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 I also wondered how out of date it might be.

2015-06-24 10.36.09

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.

Judean_Babylonian_marriage_tablet

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.

 

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.

The Bible and Homosexuality – some views put side by side – all by people called Steve

Christianity Today have helpfully placed on line a series of recent articles that, to me, seem to sum up the debate about how we can see the bible’s (and therefore glimpse God’s) perspective on homosexuality.

The first thing that alerted me to their post was when I read the comment by Steve Clifford in one of the regular EA bulletins I receive.

Steve Clifford

It was entitled: A response to Steve Chalke’s article in Christianity magazine. Statement from Steve Clifford, general director, Evangelical Alliance. If you want to look at these articles I think his comments are a good place to start as it will give an idea of the turbulence Stave Chalke’s article has caused, not only because of the content of it but because of who it is that has said these things.

Clifford sees Steve Chalke having “distanced himself from the vast majority of the evangelical community here in the UK, but indeed from the Church across the world and 2,000 years of biblical interpretation”.

Clifford went on to say:

Steve has raised issues which touch on deep areas of human identity. At a Soul Survivor seminar last summer, a Baptist minister who lives with same-sex attraction introduced his talk to a marquee full of young people by indicating that he would love to find a theology in the Bible which would support a sexually-active gay life. But, he said: “I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not there and I don’t want to live in rebellion to the one that I love.” This pastor is just one of tens of thousands of Christians who have come to the conclusion that sex was designed by God to be expressed within a committed relationship for life between a man and a woman – we call this marriage – and have chosen to live a celibate life.

Steve Chalke’s challenge to historic biblical interpretation is in danger of undermining such courageous lifestyle decisions.

As I say, Chalke has created some turbulence!

Steve Chalke’s article seems to be in two version, a shorter and an extended one. I assume someone seriously wanting to weight these views and wanting to give a full hearing to Chalke will want to read the extended article. I did.

It seems to me that Steve Chalke is able to come to his surprising conclusions as a result of the strange view he has of what the bible is. Also, instead of grappling with the topic biblical interpretation on the topic he list matters that the universal church has changed it’s mind about over the centuries and claims the matter of homosexual practice to be the same sort of thing. Just because the church has treated women badly, in spite of them being treated with equality in the early days of the church, is in no way equivalent to the matter of homosexuality.

What I thought was an excellent response to Steve Chalke on the EA site, is by Steve Holmes. This, perhaps, raises another question: Why are they all called Steve? Is it only people called Steve that are interested in this or do we have to change our name to Steve once we are interested in the subject?

They are not all called Steve after all, the response on the Christianity Today site is by Greg Downes.

The Christianity Today articles, including Steve Chalke’s can be found here.

Delighting in Great Malvern Priory

Life is full of such wonderful things.

I have just spent a holiday morning in Great Malvern Priory. The small town of Malvern is a delight in itself with it’s steep streets and shopping centre with very little chain store presence. But the priory…

Bought by local people in 1541 for £20 to save it from destruction. It was founded in 1085 by Aldwyn as a Benedictine Priory. It remained a monastery for over 450 years.

Though saved from demolition by the locals in 1541 it wasn’t until 1860 that restoration began.

It is Norman but the huge pillars would have fitted in well in an ancient Roman building with the huge pillars and strong arches.

I liked this photograph that I got as the light from the stained glass lit up the opposite wall so well.

image

So can a woman be a son without having to get a sex change?

Talk about gender issues in many churches and you’d think you were volunteering to be burned at the stake.

As an aside though, isn’t it better now that differences between Christians are dealt with without the need to kill each other?

Anyway, about gender issues, I am very uncomfortable with much that is said and debated about the role of women in the church. I have listened to, and read, the arguments but I find many of them unconvincing. It seems to me that a key text in the ancient documents that is often overlooked, is a portion of the letter written by Paul to the believers in Galatia (in what we now know as central Turkey).

The portion I am referring to is in Galatians, beginning in verse 26 of chapter 3 and continuing to verse 8 of chapter 4.

3:26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.
27 For all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.
4:1 Now I mean that the heir, as long as he is a minor, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything.
2 But he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.
3 So also we, when we were minors, were enslaved under the basic forces of the world.
4 But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights.
6 And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls “Abba! Father!”
7 So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God.
[NET Bible].

Before we ask ourselves questions about this, and draw conclusions, it is worth noting the context. Paul was writing to a group of people that were being pressed by Jewish believers who had taken the step to follow Jesus but still believed that the rituals of the Jewish law were mandatory, including the rite of circumcision. Paul goes into some technical argument about the old covenant law being fulfilled in Christ and followers of Jesus now being justified in God’s sight by faith in Jesus rather than by works.

Paul then makes the point that connecting to Jesus is through faith (“…so that the promise could be given – because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ – to those who believe.” 3:22b) and alters the status of every believer.

Verses 3:26 and following is explaining that the new status of believers is that they are sons of God. Paul then makes some effort to mention who is included in this designation as sons of God. We see that it includes “all” that have clothed themselves in Christ (verse 27) and it excludes nobody, whether Jew, Greek, slave, free, male or female. Paul then goes on to argue that all those listed are sons, including women.

Paul is not being gender blind but is saying that a female believer has all the inheritance rights of a son and is no second-rate, or other designated, believer. Women too find themselves reading verses 6 and 7 of chapter 4 and seeing themselves there as sons.

Perhaps a variety of feminist may object to being called a son if they prefer a gender neutral term such as child. But that would be to weaken the force of Paul’s argument. Paul in not claiming that God is male, but that God had chosen to reveal himself in a male orientated society and one which would understand inheritance rights of the male heir. To say a female believer is a son is, to me, a dignifying statement that defies attempts to suppress.

Two zebras discussing women's roles in the church

Thanks to Fiona Raffell for her photo of the zebras.