A 1958 #preaching book by Coggan found in a clearance box

I bought a second hand book from a table outside a bookshop here in York. It is Donald Coggan’s book about the art of preaching, “Stewards of Grace”. As a preacher I was curious to see what I would find in it. I also wondered how out of date it might be.

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Coggan wrote this in 1958 and he said then that many were declaring that preaching was out of fashion. I found this very interesting as I have been hearing the same thing for all the 35 years I have been doing it.

It is only a few years ago that I was being told that a preacher should be very brief (5 mins?) and rely mainly on interactive stuff with a lot of visuals such as PowerPoint (though I prefer Prezi as PowerPoint is so 20th century). Just as those voices seemed to be getting louder, TED talks appeared on the scene with a format and style that looks to me very much like the old fashioned traditional preacher. Perhaps preaching was not as out of vogue as those within churches were thinking. Though I suppose poor preaching is always a chore to listen to.

Especially interesting to me from Coggan’s book was his claim that people just don’t think now. This is from page.

Further, the argument runs, this is a headline age. The majority of our people, for all the efforts of State education, do not think. They scan. It is beyond their powers to follow a sustained argument for, in so far as they read at all, they read little more than the captions in the illustrated daily and weekly periodicals, and, in so far as they listen in, they prefer the news headlines to a closely reasoned lecture. Indeed, it is true to say that many graduates of our Universities read little but the journal of their own particular profession. Modern man is bombarded, his ears by wireless and gramophone, his eyes by television, poster and headline. The result, paradoxically enough, is that he is fast losing the capacity to hear (in the sense of listen) or to see (in the sense of perceive). He is becoming the object of a fast moving series of visual and aural sensations. But the vast majority of these sensations make little lasting impression on him. They do not register. They pour off him, in the common phrase, like water off a duck’s back, leaving him much the same as before, only a little less capable of continued thought, of logical process, of reasoning. Of what effect will preaching be in an age of men so conditioned? Again, the motor-car has constituted itself a major enemy to preaching. The weekend habit” militates against that regular family Sunday worship which was one of the characteristics of Victorian and Edwardian England. Modern man, to use a phrase from the Prayer Book out of its context, never continueth in one stay. He is in a state of perpetual motion, though it must often be doubted whether he knows where he is going.

Great stuff. Were it not for the vocabulary it could be a comment about our own time. I wonder what he would have made of the “information highway” age.

#equalmarriage, the Christian and a Cuneiform tablet

As we know, the law in the USA has now been changed and same sex marriage is now legal there across all states. Some will tell us that all sorts of natural disasters are about to befall us all as a result. In the UK there were even some Christians that said the unusual floods we experienced here were God’s judgement on our nation. I didn’t agree.

But how should a Christian, who wants to be faithful to their Lord, deal with these changes? How should we be thinking?

One problem for the Christian is that the Old Covenant is sometimes confused with the New Covenant in church culture. In scripture the Old Covenant is seen as the story of God entering into a covenant relationship with a whole nation, not individuals. Laws were set out that would regulate the behaviour with one another within the nation, with outsiders and with their God. The whole nation was given a special place in relation to God and to their world.

Now, in the New Covenant, it is individuals that enter into a covenant with their God and not a nation. Those in the New Covenant are to live by certain standards which are to emerge from within, by the influence of the Holy Spirit, and from new testament teaching. The age of the New Covenant is one where individuals must find their way of living in relationship with God regardless of how society behaves around them. This world view was difficult to keep in mind for the British during the age of empire as empire was often seen as a new version of a people chosen by God. While British church culture has moved from that position it seems to me that the USA have lagged far behind, and so they now agonise over the changes to marriage law in a distinctly USA fashion. After all, in the USA, many citizens believe that their country and empire is special to God as Britain did during their empire.

Of course marriage, as we have known it in the West for many years, is very old. Some of those who have been pressing for a change in marriage have claimed that what we have is recent and only really emerged in the Middle Ages. This is not quite honest and I am not sure it has been a necessary claim for their argument. Yes the Christian church brought a particular character to marriage in this country as they evangelised the nation. But the Christian form of marriage the church brought was very old. It is found in early church practice and came from ancient Jewish practice centuries before that.

