Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sun shine and mellow times in Prague

Scott Hafemann's now eagerly anticipated (at least by me) work on 2Peter and Jude is for the New International Greek New Testament Commentary. This is a good series that engages with the Greek text of the NT and is pretty demanding (though usually rewarding) for the preacher. Tony Thiselton's 1 Corinthians in this series is essential reading.

The sun's been shining today, so it's been a day of chilling at IBTS enjoying the company of folk who are fast becoming friends in the convivial surroundings of the college grounds.

We went to the Sarka Valley Community Church this morning (it meets at the college, so it's not far to travel!). Emet Dunn from the BWA was preaching (and he did ok), Alex, an MA student at IBTS, led the worship (and was pretty good - nice balance of all the right elements).

I've been reading John Drane's new book, After McDonaldization (which has a very promising start - but everything Drane writes is worth paying attention to) and John Gray's wonderful Black Mass in between bouts of chat about all kinds of stuff. Actually reading is difficult here unless you shut yourself away in the library (which isn't open at weekends) because there's always a conversation happening near you that's more interesting than your book.

Back to the library tomorrow morning - and then perhaps, the castle and a hot chocolate at Kaficko. Ah sabbaticals, they're tough, but someone's got to do them...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Getting some jazz at last

We couldn't get tickets for Nick Cave, so this evening we're off to Ungelt to see the Petr Zeman Quintet. They are an excellent jazz/fusion band led by a really fine guitarist. Ungelt is a smoke-free, intimate space. it should be a great night.

The sun has shone today and it's been warm for the first time this week. So, we've had a good wander round the old city, including a visit to the Strahov monestry which has two fabulous libraries with some very old beautifully illuiminated manuscripts.

Friday, May 23, 2008

covenanting to love our ministers

So, I did my session with the CAT students.

They were very polite.

I suspect they were also very baffled as I talked about cafe church and why we do it! From the comments and questions I'd guess that they are still very traditional in their models of being and doing church and that playing God is a DJ while drinking coffee and eating cookies would not constitute a service!

Ah well...

Steve is researching church covenants. His church has one - as does ours - and he's been looking at how we hold one another accountable. He found this marevellous clause in a 1790 covenant from Horse Fair church in Sony Stratford. Clause 3 - coming after what we believe and how we gather together as church - says this:

'To esteem our pastor highly in love for his work's sake, this we will endeavour to manifest by frequently and fervently praying for him; dilligently attending on his ministry; encouraging his heart and strengthening his hands to the utmost of our power in the work of the Lord; freely consulting him as we have occasion and opportunity, respecting our spiritual affairs; treating him affectionately when present, and speaking respectfully of him when absent. As he is a man of like passions with others, we will endeavour to conceal and cover with a mantle of love, his weaknesses and imprefections; also to communicate unto him of our temporal good things, knowing that the Lord hath ordained that they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel.'

Sounds good to me!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The rich variety of people

There's a great mix of people here at IBTS.

Steve and Val - also here on sabbatical - have been a revelation. They're a bit older than us but full life and ideas and very funny. we get on really well.

Scott and Debbie Hafemann are also here. Scott is teaching NT at Gordon Conwell and Debbie's an artist. They're both lovely people. Scott's given me some useful pointers. He's writing a commentary on 2 Peter and Jude. Debbie used to be an art teacher and is really interesting on a lot of the art she's seen in Prague - and she's put us on to a good exhibition that we'll try to get to next week.

And others make our life even more interesting than it would be without them.

Tomorrow I'm taking a class of CAT students - they're the guys from eastern europe who've been learning English and doing a basic theology course. I'm going to provoke them with some stuff on alternative worship. we'll see what happens - it should be a blast!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wondering what 1 Peter tells us about leadership

I've managed to leave planet Brent for a day - what a strange place it is!

I've been looking at Karen Jobes commentary on 1 Peter. She has a very interesting theory about authoriship - that Peter wrote it (hardly the scholarly consensus these days!) . Even more interesting, however, is her argument about audience and how they got there.

She suggests that the communities that Peter writes to really are 'exiles' and 'foreigners' in Asia Minor (as he says in 1:1; 2:11), being predominantly Jewish folk who left Rome at the time of the Claudian explusion in around 49AD. Peter writes to them from Rome where he's been based for some time.

She further suggests that Peter and Paul worked together in their later years and this explains why Peter wrote to the northern part of what we currently know as Turkey even though he'd never visited and Paul to the southern regions (the places where he planted churches) and why there's such agreement between them on the basics of the faith and the lifestyle that arises from it.

