Friday, 28 December 2007

If The Label Sticks, Wear It!

clipped from
Not sure that any of those who responded to my earlier post on evangelism, liberals and conservatives were quite making this point, but many people do seem to have an almost seething resentment of labels.

Certainly a young friend of mine recently insisted that his mates just didn’t like labels and would prefer not to be labeled by others or to apply them to themselves. Guess that makes them anti-labelists!

Whatever the pros and cons of labels I’m not sure we can or indeed should live without them. I do however sympathise with my friend to a certain extent. Labels can be used in ways that are very unhelpful.

It’s not good to fly labels like colours behind which we ride into battle against others with different labels.

It’s not good to use labels to limit, tie down and dismiss others.

It’s not good to use labels flatten difference, obscure the peculiar and oversimplify reality.

Antipathy towards labeling is part of the postmodern turn. According to Zygmunt Baumann’s excellent Modernity and Ambilvelance a certain approach to labeling is deeply characteristic of modernity's obsession with classifying all of reality and its deep unease with the ambivalent. The postmodern critique is to be welcomed, reality is not susceptible to neat, Dewi-decimal-type classification and we do violence to reality, including the reality of people and their bodies, when we insist on fitting everything into our predetermined categories. But we needn’t use labels in such a way and I reckon we can’t and shouldn’t live without labels at all.

We need labels to denote collectives who share common characteristics, commitments, convictions and associations.

They also come in handy to locate people.

And those who would deny our need for labels are surely also in denial of the inescapable and indeed immensely valuable corporate dimension of human identity.

So I vote for labels, I thank God for labels, labels help give clarity to my identity. As long that is you don’t use my labels for the negative purposes outlined above and as long you recognise that labels are not fixed but fluid and living, with meanings on the move, then I really don’t mind, go ahead, label me.

Liberals and Evangelicals: the Coy and the Cocky

Tiny Sign
Originally uploaded by probationboy
This is the first of three posts arising from reactions to my recent poll which asked if evangelical/conservative Christians are better at evangelism than liberal/radical Christians.

Tim suggested that this was a strange poll and Jody is clearly unimpressed by what passes for making disciples in evangelical circles. This first post then relates to some of my concerns about evangelism and explains some of the reasons behind the poll.

My own recent experience and reading has persuaded me that the missiologist David Bosch was onto something back in the 90’s when he suggested the possibility of a coming together between the evangelical and liberal movements. (1) If this is right it is a good thing. Each movement has distinctive strengths that are lacking in the other. In relation to evangelism liberalism tends to be much less formulaic and dogmatic than evangelicalism and much better at humble, respectful dialogue but evangelicalism evidences much more enthusiasm and is much more likely to actually get on with sharing the faith.

What I long to see is an expression of protestant Christianity which combines the best of both these approaches. Many seem to think at that the two sets of qualities are incompatible. I cannot accept this. For example I can’t see why it isn’t possible to enter into genuinely open dialogue with an enthusiastic hope that the other will come to follow Christ. I think it was David Bosch again who spoke of the need for a bold humility.

My fear though is that we will end up running away so fast from the more distasteful approaches to evangelism to be found in some forms of conservative Christianity that we will end up being coy about verbal faith sharing and luke warm when it comes to helping others to become disciples. Certainly recent expressions of classic liberalism, most forms of post-evangelicalism/emerging church are depressingly diffident when it comes to telling people about Jesus. The former is declining at a rate approaching the speed of sound and the latter is patently failing to make significant impression upon postmodern generations.

Sure evangelism is about far more than telling, Jesus didn’t call us to be gobs on legs, but why oh, why do we find it so hard to embrace a genuinely holistic form of witness holding together being, doing, showing AND TELLING?

1. This coming together, if it is to happen, is unlikely to embrace the whole of evangelicalism. I suspect that the future of evangelicalism will see a bifurcation between those who become ever more entrenched in reactionary forms of neo-fundamentalism and those on the left wing of the movement who recognise the need for significant change.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

This Week's Poll

If you want to do more than just click, comment on this post.

