John Owen on Effectual Atonement

I normally try and shy away from tackling tricky topics in something as short as a blog article, but . . . a) we just talked about this with our guided reading group so its fresh in my mind; b) these notes are really to help me put my thinking somewhere; c) Owen is just very good, and is simply the best case to engage with as far as I can see.

So I’m not claiming that what follows is the last word, and would request respectful engagement – this ain’t a hill I’m going to die on. That said, here, in a few hundred words is a few hundred pages of Owen from The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. 

  • Either Christ’s death pays for the elect or it pays for all.
  • If it’s the latter then why do some end up in hell? Is that double-payment?
  • No, says the Arminian – the benefits of Christ’s death are conditional.
  • Ok, so what’s the condition?
  • Answer: Belief
  • Interesting, says Owen . . . so . . .
    • Why belief? Is unbelief a sin? (implied answer is yes) So why should that particular sin be a hurdle to the saving benefits of Christ’s death? Why doesn’t Jesus’ death cover my unbelief?
    • Second, is belief not one of the benefits of Christ’s saving death, rather than a condition for reception of said saving benefits (cf. Eph 1:3)
    • Third, if we concede that faith itself is a blessing received as a fruit of Christ’s death is that faith received absolutely or conditionally. And if there’s a condition upon reception is that condition met absolutely or conditionally (etc etc etc!)
  • Conclusion: as unpalatable as it might seem, it is better to recognise that in God’s sovereignty the Redeemer is sent to redeem not the entire world, but his own bride.

Now, I’m very happy to hear arguments to the contrary, provided they’re put with the grace befitting the Christian. Anything else will be removed!

5 Levels of Leadership

Here’s an outstanding talk on leadership by John Maxwell

He outlines five levels of leadership as follows:

Level 1 – position (right) – people follow you because you have a title and they have to!
Level 2 – permission (relationships) – people follow you because you’ve invested in relationship and they want to. Level 2 leaders good at listening, observing, learning. They have a servant attitude – love to serve. Relationships are foundational because leadership is influence.
Level 3 – production (results) – at this level not only do people follow you because they want to, and because they like you, but you’re seeing results.
Level 4 – people-development (reproduce) – here people are not just getting results but are growing in their role. People development is linked to recruitment, positioning, and equipping (best way to equip is do it, do it with someone, they do it while you’re with them, they do it, they teach it – all five steps key).
Level 5 – pinnacle (respect) – comes from long-term success that gains the respect of others.
A highly recommended talk – well worth 30 mins with your lunch or coffee.

The Three Gods of Death


Dennis Olson’s little commentary on Deuteronomy, entitled Deuteronomy and the Death of Moses, contains some wonderfully insightful gems. Here’s one he picks out in Deuteronomy 7-10. Following hard on the heels of the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 (‘Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’), the author presents some of the other ‘gods’ that might threaten Israel’s allegiance to YHWH:

  • Militarism – “You may say in your heart, ‘These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?’ . . . remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharoah” (Deut 7:17-18)
  • Materialism – “You may say in your heart, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” (Deut 8:17-18)
  • Moralism – “Do not say in your heart, ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness’ . . . Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the Lord your God in the wilderness.” (Deut 9:4-7)

Many commentators note that Deuteronomy 6-11 is an exposition of the first commandment given in Deuteronomy 5. The big threat to the people of God is spiritual amnesia, hence the repeated call to ‘remember.’ And the temptation when they forget God is to trust instead in might, wealth, or their own righteousness. These instructions, given to a community some three millennia ago, seem strikingly relevant today. The danger of forgetting God’s care, provision, and mercy is always there. Further, our temptation to find our security or well-being in some sort of pursuit of power/position, standard of living, or self-righteousness is not difficult to spot. The antidote is simply to remember the grace and mercy of God. The regular provision for that can be see in the instruction of Deuteronomy 12, but that’s a subject for another time.

