Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Affinity Theological Studies Conference 2015 Report

Last Wednesday to Friday I attended the Affinity Theological Studies Conference. Many conferences aimed at Ministers and theological students take place annually. The Affinity one is biennial, which kind of makes it seem special. But that is not its only distinction. Most conferences involve very little actual conferring aside from general chit chat at meal times, or coffee-fueled late night conversations with friends. Confer-ences they are not. And even when panel-led discussions are laid on in an attempt to facilitate interaction they don't really work. It's a bit like BBC Question Time with Dimbleby on rambling form and no one especially interesting or controversial on the panel to liven things up. Plus tiresome and predictable questions from the audience. 'Why can't we all be Presbyterians?' and the like. 

The Affinity event is different, however. It's a proper conference with discussion at its heart. Papers are circulated to delegates beforehand. At the conference authors don't deliver their papers in full, but briefly introduce them in preparation for the discussion sessions.

This year's theme was Union with Christ. See here for a breakdown of the papers and their authors. I'm not going to attempt to summarise them here, as they will be published in due course in Affinity's online theological journal, Foundations. Suffice to say that all were of excellent quality as to content. Most were of reasonable length, which was handy as I hadn't managed much reading before the event and had to get through the papers during free time. A mammoth 36-pager defeated my best attempts at speed reading late on Thursday night, but I managed to get through most of it. One lacuna was the eschatological aspect of union with Christ. Most papers hinted at this dimension, but none were entirely devoted to it. Perhaps the next conference can make good by looking at biblical eschatology? We can always hope.

As far as discussion is concerned delegates were grouped into six groups of around eight people, each with its own chair. Our group gelled well, with lots of good quality theological discussion and reflection on how to apply the teaching of the various papers in our ministries. Speakers are divided up one per group, meaning each group gets to grill a one in turn. Ours was Bob Leatham whose paper on John Calvin and union with Christ prompted in-depth discussion on the Lord's Supper and theosis

After the group discussions delegates come together for plenary sessions. A panel discussion brought the conference to a close. Unusually, even that worked well. When David Dimbleby eventually retires the BBC should get Stephen Clark to chair Question Time

Several people were kind enough to mention that they read this blog, which I've rather neglected of late. Pastoral commitments, school governor work and family stuff have left me with little time for posting displaced fragments. But taking the wife to a hospital outpatients appointment meant I was able to snatch a few spare moments in the waiting room to begin composing this piece on my mobile. 

Given the conference theme I must admit to a twinge of disappointment that on Sunday I was due to preach on Nehemiah 11, rather than John 15 or Colossians 3, say. But on the other hand, I reflected, how could I preach that chapter meaningfully to the New Testament people of God apart from the interrelated themes of the covenant of grace and union with Christ that make the Old Testament Scriptures applicable to today's church? 

I left the conference with an enriched sense of the wonder of the believers' union with Christ and the blessings that flow to us in and through the Saviour, Ephesians 1:3. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

On free speech, satire and faith

Probably like many people I'd never heard of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and its controversial cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammed. We all have now since Muslim extremists gunned down twelve people at the magazine's office last Thursday. Editor Stephane Charbonnier, who was one of the victims refused to be cowed by threats of violence against him for publishing the offending cartoons saying, 'I'd prefer to die standing than live on my knees'.  


Fear of such attacks has led to self-censorship in the mainstream media. On Thursday's edition of BBC Question Time it emerged that the national broadcaster's 'policy with regards to representations of Mohammed was to not depict the Prophet in any shape or form.' Presumably no such guideline exists governing the depiction of any other religious figure, whether that depiction be respectful or mocking. Is that simply out of respect for Islamic religious sensibilities, or have fatwas and threats of violence successfully intimidated our media into submission? After all, who wants to be attacked by an axe wielding fanatic as was Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard whose image of Mohammed was published in his newspaper, Jyllands-Posten?

