Category Archives: church

Belief and the unbelievable

Brace yourself with the grace of ease, I know this world ain’t what it seems… You’re unbelievable. (EMF)

It’s interesting to consider what is now unbelievable, and what used to be. It would at one time been perfectly reasonable for instance, to believe that the world is flat – now we no longer think that is reasonable.

Similarly it was once very common to believe in a literal six day creation story, these days that is only thought to be reasonable if one belongs to a particular strand of a religious subculture.

Without making any sort of value judgement on the relative strengths or weaknesses of either of these beliefs, what I want to suggest is that there is a power dynamic at play in what is, and what is not, believable.

In both of the examples above, the power dynamic stems from the rule of the church over society. As modernity progressed the norms of belief which had solidified the authority of the teaching of the church as sovereign were gradually eroded – leaving us in a position where now the church is (relative to its previous position) marginalised. Please note that in talking about this I’ve genuinely no interest in trying to perpetuate the idea of the persecution of the church in the West or any of that stuff, I’m simply talking about the way that belief has developed.

What I am keen to do is reflect the way that what is believable and unbelievable changes according to who has particular interests to protect, and what they want to perpetuate. With the church as sovereign then certain Biblicist notions meant that particular things were unbelievable. With the modern ‘secularlist’ upsurge many of these ideas have become unbelievable.

For instance the idea that homosexuality is ‘unnatural’, or that women by nature cannot hold positions of power, or that the poor are feckless – beliefs aimed squarely at marginalising sectors of society to solidify the power of another sector.

What this means is that by reflecting on the way the power dynamics affect ‘believability’ we can turn an eye inward and ask what things are unbelievable today.

A good example is the very apparent battle over belief concerning who is to blame for the economic problems we currently face – various groups are lobbying hard to make it impossible to believe that they are responsible.

Another example of that could be the overturn or radical overhaul of the Western capitalist system – to ponder such an eventuality is ridiculous… isn’t it? It’s unbelievable that things could change to such an extent, right?

We need to ask, who currently has particular reason to ensure that certain things are unbelievable?

And what would happen then, if we all began to believe the unbelievable?

Read post one in this series – Belief and the believed.

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Very Heavy Christmas video

We were never going to be able to do this event justice with a hand held, but arts student Jason Lee has taken a crack at it, and managed to get some of the key elements in – the footage is of the first song when most people were hanging back in their seats, and then a song a bit further into the set. We also had video ‘lessons’ and a short plug from George, the heavy metal curate who also features in the video. About 300 people came to the event overall, with bikers coming from far and wide, and metal heads making a suprise early visit to town especially for the event. Huge thanks go to all involved and to those who supported the event, from the band to the YMCA who raised hundreds of pounds for their work with homeless young people, to the Christian motorcyclists association who rode their bikes along icey roads to be with us, and who delighted the crowd with their ‘biker bibles’.

Brilliant work everyone, and as for next year…. well its a maybe…

For more pics, hopefully more video, and more feedback on the event generally, head over to the very heavy christmas facebook page, which you can find by searching for it, or by heading to the the very heavy christmas site, and clicking through.

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Masculinity, identity, spirituality, religion

Just a few thoughts about issues of masculine identity in the context of spirituality and religion… please dont let is be a soliloquy, let me know your thoughts in the comments box.

There have been a few articles written recently about the disengagement and disappearance of men from places such as church sanctuaries and missionary agencies.

Two notable recent articles on this are: Steve Davies, writing about men and the mission field, and Vicky Beeching (current Christian uber blogger) on feminisation of worship music.

I’m left feeling though that in both cases, what the writers describe are symptoms of a greater malaise, and while both are interesting and important, they arent quite catching the very complex causes.

These causes are complex, and I would categorise them as essentially psycho spiritual and sociological.

