Monday, 22 December 2008

Carols X 2

Thought I’d sign off for Christmas with a whinge. It’s traditional.

Went to a carols by candlelight service last night at one of our local Anglican churches. On the surface it was very impressive. Up on the stage the professionals and their acolytes were quite a sight in their ecclesiastical Christmas finery. The choir was one of the best parish choirs I’ve ever heard. The organ was played with great skill and sensitivity. The readers were nigh-on word perfect. Even the token child reader spoke with a clarity of diction and a confidence that was remarkable. The setting was beautiful. The sense of Christmas hung heavy in the air. And everyone in the congregation was reduced to the status of near passive observers. I did a count, eight pieces where the choir did their thing and seven where we were allowed to join in. Even when given the chance to sing most did so very hesitantly. “We can’t compete with singing like that! What if we sing a bum note?”

C’est magnifique mais ce n’est pas l'eglise. If this was an act of worship, then I’m an altar boy.

Contrast our own morning service, “Nativity Activity”. Amateurism at its best. Unlike the evening carol concert, sorry service, no one would have paid a penny to see it. But to be there and to participate was wonderful, richly human and genuinely worshipful. Anyone arriving in time for the start at 10.00 (and many didn’t … no problem) would have found a building taken over by toddlers and their parents gluing, dressing up and spraying glitter in all directions. This was a D.I.Y nativity. Get stuck in. Get messy. No lines to learn. "Anyone want to be the donkey?" "Now I need three kings." It worked wonderfully. The combination of carols lite, and doctored nursery rhymes (Twinkle, Twinkle Christmas star) was exactly what was called for. Here was a church creatively connecting with its toddler group and baby club in a way that had “unchurched” parents joining in with enthusiasm, building a sense of belonging and worshiping all at the same time.

Church is what we do, not something done to us. No matter how professionally.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit

Billy Holiday giving it her all in one of the first and still most powerful anti-racism songs. For no other reason than I saw it again tonight on BBC 4's history of swing and it occurred to me that more people should be aware of it and that those who are aware should be reminded.

Here's the lyrics:

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Billie Holiday and Abel Meeropol (1937)

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Stand By Me

Impressive, if none too good for the environment. (HT Tony Jones)

A note about the creator of this short music video: Filmmaker Mark Johnson traveled around the globe getting street musicians and others to record part of the track for Stand By Me. Using battery powered equipment and a pocket full of Frequent Flyer miles he got tracks from dozens of performers. Each one was able to wear headphones and hear what the other performers had done.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Dean Spanley

Friday was my annual pre-Christmas chin wag, food eat and wine drink with my friend Rob.
Always a good night, this one was a cracker. The added magical ingredient was a visit to Manchester's wonderful independent cinema, Cornerhouse, to see Dean Spanley.

An endearlingly loopy ensemble piece about reinarnation, grief, hungarian wine, fatherhood/sonship and dogs, Dean Spanley is the quintessential deeply moving and gently funny low budget film. The icing on the cake is Peter O'Toole's performance as the deliciously grumpy and emotionally repressed Fisk senior.

This is a near perfect Christmas film. Forget Australia, don't even think about Four Christmases, do yourself a favour, see this instead.

Two Books on Preaching

Read two books on preaching last week. One was a big disappointment the other a pleasant surprise.

Doug Pagitt's Preaching Re-imagined is well worth a read. Should only take four or five hours. Doug is one of the leading lights on the American emerging church scene. Here he joins those voices raising serious questions about monologue preaching or speeching as he calls it. He proposes instead an approach that he dubs progressional dialogue. I liked this. It resonated with a notion that I have been working on that conceives of preaching as the initiation of a discussion. What I could have done with though was a bit more of an idea of how this actually works out in practice. An appendix with a transcript in an appendix perhaps. Or alternatively a free return plane ticket to Minneapolis to see for my self.

Anabaptist Preaching was deeply disapointng. I had been hoping that it would live up to the subtitle, a conversation between pulpit, pew and bible. No such luck. Only one chapter in this symposium was on the money in this regard and that itself is non too substantial. As for the other chapters far too many were rather light weight and very few had anything remotely distinctive to offer. I had imagined that such a book would introduce me to a tradition less wedded to the traditional monologue but I reckon I'm going to have to look elsewhere.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Olive and John Drane

The Dranes are blogging. They are calling it 2churchmice's Blog Yeah, sounds a bit twee to me too. Still, should be worth checking out from time to time.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Theology Podcasts

A while ago I posted on the delights of podcasts. Just in case anyone else out there is as sad as
I am and uses their ipod to listen to philosophy and theology I thought I’d give a plug to a couple of podcasts that I’ve enjoyed recently.

First of all thanks to Dave Mackinder for putting me onto Phil Harland’s Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean which provides an entryway into social and religious life among Greeks, Romans, Jews, Christians, and others in the Roman empire.

Then there’s the popular Godpod from St. Paul’s Theological centre based at Holy Trinity, Brompton. Here Graham Tomlin, Mike Lloyd and Jane Williams get together to discuss questions sent in by listeners and form time to time to interview significant thinkers and church leaders such as Tom Wright, Alistair McGrath, Andrew Walker and Nicky Gumbel. One of the aspects of Godpod that really works for me is the format. I am increasingly convinced that overheard conversation between suitably informed and articulate people is a much neglected way of learning whether in church or more academic settings. Another definite plus is the commitment to speak theologically (and with a sense of humour and fun) to the wider church.

Scratching the Surface and Digging Deep

Bit of a heavy day teaching yesterday. The morning and afternoon were spent with undergraduates on our
weekend programme looking at various aspects of the churches’ response to the mission challenges and opportunities in today’s Britain. We spent time reimagining church, rethinking evangelism, responding to the new spirituality and reengaging with community. I always come away from such sessions frustrated by the sense that even after seven hours with the same group we have barely scratched the surface.

Then it was off to Rawtenstall to spend time with my friends at Kay Street Baptist Church and others from further up the Rossendale valley. Being the fifth Sunday of the month Kay Street were holding one of their Going Deeper sessions and it was my job to kick off discussion on the theme of how Christians should relate to God’s world. It’s very encouraging to come across more and more churches experimenting with conversation as way of grappling with God’s word and the challenges of discipleship. The hunger for substantial theological reflection and the embrace of dialogue has to be a sign of good health.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Daily Prayer with Northern Baptist College

Every single word of this post has been lifted straight from Sean the Baptist. We were both supposed to blog on this but he got there first - and I don't think Jesus would want me to waste time that could otherwise be spent watching QI.

As a part of our commitment to praying with and for each other within the Northern Baptist College community, we are providing an opportunity for all students, staff members friends and associates of the College to join together in a common pattern of prayer and biblical reflection during Advent.

Every day during Advent, the College website will have a short pattern for daily prayer and bible reading on its front page. It is designed to help you to take a few minutes (10-15 maximum) per weekday to read Scripture and to prayerfully prepare for Christmas during the advent season.

In particular, we want to provide an opportunity for as many people connected with the College as possible to engage in the process of reading Scripture together. Getting us together in one place for this purpose is not straightforward, but we can read together in this way – and perhaps our reading and reflection can be the basis of some conversations with each other as and when we do meet face to face.

