An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Music for a Bank Holiday Monday

True or False: Darwin

How well do you know your Darwin? Below are several statements - decide if they are true or false and highlight the text underneath to reveal the answer.

1. Darwin originated the idea of organic evolution
False: J. B. A P. de Monnet Lamark and Geoffrey Saint-Hillaire both argued for the transmutability of species and both pre-dated Darwin.

2. Darwin claimed we are descended from monkeys
False: he claimed we had a common ancestor.

3. Darwin coined the term ‘survival of the fittest’
False: it was Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)

4. Darwin once considered being ordained
True: he was bought up a Unitarian but after his father’s advice considered becoming an Anglican vicar. He decided against it when he realised that he couldn’t with a clear conscious answer yes to the question posed to the ordinands: ‘Do you trust that your are inwardly moved by the Holy Spirit?

5. Darwin became an atheist
False: there is no evidence to suggest that he did. He remained an agnostic, any remnants of a Christian faith were rocked by the death of his 10 year-old daughter Annie. His faith waned because he had doubts about the Bible, he didn’t like the idea of t ‘wrathful God’ of the OT and philosophical objections, he thought the laws of nature made miracles unbelievable.

6. Darwinism is atheism
Charles Hodge claimed it was; see his What is Darwinism? But Darwin wasn’t an atheist.

7. Darwin made it intellectually respectable to be an atheist
Yes, if Dawkins is to be believed!

8. Darwin made a death-bed confession of faith
False, if James Moore’s research is correct see The Darwin Legend Hodder and Stoughton, 1994.

9. Most theologians at the time were against natural selection
It depends how what is meant by most! Certainly not all were. Many Anglican clergy such as Charles Kingsley and Fredrick Temple seemed to embrace the idea proclaiming that ‘God made things to make themselves’. Another Aubrey Moore claimed that Darwin’s ideas did the ‘job of a friend under the guise of a foe’.
Many Christians were in favour including Asa Gray, James McCosh, George Wright, Alexander Wincell and James Dana.

And B. B. Warfield wrote:
‘I do not think that there is any statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution’. Lectures on Anthropology (1888)

10. The Oxford debate (30 June 1860) between T H Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce was convincingly won by Huxley
False: the reports seem mixed. There were no verbatim accounts so we can’t know for sure. However, it seems that one convert to Darwinism, the naturalist Henry Baker Tristram, ‘recanted’ after hearing Wilberfore’s scientific points.

Richard Dawkins The Blind Watchmaker Longmans, 1986
Charles Kingsley The Water Babies, Penguin
David Livingstone Darwin's Forgotten Defenders Eerdmans, 1987
Arthur McCalla The Creationist Debate Continuum, 2006
James Moore The Post-Darwinian Controversies CUP, 1979
James Moore The Darwin legend H&S, 1994
Fredrick Temple Religion and Science 1884

Sunday, 30 August 2009

James 5: 7-12 Be patient

7 Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming.

There are three important hermeneutical principles that need to be taken into account:
1. Context;
2. Context; and
3. Context.
The biblical context, the cultural and social context at the time it was written and our own context, we read scriptures through our own worldview. With that in mind we need quickly to look at the biblical context of this passage.

The RSV starts this verse with a therefore. There’s an old adage that says, ‘Whenever you see a therefore, you have to look what’s there for’. So, what’s the therefore there for? It’s there because of the preceding passage. James 5:1-6 the rich oppressors: injustice and greed. In light of such oppression there is the need for patience. James turns from judgment of the rich to encouragement to the faithful.

It is in the light of the unfairness of life that we need to learn the message of patience.
We need to restrain from revenge or retaliation.

It’s obvious that James is addressing Christian here – he used the term ‘brothers’ three times. (v 7, 9, 10, 12)

What is patience? It’s countercultural and subversive. Watch this Samsung Jet advert: “impatience is a virtue”.
Patience is knowing you're bored and doing nothing about it. Impatience is a virtue.

Impatience is in first, on top, at the front…

(The voice over is by James NcAvoy, with more than a nod to the film Trainspotting. The music is by the The Mae Shi, the title the Lamb and the Lion.)

If you want to know what a society idolises watch its adverts. What’s idolised here? Progress.