For a very long time the church has been deeply patriarchal, as indeed has society. Both church and world remain in thrall to patriarchal hegemony, but arguably less so than ever before. The place of men in society generally has become more confused and unclear, as traditional manufacturing and ‘muscle based’ industry declines in a form of freefall, and women push for a more equal place in corridors of power, the man’s place as ‘provider’ and ‘governor’ is challenged – and quite rightly too.

I am an advocate of gender equality, in fact I’m probably a feminist, I dont bemoan the rise of feminine power in society, rather I celebrate it. What I think it requires however is a movement of masculinity which accepts and understands the role of men in society and church as changing or readjusting. Without this kind of rethinking, we’re in for a prolongued crisis.

Recent attempts to’turn Jesus into a cage fighter’ as some people have described the language of the likes of controversy courting Mark Driscoll and others are evidence of one attempt by some to deal with this issue. This seems like an attempt to claw back ‘traditional’ male imagery. The man as tough and rough, but still loving and fair, and importantly in charge of his world.This sort of imagery is so problematic in so many ways, that it deserves to be discarded as soon as possible. It is precisely this which has led to the denigration of women, homosexuals, people of other colour/creed and religion as ‘less than they should/could be.’

Other men choose to discourage that kind of language and imagery, and opt instead for a kind of image of Jesus which is described by others as feminine.I verge more towards this for sure, but even so, find it troubling at times, Jesus was a man, a real person, not some sort of floating presence who hovered over the earth sprinkling flowers and butterflies. More, Jesus was a man of his time, a physical man used to hard ground and conversant with hard work.

Recent songwriters have written love songs which sound as though Jesus is a boyfriend to be crooned at. I personally dislike most of these songs, not because of their love song type sentiment, but more because of their banality and the ease with which they trip from tongues and fail to engage with brains and hearts. But this kind of music is popular with many, and I dont feel it is putting people off as such, rather I think its a symptom of an overswing away from the kind of ‘masculine’ ‘battle’ imagery prefered by song writers as recently as the 1980s/1990s (Noel Richards et al).

So what is the cause of this crisis situation? In parenting there is a theory which says that for a child to be content, and to mature into a spiritually/emotionally balanced adult, their parents should enable them to have feelings of security, significance, and self worth.

I think that perhaps what we are seeing is that for too long men have had too much of the significance aspect, and as that diminishes they/we are losing our feeling of security, and of self worth. Women on the other hand have for too long been considered less significant than men – a clear fallacy which in Christian terms is not even born out biblically. Consider among so many examples the primal woman ‘Eve’ who had to be whispered to by a snake before giving into sin, her male counterpart the primal man ‘Adam’ needed only a couple of words from Eve to bite the fruit. Consider the female disciples, who without being endowed with the apostleship ‘status’ stayed loyal to the crucified Jesus when his male friends were in hiding. Looking at the history of the church women have been incredibly significant throughout, from Deborah in the Jewish scriptures, to Theresa of Calcutta in 20th century religious life.

Men too have been significant, but seemingly have too often felt the need for status and recognition, developing hierachies with abandon, I fear some of our greatest leaders have been guilty of this. Israel the people of God, kept prefering earthly kings to the leadership of God, such was their downfall. They have even said inspiring things which on reflection are none too helpful.

An example of this is the classic quote attributed to William Carey, and taken from his address to the Baptist Association in 1792:

‘Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.’

I have long found this troubling, and was pleased to hear it addressed roundly by the Australian writer and speaker Dave Andrews who encouraged his audience to consider a more humble approach, paraphrasing the Welsh patron saint David in his encouragment to:

‘do the little things’.

I am fairly sure that one of the biggest problems with male engagement with church, mission, worship etc is this issue of change – it has removed the psycological security we’ve come to rely on, it has threatened the significance which we have based on a false idea of pre-eminence and special authority, and has dented the male self worth.

In parenting terms, if a child is having difficulties of these sorts, one would expect abberant behaviour, disengagement, and quite possibly retreat (in to his or herself). I think we can probably demonstrate that these things are evident within Christian western men.

These are not the only factors of course, there are a great range of issues at play here, but as we go through immense societal changes, which are deeply impacting the church, we need to understand the fact that while masculinity is in crisis, symptoms are going to show up.