I would ask you to make this opportunity known to as many people as possible. There may be people in your churches, or other member churches of the College who would like to join with us. You may know other individuals who support the work of the College or who are a part of the wider College community who could join in.

The pattern for prayer will be very simple: a bidding prayer for each day of the week (not weekends), suggested readings for each day with questions for reflection and then some suggestions for prayer, including prayers for the life and work of NBC. The prayers will start on Monday December 1st and end on Wednesday December 24th. You may like to take advantage of the comments section on the website to let us have some feedback, or send us an email

We hope that God will speak to us all as we make use of this opportunity to read, pray and reflect together and apart.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Mission and Hospitality

A few weeks ago my friend Nigel Wright described himself as one who delights in getting on the other bus. One of the reasons I like Nigel is that he often says what I am thinking before I realise that that’s quite what I’m thinking. With regard to mission I’ve been increasingly tempted recently to get on the other bus.

Along with many others in years gone by I’ve spent a lot of time pointing out connections between church and the rest of God’s world; I’ve spent a lot of time encouraging churches to journey out there; I’ve spent a lot of time arguing that we need to break down misconceptions of Christ, Church and Christianity; I’ve spent a lot of time trying to be intelligible – honest.

Just lately though I’ve stopped running quite so fast in these directions so that I can look over my shoulder. (Bang goes the bus metaphor.) One of the things I’ve seen is a glimpse of the relationship between hospitality and mission. This has captured my attention, not enough to lead to any coherent thoughts but enough to prompt the odd ponder or ten.

1. Hospitality is crucial to mission. Because mission is about being as well as saying and doing it must include a come-be-with-us dimension alongside a go-be-with-them dimension.

2. Hospitality is important in a pluralistic, decentred, fluid society. Difference is here to stay. We are all different. Difference is inherently interesting. To live in today’s world is to be an explorer … so let’s learn to welcome and let’s learn that welcome is more than shiny Sunday morning politeness.

3. Hospitality is important in a society addicted to individualism and longing for community. Let’s help the addicts within by taking the risk of being vulnerable with each other so as to generate richer connections. Let’s help the addicts beyond by embracing the vulnerability of allowing our life to be penetrated by others.

4. Hospitality is important as a response to a society that is content to believe but wary of belonging.

5. Hospitality is not about putting on a show, an anxious front, fearful of offending. It’s not about using the front room and the best china– much better to settle in the kitchen and get out the mugs.

6. Hospitality is being yourself while creating space for others to be themselves while being with you. In this regard God’s creation of the universe is the primal act of hospitality and God’s recreation of all things will be the ultimate act of hospitality.

7. Hospitality is important if people are ever to understand us. Hospitality allows people to find their ears. The more episodes of the Wire you watch the easier it is to understand the Baltimore accent. The more you listen to Charlie Parker the more Bebop becomes wonderful rather than weird. If something is worth getting it often takes time to get it. This matters because of the impossibility/undesirability of translating the language of faith into so called ordinary language. There is no such thing as ordinary, neutral language. It’s impossible for instance to translate the word sin into other words without a significant loss of meaning. Meaning is to be found by attending to usage within community, a community with its own distinct story and its own peculiar practices apart from which speech is thinned, diminished and misunderstood. Paradoxically, to cut speech free from its own communal setting in order to make it more readily understood actually makes it incomprehensible. Sometimes it’s better to exemplify and explain than it is to translate. Helping people to learn to speak Christian will take time. Hospitality helps people to be at home until they become attuned to what we have to say.

8. Hospitality requires patience. As they listen we have to let them be them – they get to decide when they become us – if ever.

9. Hospitality is a lost art in the West. It would be wise to attend to the practices of other peoples in other places.

10. Hospitality is a lost art in the 21st C church. It would be wise to attend to the practices of our ancestors – especially those we meet in the Hebrew scriptures.

Inventive Preaching

I’m on the look out for innovative approaches to the sermon slot. Does anyone know of any congregations,
communities, that are attempting to engage with the Bible seriously in ways other than the traditional monologue sermon? I am particularly interested in stuff happening in the context of a wider act of worship. Any suggestions? I plan to visit so I can see for myself so best steer clear of edgy and interesting experiments in New Zealand. I am feeling quite adventurous though, so I am prepared to venture south of Sheffield!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Book Contract

Got the thumbs up from Paternoster this morning and a contract to sign arrived before dinner (or lunch if you're a southerner).
Thinks ... are they efficient or desperate? Either way all that remains now is to write the thing.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Burn After Reading

Went to the cinema last night for the first time in weeks. We’ve been giving over all our screen time to
The Wire. Chose to see Burn After Reading. I’m a fan of the Cohen brothers but didn’t go with huge hopes as the reviews seemed to be divided down the middle.

As it happened I liked it a lot, it’s a cracking little film, a carefully crafted and deftly rendered black comedy. It has an adventurous approach to narrative, not so much the by now familiar interweaving of the lives of seemingly disconnected characters but the way in which it sets off looking like traditional story telling with characters and situation introduced only for them to be abandoned for what seems like an age while other characters and a seemingly unrelated story line is set up on its own terms. This makes the final resolution very satisfying. It also has the single most shocking moment I’ve seen in a film since the underwater head in the boat in Jaws. I just didn’t see it coming – any more than I thought Brad Pitt could be funny.

OK it’s not No Country for Old Men; it’s much less ambitious, more circumscribed but none the worse for that. Definitely a Cohen hit.

Leading Women

On Saturday Northern Baptist College, together with the North West Baptist Association, held a half day conference
on the theme of “Leading Women”. The aim was to gather a number women from Baptist churches who are interested in developing their ministries, whether “lay” or ordained. Seemed to work well. We told and listened to stories, shared practical information about how the college could help and reflected on the biblical texts that are often used to justify limiting women’s ministry.

I’m not usually a big fan of single sex groups whether male or female. It’s not that I’ve got anything against them, I just find them inherently less interesting. However, when it comes to the issue of women and church leadership where a big part of the injustice is down to the part played by men, it is important that we blokes get out of the way to allow the discussion to happen. The handful of men there yesterday made only minor contributions (with one exception) and dipped out of the story-telling bit entirely. Quite right, and hopefully liberating.

Being one of just four men in a group of about thirty meant that the singing felt weird, good, but weird. It really does make a difference to the feel of much of what we do when one gender seriously outnumbers the other. I remember a few years ago at a national church leadership conference where I was leading worship, complaining that those songs with male/female responsive singing were in fact an accusation against us. Three hundred church leaders and the men so out numbered the women that you could hardly hear them. Even in the act of worship we were giving voice to just how seriously our corporate life was a denial of the gospel.

