Nov 052014

As some of you know I use Logos Bible Software extensively for personal devotions, sermon preparation, academic work and so on and for the last few weeks I have been working with the latest update to that software. It has a wide range of new and very useful features – if you would like an overview please see “What is Logos 6?” and “Logos 6 Features” – and in this post I wanted to share just a few aspects of what it can do.

Recently in our church we have been looking at the topic of baptism and one of the very helpful things in this latest update is the idea of “Cultural Concepts” which provides tagging for many of the concepts which appear in the Bible. I can use this to search for places in the Bible where the concept of baptism is mentioned even if the word itself is not present in the verse. In the screenshot below, Matthew 3:15 is returned. Here Jesus and John the Baptist are speaking about baptism but the word isn’t actually used.

culture baptism 1

One of the additional bonuses, as you can see, is that the relevant passages are automatically highlighted in the Bible as well making it easy to scan them.

So this makes it easy to find everywhere this concept is referenced.

But I can also refine the search using other tagging capabilities. If, for example, I just wanted to look at passages where Jesus was speaking about baptism I could use the “Speaker” tag as below:

culture baptism 2


And if I wanted to refine it even further I could limit the search to a particular Gospel (or other passage range). While not necessary here as there are a just a few results to look at, the functionality is useful.

culture baptism 3

This capability makes looking up these types of sophisticated searches very easy and flexible.

And these searches can also be executed within the Bible translation itself:

culture baptism 4

This makes it possible to look at just the relevant passage ranges together which is very powerful.

There is much, much more in this latest update to help people study the Bible which, from my perspective, has to be a good thing.

Oct 142014

I, with three others, have just got back from a trip to a place called Talne in Ukraine. Our church has a link to another church there and this was an opportunity to meet up with people, to share together, to engage in various ministry activities and to get to know something of the country.


We spent time with many wonderful people, laughed together a lot and developed new and stronger friendships. But we also became aware of the real impact that the conflict and tensions in Eastern Ukraine are having on people’s everyday lives. These are things which I rarely see reported but which really struck us deeply.

We spent time with a minister and his wife who come from a church in Eastern Ukraine and they spoke about the opportunities they had to provide support and encouragement to soldiers who had been injured in the fighting – and the way in which these soldiers sometimes just needed someone to talk to so they could explain what they had seen and what they had experienced.

We were at the home of the pastor of the Talne church one morning and the electricity was cut off – apparently this is a regular part of conserving energy for the war effort.

We visited a massive granite quarry which is a major source of income and employment to people in Talne, and we were surprised to see that it was shutdown and nothing was happening. We were told that their major customer was Russia and they were no longer able to send stone there and so people had been laid off and production had stopped.

We visited a school and spoke with the teachers who told us about their sons and husbands who had gone off to fight – and the collections which were being taken to ensure that they would have what they needed. There was a sense of solidarity in the sadness.

There was a growing sense of patriotism with bridges being painted in the Ukrainian colours of blue and yellow and more people wearing traditional Ukrainian costume.

We went to a family’s home for a meal and met a lady who, with her husband, had had to flee from Eastern Ukraine as it was no longer safe for them to be there. The couple whose house we were in had contacted the local council to say that they had a room for refugees if needed and they had been taken up on their offer. We were really struck with this act of openness and generosity towards someone they had never met. A great demonstration of Jesus’ challenge in Matthew 25:35-36.

We stayed in the temporary home of a couple who are in the process of building their own home. However, building work has stopped due to lack of funds as the business the husband works in sells to people in Eastern Ukraine and they are no longer able to purchase as much.

And the moment which really brought it home to me was when we were visiting an old people’s home where a retired teacher spoke to me for about five minutes in passionate Ukrainian (which was thankfully translated). She was speaking emotionally and powerfully about what was happening to her country and the impact it was having on everyone and asking what we, in Europe, were going to do about it to force Russia to step back from its engagement and to allow the Ukrainian people to sort things out for themselves. There was a limited amount that I could say about what the United Kingdom was doing but she seemed to have a deeper sense of peace after we had spoken – maybe it was just that someone was prepared to listen. But I felt challenged to do something further and so to follow up on that I have just written to my local MP outlining what we saw in Ukraine and asking him to continue to encourage our government to do all that it can to help bring peace to Ukraine.