The Mystery of Mankind


Here’s an interesting book tracing scientific development since the publication of the human genome in 2001. It was thought that this discovery would explain the wide variety in form and attributes of the millions of species on the planet. In fact it raised a lot more questions about things we don’t yet understand. This book well illustrates the phrase, ‘The more we know, the more we realise we don’t know.’ Examples abound through the book, but here’s a quote from the closing pages:

“Might further scientific investigation vindicate Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection as the explanation for the infinite beauty and diversity of the natural world? Might biologists at some time in the future penetrate the impenetrable Double Helix to reveal how the genes of a snowdrop determine its delicate form and colour, so readily distinguishable from those of a tulip or any other form of life, or find in the 2 per cent of the genome that separate us from our primate cousins those random genetic mutations that gave rise to the non-material mind, and confirm as ‘mere illusion’ our perception of ourselves as free autonomous beings? The answer to all these questions must be ‘no’. We are not just a mystery to ourselves, but our existence as the sole witness of the splendours of the universe is its central mystery.”

I don’t profess to understand much of the science – a lot of it is way over my  head. But I did enjoy the sense of wonder at the beautiful mystery of our world.

How Google Works


Here’s a few notes from the book How Google Works. In outline the book discusses the importance of organizational culture, strategy, hiring, innovation, and communication. There’s lots of nuggets in there, but it all feels a bit higgledy-piggledy, so hence the reason why I’ll pick out a few bits and bobs instead of attempting a fuller summary. You can decide for yourself whether you want to buy it and find our more:

Here’s some good thoughts on hiring:

  • Hire people who are better than you
  • Hire people who add value to your culture
  • Hire people who will get things done
  • Hire people who are enthusiastic and self-motivated
  • Hire people who work well with others
  • Hire people who are ethical and communicate openly
  • Don’t hire people who only think about problems
  • Don’t hire people who just want a job
  • Don’t hire people who prefer to work alone
  • Don’t hire people who only live to work
  • Don’t hire people who are political or manipulative
  • Hire only when you’ve found a great candidate and don’t settle for anything less.

Here’s some good thoughts on meetings:

  • Meetings should have a single decision-maker/owner
  • Meetings should have a clear focus or purpose
  • Meetings should have an actionable outcome
  • Meetings are not like government agencies – they should be easy to kill
  • Meetings should be manageable in size
  • Meetings should begin and end on time
  • Meetings should be ‘attended’ – i.e. no multi-tasking, multi-screening etc.

And here are a few other nice quotes:

“The tailwind of Google’s marketing and PR engine and brand wasn’t nearly strong enough to overcome a headwind of mediocrity”

“Offices should be designed to maximize energy and interactions, not for isolation and status”

“no amount of strategy can substitute for talent . . . What is the single most important thing you do at work? Hiring.”

“The world’s best athletes need coaches, and you don’t?”

Lencioni, The Advantage


Here’s a really useful book by Patrick Lencioni entitled The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. As the subtitle suggests, Lencioni’s big thesis is that healthy teams are fruitful teams. To get there he suggests four disciplines as follows:


  1. Build a cohesive team. Lencioni summarizes, in this chapter, another book he’s written called Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He argues a healthy team needs to trust one another (really), do conflict well, are committed to one another (rather than in competition), hold one another accountable, and achieve good results. He explains through the chapter how to begin to work towards these, and how they relate to one another.
  2. Create clarity. This is achieved by answering the following six questions
    1. Why do we exist?
    2. How do we behave?
    3. What do we do?
    4. How will we succeed?
    5. What is most important right now?
    6. Who must do what?
  3. Overcommunicate clarity. Lencioni states, ’employees won’t believe what leaders are communicating to them until they’ve heard it seven times.’ Therefore we need to keep reminding ourselves of the answers to the six questions.
  4. Reinforce clarity. This is about turning communication into a culture. Lencioni discusses how this can be achieved over time through recruiting, training, managing etc. He also has a really helpful final chapter on ‘the centrality of meetings’ – and how he uses different sorts of meetings to keep his teams on track.

In essence it’s a book about communication, and the power of good communication to build a healthy culture in which people flourish. There’s a lot of really helpful wisdom in this book and I’d certainly recommend it as the type of thing to read and discuss as a team. Enjoy!

