Thursday, 16 February 2017

Setting God’s People Free


‘It is only possible for the Gospel to reach the whole population through the active co-operation of all church people. We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities for evangelism daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations.’

That could so easily be a paragraph of promotional blurb from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, where I work, committed as we are to advocating a whole-life and comprehensive mission strategy through focusing on the ‘frontlines’ of all Christians.

Instead, it’s from a report by the Church of England Commission on Evangelism, published in 1945. Yes, 72 years ago. What was needed, according to the report, was a recovery of ‘the Apostolate of the whole Church’, where all – clergy and laity alike – are to witness to their Lord, and where such witness is seen as ‘the very essence of the Christian calling’.

It so happens that today – at the General Synod of the Church of England – a new report is being presented, one commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council and prepared by the members of the Lay Leadership Task Group.

It’s called ‘Setting God’s People Free’, and it’s available as a pdf here.

It speaks about us being ‘summoned... to a common vocation’, where ‘the whole people of God, clergy and laity, gathered and sent, are charged with continuing Christ’s priestly work of blessing, mediation and reconciliation on behalf of the whole of humanity, to bear witness to, and participate in the mission of God’.

Early on, the report identifies ‘the need for two shifts in culture and practice’ that are seen as ‘critical to the flourishing of the Church and the evangelisation of the nation’:

‘1. Until, together, ordained and lay, we form and equip lay people to follow Jesus confidently in every sphere of life in ways that demonstrate the Gospel we will never set God’s people free to evangelise the nation.

2. Until laity and clergy are convinced, based on their baptismal mutuality, that they are equal in worth and status, complementary in gifting and vocation, mutually accountable in discipleship, and equal partners in mission, we will never form Christian communities that can evangelise the nation.’

The report explores those shifts, looks at some ‘constraining factors’, and suggests eight ‘proposed levers of cultural change’. Unlike previous reports on this issue, going back to the one in 1945, this report offers some recommended next steps and priorities for implementation.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Jonathan Leeman on How Churches Should Engage Culture


There’s a helpful, brief post here, by Jonathan Leeman, with six points on engaging with culture:

1. Start with faithfulness amidst the everyday.

2. Be, then do.

3. Being a God-imager or transformed humanity requires a church.

4. Take care of your citizenship by checking passports.

5. Seek the good of your neighbors for the sake of love and justice.

6. Realize that churches cannot ‘transform’ or ‘redeem’ anything.

‘To engage the culture is to be a Christian and a church member, living in but not of the world. It involves finding points of commonality with our non-Christian neighbors, particularly where common grace shines like the sun. It also involves cultivating a holy and distinct culture among ourselves. We are to be a chosen race, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9). Such engagement is both humane and heaven-directing.’

Monday, 13 February 2017

The King and his People


I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you...
Now this I know:
the LORD gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
LORD, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!
Psalm 20:1, 6-9

Any tendency to think the psalms are all about us vanishes quickly with this one's opening line: ‘May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.’ This is a prayer for someone else. Who, exactly? The second half of the psalm tell us, if we didn’t already know: it’s the Lord’s ‘anointed... the king’.

The scenario is this: the king is going into battle against an enemy, and the people ask for God’s protection over him. They ground their appeal not only in God’s faithfulness to Zion, but in his promises of blessing going right back to Jacob himself. And they declare that they will rejoice and worship when triumph comes. God’s people are praying for the king because they know their destiny is wrapped up in his destiny. His defeat is their defeat; his victory is their victory. They are a people supporting the advance of a king.

Perhaps this psalm is about us after all.

Since our identity is bound up with the king’s identity, we can pray it for the king’s people, for Christian friends today on their frontlines: for the woman in her twenties struggling with chronic pain; for the children who don’t understand why Daddy has walked out on them; for the man who has just lost his wife of 50 years; for the friend struggling with an insufferable colleague; for the young family wondering how to make ends meet. May the Lord answer them when they are in distress.

Even more than the original poet, we pray with the confidence that our king has won the battle. For us, too, victory comes not through the paraphernalia of war, but through ‘trust in the name of the LORD our God’, all he is and has declared himself to be. Psalm 20 breathes a stance of faith before God, with prayer offered in the hope that victory will occur in the real world – the world of ‘horses’ and ‘chariots’, where we might be tempted to invest ourselves in their 21st-century equivalents.