Please do pray for the people of Ukraine, that the conflict and killing will stop, that peace will be restored, that tensions will disappear, that people would be able to go about their normal lives and that Christians in that country will continue to be able to live as salt and light and be a blessing to those they meet.

Sep 102014

A group of us have just returned from a trip to Israel. It was a wonderful and fascinating experience and I’ll

jerusalem under herodprobably reflect on other aspects of the trip in later posts. But here I want to focus on the privilege of being in Jerusalem and visiting some of the sites which were (or were near to) places which figured in the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus. Walking those streets, looking out over the city, thinking about some of the events was a powerful and moving experience and reminded me of the eternally significant encounter and confrontation which was taking place.

From the top of the Mount of Olives we looked over the valley mount of olivesand onto the hill of Jerusalem – a sight which would have confronted Jesus as he made that journey.


We went down into the Garden of Gethsemane and saw the olive trees – some of which may have been there when Jesus contemplated what was ahead of him, when He cried out to his gethsemanefather, where he was betrayed by a close friend and when He was arrested and led away. Here we see the start of the confrontation – between those who were seeking to ensure ritual and legal purity, those who were seeking to maintain the status quo with the occupying Roman forces against a man who was making claims about who He was and the importance of following Him.

As we went into St Peter in Gallicantu – built to commemorate the house of the high priest where Jesus endured gallicantuhis first trial – we thought about how he was denied by one of his closest followers, was subject to an illegal trial and interrogated as to who he really was. Before the high priest, the religious leader of his people, he confidently stated that he was, indeed, the Messiah – the one whom God has promised to send to redeem his people. He made it clear that he would, one day, by seen seated in power and authority at God’s right hand (Matthew 26:63-54). This was too much for the priest, as he saw all that he stood for being challenged and under threat and so sent him on to the Roman governor for further examination.

We saw the place where Jesus was thought to have been examined by the Roman governor, the local antonio fortressrepresentative of the most powerful empire in the world who found him not guilty but – under pressure – still caused him to be beaten and condemned him to death.

For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will. (Luke 23:22–25)

And, soberly and thoughtfully, we visited the Chapel of the Flagellation where, traditionally, that beating took place.

We walked the streets which (or near which) Jesus would have walked and visited the most likely sites of his crucifixion, burial golgothaand resurrection and reflected on those word-changing events and their significance.

There was a sense of pilgrimage, a sense of history, a sense of something amazingly significant happening as we remindedgarden tomb ourselves of how one man, in humility and gentleness and love, stood against the forces which were massed against him, endured all they could heap on him and emerged victorious.

He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: (Luke 24:6)

On one hand we see the inhumanity of man, the desperate desire to hang on to power, the willingness to forgo justice in order to achieve their goals and the surprising alliance between opposing forces united – for a moment – against a common perceived threat. And how often we see the same happening today. On the other hand we see someone who, even when in chains and beaten, was in total control of the situation, behaved with quiet confidence, knew what he was going to do and accomplished his purpose for the benefit of all creation.

A clash of kingdoms but where the one who seemed outnumbered, outgunned and defeated was victorious and triumphant. And for those who have chosen to follow him he calls us to continue to stand against the forces and power of evil wherever we find it and work to bring his kingdom to earth.

Aug 052014

I’ve just finished reading a very interesting book looking at the teaching of Jesus and how we should engage with it:

The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything by Briansecret message of Jesus McLaren.

It is really worth reading and reflecting on.

Towards the end of the book he quotes a poem written by Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador – ‘who was assassinated for speaking up for God’s kingdom and justice in 1980’.

I found the poem challenging, stimulating and encouraging:

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection . . .
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results . . .
We are prophets of a future not our own.

It reminds me that, as Christians, we are:

  • called to work towards the kingdom of God while recognising that its fullness is beyond us
  • privileged to engage in God’s work and not the other way round
  • not going to achieve everything we set out to do but God will
  • often involved in activities where we don’t see the results but it doesn’t mean they aren’t important
  • agents of God’s grace as we speak about what might be

Hope this is an encouragement, and a challenge, to others as well.


Jul 312014

A recent post from David – “Where’s your god now?” – prompted me to write a review on a book I have just finished reading:

yancey - disappointment with God

Disappointment with God: Three questions no one asks aloud by Philip Yancey

It is a book written to try and respond to the disappointment which, he argues, many people, for a range of reasons, feel with God. One of the triggers in writing the book – and around which much of the book revolves – is a conversation Yancey had with a friend who had come to a point where he no longer believed in God. Reflecting on their conversation, Yancey felt that behind what was going on were three large questions:

  1. Is God unfair?
  2. Is God silent?
  3. Is God hidden?

In his book Yancey reflects on these, and other, questions from a biblical perspective and makes some fascinating observations.

