He was made man – four frightening words?


People readily swallow the untested claims of this, that, or the other. It’s drowning all your old rationalism and scepticism, it’s coming in like a sea; and the name of it is superstition.’ He stood up abruptly, his face heavy with a sort of frown, and went on talking almost as if he were alone. ‘It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense and can’t see things as they are. Anything that anybody talks about, and says there’s a good deal in it, extends itself indefinitely like a vista in a nightmare. And a dog is an omen, and a cat is a mystery, and a pig is a mascot, and a beetle is a scarab, calling up all the menagerie of polytheism from Egypt and old India; Dog Anubis and great green-eyed Pasht and all the holy howling Bulls of Bashan; reeling back to the bestial gods of the beginning, escaping into elephants and snakes and crocodiles; and all because you are frightened of four words: ‘He was made Man’.’

G K Chesterton (Complete Father Brown Mysteries)

“I will remember! Oh! I will!”


Nat has been caught lying. Again.

He thought no one would find it out, but Tommy happened to see him, and when Emil spoke of it a day or two later, Tommy gave his evidence, and Mr. Bhaer heard it. School was over, and they were all standing about in the hall, and Mr. Bhaer had just set down on the straw settee to enjoy his frolic with Teddy; but when he heard Tommy and saw Nat turn scarlet, and look at him with a frightened face, he put the little boy down, saying, “Go to thy mother, bubchen, I will come soon,” and taking Nat by the hand led him into the school and shut the door.

The boys looked at one another in silence for a minute, then Tommy slipped out and peeping in at the half-closed blinds, beheld a sight that quite bewildered him. Mr. Bhaer had just taken down the long rule that hung over his desk, so seldom used that it was covered with dust.

“My eye! He’s going to come down heavy on Nat this time. Wish I hadn’t told,” thought good-natured Tommy, for to be feruled was the deepest disgrace at this school.

“You remember what I told you last time?” said Mr. Bhaer, sorrowfully, not angrily.

“Yes; but please don’t make me, I can’t bear it,” cried Nat, backing up against the door with both hands behind him, and a face full of distress.

“Why don’t he up and take it like a man? I would,” thought Tommy, though his heart beat fast at the sight.

“I shall keep my word, and you must remember to tell the truth. Obey me, Nat, take this and give me six good strokes.”

Tommy was so staggered by this last speech that he nearly tumbled down the bank, but saved himself, and hung onto the window ledge, staring in with eyes as round as the stuffed owl’s on the chimney-piece.

Nat took the rule, for when Mr. Bhaer spoke in that tone everyone obeyed him, and, looking as scared and guilty as if about to stab his master, he gave two feeble blows on the broad hand held out to him. Then he stopped and looked up half-blind with tears, but Mr. Bhaer said steadily:

“Go on, and strike harder.”

As if seeing that it must be done, and eager to have the hard task soon over, Nat drew his sleeve across his eyes and gave two more quick hard strokes that reddened the hand, yet hurt the giver more.

“Isn’t that enough?” he asked in a breathless sort of tone.

“Two more,” was all the answer, and he gave them, hardly seeing where they fell, then threw the rule all across the room, and hugging the kind hand in both his own, laid his face down on it sobbing out in a passion of love, and shame, and penitence:

“I will remember! Oh! I will!”

Then Mr. Bhaer put an arm about him, and said in a tone as compassionate as it had just now been firm: “I think you will. Ask the dear God to help you, and try to spare us both another scene like this.”

Here is thel lesson: it is when we see what our sin has done to the Lord Jesus Christ who suffered for us that we will remember all the more to put sin to death.

The quote above is from Louisa May Alcott Little Men (p. 64). Thanks to Gordon Woolard for pointing the quote out to me

The little missionary in the night-gown


Nat is recently arrived at the Bhaers’ school-cum-orphanage. Demi is an older boy at the school.

The light of the shaded lamp that burned in the nursery shone softly on a picture hanging at the foot of Nat’s bed. There were several others on the walls, but the boy thought there must be something peculiar about this one, for it had a graceful frame of moss and cones about it, and on a little bracket underneath stood a vase of wild flowers freshly gathered from the spring woods. It was the most beautiful picture of them all, and Nat lay looking at it, dimly feeling what it meant, and wishing he knew all about it.

“That’s my picture,” said a little voice in the room. Nat popped up his head, and there was Demi in his night-gown pausing on his way back from Aunt Jo’s chamber, whither he had gone to get a cot for a cut finger.

“What is he doing to the children?” asked Nat.

“That is Christ, the Good Man, and He is blessing the children. Don’t you know about Him?” said Demi, wondering.

“Not much, but I’d like to, He looks so kind,” answered Nat, whose chief knowledge of the Good Man consisted in hearing His name taken in vain.