Here the message is that impatience is a virtue. Patience is a waste of time. The biblical message totally subverts this view point.

What do the scriptures tell us about patience? (See slides)

What’s linked with patience here in this passage in Jmaes?
Verses 7 and 8: The Lord’s coming.

Patience here has an end in view and a reason: the Lord’s coming. It’s not mindless waiting and doing nothing – it has a purpose in view.
The Lord’s coming gives us a goal – until
And a reason – because

Look at this question
What would you be doing now if you knew Jesus was coming tonight?
How would you answer it?

What is stopping you doing it?

These questions are a great way to see if there is any dualism!

Luther, when asked what he would do if the world would end tomorrow, said: "I would plant a tree today."

Why would he want to do that?

How we answer these questions reveals theological position: continuity or discontinuity/ dualist or not.

Will what we do now make a difference on the new earth?
If it does then planting a tree is important.
Our role as image bearers of God is not (just) to populate heaven!

Here are some responses to the question from the Internet

If you knew Jesus was coming back in the next few hours what would you do differently?
Here are some

I'd let everything else go and make sure I was "prayed up." Then, I'd call my family and friends and tell them the urgency of accepting Jesus as saviour.

Not Applicable.

He's not coming, he never came, and he never will come.

Cancel my party room reservation for December 21, 2012.

Better get on those dishes.

Nothing. I try to be ready whenever He comes.

I would not go to sleep tonight.........I would stay awake.........and sing Holy, Holy, Holy, Come Oh Lord.

I'd be staring out my window and praying.

would fix the hair, cosmetics, possible shower.
pack all the bare necessities

Get my ghostbusting equipment.

Party Time with some good lookin' ladies! May as
well go out with a smile on my face!

Put all my online sales accounts on vacation, make
sure my husband knows where our wills are, and write goodbye notes for my kids.

I would quickly go back into my bank account online and cancel all of the bill payments I just made.

A Right doing
B Example
A’ Right doing

C Right speaking
D God’s character
B’ Example
B’ Example
D’ God’s character
C’ Right speaking


There is a parallel between these two sections, both have as the centre the examples. The examples would be very familiar to James’s hearers – predominantly poor Jewish Christians. Many would be farmers and all would know of the prophets and Job. James is showing continuity between what he is teaching, everyday life and the Old Testament.
We too need to know our history, not only the OT history but also church history; we too need to be able to link our theology with everyday living. All of life is important to God.

9 Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

Some themes keep cropping up – right speaking and judging.

There are three main things a good teacher needs to get his point over: repetition, repetition and repetition. And James makes good use of it!

10 Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

11 As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned.

James’s desire is for Christians who are mature, who have an authentic faith is shown in deeds, single minded and characterised by integrity in all that we say and do. Because what we say we do we will do.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

James 4: 1-12 Conflicts: causes and cures

The James's epistle often gets a raw deal from scholars.

For Luther it was a strawy epistle, James D.G. Dunn once described it as as "the most undistinctively Christian document in the New Testament."

And George Eldon Ladd writes: ‘There is an additional wealth of material in James about practical Christian living, but it hardly demands the attention of the theologian’. As if theology can be divorced from life!

And yet as we have seen there is certainly more than straw here – James is writing to Christians dispersed around the globe in the hope that they will become mature in all that the say and do, and to be single-minded about their faith.

This section is about pride and humility.

A bishop, a vicar and a street person were in a Bristol cathedral.

The bishop approached the altar rail, beat on his chest and declared, "I am nothing! I am nothing!" Then the vicar approached the altar rail, beat on his chest and declared, "I am nothing! I am nothing!"

The humble street person was moved to imitate the bishop and the vicar, so she approached the altar rail, beat on her chest and declared, "I am nothing! I am nothing!"

The vicar turned furiously and hissed into the bishop's ear, "Who the heck does she think she is?"

Humility - it’s so difficult when you are as modest as I am. Have you seen my latest book, 12 humble men and how I trained the other 11? I’ll be signing copies later.

This section follows on from chapter 3 – the need for peace.

The Bible wasn’t written split up into chapters and verses – the system in use today was first devised by an ABp of Canterbury Stephen Langton in 1227 and was popularised in the Wycliffe Bible in the late 1382. For the most part they do a good job in enabling us to navigate through the Bible, but they can sometimes cut across the thrust and arguments of the passages.

