Saturday, 28 March 2009

Hope '08

Hope08 was the big evangelism / mission thing last year. Don't know what you made of it. Here's what Theos made of it. They were commissioned by Hope08 to produce and independant report.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Tony Campolo on Evangelicalism

This from Tony Campolo on developments in evangelical identity in the states. HT the good people at Ekklesia

Thursday, 26 March 2009

TV Documentary on Rhetoric

Of interest to preachers, this from the BBC:

Yes We Can! ... The Lost Art Of Oratory

Sunday 5 April
9.00-10.10pm BBC TWO

The remarkable rise of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States has been propelled as much by his exceptional skill as an orator and the emotive power of his words as by any other factor. On the podium, on television, on radio and on the internet, his speeches have inspired millions of Americans and captured the imagination of the world.

Alan Yentob travels to Washington for the inauguration ceremony and joins the crowds in thrall to Obama's words. He traces the awesome power of orators from the very inception of this art form – from Aristotle and Cicero to Lincoln and Kennedy to Churchill and Hitler. And what about George W Bush? From the silver-tongued to the tongue-tied, from the sublime to the ridiculous, this programme takes a fond and irreverent look at the art and history of political speech.

Among those offering their views on the world's finest orators – and what made them truly great – are Bill Clinton, Bob Geldof, Alistair Campbell, William Hague, Charlotte Higgins and Germaine Greer.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Summer School On Religious Diversity

Each year the Partnership For Theological Education here in Manchester runs a summer school. Its a great way to explore important theological issues and to get up to date on current thinking. Here's the details of this year's offering.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Sniffing Out The Divine

Posted a while ago on the place of the sense of smell in worship. Just come across this from Olive Drane on sniffing out God.

Thursday, 19 March 2009


There's quite a conversation going on in the blogosphere stateside at the moment on the nature and future of evangelicalism. Here's three contributions as starters: Mark Galli of Christianity Today Troy Jackson of God's Politics Scot McKnight of Beliefnet

Saturday, 14 March 2009

The Wire Comes to BBC2

The most important announcement since Gabriel did his thing?

BBC2 is going to be screening The Wire in full. Here's BBC2's own announcement which says that the actual dates of broadcast have yet to be released. The only clue I can glean suggests that the glory will begin w/c Mar 28th.

In case you've not yet heard the good news The Wire has been widely acclaimed as the best TV show ever. Should you watch it? If you want to be gripped, entertained, informed, challenged and humanised: Yes. If you think swearing and the depiction of drug-taking, violence and sex automatically robs a series of any worth no matter what outstanding qualities it has: Yes - because you really ought to change your mind about these things.

For my own take on the series go here.

A British Future For American Christianity?

Christian commentators in the States are reflecting on the implications of the American Religious Identification Survey which indicates that secularisation is biting deep. This is an excerpt from David Gushee writing for the Associated Baptist Press.

Christians who bring faith-based moral convictions into the public square will win less and less. Some will respond by just shouting more loudly, thus turning more people away from Christ. Others will shift to a paradigm of faithful witness rather than cultural victory. Broad-based coalitions across religious and ideological lines will be a necessity.

The era in which cultural Christianity delivered bodies and dollars to churches and sustained thousands of often marginally effective Christian organizations is ending. The era in which Christians could afford to spend their time and money fighting with each other in the pews or the annual conventions or the newspapers is ending.

We will either deliver to people vital, meaningful, life-changing, Christ-following Christianity, or we will die of our own irrelevance.

Seems to me that if American church leaders want to discover what the future might hold all they have to do is visit Britain.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

USA: Atheism Grows, Christianity Declines

The much vaunted resilience of religion in the USA raises significant questions about classic secularisation theory which asserts that as societies modernise they also secularise. Various modles have been put forward to explain differing patterns in North America and Western Europe. However, in recent years research findings have begun to indicate that stateside Chrstianity is not as resilient as was once thought. The latest report is the American Religious Idnetification Survey conducted in 2008.

Alan Hirsch offers the following summary:

1) Religion and Christianity are on the decline in the US;
2) Protestantism is doing worse than Catholicism due to Catholic immigrants;
3) Mormonism is keeping up with population growth, and Islam and New Age/Wicca are exceeding it;
4) Atheism, while still a small percentage of the population, is on the rise; and
5) “Spirituality,”–or non-organized belief in God–is still vibrant in the US.

