Thursday, 29 December 2011

Evangelistic Fragment Three: Evangelism, Communication and the Influence Spectrum

(The third of an as yet undetermined number of thoughtlets on evangelism that have dribbled out of my brain, down my arm and through the keyboard.   Mainly because I'm preparing to teach an MA module on evangelism.

I am suggesting that we think of evangelism as that aspect of mission that is concerned with the communication of the gospel.  If we are serious about communication we will do all that we can to make sure we take appropriate responsibility for three things: the content of our message, the process of its transmission and the likelihood of its reception.  This fragment is concerned with the third of these.

To seek to communicate presupposes to my mind that we are not indifferent to the response of those with whom we are seeking to communicate.  It also presupposes respect for the otherness of those with whom we are seeking to communicate; communication is not the same as imposition, when we impose we abandon any attempt at genuine communication.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Evangelistic Fragment Two: On The Relationship Between Evangelism And Mission

(The second of an as yet undetermined number of thoughtlets on evangelism that have dribbled out of my brain, down my arm and through the keyboard.   Mainly because I'm preparing to teach an MA module on evangelism.)

Evangelism  is that aspect of mission that is concerned with communication of the gospel, getting the message across.  Other vital dimensions of mission include making a difference for good in God's world irrespective of whether or not we get our message across. 

It is my conviction that mission in its fullest sense is about praying and working for the fulfillment of the purposes of God, seeking the establishment of the reign of God and therefore cooperating with the Spirit of God in every dimension of God's creative and recreative work. 

Monday, 26 December 2011

Contemporary Trends In Evangelism

I'm going to be spending a fair chunk of time between now and the start of next semester tarting up my MA module, Contemporary Trends in Evangelism.  Thought I'd send a call out to see if anyone would like to suggest anything that ought to be included. 

As it stands we take a look at:
  • the shift in the dominant paradigm of evangelism from the revivalist rally to process evangelism courses 
  • church planting and contextualisation
  • evangelism as faithful, distinctive ecclesial witness
  • evangelism and worship
  • evangelism, community ministry and social action
  • evangelism and the emerging church movement
  • evangelism, pluralism and dialogue
  • evangelism in the digital age

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Music and Spirituality

Been preparing for a session that I'm teaching in a week or two on our MA module "Contemporary Spirituality".  Came across this from Don Salliers in Minding The Spirit Elizabeth Dreyer and Mark Burrows (eds.)
Music itself … offers us a pattern of how we actually experience the world and our lives.  It presents to us a morphology of human existence.  … I propose that spirituality has to do with sounding life before God.  Because we live through time music is perhaps our most natural medium for coming to terms with time and attending to the transcendent elements in making sense of our temporality.  Our lives, like music, have pitch, tempo, tone, release, dissonance, harmonic convergence, as we move through times of grief, delight, hope, anger and joy.  In short music has this deep affinity to our spiritual temperament and desire.  Our lives like music can only be understood in remembering the passage through time.  The order of sound is comprehended as we remember and reconfigure the previously heard in light of the yet to be heard.  So, too, the deeper desires and yearning of the human soul are not understood until a larger pattern emerges.
I liked it so I thought I'd share it.  Hope you like it too.

Friday, 26 August 2011

The Faith of Girls

Over the summer my colleague, Anne Phillips' book, the Faith of Girls has been published.  Based on her recently completed PhD it is a unique and very valuable piece of work on a much neglected area.  Here's some of the blurb from publishers, Ashgate.

  • Exploring the spirituality and faith of girls on the verge of adolescence, this book presents fresh insights into children's spirituality and their transition to adulthood. Phillips has listened to girls' voices speaking in depth on the themes of self, God, church, and world, and reflected on their experiences and understandings in the light of current psychological, philosophical and sociological thinking, all placed into dialogue with a feminist approach to contemporary theology and bible. Phillips offers 'wombing' as a metaphor for their transition to young adulthood, and suggests strategies faith communities might adopt to companion girls more effectively through the fragility of puberty. This book will appeal to all those exploring areas of youth ministry, pastoral care, Christian education, nurture and childhood studies, psychology and theology.
  • Contents: Preface; Introduction; Breaking the silence around girls in transition; Methods for learning from girls; Girls in transitional space; Theological reflection 1: Lucy; Girls in Godspace; Theological reflection 2: Rosie; Girls in nurturing space; Affirming girls through transition; Bibliography; Indexes.
  • Reviews: ‘This is a landmark text which breaks new ground in the study of the faith of girls. It deserves to be widely read and reflected upon. Grounded in nuanced biblical readings of neglected texts about girls, an impressive range of diverse theoretical perspectives from theology, gender studies, psychology and sociology, and offering original qualitative field work, Anne Phillips skilfully works all this together into a powerful text which will excite feminist scholars and practical theologians alike, while being of immense value to practitioners. Both church and academy should welcome and honour this text.’
    Nicola Slee, The Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, Birmingham, UK

