the PTC, and Singapore Bible College. He is married to Glenda and they have three adult children.

Murray Smith is an elder at Kirkplace Presbyterian Church in Kogarah where he coordinates teaching and training. He is in the final stages of a PhD at Macquarie University. He has had ministry experience in congregations, in secondary teaching, in university student work and in academic roles in the university sector and theological colleges (including the PTC). Murray is married to Lynette and they have three young children. (In the picture Murray is on the left, David on the right - the hairstyle is about to become the PTC standard and Ian and John Davies will just have to conform!)

This is great news for the PTC. Please pray for the ongoing process as the Assembly approaches. Please pray for these men and their families and the PTC as the team changes and grows.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Early Canon - canonised or not canonised

In the last blog post John discussed the possible canonisation of Mary MacKillop as an Australian saint. As I write this in Cambridge I wonder if the proclamation has taken place, on Australia Day, and here in the UK I missed all the excitement. In any event, we had our own kind of excitement here yesterday.

Last night in the Cambridge University Divinity School, Judith Lieu gave her inaugural lecture as Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity - a chair that dates back to 1502, so that is quite something. Judith Lieu, whose husband Sam is a professor at Macquarie University (but naturally enough here for the big event last night) formerly taught in Sydney at Macquarie.

It was a particularly skillful, and very carefully argued lecture on the topic of 'Conflict and Convergence'. In particular we considered the extent to which Christianity was i) a distinctive religious movement in the second century, say from Judaism, and ii) coherent or disparate within 'itself' whatever 'it' means? (my words, not the professors.) In particular, is the idea of a monolithic 2nd century Great Church based on apostolic doctrine (as we now hold it) a myth forged in the fires of 4th and 5th century controversy? As I understood it, that was certainly the well nuanced thesis the Lady Margaret Professor was presenting (far better nuanced than any blog post could be!)

In one section of the lecture - which you can download on http://sms.cam.ac.uk/media/732482/formats;jsessionid=F8F60B863A85E20DFA5673CB7F45DF68 - she suggests that Christianity was quite fragmented. As to N.T. 'canonisation'(!),she presented a picture of the 2nd C where the Canon was not only unformed but no-one had even thought putting together a canon. Thus, when Melito of Sardis (died 180?) refers to the "Old Testament", [ta palaia biblia] we shouldn't take this to imply that he considered there to be any "New Testament".

David Instone-Brewer one of the Research Fellows here at Tyndale House, reminded us here this morning of the words of Tertullian - in my understanding only a decade or two after Melito - where he refers to vetus and novum instrumentum ['old and new testament']. That certainly looks (in the late 2nd century) like Tertullian had something like a New Testament in his mind, as distinct from an Old one - whatever instrumentum means.

As you can see I may have missed out on the lamingtons and BBQed lamb yesterday, but there were still interesting things to do here in Cambridge.

(Australia Day even got a mention in Judith Lieu's lecture!)