Monday, 31 May 2010

Entertainment Theology

Just finished Barry Taylor's Entertainment Theology: Exploring Spirituality in a Digital Democracy.  I liked it. 

In some ways a follow up to A Matrix of Meanings, his earlier collaboration with Craig Detweiler,  Entertainment Theology digs a little deeper into sociology and cultural theory as Taylor continues to affirm the value of popular culture as an arena for serious engagement with the postsecular spiritual search.  I particularly liked the treatment of the resurgence of interest in all things gothic - think Dan Brown, Buffy, Harry Potter, Donnie Darko.  This he reads as a manifestation of a desire positively to embrace the insecurity and uncertainty at the heart of postmodernity. 

Less satisfying was his reimagining of the role of Christian theology.   He believes that our era demands a move beyond Christianity as  Religion in order to fund the emergence of Christian Spiritualities.  Quite happy to explore this idea.  Trouble is Taylor has little of substance to say on this issue.  What we get instead are some (not unhelpful) pointers on methodology.  (Echoes here of the description of postliberalism as a clearing of the throat as a prelude to actually saying something.)   But maybe, hopefully, that's for the next book.  In the meantime this encouragement to plunge into the spate of popular yearning for more, trusting in the creative Spirit will do nicely.

Edinburgh 2010

Edinburgh 2010 starts on Wednesday.  Doubt it will be as significant as its predecessor 100 years ago but you never know.  If like me you can't go, you can at least get the papers from the study process on the following main themes:
  1. Foundations for mission
  2. Christian mission among other faiths
  3. Mission and post-modernities
  4. Mission and power
  5. Forms of missionary engagement
  6. Theological education and formation
  7. Christian communities in contemporary contexts
  8. Mission and unity - ecclesiology and mission
  9. Mission spirituality and authentic discipleship 
To get the goodies go here.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Tony Campolo in Manchester

In the Manchester area?  Free next Thursday?  Not been spat at in ages?

Click here to book.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Free e-book on preaching in the emerging church

The resurgence have made available a free e-book on preaching in the emerging church

HT Dan Kimball

Here's the blurb:

The emerging church movement has significantly influenced contemporary Christianity. Evidence abounds—the creation of blogs, conferences, seminary classes, doctorate programs, and the birth of an entire class of literature. In recent years much has been written to help the church better understand this latest Christian phenomenon. However, a deficiency still exists when it comes to understanding the role of preaching within the movement. Since preaching is God’s appointed means to convert sinners and preserve the church, then an understanding of this movement’s preaching is of vital importance to the church and the culture it serves.

NB is for info, not a commendation - only just got it.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Please Criticise My Preaching

This is prompted by an anonymous comment as part of a discussion of my recent post praising Karl Martin's sermon at this year's Baptist Assembly.   I was just going to reply with a comment of my own but I think the observations raise some important issues, so a slightly lengthier reflection might well be in order.

The substance of the comment was that we ought not to criticise other preachers' sermons in a public arena such as the internet.  In disagreeing with this point of view I want to distinguish between two things: critiquing the content of preaching and making personal attacks on the preacher.  I want positively to encourage the former and resolutely to resist the latter.  Too often Christians confuse these things and too often we respond to points of view that we don't like by sliding into criticisms of the people who espouse them.  There are two unfortunate consequences: people get hurt and our ideas remain undeveloped.  It seems to me that if we learn to focus on the content of preaching and if we remember to act with appropriate respect towards the person doing the preaching, then criticism can only do us good.  This is why, in one of my own seminars at the assembly, I made a deliberate point of questioning some of the things I had heard from the main stage.  I wasn't out to attack the speakers but I did want to encourage careful consideration of some of their proposals.  I think our preaching suffers when it cloaks itself in a sacred, defensive force-field.  It becomes flip, cliched, patronising and all too often way off the mark.  The to and fro of friendly but committed conversation is, on the other hand, a good way to generate insight, refine ideas, develop communication skills and keep it real.  Conversation on a blog is one way of having such a discussion.

It is worth bearing in mind though the nature of blog discussions.  It seems to me they fall somewhere in between careful public statement and off the cuff response, but they definitely tend much more toward the latter.  This has two implications.  First, those of us who take part in such conversations should remember that our comments will be overheard by a wider audience than those who join in and so the potential to hurt other people is far greater than we may realise.  I have been guilty of this myself.  It's always worth a final read through before hitting the submit button.  Second, we should also try and cut each other a bit of slack.  What we are engaged in (I hope) is trying out ideas so as to refine them.  The things we express will be provisional, notions under development, not final conclusions or settled opinions.  Also, we will rarely express ourselves with precision.  Even when we take care we will, from time to time, use turns of phrase that might offend.  It's going to happen so let's be gracious when others get it wrong and let's learn to apologise when we ourselves screw up.  Sometimes taking offence too easily can cause as many problems as giving offence.

