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This will probably be my last post here for a while. This week I've been in Covid-jail so I've written a flurry (Preaching that Cuts Like a Hammer, Let the Law Speak to Your Flesh, and Take Heart: God is Disciplining You). But now the 2nd red line has nearly faded so I'll soon be back to doing stuff for Speak Life. Follow me there and on Twitter @glenscrivener

The King and the Maiden

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote a story to explore the mystery of the incarnation. It's called the Parable of the King and the Maiden. In it, a King falls in love with a maiden but he despairs of ever being with her. If he propositions her in his finery, how could she truly consent? She would always feel obligated to obey the king and yet "all the power in the world cannot unlock the human heart—it must be opened from within." If he simply elevates her to the palace, "she would be overwhelmed. How would he ever know if she loved him for himself, or for all that he had given her?"

There was only one thing for it, the king would truly have to descend to her level — to live as a pauper and meet her as an equal.

He did not just take on the outward appearance of a servant, he became a servant–it was his actual life, his actual nature, his actual burden. He became as ragged as the one he loved so that she could be his forever. It was the only way. His raggedness became the very signature of his presence.

This is the glory of the incarnation. It is not really a veiling of glory, but a demonstration of the true glory of the King. His stooping is his greatness and those who see it grasp his heart of hearts.

In a sense Jesus takes the premise of "Undercover Boss" more seriously than the TV producers. If you haven't seen the show, "Undercover Boss" is a paint-by-numbers reality program where CEOs stoop to becoming low-level employees in their own businesses. Of course they can't look like a CEO or the jig is up. They go undercover to see life on the other side and at the end of each episode there is a reckoning: having seen their employees up close, they punish the lazy and rude and they lavishly reward the hard-working.

Jesus doesn't just come as Undercover Boss though. He comes as Undercover Suitor, wooing the world, up -close and personal. Yet the incarnation, while being Christ's definitive stooping, is not the only stooping. Check out Luke 9; Matthew 25; and Hebrews 13.

The Little Ones

Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

— Luke 9:48

Trace the logic of this incredible verse from the end to the beginning: God the Father puts Jesus into the world saying: "The way you treat Jesus is the way you treat Me." Jesus is Undercover God — revealing his true glory in his stooping. But now Jesus puts little ones into the world—weak, helpless, defenceless people—and Jesus says: "The way you treat this little child is the way you treat Me." 

This is a life-altering verse. Because it means we can encounter Jesus not just in his word but also in his world. Do we want to embrace Jesus? Then in the name of Jesus embrace the little ones.

As an aside, it's worth knowing that in England 95 children enter the care system every day. Over 100 000 children are looked after away from home. There are over 2000 children waiting for adoption in England. Jesus says “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me." Here's a really good reason to support fostering and adoption—in fact it's the best reason—you will meet God

Down through church history people have spoken in this way of Christ hiding himself in the world. The stooping greatness of Jesus continues. It did not cease with the incarnation and the cross. Christ continues to come to us disguised as our life and playing the parts we might least expect. 

The Last, the Least and the Lost

Remember in Matthew 25, the parable of the sheep and goats. The sheep say to King Jesus:

‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

— Matthew 25:37-40

Undercover Jesus strikes again! Yet his lowly presence in our midst does not conceal his identity, it reveals his true self. The Father is known in his stooping Servant, Christ. And Christ is known—yes, in his word and by his Spirit—but he is also known in the lowly. Jesus is hidden in the little ones. And, as Matthew 25 tells us, he is also hidden in the least, the last and the lost. But we will miss Jesus if we will not stoop.

The Stooping God

There was an old Jewish saying among the Rabbis. They asked one another why appearances of God were so rare. In the early parts of the Bible God would show up and people would see him. Why can’t people see God any more? And a Rabbi answers, “Because nowadays no one can stoop so low.” God hides himself. He hides himself in a penniless carpenter who becomes a travelling preacher who becomes a bleeding sacrifice. He hides himself there and truly reveals himself. Because his greatness is always a stooping greatness. But he has not stopped hiding himself. He comes to you and continues to come to you dressed as the details of your life and playing the characters you normally ignore: that homeless man, that lonely prisoner, that starving refugee, that needy friend, that difficult child. 

Jesus is not just above you, commanding your compassion. He is not just in you, inspiring your compassion. He is in them, receiving your compassion.

Do you want to embrace Jesus? Then embrace the little ones. Embrace the least, the last and the lost.  And you can embrace the lonely and the left out too. That's the wonder of Hebrews 13:12-13

The Lonely and the Left Out

Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.

In the book of Hebrews, the location of Jesus is mentioned in most chapters. Throughout the letter Jesus is said to be 'at the right hand of the Father.' And he is. But in the final chapter the writer tells us another place to meet Jesus: outside the camp. Sure, we can meet Jesus as we approach God's throne in prayer (Hebrews 4:14-16). Sure, we can meet Jesus among the Lord's people on the Lord's day (Hebrews 12:22-25). But afterwards, when you walk down Mount Zion and into the world there is another kind of encounter  you can enjoy. You can go outside the camp—outside the safe place, the clean place, the place where God is known. And as you go there, you are not leaving Jesus behind, you are meeting him afresh.