  1. He points out that in the Old Testament, God had laid out for his people a clear set of rules by which to live and receive blessing – and they soon turned away and neglected / rejected God. God was acting fairly towards them and they rebelled
  2. While the people of Israel were wandering in the desert God provided many instances of clear and direct guidance to them – and they ignored him and went their own way
  3. When God did turn up and appear directly to his people they were afraid and wanted Moses to act as an intermediary.

Yancey concludes, based on this study, that even when God was demonstrably acting fairly, speaking to his people and present amongst them they still turned against him and wanted something else. Yancey suggests that:

These dismal results may provide insight into why God does not intervene more directly today

As he continues to explore these questions he makes some interesting observations.

  • He points out that Old Testament is full of people asking similar questions of God and God choosing to answer in a variety of ways
    • That he hadn’t been silent – he had spoken through his prophets
    • He had withdrawn his presence due to his people’s behaviour
    • He wasn’t acting – as they were calling on him to do – as a sign of mercy
    • That he suffered along with his people
    • That he grieved over what was going on

Yancey asks what the life of Jesus contributes towards answering those three questions and he suggests that:

  1. Jesus, in what he said, made God’s will clearer than it had been before
  2. In Jesus, God has taken on a real, physical shape in the world
  3. Unfairness – Jesus healed some but not others, he didn’t “wipe away tears from all faces”

Yancey starts chapter 15 with these words

If ever the time was ripe to settle the question of God’s existence, it was while Jesus walked on earth. Jesus had one splendid opportunity to silence the critics forever.

He talks about how people called on Jesus for signs but points out that even though those closest to Jesus saw the miracles he did it didn’t stop them running away and deserting him. Even that wasn’t enough.

And Yancey points out that the question as to why God doesn’t sometimes act came into ultimate focus at the death of Jesus. And he says:

The spectacle of the Cross, the most public event of Jesus’ life, reveals the vast difference between a god who proves himself through power and One who proves himself through love

And Yancey goes on to talk about some of the results of this death:

  1. It made possible an intimacy that had never before existed – we now have direct access to God
  2. As we reflect on Jesus we see the Father
  3. None of the outrage and despair which we find in the Old Testament is present after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Yes there is still suffering but the way in which God’s people engage with it has changed forever due to the cross of Christ
  4. There is still a realisation that everything is not yet right – quoting Hebrews 2 “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to they. But we do see Jesus”
  5. We now have the amazing privilege of God dwelling in us through his Spirit

And then Yancey suggests that the way God engages in history has changed:

  1. In the Old Testament, the focus is on the powerful God, creator, holy, passionate
  2. In the Gospels, the focus is on the life and work of God the Son on earth
  3. In the rest of the Bible the focus is on how God’s people – the church – how to live as people “in Christ”

and he says:

He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.
Creation seems to be delegation through and through. I suppose this is because He is a giver

The progression—Father, Son, Spirit—represents a profound advance in intimacy. At Sinai the people shrank from God, and begged Moses to approach him on their behalf. But in Jesus’ day people could hold a conversation with the Son of God; they could touch him, and even hurt him. And after Pentecost the same flawed disciples who had fled from Jesus’ trial became carriers of the Living God. In an act of delegation beyond fathom, Jesus turned over the kingdom of God to the likes of his disciples—and to us.

One of the implications of this is that if God seems silent and hidden and unfair then the church has some significant responsibility for that.

There is much more in the book – his detailed look at the story of Job is well worth looking at – but Yancey avoids giving easy answers to difficult questions.

He speculates about why God doesn’t explain what is going on and suggests:

  1. God keeps up ignorant because enlightenment might not help us
  2. God keeps us ignorant because we are incapable of comprehending the answer

and he talks about two kinds of faith:

  1. a childlike faith where we “swallow the impossible”
  2. a “hang-on-at-any-cost faith” where we continue to believe even when there is no obvious reason to do so – and he points to some of those listed in Hebrews 11 as examples of that

And he points to a future hope when everything will be made well even while we struggle with the events that are going on around us.