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Missiology Podcasts From Fuller

I've just posted a number of links to podcasts from Fuller Theological Seminary on my Links To Other Stuff page.  (See the tab in the green bar at the top of this page.)  There's all sorts of good stuff to be had including Graham Cray on Fresh Expressions, Darrell Guder on Missional Leadership After Christendom and Allan Roxburgh on contemporary mission.  Go take a look.

I will stick up a few more links when I get round to it - I've particularly enjoyed listening to John Goldingay's Old Testament lectures - and I'll keep on adding stuff as I come across it.  Keep on checking back from time to time just to make sure you don't miss out.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Gaga Again

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned Pete Philips' observations on Lady Gaga's Judas video.  Now Steve Holmes has chipped in with a few reflections.

Has anyone else made use of this in worship or teaching?

Friday, 24 June 2011

Talks And Sermon Notes On Scribd

Every now and then I get asked for copies of notes from my talks or sermons so I've set up a Scribd account and will from time to time upload notes.  You can download pdf's of the notes either directly from Scribd or using the widget in the sidebar on this blog.  I won't be putting up notes of all the sermons and talks, only those in which people show an interest and only those that are substantial enough to be worth the effort - many of my sermon notes are little more than headlines that wouldn't make sense to anyone but me (a bit like the sermons themselves!).  Anyhow if you'd like copies please help yourself.

(BTW while I'm at it I've also decided to start uploading my Outside Edge opinion pieces from the Baptist Times so that they'll be easily getattable in one place.)

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Monsters and Jesus

Now there are of course many many lenses through which to interpret Jesus Christ - history, politics, spirituality, post-colonial theory ... .  Came across one this morning that was rather, well, shall we say, "novel"?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Mission in Britain Today - What Would You Teach?

I've decided that time has come for a significant revision of my introductory degree module on mission in Britain today.  I've been teaching this course for the past six years now with only minor tweaks and that word "today" in the title is a rather insistent demand to keep things freshish. I've got a number of ideas in mind but it would be awfully decent of you if you would offer up some suggestions of your own.

Here's what we cover at the moment:

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Pete Philips on Lady Gaga Theology

A couple of weeks I ago I used Lady Gaga's latest video, "Judas" as one of the texts at the communion service on our weekend course at Luther King House.  It worked well.  Just came across this piece of cultural/theological reflection from Pete Philips on the same vid.  Thought it might be of interest to any who were at that service, and perhaps to others.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Pentecost and Mission

Had an enjoyable couple of hours preparing to preach two sermons on Acts 2 this weekend.  Came across this from Justo Gonzales in his Acts: The Gospel of the Spirit.  Liked it.  Thought you might like it as well.
In order to have the multitude understand what the disciples of Jesus were saying the Holy Spirit had two options: one was to make all understand the Aramaic the disciples spoke; the other was to make each understand in their own tongue.  Significantly the Spirit chooses the latter route.  This has important consequences for the way we understand the place of culture and language in the Church.  Had the Spirit made all the listeners understand the language of the apostles, we would be justified in a centripetal understanding of mission, one in which all who come in are expected to be like those who invite them.  However, because what the Spirit did was exactly the opposite, this leads us to a centrifugal understanding of mission, one in which as the gospel moves toward new languages and new cultures, it is ready to take forms that are understandable within those languages and cultures.  In other words, had there been an “Aramaic only” movement in first-century Palestine, Pentecost was a resounding no! to that movement.  And it is still a resounding no! to any movement within the Church that seeks to make all Christians think alike, speak alike, and behave alike.  The first translator of the gospel is the Holy Spirit, and a church that claims to have the Holy Spirit must be willing to follow that lead,  That is why it has correctly been stated that whereas Babel was a monument to human pride, the Church is called to be a monument to the humiliation of any who seek to make their language or culture dominant.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Incarnate Church Planting Talks

Last month I had the privilege of taking part in the annual incarnate gathering of church planters.  I was invited to be the missiologist in residence.  My job was to kick off the gathering, join in the conversations and then share some reflections to wrap the whole thing up.  Enjoyed it a lot.

