Tag Archives: Bible

The Bible Posters

I came across Jim LePage’s Word Bible Designs through an interview on Rachel Held Evans blog.

Over the past couple of years, every time I take a training session or do a talk in church I’ve used more and more images as I’ve realised I’m a visual learner and there is something about the power of art and visuals that communicates powerfully in tandem with the words we speak. I lament how so often it seems the evangelical church has lost art and the power and beauty of visual art in fear of being offensive or blasphemous. I was at a wedding recently in a new church building which apart from candles and decorations felt like an empty soulless shell. I long for churches to recover visual art. It’s not something I ever grew up with attending a brethren church but a conviction that has grown as I have become more aware of the creativity that God instills in us and the power of beauty to instil hope.

So bring on a more colourful and beauty-full church – and enjoy the posters on Jim LePage’s site many of which depict the books in a wonderful honesty we sometimes don’t get in church…

Leading by the book?

Over at the Innovista Ireland page I’m asking what leadership shaped by the ‘good book’ should/could look like.

Is the model of leadership practised in most of our churches really a biblical one?

How can we move towards an understanding and practice of leadership that is less ‘one-man-band’ or about maintaining the status quo but instead more closely reflects the New Testament?

Those are the questions I have been asked to tackle in a seminar at New Horizon on Wednesday 20th July. At 10pm (As if the questions weren’t daunting enough!)

What do you think?

Head on over to weigh in…

pub theology – right or wrong

I have long advocated that the most significant conversations i’ve had about theology tend to take places in the pub. Transfarmer, smallcorner and a few others help keep this theory alive in a long conversation about lots of things, partly how we read the Bible and think about it. On that topic I’ve just started Scot Mcguinness_brewery_gravity_bar_our_pintsKnight’s Blue Parakeet which is proving interesting reading.

So right and wrong. Are we missing the point by constantly being so worried about what is right and what is wrong? Or maybe its a pharisaic obsession with how we can judge others as right or wrong and in so doing justify ourselves?  I’m not talking about obvious things like killing people, perhaps I mean theological nuances. So often we are obsessed with the right way of thinking, of sound doctrine, of having the right theology. Obviously I’m not saying its not important to think and wrestle with this stuff as that’s what I’m doing. But should we be more concerned with following the trajectory of the way of Jesus, obeying all the stuff he taught than looking at others and seeing if they have the right theology and trying to correct them all the time?

Help me out here, as i’m not quite sure wht i’m even trying to articulate.

In the garden Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, wanting to be like God, wanting to define good and evil for themselves. Is this simply our problem, that we are infected with our own desire to define what is right and what is wrong? So much so that we forget, or get distracted from walking the path of Jesus? Is it the case that there is no ‘other’ with God and so are we foolishly trying to define ourselves over and against others all the time instead of living the inclusive life and love of Jesus?

Does anyone know what i’m talking about?

Finally some Justice as kerb-crawlers have to pay more than just cash

It shocked me a couple of years ago to discover that women (or men) could be prosecuted for prostitution but yet those who paid for their services had no censure.
It seems crazy in this scenario that one of the two parties is doing something illegal and the other isn’t, that there is such a disparity. Either they are both ok, or both deserve censure.
But then I guess for too long its been the men that make the laws, and men who use and abuse prostitutes, men who keep women in the vicious circle that prostitution becomes. So obviously they didn’t want to make kerb crawling illegal.

Its not too dissimilar from that story in John 8 (the dubious part of John). Reading it and using it for some stuff with students it really struck me how one of the things Jesus seems to be doing is challenging the injustice of the situation. This woman was dragged in to be stoned having been caught in the act (of adultery). Now if she was caught in the act it would seem to be normal that the guy was also caught in the act but what happened him? Why wasn’t he dragged out to be stoned? Because it was the woman’s fault? The innate sexism in the society of the time maybe isn’t too different from today in many ways. As Jesus challenges whichever of the religious leaders who was without fault to throw the first stone, I wonder if in that he was challenging the injustice of women being punished for the same thing that the guy managed to get off Scot free with.