The only solution for this that I can see is for more men to model a more wholistic form of masculinity, building on the humility, gentleness and piety which has been attributed to women over the years, whilst accepting the physicality and earthly strength which goes with being male. The essential point is that we must resist the urge to dominate and control, and learn to give of ourselves in quietness where necessary.

So what do you think?

Are Christian men just wimps who need to pull themselves together?

Are churches too feminine, and too full of love songs and men in frocks?

What are the deeper societal issues which are at the root of the disappearance of men from mission and church?

Do men just not like singing anymore?

Are there some traditions where men outnumber women? Where and why?

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Church at the movies #3: Vampirus Nosferatu

This should have been church at the movies #2 – but then cheeky old Joe Turner joined in with a post about men in black, which you are welcome to read here.

It’s quite good that Joe pitched in with a Conspiracy thriller type motif, as I was bit ‘horror heavy’ with my thoughts – following last week’s Zombie post, this week I’m thinking about Vampires.

I recently wrote a little something about Frankenstein, and his monster. The Frankenstein story was written on the shores of lake Geneva by Mary Shelley during a historic house party given by Lord Byron. The Frankenstein story is the most famous product of that party, but it isnt the only important literary product.

The Vampyre, by John William Polidori was first published in 1819. Like Frankenstein though, it too was a product of the creative splurge that followed a challenge to write a ghost story during a long dark Swiss weekend.

Polidori’s tale is widely credited as being the first romantic Vampire story, the great grandfather if you like of the current crop of Vampire fiction which has so failed to capture my imagination. Perhaps if I was a teenage girl I would find it more interesting. But I’m not.

More importantly than Twilight though, Polidori’s Vampyre is also the ancestor of the Dracula story, which was written by Bram Stoker later the same century. Notably Polidori’s main charachter, clearly based on the figure of Lord Byron, was the archetypal aristocratic Vampire, cool, refined, vicious, deadly -undead.

This kind of uber cool motif has come to define the common conception of the vampire, unlike the mindless zombie, a part of the hoard and incapable of its own individual decisions, the Vampire is an individual. He or she is a deadly foe – someone to be reckoned with. Witty perhaps, clever certainly, well turned out, sexy, cool…

But the vampire and the zombie share one notable similarity – the inescapable thirst for blood. The desire to consume blood is all powerful, and drives otherwise decent vampires (e.g. David Boreanaz’s Angel from Buffy the Vampire slayer) to desperate measures. The vampire is the archetypal addict, hooked on blood, and willing to go to any lengths to procure it. More than that, they are vicious heartless (or rather soulless) killers, who get some perverse pleasure from infliciting pain and suffering.

Rather than investigate the questions about vampirism that reflect on our society as a whole, which is worthy of a book or two, I want to make a simple point about church.

While we may think we are free of zombies in church, are we sure about the vampires?

Vampires have certain notable characteristics:

1) They appear different in the day time than in the night.

2) They present as cool, refined, clever and attractive.

3) Their consumption is as driven as the zombie’s, but appears to be the product of a refined mind, rather than part of a mindless gang.

The Vampire is the ultimate individual, they dont want to be part of a gang, they may want others to follow them, (hence the nosferatu aspect, the way they infect their prey with the need to consume blood) but they arent interested in being part of the pack.

So while zombie consumers will just go along with the crowd, the vampire consumer will stand out, cool, isolated, set apart – perhaps as part of an elite set. But they remain, at heart, a consumer – not a producer.

Vampires, like zombies are to be found in our church meetings, in our very midst. And you or I, we are as likely to be bitten as anyone – we can easily fall prey to the vampire’s bite – by succumbing to the idea of cool.

As soon as we start to set ourselves apart, conceive of ourselves as an elite level of individual, refuse or fail to recognise the humility of our humanity, we take steps towards vampirism.