Only the power of God can bring the salvation and victory we need. The Lord reigns, the anointed King of kings, the one who died and rose again, has defeated the powers of darkness and death forever.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

The Bavinck Review 7 (2016)


The Bavinck Institute has recently made available online volume 7 of The Bavinck Review. The contents are listed below, with much of the issue made up of a second and final installment article by Arvin Vos who, according to John Bolt in the Editorial, ‘puts his rich background of scholarly work on Aquinas to good use in illuminating the complex structure of Bavinck’s psychology’.

Individual pieces are available here, or the entire issue can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Editorial

Articles

Arvin Vos
Knowledge According to Bavinck and Aquinas

In Translation

Herman Bavinck’s Modernisme en Orthodoxie: A Translation
Translated by Bruce R. Pass

Pearls and Leaven

John Bolt
An Excerpt on Prayer from Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics

Bavinck Bibliography 2015

Monday, 6 February 2017

It’s Slavery, But Not As We Know It


I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?... You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness... Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:16-23

The term ‘expressive individualism’ was coined by the sociologist Robert Bellah, but given currency in the work of philosopher Charles Taylor. Understood as the free expression of an individual’s natural desires and inclinations – the freedom to ‘be yourself’ – it’s increasingly seen as a defining feature of our current age.

The biblical perspective is more realistic and far richer. True freedom does not involve living for ourselves, but living under the lordship of Jesus. Paradoxically, belonging to Christ marks not the end of slavery but the beginning of a new type of slavery. We’re set free from one master into the service of another, to be ‘slaves to righteousness’ and ‘slaves of God’.

This would have resonated powerfully with the first hearers of Paul’s letter in Rome. For some of them, slavery would be not just a metaphor but a way of life. There was a range and complexity in the social status of slaves in first-century Roman society. Much depended on what kind of master the slave belonged to.

So it is that Paul presses home the nature and consequences of two possible slaveries. The end result of one is sin and death. The end result of the other is holiness and life, now and in the age to come. Our release from slavery to sin brings with it not the freedom to do as we please, but the freedom to enter service to God – a new Lord, with a new way of life, and a new outcome.

In practical terms, on our everyday frontlines, this means living and working, making decisions and relating to others, based on our first allegiance – to God himself. Then, in many workplaces and family contexts, we’re required to serve the interests of others. In doing so, we follow the pattern of Christ himself, who took on ‘the very nature of a servant’ (Philippians 2:7). We see it in the teacher reaching out to a difficult student, the business person drafting a deal that will bring genuine benefit to a local community, the parent apologising to the grumpy teenager.

And we do this not to earn points with God, as if he will owe us some sort of wage at the end of the day, but from the secure position of knowing we already have ‘eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord’.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Holiness 3, 1 (2017) on Holiness and Pastoral Relationships


The latest issue of Holiness, the journal of Wesley House Cambridge is now available online, this one devoted to ‘Holiness and Pastoral Relationships’.

The editor, Andrew Stobart, leads into the theme with a reflection on the Wesleyan Methodist Conference, meeting in Liverpool in 1820, and being faced with a sharp decline in membership. Among the range of measures adopted, ‘increased pastoral intercourse’ with Methodist people ‘at their own homes’ was recognised as an ‘absolute obligation’. The Conference encouraged its ministers to show ‘unremitting diligence’ in conducting pastoral visitation, which included ‘giving seasonable counsel’, ‘exhorting them to a faithful and loving observance of all the duties of personal and family religion’, and ‘kindly inquiry into their Christian experience’.

The entire journal, containing the below collection of peer-reviewed essays, lecture, and short articles, is available as a pdf here.

Bill Mullally
The Effect of Presence and Power in the Pastoral Supervisory Relationship
This article addresses the important elements of presence and power in the pastoral supervisory relationship. It is based on qualitative research, which used a questionnaire methodology with six Methodist ministers, all of whom had taken part in group pastoral supervision for a period of two years. The aim of this research was to gain insight into their experience of the supervisory process. The article explores how an open, authentic and trusting environment can be created within the pastoral supervisory relationship that has regenerative and healing potential, whereby ministers will be better able to face the challenges of ministry. It contends there is a need for well-qualified, skilled and spiritually sensitive supervisory support for ministers. Such pastoral supervisors will understand the dynamics of power and presence to create a sacred space for ministers to ‘come apart and reflect a while’. This covenant relationship creates transformational possibilities for those who commit to the journey.