Its a fascinating book and if you want to explore these ideas further, I suggest getting a copy of the book and working through it. You may not agree with everything in it but it gives some deep and challenging insights into some of these difficult questions which we grapple and wrestle with.

Jul 282014

At 1:19pm last Thuesday a report was published on the Guardian website stating that Isis had ordered all girls and women in Mosul to undergo FGM. This was based on a statement given by a United Nations representative. But, even in that report it was recognised that there was some doubt as to whether this order had actually been given.

As people heard about this and were shocked at the prospect, it was reported widely around the world and understandable outrage expressed.

At 6:29pm on the same day a further report was published stating that Isis had denied issuing the order

The TPM website has an article showing three tweets suggesting that the report of this edict is inaccurate.

I don’t know what is happening there. I hear of extreme pressure being put on Christians and my prayers are with them. I pray that women in that city won’t be subject to this horrendous practice. I pray for peace and justice.


In the wake of the plane coming down in Ukraine, conflicting reports and statements were made as to what had happened and who, if anyone, was responsible.

Regularly, in our Parliament, statements are made by politicians which are then challenged by other politicians and by journalists as to whether what they are saying is true or if they are trying to put a positive spin on situations and events.

And there will be many reasons which drive people to say the things they say.

  • They hear of something shocking which could affect many and want to make if public and, hopefully, generate an upswell of public opinion against it and put pressure on those who are contemplating horrendous acts. They may judge that making it public, even if it isn’t certain, will actually prevent it happening
  • They want to be the first to break a story and so aren’t able to take the time to check facts properly and to get independent verification. And there will be many pressures on people and organisations to do this.
  • They want to positively present their “side” in a debate or dispute and to convince others that they have the best proposal, strategy, product, service or whatever
  • They are seeking to get a particular verdict in a court of law which often ends up with two “independent experts” appearing for different sides

And I hesitate to write about the “niceties” of accuracy when events of such significance are happening misinformationaround the world with people in fear and danger and uncertainty as to what will happen next. But it is because these things are affecting so many that information becomes even more important if the rest of the world is going to understand what is going on and to be able to determine how to engage appropriately.

So my plea is for accuracy in speech and communication – at international, national and local levels.

  • That, wherever possible, things and situations are verified before speaking and – if not possible – appropriate caveats are used.
  • That information is presented clearly and accurately and not dressed up to serve a particular agenda.
  • That if incorrect information is given, a correction (and apology) is given as soon as possible

And that those of us who receive information will have the wisdom to assess it, to sift it, to understand it and to respond appropriately to all of the things which are happening in our world, and sometimes in our name.


Jul 072014

As part of the “Monday blog hop”, last week I had a post hosted on the blog of one of my daughters-in-law. This week I am privileged to host a post from one of my good friends, Vic.

Like others participating in this “hop” Vic was asked to respond to four questions:

  1. What am I working on?vic image
  2. Why do I write what I write?
  3. How does my work differ from others in its genre?
  4. How does my writing process work?

and this is what he said.


I was most pleasantly surprised to find myself being asked to take part in a blog hop – something akin to BBC’s ‘Chain reaction’ – a exercise where I answer four questions and nominate next week’s guest blogger. So here goes:

What am I working on?

Much of my time is taken up with my work as an Anglican Parish Priest and Missioner. This is leading me increasingly into the areas of Fresh Expressions (church for those who otherwise would not be in the company of Christians) and the development of  ‘missional’ (that is getting out and bridge building, serving and engaging) church. One of the ways of doing this is to train people on Mission Shaped Ministry (MSM) courses and also seek to entice people into ‘being missional by means of Mission Shaped Introduction (MSI) – a shorter and nicely accessible taster for the MSM course.

Outside of this I find my time being taken up by Tamworth Street Angels – a bunch of great people who are helping to put God’s love out on the streets of Tamworth to assist vulnerable people (not a euphemism for ‘drunk’) – The National Memorial Arboretum (where I’m hon. Chaplain) and various other chaplaincies. I’ve also started to find myself getting into print and doing radio work – a new ands exciting direction!

Why do I write what I write?

The answer has to be, ‘For me!’ I started the blog in May 2007 but didn’t start writing until December and it started as a scratch pad for me to hang things on an electronic wall for later consideration and (generally internal) dialogue. I’d come in from a meeting and over a cup of tea check emails and scribble thoughts, promised follow-ups and other things that had come about from the meetings and encounters I’d had.