Any how on the off chance that someone might be interested there are audio files of my talks and downloads of my handouts to be had over at the incarnate website.  Pay the site a visit.  Have a mooch around.  Keep your ears open for the whisper of the Spirit.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


Yes you are right.  I've still not been blogging much.  So in the absence of any words from me how about a few from D.H. Lawrence?  Can't claim to be big fan of Lawrence - too much self indulgent tripe - but this is a cracker.  Think I'd like it at my funeral.  Not that I'm feeling unwell or anything.


And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.

And if, as weeks go round, in the dark of the moon
my spirit darkens and goes out, and soft strange gloom
pervades my movements and my thoughts and words
then I shall know that I am walking still
with God, we are close together now the moon’s in shadow.

And if, as autumn deepens and darkens
I feel the pain of falling leaves, and stems that break in storms
and trouble and dissolution and distress
and then the softness of deep shadows folding,
folding around my soul and spirit, around my lips
so sweet, like a swoon, or more like the drowse of a low, sad song
singing darker than the nightingale, on, on to the solstice
and the silence of short days, the silence of the year, the shadow,
then I shall know that my life is moving still
with the dark earth, and drenched
with the deep oblivion of earth’s lapse and renewal.

And if, in the changing phases of man’s life
I fall in sickness and in misery
my wrists seem broken and my heart seems dead
and strength is gone, and my life
is only the leavings of a life:

and still, among it all, snatches of lovely oblivion, and snatches
of renewal
odd, wintry flowers upon the withered stem, yet new, strange flowers
such as my life has not brought forth before, new blossoms of me

then I must know that still
I am in the hands of the unknown God,
he is breaking me down to his own oblivion
to send me forth on a new morning, a new man

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Northumbria Community Leadership Schools

My friends in the Northumbria Community asked me to let people know about some forthcoming events.  I reckon you can guarantee, good speakers, good hospitality and a good time.

Northumbria Community Leadership Schools, Nether Springs

Following on from the highly successful Leadership Schools that were launched last year, you are invited to join Roy Searle and others for this year's Schools.

Our mother house, Nether Springs, has recently relocated to its new home at Acton Home Farm, south of Alnwick in the Coquet Valley near to the Northumbrian coast. Our new monastic missional centre has ten en suite, twin or double bedrooms, a library, sitting room, dining room, offices and entrance built around a cloistered courtyard, set on a private estate, just off the A1 near Felton.

Each day will follow the pattern of a monastic rhythm, with times for prayer, reflection, rest, study, teaching input and sharing together.  There will also be opportunities to walk and visit some of the famous places that are associated with the Celtic Saints.
To book a place or for further information and details please contact or telephone 01670 787 645

Missional Leadership School
Monday 6th to Saturday, 11th June, 2011
The challenges and opportunities of missional living and leading require new ways of being and exercising leadership.  Join George Lings and Roy Searle as they explore some of the key issues facing leaders in a changing church and culture.  Based around the rhythm of the monastic day, time will be spent alone and together exploring these issues with other leaders in a supportive environment.
Cost, including full board accommodation, £285.  To book a place or for further information and details please contact or telephone 01670 787645.

Prophetic Voices
Monday 5th to Friday, 9th September, 2011
Join Roy Searle and Stuart Murray Williams of the Anabaptist Network looking at what the new monastic, Celtic and Anabaptist Traditions have to say to leaders in the midst of a changing church and culture.  Based around the rhythm of the monastic day, time will be spent alone and together exploring these issues with other leaders in a supportive environment.  Cost, including full board accommodation, £230.
To book a place or for further information and details please contact or telephone 01670 787645.

Change and Transition Retreat
Monday 7th to Saturday, 12th November, 2011
This retreat, led by Roy Searle and Pete Askew, opens up ideas of how to lead through the challenges and opportunities of change by strengthening relationships, facilitating creativity, fostering innovation, promoting growth and development, whilst still facing issues of conflict and building community.
Cost, including full board accommodation, £285.
To book a place or for further information and details please contact or telephone 01670 787645.