A couple of things stuck with me from our time together yesterday. One was a reminder from one of the participants that the absence of female role models has a hugely debilitating effect on the ability of women to discover what leadership, preaching and other forms of ministry might mean for them. How do you even begin to imagine what it might look like for you if you have hardly ever seen it? One of the most significant times of learning in ministry for me came from having a female ministerial colleague for he first time. The way she went about church leadership was markedly different from my own approach. A big part of that difference was because she had lived life as a woman. What she did worked. Previously I would not have commended her approach indeed at one time I would barely have recognised it as leadership. How wrong I was and how pleased I am to have been taught an important lesson. Hopefully my former colleague’s example has opened up new possibilities in the minds of other women in the church who have seen a woman do it and seen here do it well.

The second thing that I was reminded of was that we often tell lies about the Bible in our attempts to justify the male domination of leadership. There are two lies in particular. First of all our vigorous defence of traditional readings of the New Testament gives the impression that the question of whether and in what ways women may lead in the church is really rather straight forward. It’s not and we can only give the impression that it is by silencing those parts of scripture that speak differently and by privileging those other verses that appear to support male domination. Once again because of our obsession with neat consistency and our misguided longing for the scriptures to speak with a distinct and single voice we do violence to the Bible in the name of being biblical. The second lie is that to question the received interpretation of the Bible is to question the Bible itself. Once again we betray the fact that, despite all our protestations to the contrary, in practice our loyalty is not to the Bible but to certain interpretations of the Bible which we happen to prefer for other reasons.

In the long run it remains to be seen whether or not our little gathering in Manchester will make much difference in getting Baptist churches to look and act a little more like the kingdom. After all there were barely thirty of us which is not many. In fact it’s tiny, mustard seed tiny.

Preaching After Chrstendom

My book proposal went off to the publisher’s this weekend. I’m hoping to spend most of my Sabbatical next year writing on
preaching as part of Paternoster’s “… After Christendom” series. Stuart Murray, the series editor, seems to like it but the final go ahead comes from the publishers. Here’s hoping.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Six Random Facts Meme

Been tagged by Simon Woodman

The Rules:

  1. Link to the person who tagged you.
  2. Post the rules on your blog.
  3. Write six random things about yourself.
  4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
  5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
  6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.
So prepare to be amazed.
  1. I married at 19 … and rarely regret it.
  2. The first single I ever bought was Two Little Boys.
  3. I once took 7 for 13.
  4. I have an extensive collection of empty malt whisky bottles.
  5. I’m rubbish at maths.
Who'd have thought it?

My six tagees ... Andy Amoss, Dick Davies, Kez Lama, Stephen Lingwood, Ron Henshall, Mark Robinson.

Monday, 10 November 2008

The Wire


I am in mourning. I am at a loss. The future looks bleak. Last night I finished watching the final episode of the final
series of THE WIRE. Woe is me. What will I do?

For all the poor, benighted, uninitiated mopes out there The Wire is a cop show – like no other. Set in the bleak streets of Baltimore it follows the attempts of a small circle of po-lice (local pronunciation) and their attempts to build a series of cases against the city’s drug barons. And it does so with shining brilliance. It is better even than the West Wing. Yes that might be sacrilege but I truly believe it. Stone me if you want; here I stand.

What’s so good about the show? Loads of things. Here’s some of them:

The courage to go for the slow burn. The story is given time to breathe, to grow, to mature like the finest of Irish Whiskeys (it has to be Irish). I nearly gave up on series one after three episodes – sooooo glad I didn’t. Similarly I was convinced that series five was the weakest of the bunch right up until the final two episodes - now I reckon it’s the best of all.

The readiness to kill off central characters.

The ability to see humanity in the most inhuman of humans. Watch it and I promise you will find yourself sympathising with, rooting for and admiring the most immoral, brutal and despicable of people. You know, the kind that makes the characters from Reservoir Dogs look like Teletubbies. I now understand for the first time the attraction of gangsta culture.

The stonkingly good theme tune (Tom Waits’ “Down in the Hole”) covered in a variety of styles by a different band each series. My favourite take was that of THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA in series one.

The incredible skill of the writers, directors and actors. I can still hardly believe the scene that had me feeling nauseous at one of the most graphic beatings I have ever seen on the screen. And then, literally the next second, laughing out loud at a one-liner from the perpetrator’s accomplice. Either I’m truly sick and depraved or this is genius.

Surprising plot twist upon surprising plot twist.

The acute insight into the power of corrupt and insidiously corrupting institutions and how they thwart the good intentions of deeply flawed but well meaning idealists. It’s Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society writ large. The dilemmas are even better drawn than those in Bartlet’s White House . The police department, the trade unions, the political establishment, the school system and the press all get the treatment.

And above all? Well, above all the ability convincingly to combine uncompromising realism and genuine but oh so fragile hope for the future.

If you’ve got the stomach, watch it. You will hurt when you get to the end, but better to have loved and lost …

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Melanie Philips on Richard Dawkins

Interesting piece HERE from Melanie Philips in the Spectator. (Thanks to Matt Wilson for the heads up.)

Friday, 7 November 2008


iPod Shuffle
Originally uploaded by Matthew Piper
When it comes to technology I've never really been an early adopter let alone an innovator. I prefer to spend
my money on other stuff till the price falls and while really clever gadgets do impress me I've never been one to take an interest in technology for its own sake.

I realise therefore that this post is hardly hot news. But just in case there are other late majority slow coaches out there I want to rave for a sentence of two about iPods and podcasts.

A couple of weeks ago I got myself a silver, 1Gb Shuffle with the dual intention of drowning out Magic FM at the gym and brushing up on my philosophy. I am now a convert, nay an evangelist.

The Shuffle was cheap (just over £30.00 from Amazon), it works and, best of all, there's lots of lovely stuff for free courtesy of iTunes.

Here's what I've particularly enjoyed so far:
  1. Nigel Warburton's Philosophy The Classics - a careful, back to basics trip through some of the major philosophers and their key ideas in accessible 10 - 20 min chunks.
  2. Nigel Warburton's Philosophy Bites - an interview format this time with Nigel asking really smart questions of contemporary philosophers.
  3. Nigel Warburton's Ethics Bites - my mate Nige (he's the senior lecturer in philosophy at the Open University you know) does his thing again but this time in conversation with prominent ethicists and moral philosophers.
  4. Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time - always enjoyed listening to this BBC 4 broadcast but as I only ever tuned in on the car radio I usually found myself setting off too late to hear the beginning or arriving too early to catch the end. Now I get to hear the whole of Mr. Bragg's conversations with professors and other clever people on important topics.
  5. Emergent Podcast - not everything here has been worth a listen but I particularly enjoyed the recordings of the conference with Jack Caputo and Richard Kearney which finds them in conversation about postmodernity, deconstruction and religion.
What I have yet to find though is much by way of decent theology podcasts. There must be some out there surely. If you know of any could you let me know, especially stuff on missiology, homiletics or theology and culture?

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Missional Church Resources

Some excellent resources on missional church HERE from J.R. Woodward.

Culture secretary on empty churches

THIS from Ekklesia on the culture secretary's interest in the fate of redundant or inapropriate church buildings.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Conference on Good Learning In Church

THIS from Deep Church is worth a butchers. Walk This Way is a conference in January sponsored by Spring Harvest, Kings College London and Paternoster Publishing. Check out the speakers.