From my point of view, however, it's what she says about the structure of the church that is most useful and interesting. Because she argues the letter came from Peter and therefore predates his death in the mid-60s in Rome, she says that the organisation of the church was pretty rudimentary, something that is fairly obvious from a plain reading of the text but which can't be maintained if a late or very date for composition is argued.

So, she's not fashionable but she is plausible and highly refreshing - a welcome break from planet Brent (to which I fear I'll have to return at some point). But I shall read her and 1 Peter and ask what lessons there are here about what leaders in the earliest communities did. I think it'll have something to do with bearing witness through teaching and lifestyle - something I'm beginning to see is a recurring pattern in many strands of unfolding tradition (whenever it's dated). More on this anon.

It's been good to have Scott Hafemann on site from Gordon Conwell. He's a sane and helpful scholar who's here writing a commentary on 2Peter (which he thinks was written by Peter immediately before his death) and Jude (which he thinks was written by the Lord's brother and used 2 Peter as a source). It'll be worth reading, I reckon (not sure what series it'll be published in) as his book on Paul's ministry in 2 Corinthians is excellent, ground-breaking and faith-building.

Monday, May 19, 2008

What did leaders do in the early church?

The past couple of days I've been looking at some work Allen Brent has done on Ignatius and the development of church structures through the second century. He's a bit of a maverick scholar which makes him really interesting (and exasperating in equal measure!)

Following a conversation with Parush Parushev a couple of days ago, I have been reflecting on what leaders actually needed to do rather than just on how they were labelled. Parush spoke about the need for people to embody the message, once the apostles had died.

Brent argues that the so-called three-fold ministry - bishops, presbyters and deacons - in Ignatius' letters were the τυποι (the Greek word for mark, impression or type). He suggests that leaders represent God and the Spirit-filled council of the apostles - that is to say, the three-fold ministry together embodied the gospel, they were in effect the continuing incarnation. This is why they mattered so much and why Ignatius urges his readers to obey them.

It's a fascinating idea. But I have a couple of questions.

Brent seems to assume a single church group in each city that Ignatius wrote to led by a single bishop. But in the case of Rome this is almost certainly not the case (as Jeffers and Osiek have persuasely argued in various monographs). So, how would Brent's model work in small houshold-based congregations of the kind we're familiar with from Paul's letters?

And Brent seems to assume that the pattern of church life Ignatius argues for was the norm in every city. Yet Ritva Williams has argued that Ignatius may well have been prophetically arguing for this model in churches that had not adopted it (and wouldn't adopt it for a good hundred years).

I am very interested in the idea of leadership/ministry as the embodiment of the good news, not just the vehicle for its communication; that leaders taught as much by their lifestyle as by their words. This is certainly what Paul argues about himself when he calls on churches to imitate him (1 Cor 4, 11; Phil 3 etc). Is it also what the apostolic fathers are arguing in their letters - not so much in their words but in how they construct their arguments and how they encourage their readers to view them? I'm not sure whether this makes sense but I will explore it more and maybe blog in due course if I can think of something intelligent to say!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Choosing a coat and missing the shower

We went for a walk yesterday with Lina - a tutor in applied theology here at IBTS - who is a mine of fascinating information on Prague's cubist heritage among other things. Anyway it was pretty wet and I discovered that my waterproof jacket was anything but - I was aware of rivulets of water running down my back after about half an hour of being out in the deluge.

So today, as we were out and about in Prague with Steve and Val, we went looking for a replacement waterproof. The forecast was for light rain on and off for most of the day. In between pausing for coffee at our favourite Kaficko and at the very acceptable Bellavista (named we reckon for the view as it's a coffee terrace overlooking the city above the castle and cathedral), we looked for shops that sold waterproof garments.

In fact in brilliant and warm sunshine we spent the morning walking and keeping our eyes open for such an emporium. Eventually at about three in the afternoon we came upon a sport and mountaining shop that had a wealth of waterproof coats - some with eye-watering price tags!

Steve found one quite quickly but I couldn't make up my mind, trying this one and that before settling on one that fits like a dream, is very light and - according to the manufacturer - fabulously waterproof (it would need to be given what it cost - still you only buy these once in a blue moon!)

Suffice it to say that I took so long to decide on which of the many lovely coats I would buy that we missed the one heavy shower of the day. Indeed in the time we were in the shop, it chucked it down outside during half an hour of near apocalyptic darkness. By the time I emerged from the store, many crowns poorer, the sun was shining, the pavements were almost dry and Bethlehem chapel - just round the corner - was beckoning.

Needless to say that was the only significant rain we had today and my lovely new coat remained pristine and dry in the shop's paper carrier bag until we got home. Ah well, maybe tomorrow...!