This is the case here – verse 1 follows on from the argument developed at the end of chapter 3.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

The key here is peace makers, we are not just peace keepers, as Churchill said "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile – hoping it will eat him last." We need peace makers, those who are not afraid to confront and admonish, rather than sweep things under the carpet. The problem of sweeping things under the carpet is that it gets difficult to walk round all the lumps.

To be peace makers we have to confront and deal with fights and quarrels – and this is what James helps us to do.

James 4:1 ¶ What causes fights [wars] and quarrels [battles] among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?

James poses yet another rhetorical question.

These two nouns (polemoi and machai) were normally used of national warfare, but they had also become common, forceful expressions for any kind of open antagonism.
He is not thinking of healthy disagreements here.

So, what does cause quarrels and fights? James is wise enough to know that although many arguments are about little things, like who used the last piece of toilet paper and didn’t replace it or who squeezed the wrong end of the toothpaste, these are not the issues – the issues are what lies behind them.

Think about the last few arguments that you had – what were at the root of it?

Arguments come from inside us: desires that battle within us.

One of these desires is the desire to have: materialism. We have believed the world’s lie that more will bring happiness.

James 4:2 You want something
[this is not strong enough] but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. [Actually kill and covet] You do not have, because you do not ask God.
The structure of this verse is:

You want and do not have: (so) you murder.
And you covet and cannot obtain: (so) you quarrel and fight.

They were coveting and fighting rather than praying – what is it that keeps us from praying?

James 4:3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

We become self-focused rather than other focused. It’s a question of faults and needs.

Too often we focus on our needs and the others faults – really it should be the other way round. Look at our own faults and others needs.

Surprisingly, James seems to be implying that prayers are not always answered! We can pray wrongly.
How were they praying wrongly?
They were asking from the wrong motives: the motives of want and lusts.
What are the right motives? To bring glory to God.

How else can we pray wrongly?

With unforgiveness and resentment
Mt 6:12, 15; Mk 11:25
With unconfessed sin
Ps 6:18; Is 59:2
With unbelief and doubt
James 1:6 Mk 11:23
Wrong relationships
1 Peter 3: 7
Mt 18:19 need to agree, harmonise – can’t if have wrong attitude to others
With idolatry – putting anything before the Lord, even legitimate things like the family or our children!
Ezek 14:1 The Lord is a jealous God
With disobedience
1 Jn 3: 21f obey and receive, implies that if we disobey we won’t.

So, how should we pray:

To the father
In the name of Jesus
Empowered by the Holy Spirit
With faith
With perseverance and patience
In the will of God
In submission to and dependence upon God
With thanksgiving
And at all times

But that’s another sermon!

James 4:4 ¶ You adulterous people,
[fem = adulteresses; church is the bride of Christ; Israel – bride cf Hosea] don’t you know that friendship with the world [kosmos; system of evil controlled by the devil] is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God [the world’s set of values]

These quarrels and fights were coming from moving in the wrong direction. Our direction needs to be towards God and not the world and the devil.

Many Christians when they read about the world in scripture have a negative view; something like this image springs to mind. We try to escape the world and get to heaven.

However, that’s not a biblical view – it is a pagan Greek view.
The issue here is what has been called structure and direction. The world is good, God made it and he loves it; however it is fallen. The issue now is one of direction – which way do we want to live God-ward or other-ward? We are in the world, taking our part in redeeming and restoring it, or of the world, ‘enjoying’ the sinful aspects of it? We have to go against the flow – we have to swim against the stream - and face the consequences.

This video clip illustrates it very well.

James 4:5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? [Difficult verse to translate = “that God jealously longs for the spirit that he made to live in us.”]

This has been described as ‘one of the most problematic verses in the letter’
There is no obvious OT reference; though he may well have in mind the theme or tenure of the Scriptures.

Is the reference here to the human spirit or the Holy Spirit?
Does it mean our nature is to envy?
Or does it mean that God longs for His Spirit to live in us and for us to be controlled by his Spirit? He wants a total allegiance – that the lordship of Jesus is manifested in every area and aspect of our own lives – in all that we say and do.