Speaker Line up:
* Professor Richard Bauckham, Senior Scholar, Ridley Hall Cambridge
* Dr Stephen Holmes, Baptist Minister and Lecturer in Theology, University of St Andrews
* Rev Steve Chalke MBE, Founder of Oasis
* Ruth Dearnley, Writer, Consultant and CEO, Stop the Traffik
* Rev Tim Ditchfield, Chaplain, King’s College London
* Howard Green, Director of Education, Oasis Academies
* Ann Holt OBE, Executive Director, Bible Society
* Professor Alister McGrath, Head of the Centre for Theology, King’s College, London
* Dr Pete Ward, Lecturer in Youth Ministry and Theological Education, King’s College, London
* Professor John West-Burnham, writer, teacher and consultant in Education Leadership
* Dr Rebecca Nye, author and researcher in children’s spirituality
* Dr Edward Adams, Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies, King’s College, London

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Preaching As Testimony, Anna Carter Florence

This is a postmodern, feminist homiletic that almost made it into my list of the top three books on preaching. Almost,
but not quite.

Here is Florence’s proposal: “For postmodern Christians preaching in the testimony tradition is a vibrant and powerful way to proclaim the liberating Word of God into a new context.” (xxvi)

And here’s how she defines her terms: testimony - “both a narration of events and a confession of belief: we tell what we have seen and heard and we confess what we believe about it.” (xiii); preaching in the testimony tradition: “the preacher tells what she has seen and heard in the biblical text and in life and then confesses what she believes about it.” (xiii)

In making her case Florence tells the stories of three of the many neglected women preachers of the past: Ann Marbury Hutchinson, Sarah Osborn and Jarena Lee. She then draws on the theological and hermeneutical proposals of Paul Ricoeur, Walter Brueggemann, Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Rebecca Chop.

The book concludes with two practical chapters. The first of these is superbly written. It makes very imaginative and stimulating use of both Mary’s response to the annunciation and Peter’s response to the other Mary’s testimony of the resurrection as a way of addressing the fears and struggles of being and becoming a preacher (one who lives in and lives out of the Word). The second offers some very specific and imaginative suggestions for how to encourage a deep engagement with the text – such as carrying around a copy of the text to read in the various places we usually find ourselves throughout the week and then taking it to a place with which we are unfamiliar, in which we are uncomfortable, and reading it there.

Here’s why I liked the book so much:
  1. Florence takes on board issues about universality, power and truth claims raised by postmodernity. In particular she addresses questions about the authority of preaching ultimately locating this in the personal commitment/engagement of the preacher; as preachers “we must seal our lives to our words.” (xviii). Striking that a feminist author should point out that if we take etymology seriously, then to bear witness in this way takes balls – testimony…testis…testes.
  2. The reminder that testimony has often been the characteristic mode of speech in marginal communities, those that do not have recourse to authoritative legitimation of their words beyond their own particular, embodied witness. Echoes here of two other books I like a lot Brueggemann’s Cadences of Home and McClure’s Other-Wise Preaching.
  3. The way in which the book is itself testimonial. Florence writes with conviction and guts; she moves, she invigorates. This is a book that can stir up the love of preaching by humanising it, by insisting it be embodied by the preacher.

Here’s why it didn’t displace Fant’s Preaching For Today, Brueggemann’s Finally Comes the Poet or Long’s The Witness of Preaching (all of which have things in common with Florence) from the top of my list.
  1. I could never quite get away from the feeling that this book started out as a specifically feminist homiletic that ended up broadening out into a thesis with implications beyond feminism per se. While Florence acknowledges this process I’m not sure the she manages the metamorphosis as well as she might have done; I kept on feeling the join between the two as I turned the pages.
  2. I’m still not sure what difference this makes in practice to the one who listens to sermons. I really, really could have done with some examples of what an actual testimonial sermon sounds like, preferably in the form of a URL to take me to some audio files of Florence preaching (the reflections on the annunciation and the resurrection where soooo tantalising). Or, failing that, I would have made do with a couple of sermon transcripts.

As it is then Preaching As Testimony doesn’t hit the very highest of heights but it definitely gets into my top ten.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Church As Argument

Just got my new copy of Bryan Stone's excellent Evangelism After Christendom. (See the
"Stuff I reccomend" panel on the right.) Had to buy a new copy as I seem to have lost or loaned out my old one. It's been missing now for a few months. I was hoping it would turn up as it has lots of lovely scribblings and underlinings in, but no joy. Frustrating not to have access to my original reactions but I'm going to enjoy rereading it.

Opening the new package from amazon reminded me that Stone's discussion of being an evangelistic church in a pluralistic, post-modern society includes reference to Kathryn Tanner's observation in her Theories of Culture: a new agenda for theology that Christian identity is constituted "by a community of argument concerning the meaning of true discipleship."

That struck me at the time as a very helpful way to conceive of the church. The thought has stuck with me, and grown on me. Here's why I like it:
  1. It's realistic about the divergence of opinions and interpretations within the church.
  2. It takes a centered set approach to church rather than a bounded set approach.
  3. It speaks of commitment and conviction - without these you wouldn't bother arguing.
  4. It implies a notion of church as a process extended through space and time with all the continuities and discontinuities that implies.
  5. It takes seriously the notion that not only does the church have to relate to wider culture but is also itself a culture in its own right.
Tanner's now on my wish list. If you want an assessment of how she fits in with trends in postliberal theology try this religion religion online article by Gary Dorrien. If you've not read Stone yet I would recommend it very highly indeed see here for my initial response to the book.

Great Misquotes of History

Theologian In Residence

I want to suggest that you change what you call your minister. No, not their name, there’s no need to look
up the number of the UK deed poll service. What I have in mind is a change of title, how you describe her and what she does.

There’s already a wide range of labels in use: pastor, minister of the gospel, full time elder, pastoral leader, minister of the word/word and sacrament. I reckon, if pushed I could make a case each one of those. What I’d rather do though is recommend a new option.

I’ve just finished reading Ann Carter Florence’s recent book, Preaching As Testimony. Florence suggests that we should think of our ministers as Theologians In Residence.

What do you reckon? No? Somehow I didn’t think you’d like it. It’s hard to get excited about theologians isn’t it? Theology is one of those perfectly serviceable words that seems to have gotten into trouble of late.

You know the kind of words I mean: preaching – “don’t preach at me!”; missionary - cultural imperialism, colonial expansion and bad dress sense; evangelism – overbearing and insensitive attempts to foist religious views upon the unwilling; membership – a pointless institutional formality that bears no relationship to the reality of one’s commitment to Christ.

And theology? Well doesn’t that make you think dry, remote, irrelevant, tedious? Thought so. Who in their right mind wants their minister to be first and foremost a theologian? No we’d rather have a dynamic leader or a caring pastor. But getting things done or being cared for is not really what its all about, is it?

And any way who says theology has to be remote, speculative or arid? At heart theology is about knowing, thinking and speaking about God and doing so well, appropriately, faithfully. Isn’t that what we are meant to be about? Don’t we want to set aside people to help us to get a handle on what it means to live as if the God we see in Christ is quite simply the most wonderful, important and urgent of all realities?