So please, please feel free to criticise my preaching.  We preachers get to shoot our mouths off in public far more than is good for us; it can't hurt to have what we say exposed to friendly scrutiny.  So if you try not to be unkind I'll try not to get upset and together we might just learn a teeny bit more than we would if I did all the talking.  What do you think?

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Chaplains and Churches

Good day yesterday at the triennial Baptist Union sector ministries (chaplains) day in Sutton Coldfield.  I was speaking on Truth and Compromise: Dilemmas in Sector Ministry.  More importantly though I got the chance to listen in on the chaplains' discussions and join in a couple of Q&R sessions.  I was struck by the thoughtful, sensitive and missional approach that this group of men and women take to what is a challenging and sometimes lonely ministry.  An important ministry too and one that is often misunderstood and undervalued.

Chaplains are as much pioneer ministers as any involved in Fresh Expressions or other forms of church planting.  They are engaged in caring and bearing witness in places and among people where church presence is usually very thin on the ground.  Whether responding to radical Islamist students on university campuses, dealing with some of the most demanding issues of medical ethics or plunging in the name of Christ into the swirling seas of contemporary British spirituality, chaplains operate at the cutting edge of the church's engagement with our society.

My main observation reflecting on the day is just how much both our congregations and our chaplains would gain from finding a better thought-out and more substantial relationship than is often the case.  The chaplains would appreciate the opportunity for sensitive accountability and the chance to reflect with supportive and thoughtful Christians from beyond the world of sector ministry. Also our churches would be hugely enriched by being able to share the insights gleaned by these front-line ministers and to join in wrestling with the kind of important missional issues that are the bread and butter of chaplaincy.

So let's hear it for chaplains and let's make sure we hear more from chaplains.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Farage Plane Crash Suspect

Police have issued an artist's impression of the aero-engineer currently wanted in connection with the Nigel Farage plane crash.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Baptist Assembly, Anne Wilkinson Hayes and the Importance of Strategy

OK, my last word on the Assembly - can't believe I've got so caught up in this.  Just wanted to enter a slight qualification to the justifiable praise of Anne's W-H's sermon.  Let's be careful we don't give the impression that mission strategy is unimportant.  It's not all important.  It's not the most important.  But it does matter. 

Anne's prioritising of love and life-giving engagement with God and the flow of divine life is of course bang on the money.  However, please let's not leap onto the pendulum swing away from a misguided emphasis on strategy towards an unthinking, individualistic pietism.

Fact is the church is called to work towards a goal, to pursue a vision, to live in the light of the end, all of which implies the need for intelligent forward thinking.  Surely, to reflect on how best to serve people is strategic.  Surely, to seek the welfare of our communities, our country and our world demands some thoughtful planning.  If we want people to take note of the witness we bear, if we are serious about making disciples of all peoples then we have to ask how best to achieve these things.  To neglect this reality would be, well, unloving.

Now I'm not saying that Anne was proposing that we forswear all strategy but I do worry that her words were open to that misinterpretation.  Let's not hey?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Is God Still an Englishman?

The long train journey to and from Plymouth gave me time to read Cole Moreton's Is God Still an Englishman? How We Lost Our Faith (But Found New Soul)   

Moreton, a former Charismatic, former Alternative Worship type and now former Christian weaves together cultural commentary, autobiography and the occasional thread of sociology as he examines transformations in England, Englishness and in particular the religion, faith and spirituality of the English.  He does it in a highly readable way too.  Moreton visits John Wimber and the Death of Diana, The Nine O'Clock Service and Anti War Marches, Billy Graham and Greenham Common, Morris Cerullo and Jade Goody.  I see much of my story in his, the public events that have shaped his life touched mine also.  But even if you're not a middle-aged working class boy who converted to Christianity in his teens it's still well worth the nine hours or so it takes to read.

Like me you may not be quite as sanguine as Moreton about all the aspects of the rebranding and thinning of English religiosity but the author's own destination is not the point, what counts is the scenery he points out on route.  This is a non academic but well informed and convincing journalistic portrayal of the passing of English christendom and the ebbs and flows of secularisation.  Highly recommended.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Baptist Assembly Day 4

Decided not to stick around for the communion service.  Communion in mega-gatherings really doesn't work for me. 

The public issues session however offered further encouraging evidence of a shift towards a more interactive style, even if the feedback from the designated listeners didn't really work.  There was also one sour note, the man who's contribution from the floor included a quite deliberate reference to the presence of Islam in Britain, as "the Muslim threat".  Disappointing that, not to mention misguided and dangerous, but we can't have genuinely open conversation without the risk of such things being said.  At the very least it's more honest and open - a shiny surface of unity for the sake of morale and a smoothly run event does no one any good.  More positive was the round of applause that greeted David Kerrigan's questioning of Baptist attitudes to gay people.  OK, this did come at the end of list of other questions from David so maybe people were clapping the other stuff he said.  Don't think so though.  Hope not.  A cloud the size of man's hand perhaps.

