John Dekker's Journal

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

9:44PM - Endings and Beginnings

Today is the 1st of January, and I'd like to wish all my readers a very happy New Year. Today was also my first day of work as the pastor of Aspendale Presbyterian Church.

Because of this, as I've intimated before, today I am closing this blog. It has been a wonderful four years of blogging, and I really appreciate your interest and support. But for John Dekker's Journal, this is the end of the road.


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Monday, December 3, 2007

10:09PM - Status updates

John is...

– A graduate of the Presbyterian Theological College.

– Going to be the pastor of Aspendale Presbyterian Church next year.

– Starting work on the 1st of January.

– Moving house on Wednesday.

– Flying to Tasmania on Saturday.

– Preaching in Devonport on Sunday morning.

– Excited about PYV summer camp after Christmas.

– Thankful for the year that was 2007.

– Totally dependent on God's grace to enable him to faithfully discharge his duties.

– Still referring to himself in the third person.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

11:34PM - A Near Conversion

Although last Sunday was my final one at Scots', I am still involved in the Introducing God course that we've been running, and tonight I had a wonderful time. I almost made a convert.

One Asian girl on my table seemed to come very close to becoming a Christian. She understood that there is a choice to be made between trusting Jesus and saying "No!" to God. She realised that trusting Jesus means not trying to get right with God by yourself, but by relying on Jesus to take the punishment that you deserve. She said that she wanted to trust Jesus.

I could have got her to pray the Sinner's Prayer there and then.

But I didn't. I decided to probe a bit further, and I asked her if she wanted the relationship with God that trusting in Jesus brings. Then she asked if she needed to stop being a Buddhist...

I could have had a conversion if I had only said that she could be a Christian as well as remaining a Buddhist. But I missed my opportunity, and she remains "not far" from the Kingdom of God. Please pray for her.

On a side note, she thanked me, and said that I listen to her and explain things clearly. It struck me later that this is exactly how I wish to carry out my pastoral ministry – listening and explaining. Some ministers are good at listening, but not good at explaining, while some are good at explaining but not good at listening...

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

8:46AM - Death

Death, thou wast once an uncouth hideous thing,
                            Nothing but bones,
            The sad effect of sadder grones :
Thy mouth was open, but thou couldst not sing.

For we consider'd thee as at some six
                            Or ten yeares hence,
            After the losse of life and sense,
Flesh being turn'd to dust, and bones to sticks.

We lookt on this side of thee, shooting short ;
                            Where we did finde
            The shells of fledge souls left behinde,
Dry dust, which sheds no tears, but may extort.

But since our Saviours death did put some bloud
                            Into thy face ;
            Thou art grown fair and full of grace,
Much in request, much sought for, as a good.

For we do now behold thee gay and glad,
                            As at dooms-day ;
            When souls shall wear their new aray,
And all thy bones with beautie shall be clad.

Therefore we can go die as sleep, and trust
                            Half that we have
            Unto an honest faithfull grave;
Making our pillows either down, or dust.

George Herbert, 1593 – 1633

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

8:19AM - Cool maps #6: My Beloved Country

Another one from strangemaps, this was designed by James Hutchings.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

8:04PM - With or without our help...

Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.
William Carey

Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your help or mine.
– Older minister speaking to William Carey, 1786.

Sometimes I wonder if this older minister hasn't received some bad press over the years. Sure, he failed to realise that God uses secondary means. Sure, Carey was correct in saying that the Great Commission is still in force today. Sure, Carey's passion and initiative has been a great blessing to God's Kingdom. And yet...

You see, last week I was talking to a gentleman who tried to convince me that God was going to do a great work. Then all of a sudden I realised that what he really meant was that God was going to do a great work through him. And my unspoken response was "Young man, sit down. When God chooses to do a great work, he'll do it without your help or mine."

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

10:54AM - Beowulf!