A ‘for instance’ is when I’ve been doing vocations work and the conversation has turned to something hitherto been ignored by either of us. I’d scribble it and hang it in the hope that during the absence my brain would put pieces together or bring examples, explanation and challenges to the fore so that I could resolve the need and post for the other person to use (and in doing so develop a bit more myself). The act of posting is an invitation to dialogue and, when the need arises, correction and/or suggestions of other places/things to consider.

The topics covered in the blog are everything from encounters in the parish through to struggles in faith or with colleagues or those with opposing views – the blog is a mirror to my personal, faith and ministry and it shows just how weird life can be. Or as they say ‘stranger than fiction’!

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I’m often told that my blog is a very different animal from other Christian blogs. Combine this with the fact that I’m often told that it’s not very ‘Vicar-like’ (whatever that might mean) -something I take as a compliment.

It differs from others in that I find many Christian blogs tend to post about the same thing because it’s in the news and then having found a topic tend to rush for their prooftexting Bible to pontificate and quote in an attempt to make us Christians look extremely dry and terribly samey. It differs because having finished one course of theological study I went on to do applied theology where my first essay was tossed back at me with the command ‘rewrite’ scrawled on it. I enquired of the lecturer why they might have done something so foolhardy with such sublime theological scribble and was told that theological jargon was great if I wanted to be an academic theologian but if I was going to communicate in the real world I would need to lose the cool words likesoteriology, theodicy, hermeneutics and especially ‘hapax legomenon’ (even if it did only appear once) and write in English.

My job is to communicate the difficult concepts simply so that they became accessible and then make the accessible commonplace (ie. the daily reality of those I pastored). That’s what my blog is about. I’d rather develop concepts and get agreement and directions that start pouring on the references and quotes from my theological heroes. Agree the direction and let them see how the Bible agrees with them later.

How does my writing process work?

It works much like me in that I run multiple strands of thinking and writing and work and diversion all at the same time. I will internally dialogue with something externally acquired and discussed/made aware of and then throw it onto the electronic paper that is the blog in one marvellous splurge and then, purged of the immediate, I enter into another encounter and then having thrown that to the wall I return to the previous splurge for another conversation and so on. At some stage it will appear on the blog (usually within hours if not minutes of the initial stimulus) and ironically, the busier I am the more will appear and so the empty spaces on the blog are actually times when I’m least busy rather than when I’m rushed off of my feet – this is the opposite to everyone I meet’s assumptions.

I dash it all off and then re-arrange the words to see if there is a solution in what others have said and in what I have responded with or thought or realised I didn’t think and then it’s there. everything (this included is) has to fit my five or ten minute rule (this is a ten minute splurge because it’s alien and challengingly introspective). This makes for some real ‘vicisms’ and so excellent typos and grammatical collisions as the editing doesn’t always catch the errors transposition of words begets.

And there you have it – a look behind the scenes of ‘Vic the Vicar’ in which I’ve had to place myself on the psychiatrist’s couch and then walk home wearing nothing but the clothes I bought of of a tailor who used to make finery for some emperor or other (or is this merely something Freudian going on and I am just naked?).

Who knows 🙂

Nominate someone

I’d love to see the Beaker folk of Husborne Crawley follow this as it’s a place I find entertaining and challenging

Jul 042014

chimps gestures

Earlier this morning I was listening to a report on the radio about the work some scientists have done in translating the communications gestures used by chimpanzees – see here for more details. It was an interesting study and provides insight into how this class of great apes communicate using a rudimentary sign language.

What I found interesting, and concerning, were the comments made by the reporter and radio host who were discussing the report. They made some statements which don’t seem to be backed up by the science in the report regarding the evolutionary relationship between chimps and humans.

They talked about how this study increases our understanding of how human language developed and talked about apes being ancestors of humans. The idea being that because humans are descended from chimps (or at least share common ancestors), understanding how chimps communicate will help us understand how our own languages developed.

The report on the BBC website was more balanced. One scientist commented that this study demonstrates that meaningful communication is not unique to humans and that

chimps are more closely related to us than they are to the rest of the great apes

Another, however, talked about the results as being “a little disappointing” and stated:

So, it seems the gulf remains

There is the sense that even though this work is being done to fill some gaps in our understanding of how human language evolved it hasn’t delivered all that was hoped for. But there was none of this nuanced understanding in how it was discussed on the radio.