Controlled and directed by God rather than the world.

God’s grace is the key.
We can’t do it in our own strength, in our own resources, don’t let pride stand in the way.
Pride is thinking we can do it ourselves.
How can we then? Grace!

There is nothing we can do that will make us more acceptable to God – it doesn’t matter how many Bible verses we memorise, how many Alpha course we do, how many hours we spend a week in prayer, how much we fast, how many times we come to church, how many Christian books we read…

It’s all about grace!

James 4:6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes
[resists = antitasso] the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

What we need is more grace- we need a revelation of the grace of God.

We need to realise we can’t do it in our own strength.
We can’t even control our own tongues.

It’s not by might …. It’s not by power … but by my Spirit , says the Lord. (Zech)

James goes on to look at the cures for arguments
He gives everal imperatives or commands:

Submit to God and resist the devil
James 4:7 ¶ Submit yourselves, then, to God.
Resist [anthistemi] the devil, and he will flee from you.

Come to God

James 4:8 Come near to God and he will come near to you.

The Devil flees from us and God comes to us.

Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Hands = what we do, heart our motivation, desires etc, but is also form the heart comes the words that we speak.
Double-minded as in 1:8.
James wants an authentic Christian faith. The Lordship of Christ expressed in all that we do.

James 4:9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.

Humble yourselves
Humility is the antidote to pride

James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

We go down, God lifts us up

Right speaking:
James 4:11 ¶ Brothers, do not slander
[speak against = katalaleo καταλαλεῖτε] one another. Anyone who speaks against [καταλαλῶν] his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.
James 4:12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you — who are you to judge your neighbour?

By slandering, speaking against someone, we set ourselves up as a judge. Here again James emphasises the law and judgement again – some same themes keep coming up.

What is judging? It is setting self up as the standard by which all should be measured. It sets ourselves in the place of God – he is the only judge. By slandering we usurp his place.

I used to know all there was about bringing up children, I could see all the things other parents were doing wrong. That was until I had my own kids! It’s easy to judge when we know nothing, when we don’t have to put it into practice.

We need to evaluate by God’s standards not our own or others. As George Stulac says :‘Talk to each other, not about each other’.

‘Grace-reliance is the most far-reaching, life-changing, radical stance we need to learn’. George M. Stulac James IVP

Monday, 24 August 2009

Handy Cloud Productions

This is a new Bristol-based group whose aim is to establish a creative company in Bristol. They are producing a series of short films looking at the spiritual crisis. They believe that 'film ought to critique contemporary society, not provide a way of evading our responsibilities from the cultivation of change – we wish to stimulate imaginative dialogue and solutions to our socio-cultural dis-ease.'

To contact them use this link.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Friday, 21 August 2009

Odds and sods

Criticker - provides film recommendations based on your ratings of other films
Kevin DeYoung attempts to find things that neo-clavinists and two kingdom theology adherents might agree on
Nice pice by Scot McKnight on 'What do teachers make?'

Sunday, 16 August 2009

James 3: 1-12: taming the tongue

James, one of the half-brothers of Jesus, is the author of this book. He was writing to predominantly Jewish Christians dispersed around the roman Empire. The Romans were persecuting Christians and so the people James was writing to were well aware of the trials and temptations that they faced.

James grew up with Jesus. He knew how a mature person behaved and spoke. So, James is here writing with an aim that the believers would grow, be mature and complete v4 in what they do and in what they say.

“James addresses the pride of the rich, the persecution of the church and pay withheld by the rich. He also addresses those tempted to retaliate with violent acts or words. He responds with a call to wisdom, faith and patient endurance.”

Chapter 1 sets the agenda for the main issues James wants to address as we can see from this table.

Chapter 2 focuses on the doing: faith must lead to action, and one aspect of that action is that they do not show favouritism. Remember James was writing under a world dominated by the Romans and Roman laws favoured the rich over the poor, James is in essence saying don’t be conformed to the way of the world. Don’t treat people as the world does.

In this chapter he turns to the tongue and the need to be mature in what we say. These issues had already been flagged up in chapter 1:

v19 everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

v 26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

These themes are then taken up in the first part of chapter 3.