It seems to have taken 2000 years for the same sense of injustice to hit the UK with Home Secretary Jacqui smith announcing a range of new laws to deal with those paying for sex, and especially with trafficed sex workers. Still not a crime to be a pimp and pimp out women though. It seems we still have a way to go…

For another perspective from someone who spends time with many of the women ‘working’ on the streets of Belfast check out a Velvet Bridge.

Where are the doctrine police when you need them? (some questions of a theological nature)

Rants from the soapbox have been pretty sparse recently through being tired, being away, getting old, but also having an ‘Key Doctrines’ exam next week on things like election and predestination, the Spirit and the Church. At this point half of you stop reading so welcome to the theology geeks. So I’ve been and am trying to study (while not playing scrabble on facebook and staring out the window or walking around a lot pretending to think), and I have a few questions.

Calvinism and election and all that.
So for the first time yesterday to my shame I read the five points of Calvinism (on a side note thank you Alastair McGrath for summarising clearly in a few pages what everyone else seems to take a book to try to do). Now I realised that I’m not a fan of limited atonement – it just doesn’t seem to square with scripture and God’s character (to me) that Jesus only died for the elect. I’d always assumed Jesus died for everyone and it was up to them to choose to accept the offer of grace and forgiveness. And the perseverance of the saints (once saved always saved in popular parlance) we had lots of discussion on in class, where the learned professor (in the Presbyterian college) suggested that we must take the warnings in scripture about not falling away seriously. I think Paul Helm said it would be immoral to warn about something that had no risk of happening. So then I came to read a book by Roger Olsen on Arminianism (as it actually is and not all the misunderstood caricatures) and found myself incredibly sympathetic to something that in various circles I’d tended to hear spoken of in a sense that ‘when Arminians grow up, or start thinking, they’ll see the light and become Calvinists’. I know I’m caricaturing a bit, and it does make me think about who people are following and Paul’s rebuke in 1 Corinthians 3.4. Is it just me or does it seem that sometimes people are more interested in following or the thought of Calvin or John Owen than Jesus? Olsen also suggested that although many churches profess Calvinism or Calvinistic tendencies, the actual default position of many evangelicals is Arminiansim or Semi-Pelagianism. Interesting eh? (that’s one for the geeks).

The Spirit
That often forgotten member of the Trinity, or the Trinity that is not Father, Son and Holy Scriptures. Apologies, I’m being facetious again. Regarding the more miraculous gifts, i’m aware there are different opinions, but it was suggested in class that theologically we must be non-cessasationist as the biblical support for miraculous gifts ceasing with the closing of the canon is so unclear. Now I’ve probably considered myself charismatic more by theology than experience but a comment by Sam Storms in his book convergence challenged me whether you can say that or if it is a bit of a cop out. Obviously recognising everyone has different gifts, but if these gifts are for today, and we are to seek after gifts, why do we see so little evidence of them? Have we been quenching the Spirit? Individually or institutionally?

I am learning and trying to think about some of this stuff, although I realise there are things we will never figure out – there is the element of God that is mystery but I appreciate all the help I can get as this faith seeks understanding.

And then there’s the church, but I better get back to the old revision… (Realising some of the flaws of Warhol’s quote below – waiting for exams definitely doesn’t make them more exciting)

Great Sporting Lies and Humility

” We are being asked to believe that, less than a week after the great upheaval, players who regarded Mourhino as their mentor have thrown their lot in with someone who they ahve reason to suspect may have hastened their beloved manager’s exit. T’s like saying Larry, Adam and The Edge would barely look up from their royalty checks if Bono were dumped in favour of James Blunt…”
Read the rest here