I accept that the media have a difficult job in these areas as they are trying to communicate fairly complicated ideas in just a few minutes to a, generally, non-technical audience and they need to operate within the scientific consensus regarding evolution. But, from a quick look at recent discussions there are questions which the scientific community are grappling with regarding this putative direct link between the great apes and humans.

A report in the Los Angeles Times in April last year speaks of evidence which could help solve the “evolutionary ‘missing link'” but it acknowledges that not all scientists share the view expressed in the report.

A report in the Guardian in October last year speaks about the discovery of a skull throwing thefossil skull “story of human evolution into disarray” forcing scientists to:

rethink the story of early human evolution

A report in Scientific American in January this year speaks about a “missing genetic srgap2link in human evolution” and focuses on genetic material which is believed to play an important role in the brain. It is a fascinating report but one of the things that struck me is the level of honest uncertainty which is expressed by scientists with phrases such as “I think”, “My feeling” and “Much about the duplication process – and its implications – remain a mystery”. They are exploring and studying but recognise that there are still many questions.


A report in New Scientist in April this year raises the possibility that one of our “closest long-term relatives may never have existed” due to some confusion over some fossil remains.

A report in the Daily Mail science section (from less than a month ago) talks about finding a “missing link in human evolution” and claims that it is:

causing scientists to reconsider the path of human evolution

It is right and proper as part of the scientific process that scientists, in many different fields, should explore and study and critique to try and develop a deeper understanding. But it is important to recognise, as these reports – along with many others – show, that there are questions about the evolutionary theory regarding humans which haven’t been comprehensively answered and currently divide the scientific community.

While the debate continues to rage there, and media correspondents try to present snippets to their audiences, it is good to be reminded that we need to be prepared to dig a little deeper to try and understand what we don’t yet know and to not just accept blanket statements as fact.




Jun 112014

ofsted report


In a recent report by school inspectors concerns have been raised about certain schools seeking to impose particular beliefs on their pupils. This has resulted in the education secretary calling for “British michael govevalues” to be promoted in all schools and that, among other things, pupils need to be made aware of “mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”

And, at least to me, this all seems fine and reasonable although some people in the education world are asking questions about how this can actually be done.

Yesterday, I was listening to a radio phone-in where this was being discussed and I was interested in how the word “tolerance” was being used and the recurring comment that religious groups were often seen as intolerant. Two things struck me:

  • Tolerance was totally accepted as something which couldn’t be challenged, the only question was how do we go about it
  • There were calls for religious groups to go and practice their beliefs in private without trying to affect anyone else. This is the way in which those without faith were prepared to tolerate those with faith! (I have written earlier about the importance of Christians engaging publicly so not planning to go into that again here)

And so I started thinking about tolerance and whether the term was being used appropriately.

According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, “tolerance” is defined as:

the ability, willingness, or capacity to tolerate something.

with “tolerate” being defined as:

allow the existence or occurrence of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference.

So tolerance is the willingness to not interfere with something which we don’t like or disagree with. And, in one sense, this is important and appropriate and good. It is linked to other things which we are all called, and expected, to demonstrate such as openness, being welcome and inclusive. And these are all good things as well.

But I believe, in a Christian context, there needs to be some limit to what we welcome, what we are willing to include and – in some sense – what we are prepared to tolerate.

Wider society would say the same thing, of course. We are not expected to be tolerant towards those who break the law, abuse other’s rights and so on. We are expected to be tolerant towards those who conform to a set of values – maybe the “British values” which the education secretary is calling for but which seem so difficult to define.

But Christians are called to live in step with Jesus and so it is important to understand how this works out in practice – and so it’s worth looking at some examples from his life and his engagement with people.

  • He was totally prepared and willing to speak out against religious leaders who were misleading the people (Matthew 23:1-38)
  • He was prepared to speak against the political leaders of his day as they tried to oppose him (Luke 13:32)
  • He spoke about outcasts coming into God’s kingdom (Matthew 21:31-32) which shows how he welcomed people but he also looked for a change in their behaviour (John 8:11)
  • He expected commitment of those who chose to follow him and didn’t try and hang on to them if they weren’t prepared for it (Matthew 19:16-22, Luke 9:57-62)

Jesus spoke out against what was wrong in society and expected certain things from those who were seeking to follow him.