So 'let us go to him.' Not just the him above us at God's right hand. Not just the him in his word by the Holy Spirit. Let us go to him in his world. Undercover Jesus will see you now. Will we see him?

A sermon (from 13 minutes in):


Let's build on the last two posts (here and here). They happened to be about preaching but they raise a deeper question about listening to God. Are we hearing God's challenges to us? Might God be speaking to us in the specifics of our lives but we're deaf to it? Spoiler alert: the answer is, absolutely.

My contention is that God our Father is speaking to us far more than we may think but that, generally, we pay little attention.

And the reasons we pay so little attention are just what we've been exploring in the last two posts. We fail to grasp:

  1. The law and gospel distinction;
  2. The three uses of the law; and
  3. The difference between flesh and Spirit.

If we were solid on these points we would know:

  1. I am secure in Christ, no matter my daily disobedience;
  2. God, nonetheless, has much to teach me and instruct me in; and
  3. I can and must let God's corrections 'speak to my flesh'.

In other words I can expect God to correct me. And I can let God correct me without self-protection, self-justification or self-condemnation.

Usually, though, we don't see things like that. I mean, be honest, when you read the title of this blog post, what was your reaction? "God is disciplining me?? How dare you! How could you possibly know!"? We think of discipline as a rare occurrence for wayward children. But that's not how the Bible speaks:

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”[Proverbs 3:11-12]

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,”[Proverbs 4:26] so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

— Hebrews 12:4-13

From this it seems obvious that every child of God should expect ongoing fatherly discipline—not just the naughty kids who have to stay behind after class. Everyone. "Endure hardship as discipline" says God's word. So, do I experience hardship? Check. OK, my default understanding should be: My Father is specifically and intentionally training, correcting, chastising, and rebuking me (all those words are used in this passage).

I may not understand the whys and wherefores of God but neither is it foolish or fruitless to ask what he might be up to. On this understanding God is far more present and active in the ups and downs of our lives than many are comfortable with. Because one response to this is: "No, God does not 'pay us back for our sins', that would be a denial of the gospel! There is 'no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus', (Romans 8:1), this means God will never bring consequences into our lives for our sins."

This is why I spent so long setting out the three truths above. Before heaven I have no sins to answer for: I have the spotless righteousness of Christ. But on the earth, I live in Adam's world, inhabiting Adam's flesh and this whole realm is one of death, curse and consequences. We know for a fact that Christians must face the consequences of sin in this world because, for one thing, every one of us will die.

Christ's death does not shield me from my death, instead it transforms it from 'perishing' to 'falling asleep.' The same is true for all the consequences I experience in this world. I still experience them. Wonderfully, though, I experience them not as the punishment of a Judge but as the intentional and custom-made discipline of a loving Father. It is the fire, not of wrath, but of refinement. 

"Don't be surprised by the fiery trial" therefore (1 Peter 4:12). And don't be surprised when sin's consequences play themselves out in your life—you still have Adam's flesh and you live in Adam's world. Receive the law's diagnosis of those persisting sins. Receive the Father's discipline in your difficult circumstances. In Jesus you can finally take your sin seriously because your own ego has been taken out of the equation. Your ego was crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), the real you is now hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). Now you can address your sins without self-protection, self-justification, or self-condemnation. Now you can properly deal with them and not for any heavenly brownie points but for the sake of those you've harmed.

In all this I need to know in my bones that Christ is stronger than Adam, that the Spirit is stronger than the flesh, and that the Father's love is stronger than my present sins and circumstances. (That's why I started this series with preaching—I need these truths ringing in my ears constantly). But with that security I can, and I should, let the law and the Lord's providence speak to my flesh. It is no denial of the gospel to accept that my sins have consequences—consequences that I feel in this world. And God is speaking through those hardships to bring a Father's discipline.

It's true that in the midst of suffering many Christians can lose themselves in superstition, extreme scrupulosity and introspection. After the hardship hits they become convinced: "I know why this happened..." and then they name a certain sin from their past. Maybe they correctly identify the cause. Probably they don't. But anyway it's the wrong question. Because the goal is not to figure out how to avoid the Lord's discipline. The goal is to learn from it, because everyone is disciplined. It's a case of 'playing the ball where it lies' to use a golfing analogy. And to hear what the Lord is saying in the midst of the hardship.

So bring to mind a hardship right now. Your circumstances are not random and you are not alone. There is a Father's loving purpose woven into the details of your life—even, and especially, the difficult ones. Christ has brought you through the Red Sea in baptism, he accompanies you in the fiery-cloudy pillar of his Spirit, he feeds you with the daily bread of his word and all of it is motivated by relentless, unbreakable, redeeming love:

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

— Deuteronomy 8:2-5


We've been talking about preaching that cuts like a hammer. Such preaching has an impact, but it's not incisive, it's blunt. There's a power to it but it's also vague and leaves you feeling battered.

