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.