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Thinking theologically about faith, church & culture

Water water everywhere

Water water everywhere

By on May 3, 2014 in Blog |

When you’re immersed in something, there’s often nothing better than trying to step back and look at the situation through God’s eyes. I have not quite been literally immersed in it, but the recent flooding affected me wherever I went. A few weeks ago I started with trying to get to the King’s Centre in Oxford for a Sunday meeting of our church, with waters lapping against it. Then from Oxford to Swindon by train on Monday morning, with the train travelling at a walking place where the water covers the tracks. Only to work in an organisation which funds flooding research and to work closely with the Met Office and Environment Agency on this. Mercifully, I live up a hill, so only a flood of Noah’s proportions could affect me there! The flood recorded in Genesis 6-9 was the “natural” event that delivered an irreversible step change in the planet. Many of those taking a creationist position on the origin of the world reflect on the fact that ‘the waters above the firmament'[1] may have been a water vapour layer above the earth’s atmosphere that led to a highly protected environment where dinosaurs could live and woolly mammoths could later be found in an arctic location where they would not have survived the cold[2]. The flood was caused by this water falling on the earth. Whatever your inclination concerning these early stories of Genesis, it is fair to say that traditions of deluge are found amongst all the great traditions of the human family and these agree to a substantial degree with the Biblical account. The most remarkable of these traditions is that recorded on tablets prepared by order of Assur-bani-pal, the King of Assyria, with copies dating back to 2000 BC[3]. There is one major difference in the Bible from the other narratives: the flood story ends with a covenant, reinforced by a rainbow (another natural phenomenon)[4]. God promises never to flood the earth again. I find it fascinating to see that, in spite of localised flooding occurring at different points in the Bible, when it reaches the climax of history, the judgements of God in Revelation are accompanied by earthquakes and hailstorms rather than floods.[5] (Interestingly,...

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Does the church grow its own vegetables?

Does the church grow its own vegetables?

By on Apr 30, 2014 in Blog |

Some time ago I was quite amused when I heard the speaker at a large Christian gathering suggest that ‘the church grows its own vegetables’. Taken at face value it’s quite a witty comment; but if you go beyond the humour, there’s a serious point being made about how people are equipped in churches to engage with scripture and grow in to maturity. The author of Hebrews (in chapter 5) rebukes the church on its lack of understanding of the most fundamental truths of God, using the analogy of infants needing milk whilst the mature feast on solid food. He uses similar language writing to the church in Corinth. As new Christians they had been supplied not only with spiritual blessings but also with every spiritual gift (1Cor1:4-9). Likewise the Corinthian believers seemed to have a taste for the breathtaking but failed to evidence a maturity which equalled their ability to exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1Cor3:1-4). Reading those passages has made me wonder if a letter from Paul or one of the other apostles to the church in the UK in 2014 would bear some of the same language characterised in 1 Corinthians 3 and Hebrews 5? Firstly let me say I love the church and more importantly God loves the church. It’s described as the bride of Christ and a man doesn’t take a bride who he isn’t utterly in love with! I really appreciate all that I have learnt in my local church. Without doubt I would not be the Christian I am today without it. My church has encouraged me to serve, pray and enabled me to encounter the life changing power of God. What (and I don’t think it’s on its own in this) it hasn’t been so good at is equipping me to engage with the Bible and grow into that maturity Paul is talking about; which is one of the reasons I decided to enrol at Salt & Light Ministries’ Bible School. At King’s School of Theology I’m learning to use the tools of how to interpret scripture to understand what the text meant then (exegesis) and to apply its meaning now (hermeneutics). Authors Fee & Stuart suggest that anyone...

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Nothing new under the sun

Nothing new under the sun

By on Apr 21, 2014 in Blog |

It can’t have escaped your notice – and if it has, where’ve you been? – that we’re living in a post-modern age. You don’t have to understand the term, spend any time analysing the philosophical idea or even care, but you’ll recognise the characteristics of the culture. Individualism, consumerism, relativism, pragmatism, spiritual subjectivism, nowism – ‘we want it all and we want it now’ –are features (or should that be symptoms?) of a PO-MO culture (that’s post-modern to you and me!) We engage with them on a daily basis. No, more than that, we’re immersed in them and generally subjected to them from all directions 24/7. As much as we’d like to be unaffected by their influence we pretty much can’t help it; we’re a product of post-modernity and being the passionate, theological and missionally-minded Christ-followers we are this is a problem. How do we share the good news of the necessary and saving work of Jesus Christ in a culture that has no need of a saviour? How do we talk about forgiveness and atonement with a culture that scorns absolutes? And how do we talk about justification and sanctification in a culture that no longer has a vocabulary for it…? I read that the Evangelical Alliance has begun an initiative asking how we should contextualise the message of the gospel for the 21st century, exploring what it should sound like and how we can communicate it to different sectors of society. How do we bring the whole gospel to the whole world? Exactly what our question should be: “How do we frame and phrase the gospel to be all things to all people?” We know the gospel is true and true for all people. The challenge is making it relevant to everyone without changing its central message or compromising the character of God. An unbalanced emphasis on ‘God is love’ leads to universalism; inclusiveness without righteousness leads to the redefinition of marriage… As real as it may seem – ‘I feel it so it must be true!’ – it’s misguided to think it’s harder than ever to win the lost. Many even say it’s easier in an age of spiritual seeking and acceptance of any and every...