Piper – Seeing Beauty & Saying Beautifully


A friend recommended this book to me over summer, and I’ve really enjoyed reading it. The book is about the relationship between seeing the beauty of Christ and the gospel, and expressing it in poetically powerful ways.

In the first chapter of the book Piper examines Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17 that he did not use lofty speech or wisdom. Piper first examines the context and meaning of Paul’s statement, in particular the sort of eloquence Paul is rejecting. He then notes the many positive examples in Scripture of the poetic and rhetorically effective.

Having made a compelling case for the value of ‘poetic effort’ Piper examines three historical figures who have been particularly influential – George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C. S. Lewis. Each man, though very different, captured human imagination with their rhetorical and poetic effort.

In Piper’s conclusion he says,

“Poetic effort is not the effort to write poems. Poetic effort is the effort to see and savor and speak the wonder – the divine glory – that is present everywhere in the world God made . . . I don’t mean flowery or ostentatious . . . I mean penetrating, creative, fresh, striking, awakening, provocative – while not being trite, cute, faddish, corny and boring . . . as you try to find words that seem worthy of the worth of what you have seen, the worth of what you have seen becomes clearer and deeper.”

It is in itself a beautiful book, and one I heartily recommend, especially to those who labour to communicate the glorious truths of God and the gospel.

Meeting and Greeting Visitors

metal_handshakeI thought I’d do a very quick post on some simple tips to meeting and greeting visitors when they come to your church. For some people this comes very naturally, but for many others it’s nerve-wracking and painful – something to be avoided at all costs. I’m often struck by how difficult many people find it to introduce themselves to someone new. So here’s a few things that may help:

  1. People like being spoken to. We tend to think, ‘Why would they want me, a stranger, to speak to them?’ But in reality most of us like it when somebody makes the effort to say ‘hi’ and welcome us into a group. It’s not weird, it’s friendly – and it’s appreciated.
  2. Start with a smile. Not a creepy weird stalker smile. Just smile, say hi, and introduce yourself – ‘hi, I’m Martin, nice to meet you.’
  3. Offer them a drink. I don’t mean invite them out on a date. I just mean, if they’re sat down or standing looking a little lost offer to either grab them a tea/coffee or take them to get one.
  4. Keep it light. Have a few questions in your mind which are good ice-breakers in any situation – things like ‘have you been before?’ ‘are you new to the area?’ ‘how did you find about the church’? It might be the same 5 questions every time that you learn by rote – that’s fine, if that’s what it takes to get you started. Avoid overly personal questions like, ‘is this fellow the father of all of your children?’ or ‘have you been washed in the blood of the lamb?’ or ‘can you subscribe to the entirety of the 1689 Baptist confession of Faith?’ Obviously no-one would do this (right?), but do just be wary of getting too personal too quick.
  5. Fill the space. Don’t make them do all the work – talk a bit (that’s a bit, not a lot!) about yourself so it’s a conversation rather than an interrogation.
  6. Keep it brief. An initial connection only needs to be a few minutes. You don’t need a huge conversation about someone’s entire family history to show you’re pleased to have met them. An overly long or intense conversation with someone you just met can often make the other person uncomfortable. So after a few minutes don’t be afraid to say ‘it’s great to have met you’ and move on. It’s not rude, it just prevents the person you’re talking to from feeling bombarded.
  7. Involve someone else. Sometimes in conversation you find a ‘connection’ – something that connects that person to someone else in the congregation – it might be a hobby, friend, relative, or work-connection. Why don’t you introduce them – ‘come and meet Paul, he also works at the hospital.’ This helps in two ways – it helps keep the conversation light and brief, and introduces your new friend to one or two others as well. win, win.
  8. Practise. The more you do it the more natural it will become. Don’t beat yourself up if you stall or put your foot in it. Love covers a multitude of sins and people really will appreciate your kindness and friendliness.

And just a final word on returning visitors – perhaps those who haven’t been around a while. They’ll be especially sensitive to the jokes or questions around where they’ve been and why they haven’t been around. For these people just a friendly welcome, and some normal conversation is the best way to help them settle back in without feeling like they’re being judged.