I’ve been doing a fair bit of training over the last couple of weeks – for new staff of our ever growing plot to change the world through students. I’ve been ranting a lot about the Bible as I have done here too. Jaybercrow and Zoomtard also have a lot of good stuff to say on the subject. One of the things i keep coming back to and trying to live as well as hammer into people [constantly emphasise is maybe a better phrase in this context as has been pointed out!], is a sense of humility. A wise lecturer commented a couple of days ago that their is a significant difference between arguing about the ‘authority of the bible’ and our ‘interpretation of the bible’. Often we confuse the two. If someone doesn’t agree with your interpretation, its easy to claim they don’t respect the authority of the bible. and again its a classic example of trying to make ourselves feel better by making someone else feel small and claiming superiority. Which is not humility. Which is not the way of Jesus. Humility is not about winning and losing. Humility respects that other people’s opinions are not snatched out of the air. Humility realises that we don’t know it all, that other people have much to contribute to helping us understand God, the world, each other. In fact I think that’s part of what is behind Paul’s teaching on the church as a body. God does not make us self sufficient. We do not have all we need by ourselves. We need others for their gifts, skills, wisdom and experience. I think this is also what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 3 – ” that you may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge”.
Time to stop and begin living humbly – realising others have much to teach us, that we need others. As someone working with students I see it all the time – sometimes at 19 or 20 people think they know it all and don’t need anyone else. It’s something I, as someone who always knows the right way to do things – my way, has had to learn the hard way and come to appreciate much more over the years. We need other people. a large part of humility is realising that.

the soapbox – coming after your money

Who let the dogs out? – Peru part three

To quote another song, dogs are everywhere here in Peru, well especially in Caraballyo, although most are pretty inactive and docile. However we have learned that Peruvian dogs seem to enjoy the Peruvian way of life which tends not to be too fast paced. Powerwalking in a European way to get back to the petrol station from which we get the bus back to Lima seems not such a good idea, as the hole in my t-shirt from an overexcited dog now demonstrates. No skin broken so no fear of getting rabies. We’ve been working in San Martin in Caraballyo for two weeks now. The roof on the community house is now complete, there’s a 3m hole dug for a latrine, and there’s now a fence running along the back of the kids playpark and the path shielding the sight of the rubbish dump in the background. We’ve discovered some of the genius of HSBC’s local knowledge ad from the local handyman and community leader Crescento who with a chain and piece of wood took out a pole concreted in the ground in two minutes which took us a couple of hours with our rocking back and forth method. We´ve loved working with Luis the carpenter putting up the roof, one of those people with a constantly smiling face who we managed to have great chats with in spanglish. The universal language of football is a great starter. Paul and I and a few of the girls have been getting into playing football with some of the kids and the guys who drive the mototaxis. We’ve seen the sun and blue skies in Caraballyo for the last week which has meant lots of sweating, even when just doing nets. The Paul and Sam combo is becoming a pretty fearsome attacking force. For those who are aware of my footballing prowess, the stony bumpy pitch and the dust seem to help. It’s exciting to see how AEGUP (thePeruvian IFES movement) are committed long term to community development in partnership with the community. The last couple of days we’ve been able to do a bit of mini kids club with arts, crafts, songs and bible stories. The kids seem to get it all, which is great. This weekend is independence weekend so there’s flags everywhere and we’re getting the chance to see some of the big parades in Lima. We’ve settled in really well, helped immensely by Rob [Rob Clay Rivers – to give him his full title], an american doing a year here with LatinLink. Sorry a North American, as we’ve realised that american refers to any native of the two continents of the americas. Watching the Copa america final at his house was pretty good too. One of Rob’s other contributions has been giving us another team member. His friend Jo came to stay with him for a week and get involved in the stuff he was doing and has ended up joining us for the whole time. Its been funny thinking back to this team almost not happening but we’ve got a great bunch of people with Emma and Cara staying from the Jordanstown team, and now Jo. Its added a great dynamic, perspective and banter. As a team we’ve been digging into Colossians which has been great, and I’ve been rereading Colossians Remixed – which is one of the best books I’ve read in the last couple of years, both for the context of the Roman Empire and for translating Paul’s subversive message into a global consumer culture. Lima is no different with McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Hut et al in evidence – although Paul and I’s sneaky Pizza last night from a local joint was pretty heard to beat… the girls weren´t so impressed but it was his birthday…

Soapbox – currently enjoying a free (involuntary) weight loss and detox regime

So any women on the go?