For the full report go here.

The USA is not the same as Western Europe. Religion is more resilent there than here. It still poses questions for classic secularisation. But the long recognised decline in the American mainline denominations now seems to be affecting other expressions of Christianity as well.

Many in the past have taken comfort from trends across the pond looking to learn lessons for own struggles to resist decline. There is still some mileage in such an approach when applied with due care but we must not take false comfort. The first step to finding a new way forward is to look reality in the face. Whistling in the dark is no way to find an anthem to which we can march forward. It could well be that the challenge we face is even bigger than we thought.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Improvisation and Extempore Prayer

Been doing some work with students this afternoon on prayer. Tried using a bit of Charlie Parker alongside the famous “My King is" benediction from Dr. Lockeridge.

We were looking at extempore prayer and I was keen to establish that praying out of the moment needn’t be dull or banal. Also wanted to get at what it is that helps us to lead prayer effectively without having to write it all out before hand. I think Charlie and the Doc did the trick.

Parker was a musical genius. Playing a clip of him improvising showed just how inventive, moving and complex making it up on the spot can be. As did Lockeridge’s benediction.

For those that don’t know the story, as I understand it a preacher who was drawing towards the close of a service spotted the renowned Doctor in the congregation. Social faux pas or what! Such a distinguished guest should have been given a proper welcome. Thinking on his feet, improvising if you like, the preacher announced how pleased he was to have Lockeridge visiting and invited him to pray the Benediction. What followed was a tour de force. Maybe it was as much a sermon as a prayer but boy is it an object lesson in going extempore.

The connection? Well what made Parker such a stunning improviser was a number of things on top of his innate genius, including:
1) He practiced, practiced, practiced.
2) He knew chords scales and harmony inside out.
3) He was prepared to just go for it.
4) He was ready to go where his gut led him pushing beyond what others had achieved or even tried before him.
5) It mattered to him. It mattered more than we can imagine.

In the same way extempore prayer can fly like a bird, Dr. Lockeridge style, when:
1) We learn how to do it by committing to doing it. And doing it again. And again.
2) We know our theology and draw on what we know.
3) We launch ourselves into the payer of the moment with abandon.
4) We are ready to try out new forms of expression, unexpected images, and innovative styles as they occur to us.
5) We put our heart as well as our head into it. When God matters to us. Really matters. Matters more than words can say.

Are there differences? Of course there are. But I’m not interested in the differences. My point is the similarities that lie behind the power of both improvisation in music and extemporisation in prayer. It think the students got it.

For those who aren’t familiar with Parker here's a taster.

For those who haven’t come across Lockeridge’s prayer here it is. (Of the various versions available on Youtube I’ve gone for the unedited, unremixed, unillustrated version. It seems to me that it captures the energy and power of the original far better than some of the jazzed up (!) alternatives.)

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Why We Preach

Thanks to Ashley who alerted me to this from The Way Into The Far Country. Apparently it's George Elliot. I'd really like to know where it comes from. Can anyone help?

Given, a man with moderate intellect, a moral standard not higher than the average, some rhetorical affluence and great glibness of speech, what is the career in which, without aid of birth or money, he may most easily attain power and reputation…?

…in which a smattering of science and learning will pass for profound instruction, where platitudes will be accepted as wisdom, bigoted narrowness as holy zeal, unctuous egoism as God-given piety? Let such a man become an evangelical preacher; he will then find it possible to reconcile small ability with great ambition, superficial knowledge with the prestige of erudition, a middling morale with a high reputation of sanctity.

Pleasant to the clerical flesh… is the arrival of Sunday! … He has an immense advantage over all other public speakers. The platform orator is subject to the criticism of hisses and groans. Counsel for the plaintiff expects the retort of counsel for the defendant. The honorable gentleman on one side of the House is liable to have his facts and figures shown up by his honorable friend on the opposite side…. the preacher is completely master of the situation: no one may hiss, no one may depart. Like the writer of imaginary conversations, he may put what imbecilities he pleases into the mouths of his antagonists, and swell with triumph when he has refuted them. He may riot in gratuitous assertions, confident that no man will contradict him; he may exercise perfect free-will in logic, and invent illustrative experience; he may give an evangelical edition of history with the inconvenient facts omitted;-all this he may do with impunity, certain that those of his hearers who are not sympathizing are not listening.

