Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Assembling in Brighton

First thing in the morning, I'm off to the Baptist Assembly in Brighton to be involved in Prism - which I think I'm looking forward to (I stocked up with a ton of art material and other stuff today to make the event go with a bang).

In the slack times I've got Robert Johnstone's Useless Beauty (his study of Ecclesiastes interpreted through the movies). I'm looking forward to reading this because all his stuff is good. Next Sunday we're starting a series on Ecclesiastes - just three Sunday evenings - called our baffling world. I think I'll be using lots of movie references so I'll be interested to see what films Johnstone finds throwing light on this enigmatic text.

I'll be listening to Imogen Heap, Eels, the Secret Machines and editors in the car on the way down. Should put me in the right mood!

I'll let you know how it went next week.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Responsible mission

I've been discovering what a wonderful mission text John 10 is. We all know that John 10:10 is a great summary of the good news about Jesus. But the whole chapter is actually a brilliant exposition of what it means to live responsibly in the world as God intended us to.

We think of it as talking about Jesus being the gate and the good shepherd - which, of course, it is. But in claiming that he was the way in which people entered God's salvation and was the model leader who embodied God's style of leadership, he was laying claim to the whole of life and not just people's religion - which is, of course, why the political and religious leaders of his day opposed him.

And as John makes clear, after the resurrection, Jesus sent his people to do as he did (John 20:21). So our mission is about exercising responsibility for the planet God is redeeming. This is why mission is holistic, concerned with clean water, work and welfare as well as the forgiveness of sins. Indeed if all we offer is a spiritual experience, we are offering less than the gospel of Jesus. For he came that people might know life in all its fullness and that is surely as much about health, work, independence, good government and freedom (just ask the people of Nepal if they're experiencing life in all its fullness at the moment) as it is about going to heaven when we die.

I thought these arguments were won and that all we needed to do was garner resources to ensure that God's people could do the mission he's called us to. But I was wrong. Just the other day I had a long conversation with an intelligent young person about the nature of mission who argued that it was only and solely about people's personal relationship with God and that social action was not really part of it - unless it gave opportunity to speak about their sin and need for forgiveness.

I think we all need to read John 10 a little more carefully...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Cafe culture

It's our anniversary cafe church on Sunday evening - we've been doing them a whole year. We started with a BMS Sunday focusing on Africa and this anniversary one is focusing on feet - standing on holy ground, going into the world with the good news (Exodus and Isaiah).

Our format has changed over the year, moving from looking at moral issues to a more liquid worship model, offering fresh ways of encountering God. From May, we aim to do another series of issue-based cafe services looking at conspiracy theories (the da vinci code, the gospel of judas, etc), gossip and the media, U2 and God. These will be aimed at people on the edge of faith, wondering what the Christian faith means in today's culture.

cafe services have been enormous fun but they are very labour intensive. I couldn't do them without my administrative assistant, who not only shops for a variety of bizarre items, but also gets props ready and increasingly has an input into how we'll deliver the theme. I also have a couple of others who offer creative input and help delivering the evening.

But these kind of events take a lot of putting together - so if you're pondering doing it, get a good team around you.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Back from a busy time at Spring Harvest. On the whole it was a good experience. A few good new songs - in a sea of increasing blandness, I fear - some good teaching/exhortation and some great fellowship (that's what I go for, really!)

I might be writing something for next year's Spring Harvest - watch this space.

Now I'm back for a weekend - BMS Sunday so it'll be great - and then off to the Baptist assembly where I'm involved with the new alternative strand called Prism.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Off to Spring Harvest

Finishing off preparing for Spring Harvest ahead of going away first thing in the morning to Skegness. So no blogging for a few days.

Have a great Easter everyone.

Isn't Jesus interesting...?

I'm reading Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan's The Last Week, an account of the final seven days of Jesus' life by two of the Jesus Seminar's superstars. It's brilliant and infuriating in equal measure, but well worth reading.

There's been no shortage of Jesus sories in the news over the past few days, such as the publication of the Gospel of Judas and James Tabor's new book on the Jesus Dynasty. I've not read the latter - though the book blurb and extracts that are online (get at them through Mark Goodacre's weblog at

The gospel of Judas tells us nothing about the events of the first Easter but gives us a fascinating insight into second century gnostic thinking.