I had to restrain a strong desire to punch an elderly relative for this comment at my gran’s funeral several years ago. Whether I had or not was irrelevant. In my moment of grief all she was interested in was my relationship status, not the fact I may have been upset. This is one of the things that really bugs me about the Christian community in the North at least. It’s obsessed with relationships – which are a good thing but not everything, and in fact they have a very poor theology of relationships. There seems a massive pressure for people to get married. And so many christians get married so young, and some of those marriages run into problems. Northern Irish Christians all need to read some Hybels wisdom in Making Life Work (which is a fantastic book) or Fit to be Tied. It could only have good results.

Its one of the things that frustrates me about church. Sometimes I feel it would be easier to fit in if I was in a couple. Maybe I’m just more sensitive to it, having grown up with parents who split up when I was young, and mum sharing some really hurtful comments made by other Christian couples like – “if you were still together we could go out like we used to”. Can couples not spend time with single people? Are they so insecure about the stability of their relationship that they can’t be reminded of some of the harsh realities of life?

I was really pleased to hear a friend’s minister say from the front – “we will not be a church that only invites you for dinner if you’re a couple”, recognising that disturbing reality that exists in some churches. In churches that clearly are missing something major about all that stuff Jesus kept talking about when he called his followers to love one another, to show hospitality. I don’t remember there being any qualifiers, in fact that was the whole point of the good samaritan parable. Yet for single people churches can be lonely places.

It’s another reason why I have serious issues with John Eldridge. I read Wild at Heart a couple of years ago. While lots of people seem to think he says some good things, I had to restrain myself from throwing the book across the room on several occasions. His theology is woefully inadequate, especially when it comes to singleness. As in he doesn’t have a theology of singleness. I wondered why he didn’t really use Jesus as a role model for men – it would seem an obvious choice, but then Jesus was single and that kind of blows his theory out of the water. Passages like Matthew 19.12 and 1 Corinthians 7 are conveniently ignored by Eldridge where Jesus and Paul commend singleness.

Now I’m not just taking a pop at Eldridge but something that is endemic in the Christian community and has and is damaging lots of people. Churches sometimes assume marriage is the norm and everyone else needs married to sort them out.

In Genesis when God says its not good for man to be alone, I wonder if we read too much into that in taking it to be purely about marriage. If God lives in the community of the trinity surely what He was doing there was creating community for humanity – which is something larger than marriage, which is one expression of that. Maybe what our churches need more of is loving inclusive community with the recognition that marriage is not the be all and end all and recognition that singleness is exalted in the bible. Maybe then we might really see God’s kingdom touching earth and many of us who are broken and hurting actually finding a home…

Check out Tim Chester’s blog where he has been posting some great stuff on marriage and singleness – especially this morning’s post which precipitated this soapbox rant and has some fantastic stuff in it.

Soapbox – aware of the ironic timing of this post….

Sunday can wait.

So the sabbathing stuff is coming, I’m enjoying this time of year as things quieten down (well apart from the wedding I’m best man at on Saturday) and the CU planning for next year I’ll be at this week. It usually means my mind starts to waken up. I’ve been reading Eugene Peterson’s ‘Eat this Book – The Art of Spiritual Reading’ with the title based on John’s experience in the book of Revelation.

I’m pretty passionate about the bible – God’s revelation of himself that invites us into life with him and into his story. I hate it when people misuse the bible – giving many people ammunition for all the negative claims often made against the bible. Its pretty unique and incredible if you give it a chance, it you give it time. For people trying to follow Jesus often there can be nothing more damaging than ‘bible’lite’, than not taking it seriously, not engaging, and just dipping in for bible horoscopes to make you feel good about yourself for the day. Now hear what I’m saying – God speaks and uses lots of things but we can’t build a healthy engagement with God this way. That may do for a few weeks, or months but not for a lifetime of journey. We need to really engage – I often think it ironic that ‘bible studies’ (a term that fills most people with dread, because of boring, dry, comprehension-like question and answer sessions) don’t really involve studying or the bible, but reading a passage once (which we pretty much instantly forget) then sharing opinions without actually getting into the text – more licking and forgetting than eating and chewing. That means coming humbly – not arrogantly thinking we have it all sorted or explained and entering into the story, sitting humbly under its authority.