Now, it needs to be said that many Muslims have condemned the killings at Charlie Hebdo and the associated murder of hostages at a Jewish supermarket. Rightly so. But Muslim majority countries aren't exactly renowned for championing free speech. In Saudi Arabia blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison for 'insulting Islam'. He has just received the first of fifty installments under the whip (here). According to Rod Liddle, writing in the Sunday Times, 'An NOP poll in 2006 reported that 68% of our Muslim community thought that British people who insulted the prophet should be prosecuted.' Not killed, Liddle hastens to add, just imprisoned, but still. 

So where does all this leave Christians? Admittedly the church hasn't always had a good track record when it comes to freedom of speech. What with the Inquisition, Roman Catholic persecution of Protestants during the reign of Queen Mary and all that. Protestantism doesn't have an unblemished record on this subject either. But the days of church-sponsored repression are long gone and in any case such acts were carried out because Christians failed to pay proper heed to the teaching of the New Testament. Stuff about Jesus's kingdom not being of this world, and our weaponry not being carnal, but spiritual come to mind. Not to mention the command to love our neighbour  as ourselves. (John 18:36, 2 Corinthians 10:4, Matthew 22:39). It's simply lazy to lump all faiths together and say that Christians are just as likely to launch terror attacks on those who ridicule their beliefs as radicalised Islamists. It just ain't happening that way. 

Christians are willing for their beliefs to be held up to public scrutiny. We invite investigation of the historical claims of our faith such as the bodily resurrection of Jesus. We're up for robust and searching theological discussion with no holds barred. We can cope with our beliefs being satirised and ridiculed. When Jesus faced the charge that he cast out demons by the prince of demons he practiced what he preached and turned the other cheek. His claims to be the Son of God and King of the Jews were mercilessly mocked at when he hung upon the cross. His response? Jesus prayed, 'Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.' Similarly Paul faced ridicule when be preached salvation through the cross of Jesus, a message dismissed as arrant foolishness by cultured Greeks. Some of the clever intellectuals at Mars Hill, Athens laughed openly when the apostle spoke of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. What did Paul do? He steadfastly determined to carry on preaching Christ crucified and risen for he had no other message to proclaim. A message that proved to be the power of God to those who were being saved.

Paul asked that he and the churches he founded be granted freedom from the authorities go about their work, but he did not expect the state to use its powers to clamp down on opponents of the Christian faith. He wanted the church to be granted tolerance, not dominance. That is in keeping with the New Testament's insistence on maintaining separation between church and state. We do not want people who insult our Lord Jesus in cartoons or words to be persecuted, flogged, or imprisoned, but we'd be more than happy to see them converted.  

In any case it would be a bit rich for Christians to be too precious when it comes to our beliefs being satirised, as believers have been known to pour scorn on what they regard as false forms of belief. Witness the prophets of the Old Testament ridiculing the worship of idols, Isaiah 44:9-20, 1 Kings 18:27. Respectful inter-faith dialogue? Er, no. Jesus was not above mocking the rank hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees,  Matthew 23:23-24. Can we not detect just a little hint of sarcasm when Paul rounds on his opponents in Corinth, 1 Corinthians 4:8-13? The biblical injunction to 'speaking the truth in love' means that we won't set out to gratuitously offend those with whom we disagree, but that doesn't indicate that Christian speech should amount to little more than mealy mouthed niceness.  

Christians should welcome the extension to others of the freedom to communicate and practice their beliefs that we ourselves enjoy. That applies even if as is the case with Muslims that the same freedoms are not afforded to Christians in many Muslim majority countries. Tolerance and the rule of law must apply to all citizens, irrespective of their faith or lack of it. Exercise of that freedom may occasionally mean that our dearly held beliefs are scorned and disrespected. So be it. Christians sometimes need to develop thicker skins and be willing to participate in the cut and thrust of religious debate without succumbing to a whingeing persecution complex. 

Beyond that, have we not been commanded to 'go to [Jesus] outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured'? (Hebrews 13:13). In the words of the old hymn we say in defiance of ridicule and scornful laughter, 
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy name!