In a pluralistic country where the church no longer calls the shots for the rest of society and where identity is likely to be shaped by whoever shouts loudest, isn’t it of the utmost importance that we don’t forget who we are, who we are called to be? Don’t we need people well-schooled in our story, the story of Abraham and Sarah, Rahab and Joshua, Priscilla and Aquilla, Julian and Spurgeon to help us work out what it might mean for us to continue that story here and now, faithfully to act out the episode in which we have been cast?

That’s what being a theologian is meant to be about. You see theology at its best is theology done with the world in your face. Theology like Paul did it and Luther and Bonhoeffer. That’s what we try to help our students to do.

I reckon Theologian In Residence is a good title. I reckon we need people who know, think and speak about God while residing in a particular place as part of a particular community seeking to engage with a particular bit of God’s world. I reckon we should reclaim the word Theology. I reckon we should learn to love the word Theologian – and then stick it our minister’s door.

My turn to do a month's worth of comment pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. With the agreement of the editor I'm posting my BT article here. This is the last of the current series. To check out the Baptist times as a whole click here.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Christian? Ministry

Last Sunday I think God spoke to me just when I wasn’t listening. I should have been paying
more attention, after all I was in the middle of a church service. Trouble was it was nearly time for the sermon and I was checking my notes.

The service to which I refer was the last of this year’s welcome services for students beginning placements. These are always occasions that ripple with hope so it’s good to be involved.

What got my attention was a collision between two sentences. Neither of the sentences was particularly noteworthy in its own right. However, they must have been whizzing around somewhere in my head because all of sudden they bumped into each other and the noise they made sounded like God.

Sentence one came from the church’s moderator who was leading worship. He observed that the large council estate on which the church is set is, according to all the indexes, one the most deprived parts of the country. I knew this. I used to live down the road. The reputation matched the statistics.

Sentence two came from the church secretary as she told the story of God leading them to invite one of our students to become their minister-in-training: “It’s never easy to find someone to minister in an area like this.” True, indeed a commonplace observation.

But throw those two sentences together and what an indictment! What an utterly irreconcilable and damning contradiction! After all this is supposed to be Christian ministry that we are talking about. You know ministry in the name of Christ, for the sake of Christ and according to the example of Christ.

Just how Christian is a ministry that shies away from the most needy areas? Isn’t that what the incarnation is all about? You know, God seeing our need and plunging into the thick of it rather than shouting at us from a distance or commuting in now and again?

To the extent that Baptist ministry as a whole joins the queue into the suburbs or goes looking for the chance to escape to the country (or our fond-imagined picture of the country), to the extent that it rushes to put its name down for a church in Pleasantville, to that extent it ceases to be worthy of the label Christian.

Indeed such a state of affairs is a denial of Christ; it is a ministry that speaks his name while repudiating his way of life. If our ministry were truly Christian then the neediest areas would find it easiest to attract a minister.

I know all the justifications of this unGodly perversion – you’d be surprised how many people tried them out on me to in an attempt to persuade me not to move from my first ministry in a large suburban church to lead a small congregation in a former mining area.

Some might say, “We are all simply following the Lord’s call.” If that’s true, why has God stopped calling people to minister to the most needy? Has there been a divine change of mind about the poor that has passed me by?

Some might point to church growth theory and urge that we continue to exert our evangelistic efforts in those areas where we seem to get the best response. But since when has it been OK to pursue mission in a way that denies the very heart of the gospel, sacrificing faithfulness to the way of Christ on the altar of easily measurable “success”?

None of this is to point the finger at any particular minister in any particular church. There is human need everywhere and we are called to minister to that need. But it is most definitely to point the finger at our Baptist ministry as a whole.

Whatever the justifications they aren’t worth tuppence as long as the collective reality denies the way of Christ. Until things change perhaps we should stop calling our ministry Christian.

My turn to do a month's worth of comment pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. With the agreement of the editor I'm going to post my BT article here. To check out the Baptist times as a whole click here.

Friday, 17 October 2008

mission mission mission yada yada yada

Shit talking
Originally uploaded by david johanson
All this talk about mission is beginning to worry me. You know what I mean, mission shaped church, missionary disciples,
missionary congregations, missional leadership. The language is everywhere you turn. Mission is now unquestionably in.

You’d think I’d be pleased. After all it’s my job to teach mission. More than that, I’ve long been an advocate of the need for a major shift in the church’s outlook from maintenance to mission. You might even have heard me banging on from pulpits and at conferences about the fact that our country is our mission field and our culture our missionary assignment.

At one level of course I am pleased. It’s far better to be talking about mission than not. But I’m still worried.

I’m worried that talking about it might become a cover for not doing anything about it. You know how it goes. We confuse defending the Bible with actually taking it seriously in practice. Or we bandy about the word radical as if merely repeating it often enough makes us serious, edgy and committed to the heart of our faith. In the same way if the talk of mission becomes loud enough that alone will probably suffice to convince some that real change has actually happened.

Having mission back on the agenda is a good thing, having it on the action list is even better but doing something about is what really counts. It has been said that the 1990’s was not so much the decade of evangelism as the decade of talking about evangelism.

I’m worried that because it has now become received orthodoxy that we should prioritise mission in the life of the local church, this could so easily become an excuse for devaluing other aspects of church life. Regularly I hear ministers and other church leaders venting their frustration at the failure of their churches to take mission seriously.

I know exactly what they mean. There have been periods in my own ministry when I have felt the same. But from time to time this frustration spills over into talk that verges on writing off the church and devaluing the pastoral calling to care for those who are part of the church family, even when they seem to stand in the way of mission.

I’m worried that we might become so focussed on such aspects of mission as church growth, so caught up with programmes such as Alpha and approaches such purpose-driven church that pragmatic strategies that work become more important than bearing faithful witness whether or not it works.

I’m worried that if we become too wrapped up in getting more people to join the church we just might lose any sense of what it is we are getting them to join in the first place. Being church precedes growing church. The first challenge of church in a largely secular and ever more pluralistic society is to remember who we are; to maintain our distinctive identity.

It won’ matter two hoots that we reverse the decline in numbers if the price we pay is the neglect of the biblical story shapes us and the devaluing of those practices that give meaning to who we are.

As the Old testament scholar Walter Brueggemann never tires of reminding his readers, Israel has to remember who she is, remember her God, remember how she came into being because if she forgets she will cease to be a living alternative to the ways of Egypt, Canaan and all the other nations.

Of course none of my anxiety will be allayed if we stop talking about mission. I will only be comforted if we manage to avoid turning our interest in mission into nothing more than the latest mindless trend; in today but out tomorrow; all the rage but not or long; the thing to do just because it’s the thing to do. Mission, writ large as it is on the heart of God, is far too important for that.

My turn to do a month's worth of comment pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. With the agreement of the editor I'm going to post my BT article here for the next four weeks. To check out the Baptist times as a whole click here

Friday, 10 October 2008

Ramadan, Advent, Hospitality and Mission

So how was Ramadan for you this year? Mine was a good ‘un.