Last time we saw two problems: firstly, a failure to distinguish law and gospel (and to properly preach the latter); and secondly, a falling between two stools when it comes to the third use of the law. Cuts-like-a-hammer preachers kind of believe the law applies to Christians but they kind of don't too. So they preach (vague) advice to the Christian (3rd use-ish) but in more of a guilt-inducing way (2nd use-ish). Instead of judicially pronouncing death for sin, the preacher 'steps on our toes' for failures of discipleship. And it all cuts like a hammer. For more, read the previous article. But here I want to press into a crucial third distinction that we must understand...

The Flesh and the Spirit

This line from Luther's commentary on Galatians 2:17 is transformative if we grasp it.

"Get things straight. You let the Law talk to your conscience. Make it talk to your flesh."

(For more pearls from Luther's commentary see my collection here)

This discernment between flesh and conscience (or flesh and Spirit) is the very heart of the Christian life, of all pastoral wisdom, and it must inform our preaching. Let me explain.

The realm of the flesh is Adam's—a realm of weakness, folly, suffering, sin, law, and consequences. All of us are born into this realm, it is our natural state. But also—here's a crucial truth to acknowledge—we remain in the flesh even after we're born again by the Spirit.

That is made clear by Paul just three verses later:

I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Christ came into our world of the flesh (John 1:14), taking on our human nature. On the cross he even took our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Having taken us to himself, Jesus died our death. Shielding us in his own body, he bore the wrath, curse and condemnation our Adamic lives deserve. He then crashed through to the other side of death, sin and wrath. He stands again on the far side of curse and condemnation: risen; vindicated; glorified. By the Spirit we have been united to Christ and now his curse-bearing death counts as ours.

So then, in Christ I am crucified to the old realm, and at the same time I live in this Adamic world. Galatians 2:20 is very clear about that. Though I have Christ's Spirit, until resurrection I remain in Adam's flesh. And here's the central point of this post: the law totally applies to my flesh.

Law and the-old-world-order and the flesh and consequences all go together. And while I live far above these realities by the Spirit and in Christ, I live slap-bang in these realities according to the flesh. The law does not define my standing with God, it does not grant me any righteousness of my own, it does not condemn me before heaven and it cannot actually achieve in me the holiness it commands. But it is God's good life proclaimed to me, it is 'holy, righteous and just' (Romans 7:12) and it absolutely applies to Adam's flesh and Adam's world. Which is where I live till Christ returns. So while the law can never tell my conscience "You have sinned yourself out of God's love." The law can—and must!—speak to my flesh to say 'No, that stuff is death, and you're dead to it'. 

Once we make this Spirit / flesh distinction it frees the preacher to return to that first distinction: law and gospel. We can preach the text, applying it to the Christian, exploring its details, letting it bite, calling for repentance in specifics, letting conviction fall where it may, and—this is crucial—proclaiming the perfect obedience of Jesus, his sin-bearing death, his resurrection-righteousness and his priestly intercession for us, sinners that we are.

To those in the flesh, the preacher gives it both barrels—the law that kills and the life-giving gospel: "the Son of God loved you and gave himself for you." And to the degree we're assured of a life-giving gospel, we will be able to press into our sin and failures without self-protection or self-justification. We can let the law talk to our flesh.

Or else, just preach a random assortment of commands, examples and doctrines and instead of 'killing and making alive', just tread on some toes before saying 'Tricky, isn't it? Let's pray for God's help.' But that kind of preaching is a slow and painful death. It cuts like a hammer.

Stay tuned for one more post of this series where I'll apply these distinctions to another area of the Christian life: our experience of God's discipline.


This was the way an American visitor described to me the preaching he'd heard across many UK churches: "It cuts like a hammer."

This is not how cuts are meant to be made, nor how preaching should feel. But there was something about the description that rang true. Have you heard preaching that 'cuts like a hammer'? I have.

Cuts are meant to be precise. The preaching this visitor heard, though, was occasionally forceful but rarely targeted. There was a kind of power but it was not incisive. The Bible's commands and examples were preached but the effect was merely to convict the hearer of a generic sinfulness—an ill-defined but pressing sense of unworthiness.

I recognise the dynamic. And I think I know some of its drivers. To uncover them I need to use a few key terms over a number of posts. First we'll think about the 'law and gospel distinction', then we'll think of the different uses of the law. In a future post we'll press into a third distinction: the difference between flesh and Spirit. In short, I'll argue that cuts-like-a-hammer preaching mashes up the first distinction, fudges the second and seems oblivious to the third.

Law and Gospel

The law and gospel distinction is the sort of thing laid out in Galatians 3 or 2 Corinthians 3-4. There Paul contrasts the promise and the law; the gift and the command; the Spirit and the letter — one brings life, the other brings death. Luther summarises it in the introduction to his Romans commentary:

“The law uncovers sin; it makes the sinner guilty and sick; indeed, it proves him to be under condemnation... The gospel offers grace and forgives sin; it cures the sickness and leads to salvation."