Friday, January 09, 2015

The Theory of Everything


Stephen Hawking famously concluded his bestselling A Brief History of Time with these words, "If we do discover a theory of everything...it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would truly know the mind of God." When in the film Hawking's wife Jane sees those words for the first time she is exited by the prospect that her atheistic husband had suddenly come to believe in God. It turned out that he hadn't and his 'mind of God' language was meant figuratively rather than theologically. Jane's faith in God and Stephen's lack of it is one of the key themes in this portrait of an unlikely couple.  

Hawking has devoted his scientific career to discovering a simple theory that can account for both Einstein's theory of relativity that describes the universe writ large and well ordered in light, energy and gravity, and quantum mechanics that describes the universe writ small and random at the level of sub-atomic particles. Scientists believe that both descriptions of reality are true, and yet they seem irreconcilable. That's where the so-called theory of everything comes in. In the film Jane with great simplicity explains this complex scientific idea to a friend  using a potato and a pea from her dinner plate as visual aids. 

Despite the sciencey bits, the film is less a cinematic exploration of Hawking's attempt to develop a theory of everything and more a meditation the power and fragility of human love. Stephen and Jane meet at Cambridge where he is studying cosmology and she Romance languages. Hawking as we first encounter him in the film was an ungainly, but intellectually brilliant young man. However, as is well known his clumsiness was but an early symptom of his debilitating motor neuron disease. Stephen and Jane have already stared seeing each other when his illness is diagnosed. The prognosis is around two years, but Jane is determined to continue with their relationship. When it is objected that in marrying Stephen she doesn't know what she is letting herself in for, Jane objects, 'But I love him' and that's that. But the power of love will be sorely tested both by Hawking's illness and by Jane and Stephen's conflicting beliefs. 

Early in their relationship Hawking explains that as a cosmologists he cannot believe in God, as faith would make the scientific quest for the origins of the universe redundant. Jane quickly retorts, 'That seems like a good argument for not believing in cosmologists'. One incident highlights their different faith perspectives. Stephen takes Jane to the University May ball. In a quiet moment together they both stand staring up at the night sky. The sight prompts Jane to quote from the Book of Genesis, but Stephen cannot hear the heavens declaring the glory of God. 

Both the main parts are extremely well acted. Eddie Redmayne contorts himself into Hawking's twisted, wheelchair encased frame. Felicity Jones plays Jane with convincing subtlety as a prim beauty with strong beliefs and determined love who is none the less overwhelmed by the task of caring for her increasingly disabled husband. Things are further complicated as Jane develops feeling for family friend and informal carer for Stephen, Jonathan Jones. Hawking's nurse, Elaine Mason played in the film by Maxine Peake also helped to drive a wedge between the couple. 

Hawking grew increasingly famous for his scientific theories popularised in A Brief History of Time. Wheelchair-bound and with his synthesised voice he became a globally recognised iconic figure. In a scene from the film the scientist is invited to address a conference in America. A member of the audience asks him, “You state that you do not believe in God, do you have a philosophy of life that helps you?” He replies,  
It is clear that we are just an advanced breed of primates on a minor planet orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among around a hundred billion galaxies. But, ever since the dawn of civilization people have craved for an understanding of the underlying order of the world... However bad things may seem there is always something you can do and succeed at. While there is life there is hope.
I don't know whether the script was  based on an actual Hawking quote. If they are the sentiments are considerably more positive than his thoughts on another occasion,
The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies. We are so insignificant that I can't believe the whole universe exists for our benefit. 
Hawking is right to say that the whole universe cannot conceivably exist simply for our benefit. Christians believe that God created the world first and foremost to display his glory. But human beings are more than 'chemical scum'. We were created in the image of God that we might glorify him and delight in his creation in all its wonder, beauty  and complexity. Against the backdrop of an immense expanding universe human life may seem insignificant. But we are loved by God. The mind of God is known above all else in that the Word through whom all things were created was made flesh to bring sin-broken human beings back to himself.

The Theory of Everything presents a moving if romanticised portrait of a relationship that was tested to breaking point by terrible suffering. The contrasting faith outlooks of Stephen and Jane were an added complication and highlight the tensions that can be caused when a husband and wife don't share the same essential beliefs. The reality by all accounts was much more raw and painful, with one writer labeling Hawking a misogynist for the way in which he treated his devoted wife and carer, Jane. Another writes of his intense loathing of religion, which can't have helped matters.  (See here and here).