So a  big thanks to those behind this shift.  More please.  What would be good next time would be longer for some serious conversation about issues such as the two we voted through this morning on nuclear non proliferation and human trafficking.  I guess the challenge in the future will be to keep on finding effective and creative ways to enable genuine interaction without losing the professional presentational skills of recent years.

By the way, I am pleased to confirm that Nicholas Winterton was indeed wrong.  I'm typing this on the train home and what's more I'm doing it, wait for it, in standard class.  If the chattering people around me are indeed, as Winterton sniffily suggested, "a different type of person" then I'd rather hang out with their type than his type.  Tories eh?!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Baptist Assembly Day 3

And the prize for the wisest words at Assembly so far goes to ……. Anne Wilkinson Hayes.  Another great Bible reading this morning.  Completely different style to yesterday.  Extrovert dial turned down quite a bit.  Real impact though thanks to Anne's typically quiet and incisive insights.  It really isn't about programmes and strategies.  It really is about the over flow of divine life that happens when people love God with everything they've got and love others with a passion.  Thanks for the reminder Anne.  (Someone offer her a job quick before she goes back to Oz.)

My seminar went OK.  Screwed up the timing though so ended up rushing and only got 15 minutes Q&R.  Still, think I got across most of the stuff.  Have to decide now whether or not to write it up properly for the Baptist Ministers' Journal.

The recognition of ministries in the main arena was as usual very moving but am I the only one who thought that it looked disturbingly male and worryingly elderly?

Tried to get into the late night Redux session but it was jammed did get to see something just a little bit freakish though.  Long long and oh so orderly queue for the bar - a queue for the bar!  Don't these people know how to behave?

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Baptist Assembly Day 2

Cracking start to day 2.  It was good to use the Northumbria Community's morning prayer as the structure for worship.  Ages since I've sung it.  Particularly liked the soulful flute and whistle playing from the band's very own Richard Hammond look-alike.  Even better though was Karl Martin's sermon. Attentive to scripture, warm hearted, spiritually rich, appropriately humorous and very skilfully done.  Nice one Karl.  Look and learn folks.

Aside from a bunch of stimulating conversations the other main hi-light for me was hearing one of the students from Luther-King House, Lucy Berry, reading some of her poetry at the Prism do.  It made me feel irrationally proud.  Lucy writes some excellent stuff for which I can of course take absolutely no credit whatsoever.  She's not even a Baptist student for goodness sake.  Still proud though.   

Prism itself made me feel how "alternative worship" services nearly always make me feel.  I utterly approved of the approach they took but somehow couldn't quite get into it as an act of worship.  I'm convinced this says more about me than it does about this style of worship.  Maybe I'm more tied to sitting rows being led from the front than I'd like to admit.

Lucy reappeared at the after hours Assembly Redux which revealed BT editor Mark Woods to be a rather nifty host and interviewer.

On a personal note I enjoyed doing a seminar on mission, theology and The Bible with Roger Standing of Spurgeon's and Steve Finnamore principal of the Bristol College.  I liked the Q&R best.  I think one or two others enjoyed it as well.  Hope so.

Not entirely confident about my seminar tomorrow with the  Baptist Ministers' Fellowship.  I think it runs the risk of falling between two stools.  In its present form it's half way between a scripted lecture and notes for a more extempore talk.  I'll have to decide tomorrow which way to go with it.

Baptist Assembly Day 1

This is my first Baptist Assembly for a few years – apart from an occasional flying visit. These are my impressions after day one.

Encouraging signs from the mainstage – great spirit of cooperation between BUGB and BMSWM; professional presentational polish and high production values retained; good gender and racial mix; encouraging signs of the reintroduction of a more participative element, (response walls, commissioned listeners, some audience interaction) limited, but encouraging.

Found Amy Orr-Ewing's talk a bit disappointing.  For someone who takes a classic evangelical approach to apologetics which values reasoned argument based on the evidence what she had to say was full of non sequiturs.  Also a less than careful handling of the biblical text. Eph 1:7 does not say that redemption is ONLY to be found in Christ.  That might be true but adding in the word ONLY is not justified on the basis of the text.  I've heard she can be really good and I  seem to remember her making a good fist of things at Spring Harvest a few years back.  Maybe it was an off day.  Maybe I'll be way less than my best in my seminars.  It happens, but it was disappointing.

Delegates (and this is very impressionistic) – nearly all rather elderly, middle aged, middle England, conventional, dated, Isle of Wight, Daily Mail/Telegraph. Not that all of those things are in themselves bad but they are certainly not representative of the wider population – overall really rather dull in comparison. On the way down I read Cole Moreton’s "Is God Still An Englishman". Moreton paints a now largely familiar picture of the last fifty years and the changes in English society and in particular how we do God. This certainly feels much more like the old England, and not in a good way.