Fortunately it’s not always necessarily to stake the heart of a vampire, sometimes these characters can be rehabilitated. That’s good news for us, given the fact that we’re as likely to have been infected as anyone – askyourself a few questions:

How do you stand up to being washed in holy water? Not talking about literal water, but metaphorical, have you left behind the repentance of baptism which is to abandon the life material and seek the life spiritual?

How do you stand up to the sunshine? Again – a metaphor: can you stand up to the scrutiny of daylight, does your lifestyle bear the characteristics of authenticity?

Have you really put your self to death? This one is both literal and metaphorical, the self in terms of the ego. Does your ‘self’ raise out of it’s coffin and roam the streets at night? Or is it really dead?

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Church at the movies part 1: Zombie attack

One of the wonderful things about our society is that it does a good line in metaphor. Although I dont personally like horror movies as a genre, I do appreciate some of the wonderful totemic images that horror fiction and films have produced.

Horror’s early appropriation of the Frankenstein story for instance is a good one – Frankenstein’s creation of the monster as a metaphor for  technological advancement works very well. Whenever there is a scare about GM crops for instance, they are instantly dubbed ‘Frankenstein Foods’ – alliteration aside its a perfect shorthand image.

But the image I want to consider today is not Frankenstein or his creature, but rather that ever present symbol of the dreaded undead – Zombies.

Dawn of the dead

I am not sure if I witnessed it myself, or just remember hearing about it, but I have a distant memory of a ‘visiting preacher’ turning up to lead an evening service at the Baptist church I went to as a kid, and declaring: ‘It’s a good thing that Jesus can raise the dead, because there are a lot of dead people in here tonight!’

On reflection that was probably unfair, I very much doubt there were a lot of people at the meeting.

However, after having observed a number of congregations, in all kinds of different settings over 30+ years of church attendance I can kind of identify with the idea of having seen the undead in church.

Lets head back to the question of metaphor – what do zombies represent? Well the usual cultural reference point in this case is George Romero’s 1978 Classic ‘Dawn of the Dead’. It is not to be overlooked that Romero chose to set his Zombie movie primarily in a shopping mall. The mall, invented in the 1960s and by the late 1970s already a symbol of humanity’s slavery or liberation (you choose) by consumerism. Yes that’s right, consumerism, whichever way you look at it, whether it empowers the individual or enslaves society, that is the setting for Zombies.

Zombies are wonderful representatives of the consumer. They stagger through the mall, mindless and drooling and desperate to gorge themselves on the flesh of the living. Rather like the queues which form outside new year sales, where people line the streets desperate to get in and get the bargain (never mind the blood shed and evnironmental devastation in the making of the product) there have even been a number of instances where people have been injured in the crush of such shopping frenzies.

So, back to the pews. Are there zombies in church? Well for most of us there’s comfort in knowing there arent all that many people in church anyway, so its easy to spot a zombie hoard – but if were to extend the metaphor, have we created a church which is an attractive mall for drooling consumers?

One of the problems with trying to create ‘seeker friendly’ services and ‘church experiences’ is that we can, conciously or unconciously, adopt the consumer model. How can we entice the passing trade? What can we do that’s eye catching and entertaining? How can we increase brand awareness? What are the best deals and offers we can promote? These are variously shown to be be effective or ineffective at enticing people through the doors, and in some cases the passing buyer may take up the special offer and choose to buy into the brand. But is that a healthy way of creating new life?

Are we, instead of asking people to be ‘born again’, sometimes encouraging them to be undead? Many churches are more concerned with how many people are in church on sunday, how many bums are on seats, than how well the core of their fellowship are developing as disciples.

This seems at odds with the early church. In many cases these were very small groups, flying under the radar to keep themselves from being persecuted or killed, using secret symbols and hiding out underground, with members so full of life and so dedicated to their God that they were willing to risk the horrific fate they were assured of if caught. Nobody got a special offer, there was no seasonal promotion, no money back guarantee. As a result the Zombies, who are/were naturally put off by the idea off by the prospect of having their consumer power reduced to the point of extinction tended to steer clear.