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WHY ?????????

WHY ?????????

By on Apr 19, 2014 in Blog | 1 comment

Sue suggests listening to this song whilst reading her blog. This  is my lovely husband Nick – he is Missions Director for LifeChurch Manchester.  He became ill after a trip to Kazakhstan in October 2010.  (Don’t let that put you off going, it’s a great place!).  I have watched him suffer over the last four years; he has had major surgery for ulcerative colitis, crohns and various other problems. The other photo/image is of Job!  I am very proud of how Nick has handled suffering, given that he is not as blameless and upright as Job.  Yet there have been times when, like Job, I have shouted, screamed, cried “Why????”, particularly whilst out running.  Often in my mental anguish I have been trying to relate “our” experience to the unchanging character of God.  One doesn’t have to live long to experience suffering and frustration.  When unexpected and unexplained things happen and it all goes horribly wrong, where do you run to? As Christians if we neglect to read the book of Job, it will be to our own detriment. I have discovered that  it is a unique contribution to the word of God. I even wonder was Job the greatest believer of all time? Would I have included Job in the canon?  A few more nice psalms perhaps?  Job shows us that God allows suffering.  There is no escape from His sovereignty, yet He cannot be credited with evil. Is this a test of faith for Nick and I?  Does God have divine confidence in us? Should we take only good things from God and not trouble? (Job 2 v10).  We perhaps make God in our image, considering Him as we would like Him to be or how we think He should be. Using our own mind as a compass, we can struggle to make sense of apparent unfairness. Job has provided both a backbone and a language for our pain. In my darkest moments, seeing my husband suffer, Job’s wife’s words were not far from my tongue. “Are you still holding on to your integrity?  Why don’t you just curse God and die?”  I am not proud of this and I do not believe we are called to...

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A Sense of Community

A Sense of Community

By on Apr 12, 2014 in Blog |

What does this mean and what does this look like? There is something deep within us that yearns for community beyond our natural family. A place where we belong and have a sense of connection with others, a place where we can do life together, a place where we can be ourselves. Sounds great! Yet why is this so hard to achieve? Do we like the idea of it only before the reality of people’s live encroaches on our time and becomes and an interruption on our agendas? In recent decades new technology has had a big impact on how we do life. Our means of communicating has changed; we have ‘virtual friends’ and social networks which provide an online community for many people in one shape or form. Yet this should not stop us from trying to reach out to those within our immediate community. Is there a risk of being too engrossed with our online friends and groups that we neglect the people that are in front of us? Don’t get me wrong: the internet and social media is great in keeping us updated with current events and it is a great resource. I guess the challenge is that we shouldn’t rely on this and forget the personal touch – which means that we have to get to know people as individuals. Maybe that is where the difficulty lies. The art of building relationship is commonly based on a mutual interest that that draws both parties together: both are willing to invest time getting beyond the polite small talk to get to know the individual underneath. Our church life can provide that. We meet together because we want to ‘do fellowship together’ and we want to encourage and support each other (usually on a Sunday). Midweek meetings and small groups where friendships can deepen are integral to church life, as well as the necessary planning meetings relating to church. With all these midweek meetings there is the potential risk that the week is sucked up by church meetings that there is no spare time (or very little) to connect with those outside the church circle.  Also church itself could be at risk of taking a functional rather...

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What happened to confession?

What happened to confession?

By on Apr 9, 2014 in Blog |

The Bible tells Christians to confess our sins, but does it matter how we do it? Is confession simply a personal matter between us and God? It is clear that confession of sins is an important part of what it means to be the people of God. It is where we all declare our common dependence on Jesus and the cross. It is required for salvation that we acknowledge our sins, for otherwise we are declaring the cross unnecessary and spurning the sacrifice of Jesus. And it is a necessary part of right relationship with God to continue to confess and repent where we have wronged Him. In most cases in the Bible confession of sins is a personal thing between us and God. But there may also be a need for a vocalised confession of sins. There are frequent occurrences of this in the Old Testament, but less in the New Testament. This is in large part due to the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice – once for all, and also the access that each believer has to God without the need for an intermediary high priest. However, James instructs: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16 What does it mean to confess your sins to each other? Is this publicly to everyone or privately one-to-one and does it mean identifying specific sins or a more general confession of sinfulness? More traditional churches make room for both a public confession of general sinfulness using liturgy and a one-to-one confession of specific sins to a priest – who alone pronounces forgiveness. Interestingly in the Orthodox faith there is sometimes a discipling relationship and a person’s spiritual Father or Mother will hear their confession – though the priest is still required to pronounce absolution.  But since the Reformation began, new Protestant denominations appeared in which the role of the priest was re-examined and the sacrament of confession abandoned. Confession one-to-another may continue to occur privately but it was no longer regulated. Where liturgy remained in use, a corporate confession of sin was still practised – and still is today where it forms an integral part of worship. However...

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