I've mentioned Beowulf on this blog before, and now the film is about to be released:

Robin Wright Penn and Ray Winstone in Beowulf

Laura points to a brilliant review on the Slate website, where Dana Stevens puts her comments into verse. I don't normally reproduce my blog comments here, but I submitted my own feeble response:

Seeking to please, these movie-makers fierce
Fill a film with action, with blood and gore
Which is but right, yet they forget
(Wilfully, it seems, their sins will find them out)
The place of the Lord of Heaven.

For Beowulf, brave warrior, slayer of foes,
Gives thanks to the Geats' great God,
Acknowledging his lordship, grateful for victory.
It is therefore something bravely to be hoped
That Zemeckis would include this in his film.

Join the conversation on Laura's blog, and give your own opinion.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

2:01PM - The Status of the Transjordan #3: Thesis Abstract

My honours thesis is finally handed in – all I need now is a sympathetic marker. Here is the abtract – tell me if you would like me to email you a copy of the thesis.

Is the Transjordan part of the promised land? Was its settlement blameworthy? This thesis examines the biblical text of Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua in order to determine the status of the Transjordan. Numbers tells of Moses' eventual land grant to Transjordanian tribes, and indicates that the Transjordan is in some way holy as a result of its conquest. Deuteronomy lays some stress on crossing the River Arnon, and refers to the Transjordan as a place of rest. Joshua affirms Moses' action in giving the Transjordan to the two and a half tribes, but emphasises the Jordan river crossing. In Joshua 22, we see ambiguity regarding the status of the Transjordan, but the status of the Transjordan tribes as part of Israel is affirmed. The settlement in the Transjordan is seen as a potential, but not necessary, obstacle to the unity of Israel. Thus, the Transjordan may be regarded as holy because it was conquered in holy war, because it was given to the Reubenites and Gadites, and because two and a half tribes settled there. It may be regarded as promised land in the wider sense of that term, since the concept has an inherent flexibility. Even though the Transjordan may not have originally been part of the promised land, it is holy land by virtue of its conquest and settlement, and the settlement there must be considered blameless. Finally, the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua may be seen to have complementary emphases regarding the status of the Transjordan.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

9:42AM - Goals for next year

1. Optimize potential.
2. Facilitate empowerment.
3. Implement visioning.
4. Strategize priorities.
5. Augment core structures.

(From Bellwether, by Connie Willis)

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

10:22PM - The Status of the Transjordan #2: Israel and Canaan, Promised Land and Holy Land

The thesis is just about finished now. Here's what I've discovered.

When we look at the relevant passages regarding the status of the land east of the Jordan in Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, we see some flexibility in the terminology employed.

Israel can refer to either the nation or the territory. In Joshua 22, both of these senses carry some ambiguity. In regards to Israel the nation, the eastern tribes seem to be excluded in verse 13, but verse 18 presupposes their inclusion. In regards to Israel the land, the western tribes call the Transjordan "unclean" in verse 19, but it is called "the land of your possession" in in verse 4. Canaan, however, is generally restricted to the land west of the Jordan.

The promised land also has flexible boundaries. The original promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:18 describes a much greater area than was initially settled, and Deuteronomy 19:8 mentions the possibility of expansion. This flexibility of definition becomes very important in New Testament, where the concept of the promised land expands to include the whole earth.

Finally, even if the Transjordan is not (origianlly) part of the promised land, it can be considered to be holy land, on account of the fact that it was conquered as part of a holy war, and that God's people settled there. Israel were supposed to be a unified, holy people, and the settlement in the Transjordan was a potential, but not necessary, obstacle to this.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

9:58PM - Reformed Unity #2: The Boundaries of Reformed Orthodoxy

What does it mean to be "Reformed"? What beliefs are an essential part of being Reformed? Infant baptism? Lord's Day observance? Limited Atonement? The Imputation of Christ's Active Obedience?