What do you think? Other hints and tips on how we can do this better?


A Book Every Speaker Should Read


Here’s an excellent book I read recently – the outline is courtesy of friend and colleague, Simon Rowell:

Carmine Gallo, Talk Like TED

The most engaging presentations are:

  1. emotional – touch my heart
  2. novel – teach me something new
  3. memorable – make it unforgettable


  • Unleash the master within – passion
    • You can’t inspire others if you’re not inspired yourself
    • What’s your motivation? [we have the greatest motivation!]
  • Master the art of story telling
    • Stories turn abstract concepts into tangible, emotional and memorable ideas
    • Aristotle – Ethos (65%), Logos (10%), Pathos (25%) – credible, persuasive, appealing
    • 3 simple effective story types
      • Personal stories – carefully chosen, esp with an unexpected outcome
      • Stories about other people –  create empathy
      • Stories about success – who has achieved what you’re describing – give people a hero
    • Lead with stories – avoid over-used clichés, metaphors and buzzwords.
    • Stories illustrate, illuminate and inspire
  • Have a conversation
    • Authenticity doesn’t happen naturally – practise and get feedback – use video
    • 10,000 hour rule – it takes 10,000 hours of practise to master a skill!!!
    • How do you sound / how do you look – rate, volume, pitch, pace, pauses – use a verbal highlighter
    • What’s your body language like?
    • Pay attention to these details and practise


  • Teach me something new
    • reveal something completely new, or re-packaged to your audience – a fresh / novel take on  something  known
    • People are natural explorers
    • Get out of the office once in a while – find a new work-space to get the creative juices flowing
    • Craft a Twitter friendly headline – 140 characters  brings clarity – helps recall
    • What’s the ‘one thing’ – we need to see the big picture before the details
  • Deliver jaw-dropping moments
    • the shocking, surprising or impressive moment that is moving & memorable – an emotionally charged event
    • Props and demos – compare things (iPad mini launch…as thin as a pencil)
    • So what – a showstopper moment…
  • Lighten up
    • Humour – don’t take yourself too seriously
    • Use humour to make it novel – the brain loves it
    • Anecdotes / observations / personal stories / analogies / metaphors
    • Quotes – think creatively – not just Goodreads!
    • Use video / images
    • Humour / shock / stats
  • Stick to the 18 minute rule
    • Optimum time – or build in soft breaks every 10 minutes – listening well is tiring
    • Listening / learning – drains the brain – mental activity rapidly depletes glucose
    • Creativity thrives under constraints
    • The rule of 3 – attitude / awareness / authenticity – it’s easy to remember 3 things – create a message map
      • Twitter headline
        • Supporting message 1 – Stories / stats / examples
        • Supporting message 2 – Stories / stats / examples
        • Supporting message 3 – Stories / stats / examples
  • Paint a mental picture with multi-sensory experiences
    • Think how to touch all 5 senses – learning is enhanced
    • Use pictures, not text wherever possible
    • Tell stories, don’t lecture – we can’t multi-task – cut the words
    • What do you want people to feel
    • Multisensory can mean multiple voices
  • Stay in your lane
    • Be authentic, open and transparent – most people can spot a phoney


Obviously some of the above is more or less relevant to preachers. For example, we’re not trying to invent a message or sell a product. Nevertheless there’s still plenty here that is helpful to reflect on if we want to improve as communicators. What do you think? Anything missing? Where do we need to do most work? Thoughts, comments etc. most welcome.

C:\Users\Martin\Desktop\message map.jpg


Heads, Hearts, Hands, and the Homeless

Here’s a guest post from a mate who’s been doing some hard thinking about how to free up and use more of his financial resources to help others. 


This is a highly unusual morning.

I find myself on a busy street with a bag full of sandwiches that I’ve just bought from the supermarket.

This is the street I usually walk along to get to and from work – have done for the last few years. And it is lined with homeless people.

As I walk, I hand a sandwich to the first homeless person I see, then the next, and the next, until I’m out of sandwiches.

Definitely not something I’d usually do.