And it seems that this establishes two principles which are important for Christians to reflect on and practice today:

  1. We have a responsibility to speak out against those things which are actually intolerable, and to challenge when tolerance is called for when it is not appropriate
  2. We need to speak truth in our churches and communities regarding what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and not be prepared to accept things which he would not.

What does this mean in practice?

One of the things it means is that we should welcome anyone into our believing communities but we should continually be challenging each other to be changed to become more like Jesus. We shouldn’t “tolerate” non-Christian attitudes and behaviours within our churches, rather we should lovingly and gently call people to follow the example of Jesus, and seek to model it in our own lives as well.

Another is that while we should defend the rights of all to believe and worship as they wish (or not) we religious-freedomshould be prepared to speak about the good news of Jesus in a positive and engaging way with those we meet and spend time with.

So I think tolerance is generally ok – but if it becomes syncretism:

the amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought

then we have a problem.




May 252014

religious or spiritual

I have just been looking at a fascinating article posted by Tom Shakespeare – Is it better to be religious or spiritual? – on the BBC Magazine site.

He is commenting on the difference between those who would claim to be religious and those who would claim to be spiritual, and the idea that there are many people seeking spirituality outside of the context of organised religion. He challenges this approach, arguing that many people seeking spirituality retain the trappings of religion while leaving behind the sense of relationship which many people find in religious groups. He thinks this is a consequence of the growing sense of individualism in our society which ends up with us no longer being challenged to work towards a better world for everyone.

He clearly states that he doesn’t want the beliefs which go with a “pick’n’mix” spirituality:

I don’t want to be required to have faith in a supreme being or miracles or reincarnation, or any entity for which there is no scientific evidence.

But he does find value in organised religion due to the relationships and connections, traditions, disciplines and teaching which it provides.

Without religion, the danger is that an individual thinks that he or she is the centre of the universe. Religion asks more of you than just to look after yourself.

Its an article well-worth reading but I wanted to comment on a couple of specifics – one on a point made in the article itself and another on a question it raises for those seeking to live in a Christian community.

1) In his article he makes the following statement:

The word “religion” is thought to derive from Latin “religare”, to bind or connect. I think that sense of a connection is the key point. Religion offers a bond between individuals and it helps them form a connection to the wider universe.

I think this statement is valid (although some see “religion” being derived from “re” + “legere” – which means to “reread”) but I want to comment briefly on this from a Christian perspective (which is not the sole focus of the original article). For the Christian faith, I think the implications are wider. The rebinding or reconnecting which was in view is, I believe, primarily related to

reestablishing by worship a lost or broken intimacy between God and worshippers

(Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible)

It is, however, interesting to note that the term doesn’t appear extensively in the Bible. There are just five occurrences in the New International Version (Acts 25:19, 26:5; 1 Timothy 5:4, James 1:26, 27) with only one of these (the first) relating to questions of faith with the remaining four looking at how it works out in practice with relationship to others.

A true understanding of Christian religion – in my view – does depend on a belief in, and relationship with, God from which flows relationships with, and care for, others and the environment in which we live.

2) But I think his article is challenging to those who meet and worship and work in Christian communities as to whether we do so to get the benefits he refers to or whether we do so, primarily, due to our relationship with God.

He suggests that many people who go along to church on a Sunday morning are:

going through certain rituals, and value membership in a community of folk trying to lead more meaningful lives, but their belief in a supernatural being is minimal or non-existent

And this raises a question which is important for us to think about.

When we – those who meet regularly as Christians – are together in our “religious services” is our priority and focus firstly on God and what He wants to say to us and how he wants to change us? Or is it on meeting with our friends and seeing what has been going on since we last met?

Interestingly enough, we recently asked ourselves this question in the church which I have the privilege of leading and we said that when we meet together these should be times:

  • Which are centred on God in worship and where we appreciate and rejoice in who He is, where we focus on Jesus and are empowered by the Spirit
  • Where what we believe and our experiences of life should come together in powerful and transforming ways
  • Where we meet together as family to love, support and encourage each other
  • Where we participate in being refreshed and renewed from the challenges and difficulties of life
  • Where we are prepared and equipped to live on our frontlines (places where we live out our faith each day)
  • Which provide opportunities for us to be challenged in our faith or to come to faith

From what Shakespeare wrote I expect he would align himself with some of these – but not most.

For those of us who meet regularly as Christians it is worth asking ourselves the question “Why?” from time to time.