This is a significant question for me, since next month I will be making vows, and promising to maintain and defend the Church's "subordinate standard," which is the "Westminster Confession of Faith, as amended by the General Assembly, and read in the light of the Declaratory Statement contained in the Basis of Union." As I have mentioned before, this Declaratory Statement allows for liberty of opinion "matters in the subordinate standard not essential to the doctrine therein taught."

Do we interpret the "essential matters" as "Reformed theology" Is it the same as the "system of doctrine", as in the ordination vows of the Presbyterian Church in America? (According to that church's Book of Church Order, candidates do not need to affirm "every statement and/or proposition of doctrine" in the WCF but affirm that they "sincerely receive and adopt" the WCF "as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.") Or does the reference to "matters" rather than "doctrines" mean that ministers need to hold to every doctrine in the WCF?

Well, it is important that we allow a broad spectrum in our church. God has designed the church to consist of a people of diversity backgrounds and personalities, and holding to different priorities and emphases. We need people of all types in the church, and a certain amount of doctrinal diversity is healthy. The problem is, of course, determining that amount.

The reason why I mention the Presbyterian Church in America is that Tim Keller has written a great article on that church's original "contract" – diversity was allowed on eschatology, days of creation and the Sabbath, but not on Reformed soteriology, "soft" cessationism or women's ordination. But of course this makes the Presbyterian Church in America far too conservative for some, and far too liberal for others. Of course, if we imagine the Reformed faith as a spectrum, we always tend to place ourselves in the middle, and draw comfort from the fact that there are people on either side of us.

One way in which the spectrum might operate is at the level of cultural engagement. As Christians we are called to be "in" the world, but not "of" the world. The Neocalvinists tend to emphasise being in the world, while what I call the the "Neopuritans" (best represented by the Banner of Truth) tend to emphasise not being of the world. But understand this – the Reformed umbrella is able to contain many sub-groups. Both Neocalvinism and Neopuritanism form a vital part of the Reformed faith. And despite what a bunch of guys say, so does the Federal Vision.

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

8:29AM - Even if I try to be profound...

HT: Steve Bishop

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

9:36PM - Reformed Unity #1: Remembering the Reformation

You must be sensible, how extensively injurious it will be to the cause of the churches, if a difference of opinion is entertained, even on minor points, among the principal pastors. (Martin Bucer to John Calvin)

To me, nothing in this world could be more desirable than to take solace in the mild and gentle spirit of your correspondence.
(John Calvin to Philipp Melanchthon)

When our purpose is to unite the sentiments of all good and learned men, and so, according to the rule of Scripture, to bring the separated churches into one, neither labour nor trouble of any kind ought to be spared. (John Calvin to Thomas Cranmer)

Today is, of course, Reformation Day. And lets be very clear on this, it wasn't just an important event, but a good one. Although Roman Catholic apologists often point to the multiplicity of Protestant denominations as proof that the Reformation was evil, we would do well to remember the great degree of unity that did exist among the Reformers. Sure, Marburg was a disaster, but the second generation of Reformers by and large avoided such acrimonius disputes. The Wittenberg Concord represented a genuine quest for unity.

And when we consider the correspondence between Reformers of widely varying convictions, we see a Christian unity and fellowship that we would do well to imitate. We shouldn't follow the Reformers' doctrine, while at the same time abandoning their piety, or their thirst for unity.

If Calvin regarded Archbishop Cranmer as a brother in Christ and a coworker in the gospel, (and calls him "most accomplished Prelate," obviously having no problems with bishops per se) then we probably need to rethink our view of the Reformed Communion. I want to blog more about this in the future. Whom do we acknowledge as belonging to the Reformed Faith? What are the boundaries of Reformed Orthodoxy?

In the meantime, enjoy Tim Challies' Reformation Day Symposium.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

9:17PM - Reformation Sunday

Many of you have seen and heard this before, but I thought I'd share it again, since today is Reformation Sunday. The 31st October is Reformation Day itself, since it was on that day on 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. This song is about Luther's life and work, but my proposal to sing it at church tonight was shot down flames...