See, I walk this street twice a day, to the salaried job that pays the bills for the house that I live in and the car that I drive. The pavement is a bit cracked but that’s fine because I have shoes on my feet. I’m not cold from the waist down because (you’ll be pleased to hear) I’m wearing a quality pair of jeans. In the pocket of my jeans is my iPhone. On my iPhone I’m listening to music on Spotify, for which I pay £10 a month.

But because of some things I’ve been learning and thinking about recently, I can no longer walk past the people who have nothing but the cardboard they’re sitting on, and the clothes they’re wearing, without doing SOMETHING. Anything.

Do I think I can change the world with five quid’s worth of sandwiches? Absolutely not.

Do I think I can change my own heart for the homeless with it? Absolutely.

This unusual walk to work – which I end up repeating on the same day the following week, and the next – is not a one-man crusade against hunger and homelessness in the UK. It is the first step of responding to part of Jesus’ message I’ve been learning about, something I believe God is specifically putting on my heart right now.

It feels like everywhere I turn, everything I read, every sermon or podcast I listen to at the moment, they all seem to be talking about loving God by loving the needy. I don’t think this is the only way to love God, and our salvation is by grace and not by works. But everything I’m learning and absorbing at the minute is echoing the same message, referring to the same verses in the Bible, the same teachings of Jesus.

Proverbs 31 talks about speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves and defending the rights of the poor.

In Matthew 25 Jesus said that when we feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome a stranger, clothe the naked, look after the sick and visit the prisoner, we do it for him. He’s saying that to love the poor is to love God Himself. And God is interested in our very real, very physical, very human experience.

For too long, I’ve looked at these things as cosy metaphors for feeding the ‘spiritually hungry’ with the ‘bread of life’, giving the ‘spiritually thirsty’ a drink from the ‘living water’, clothing the ‘spiritually naked’ with ‘royal robes we don’t deserve’. Whilst I think this is all true and good (this is a ‘both/ and’ situation), the reality is that we live in a world where people have very real, desperate physical needs.

1.75 billion people are desperately poor. 1 billion are hungry. 80% of the world’s wealth belongs to 20% of the world’s population. There’s enough food in the world for every single human to never be hungry. The Earth is doing its job (God is providing through the produce of the land). The problem is with our distribution.

We are the wealthiest generation of Christians ever. And we have the opportunity and resources to do something. Anything.

Three questions I came across in Max Lucado’s book ‘Out Live Your Life’:

  1. Had you been a German Christian during World War II, would you have taken a stand against Hitler?
  2. Had you lived during the Civil Rights movement in the South [of America], would you have taken a stand against racism?
  3. When your grandchildren discover that you lived in a day in which 1 billion people were hungry, how will they judge your response?

Max goes on to say “I don’t mind first two questions, they’re hypothetical and I like to think I’d have done the right thing. But those days are gone and those choices weren’t mine. But the third question has kept me awake at night.”

Here’s a short sentence that is transforming every part of my day right now: We can bring some of the Kingdom of Heaven to people who are experiencing Hell on Earth. Read it again. Then get a tattoo of it.

So we’re taking baby steps, and we’re listening, and we’re responding, in whatever small way we can to start using our resources, our time and our finances.

It’s the same reason I’ve decided to volunteer with my local Street Pastors, and give time to a local soup kitchen run by a neighbouring church.

It’s the same reason that we’ve recently started to sponsor a child in Africa through a charity. (Although, side note – once you’ve made what you think is a big bold move by signing up with your however-many-pounds per month to sponsor one child, you INSTANTLY realise you could have afforded a second. And what about a third? “Cold my warmest thoughts” as Newton’s hymn says).

Even if I never ever do the sandwich thing again, it’s dragged me out of myself and pointed my heart in the direction of empathy and generosity, so God has been at work.

I don’t think we’ve got the whole way forward sussed out. There may be more effective ways of using our resources that I’m going to learn about in the coming weeks and months. There’s definitely more we could be doing. But if we are hearing from God then I need to respond. I need to throw my actions out ahead, and let my heart catch up, let God teach me through it, lead me through it, open me up to new things, new perspectives, let him speak and teach through the experiences.