Long ago Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonian invasion of Judah, the Jewish home land. The citizens were taken away to live in Babylon. Some years later the new empire of the Medo-Persians rose to pre-eminence which conquered the Babylonians in 539 BC and the new emperor, Cyrus the Great, decreed that the Jews could return to their homeland. But not all did return. The Judaeans had adjusted, settled and become Mesopotamian citizens. By the time Cyrus arrived there was an established Judaean town called Jahudu. It is from Jahudu that we have this Cuneiform tablet which is a Jewish marriage contract including individual Judaean names. It is dated to after the arrival of Cyrus the Great in 539 BC.


Jahudu Cuneiform marriage contract. Dated to after arrival of Cyrus the Great in 539 BC

So no, marriage as we have known it is not a recent invention.

But back to the original question, how should Christians respond to the changes? I think we need to be sure what we mean by Christian marriage as distinct from state marriage. Christians are not being prevented from entering into Christian marriage, and non Christians are being allowed to enter into marriages that represent their belief system.

However Christians may feel about the changes around them we must keep that distinction in mind, and the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.


I’ve been reading about Magna Carta and its Christian roots

The 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta was on Monday, 15 June.


I was reading an article by the EA’s David Landrum and he noted that even though the anniversary was extensively covered by the news media he noted that there was a deafening silence on the Christian roots of Magna Carta amongst our secular, liberal elites. He said this represents nothing less than historical deconstruction, an attempt to re-write history to suit their own worldviews and therein shape the future.

Landrum said: Be honest: how aware are you about the Christian roots of this historic document? Who do you think wrote it? Who do you think convened the meeting when it was signed? And whose demands are stated at the beginning and at the conclusion of it? Maybe it was the barons or nobles? No. It was the Church that wrote it. More specifically, it’s highly likely that it was the Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton. Once exiled by King John – the truly awful king who was forced to sign Magna Carta – Langton was a theological genius with a particular interest in what the book of Deuteronomy had to say about equality before the law, even for kings. This was pretty radical thinking for the time, but imagine how it sounded to Moses and the Israelites. To the bishops gathered at Runnymede in 1215, the signing of Magna Carta represented nothing less than the culmination of a centuries-long war between the pagan and the Christian concepts of law and power.

David posed the question whether, as we debate British values and consider a British Bill of Rights, and the possibility at some point of a written constitution, will the debates display an embarrassment about God in public life. This would be to ignore the pivotal role that the Church, across the denominations, has played in contributing to the common good in the past and it would be a squandering of this resource in the present.

The story behind Magna Carta

King John murdered those who stood in his way. He seized property and twisted the law to suit his own ends. He imposed taxes without justification and he ignored legitimate authority and law to rule as a tyrant.

In May 1215 the barons rebelled and with an army they gathered and confronted the king. John knew he could not win so at Runnymede he signed the peace treaty known as Magna Carta. It only remained in force for ten weeks but was then replaced by others which built upon that foundation (it was reissued in 1216, 1217, 1225 and 1297). Its influence has remained for 800 years.

Clauses 39 and 40 are particularly relevant to our age, the age of Guantanamo Bay detention camp and illegal renditions (state kidnap).

Clause 39: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.”

Clause 40: “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”

36 Things Worth Knowing About Magna Carta

Exile Stage 2 a new church era?

I recently listened to a report from a local Christian charily that works in schools. They reported that in the question times they often have they have noticed a change in tone recently. They said that they have noticed an increase in questions that are openly antagonistic to the Christian faith.

That comment was in mind when I read the text of Archbishop of Canterbury’s address to the Cinnamon Network launch of the Faith Action Audit. He said, “The public view of religion among young people, according to a YouGov poll – well, alright it’s a poll, but … the reputation of religion among young people is actually more negative than neutral: 41% – this was a poll in 2013, when they still got them right – 41% of 18-24 year olds agreed that “religion is more often the cause of evil in the world” and only 14% say it is a cause for good.

I am horrified to hear that levels of faith literacy is so poor that so many young people can think “religion is more often the cause of evil in the world”. Such ignorance of the facts of history!