“I know all about it, and I like it very much, because it is true,” said Demi.

“Who told you?”

“My Grandpa, he knows every thing, and tells the best stories in the world. I used to play with his big books, and make bridges, and railroads, and houses, when I was a little boy,” began Demi.

“How old are you now?” asked Nat, respectfully.

“‘Most ten.”

“You know a lot of things, don’t you?”

“Yes; you see my head is pretty big, and Grandpa says it will take a good deal to fill it, so I keep putting pieces of wisdom into it as fast as I can,” returned Demi, in his quaint way.

Nat laughed, and then said soberly,

“Tell on, please.”

And Demi gladly told on without pause or punctuation. “I found a very pretty book one day and wanted to play with it, but Grandpa said I mustn’t, and showed me the pictures, and told me about them, and I liked the stories very much, all about Joseph and his bad brothers, and the frogs that came up out of the sea, and dear little Moses in the water, and ever so many more lovely ones, but I liked about the Good Man best of all, and Grandpa told it to me so many times that I learned it by heart, and he gave me this picture so I shouldn’t forget, and it was put up here once when I was sick, and I left it for other sick boys to see.”‘

“What makes Him bless the children?” asked Nat, who found something very attractive in the chief figure of the group.

“Because He loved them.”

“Were they poor children?” asked Nat, wistfully.

“Yes, I think so; you see some haven’t got hardly any clothes on, and the mothers don’t look like rich ladies. He liked poor people, and was very good to them. He made them well, and helped them, and told rich people they must not be cross to them, and they loved Him dearly, dearly,” cried Demi, with enthusiasm.

“Was He rich?”

“Oh no! He was born in a barn, and was so poor He hadn’t any house to live in when He grew up, and nothing to eat sometimes, but what people gave Him, and He went round preaching to everybody, and trying to make them good, till the bad men killed Him.”

“What for?” and Nat sat up in his bed to look and listen, so interested was he in this man who cared for the poor so much.

“I’ll tell you all about it; Aunt Jo won’t mind;” and Demi settled himself on the opposite bed, glad to tell his favorite story to so good a listener.

Nursey peeped in to see if Nat was asleep, but when she saw what was going on, she slipped away again, and went to Mrs. Bhaer, saying with her kind face full of motherly emotion,

“Will the dear lady come and see a pretty sight? It’s Nat listening with all his heart to Demi telling the story of the Christ-child, like a little white angel as he is.”

Mrs. Bhaer had meant to go and talk with Nat a moment before he slept, for she had found that a serious word spoken at this time often did much good. But when she stole to the nursery door, and saw Nat eagerly drinking in the words of his little friends, while Demi told the sweet and solemn story as it had been taught him, speaking softly as he sat with his beautiful eyes fixed on the tender face above them, her own filled with tears, and she went silently away, thinking to herself,

“Demi is unconsciously helping the poor boy better than I can; I will not spoil it by a single word.”

The murmur of the childish voice went on for a long time, as one innocent heart preached that great sermon to another, and no one hushed it. When it ceased at last, and Mrs. Bhaer went to take away the lamp, Demi was gone and Nat fast asleep, lying with his face toward the picture, as if he had already learned to love the Good Man who loved little children, and was a faithful friend to the poor. The boy’s face was very placid, and as she looked at it she felt that if a single day of care and kindness had done so much, a year of patient cultivation would surely bring a grateful harvest from this neglected garden, which was already sown with the best of all seed by the little missionary in the night-gown.

What a moving (if fictional) tale of the natural evangelist. From Little Men by Louisa May Alcott (p. 50)

Dave Fenton: Growing Up (a review)


We recently had a great morning of training with Dave Fenton about church-based youth and children’s work. We called it Planting and Watering, as that seems such a great description of the patience and teamwork involved in consistently reaching children and young people and building their faith. It was a great morning which I am sure we will repeat at some future stage.

Dave also brought with him copies of his new book Growing Up, part of the Keswick resources series. He speaks about it here. Having read the book, I can highly recommend it.

The heart of the book, and the heart of his vision for church-based youth work, is that the children’s and youth work should be a community where that young people can

  • Become Christians
  • Grow as Christians
  • Live as Christians
  • Serve as Christians

These principles inform the structure of youth and children’s work, and its place within the church family. Indeed the same principles apply to the church itself as a community. The clear emphasis on the place of the local church is a great strength.

There are also five chapters on teaching and learning, full of wisdom and insight about bringing the living Word of God into young peoples’ lives. Dave made the point in our training day (I can’t remember if it is in the book) that the Bible has the best stories: we just need to let them into the light and they will live. (He references Richard Pratt’s He Gave us Stories).