'But I love him' protested Jane. What a powerful, yet fragile thing is human love.    

Friday, January 02, 2015

5 Flicks: brief film reviews (and a review preview)


We've seen a few films in recent months/weeks/days. Look no further for in-depth and insightful reviews. From art house to blockbuster. 

Mr. Turner

Well acted, esp. Timothy Spall in title role. Visually stunning in parts. Fighting Temeraire scene gorgeous, but all too brief. One of my favourite paintings. A print hangs in our dining room. Featured in Bond film Skyfall, which I had for Christmas on DVD. I digress. Mr. Turner amusing. Sketchy plot. Salacious interest in painter's private life. Spall like an overexited Gruffalo. Nooo. 

Fury & The Imitation Game 

Benedict Cumberbatch convincing as brilliant, yet tragic Alan Turing. A war film for crossword puzzlers and computer nerds. Intelligent in a way that Fury wasn't. Keira Knightley does her cut glass English Rose thing. How breaking the Enigma code helped us to win WW2. Fury, a computer game for people whose thumbs have fallen off. 

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies 

Samug the dragon (voiced by Cumberbatch) not happy. Spoiler. Dragon (not red) killed by Welshman. So that's how Sauron became the eye of fire thing.  Big battle. Men, Dwarves, Elves, Orcs, Bats, Eagles, a Wizard and a man/big black bear creature fight it out. Spoilers: Orcs lose. Good uns die. Short chap with big hairy feet wins the day. Got a ring. Could be important.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Fronts seats. Craned necks. Screen too big. Games over. Revolution begins. Tyranny defied. Katniss Everdeen: face and voice of insurgency. Fragile hope. Misery and madness. 

Theory of Everything 

Boffin boy meets arty girl. Love. Boy falls ill. Marry. Black holes and stuff. More when we've seen film, not just preview. But preview shown before all films reviewed, so only seemed right to preview the review. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Biblical Case for Natural Law by David Van Drunen


A Biblical Case for Natural Law by David Van Drunen
Acton Institute, Kindle Edition. 

I very much appreciated the author's Living in God's Two Kingdoms, and thought I'd have quick look at this brief monograph on natural law. In the work just referenced Van Drunen makes the point that in the 'common kingdom' the believer lives and works alongside the non-believer, both being subject to the same ethical rules. A Christian plumber is as obliged to fit a central heating system that is safe, economical and does not leak as his non-Christian colleague. That's fine when it comes to plumbing and the likes, but to what shared moral code may believer and non-believer appeal when it comes to ethical concerns more generally? According to Van Drunen, that's where natural law comes into its own.

He makes the case that natural law is the revelation of the righteousness of God to and in his human image bearers. Even fallen human beings have a sense of right and wrong. Paul condemns certain sins as 'against nature' and charges sinners with willful rebellion against what they know to be right, Romans 1:18, 19, 26, 27, 32. See also Romans 2:14-15, which Van Drunen takes as evidence that although Gentiles could not be judged for breaking the Ten Commandments, of which they had not heard, they would nevertheless be judged according to the standards of natural law to which their consciences bore witness. 

