Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894) was one of those names my mother expected you to know when I was a kid. A Scottish novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer his most famous works are Treasure Island, Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Others include The Black Arrow, The Master of Ballantrae, Catriona and The weir of Hermiston. A celebrity during his own lifetime, Stevenson ranks among the 26 most translated authors in the world. His works have been admired by many other writers. G K Chesterton said of him that he "seemed to pick the right word up on the point of his pen, like a man playing spillikins." Iain Murray rightly warns against him in The Undervcover Revolution.
Bonhoeffer uses a similar phrase 'worldly Christianity'. It's J Gresham Machen that I want to line up most closely with. See his Christianity and culture here. Having done commentaries on Proverbs (Heavenly Wisdom) and Song of Songs (Heavenly Love), a matching title for Ecclesiastes would be Heavenly Worldliness. For my stance on worldliness, see 3 posts here.
So it's December tomorrow so I've started listening to my Christmas music. There are 400 tracks on my ipod so plenty of variety. First up today was the cynical Peace on earth by U2. Then we had some Enya, Bach and carols. One good moment was when a Beatles Christmas greeting came on. Another early one today was John Lennon's Happy Xmas (War is over). I always mishear the lyric "Another year over" as "Another year older" which may be a better lyric. I certainly find it a real challenge when it is paired with the line "what have you done?". The other thing misheard with this track is the opening whispers where I long thought John and Yoko were indulgently saying happy birthday to themselves but the whispered words are actually Yoko whispering "Happy Christmas, Kyoko" (Kyoko Chan Cox is Yoko's daughter with Anthony Cox) and John: "Happy Christmas, Julian" (his son with Cynthia).
I was in the local Library the other day and I saw the new P G Wodehouse homage by Sebastian Faulks and so I borrowed it. I'm not a massive Wodehouse fan but I've read a few of his things and enjoy them for what they are. Faulks has managed to produce a work that is in keeping with the tradition without being mere pastiche. What you get, however, is a rather weak Wodehouse plus a little bit of Faulks. I thought the war references (at least two to the Great War and one to the Crimea or Boer I forget which) most egregious. Something also happens to Jeeves that never happens, which is not such a good idea. Jeeves comes over nearest to the original. I find him an endlessly fascinating character, up there with Sherlock Holmes. So not a disaster and a stimulus to reading more Wodehouse. The most damning thing I can say about it is that I didn't laugh out loud once.
So back in Childs Hill this Lord's Day and back into the series on 1 Corinthians and Esther. In the morning we completed our studies in 1 Corinthians 11 and in the evening we looked at Esther 2. I was saying that we must examine ourselves before eating at the communion and I was trying to outline the difficulties and the challenges of living in a pagan world while urging faith in Christ but it seemed to come over a little flat in some ways. I'm not sure why. It's always good to be with God's people nevertheless.
Oh yes I went to the cinema last week as well - on my own as I couldn't persuade anyone to come with me. Gravity, a film about being lost ins space is pretty much a one person show so it was appropriate. I tend to think of myself as rather cynical b this stage but I still get taken in by all the hype and certainly this film, although very good, was hyped up to the nth degree. Its attraction is its being set in outer space but it is not a science fiction film or anything like that bit a rather ordinary tale of dicing with death and coming through it. I didn't find the character particularly interesting and so despite their efforts I never really identified with her. This plus the fact that whatever happened I guessed she'd make it through any way took a lot of the energy out of the film for me. The most interesting line in it, I thought, was when, thinking she was about to die, Dr Stone says "No one will mourn for me. No one will pray for my soul. Will you mourn for me? Will you pray for me? I mean I'd pray for myself, but I've never prayed—nobody ever taught me how." (That's the line unsurprisingly that the Gospel Coalition article picks up on too here That article also notes the rebirth theme - completely lost on me I must confess). I wanted a bit more of that sort of thing really. The 3D works well as it adds to the impression of being in deep space. The sound track adds to the feel too. So good film, worth seeing on the big screen but disregard some of the hype. See Rotten Tomatoes where they love it here.
Abraham "Bram" Stoker (1847 – 1912) was an Irish novelist and short story writer, best known today for his 1897 Gothic novel Dracula which I have to admit I have still never read right through. During his lifetime, he was better known as personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, which Irving owned. He wrote four novels before Dracula and seven after but they are rather forgotten now. My son was in school and played football with twins (named after angels) who are descended from him.
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin (1824 – 1907) was a Belfast-born mathematical physicist and engineer. At Glasgow University he did important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, etc. He also had a career as an electric telegraph engineer and inventor, which propelled him into the public eye and ensured his wealth, fame and honour. He was also noted for his work on the mariner's compass. He is widely known for determining the correct value of absolute zero as approximately -273.15 Celsius. Absolute temperatures are stated in units of kelvin in his honour. He was the first UK scientist to be elevated to the House of Lords. He remained a devout believer all his life, a member of the Church of Scotland. He saw his Christian faith as supporting and informing his scientific work, as is evident from his address to the annual meeting of the Christian Evidence Society given in 1889.