Incarnation, Proclamation and Evangelism

I get to spend a bit of time later on today at the Urban Expression Teams day. I won’t be able to stay for the discussion in the afternoon though which is a shame. The topic is an important one, The relationship between incarnational and proclamational mission.

Put simply incarnational church planting (Urban Expression is a church planting agency) begins when a small group of Christians lives and grows church in a particular place, taking shape as it attends to the gospel, engages with the wider community and actively seeks the kingdom. The old approach to planting was for one church to send twenty or more people to start a service in an under-churched area and then arrange evangelistic events and activities.

The incarnational approach is a definite improvement. However, incarnational planters run the risk of repeating a mistake made so often by the church throughout history and especially in recent years. We see weaknesses in an established way of doing church, initiate change and in the process utterly overreact and neglect real strengths in the old approach. So for instance, the charismatic movement’s stress on experience led to a regrettable disdain for learning and serious theology; the early/mid 20C reaction against the Social Gospel led to an unbiblical exclusion of social and political action form it’s understanding and practice of mission. The examples are many.

My point is this: there is no reason on God’s earth why an incarnational approach to mission and church planting should neglect a deliberate, intentional and strategic approach to proclamation.

Evangelism is at heart about communicating good news, expounding the gospel, making it public, rendering it manifest, causing it to become apparent and present. I like to think of it as goodnewsing. I also find it helpful to remember that it’s about doing, saying and being. Now, not all of these dimensions have the communication of good news as a deliberate intent, at the forefront of our attention. Evangelism suffers when we reify it, turning it into nothing more than a thing that we do and distinguish it from the doing saying and being of following Christ. (See this from Steve Holmes for some wise words to this effect.)

We evangelise when the stuff we do in pursuit of peace and justice such as providing shelter for the homeless or campaigning against poverty, gives expression to the way of Christ but our attention is not directed to getting across a message but to the needs of the homeless and the poor. We evangelise when the way we are bespeaks Christ, when our churches are hospitable honouring the least and including the other. Our primary intent here is not an act of communication but the living of a Christ-faithful life. We evangelise too when we speak of our faith and the one in whom that faith is placed, when we explain to friends why we pray, when we offer a Christ-informed perspective to colleagues conversing about an event in the news. Even here it is not is not that we think, “OK, now I am going to evangelise.” Rather, because we live as Christians we also speak as Christians. All good incarnational stuff.

However, none of this is to say that this richer, more integrated, more natural understanding of evangelism has to exclude deliberate, intentional, planned goodnewsing when our primary purpose is indeed to get a message across. As long as such activities are appropriate to the their setting and faithful to the gospel, refusing imposition and resisting distortion for the sake of “success” then they absolutely have a place. Why not?

Of course the sine qua non of goodnewsing is that whether it be our primary concern or a gracious by product given as we pursue other priorities, whether it is doing, being or saying it has to arise from lives given over to knowing and following Christ. Otherwise our doing is so much busyness, our saying mere words and our being an empty shell.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Jesus Race and Gender - it's a chuckle.

This via Ruth Gledhill

A priest in the US sent me this yesterday, which throws a little light on the issue.

There were three good arguments that Jesus was Black:

1. He called everyone brother

2. He liked Gospel

3. He didn't get a fair trial

But then there were three equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish:

1. He went into His Father's business

2. He lived at home until he was 33

3. He was sure his Mother was a virgin and his Mother was sure He was God

But then there were three equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian:

1.. He talked with His hands

2. He had wine with His meals

3... He used olive oil

But then there were three equally good arguments that Jesus was a Californian:

1. He never cut His hair

2. He walked around barefoot all the time

3. He started a new religion

But then there were three equally good arguments that Jesus was an American Indian:

1. He was at peace with nature

2. He ate a lot of fish

3. He talked about the Great Spirit

But then there were three equally good arguments that Jesus was Irish:

1. He never got married.

2. He was always telling stories.

3. He loved green pastures.

But the most compelling evidence of all - three proofs that Jesus was a woman:

1. He fed a crowd at a moment's notice when there was virtually no food

2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn't get it

3. And even when He was dead, He had to get up because there was still work to do

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Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The Myth of the Institutionless Church

For a very healthy corrective to the slagging off of institutions see THIS from Jason at Deep Church.