Three vicars are at a ministers’ fraternal. They decide they need to be more open and vulnerable with each other, so they decide to share their weaknesses.

The first one says, 'Well, I have a problem with drink. I often slip and drink a whole bottle of port.
The second one says, 'Well, I have a problem with pornography. I often spend hours looking at it on the Internet.

One of the others asks the third one, 'Well, what is something that you have a problem with?'
The third preacher replies, 'Gossip, and I can't wait to tell everyone about you guys!'

The tongue can cause all sorts of problems!

James starts by addressing teachers:

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

Yikes! Hardly an advert for teachers! Why this strong warning?
Two possible reasons: many thought the role of teacher was something to be aspired to. So James is warning them.

The other possibility is to warn teachers watch what you say. No matter who it is addressed to the warning is clear – it is by your words that you will be judged

The tongue it is said can be used to analyse a person’s health. At least that what the Chinese thought.
In a way it does - it shows us what’s in our hearts.

Why such an emphasis on what we say? Why such an emphasis on words?

In Jewish culture words were important.
We often say: ‘Actions speak louder than words’ - we make a distinction between word and deed - God doesn’t his word is deed: he speaks and it is.

God created by speaking – word is event.
In Genesis 1 – we hear the refrain ‘And God said’ the response: ‘and there was’
The book of Proverbs emphasises how important our words are:

Proverbs 12:18
Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 15:4
 The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.

Proverbs 18:21
 The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Psalm 64:3 They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their words like deadly arrows.

2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

Again we have James’s emphasis on being mature – this time mature in what we say.
We are what we eat, if a certain TV doctor is to be believed – but biblically we are what we say.

Our words reveal who we are.

It is from our heart that our words come – Matthew 15:18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.'

What’s in our hearts is expressed through our mouths. Our heart is what we are in our totality, genuine authentic humanity.

James then goes on to give two illustrations:

3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.
4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.

Why horses? Why ships? Remember, James is speaking to Christians dispersed around the Empire, many of them would have travelled by horse and by boat, so they were examples they were familiar with.

What do bits and rudders have in common?
Small, direction, who is controlling it directs the horse or the ship.

5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.
Time for another illustration:
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

The effects of our words can be devastating – life and death are in the power of the tongue. Do we want to spread life or death?

7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

Reference here to Gen 1 cultural mandate. How can we control, develop and transform culture if we can’t control our tongue?

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.

Again Gen 1 - image and likeness of God. It looks like James had had his quiet time and had been reading Genesis 1 just before writing this bit.

10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.

James is emphasising that this situation shouldn’t occur – our hearts are redeemed. Why then are we double-spoken? James then uses two more illustration:

11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?

12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

It doesn’t happen – then why speak with a forked tongue? Let’s resolve, by God’s grace not to. Lets’ speak life and not death.

The book of James also gives us some positive advice about how we should use words:

How can we bring life rather than death?

  • To ask God for wisdom (1:5).
  • To be quick to listen and slow to speak (1:19).
  • To speak without discriminating between rich and poor (2:1-4).
  • To speak as those going to be judged (2:12).
  • To speak as one whose words are as good as their deeds (2:16).
  • To speak without boasting (3:14).
  • To speak without quarrelling and fighting (4:1).
  • To speak without slandering anyone or speaking against anyone (4:11).
  • To speak without presumption (4:13).
  • To speak without grumbling (5:9).
  • To speak as though you mean what you say (5:12).
  • To speak to God in prayer and praise whatever the circumstances (5:13).
  • To ask for prayer when sick (5:14).
  • To confess sins to one another (5:15).

Friday, 14 August 2009

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Monday, 10 August 2009

James 2: faith and deeds

These are the notes and slides for a talk I gave yesterday.

Before we start proper, a little test: what has this picture [ a picture of camel knees] got to do with our subject today?

James, one of the half-brothers of Jesus, was known as ‘camel knees’ is the author of this book. He was writing to ‘the twelve tribes of the Dispersion’. Most take this to be Jewish Christians scattered around the globe at a time when the world was dominated by the Romans and Roman law favoured the rich over the poor. All this a few decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The book has had a mixed reception. Luther thought it was ‘a right strawy epistle’ - there was nothing of the gospel in it and it seemed to contradict Paul’s teaching on faith.
But James is a book of wisdom, it is the proverbs of the NT.
His concern is that we should be like his half-brother Jesus: in what we do and what we say.
The structure of the book of James is complicated it has been described as having a ‘structureless structure’.