These are different ways the word strikes us. In command-mode, God says "You must" and the aim is obedience. In promise-mode, God says "I will" and the aim is trust. Of course the two cannot be divorced (obedience arises from faith, after all, Romans 1:4), but they should not be confused either. The trouble is, they are very commonly confused. It's what Mike Horton calls "golawspel."

When the point of the sermon is simply explaining the next ten verses of Philippians everything is given the same weighting, purpose and tone. The victory of Jesus may well be referenced (or assumed, it's rarely preached), and the law is likewise brought, but not too heavily or specifically because we're aware of the dangers of legalism. Our antidote to legalism, however, is not a life-giving gospel raising us from the dead. Instead preachers give a generalised, "Gosh, it's tough isn't it? I struggle with this (in non-specific ways), don't you? Let's pray for the Spirit's help." It's golawspel. And it cuts like a hammer.

The Three Uses of the Law

Classically the three uses of the law are described as a curb (its civil use), a mirror (its theological use), and a guide (its pedagogical/teaching use).

So the law brings...

...order in the world,

...conviction to the sinner, driving them to Christ, and,

...guidance to the Christian, (though only the gospel can empower such obedience).

The preaching that 'cuts like a hammer' tends to have an ambivalent attitude to the third use of the law. It kind of believes that the law can teach us the good life. Certainly such preachers have no problem deriving 'applications' from their texts — "What this means for Monday morning, etc, etc." But these applications fall along well-worn lines (Bible reading, prayer, evangelism) that bear little relationship with the actual commands and examples of the text.

Such mid-level guilt is actually surprisingly popular. The praise of choice from congregants meeting the preacher at the door is still: "Thank you, that was faithful, clear, and challenging." That's the chilli sauce we like to have on our biblical expositions: application—challenging application. We like to put ourselves under the word, to bear its burden and accept its heavy weight, then we've done business with God.

In effect, such preaching falls between two stools. It avoids getting too specific in its 'third use'  applications and it avoids being too condemning in its 'second use' proclamations, so it ends up just making people feel quite guilty about their Bible reading, prayer and evangelism. It cuts like a hammer.

Next time we'll look at a third distinction: between the flesh and the Spirit. But for now, do you recognise the 'cuts like a hammer' stereotype? What do you think drives it?


micLast month I was helping out with a number of student missions. One mainstay of the university mission is a "lunch bar." The Christian Union provides free food, there's a talk (often with a provocative title) and then the speaker fields questions.

I was not the lunchtime speaker at the last mission I helped with so I got to sit in the audience and watch. What I learnt at those lunch bars has stayed with me because it has implications that go far beyond the student world. Here's how it unfolded...

The talk titles for this mission were fairly provocative and the Q&A session was facilitated by a roving mic which the questioners held to command the room. Those two facts led to an interesting and perhaps predictable dynamic. Only certain people have the confidence to take the mic and therefore if it's a particularly hot topic, you are in for a spicy 10-15 minutes at the end.

What happened pretty much every day was that we had a number of Christians from the CU, a number of guests of those Christians, some randoms who came for the food and some randoms who came for the hot topic. We then heard an excellent talk which tried to honour the question but which was basically a presentation of Jesus in 20 heart-warming minutes. Then the questions came. Invariably those who self-identified as unbelieving took the mic first and asked pointed questions. Every now and again a genuine enquirer was brave enough to ask a question on topic, but not often. And by the time our hour was up, we'd gotten well and truly off the beaten track into the realm of "Old Testament genocide" or some other subject equally far from the set topic.

Once the official time was up though the temperature in the room cooled significantly. We would turn to our neighbour and almost invariably their reaction to the event was:

"Really interesting".
"Hadn't thought about any of that before."
"My granddad died last month and it's made me wonder."

After every lunch bar we'd have sensational conversations - about the John's Gospels given out, about the talk, about random "religious questions" they'd always wanted to ask. Very little mention was made about the Q&A and if there was conversation about it, the number one impression they got was how the speaker reacted to the angry questioners. Very few could even remember what was said, even though it was just minutes earlier.

And here's what I've been thinking ever since: Don't be cowed by the angry questioner with the mic. He doesn't speak for the room and "refuting" him isn't the goal. We can try to respond thoughtfully sure. But our deeper goal is to engage graciously and our ultimate priority does not lie with the mockers. They sneered in the Areopagus (Acts 17) and they will sneer today. So what? Paul preached, some sneered, some believed, Paul moved on. Let the sneerers take the hindmost.

How often are we intimidated by those who have the microphone - those who speak loudest in the media - those who set themselves up as spokespeople for the culture? We could spend all our time fretting about the messages that dominate the airwaves. We could waste our days wishing to wrest the mic from others or fantasizing about how we might refute them publicly with devastating smack-downs. Or we could just get on and preach the gospel, ignore the sneers - they will always come - and engage our neighbours who just aren't where the sneerers are at.