We’ve been having lots of conversations in work about how we approach the bible, as it is one of our core values. There had been a phrase ‘good use of the bible’ banded about which we were aware did sound a bit like we thought we had it nailed and sorted. More profoundly one of our board stated a theological objection reminding us we don’t use the bible – if anything it ‘uses’ us. As we engage with God’s word, his Spirit changes and transforms us. its not just go and do this but we almost enter into the story, begin a conversation. And so ‘dynamic engagement with the bible’ was born.

I thought the following from Eugene was telling – as we enter into God’s story yes there is joy and promise and fulfilment but also deeply unsettling experiences…

“The bible is a most comforting book; it is also a most discomfiting book. Eat this book; it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth; it will also be bitter to your stomach. You can’t reduce this book to what you can handle; you can’t domesticate this book to what you are comfortable with. You can’t make it your toy poodle, trained to respond to your commands.

This book makes us participants in the world of God’s being and action; but we don’t participate on our terms. We don’t get to make up the plot or decide what character we’ll be. This book has generative power; things happen to us as we let the text call forth, stimulate, rebuke, prune us. We don’t end up the same.

Eat this book but keep a well stocked cupboard of Settlers and Alka-seltzer.”

I’m excited about continuing my journey of understanding, experiencing and being involved in what God is doing in history, to do that its vitally important we engage properly and meaningfully with his word. I leave you with a question posed by a friend…

“How can I read the Bible to enter into its story so that its story becomes my story and the story of this community I have come to love?”

Science and Faith

Just back from a great weekend in the smoke-free air of the republic, hanging out with friends in Maynooth. Saturday was the Christians in Science Ireland day conference with a couple of heavyweight scientists/theologians in the guise of Alistair McGrath and Denis Alexander. It was an incredibly stimulating day thinking through Dawkins challenge to faith, and theistic evolution.
The talks are online here.

Now I think its vital that Christians be committed to rigorous thinking about how faith interacts with every area of life, and a comment from an Oxford professor lingers in my mind – “we have to be very careful in these areas that we don’t damage the integrity of our witness”.

Some of these debates always stir up quite a lot of emotion, and I want to plead for humility and grace to be the guiding principles in these discussions. It would be ridiculous for me to tell a neurosurgeon they don’t know what they are talking about and have got it all wrong, and sometimes Christians blunder into these debates, without understanding science to tell scientists they are wrong. A great deal of patience, understanding ad humility is required. That humility was evident among the speakers on Saturday. One of the key themes that came through was that scientific theories does not tell us that there is or isn’t a God, and we often have to recognise that theories are often hijacked by ideological systems (people such as Dawkins) and used to say or mean things they don’t. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive.

Christians, although they may differ in their understanding of how, do all believe that God is the creator and sustainer of all things (despite what some may have you think), and we need to recognise that as a starting point. It worries me when people who take one position on this are quick to label those who don’t disagree with them heretics. Its not just in science, I encountered it in the area of the Holy Spirit with people at a training conference for my job in England. This is a serious charge and too often is done in an arrogant manner that says ‘I’m right and if you don’t agree with me you’re not a proper Christian’. Its an attitude that often seems more interested in writing people off than building others up, and engaging thoughtfully with humility recognising we all have much to learn. Grace and love I seem to remember are things Jesus modelled and the biblical writers appear to think are pretty important. Often it seems to ignore that people have thought deeply and wrestled with the issue in hand.

Our approach to the bible also needs considered in this area. The bible is God’s revelation to us – it is not supposed to be a piece of scientific literature (the genre of which is fairly recent). The early chapters of Genesis are not eyewitness narrative in the way Acts is. In the Hebrew they are tightly structured in ways our English translations don’t pick up. When we come to the bible we always need to recognise it is a collection of different sorts of literature, we don’t interpret some of the apocalyptic writings in Daniel or Revelation the way we interpret Mark. Interpretation can often be hard work, and if we are humble enough to recognise that some passages can be legitimately interpreted differently then we should be gracious enough to recognise that there are things we will disagree on, and be gracious in that. Always making sure that we’re not adding to the gospel, have a read at Galatians 1 to see what the apostle Paul thought about people who added on categories for believing in and following Jesus. Our purpose is to point people to the life that Jesus offers, not make them agree with us in all the secondary issues.