Zombies, I fear, dont tend to make productive members of church, they arent too interested in serving the community, in developing spirituality, or in recognising Jesus in those around them. They also dont tend to be too keen on going through suffering as a path of spiritual growth. Your average Zombie prefers a quick fix, and prefers to gorge rather than fast.

They may give money into the collection, particularly if they are encouraged to by talk of greater blessing or more consumer experiences. They are likely to turn up regularly, and even to be actively involved in large meetings.

However, Zombies on the whole, are not to be trusted or encouraged. I reccomend you consider carefully whether you are encouraging the undead in your fellowship. The good news is that I reckon God loves Zombies too – and a Zombie needn’t stay undead, but they will need some encouragement to make the transition, traditionally a stake through the heart or a beheading ought to do it. Alternatively you could try making your church less of a consumer experience, and more of an expression of mission – then see if the zombies will leave or change of their own accord.

It was funny recently to hear about the FOI request Leicester city council received about their readiness in the case of a Zombie attack – but perhaps its something church needs to take seriously, a bunch of Zombies turning up can really make life difficult, if you dont believe me, watch Dawn of the Dead.

Next time in ‘Church at the movies’: Vampirus Nosferatu…

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Interested in hearing Shane Claiborne speak this summer?

If you are interested in Shane Claiborne and want to hear him speak, but you live in the UK and can’t scrape the airfare together to hop over to Philly – then fear not. The new monasticism fairy has waved her magic wand and if you are so inclined cinderella, then you may go to the ball…

The Upside down Kingdom tour is happening this summer, with newly wed Shane bringing his counter cultural message to the British massive.

With music from the Rend collective, the tour will be kicking off in Ballymena, Co Antrim on the 19th of August, before heading to Coleford, Gloucestershire on the 24th, Southhampton on the 25th, Birmingham on the 26th, and landing in Greenbelt on the 27th. After that its Burslem in Stoke on t 28th, London on the 30th, Bromley on the 31st, Halifax on the 1st of September, Perth on the 2nd, and finishing up at Woodlands church in Bristol on the 3rd.

Full details can be found on the tour website, so head along there if you want to know more.

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Did you believe in Jebus?

It was great to meet some wonderful people over the weekend, many of whome came along to my seminar about Jebus. Because of the interesting way the conference is structured I repeated the seminar three times, and each time we had a great crowd and a whole different set of discussions. Topics covered included: the rights and wrongs of voluntary poverty, why it should be harder to become a Christian, why we should or shouldnt give up on the established church, and a whole lot more. Very good stuff indeed.

I even managed to sell all the books I took with me, which just about covered my own conference fee! Marvellous.I also sold some CD’s of recorded scripture readings which are to be used in meditation. These are part of a new venture I am working on called Emmaus Encounters, I’ve started building a website here. It will be finished sometime before too long.

I had to laugh when someone asked if ‘as a speaker’ I was in a nice, ensuite room – just goes to show how little they understood about our movement. We dont really distinguish between speakers and cleaners (not that I was a speaker in any case) we all pay the same, we all get the same, whether we’re going to speak, to make the coffee, or to listen. There’s a rightness in that.

That said, I was fortunate enough to get a room to myself, not because of my exalted (ha ha) status, but because the person I was to have shared with decided to bring his wife at the last minute. Just as well for him really as I was in bed late and up early every day. A good time was had by all I hope.

If I met you at the conference, then welcome to the blog – this is home to my ramblings, and perhaps some statements which are about as provocative as those I made in the seminars. I do like to get a bit of discussion going.

Some people asked me if the seminar material may form the basis of my next book, well that’s something I’m wondering about too. I’ll let you know.

If you’re here looking for ideas concerning exploring spirituality with young and/or unchurched people – then do have a nose around on the site, you may find some stuff, and also look out, I’ll be back soon with some links for you.

If you’re here because you’re considering inviting us to come and facilitate some kind of training, seminar or other such event – then please be advised I expect ensuite rooms and breakfast served by a butler! LOL.