Don't be deceived - the guy on the mic does not speak for the room. Those in the media do not speak for your friends. Preach the gospel, turn to your neighbour and let's engage those conversations - the fields are still white for harvest.




I've been listening to a lot of Muslim - Christian debates. Here are three that have interested me recently - each of them with Dr Shabir Ally.

Firstly there's James White vs Shabir Ally on whether the earliest witnesses to Jesus confessed His deity:

White argues that the earliest sources unashamedly confess the deity of Christ - the "Carmen Christi" of Philippians 2, the "NT Shema" of 1 Corinthians 8 and Mark's Gospel speak of Jesus as Yahweh. Fascinatingly Shabir seems to concede as much, at least over the Philippians 2 material, but then claims that this must be a corruption of the earliest beliefs. Why? Because we know that the Jews were monotheists (which Shabir conflates time and again with "unitarians").

Shabir wriggles off the hook because he claims that the Old Testament is unitarian. If this is so then NT trinitarianism must be a corruption and the Quran must be correct in saying that the Christians have changed their book. His wriggling is very unconvincing, obviously, because the evidence James brings is without question the earliest. All Shabir can do is to claim that beneath the Scriptures there must lie an original unitarian faith in Jesus that gets developed in trinitarian ways over time. It's all a "just so story" but he gets away with it because he asserts that the OT is unitarian.

The second debate I watched recently was Jay Smith versus Shabir Ally. Watch Jay's 35 minute opening statement from 17:55 where he brings devastating critiques of the historicity of the Quran and its transmission:

Shabir responds with numerological hocus pocus from 53:45. As Dr Ally waxes lyrical about the number 19 in the Quran your jaw will hit the floor (but not in the way Dr Ally hopes). It's astonishing that this would be put forward in a serious debate and take up so much of Dr Ally's argument. Jay's historical critique of the Quran remains completely unanswered.

But still Shabir wriggles off the hook because, well, we all know that the NT must be corrupt? Why? Because it changes the doctrine of God from the OT.

Ok then, step forward Nabeel Qureshi. I loved this debate. Just listen to Nabeel's opening statement from 8:15.

Here Nabeel is hitting where it hurts. I love that he questions whether Tawhid (Islam's unitarianism) is the simple doctrine of God that Muslims claim. Actually Tawhid involves Muslims in all sorts of difficulties. If Allah is alone, how can he break free from the prison of his own transcendence to communicate with creatures. Some Muslims speak of the word of Allah existing with him in eternity which is really the only way you could have true revelation from Allah. Only if the Quran is an eternal communication could it communicate the eternal God. But of course as soon as you say that you are threatening Tawhid because you have something alongside Allah.

In Christian theology the eternal Word who is God from God is not a problem. He's the solution. Without Him God must be mute and we must be left in the dark. Nabeel was right to press Shabir on the question of the Quran's eternality, it goes to the heart of the Islamic doctrine of God and forces the Muslim to the horns of a dilemma. Either God does not have an eternal word and thus we cannot know that Allah is transcendent or he does have an eternal word and Tawhid is completely compromised.

More fundamentally though Nabeel establishes that the OT, in its own context and on its own terms, is not unitarian at all and could not be read unitarianly. This is where I have found evangelism to Muslims gaining most traction. When you show that Yahweh is face to face with Abraham and then rains down judgement from the-LORD-out-of-the-heavens (Genesis 18:1; 19:24) you show that Moses' doctrine of God is nothing like Mohammed's.

Have a watch and enjoy Nabeel's arguments. And if you want another couple dozen more OT Scriptures - see these 24 verses that cannot be read unitarianly in the Hebrew Bible. We simply do not see a progression from unitarianism to trinitarianism in the Bible or history. What we see in the Scriptures is a compound unity to God with three Persons who may take divine titles. We see this from Genesis 1 onwards. Unitarianism is not the pure origin, it is the much later corruption. This corruption began with the Rabbis reacting against the early Christians and continued with the heresy of Islam (much aided by pagan philosophy).

One thing I admire about Islam is its comprehensive view of history. For them Adam is a Muslim, so is Moses, so is Jesus - and they all taught Tawhid. The Christian view of history ought to be similarly consistent. Adam is a Christian, so is Moses, so are all true prophets - and they were all trinitarian. These are the arguments that truly fight fire with fire in Muslim-Christian debate and these are the truths that make sense of our Christian faith: triune from the beginning.



More Spoken Word


I gave my life to Jesus about a thousand times,
At teenage shrines of rare experience,
They’d blare Delirious then dare obedience,
I’d swear allegiance, soul-bared and serious,
Each prayer more daring than the previous.

On stage, the preacher saw we staunch hard core,
who flocked to the fore to knock, knock knock on heaven’s door.
He claimed salvations like he was keeping score.
Yet none were sure but he...
And none doubted more than me.

So I prayed again, to firm cement it,
Making sure I really meant it.
Vowed my life to be amended,
Willed my all to dust descended,
Gave my heart to be expended.
Then when all my prayers were ended…
Nothing, but my self lamented…
Oh I pretended all was mended and extended lifted hands
But within I could not understand:
What more could He demand?