All this comes in the wake of Dan Brown winning his high court action against the authors of Holy Blood and Holy Grail (or was that the other way round) and therefore keeping the Da Vinci Code hype going (and the tills churning).

Some Christians see this as a concerted attack on orthodox Christianity - and there might be some truth in this. Certainly the Jesus Seminar and the Westar Institute that set it up aims to raise questions about orthodox Christianity and show that traditional understandings of Jesus and Christian origins are plain wrong.

But this is also a great opportunity for Christians to talk about the historical origins of our faith and the credibilty of the records on which our faith is based.

For all the beauty of their writing, it seems to me that Borg and Crossan go out of their way to trash Christian doctrines that they disagree with but which the historical material they are dealing with (Mark's gospel) seems to uphold. In order to achieve this, they have to make theological judgments about which bits of Mark are accurate. Those judgments strike me as being extremely arbitary which makes me wonder if their assertions about other history are equally tendentious.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Hope puts a spring in your step

Last night we finished a series on What Christians Believe, rounding it off with hope - what is it that Christians are hoping for? And what difference does it make?

I think it's fair to say we had a good evening. The discussion was lively and the conversations I had after the service were very encouraging.

I think what pleased me most was the fact that people wanted to continue to think about these issues, read the scriptures I recommended and follow up other material. It's heartening when some are saying - I think rightly - that Christians appear less inclined to think about their faith, to find a group of people keen to have this kind of conversation in church.

What was most heartening of all were the numbers who indicated how exciting they found the Christian hope that we outlined. And what kind of difference it might make to the way they live their lives in a world teetering on the brink of despair.

Inspiring models

There are two particular projects on the expressions DVD which have set me thinking - in particular, thinking that we could do similar things where we are.

The first is Messy Church in Portsmouth, a wonderful child centred congregation featuring arts and crafts and food - what more do you need? The other is Nightshift at Hereford Baptist Church, in which the church opens late at night to offer hot drinks and conversation to people going home from clubs - what could be simpler?

Both these ideas seem obvious when you see them - but only when someone else has thought of them!

Anyway, I'm buying the DVD for my leaders and we'll talk about these and other ways of being church to see if there are things we could be doing here.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The shape of obedience

Listening to the Secret machines - good stuff. Reading Richard Hays' on Paul's use of the OT - brilliant, essential. Watching a DVD on new ways of being church - inspiring; lots of good models; plenty to think about (called Expressions: the dvd).

I've talked about this before, but there are so many things to keep an eye on in this job that it's sometimes hard to know where to focus.

We're about to go to Spring Harvest and after that I'm involved in the Baptist Assembly - so those things outside the immediate life of the church are pressing. Then there are meetings with people about getting a housing advice centre off the ground with other churches and statutory sector partners - so the mission of the church locally is pressing. Then there's the regular life of the church with the ups and downs of peoples' health, with niggles over roles and how we organise things, with preaching and teaching, leading worship, etc - so the internal life of the church is pressing.

It's all very stimulating and I know how fortunate I am to be in this position compared with so many who don't find their jobs as energising. I just wish there were 8 days in a week!

Yesterday I was particularly thinking about how we help people to think in a biblical way about the world we live in. Preparing for Palm Sunday, I've been struck about the competing expectations and understandings people had about the messiah and whether Jesus fitted the bill.

John paints a picture of different crowds ebbing and flowing around Jesus, welcoming him, badgering him, criticising him, wanting a slice of the action. And at the centre is Jesus, a still point in a swirling world, though clearly anguished at what lay ahead of him. His desire was to help those around him see things as he saw them.

Hays argues that this was Paul's intention in his letters. He calls it 'the conversion of the imagination' which I think is a wonderful phrase, encapsulating the need for us to to allow our whole thought process to be transformed by God, so that we look at, interact with and feel differently about the world we live in. Hays says that this happens through correctly reading the Bible. I agree. And I'd add that the Holy Spirit has a key role to play in taking and applying scripture to our thought processes.

The portrait of Jesus in John 12 is a portrait of an obedient Son under great pressure. He writes it to tell us what happened. But he also writes it to show us - obedient children - the shape of lives lived out of the still centre of obedience to God and his purposes. He writes to shape our thinking and hence our living. Jesus could only do what he did because he knew who he was under God, knowledge forged by the Word and the Spirit.