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I don’t even believe in Jebus

I used to occasionally watch a documentary program/series about an American family, who in many ways are the archetypal family – two young children and a baby, Dad works in industry and ‘Mom’ looks after the baby.

The son is something of a lovable tearaway, fond of skateboards and catapults, who often finds himself in a spot of trouble. His sister is studious and sensible.

Anyway, in one particular episode of the series, which was entitled Missionary: Impossible, the dad whose name is Homer, via a rather implausible set of circumstances ends up becoming a missionary in Microasia – unfortunately for him however, there is a problem. As he points out ‘I can’t be a missionary, I don’t even believe in Jebus’.

For Homer, a life of religious vocation was not ideally suited. After all,  if he doesnt believe in Jebus himself, (despite the faithful witness of neighbour Ned, and the dutiful ministrations of local vicar Rev Lovejoy) then how could he hope to talk about Jebus with others.

Homer is not the only person in the western world to have lost touch with exactly who is supposed to be the son of God – our whole society has become post Christian. You may say this is welcome, or you may not. Whatever your view, a society which doesnt even believe in Jebus is an interesting place to be a Christian worker.

If you want to discuss this with me, I’ll be hosting a seminar on this very topic at the Annual World Horizons Conference which is not far off, I’ll be at Cefn Lea park, Mid Wales, on the weekend of the 25th and 26th of March. I’ll also be playing some music, and doing some meditative stuff.

There’s bound to be plenty of interesting things going on, and all kinds of weird and wonderful people, so register now and let’s talk about Jebus.

Classic Homer Simpson quote: “I’ve always wondered if there was a god. And now I know there is, and it’s me!”

And that wonderful moment from Missionary:Impossible…

Apologies if this post is strewn with errors, I was called away during the writing on an unrelated hot cross bun based emergency, and the editing may have suffered.

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Who is love anyway?

The furore behind the newest book from evangelical Christianity’s very own ‘rock star’ the communicator extraordinaire and Pete Rollins fan (bound to be a heretic then): Rob Bell,  is both bizarre and funny, and depressing – depending upon how one looks at it. I won’t repost the video, as everyone in the world has now seen it at least once. It is good though.

I suppose if I was in the Harper One publicity team I would have a grin the size of the Forth Bridge, as this amount of advance publicity in an age of falling book sales is bound to be very welcome.

If I was Rob Bell I suppose I would be thinking similarly, although probably a bit upset by having to put up with a bit of flack too, mind you he must be used to that by now though.

So the book is called ‘Love Wins’ – and like the vast majority of the mud and insult slingers I too have not read it. However, I have managed to read a few words by people like Brian McLaren who have read it, and I think I can manage an educated guess about how this is all going to pan out.

Eventually I suspect that people will realise that in fact Rob is not quite the heretic people are saying that he is. Being branded a ‘Universalist’, after all, is a handy ‘insult’ to throw at anyone apparently preaching a less than ‘hell fire and brimstone’ message, the same has been said about Shane Claiborne and others, and will be said over and over again.

So anyway in this post, I am going to attempt to:

1) Talk a bit about what the book seems to be about, and the ideas that would appear to be behind it (haven’t read it yet remember).

2) Wonder what all this row says about the Church.

So taking the first point first: where does Rob Bell seem to be coming from in all this, is he indeed a Universalist, (and would it matter if he was?)

First point is, I think its clear that Bell is coming from the same sort of direction as CS Lewis – he that is beloved by all, except for the ‘awkward’ parts of his output (and lifestyle) which we choose blithely to ignore. You might say that we all like Narnia, except for the bit at the end where the Muslim substitute guy gets accepted by Aslan, which we prefer not to think about.

Lewis’ theology is actually reasonably straightforward on this: we have free will. We have freedom to choose God, or not to choose God. There is a choice. Now for evangelicals this is highly problematic, because we need to be sure when that choice has been made, and how. So in certain circles there are little tests to be sure that the choice is clear – have you had the relevant ritual performed? Have you said the prescribed words? Have you undergone the specific spiritual experience required?

