Phenomenalism, Positivism, and Queen Victoria

In the next couple of posts I shall be mostly pinching some great ideas and snippets from Andrew Wilson’s book If God, Then What? It was released earlier this year and is a brilliantly winsome and astute example of apologetic writing. With a blend of great stories and illustrations, along with a keen wit and intellect he provides a compelling case for the veracity of the Bible’s story. Early on in the book he addresses the thorny issue of how we know things (epistemology for the boffins). He outlines a couple of theories. The first one is phenomenalism. This is the idea that we only experience phenomena not reality. I cannot know I’m drinking orange juice – I just experience wetness and coldness, bitter and sweet flavours. The second theory of knowledge is positivism. That is to say the only things we can truly know about are those things which we can prove by empirical investigation. But, as Wilson points out, most of the stuff we believe doesn’t fit into either of those categories. Do I believe in Queen Victoria? Yes, but I haven’t felt her (ooh-eerr) or empirically verified her existence. Statements such as “I love you”, “One Direction suck”, “Knowledge must be provable” are completely unprovable in phenomenalist or positivist terms. Most of the things we believe are held on the basis of a whole load of aggregate information and experience which we deem best explains the point under consideration. Have I seen God? Nope. But I have a whole load of data which leads me to believe that if I’d been around Jerusalem a couple of millenia ago I would have.

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Great quotes on preaching

I’ll say it upfront – The Spurgeon quote is my favourite!

“The test of a preacher is that his congregation goes away saying, not ‘What a lovely sermon,’ but ‘I will do something!’” ~ Francis de Sales

“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.”  ~ John Wesley

“If Jesus preached the same message minister’s preach today, He would have never been crucified.” ~ Leonard Ravenhill

“What is the chief end of preaching? I like to think it is this: It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.” ~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“Only once did God choose a completely sinless preacher.” ~ Alexander Whyte

“The preaching of Christ is the whip that flogs the devil. The preaching of Christ is the thunderbolt, the sound of which makes all hell shake.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

“The preacher is not a chef; he’s a waiter. God doesn’t want you to make the meal; He just wants you to deliver it to the table without messing it up. That’s all.” ~ John MacArthur

The Bible is an Anvil

I’m off later today to do a church weekend for a mate of mine, the great Andy Fenton no less. I’ll be doing four sessions on the doctrine of the Word of God. To finish I’ll be using a  great poem by John Clifford about Scripture. It goes a little something like this…

Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith’s door

And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;

When looking in, I saw upon the floor,

Old hammers worn with beating years of time.

 

“How many anvils have you had,” said I,

“To wear and batter these hammers so?”

“Just one,” said he; then with a twinkling eye,

“The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”

 

And so, I thought, the anvil of God’s Word,

For ages, skeptics blows have beat upon;

Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,

The anvil is unharmed – the hammers gone.

Preaching with Variety

Here’s a few snippets from a helpful book on preaching I read recently. It’s by Jeffrey Arthurs and entitled Preaching With Variety.

“Who does not know that words carry greater conviction when spoken by men of good repute than when spoken by men who live under a cloud.” – Isocrates (p15)

“The defining essence of an expository sermon lies in its content not its form” (p16)

“When form prompts participation, we are more likely to accept ideas associated with the form” (p26)

“The art of teaching is the art of assisted discovery” – Van Doren (p30)

He goes on in the second part of the book to offer many helpful suggestions on how to preach different genres of Scripture. Well worth a read.

Jim Collins at the GLS

Jim Collins is one of my favourite leadership writers. Books like Built to Last and Good to Great are leadership classics, and have certainly shaped the way I act and think. Jim was on great form at the recent GLS (Global Leadership Summit) discussing his latest book Great By Choice. He picked up on three characteristics of companies that remained great in difficult economic times. Those traits were:

  1. Fanatic Discipline – Don’t wait for the right conditions to put the miles in. Don’t over-stretch.The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.
  2. Empirical Creativity – making smart bets. Fire bullets not cannonballs. One cannonball may come off but if all your eggs are in that basket (to mix metaphors) it’s an incredibly risky strategy. Instead fire bullets – lots of them. Calibrate your line of sight. Find what works. Then fire a cannonball at it. Discipline needs to amplify creativity not destroy it.
  3. Productive paranoia – having safety nets in place for when times are tough. Cash reserves, contingencies etc. You still need to innovate and take some risks, but bet smart.