The first two chapters contain many insights and then some of the these points are taken up in the rest of the book:
“James addresses the pride of the rich, the persecution of the church and pay withheld by the rich. He also addresses those tempted to retaliate with violent acts or words. He responds with a call to wisdom, faith and patient endurance.”

The outline shows how these issues are outlined in the start of his epistle and then dealt with in more detail later.

James was around when his eldest half-brother Jesus was growing up, he got to know him and what he was like. He was around when Jesus was resurrected and he was part of the first Church in Acts 2. And yet here he is writing to a church that seems to be divided, divided between the haves and the have nots, the rich and the poor, the oppressed and the oppressors, a far cry from the apparent egalitarianism, where each had everything in common of the first few days of the church in Acts.

He is not writing a theological treatise but admonition and encouragement.

Some maintain that Paul and James have different messages - they are contradictory. This was the position of Martin Luther and the main reason why he didn’t like the book of James, it appeared to be contradicting the message of the reformation: faith alone saves.
Compare these two verses:
Rom 3:28 and James 2:24

Before we stat to try and unravel this knotty problem let’s take a step back and I want you to do a little work:
I want you to think about these questions:
  • What do we have to believe to be saved?
  • Is there some minimum set of beliefs?
  • What are they?
  • Can we do what we like and be saved?
  • Are there some minimum set of behaviors that we must do to be saved?
  • What are they?
Is it merely a matter of saying the sinners’ prayer? Do we have to attend Alpha and say the prayer in the Nicky Gumbel book to be saved? Or do we have to live and behave properly to be saved?
These are the issue that James is addressing - though he doesn’t mention Gumbel by name! The issues are contemporary ones.
Some say only beliefs matter, others say that it doesn’t matter as long as you are living well.

Part of the problem is the green house effect.

If I say ‘Look at that green house’. What do you expect to see?
A greenhouse (one made of glass) or a green house (one painted green) or a green house (one made so it is sustainable)?

The same words can mean different things.

James is using the word faith in a different way to Paul. They are both using the word deeds/ works in different ways. They are dealing with different issues, different contexts and have different emphases.

James may well have been reacting to a form of Jewish piety that wanted a revolution against the Romans, who were dominating the world at the time.
James is not talking about saving faith, but the faith that is lived out because we are saved.

In verse 14 he poses a question – James is good at asking questions, this book is full of rhetorical questions.
In verses 15-16 he uses an illustration – again James is full of illustrations.

Then in verses 17 -18 he summarises his position.

So, for James how do faith and deeds relate?

Faith leads to deeds and deeds arise from faith.

James is not against faith. He is warning against faith as a set of propositions to be believed that has no effect on what we do.

In James the noun ‘faith’ is used 16 times – only five times outside this passage. In the five times outside this passage it is used positively. But it is never used as an intellectual agreement to a set of propositions.

The great tightrope walker Blondin, walked across a tigtrope over the Niagra Falls. First with a balancing pole, then without it, then sometimes he would stop and cook and eat an omelette, or he would do it with someone on his back.

In 1860 the Duke of Newcastle came to watch him.
Blondin asked him, do you believe I can take a man over the tightrope in this wheelbarrow.

Yes I do, replied the Duke. Hop in! Said Blondin.
The crowd went silent, but the Duke declined the offer.
An old woman came forward and climbed in to the wheelbarrow. It was Blondin's mother.

Who had faith in Blondin?

Faith is not merely intellectual assent, it is putting our trust – and lives - in Jesus' hands. This is the sort of faith that James is talking about.

In verse 19 he pulls no punches; if faith is just a set of beliefs to be believed then what about the demons? They believe too!

James than uses two more illustrations; Abraham and Rahab. Both showed their faith by their actions.

Paul is right – it is by faith in Jesus that we are saved – by faith alone, but faith is never alone, James is also right it is accompanied by deeds.

Gordon Spykman sums it up well:
‘We are indeed justified by faith alone. But faith does not remain alone. It works.’