Some of you bloggers might also want to consider participating in the Second Annual Reformation Day Symposium.

The Reformation Polka
by Robert Gebel

[Sung to the tune of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"]

When I was just ein junger Mann I studied canon law;
While Erfurt was a challenge, it was just to please my Pa.
Then came the storm, the lightning struck, I called upon Saint Anne,
I shaved my head, I took my vows, an Augustinian! Oh...

Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let's start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

When Tetzel came near Wittenberg, St. Peter's profits soared,
I wrote a little notice for the All Saints' Bull'tin board:
"You cannot purchase merits, for we're justified by grace!
Here's 95 more reasons, Brother Tetzel, in your face!" Oh...

They loved my tracts, adored my wit, all were exempleror;
The Pope, however, hauled me up before the Emperor.
"Are these your books? Do you recant?" King Charles did demand,
"I will not change my Diet, Sir, God help me here I stand!" Oh...

Duke Frederick took the Wise approach, responding to my words,
By knighting "George" as hostage in the Kingdom of the Birds.
Use Brother Martin's model if the languages you seek,
Stay locked inside a castle with your Hebrew and your Greek! Oh...

Let's raise our steins and Concord Books while gathered in this place,
And spread the word that 'catholic' is spelled with lower case;
The Word remains unfettered when the Spirit gets his chance,
So come on, Katy, drop your lute, and join us in our dance! Oh...

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

2:37PM - Measuring out my life with Bible versions

The concept (and title) post is brazenly plagiarised from John Halton at Confessing Evangelical. My story, however, is somewhat different to his...

1. Authorised Version (1985 to 1994)

This is also known as the "King James Version", if you don't mind using a Bible named after a homosexual. My parents gave me my first Bible when I was seven years old. I didn't read the Bible much by myself as a child, and perhaps the difficulty of the translation contributed to this. We had family Bible readings every day (from the NKJV, in fact) and I learned the Scriptures quite well, but I was not at this stage in the habit of personal Bible reading.

2. New King James Version (1994 to 1996)

This was a time of real spiritual growth, leading to and resulting from disciplined personal Bible reading. I received a NKJV Bible from my parents, and I think it really helped me. I found the Bible much easier to read and to understand, but I don't know how much that was the translation, and how much resulted from an inward change in me.

3. New Geneva Study Bible (1996 to 2004)

This is also a NKJV translation, but having a study Bible does affect the way one reads – my Bible reading became Bible study. This was the Bible I used through my university years, which are almost always formative.

4. English Standard Version (2004 to 2007)

When I commenced study at Theological College, I bought an ESV, which is the Bible I use almost exclusively now. Since I started reading it at the same time I started learning Hebrew, I quickly became aware of its translational shortcomings. Having said that, it is probably best translation around.

5. Towards the future

I remain convinced that every educated, intelligent, mature Christian who speaks English as a first language should read an essentially literal translation like the NKJV, NASB or ESV. The Holman Christian Standard Bible also falls into this category, and I'm thinking about buying a copy. But really, I want to get both my Hebrew and Greek to a level where I can read Scripture devotionally in the orignal languages.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

11:53AM - When even Calvin gets it wrong...

What relationship do a Christians' good works have with their final judgement? Are they merely evidences of justification, or do they in any way contribute to justification? Surprisingly, Calvin regards good works as "inferior causes" of salvation:

Moreover, when Scripture intimates that the good works of believers are causes why the Lord does them good, we must still understand the meaning so as to hold unshaken what has previously been said—viz. that the efficient cause of our salvation is placed in the love of God the Father; the material cause in the obedience of the Son; the instrumental cause in the illumination of the Spirit, that is, in faith; and the final cause in the praise of the divine goodness. In this, however, there is nothing to prevent the Lord from embracing works as inferior causes. But how so? In this way: Those whom in mercy he has destined for the inheritance of eternal life, he, in his ordinary administration, introduces to the possession of it by means of good works. What precedes in the order of administration is called the cause of what follows. For this reason, he sometimes makes eternal life a consequent of works; not because it is to be ascribed to them, but because those whom he has elected he justifies, that he may at length glorify (Rom. 8:30); he makes the prior grace to be a kind of cause, because it is a kind of step to that which follows. But whenever the true cause is to be assigned, he enjoins us not to take refuge in works, but to keep our thoughts entirely fixed on the mercy of God...