I mentioned yesterday how the hymn Rock of Ages confused me as a child because cleft has two (opposite) meanings in English. That led to a conversation about what I learn are contronyms. Here is a list.
1. Cleave (adhere, separate)
2. Dust (add or remove particles)
3. Out (stars or electric lights)
4. Sanction (approve or boycott)
5. Scan (peruse or glance)
6. Skinned (with or without skin)
7. Splice (join or separate)
8. Temper (soften or strengthen)
9. Transparent (invisible or obvious)
10. Trim (add decoration or remove excess)
It's been so busy lately that I haven't been able to blog a few things. I really enjoyed being at The John Owen Centre in LTS the other week with David Green and a group of others looking at chapters from Proverbs in Hebrew. There is nothing quite like getting down to the original text. That same week I was in LTS for a meeting about the mentoring scheme they run and which I am involved in, which was useful. Then on Saturday November 9 I had another opportunity with others to preach in Trafalgar Square. It was a little wet at times but the Square was as busy as I've ever seen it and there were lots of good opportunities.
Then the following Monday I was at Westminster Chapel for the Westminster Fellowship. We did a little bit of naval gazing and agreed to carry on, though our next meeting (which is in February) is planned to be held in Westminster Baptist Church, (my McAfee didn't like that link for some reason but I'm sure it's fine) not a venue I am at all familiar with. We are only around 20 at the fraternal these days but it is good to meet and frankly discuss with men who I am pretty much on a wavelength with.
The next day there was another fraternal, the North London one in Finchley. Trevor Archer FIEC Training Director spoke. It was billed as being on leadership but was really about the advantages of one to one work. This was not new to me. I remember hearing quite a bit of this at early Proclamation Trust meetings and doing what I could to implement it. Like all panaceas, it can be over-rated and should really be seen as just one optional tool. My fear is that an over emphasis on this may downgrade preaching.
My assistant Andrew Lolley was preaching in Childs Hill yesterday. I was in Hope Baptist Church, East Ham/Forest Gate for their 124th anniversary. I preached on the Saturday evening as well as twice on Sunday, looking at 1 Thessalonians 1, Jonah 1 and Onesiphorus from 2 Timothy 1. I know the congregation a little bit and it was good to catch up with the Lindsays and the new pastor Derick Meade and his family from Hackney. I drove back and for each time and had hassle free journeys of around fifty minutes along the north circular. Very easy with the satnav, which decided not to cut out as it often does. I twice passed when the Kingdom Hall along that route was either emptying or filling. It is a strange sight to see JWs en masse. They are diverse enough in some ways but there is something essentially fifties about the look, which is both attractive and unattractive, depending on your point of view. I had two JWs here last week. I don't think they listened to a word I said.
This is to say that I will be giving a lunch time lecture at the Evangelical Library next Monday at 1 pm. It is on Samuel Petto and Samuel Peto. One is a 17th century covenant theologian and the other is a 19th century Baptist entrepreneur. Both are interesting for their own reasons. They apparently share nothing but the name and faith in Christ. (I'm sorry the Library website appears to be down at the moment).
On the last day of October I made a trip up country to visit Hoghton Tower. My initial interest was sparked by studies I am conducting at present into the life of Isaac Ambrose. It was worth seeing anyway, although it is very much a 19th century building now, though still keeping to the Tudor style. The guide to the house was okay but not really looking at it from the angle I wanted. James I slept there once and they claim a Shakespeare connection though it looked unlikely to me on the face of it. Well worth seeing if you are in that part of the world. For more on Isaac Ambrose see here.
It was Remembrance Sunday yesterday so we started with the two minutes silence and sang Our God our help. It was also a fellowship lunch, which was good, although there were fewer than are normally at such events with quite a few away and some not staying on. I preached on the Lord's Supper from 1 Corinthians 11 as far as verse 26. We'll say some more another time. In the evening I started a new series on Esther. We made a decent start. I've not preached all the way through it before. I did something a little different for the first time. Rather than printing out my sermon as usual I sent it to my kindle and used that. It was okay. You get less on the page and seeing a typo was somehow more perplexing than normal but I think this is the way ahead. I'll save a fortune on paper and ink. It was encouraging to see a decent number out for an evening service in the cold.
We began yesterday with communion as it was the first Sunday in the month. Numbers were down throughout the day as it is still half term. I preached on the hats passage in 1 Corinthians 11 and although there are still some loose threads for me I think we made something useful from it. Having come to the end of the short series on Jonah I did a one off in the evening on Onesiphorus, who is mentioned at the end of 2 Timothy 1. I hope it was a blessing to hear. Mp3s go on our church website in due time.