Last week’s poll: Compared to conservative/evangelical Christians, liberal/radical Christians are rubbish at leading people to faith in Christ. 10 votes, 6 agree, 4 disagree. More more vote: I agree.

Last week’s poll prompted one or two interesting observations about the use of labels and the labels conservative, evangelical, liberal and radical in particular hence this week’s poll and hopefully a new post on labels soon.

A Bit Of A Dust Up?

Originally uploaded by apremorca
Just finished a bit of a conversation with a friend on Facebook.

I said I'd quite enjoyed The Golden Compass

Here's what he said:

is this the book or the film - I had heard that the script/production excised most of the Pulman theology so what is left is a ripping yarn. Not sure if that is good or bad - if they had succeeded in taking the Christianity out of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe when they filmed it I would have been very upset. I don't agree with Pulman but if his original concept got nobbled to present to a mass audience I would feel shortchanged

Here's what I said back:

Film - and everyone I know has slated it for the reasons you give. But ... although it's a long time since I read the book I reckon Pulman's philosophy is still pretty clear (so far anyway ... if remember the trilogy correctly it doesn't become THAT clear in the books till after book one). I realise that it may only be clear to me BECAUSE I have read the book but if someone hasn't read the books they aren't going to care anyway are they? (It is just about possible that I'm mistaken here - I may have forgotten just how much the original sin/ anti-ecclesiastical stuff there was in Northern Lights. If I had the time I'd re-read the book. My Son who saw it with us insists I'm wrong ... but that's par for the course, whatever the issue!) Either way I enjoyed the film for the most part.

As a ripping yarn it works pretty well especially in the second half - I cared about the characters; Lyra was really well acted as was Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) and the big polar bear fight scene tugged at my heart strings as did the daemon separation / child abuse scene.

The problems with it arise mainly from the decision to aim for a PG cert and a younger audience which leads to an overly short film, which then leads to some very clunky potting with far too many "let's spell it out for the kids" lines of dialogue.

Go see it and let me know what you think.

Also - is this a sad thing to be doing on boxing day? Shouldn't I be fighting with my family and complaining about the ref at this afternoon's match?

PS - was a bit disappointed with the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe - the film that is.

What do you say?

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Mainstream Miracle

Go here for a BBC report on healing
at last years Mainstream conference.

This Week's poll 13/12/07

If you want to do more than just click you can comment on this post.

Last week's poll: Opposing women in ministry is as bad as opposing black people in ministry? 18 votes, agree 18, disagree 0. One more vote I vote agree.

Friday, 7 December 2007

How I Finally Got Into The MCC (C)

Bit late getting round to this but I wanted to record one or two reflections arising from last Sunday’s visit to Manchester Chinese Christian Church. Since meeting Pastor Kim a number of years ago we’ve been trying to fix up for me to preach to “his people”. It was a delight finally to do so. What follows is not so much processed thinking as a list of impressions and half baked musings.

GREAT TO BE IN A CONGREGATION THAT WAS SO YOUNG. Not that there’s anything wrong with being in elderly congregations. It’s just that this made a refreshing change. Well actually no, I’m not being entirely honest; I’m trying too hard not to be offensive to older people. Truth is that unless we do something about the age profile of many congregations in this country then in about ten to twenty years we are going to see a precipitous drop off in the number of church-goers and congregations.