Please see some of the feedback from the last Leadership School held last year:-

It was really excellent. I enjoyed the people and the environment. There was a good balance between teaching, praying and relaxing.

The Leadership School provided a valuable time to pause together as church leaders and focus on our relationships with God, self and others. Thanks to the Northumbria Community for facilitating this for us.

Refreshing, inspiring, liberating!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Review of Morna Hooker and Frances Young's "Holiness and Mission"

A renowned New Testament scholar and an eminent theologian deliver a series of lectures on Mission and Holiness, looking for lessons for today’s church from the remarkable growth of Christianity in the urban centres of the Roman empire.   Intriguing.

Morna Hooker, offers an account of mission in the scriptures from Israel through Jesus to the New Testament church.  She detects a common thread originating in the call to God’s people to be Holy as God is holy.   This Holiness is social holiness, a particular people living an ethically distinct life in the midst of other peoples, thus pointing to the reality of God and offering an embodied invitation to come, know and worship.  Words alone, whether proclamation or personal testimony, aren’t enough.  Witness is dependent on corporate godliness, ecclesial bodying forth of Christ the God-revealer.

According to Hooker, living the holy life in a city offers particular challenges.  The Bible is ambivalent about urban living.  From Babel through Babylon to Rome the city is a place of alienation, corruption and hubristic rejection of God.  Both Jesus and his followers meet the challenge of urban godlessness and in so doing offer a challenge to the cities that sought their death.  Yet in the vision of Zion restored and Babylon/Rome become the heavenly Jerusalem, scripture offers us assurance that God isn’t done with the metropolis.  So, the church today is called to meet the challenge of the city and to offer a challenge to the city by living otherwise, thus pointing to the promise of the city, God’s promise.

In her treatment of early church growth Frances Young also emphasises the significance of holiness, the quiet, distinctive, engaged presence of the first Christian communities.  She recognises that early Christian mission took many forms including demonstrations of power through exorcism and healing, remarkable confidence in the face of death and verbal announcement of gospel.  But it is the presence of Christian networks both like and unlike Roman institutions, quietly overlapping the structures of society and offering a place to belong, a sense of identity, practical care and a distinctive philosophy that gets most of the credit.  The church grew because it was an articulate, attractive anomaly.

Young then ventures beyond Constantine when the booster rocket of state of approval carried church growth into stratospheric dimensions.  She offers us a welcome, nuanced rendition of an oft told story – church moving from household to basilica, from lifestyle to religion, from radical alternative to the mainstream, from simplicity to flamboyant dazzle.  Mission becomes enculturation and growth through conquest; organic, grass-roots life becomes top-down establishment and as society is Christianised, the church is de-Christianised.

And the implications for today?  What is called for is an integration of verbal witness and embodied witness, rooted in social holiness.  We could do worse than allow Marshall McLuhan to provide commentary on Leviticus:  be holy as I am holy – the medium is the message.

All in all then not a bad little book.  Not bad, but not great.  I can find nothing with which to take exception in Hooker and Young’s exposition and I approve their central message but I’d hoped for more.  A book by these two commended heartily by James Dunne and David Ford is one that I was eager to read but one that taught me very little.  All too familiar.  I was much more impressed by the Kreiders’ Worship and Mission after Christendom which tells a similar story and offers a similar vision.  Still, I’ll probably use Hooker and Young as a set text for my first year course on mission.  It’s short, clearly written, reliable and makes some important points; ideal for those beginning to study missiology.  If that’s how you see yourself, go ahead but if you want more than an introduction I’d look elsewhere.

This review was originally written for Regent's Reviews and is reproduced here with permission of the editor.  Check out the web site to get a free pdf of a whole bunch of reviews.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Preaching as Testimony

Now I don't plan to make a habit of this but here's another post quoting a chunk of a book on preaching.  I guess that's what happens when you resolve to post regularly(ish) on Sunday evenings and then you spend Sunday afternoons preparing for Monday morning's homiletics class.

We are looking at preaching as a form of testimony so we're still in Ricoeur and Brueggemann territory. However, to spare the class from my Brueggemannamania I'm channelling what he does with Ricoeur's testimonial hermeneutics through Anna Carter Florence.  This comes from her excellent Preaching as Testimony.  [Yes I know I should have turned that into a nice convenient amazon link but If you thinking of getting a copy of the book - and you really should - I'd quite like you to do it via the Stuff I Recommend box on this blog.  You'll need to go to page two of the widget.]