Of course this leaves out a whole swathe of humanity who live and die in ignorance of the necessity for them to perform the required rituals/prayers/etc  and who thus die and are cast into everlasting fire and suffering. Because that is what God is like – dead horrible to anyone who never heard of him. That may or may not include by the way, depending upon one’s persuasion: unborn children and the mentally handicapped. Now in these latter instances we might manage to work around it by taking of ‘innocence’ suspending the usual doctrine of original sin to offer a free pass to those who it would seem too unfair to consign to eternal torment.

Many evangelicals also believe in Hell by the way – based upon about three passages of new testament scripture, they dont like the Hebrew concept of the grave (Sheol) they prefer the Revelation idea of a firey pit. Toasty. Any evangelical speaking out against the doctrine of hell, and suggesting that something in a fire might get burned up, or indeed even asking if everlasting life is only granted to those who go the other way, then what are people in hell doing being alive too? Are roundly grumbled at. Heretics.

A brief aside at this point on the ‘authority’ of scripture. Can we just make it clear that when it was written that ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’ (2 Timothy 3:16) The new testament was not yet available. This referred to the canon of Hebrew Scripture at the time, which, rather awkwardly, would have included certain books now considered apocraphyl. Ho hum.

Authority is an interesting word, and the best person of our generation by far to have thought it out with clarity is NT Wright, you can read some of his thoughts on this very subject here. But we must understand that opponents and sceptics of our faith are quite correct that aspects of the Bible seem to be contradictory – bits of the gospels dont seem to be factually correct – and different translations mean that we can make whole passages have entirely different meanings, because in the case of the Hebrew, the translators have to choose which vowels to put into the text.  Our book is not a Koran. The Koran to the Muslims is what Jesus is to us – the living word of God. If we make the Bible into a Koran, what do we do with Jesus? The Bible contains revelation from God, and the possibility of further revelations. It is a collection of God breathed wisdom aggregated over centuries, with huge amounts of mystery and extraordinary stuff in it. It contains forms of literature which are scarcely to be found anywhere else now, and which were never intended to be read just as if they were Topsy and Tim. It uses literary devices which meant something to people who lived over 1000 years ago, and which have passed us by. I could write more, but won’t for now. Maybe another day.

So back to the concept of Hell -  as we were taught it back in sunday school, Hell is very problematic. And, to be honest, very much open to interpretation.

But regardless of how we might conceive of Hell, lets just think of is as a God-less (un)existence: the question Bell seems to be asking is – who goes there? Could it be then that he is suggesting that some non Christians actually end up with God rather than suffering eternal agony? Shurely shome mishtake!

I mean to suggest that somebody like the patriarch Abraham, who never knew of Jesus, was not a Jew or a Christian, but some kind of monotheistic nomadic Iraqi chieftain/warlord, might be allowed in would be ridiculous wouldnt it? Ahem. OK, bad example.

Or what about following Jesus’ guidance as to who goes to heaven? Unlike the pharisees and scribes who suggested that people who do good and love others might be saved, Jesus was very clear that to be saved one must follow the law – darn it, no sorry its the other way around – another bad example. Bad Jesus, back in your box.

By the way, the book of Proverbs is a good home for proof text fans, you can find almost anything you want in there, so in good old fashioned style, I find my own proof text there too: Proverbs 22:11 – check it yourself.

So Rob Bell suggests that Love wins – we might well ask, who is Love anyway? I’m sure the Bible says who love is, but I just can’t quite bring it to mind.

The bottom line is it is not for us to be assigning people to heaven or indeed hell – it is for us to be living as if heaven is right here, right now. The Kingdom of God, if we believe in living out what we pray for, is to come here now. (The kingdom of God by the way, is justice, peace, and joy in the Holy spirit – so I’m told.) Eternal life is not something to be looked forward to, eternal life has already begun. Let’s not waste it going on about how Gandhi wasn’t a Christian. If Gandhi followed Jesus, which I believe he shows masses of evidence of, then its going to be up to Jesus what happens to Gandhi isnt it? Trouble is, you know what Jesus is like – all that forgiving and everything. He’s not a good advert for evangelicalism Jesus you know. Far too liberal with sinners.