And here are three more great one liners from the man himself:

 The greatest danger is not failure, but to be successful without understanding why?

Greatness is not primarily a function of circumstance, but a matter of conscious choice and discipline.

Your organisation is not truly great unless it is great without you.

If you missed Collins at the GLS you can hear him talk about these same sorts of things on his most recent appearance on the Catalyst podcast (for FREE!!!)

Highlights from Bill Hybels at this years Global Leadership Summit

I’m a big fan of the GLS – it’s energising, exciting, and inspiring. I always come away with a hat-full of ideas and things to think about. Three of our leadership team were at the regional event in Bracknell on Friday. Here are some of the highlights from the opening talk given by Bill Hybels.

1. parable of sower – there’s a lot of failure in there so how do we see more decent crop?

– answer: sow more seed

– publicity

– training – eg. Just walk across the room

– courses – xplore

– organisations take their ‘seed sowing’ lead from the leader – entropy must not occur on your watch.

– experiment – keep it fresh, force learning and progress, alleviate boredom – tinker constantly to find new ways of seed sowing.

2. prioritise – leaders most valuable asset is not their time, but their energising capabilities.

– here’s a good question – in the next 6 weeks what would be the greatest 6 contributions you could make for the church God loves.

– Write them down on 6×6 cards.

– Plan six week sprints with priorities that will most impact your organisation

– arrange your schedule around these priorities and energy bursts.

– stop just responding to stuff – move stuff forward; energise important projects

3. Succession planning

– If you’re coming toward retirment you need to think about this a fair way out.

– planning phase – who chooses successor; what’s the time frame; how do you honour old pastor; what’s their role when they finish.

– locate internal person (ideally) to be successor

– transition phase (responsibilities gradually handed over – perhaps over 2 year period)

– understand how deep feelings run for long term senior pastors

– the greatest legacy is to leave the future in good shape and hands

4. When vision is vulnerable

– not early days; not when finish line is in sight; but in the middle when people hit the wall (eg. Nehemiah’s wall)

5. Leadership is a privilege

The DVD’s of these sessions are well worth getting hold of. I’ll be putting up a few more highlights from other speakers in the next few posts.

A Series of “One Another’s”

I know I’m not the first to see or suggest this but, having seen someone else lay it out, it does look rather good. Here’s a twelve part series on the “one another’s” of the New Testament:

  1. Be devoted to one another (Rom 12:10)
  2. Honour one another (Rom 12:10)
  3. Accept one another (Rom 15:7)
  4. Serve one another (Gal 5:13)
  5. Submit to one another (Eph 5:21)
  6. Bear with one another (Col 3:13)
  7. Counsel one another (Col 3:16)
  8. Encourage one another (Heb 10:25)
  9. Confess your sins to one another (Jam 5:16)
  10. Pray for one another (Jam 5:16)
  11. Offer hospitality to one another (1 Pet 4:9)
  12. Love one another (1 John 3:11)

Counsels on the Spiritual Life

I’ve been using Thomas a Kempis’ (he of pointy face) abridged version of The Imitation entitled Counsels on the Spiritual Life as part of my quiet time for a few months now. Some of it (particularly the later parts) are plainly dodgy, but there are some good and helpful bits in there too, especially near the start. You can pick up this tiny penguin paperback for pence off Amazon. Here’s a few good bits:

“Of what use is it to discourse learnedly on the Trinity if you lack humility and therefore displease the Trinity? Lofty words do not make a man just or holy; but a good life makes him dear to God. I would far rather feel contrition than be able to define it. If you knew the whole Bible by heart, and all the teachings of the philosophers, how would this help you without the grace and love of God?”

“A humble countryman who serves God is more pleasing to him than a conceited intellectual who knows the course of the stars, but neglects his own soul.”

“It does you no harm when you esteem all others better than yourself, but it does you great harm when you esteem yourself above others.”

“We need especially to be on guard at the very onset of temptation, for then the Enemy may be more easily overcome, if he is not allowed to enter the gates of the mind.”

“In judging others, we expend our energy to no purpose; we are often mistaken, and easily sin.”

“Strive to be patient; bear with the faults and frailties of others, for you too, have many faults which others have to bear.”

“Your evenings will always be tranquil if you have spent the day well.”

Now to read The Imitation of Christ