One of the hi-lights was a meal at a favourite, local, Asian restaurant to celebrate my wife’s birthday. We accidentally timed our visit to coincide with the breaking of the fast.

Even though the Nawab is a huge converted cinema which must be capable of seating at least 200 people, the place was heaving and we had to queue for ages to get to the buffet. Not that we minded. This place is always a great venue for people-watching and on this occasion the hustle and bustle, the noise, the aromas, the sheer sense of life would have made queuing even twice as long a treat rather than a chore.

My other Ramadan hi-light also included food. This one made me think. One of the people who lives on our street rang our door bell at tea time. Now, since leaving the pastorate I’ve gotten out of the habit of having meals interrupted by unexpected callers. However, this particular interruption was more than welcome.

“Hello, I live round the corner – I think we’ve said ‘hi’ once or twice. I wonder if you would like to receive this gift? It’s part of our custom to share food with our neighbours when we break our fast during Ramadan. There’s some chicken curry, rice, and dhal. Hope you enjoy it.”
And very good it was too. What struck me though wasn’t the free meal but the simple act of neighbourly kindness and community-building done for unashamedly religious reasons. It gave me an idea.

I was reminded of a custom to which my colleague, Paul Beasley-Murray, introduced me when I was assistant minister at Altrincham Baptist Church back in the 80’s. Paul and his family used to host special teas on the Sundays of Advent. Members of the church were invited round to a candle-lit manse for generous portions of cinnamon toast and other seasonal goodies.
“What if”, I thought, “we were to revive this custom and give it a bit of tweak? What if, instead of inviting friends from church we were to invite people from up the street, the ones we nod at or with whom we exchange smiles but without ever becoming neighbours in the proper sense of the word? We could ply them with goodies, light up the joint like a German Christmas market and have some suitably seasonal music on in the background.”

At the very least it would make for a series interesting social occasions. It would be great fun trying to mix up the guests: our Muslim visitor from round the corner with the Hindu family from across the road and the hard-partying students from two doors down – we could even ask the Baptists from next door.

It might help to make our little corner of Manchester a bit more neighbourly; a bit more than just a place where we sleep and form where we travel to work; a bit more of a community. And who knows, this being Advent and all, the conversation might even turn to Jesus.

But what really struck me following our neighbour’s visit was not so much the idea of engaging in a spot of community-building and perhaps a bit of evangelism on the side but the importance of the lost art of hospitality.

If I read my Bible aright, especially the Old Testament, being the people of God is meant to include a commitment to hospitality, hospitality which is all about being yourself, celebrating your heritage and identity while making space for others to join in. It strikes me that rediscovering the practice of hospitality would be an important way of helping us get back to being a genuinely Christian witness.

What do you reckon? Fancy having a go? Should I warn Tesco’s to stock up on cinnamon and candles?

My turn to do a month's worth of comment pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. With the agreement of the editor I'm going to post my BT article here for the next four weeks. To check out the Baptist times as a whole click here

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism

Thanks to Sean for alerting me to this. Looks interesting. Just booked in.

Enough With The Written Prayers Already

Power prayer (332/365)
Originally uploaded by labspics
I rarely seethe my way through meetings with colleagues and friends, but every now and then ….

Take last month for example. I spent a big chunk of two weeks in meetings with other Baptist ministers. First of all it was our turn at Luther-King House to host the biennial conference for Baptists doing theological research. The week after it was the annual meeting of staff from the British Baptist colleges.

While I recognise that not everyone would queue to attend such events, both gatherings had much about them that I enjoy: meeting old friends, getting my brain stretched and talking more than is good for me. But this time round I spent too much time chuntering under my breath. You see the whole thing was somewhat spoiled by prayer.

It goes with out saying that meetings devoted to theological reflection or to discussing ministerial formation should be punctuated regularly by prayer. Amen to that. What I found so frustrating was the extent to which those times of prayer were dominated by written prayers, responsive readings and the like.

Don’t get me wrong, ever since I discovered the value of a daily office when I was a student here in Manchester back in the eighties I’ve appreciated and enjoyed using written liturgies along with the best of them. Carefully crafted prayers with nicely turned phrases and a thoughtful structure definitely have their place. It’s just that too much of the written stuff leaves no room for good old-fashioned extemporary prayer.

Similarly there are times when having a candle to focus on, an aria to listen to or pebble to hold really does it for me. But last month I found myself longing for someone, at least once, to open up the time set aside for prayer by simply saying, “Ok let’s talk to God – off you go, let the free-for-all begin.” I began to wonder if it is still possible to pray without first handing stuff out.

I reckon there’s a lot to be said for making it up on the spot with everyone chipping in when they fancy. I like the notion of prayer as a jam session rather than a carefully rehearsed recital. What’s wrong with the liturgical equivalent of skiffle or punk; no need to be highly skilled or self-consciously careful – just have a go, let rip. Ill-formed but heartfelt prayers do the job just fine.

I realise, of course, that sometimes open prayer can be an awkward, forced, thin and routine. But it needn’t be. It can also be relaxed, spontaneous, honest, natural, stimulating.

In the rush to enrich our prayer times with a range of approaches from a variety of traditions, we should be careful lest we lose the knack of prayer as the equivalent of banter around the kitchen table. I would hate to be left with nothing other than prayer as the polite conversation of the parlour.

I also realise that the meetings to which I refer are hardly typical of most Baptist gatherings. But if the way in which we prayed time and again at those events has become the default mode for those of us studying and teaching theology and if we’ve lost the art of shared, extempore prayer or, God forbid, if we are tempted to regard it as somehow less worthy, then there’s a serious problem. Not only are we missing what can be prayer at its best but we are also badly disconnected from the way that many in our churches are inclined to conduct their prayer meetings.

Having got that off my chest I thought I’d feel lot better. I don’t. Instead I’m worried that the next time I see my colleagues they might beat me to death with copies of Gathering for Worship or Celtic Daily Prayer. Perhaps, dear reader, you would pray for me, free-form, you know, the good, old-fashioned, Baptist way.

My turn to do a month's worth of comment pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. With the agreement of the editor I'm going to post my BT article here for the next four weeks. To check out the Baptist times as a whole click here

Monday, 18 August 2008

A Shining Performance?

Went to see The Dark Knight last night.

Anyone else think Heath Ledger's much hyped performance was overrated?

Not so much Ledger playing The Joker as Ledger playing Jack Nicholson playing Jack Torrance playing The Joker.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Unity and Sexuality

This from Ekklesia on Lambeth, Evangelicalism and the issue of homosexuality. I detect in the ether that this issue of whether or not the wider evangelical movement can or should hold together is moving up the agenda. Rob Warner, whose recent book (see side bar) is a must read for all who are interested in this issue, detects a possible split or splintering for a variety of cultural and theological reasons. I reckon he's pretty much on the money. However, one thing he doesn't make nearly enough of in his review of trends in the movement is the divergence of opinion on specifically ethical matters. I wouldn't mind betting (if that's allowed) that issues of sexuality are likely be even more influential than the tensions between the reactionary theological conservatives, the pragmatists and the progressives. It's one thing to hold together when there is disagreement on theological matters quite another when it boils down to a question of justice.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Mission, Mess and Anglican Machinations

This from Simon Barrow over at Ekklesia is worth a butchers.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Prince Caspian

Anybody else just a teeny bit bothered about all the enthusiasm for this as an evangelistic / apologetic opportunity? As a film it's OK (ish). As a Christian allegory though it offers us a rather violent (and racist) vision of The Faith.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Bad Language

This one has nothing to do with mission or ministry. It's a mind leak. In particular it's an oozing from my anterior pedantry lobe. Be warned. Even as I type I am my donning my sleeveless black academic gown over my leather-elbow-patched tweed jacket and reaching for the dustless chalk.