I'll tell you more about Lina, Steve, Val and Bethlehem chapel in the next day or so.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

It also rains in Prague

It rained today. there we were just crossing the Charles Bridge and the heaven's opened. Ah well. we were able to seek refuge in our favourite coffee house, Kaficko (with a 'ch' in the middle) and then get home without getting too soaked.

I had an excellent chat about my studies with Parush Parushev, the dean here, who gave tons of leads to follow up and seemed to clarify a lot of things I was thinking.

Thanks to those who are dropping by and leaving comments - especially John with his suggestions of eating and watering holes (we'll check those out). Other recommendations always welcome.

The conflict between libraries and sunshine

The weather in Prague is still fabulous - warm and sunny. This is making the library a lot less attractive than the quad where the sun plays on the water in the fountain and the sun's rays make one feel mellow and relaxed.

But yesterday I did read an article on Corinthian housing that suggests that Justin Meggitt's rather extreme picture of the social divisions of the ancient world might be more nuanced than he leads us to believe.

We went with the college party to the supermarket last night which was an experience. Having thought on our previous visit that we'd bought a pint of semi-skimmed milk when in fact we'd bought half a litre of soured full-fat milk (which is apparently a very healthy and delicious drink - though it really dowsn't work in tea!), we were very careful. Hence we took ages and were almost the last back to the mini-bus. However, we won't starve in the evenings now!

Today we'll be going into the centre of Prague to rediscover our favourite coffee house - kafiko - and look at the river.

We'll be going on a walking tour tomorrow with Lina from the college who's taking a group of women - who've been here from all over Europe talking about issues facing women in ministry - and others who want to join them.

Breakfast beckons and the spell-checker doesn't work on blogger at the moment (ah well!)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Can sabbatical be a verb?

We've heard that Nick Cave is playing the Sparta Prague stadium on 24 May - so we're looking at whether we can get tickets for it.

Otherwise, I've been doing what sabbaticalling ministers ought to be doing. I've been talking theology with other sabbaticalling ministers - there are two (both of whom I know) here at the moment.

And I've registered with the library and got a readers' card so I can take books out. sadly, the library shuts at 5pm so I couldn't get any books out tonight - ah well!

Of the two other guys who are here, Deans from Scotland is doing a very interesting project looking to see whether he can develop a web-based disicpleship course. We had a fascinating discussion over breakfast, continued over coffee after chapel, about what people need to know in order to be disciples and how to add knowledge to people's experience when our culture values experience above everything and makes knowledge a matter of opinion.

I've found a whole stack of stuff I'd like to read for my studies and I haven't really looked yet.

Still the sun's shining and I don't want to be in the library all day when it is...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Prague in the Spring

Arrived in Prague and checked into our appartment at IBTS. It's fab and we've recieved a lovely welcome. We eat up the road at the local pub/diner. Very civilised.

Tomorrow we'll be sorting out our travel cards - £17 for a month on the buses and tube (not bad!) - and getting me registered at the library. Internet access is excellent - and good value.

Our flight over was uneventful except that we were recipients of unexpected grace by Easy Jet. Our bags were a kilo over our allowance and the lady checking us said 'I'll let you off this time...' This was amazing - I was all ready to get my wallet out - as airlines generally don't do grace! So thanks Stellios.

Otherwise it was all wonderfully smooth and to time. Hassle-free - though we're both pretty knackered now.

I read a very interesting piece in the Sunday Times magazine on the plane coming here about a photographer who took some pretty memorable pictures of the Prague Spring in 1968. I'm hoping there might be some celebratory things happening in the city while we're here - though the anniversary of the Soviet invasion is August.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Prism pictures

Here's a handful of pictures from Prism...

The band and Hannah (nearest the camera on the right of the pic) relax before the evening's exertions.

Production supremo James ensuring he's up-to-speed on all the other things happening around the Assembly - so he can tell us what's going on.

This is our set dressed for the Saturday evening celebration. Sam and Hannah had created this figure using loads of pictures of Jesus from all over the world. The aim was that our NAMs would gather around the installation as a symbol of putting Jesus at the heart of their ministries.
You see, I'm still managing to avoid packing - and we're going next door for a BBQ in a little while!

Packing (or avoiding it...)

I'm meant to be packing for the flight to Prague tomorrow but it's too hot. So I'm pottering about the study listening to latest Word CD - a collection of the month's best new-ish music that comes free with the magazine of the same name (there's always a band or singer I've never heard of who ends up joining my list of must-have new music - though nothing yet).

I've also been reading a section of a manuscript on Milton (about whom I know very little, really) because the book's editor wanted me to check out the theology. Milton was not particularly orthodox - denying the Trinity, seeing Jesus as the same substance but not the same essence as God (whatever that means) - but he shared the apocalyptic fervour of many of his contemporaries and wrote sublime prose as well as poetry.