I gave my life to Jesus a thousand different ways,
No single day would pass without this act.
I would contract to yield my every part,
To make one more fresh start,
To be more set apart,
And in return I’d yearn for Him to impart the merest trace
of grace into my heart.

I gave my life to Jesus, though faith continued flagging,
though doubts were ever nagging, zeal sagging
dragging down to duty’s basement.
But at least I had my bracelet!
O dear bracelet, give me strength anew.
The bracelet counseled: What Would Jesus Do?
And to answer all I could think was that He would sink
to His knees in passioned pleas,
like at Gethsemane.
And with almighty self-surrender,
there He rendered ALL to God who, silent, let Him fall.

So what should I do?
I too would heed that call,
and likewise sprawl before the Splendor.

This crawl became my pattern,
each new day I’d flatten self
before the Lord, pressed down to gain reward
that never came. But all the same I’d call.

And all the while the preachers told me
“Give control, not part, but wholly,
Give your heart, your life, your all.”
But rarely do I recall
Being told what He gave, my Lord to save.
Except... they slipped it in... to conscript us they gripped us
With “Jesus whipped, our Saviour stripped,
the blood it dripped from the cross,” but they ripped it from it’s gospel frame
To say “Now YOU. YOU DO THE SAME.”
And thus Christ’s offering was flipped, we were guilt tripped
by the very act that saved us.
So it was engraved, instilled:
The cross was a standard unfulfilled by us.
Oh but we’d try, my how we’d try, we’d bow the knee and bear the load,
It was the very least we owed.

I gave my life to Jesus… but somewhere down the road I slid,
my faith undid even amid my church, my prayers,
even as I bid for heaven’s care,
beneath the lid, the venom hid.
I was your youth group's keenest kid,
But no-one hated God more than I did.

With Him it’s just take, take, take, there's no break,
His thirst for blood who can slake?
At least vampires get you just once,
But this God held perpetual hunts.

I gave my life to Jesus but I guess it was no good.
I did what I could to appease Him,
but no pleasing seemed probable,
So this elder brother turned prodigal.

And I could chronicle the years headed east.
A far country unpoliced,
It was a famine disguised as a feast,
A pig-sty passed off as release.

But there… at the end of the track, with life out of whack when all was pitch black…
THERE - what brought me back?

Cos THIS BOOK, as I read, didn’t say what they said,
To those with bowed heads, under piety's dread, by their leaders misled,
The KINGDOM of God is at hand.
There He stands in your stead,
your King lifts your head,
He has shouldered your dread,
arms outstretched till they bled.

As I read, I met HIM: the Father’s sheer Gift,
now offered to lift us from cowering,
The feeble empowering,
The filthy clean showering,
the lowly now towering in Him.

So that night on His knees? Gethsemane’s pleas?
Those prayers they were said for me.
Cos I am not Jesus there in the garden, begging for pardon,
I’m Peter.
Despite all my boasts, I’m asleep at my post,
And Jesus does it all for me.

Can you give your life to Jesus? Talk about cart before horse.
Can we resource the Source who flows like a river
He is the Giver and we just receive, that’s what it means to believe.

So I’ll leave an appeal. To the preachers who feel
that they must stir up zeal, then let it be His we reveal.

You say “Give your heart”
This says “Christ is the donor”

You say “Yield your life”
This says “He was always the owner”

You say “Get on fire.”
This says “You are the Light.”

You say “Keep running to God.”
This says “Walk in Christ.”

You say “Dare to be a missional, intentional, incarnational, contextualised, no-compromise, counter-cultural, radical, red-letter, fully-devoted, disciple.”
This says “Follow.”

You say “Get hungry for God.”
This says “Take, eat, swallow.”

You say “Press into God”
This says “You’re hidden in Christ”

You say “Be a world changer”
This says “Lead a quiet life.”

You say “Surrender all.”
This says “You’re not your own.”

You say "Step up to the plate",
This says “You’re raised to the throne.”

You say “Burn out”
This says “Shine”

You say “Work on your relationship with Jesus.”
This says “I am my beloved’s and He is mine.”

Folks, look at the book and unhook from this wearisome, will-driven view
Stop giving your life to Jesus, He’s the Giver delivered for you.

More Spoken Word

What's the place of "apologetics"? I debate the issue with Tom Price ()

If by "apologetics" you mean "persuasive, thoughful, contextualised gospel preaching" then Yay Apologetics! But 1Cor1&2 rules out Something

If apologetics = "evangelism in the mode of answering Qs" I am 100% pro-apologetics. If it's separate then it's "evangel +"

-Today gospel preaching isn't working
-U sure it's the gospel that's being preached?
-Oh sure, I'm talking about *evangelical* churches

-Yeah we still believe in preaching but we need more
-Like a prayerful, loving community living it out?
-I was thinking of a new website.