James Dunn
Why Four Gospels? Why Only Four?
This is a transcript of the 2016 Fernley-Hartley Lecture, which was delivered during the 2016 British Methodist Conference at the Lambeth Mission, London, and is published here with acknowledgement to the Fernley-Hartley Trust. It stands largely unchanged from its first delivery in the hope that the texture and tone of the lecture might also be retained. The article argues that answering the questions ‘Why four Gospels?’ and ‘Why only four?’ provides a clear picture of the character of the gospel of Jesus as ‘the same yet different’, as well as a challenge to today’s Christians to retell the good news in their own contexts with equal or equivalent effect. The article discusses the context in which the four canonical Gospels were recognised, pointing out that the term ‘gospel’ was coined in the process. The distinctive emphases of the Synoptics and John show how the same story can be told differently, an essential restatement of the same message for new and changing audiences.

Christopher Collins
Reimagining Dementia: Seeing Ourselves More Fully in the Dementia-Diagnosed
How does the Church respond to the increasing number of dementia-diagnosed within our communities? This paper argues that the Church inhabits Kitwood’s ‘standard paradigm’ of dementia, which focuses on the loss and decay of the person. This diverts our attention away from a more theologically nuanced understanding of the person and personhood. Using Lartey’s Theological Form model of action and reflection, I will reflect on the pastoral experience of caring for the dementia-diagnosed and seek to promote an alternative theology of personhood as relationship based on Moltmann’s ‘social trinity’ explored through the creation narrative of Genesis 2. This will allow us to develop an alternative model of pastoral care which enables us to see the ‘angelic mission’ of the dementia-diagnosed.

Paul Gismondi
Fear and Faith: Reflections on Ministry and Death
An experience of observing a cremation instigates theological reflection on the fear of death. Using Laurie Green’s model of action to reflection, and then reflection to action, the article moves through three cycles of theological reflection, exploring first the author’s response to the crematorium, then a subsequent encounter with a family during a funeral visit, and finally a conversation with colleagues. Each cycle produces further insights: the universality of death; the particularity of death; and a final glimpse of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Through this, the author explores the interaction between his fear of death and his faith.

Catherine Minor
Beyond Horror: Mapping the Contours of Holiness in an Acute Hospital
Reflecting on the experience of hospital chaplaincy in an acute hospital in the north-east of England, this article explores the conviction that God is with us both in and beyond horror. Echoes of Scripture are identified in a number of pastoral encounters, which help to illustrate the presence of God in the midst of horror. The work of chaplaincy also points to God’s presence beyond the horror of present pain and death, turning the hospital into ‘holy ground’.

Elizabeth Dunning
A Good Death? Pastoral Reflections on Closing a Chapel
This article reflects on an experience of the closure of a chapel, exploring ways to challenge the assumption that closure is a failure. Noting the lack of intentional resources to aid churches considering closure, the author identifies the Passion and resurrection narratives as a biblical model for the stages of church awareness of change. Reflecting on these narratives enables the closure of a chapel to be considered as a fitting conclusion to work accomplished, as ‘a good death’.

Jane Leach
‘On Visiting the Sick’: The Art of Pastoral Conversation
This article is a transcript of a lecture delivered as part of the first series of Wesley Memorial Lectures given at Wesley Memorial Church in Oxford in July 2016. Originally entitled ‘Speaking of God in Private’, this lecture was followed by a second, ‘Speaking of God in Public’. It is included here as part of the ongoing journal series exploring what the sermons of John Wesley have done for us, and it stands largely unchanged from its first delivery in order to retain its texture and tone. This article addresses the questions of why in Western culture it is a problem to speak of God in personal conversation; why this is true even within some churches; and whether there are any pointers towards how intentional conversation about God might be recovered in the contemporary Western context in the sermon of John Wesley’s of 1786, ‘On Visiting the Sick’.

Janet Morley
‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ A Reflection and Intercession Based on Mark 9:14–29, and on John Reilly’s Painting, Healing of the Lunatic Boy

Gillian Houghton
Reflections on Self Portrait by Eddy Aigbe

Reviews

Friday, 3 February 2017

Trinity College Bristol Alumni on Preaching Tips


Last November, Emma Ineson, Principal of Trinity College Bristol, posted a request on Facebook for any preaching tips that college alumni and other friends could share for an Introduction to Preaching module she was about to teach.

The results, gathered together under the areas of preparation, content, delivery, afterward, and book and resource recommendations has been posted here, and is available as a pdf here.