It's reawakened an interest in the English Revolution but I've resisted the urge to pack all my Christopher Hill books (though it was a close thing with his wonderful study of the influence of the Bible on the thinking of the revolutionaries and royalists alike).

The decks are now cleared for our departure. The sun is shining in Prague - and looks set to for the next five days - which is excellent. we're really looking forward to chilling out.

One of the things we've enjoyed on each of our previous visits to IBTS is being part of the worshipping community, sharing prayer and learning with people from all over central and eastern Europe.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Getting ready to travel

So I'm three days into the sabbatical. I've had lie-ins and done some gardening - the former were good, the latter not so!

I've also been giving some thought to what I need to take away to Prague. There'll be everything I need for study purposes in the excellent IBTS library. So, I've picked up the latest John Drane - After McDonaldization - and John Gray's new one - Black Mass (I love Gray's writing even when I don't agree with him).

I'm planning to do a little thinking about ministry, so the Drane will help and I've also got the new book on preaching by Walter Brueggemann The Word Militant: Preaching a Decentering Word to help me think about how we preach in today's world.

And I've picked up the latest by old teacher at Manchester University - The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven: Kinds of Christianity in Post-Reformation England. Chris Haigh is one of England's most creative and stimulating reformation historians, as well as my undergraduate supervisor when I wrote a dissertation on the reformation in Yorkshire in the 1530s (so, of course, I'm biased).

I sometimes wonder whether there's a much closer connection between the post-Reformation world and ours than we give credit for. A reluctant nation had to come to terms with religious changes it didn't want and protestant preachers had to communicate the new faith to people who weren't really interested, while conservatives (those we sometimes wrongly label catholics) had to find a way of keeping their faith in hostile conditions.

So, I'm hoping all that will jump start my thinking about ministry in the autumn - and beyond.

And for light relief I've got Things the Grandchildren should know by Mark Oliver Everett, otherwise known as E, the creative genius behind Eels. If he writes prose as well as he writes lyrics, it'll be a stormer.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Reflecting on Blackpool

There are some good reflections on the assembly from Catriona here and here. I agree wholeheartedly with her comment in support of those who lead worship in flip-flops (there should be more of us!). Andy Goodliff has commented here; and Geoff Colmer here

I'm also really pleased that she enjoyed our Bible study with Vinoth Ramachandra. It was pretty brilliant. He asked me five minutes before we were due to start whether it was normal for British Christians to turn up at a Bible study without Bibles! I answered that, sadly, that it was...

Our venue this year was a challenge. They were due to be serving in it up to 9:30am, despite the fact that our morning session actually started at 9:15! It was so light - being a conservatory - that the data projector, so carefully hung on the Friday afternoon, cast an invisible image on the screen and had to be taken down and replaced with a 42 inch plasma screen - as pictured (thanks to Jonathan Somerville for the image) - and by Saturday afternoon, two 42 inch plasmas.
It enabled us to become not only the alternative celebration but also a retro one - so that everyone who turned up could see what we were singing and saying, we produced printed song sheets and sheets with Bible passages and liturgy on them!
Numbers were very encouraging - though sometimes difficult to calculate. Some 300 listened to Vinoth, 200+ broke bread at our celebratory communion, and around 120 gathered each evening to celebrate and chat, learn and share and sing.
I guess the big difference with Prism this year was the music. Sam Hargreaves led a wonderful band, modelled on the Cinematic Orchestra, and using songs from around the world as well as many of his own. They produced a great sound and his sensitivity to where the Spirit was as we gathered was excellent. You can track him down here and access some of his music.
I think we struggled with the venue to begin with and that made Friday evening (pictured above) tricky. But Juliet Kilpin, who shared the teaching with me, was brilliant and the band got us off to a good start.
We anointed the Newly Accredited Ministers with oil on Saturday Evening. Well, I say we did; in fact the congregation did. The gathered body acknowledged that God had called these women and men to serve in ministry in our churches by anointing them as symbol that the Spirit would touch and animate their ministry among us. It was very moving.
On Sunday evening, we had the BMS personnel heading off in the next few weeks to various parts of the world. We were able to speak to each one before praying a commissioning liturgy for them based on Titus 2:11-15. Elaine Storkey spoke really well that evening .
The highlight for me was our communion service on the Sunday morning. Ruth Neve created an outstanding liturgy out of Isaiah 25 that emphasised joy and celebration, in anticipation of the great banquet God invites us to. It was truly joyous and completely rooted in the cross.
So, it all went well. Let's do it all again next year in Bournemouth - only in a slightly better venue!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Assembly thought

Just back from the baptist assembly. I'll blog about it later in the week. In the meantime you can check out pictures of my hands at the assembly here