… preaching cannot be the proclamation of absolute truth; it never has been.  There is no such thing as infallibility or inerrancy; there are no universal truths for us to access or own at will.  There are only fleeting glimpses of the truth we see and confess in Jesus Christ, the truth that encounters us, in concrete human experiences, by the grace of God.  Preaching is testimony: a proclamation of what we have seen and believed.  It is claim and confession rather than absolute and certitude.  And because the context for testimony is one of struggle and divergent opinions … a sermon like any other testimony, must make its way in the world as best it can, through an invitation to believe rather than a command to obey.

All of which sounds rather appealing to this preacher.  An approach to preaching with more modesty and thereby, more authority.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

On Re-reading Brueggemann

Just been re-reading the introduction to Finally Comes the Poet in preparation for tomorrow's homiletics class when we'll be looking at preaching, poetry and imagination.  I'd forgotten just how good it is.

Walter Brueggemann's writing about preaching does for the preacher what he suggests the preacher should be doing for the congregation.  This is truly poetic, visionary, prophetic writing construing the preacher as a wielder of words and spinner of worlds potently prophesying.   At times his vision might sound unrealistic, too fantastical for the mundane reality of Sunday by Sunday sermonising.  But that's the point.  Here is inspiration, here are words to thrill, an evocation of the possibilities of the sermon daring the preacher to believe.  Thanks Walt.

If you get to preach but haven't read it, do yourself favour, treat yourself.  If you have read it, do yourself a flavour, remind yourself.  Here's how he ends his intro, wrapping up, or rather unwrapping still further, what he's had to say about the sermon as a four way coming together of text, people, preacher and eye popping Holy Spirit.

The meeting involves this old text, the spent congregation believing but impoverished, the artist of new possibility, the disclosure.  The Prince of Darkness tries frantically to keep the world closed so that we can be administered.  The Prince has such powerful allies in this age.  Against such enormous odds, however, there is the working of this feeble inscrutable, unshackled moment of the sermon.  Sometimes the Prince will win the day and there is no new thing uttered or heard.  Sometimes, however, the sermon will have its say and the truth looks large - larger than the text or the voice or the folk had any reason to expect.  When that happens, the world is set loose toward healing.  The sermon for such a time shames the Prince and we become yet again more nearly human.  The Author of the text laughs in delight, the way that Author has laughed only at creation and at Easter but laughs again when the sermon carries the day against the prose of the Dark Prince who wants no new poetry in the region he things he governs.  Where the poetry is sounded the Prince knows a little of the territory has been lost to its true Ruler.  The newly claimed territory becomes a new home of freedom, justice, peace, and abiding joy.  This happens when the poet comes, when the poet speaks, when the preacher comes as poet.

Thursday, 10 March 2011


Well, it was Phronesis what did it.  I've spent most of the past three months demonstrating my ability to multi-task.  In a sustained manner I have simultaneously being doing two things: 1) telling myself that it would be good to start blogging again and 2) not starting blogging again. (The adverts in Dec and Jan don't really count.)

My blog abstinence is not evidence that I have got my church calendar all to cock, confusing epiphany with lent.  It's nothing other than the old road to hell thing. Three months is quite a delay don't you think?  If that, is there are still any you's out there reading this stuff.  (Helloooooo!) I'm sure my blog is actually echoing like a big old empty cave….  ave ave ave.

Of course this is not the first time I have had extended blogging down time.  When this has happened before something or other has come along and got me at it again, something like a cracking film or a stimulating lecture or a mundane insight that seemed utterly brilliant at the time.  This time though, as I said, it was Phronesis what did it.  By 'eck they're good!

Went to see them a couple of nights ago at Band on the Wall, Manchester's splendid live music venue.   How good are they?  Well if you kind of quite like jazz but are absolutely sure you don't get the stuff at the more creative/avant garde end of the spectrum Phronesis are the band to change your mind.  Talk about energy!  Talk about imagination!  Talk about swinging!  Talk about tight!  Piano that is by turns lush, frantic and icily spare.  Drumming that really really really does use the kit as a melodic instrument.  And bass playing that actually made me change my mind about bass solos.  No, really. 

If you want a listen I'd start here or better still go hear them live.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Urban Expression (Manchester) Open Day

Interested in urban mission?  Curious about church planting?  Book in for this then.  Go on.