Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Catalyst 7 (Spring 2014)

Catalyst is a twice-yearly magazine, published by CARE, highlighting ministries ‘making a Christian difference’ as well as giving the latest CARE news.

This issue ‘has a focus of the outworking of our gospel responsibility, and how Christian love in action transforms lives’, and features include ‘a lively profile of UCCF, the Christian University Unions, and some special charities carrying out sensitive work to vulnerable people... an update on CARE’s public affairs work, an uplifting piece by Stuart Weir, CARE’s National Director for Scotland, and a lively report on The Big Promise event’.

The issue is available for browsing here, or downloadable as a pdf here.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Evangelical Alliance on Discipleship

The latest report in the 21st Century Evangelicals Series from the Evangelical Alliance UK highlights research about discipleship.

The full report – Time for Discipleship? – is available as a pdf here.

This is what the EA says:

‘This report has found that evangelicals see God at work in their lives, are using smartphone technology to help them read the Bible on the go, and really value their Church and home groups. But the research shows that challenges remain; including low prayer levels, a widespread feeling that churches are not doing well at discipling new Christians, and evangelicals saying they do not feel equipped to share their faith.’

PowerPoint presentation and discussion questions for churches are linked to from this page.

Andrew Williams on Biblical Lament and Political Protest

The latest Cambridge Paper from the Jubilee Centre is available online, this one by Denis Alexander:

Here is the summary:

‘This paper considers the pastoral and political role of biblical lament in the Christian life. The theology and practice of lament is often neglected in congregations, despite its prominence in the biblical text. Such neglect deprives churches of a pastoral resource and moreover, as this paper highlights, diminishes the church’s capacity for prophetic critique and political activism in the face of social injustice. This paper argues lament is needed in corporate worship and prayer, not only to give spiritual expression to faith wrestling with pain, but also to re-energise communities of believers to name injustice, recognise political agency and sustain prophetic action.’

Monday, 14 April 2014

Fruitfulness on the Frontline: Ministering Grace and Love

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. This one is part four of an eight-part series, written by a team of us at LICC, to coincide with the launch of new resources – Fruitfulness on the Frontline.

Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the LORD came to [Elijah]: ‘Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have instructed a widow there to supply you with food.’ So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks.
1 Kings 17:7-10

God’s provision can come in the most unlikely of places and through the most unlikely of people. Having announced to Ahab that there will be a drought in the land, Elijah is led by God to a brook from which he drinks and where ravens supply him with food. When the brook dries up, God displays his power to provide in a different way. Just as God ‘directed’ the ravens (17:4), so now he ‘directs’ a widow to feed Elijah.

Not the most obvious choice, perhaps. Apart from anything else, she lives in enemy territory, outside the fold of Israel. In addition, being a widow, the woman has already suffered loss; we are predisposed to imagine her poor and in need, eking out an existence. Indeed, as it turns out, she doesn’t have food to spare. When Elijah encounters her, she is preparing what will be a final meal for her and her son – a last supper.

So it is with remarkable faith that she responds to Elijah’s promise that her meagre resources – a jar of flour and a jug of oil – will not run out. Against all her instincts as a mother, she is persuaded to feed Elijah first, and she discovers that God is able to meet their needs. She stakes all on the word of the Lord, and continues to do so in the daily round of flour and oil, every morning a fresh reminder of the Lord’s provision, every day a fresh opportunity to minister out of his riches. And, like other widows in Scripture, she takes her place in the circle of those drawn into God’s plan, such that Jesus himself refers to her in Luke 4:24-26, reminding us that grace extends to – and comes from – unexpected places.

We too may be the means by which God shares his abundance with neighbours, with colleagues, with strangers. And we minister grace and love to others as those who have been on the receiving end of it ourselves. So, it’s not about how great we are. It’s out of his own amazing generosity that God uses us to bless and benefit others, and may allow us to see him work through us in ways we could not even begin to imagine.