After devoting a chapter to Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms Doctrine, Van Drunen discusses how natural law applies in the Civil Kingdom and the Spiritual Kingdom. He discerns three main elements of natural law in Scripture that apply to all people in the civil realm regardless of their faith position, 'things that should not be done', the 'fear of God' (see Genesis 20),  and 'a common humanity' (see Job 31:13-15, Amos 1). 
As far as the spiritual kingdom is concerned, the writer argues that as the redemption involves the renewal of the image of God, a key component in natural law, that the "present, earthly existence of the spiritual kingdom cannot be at odds with that good creation and its natural law; it far transcends them." (VanDrunen, David (2012-03-20). A Biblical Case for Natural Law (Kindle Locations 858-859). Acton Institute. Kindle Edition). Scripture does not set aside natural law in the ethical life of the spiritual kingdom. Old Testament wisdom literature incorporates the insights  of non-Israelite proverbial sayings. Paul's 'household codes' in Ephesians 5-6 and Colossians 3-4 reflect Greco-Roman cultural norms, even as he frames his teaching in a distinctively Christian way. He wanted Christians to be mindful of the moral expectations of their non-Christian neighbours, see 1 Thessalonians 4:12, 1 Timothy 3:7 for example. And so Van Drunen concludes,
 As long as the church is a pilgrim in the present age, believers must conduct themselves in the church and in the world according to the nature of things and with critical yet appreciative appropriation of the world’s cultural achievements. (VanDrunen, David (2012-03-20). A Biblical Case for Natural Law (Kindle Locations 1001-1003). Acton Institute. Kindle Edition). 
It would be difficult to gainsay the basis thesis of this monograph, namely that natural law has biblical sanction and that it has applications both in the civil and spiritual realms. I also agree with the writer's 'two kingdoms' stance. But reading reading this work raised a number of questions for me:
  • What happens when a culture becomes so corrupted that 'things that should not be done' are often praised to the heavens, where a sense of 'common humanity' is eroded by racism, and there is 'no fear of God before their eyes'? A culture's sense of what is 'natural' may need to be challenged and corrected in the light of God's self-revelation in Holy Scripture. 
  • Which leads to another question; What is the relationship between the the cultural impact of biblical teaching and natural law? It was once thought that it was entirely 'natural' for white people to enslave black people. It took a sustained application of biblical norms to western culture to overturn that view so that nowadays slavery is viewed with abhorrence as a most unnatural infringement of human liberty and dignity.
  • How may a convincing case be made for natural law as a moral norm in a postmodern setting, where moral norms are viewed with suspicion and what may be viewed as 'natural' is fluid and subjective? Witness the widespread approval of same sex marriage in western society. 
  • To what extent may the church appeal directly to the ethical norms of Scripture  in its public theology? Believers may not be able to throw proof texts at every political policy and cultural development. There is no 'Christian view' of politics, economics, or plumbing. But does that mean that biblical principles on matters such as marriage, the unique dignity of human life and so on have no place in public discourse as biblical principles because only natural law applies in the civil kingdom? (See Dan Strange, Not Ashamed! The Sufficiency of Scripture for Public Theology
  • In terms of Reformed theology, the Westminster Confession teaches that the civil laws of Old Testament Israel should not to be applied as they are in the civil realm today, as under the New Testament there is a distinction between church and state, "To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require." (WCF 19:4). While the confession acknowledges 'the light of nature' (1:1), it nevertheless allows that the 'general equity' of Old Testament teaching on civil matters does have enduring relevance for that realm under the New Testament, thus emphasising the applicability of biblical principles in the public square. How does Van Drunen's thesis harmonise with the stance taken by the confession?  
It's no doubt a bit much to expect the writer to address these questions in a brief monograph, but I'd be interested in what he had to say by way of response. Maybe I need to read his larger work, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought? Of the making of many books there is no end...

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas antonymns

When the Word was made flesh

The omnipresent One was enclosed in space
The omnipotent One embraced weakness
The omniscient One became ignorant

The eternal One entered time
The invisible One appeared
The unchanging One became transient 

The impassible One was stirred
The blessed One knew grief
The immortal One tasted death

The Creator became a creature
The Provider became needy
The Saviour needed deliverance

And yet

He became what he was not without ceasing to be what he was.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Good tidings we bring



The title is borrowed from the seasonal song, ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’, which kind of begins OK and then degenerates into a repeated demand for ‘figgy pudding’. Whatever that is. The ditty promises, ‘Good tidings we bring to you and your kin’. But doesn’t spell out what those ‘good tidings’ are. That’s when then the demanding ‘figgy pudding’ with menaces bit comes in. ‘Random’, as teenagers might say. 

And we could have done with some good news with all the bad stuff that’s hitting the headlines these days, but there we are.

When the angel of the Lord was sent to announce the birth of Jesus Christ to some unsuspecting shepherds he was a little bit more forthcoming with regard to ‘good tidings’ saying, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11).