Even my friend Joe,  who prefers to blog about chocolate, trains and Thanet than God, got worked up enough to talk about this subject – would you Adam and Eve it eh. He wonders if peace loving, self denying, others prefering, God-fearing Muslims might not be spared the eternal wrath of a vengeful Deity. Come on Joe, now you really are out of order. We all know that Muslims are evil. After all, with their middle eastern monotheism, their devotion to God and determination to see him proclaimed king over all the world, they are a bit like Abraham. Yeah ok, bad example again. At least CS Lewis wouldnt have let any of them into heaven. Yeah ok, another bad example. Bad Lewis – back in your box.

So moving on – what does this furore say about the Church? Does it show us to be loving, peaceable, overlooking one another’s faults, bearing with each other, humble, willing to accept that we might not know absolutely everything there is to know? Yes well – maybe just maybe we have shown ourselves up again, naughty Church – back in your box. Be careful though – you might find Jesus in there.

The problem is that it shows the church to be much more concerned with what is going to happen to us when we die, than what is happening to other people right now. Lets be clear, there are people in a state of hell rigth at this very minute, and they are here on earth. The Church was criticised once for wondering how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, we too are in danger of sitting around rubbing our hands together with glee thinking about future paradise while millions starve, suffer and die. If we’re content to let others dwell in Hell in the here and now, I doubt we truly deserve to go anywhere good when we die.

This discussion shouldnt be about how we all get sorted out when the final moments arrive, this should be about why we’re so concerned with our own theories of eternal judgement rather than getting on with loving our neighbour. Even that guy Abraham looked at Sodom and prayed for deliverance for those who were to suffer. Today millions suffer, and will continue to do so. The poor you know, will always be with us. Somebody who knew what they were on about said that. Rob Bell says Love Wins – I agree, God wins, and we need to be quite clear that the Bible and Jesus message is not principally about ‘do this’ and you’ll go to heaven. The gospel is good news for the poor, not the rich.

A few other people who have been writing about this issue:

Kester has mentioned it once or twice  in one of his ‘makes a change from talking about Pirates’ blog series. Look – he’s at it again.

It got a bit of a write up on Chrisitanity Today.

This guy actually read it! Heretic.

The slacktivist is concerned about ‘Team Hell‘.

Maggi Dawn writes very brainily about the concept of Universalism.

Justin Taylor is pretty sure he knows what’s what.

This is Rob’s site – he’s going to live stream the book launch, I wonder if he will have his handcart with him.

And if you want to know what CS Lewis thought about free will – here you go:

“God willed the free will of men and angels in spite of His knowledge that it could lead in some cases to sin and thence to suffering: i.e., He thought freedom worth creating even at that price.”

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Evelyn Underhill on war

The late Christian mystic and writer Evelyn Underhill had this to say about war:

To defeat the power of evil by the health-giving power of love and thus open a channel for the inflow of the creative grace of God is therefore the only struggle in which the realistic Christian can take part. No retaliation. No revenge, national or personal. No “defensive wars” – i.e., destroying our brother to prevent him from destroying us. “Fear not him that can kill the body” says the Church – or so at least the Church ought to say. Yet armament factories working full time announce to the world that we do fear him very much indeed; and are determined, if it comes to the point, to kill his body before he can kill ours. This attitude is one with which the Christian Church must never come to terms; for questions of expediency, practicality, national prestige and national
safety do not as such concern her. All these derive from human egotism and human fear. Her single business is to apply everywhere
and at all times the law of charity; and so bring the will of man, whether national or individual, into harmony with the Will of God.

From ‘The Church and War’. Written in 1940 for the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship.

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