I then had this article by Stephen McAlpine recommended to me . It certainly resonates with what I have been thinking as I feel a change in climate here in the UK towards Christians. He speaks of the last season we have been in as a time when the church has been trying to engage with an uninformed outside world he calls ‘exile stage 1’, compared to the new season he calls ‘exile stage 2’.

Exile Stage 2 is where we are now and a feature of it is the increasing intolerance of the outside world to the Christian faith. Many of us will have already noted that the only politically correct intolerance seems to be that which is aimed at the Christian faith and at Christian believers. This even seems to distort news reporting when covering the current innumerable deaths of Christians across the globe by Muslims.

Some of the article I felt a bit concerned about as I was wondering if it contradicted the position Christians should hold on the subject of Kingdom. After all we are to pray “Thy kingdom come…” as well as work for its realisation.

Bits I particularly liked in this article:

Simply put we assume that we can have more impact on culture than it can have on us. That is dangerously naive thinking. Jesus never said the culture will misunderstand you, he said the world will hate you. He did not say to his disciples, “Display reckless abandon and go out there and change culture,”, he said “fear not, I have overcome the world.”(John 16:33).

I have watched as what began as a series of questions beginning with “What if we changed the perspective on how we look at this traditional issue?” to “Did God really say?”. And painful though it is to say, the post-evangelical Sexuality Gospel has simply replaced the Boomer Prosperity Gospel for a generation that idolises the comfort that experience offers, rather than the comfort that money offers.

Stephen’s follow up article to this one is worth reading too where he likens exile stage 1 to fencing with the outside culture, compared to exile stage 2 which he likens to cage fighting. Whether he is correct or not, we are living in interesting times.

Book recommendation – Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings

I’ve just had this book recommended by a friend. I’ve ordered it online straight away.


What influenced me? This quote from Hilary of Poitiers, a French bishop of the fourth century, and a great defender of Trinitarian orthodoxy:

‘If the soul has not breathed in the gift of the Spirit through faith, even though it will continue to possess the faculty for understanding, it will not have the light of knowledge. The one gift, which is in Christ, is available to everyone in its entirety. What is present in every place is given insofar as we desire to become worthy of it. This gift is with us even to the consummation of the world. This is the consolation of our expectation. This, through the efficacy of the gifts, is the pledge of our future hope. This is the light of the mind, the splendour of the soul. For this reason we must pray for this Holy Spirit.’

If I am going to get more of that, I want the book!


Demystifying mysticism by Richard Rohr

This is an excellent meditation sent to me today. It is by Richard Rohr, who is a Roman Catholic priest, and is adapted from his book Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi.

I like the way he promotes the need for an experience of God for the ordinary Christian, often feared by Protestants (Methodists were called, as an insult, “enthusiasts”) or seen as undermining the church hierarchy by the Church of Roman.


Trust Your Own Experience. Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The most unfortunate thing about the concept of mysticism is that the word itself has become mystified—and relegated to a “misty” and distant realm that implies it is only available to a very few. For me, the word simply means experiential knowledge of spiritual things, as opposed to book knowledge, second hand knowledge, or even church knowledge.

Most of organized religion, without meaning to, has actually discouraged us from taking the mystical path by telling us almost exclusively to trust outer authority, Scripture, tradition, or various kinds of experts (what I call the “containers”)—instead of telling us the value and importance of inner experience itself (which is the actual “content” the containers were made to hold). In fact, most of us were strongly warned against ever trusting ourselves. Roman Catholics were told to trust the church hierarchy first and last, while mainline Protestants were often warned that inner experience was dangerous, unscriptural, or even unnecessary.

Both were ways of discouraging actual experience of God and often created passive (and passive aggressive) people and, more sadly, a lot of people who concluded that there was no God to be experienced. We were taught to mistrust our own souls—and thus the Holy Spirit! Contrast that with Jesus’ common phrase, “Go in peace, your faith has made you whole!” He said this to people who had made no dogmatic affirmations, did not think he was “God,” did not pass any moral checklist, and often did not belong to the “correct” group! They were simply people who trustfully affirmed, with open hearts, the grace of their own hungry experience—in that moment—and that God could or would even care about it!

Of course I would place Francis of Assisi in the long line of pentecostal or charismatic Christians before either term was used.