I am getting more and more narked by the inability of those who should know better to distinguish between the words less and fewer. More specifically I'm worried that we are in danger of losing fewer altogether. Consider these real life examples from recent radio or TV broadcasts: "There are now less cars on this stretch of road than last year"; "Less new musicians are waiting to be signed by a major label"; "Less and less people are using the village post office." Aaargh!

When speaking of discrete, distinguishable or, if you like, countable units the correct word to use is fewer. When referring to an undifferentiated mass or an abstract concept, then it's less. So that's less rain but fewer rain drops; less time but fewer minutes; less pedantry but fewer pedants. If you're still not clear try this online questionnaire.

OK so this is hardly a life or death issue. And yes, I know that language evolves, but not all change is good. If the word fewer disappears our language will be diminished, we will have lost one more subtle distinction and we will be the poorer for it.

So for the sake of our glorious tongue; in the name of William Shakespeare and Ian McMillan, embrace your inner pedant, join the resistance, together we can save fewer for future generations. Imagine how grateful they will be.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Death Throes? Hope So

This from Ekklesia on the latest rabid rattlings from the politico-religious Christian right in the States.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

This Week's Poll 04/05/08

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

Last Week's poll: Should this country's blasphemy laws be repealed? 11 votes yes =10, no =1. One more vote: I vote yes - God's big enough to take care of things without any help from the government.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Hard to believe but gloriously true

I occasionally get angry. It happens mainly when people who are supposed to be providing a service for which I am paying don't give a toss. It's even worse when I am at their mercy because I know absolutely nothing about the service they are providing. Think cars, think sales, think repairs think MOT's.

So when I actually come across a competent, honest, good-hearted mechanic I become disproportionately delirious. When I have two such experiences in the space of two days it almost qualifies as a spiritual experience.

Let's hear it then for David Walker of Chorlton Auto-leisure, in fact forget the applause - just go and buy a camper van from him. Took mine in today to ask some advice about a malfunctioning water pump. Dave dropped what he was doing, spent 30 mins squirming around with a spanner chatting over his shoulder and hey-presto a working pump - all free of charge (no matter how hard I tried cross his palm with silver). I though he was a nice, trustworthy bloke when I bought the van a year ago, now I know it for a fact. His joint is anything but flash but he's a real diamond.

Let's hear it too for the guys at MES Garage in Rusholme. Needed an MOT on the car and they are just round the corner from work so thought I'd give 'em a go. Frankly their workshop looks a bit of a dive but they are convenient. They are also dead good - quick, reliable, friendly, good value and what's more they had a spare 20 minutes so they washed the car for me as well! No mean feat that, given the state I let my car get into.

I just wish this blog was a bigger deal than it is so Dave and the guys at MES could get the publicity they deserve.


Just got back from seeing Happy-Go-Lucky. I guess like many I others I was curious to see if Mike Leigh could do happy.

We know he has a gift for getting top notch performances from his cast; so no surprise that the acting was impressive, notably Sally Hawkins as the central character, Poppy, and especially Eddie Marsan as Scott, the driving instructor-cum-human volcano. We know he is adept at laying bare the aching heart of the family and sure enough there’s a top notch set piece at Poppy’s sister’s place. But can he do happy?

Well we are offered a series of convincing vignettes as happy meets angry, happy meets sad and happy meets desolate. We also get a sprinkling of funny and a consistent strand of warmth.

So yes, in the end I came away convinced, Mike Leigh can do happy. But I also came away disappointed. I can cope perfectly well with no story but character studies alone aren’t enough, not unless they have something worthwhile to say or some new insight to reveal. Happy-Go-Lucky has neither. It’s engaging and humane but its also ultimately rather trivial. So Mike Leigh can do happy, but so what? Give me Vera Drake any day of the week.

This Week's Poll 25/4/08

If you want to do more than just click, comment on this post. Just spotted the missing "y" but can't edit a poll once someone's voted.

Previous poll: Is it a good thing that the Olympics will be held in China?

7 votes yes =4, no =3. One more vote I vote yes - see Tim's comments.

Leading Women

The Baptist Union of Great Britain has as a declared element of its overall strategy the aim of increasing the number of women ministers who serve our churches. This won't happen without some major readjustment of attitudes and allocation of resources. Northern Baptist College (where I teach) has long been committed to encouraging and enabling women who wish to enter Baptist ministry, but in the last 2-3 years we have found that the number of women who even get as far as applying to College has been falling.

To this end we are hosting an event for women who want to explore the nature of God's call upon their lives. Entitled "Leading Women: Exploring Women's Ministries" it is aimed at women in Baptist churches who want to find out more about the opportunities that are available to them in ministries both ordained and lay and the possible training routes that the College provides. The event will be held on November 15th 2008 from 10.00 a.m. - 1.00 p.m. at Luther King House, and a creche will be provide for children under 5.

For those who can, we ask you to publicize this event as widely as possible.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Evangelism After Christendom

This is the book that got me blogging again. I'm probably going to do two or three posts on it. Not so much reviews as appetite-whetters. I hope. Here's the first.

I knew this was going to be one of those books that would do it for me. I got through it really quickly even though I kept re-reading bits just to make sure I’d got it right. My wife also knew it was going to be one of those books. She was doing her own reading but I kept on interrupting her saying, “This is great; this bloke knows how to write.” She’s very patient my wife.

Here's why Evangelism After Christendom does it for me
• It echoes much that I have felt and said for a while now. For instance: we need to re-imagine evangelism because it has become a dirty word, not only for those beyond the church but also for those within; we need to question the dominant strategy of translating our message into terms that will appeal to the world, paying more attention instead to cultivating the practice of hospitality so as to create space for people to learn the language of the gospel; the gospel is not primarily a product to be sold.
• It says what I would have loved to have said but with an insight, clarity and authority of which I am incapable. It is full of elegant, well turned phrases. There are passages on virtually every page that I want to read out loud to people.
• It takes evangelism seriously, practically seriously and - all too rare this - theologically seriously.
• It avoids the classic modernist accommodation of both evangelicalism and liberalism.
• It resonates with much that I have found helpful in the writings of Walter Brueggemann and others who have been influenced by postliberalism and radical orthodoxy
• It takes church seriously at a time when many serious disciples are so frustrated with the church that they are tempted to abandon it.
• When I put the book down my overwhelming feeling was not that I had learned some helpful stuff but rather that I had been challenged to live a holier life. Not so much “Do I know how to evangelise?” as “Am I really prepared to try and live like Christian?”