DISAPPONTING THAT THE EXPERIENCE AS A WHOLE WASN’T MORE CHINESE. Apart from the black tea after the service, the script on some of the notices around the building and the sense of quiet politeness that pervaded the whole morning, it really was just like being in so many other just-about-charismatic-but-not-as-charismatic-as-we-used-to-be-back-in-the-70’s-and-80’s congregations. Don’t get me wrong this says far more about me and my expectations (prejudices?) than it does about the people with whom I was worshipping. There is no reason whatsoever that they should be anything other than just what they are – certainly no reason that has anything to do with my yen for the exotic. Except that is that we do need fresh and imaginative ways of being church and I do still nurture a fond hope that some of the ethnic minority congregations in our country just might just have something distinctive to offer. If all that’s going to happen is that such congregations take on the form and feel of past-its-best-tired-Spring-Harvest approach to liturgy then in all likelihood my hope will be forlorn. It should be noted though that this was the English speaking (therefore by definition the most anglicised) congregation. Must fix up with Kim to visit the Cantonese and Mandarin speaking congregations.

GREAT TO BE IN A DECENT SIZED CONGREGATION. Not that there’s anything indecent about small congregations. (I am more than happy to belong to a church where we get the church growth equivalent of vertigo if 30 people show up on Sunday morning.) It’s just that now that I go around preaching at and visiting other churches as a matter of routine I can’t help noticing just how many titchy gatherings of people there are out there. Of course I already knew that in a statistical-matter-of-fact-sort-of-a-way. But seeing it for yourself and feeling it in your water does bring home just how fragile and vulnerable many congregations and indeed some whole denominations are. Now before you go and get all theological on me, I too could wax lyrical about how appropriate it is for followers of Christ to be in a precarious place and how dangerous it is when we start flexing our ecclesial muscles in the posing mirror. But I also reckon that when it comes to talking about numbers there’s an awful lot of special pleading going on and that to most ministers, and indeed non-professional Christians, out there numbers do matter for all kind of reasons – some good, some bad. [Note from the little editor who sits in the back of my head: stop waffling and save what you were going to say for a separate post about numbers, size, church growth, success and failure. OK ed.]

GREAT TO BE IN A CONGREGATION THAT INVITED VISITORS BRIEFLY TO INTRODUCE THEMSELVES. A familiar pattern this in some traditions and a number of countries but one that doesn’t seem to have taken off in the circles I move in. Of course I understand the let’s-not-embarrass-people-by-putting-them-on-the-spot-when-they-would-rather-sit-at-the-back-of-church-and-observe-unharrassed thing, but I actually quite like this way of doing things and I’ve never yet seen it cause any awkwardness. On the contrary it always seems to be entirely natural and appropriate. Isn’t it just a matter of courtesy and hospitality? Isn’t it entirely fitting for a small group of people acting corporately to say a hello and offer a polite, formal, public welcome to visitors. In such a grouping pretending that newcomers aren’t there, not acknowledging them, seems a bit odd.


DISAPPOINTING TO WRECK THE WHOLE THING BY BUMPING INTO THE CAR NEXT TO ME WHILE TRYING TO GET MY VAN OUT OF THE UNDERSIZE CAR PARK. “That’s a shame” he said without any sense of irony, “and I quite enjoyed your sermon this morning.”

WORRYING THAT SINCE SUNDAY I SEEM TO HAVE DEVELOPED A CAN’T-WRITE-WITHOUT-USING-LOTS-HYPHENS ADDICTION. Can drinking tasty black tea rather than the usual English-church-stewed-for-especially-for-you variety do that to you?

Thursday, 6 December 2007

This Week's poll 6/12/07

Last week's poll: would you like Jose Mourinho to be the next England Manager? 6 votes, yes 5, no, 1; one more vote, I vote yes.

OK so it looks like not many as interested in football as the other stuff. This weeks poll back on familiar ground. If you want to do more than just click, comment on this post.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

So how much of a monophysite are you?

OK so you are all getting geared up to celebrate the incarnation but have you got your theology straightened out? Can you tell your homoousios from your homoiousios? Might not be a bad idea to try a little Chalcedonian work out just to make sure your orthodoxy muscle is in good shape for the big day. Start by depressing your mouse finger here. Thanks to Ashley Hardingham for tipping me off just before the inquisition arrived for an advent visit.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Christmas Bore

For those preparing for their umpteenth Christmas talk who have reached desperation stage, you could always go here for some statistical padding.