Jesus doesn’t so much make safe passage for us back to heaven. But He has made treacherous passage for Himself down to us. #EnjoyYourDay

In Christ ur members of God's flock, purchased by God's blood, fed by God's word & surrounded by God's grace. Acts20 #EnjoyYourDay

- I fear the church will miss the next big move of God.
- Impossible, the church IS the move of God.

It'll be alright in the End. If it's not alright now, it's not the End. #EnjoyYourDay

Astonishing to think that God remains Giver even in judgement: "He gave them over... He gave them over.. He gave them over..." Rom1:24,26,28

We're all cut from the one cloth (Adam).
We must be clothed with the One cut (Christ).

Want proof of 'the Divine' breaking into this world? Look to the virgin womb. The empty tomb is more abt 'the Human' breaking into the next

#Exodus12 It's not the quality of your life 'in here' that counts. It's the quality of His death 'out there' that saves #EnjoyYourDay

By the Spirit of the Son you have a new spiritual heart-beat: Abba, Father… Abba, Father… Abba, Father… (Gal 4:6) #EnjoyYourDay

In Athens - Paul was not channelling Socrates but Elijah.

He didn’t rescue u so He could delight in u. He delighted in u & so rescued u. Ps 18. U’ve been loved at your worst. #EnjoyYourDay

Naturally the human race casts God as a hard task-master, not because He is one, but because it suits us to quietly despise and dismiss Him.

"The LORD’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in Him." (Psalm 32:10) #EnjoyYourDay

Not just net gainers. Even our greatest suffering redeemed 2 greater glory: More than conquerors thru Him who loved us! #EnjoyYourDay

“You are my Beloved Child, I’m thrilled with you” – the Verdict we all want from the Father we all crave. And it’s ours in Jesus #EnjoyYourDay

Only Sinners love (Luke 7:36-50). Therefore every sin is an opportunity to know yr indebtedness and the forgiveness of Jesus #EnjoyYourDay

“My child, get up” He will say. And u will rise 2 feasting joy, complete astonishment & face-to-face with Jesus (Luke 8:40-56) #EnjoyYourDay

Who qualifies 4 Christ’s Kingdom? The powerless, the wicked, the little children: Lk18:1-17. Don’t reach up, receive where u r #EnjoyYourDay

"Now death is but a Jacob's ladder whose foot is in the dark grave, but its top reaches to glory everlasting." Spurgeon

Exodus: Abraham's seed (God's son) Redeemed from Slavery(1-6), thru Judgement(7-14), into Dependence(15-18,24), Love(19-23) &Worship(25-40)

I find Twitter discussions are often more fruitful than blog discussions since each side engages each point as the dialogue develops.

Blogging debates can easily become two guys shadow-boxing in their own corners. Twitter forces you to engage each point as it arises.

You know the tree of life in the garden of God? That’s not just for religious art. That’s for *you* to eat from (Rev 2:7) #EnjoyYourDay

Your sorrows He carries, your infirmities He takes up, your sins He bears. (Is 53) Your weaknesses only draw Him closer #EnjoyYourDay

He’s the Judge of the world, the Revelation of God and a gentle, lowly Rest-Giver: Matt 11:20-30. #EnjoyYourDay

If you're going to sing to your plants "Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles" is best. It aids germannation.

Gangrene costs an almondy leg.

"Which" magazine have me ranking colas all day long. It's soda grading.

I dunno if it’s high cuisine but asparagers is definitely on the haute-istic spectrum.

Threshers wined me up

An ancient shoe-makers guild? Load of old cobblers.

vine2It's a question commonly posed among Christian ministers: Am I called more to faithfulness or fruitfulness?

When you realise that there can be great "ministry successes" based on "secret and shameful ways", you start to prize faithfulness all the more.

When you see dry-as-dust ministers making no impact but claiming a justification in their plodding "faithfulness", you might start to prize fruitfulness.

Which is it?

Three initial thoughts:

1. If the purpose of the discussion is to make ministers feel better or worse about themselves, it's almost certainly the wrong discussion. If it becomes about managing our own egos in ministry then we're already on the wrong footing. Too often we take sides on this one because we want to insulate ourselves from critique (if we're 'faithful' but fruitless) or to congratulate ourselves (if we're 'fruitful' but faithless).

2. The benefit of the "faithfulness" side is that it prioritises what God is doing in us before it considers what God is doing through us. This is good. God does not treat His children as means to an end, but as ends in themselves. The faithfulness crowd focus - or at least should focus - us on what God is up to in their own walk with Jesus before they ever consider "bums on pews."

3. The benefit of the "fruitfulness" side is that no-one can be fruitful without abiding in the Vine. It's possible to be a stone-hearted servant lacking any kind of vibrant relationship with Jesus. "Faithfulness" can become a cloak for "doing your duty" and all the sins of the prodigal's elder brother come into play. The fruitfulness crowd focus - or at least should focus - on an expectant and lively communion with Jesus that just does bear fruit. It's not the busyness of the builder, laying brick upon brick. It's the organic growth of the branch that will be fruitful in connection with the Vine,

So it seems like both sides have good points to make: faithfulness makes me think of God's work in me before all else. Fruitfulness makes me think of my position in Christ before all else. But in practice I find that both positions can unwittingly distract us from our true focus. The faithfulness minister can be too keen to protect their own ego when proper critique and hard questions may be in order. The fruitfulness minister can end up viewing "abiding in Christ" as a means to their real end - ministry "success".