– John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion III.xiv.21.

Notice that Calvin commits a logical fallacy here. He indicates that temporal succession implies a causal relation. This is what is known as the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Just because good works always precede eternal life, it doesn't mean they cause it – rather, both the good works and the eternal life come from the same source: union with Christ.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

7:24AM - Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
that David played and it pleased the Lord,
But you don't really care for music do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth,
the minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew her
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Baby I've been here before.
I know this room, I've walked this floor.
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
but love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
whats really going on below
but now you never show it to me do you?
Remember when I moved in you
the holy dove was moving too
and every breath we drew was Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much.
I couldn't feel so I learned to touch.
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong,
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

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Friday, October 5, 2007

8:48AM - Christ vs. Amway

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon. (Matthew 6:24, NKJV)

Most modern English versions translate the last word in this verse as "money," which is a bit unfortunate, because Mammon goes by many other names. These days, she prefers to be known as "financial independence," "economic security," "free enterprise," or "Business".

I attended an Amway seminar last night. Well, they don't call themselves Amway. Amway is "the product that we use in the Business," and it was only mentioned by name twice, seemingly accidentally. No, the organisation is called Network 21, and it's a motivational and training company encouraging people to go into the Business of selling Amway products. The major part of the enterprise, however, is recruitment of other people to join in the Business. It is thus a "Multi-level marketing operation," but there can be a very fine line between this and a pyramid scheme.

I had heard before that some considered Amway to be a cult, but I could scarcely believe it. Everything I saw last night, though, would back up this assertion. This article examines the issue, and points to traits like suppression of critical thinking (participants were told not to listen to family members who were negative about this enterprise) and separation from friends and family ("this Business is like your family") which are indications of cult-like behaviour. There is also an emphasis on uniformity – you need to do things exactly the way you're told ("why would you want to do it any other way?").

Indeed, the whole struck me as being almost a parody of the Christian gospel. Instead of evangelism, they have what is referred to as "prospecting". The evil twin of sanctification is what they call "personal development". (And yes – being in this Business will, apparently, make you a better person.) And, of course, salvation is replaced by Success. Not just money, of course – but Freedom, and Time To Do What You Want, and Being Your Own Person.

So it's quite clear that being in Amway is incompatible with being a Christian. You must choose. You cannot follow both Jesus and worldly success. But what about all the lost souls in Amway? Should we view it as an unreached sub-culture? Should we get involved in it as a form of incarnational ministry? Three things:
1. The end never justifies the means. It doesn't matter how many people you can reach with the gospel, or how much you can earn to give to kingdom work, you cannot glorify God by seeking after worldly success.
2. Anyone who thinks that they can be a part of Amway without being caught up in the pursuit of Success is sadly deluded.
3. One's witness is always going to be compromised if one makes money while one shares the gospel. Confusion will inevitably result between bringing someone to Christ, and getting them involved in the Business.

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

3:16PM - Cool maps #5

Apparently this map claims to be a 1763 copy of a 1418 map, and thus provides the basis for the theory that the Chinese discovered Australia, Antarctica and the Americas.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

11:39AM - Seven questions to ask concerning a newborn baby

1. Is your baby daughter part of the church?

2. Does she belong to Jesus?

3. Is she united to Christ in any meaningful way?

4. Is she chosen by God in any way?

5. Is she in a right relationship with God?

6. Is she a Christian?

7. Is she elect?

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