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Half-Hearted Retreating

Just about to head off for our annual staff student retreat. They are usually good things. We get to spend some open time together, hear from leaving students and then pray for each other. But we are also supposed to be retreating. This never quite works for me. I usually end up reading, sleeping or listening to music. I do pray a bit. But not much. Thing is I find most retreats a bit disappointing. They tend not to do it for me. I rarely feel I connect with God in any way different to when I'm at home about my usual routine. My sax teacher reckons it's cos most retreats I go on are too short. I think he has a point.

He was telling me last night that he's been in touch with a Zen master ( my sax teacher's not a Baptist) who reckons he too is due a retreat. We put the Route 66 improv on one side for a while and talked about retreats. He reckons that for him (and many others) the retreat thing only really kicks in round about the third day. Most of my retreats are done by day three.

I'm sure that's partly why holidays tend to do it more for me than retreats. I hardly ever come back from a week or two away without some new insight or fresh excitement. Even when I'm not hunting them down they tend to sneak up on me just because I've taken the trouble to stop long enough for the voices to cease babbling.

Conclusion? This God thing takes time. I for one need to give it bit more. But what to stop?

Hello Again

Easter's past and I'm back from the dead. (Inflated ego me? What do you mean?) Been silent for five weeks now. I did think of claiming it was a lent thing that was so spiritually moving that I just got carried up up and away but some people who read this actually know me. I could do the usual dreary thing and say I've been too busy. Truth is I've just not felt like it. For some reason watching Grand Designs (again) and QI (again) were more appealing.

What caused me to get back in touch with my inner geek and venture once more Neo-like (there goes the ego again) into cyber -world? All sorts of stuff but mainly the fact that I read a book that think deserves a hearty plug. Review-type post coming soon. (I am taking my time cos I want to do it justice.)

This Week's Poll 8/04/08

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

Last Month's (!) Poll: Are there any good ethical reasons NOT to be vegetarian 7 votes in total, 6 yes, 1 no. One more vote, I vote no. Or at least I can't think of any. I can think of lots of reasons why I am not a vegetarian, but none of them are good and none are ethical. They are more a matter of the flesh.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Buddhism, Pentecostals and Flattened 7ths

Daibutsu Buddha
Originally uploaded by davidteter
Found myself talking about Smith Wigglesworth during my sax lesson yesterday. Smith Wigglesworth was a Pentecostal plumber from Menston in Yorkshire. Ron, my music teacher, is a Buddhist. Among other things he’s interested in healing. If I remember the story Ron grew up catholic but was disillusioned when his priest couldn’t handle some of his spiritual experiences.

John Drane and others reckon there’s lots of people out there for whom the church just isn’t spiritual enough. Looks like there’s some evidence to support this theory. At least in south Manchester.

Have we Christians spent too long worried about and accommodating to rationalistic, secular, materialism and not enough time just getting closer to God and letting it show?

Dentistry and God Talk

Found myself talking about God at the dentist’s yesterday. Both the dentist herself and the dental nurse had their questions. Getting caught reading books on evangelism after christendom can lead to some interesting conversations.

The dentist, a practising Catholic, wanted to know the difference between being an evangelical and being evangelistic, “They are not the same are they? Because Catholics can do evangelism but I don’t think they are evangelical.” And, “At the freshers’ fair at uni I was talking to the Christian Union but when they found out I was Catholic they said, ‘Oh no, this is not for you; the Catholic Society is over there’.” Thinks: Catholics doing evangelism? – please God. Thinks 2: When oh when will evangelicals learn to be generous and hospitable?

The nurse told me how she had initially taken atheism for granted but was now developing an interest in God. “People always gave me the impression that God was like a man up in the sky but I reckon God’s everything that’s all around us. What do you think?”

As the novacaine took effect I found myself thinking about David Hay’s research into the spirituality of those who don’t go to church. Apparently there’s a growing readiness out there to speak about things spiritual but a groping after a language with which to do so. It seems that people are uncomfortable with transcendent, anthropomorphic God-talk finding it much easier to conceive of the divine as an immanent presence. Not sure if the nurse was groping towards pantheism or panentheism but I do know it’s hard to give a coherent answer with your mouth full of fingers, cotton wool, vacuum cleaners and instruments of torture.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

No Country .. Just Blood

During the last week I’ve been gripped by the two most critically acclaimed of this year’s Oscar nominees, There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men.

Seeing these powerful films back to back is an interesting experience. Interesting and deeply challenging.

There are important differences between the two films: the first has a powerful score, the second virtually no soundtrack whatsoever; the first is a character study, the second is in large part a gripping thriller; the first has a striking opening section with virtually no dialogue, as the second heads toward its ending it leaves action behind in favour of reflective dialogue.

What struck me most though were the similarities. Both films are dominated by superbly realised, deeply menacing villains; both are brutally violent; both have unconventional endings; both are concerned with father-son relationships. But above all both are profoundly pessimistic.

In No country Tommy Lee Jones’s weary sheriff despairs of a world gone wicked as he simultaneously desires and fears judgement on his own life. Blood is an almost Shakespearean tragedy painting a bleak picture of the destructive power of misanthropic greed. The central character hopes to become rich enough to be able to live without other people. “No man is an island” and in the process of becoming truly insular by destroying all who are close to him, Daniel Day Lewis’s ruthless oil man is finally stripped of the last vestiges of humanity.

If this is how our contemporaries see the world, they are desperately in need of hope. In the year of a co-ordinated mission initiative under the banner of Hope 08 is the church capable of painting an authentically optimistic alternative vision? Here’s hoping.

This Week's Poll 01/03/08

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

Previous Poll: Is it just a matter of time until the Christian church as whole recognises the validity of committed Gay relationships? 12 votes in total, 8 yes, 4 no. One more vote, I vote no.

I reckon that at least in the foreseeable future, there will continue to be a strong fundamentalist expression of Xnty that will be socially conservative, reactionary even. This is especially true when one takes into account the nature of vigorous expressions of the faith in the developing world. I think however that there is likely to be a strong trend towards embracing homosexuality among mainline denominations in this country. I reckon we will see this even among non-fundamentalist evangelicals.

Of course the poll while ostensibly asking an "objective" question gives opportunity to express personal views, so here's mine. I really hope that the church as whole does give a full and equal place to gay people without out any discrimination whatsoever on the basis of sexuality.

With regard to the various comments: I thinks Catriona is spot on with her historical observations; I didn't us the phrase "Gay Marriage" because many gay people are themselves uncomfortable with the expression believing it to be irredeemably tainted with patriarchal overtones; I reckon Stephen makes a very good point with regard to not waiting until there is unity; it this an issue that is central to the gospel or not? - I reckon Phil and Tim's debate is based on a false antithesis - surely the gospel is both about God's gracious restoration of relationship with individual people and also about the restoration of justice in the society of people. A gospel without one or the other is surely less than the full gospel. Actually I think I would rather express my understanding of the gospel as God's gracious restoration of the whole of creation so that it truly embodies and displays God's glory. This includes (among other things) the saving of individuals and the saving of society.