But if John 15 is properly in view then the faithfulness minister is directed to the true nature of faithfulness - not bricklaying obedience, but intimate communion. They are also challenged on the issue of fruitlessness - not, notice, "numbers." But still, we should be asking about fruit. Galatians 5 fruit is a good place to start: love, joy, peace, etc... Jesus does not merely say "Plod along, the outcome is immaterial." He said "If you make your home in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (v5)

Does this fruit go beyond character formation? Well Jesus did say that the fruit itself will abide (John 15:16). It is people who abide in Christ - not simply your Christian character. Therefore it is appropriate to ask "Are others growing in the Vine through my ministry?" No? Then something's up. And Jesus tells you - abide in Him (v4), let His word abide in you (v7), pray (v16), love (v17) and you will bear fruit: promise. True faithfulness does result in fruitfulness.

And for the fruitfulness crowd - remember: the fruit is not the point. The Vine is. It's easy to get convicted about our lack of fruit in ministry and to make that the reason we return to the Lord. Well praise God that something reminds us to commune with Christ. But desire for results isn't the best motivation is it? Let's never seek fruit for the sake of fruitfulness. That would be like using your spouse simply to have children. The truly faithful do not seek first fruit - they seek first the Lord. In Him - and only there - they are fruitful and multiply.


Original sin is a bit of a passion of mine (committed sin too but in a different way). I bang the 'original sin' drum in posts like these:

The Good News of Being Condemned Already

Original Sin (for the Evangelists Podcast)

The Importance of Adam

I'd love to see a proper renaissance of this teaching in our evangelism. Unfortunately Christians shy away from it for several reasons - not least a loss of confidence in the historical Adam. But let me leave that to one side and here sketch out three good reasons our culture ought to resonate with original sin and then address three dumb reasons why it really doesn't.

Three Reasons Our Culture Should Love Original Sin

It's holistic

We all know that we're perishing physically. We're born into a terminal condition called life. The Christian faces the fact that we are whole persons. We refuse to believe in a divorce between our physical state and our moral/spiritual state. We're born perishing - that's just a fact. There's no need to appeal to some other magical realm where we remain pristine and virtuous. Original sin treats us as whole people - dying on the outside, dying on the inside.

It's communal

Yes we live in an insanely individualistic age but actually the language of community is hugely prized. We're in this thing together. That's what original sin says: We're all in the same boat. No use pointing at the bad folks over there. I am them and they are me and we're all in a mess. Original sin levels the playing field and brings us together in the same place - a place of authenticity...

It's authentic

These days authenticity plays really well. If you can fake this you've got it made. Well here's a doctrine that says we've all got deep, deep issues. And no-one can claim an exemption. Nobody's perfect. Here is the death of all judgmentalism - no-one has achieved a different class of moral existence. All those religious types who think they're better than others are, beyond question, hypocrites. Original sin says we're all the black sheep of the family, so let's stop pretending to be 'on the side of the angels.'

Having said all this, here are Three Reasons Our Culture Hates Original Sin

We think we're immortal (The myth of limitless potential)

Modern westerners are in complete denial about our creaturely limitations. We spend our lives seeking to avoid and reverse our mortality. Actually we don't face our physical perishing so it's no wonder we can't face our spiritual perishing either.

We think we're islands (The myth of individualism)

For all our talk of community, our doctrine of humanity is thoroughly individualistic. I might like to get together with others, but it's my personal desire here that's important. I'm a community kinda guy. That's how roll. When the community starts making claims on me, I cool off big time. When you start telling me of my corporate identity and responsibility, I'm likely to get pretty offended.

We think our decisions make us free (The myth of choice)

It's so incredibly stupid and enslaving and obviously untrue but we are captivated by the idea that we create our own identity through the exercise of our personal choices. I know, I know - the multiplication of choices mostly ends up paralysing us (see, for eg, this TED talk on the Paradox of Choice) but still the mythology persists. And the  slogan "it's your decision" is so overwhelmingly persuasive it seems impossible to counteract.


Let's keep holding out the holistic, communal, authentic side of this message and let's keep chipping away at the delusions we tell ourselves: that we're immortal; that we stand alone; that we create ourselves. Let's point out our mortality and our limits. Let's highlight the failures of individualism. Let's spotlight the slaveries we bring on ourselves precisely when we make our bold choices.

And all the while, our goal is not to burden people under the conviction of sin but to awaken them to the reality we all face. The whole point is to wake up the world to the obvious: we're sick. To embrace this truth is not our damnation, it's our salvation. For Jesus did not come for the healthy but the sick. He did not come to call the limitless, individualistic self-creators but only original sinners.

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