I found the chapters on ‘broader issues’ very helpful: one on the role of the church in supporting and owning youth work (and the youth therein) to be a very helpful corrective to the ‘youth church’ model that stunts the growth of both young people and the whole church family.

This is wisdom written in an accessible style, with great stories. I admit that I usually nervous of stories because of finding tales about ‘my amazing ministry’ rather intimidating. Dave’s were not like that at all. They are great incidents that illustrate and inspire.

There are other good books about youth and children’s work available on Christian market. The standard texts in the UK are Ashton and Moon’s Christian Youth Work; Al Stewart (ed) No Guts No Glory, and the Tim Hawkins series on making disciples that last. There is also a unit on Youth and Children’s Work in the Open Bible Institute Series, written by Dave Fenton and others.

So why this new book? Here are some reasons why I recommend you buy this book:

1. The principles that he articulates are little changed from the books I have mentioned. But the environment has changed. The decline in churches and their youth is steeper than ever before, and the dangers of detaching the youth work from the church’s ministry are starker than before. I think that we need to hear these same things said in a different way so that we can appreciate how they apply to our current situation.

2. There are new emphases: I think the push on enabling young people to serve in church, and on having an integrated view of the whole work (ways in and ways through) is crucial to healthy church life for the whole church. In that sense it is vital to see that youth ministry and ministry to adults are simply variations of the same thing: bringing the word of God to bear on the lives of his beloved people. In his training, Dave hinted that the 0-18s scheme of ‘ways in and ways through’ can be applied to 0-90s. Perhaps when he has written his next book (on Prodigals) he will show us some of his thinking on the Third Age (whom he has just joined by retiring from paid ministry).

3. He puts Bible teaching at the heart of the youth work and includes space to show you how it can be done. Dave has a strong confidence in sequential teaching rather than needs-led themes and topics which risk not teaching the whole counsel of God.

A great read. highly recommended.

Inside Story: The Life of John Stott by Roger Steer


Reposted with a correction. Roger Steer kindly pointed out that there IS a hunt for the snowy owl story. My apologies to Roger for the error.

If the news of John Stott’s recent promotion to glory has left you wanting to know more of the man’s life and incluence, a brief biography is called for. Here is a review I wrote some time ago for Churchman magazine. 

John Stott towers over the history of twentieth century evangelicalism, and remains a man of enormous influence through his writings, his preaching and his personal leadership. Roger Steer has written an accessible account of a John Stott’s life.

The biographer’s first challenge is to reckon with the sheer number of people who are significant in the story – and in whose stories John Stott is significant. The Table of Contents helpfully doubles as a timeline as we follow the subject through his early steps in life and then as a Christian into his emergence as a leader. From the moment Stott hits his stride, the pace of the book is fairly breathless. If this were a stage play rather than the book, then it could be set on a moving stage so that a long succession of leading christians may efficiently be shuffled on stage left, be introduced, and then slide off to stage-right. Perhaps life around John Stott was really like that. As the book continues it is with some relief that the train of visitors subsides and more of the man’s personal passions emerge: the certainty that life for Christ is the only and best way to life; his personal discipline and holiness; his passion for preaching; his gifts coupled with humility and sense of humour. The middle section manages not to leave the reader intimidated; the final section manages to leave the reader inspired. John Stott is also a prolific author and Steer does a good job of summarising the major works and the contexts from which they sprang.

This is a good introduction to John Stott’s life and writings given the space available, but we get little chance to reflect on his inner thoughts. We discover that he was criticised by people who did not work as hard to understand his position as as he did to understand theirs. But there is no clear engagement with his evangelical critics’ views, and the struggles he faced are mentioned but hardly analysed: tensions with his father about war service; differences with evangelicals over Billy Graham’s mission and methods; divergence with Martyn Lloyd-Jones; differences between the ‘narrow’ and broad’ views of evangelism in the Lausanne process; disputes over conditional immortality. We also hear little of the theological currents at each stage, again for lack of space. The fact of John Stott’s birdwatching is of course mentioned: the passion of it does not quite come across. (And there is no ‘quest for the snowy owl’ [Correction: the quest for the snowy owl is on pp 243-244; my apologies for the error]). Those who did not live through these times personally will do well by reading a biography of Stott, and Steer’s life is an excellent introduction, much shorter than Timothy Dudley-Smith’s two volumes. It will help us begin to appreciate the influence of Stott’s writings in shaping evangelicalism today in Britain and beyond. And readers of any age should be inspired by Stott’s example, humbled by his godliness, and stimulated to serve his Master.

More on the NIV 2011


The excellent journal Themeliosis now published by the Gospel Coalition. The latest issue (36-3)  has a fine evaluation of the NIV 2011 revision. You can find the article here.

I wrote a previous post which you can find here.