Yes, God’s provision can come in the most unlikely of places and through the most unlikely of people, even through us.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The State of the Bible in America 2014

Each year, the Barna Group and American Bible Society partner in a study of Americans’ attitudes towards the Bible. The results of the 2014 study have just been released, looking at the following six areas:

1. Bible Perceptions
2. Bible Penetration
3. Bible Engagement
4. Bible Literacy
5. Moral Decline and Social Impact
6. Giving to Non-Profit Organizations

As reported by Barna, they identify six trends in engagement with the Bible:

• Bible skepticism is now ‘tied’ with Bible engagement – skepticism or agnosticism about the Bible has increased and now stands at 19%, the same as the percentage of those who are Bible engaged

• Despite the declines, most Americans continue to be ‘pro-Bible’ – but ‘being pro-Bible doesn’t necessarily mean Americans use the Bible regularly, however. Only 37% of Americans report reading the Bible once a week or more’.

• Distraction and busyness continue to squeeze out the Bible – ‘Americans say they want to read the Bible – 62% wish they read Scripture more – they just don't know how to make time’.

• The age of screens has come to stay in the Bible market – use of tablets and smartphones for Bible searches has skyrocketed, from 18% in 2011 to 35% in 2014.

• Increasingly, people come to the Bible for answers or comfort – there is an increase in those looking for pragmatic answers to life's problems.

• People are less likely to link moral decline with a lack of Bible reading – they blame decline on other things (movies, music, TV, etc).

The data and analysis is available here; an infographic is available here.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Centre for Public Christianity (April 2014)

This month, the Centre for Public Christianity offers a video interview with Miroslav Volf in which ‘he challenges the notion that faith should remain a private affair, and makes the case for the place of faith in public life, even in places where religious belief may seem to be on the decline’.

In addition is a video interview with Francis Spufford, author of Unapologetic, which ‘makes a stirring defence of Christian emotions, claiming that they make a compelling case for the way faith can function in the 21st century’.

Missing the Boat?

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Said to be ‘inspired by the epic story of courage, sacrifice and hope’, and starring Russell Crowe, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah opens in UK cinemas today.

Given that religions and cultures around the world have for centuries told variations of a flood story, you’d expect the film to raise fundamental questions about the nature of God and the place of humanity in the world. In that respect, it doesn’t disappoint, with issues of life and death, mercy and judgment, right and wrong, good and evil all found in the mouths of the various characters.

Inevitably, Christians will disagree with each other as well as with the film makers about the level of poetic licence allowed in reimagining the biblical story. To be fair, Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel have not made any claims of faithfulness to the account in Genesis. Indeed, the ‘silences’ of the text have been filled in different ways through the years, and the film merges parts of Genesis with interpretations of the Book of Enoch and other ancient Jewish works of a mystical bent.

Even so, one significant feature is that the flood comes not with the pitter-patter of gentle rain drops, but with a deluge from above and below. This matches the narrative in Genesis, where the flood is seen as a return to the watery chaos which existed before the world was made – a reversal of creation which then leads to a new creation. As Russell Crowe’s Noah puts it, ‘the Creator destroys all, but only to start again’.

However, unlike the film, God is the central actor – and speaker – in Genesis. Far from being an impersonal force, God is portrayed as one ‘whose heart was deeply troubled’ (6:6) with the world. And it’s God who takes the initiative, who sets his love upon Noah (6:8). It’s God who reconstitutes humanity through Noah in ways that echo Genesis 1, his relationship with humans and the created world being described here for the first time using the word ‘covenant’ (6:18; 9:8-17), reinforcing his commitment to them.

Salvation by grace and the establishment of a covenant with God through one man by which the human race (not to mention the whole of creation) is preserved ought to sound familiar to the ears of Christians. Aronofsky’s Noah might raise the questions, but only the God of the biblical Noah provides the answers.


Damaris has produced some free community resources, along with a leader’s guide, to enable groups to make the most of the film.