Now that is good news. The long-expected Messiah has been born. He is described as a “Saviour”. His very name, Jesus means, “the Lord saves”. He came into the world to bring us forgiveness and peace with God through his death on the cross. By his resurrection power those who believe in him have the hope of everlasting life.

Good tidings we bring. 

See website for details of Providence & Ebenezer carol services. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Affinity Theological Study Conference 2015: Union with Christ

Affinity logo

Next February 25-27 the conference will be considering the theme of 'Union with Christ' with the help of papers provided in advance by Cor Bennema, Tim Ward, Bob Letham, John Fesko, David McKay and Paul Wells.

The format of the conference is considered to be unique by many people who attend. Carl Trueman said of the 2011 event that it was 'probably the most helpful' conference he had ever attended: 'The structure was great: speakers sent papers in advance; they introduced them briefly at the conference; the conference then broke into small groups for discussion; and then reconvened for plenary debate. True conversational theology... the discussion groups, consisting of academics and pastors, pushed everything to its implications for the local church... differences were respected but not relativised; and good humour and thoughtfulness characterised everything.'
I'd second Carl's words of commendation. If theological study and discussion is your thing, then check it out here

Monday, December 01, 2014

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Evangelicals in Wales by Dr. D Eryl Davies


Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Evangelicals in Wales
Bala Ministers’ Conference 1955-2014,
by Dr. D Eryl Davies, Bryntirion Press, 2014, 442pp

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' influence on Evangelicalism in Wales did not wane when he moved from the Land of His Fathers to become Minister of Westminster Chapel in London in the 1930’s. In some ways his impact on Evangelicalism in Wales grew during the years of his London-based ministry. A new generation of young men converted in the 1940’s and called to pastor churches in the theologically mixed denominations looked to him for spiritual inspiration, theological guidance, personal advice and leadership.

Some of those men organised an annual Ministers’ Conference in the mid 1950’s that nowadays meets each June in the beautiful setting of Bala, north Wales. From its beginnings until he last attended the conference in 1978 Lloyd-Jones had a huge impact on the gathering. He chaired the discussion sessions and often gave the closing conference address. The ethos of Bala Ministers’ Conference was very much shaped by Lloyd-Jones, with its strong emphasis on prayer, preaching and revival.

The period in which Lloyd-Jones attended conference was one of great change for Evangelicalism in Wales. Many ministers faced the issue of secession from the mixed denominations. The challenges thrown up by the ecumenical movement forced them to go back to first principles and ask, ‘What is a Christian?’ and ‘What is the Church?’ The burgeoning Charismatic scene prompted reflection on what is and what is not a genuine work of the Spirit.   

Attending the conference as a younger Minister in the early 1990’s it seemed to me that the answer to almost every problem raised for discussion was, ‘we need a revival’. Discussions were often brought to a juddering halt when an old timer quoted something that ‘the Doctor’ had said some years earlier as if he was an infallible oracle. However, as Davies points out Lloyd-Jones would have deplored such a tendency and always encouraged men to think for themselves. While he believed in revival, he was also very much an evangelist and spoke of the need to be active in the Lord’s service in season and out of season.

The conference today seeks to maintain its focus on preaching the word in the power of the Spirit, while endeavouring to equip men to minister effectively and fruitfully in the contemporary setting. If it wasn't for my dislike of the dormitory sleeping arrangements, or, more accurately, the not sleeping because of other Ministers' snoring arrangements, I'd probably attend more frequently myself. 

Eryl Davies tells the story Lloyd-Jones and the Bala Ministers’ Conference with gripping simplicity. The bite-sized chapters make for easy reading and a fast-paced narrative. The author is not unaware of criticisms of the man and the conference and seeks to respond to them honestly and graciously. The final two chapters attempt to sketch out a theology of Word and Spirit in preaching. A number of appendices include notes on Lloyd-Jones’ addresses at Bala. His stirring emphasis on our need to see the living God at work among his people deserves to be heard afresh today. 

* Reviewed for Evangelical Times