Thursday, April 30, 2009

More than a name on a yoghurt carton

Those of you who thought that Oncken was just the name on a rather posh yoghurt, should check out Johann Oncken. There's a whole chapter on him in Ian Randall's excellent history of European Baptists that's being launched at the assembly. So buy the book and be amazed!

Johan Oncken, born at the start of the Nineteenth Century, was a German pastor. But he can lay claim to being every bit as significant as Spurgeon - if not more so. Countless European Baptist groups owe their origins to this tireless disciple-maker.

Starting out in Hamburg in the teeth of much opposition from the locals, Oncken preached and planted churches among the urban poor and working population and especially the migrants who came through that great port city. Three quarters of his first baptised converts in the 1830s went off to start churches and preach the gospel somewhere else.

His motto was 'jeder baptist ein missionar' (every baptist a missionary) and all his teaching and discipling was geared towards moulding missionary disciples. And his efforts seem to have paid off. By the time of his death, the German Baptist movement had grown from virtually nothing to 16,000 members in 96 churches. But even more significantly, many of those had planted churches and begun Baptist associations in Russia, Ukraine, Sweden, Denmark, the Baltic States, Austria, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, France and Poland. Even further afield Oncken-inspired disciples went to Australia and west Africa and through his American partners, started ministries in Brazil.

What a guy! We'll be telling his story in Prism (at this weekend's Baptist Assembly in Bournemouth) as he's one of our heroes from our past who inspires our mission in the present.

Words and their opposites

When you get disillusioned, does it mean that when you felt everything was going just fine, you were 'illusioned'?

I was talking to someone yesterday who's become pretty disillusioned with church. But as he described his experiences in various places, at big and small churches, in and out of various streams, I wondered whether his entire journey was one of 'illusion-ment'.

Perhaps the only way to avoid being disillusioned with church - and let's face it, there's lots more to cause disillusion than hope - is to stay put and build a community of people who share their lives, shout at each other, comfort and support each other, commit to stick with each other come what may.

This seems to me to be the only way to pierce the illusion and arrive at something other than disillusionment.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Getting ready for Bournemouth

The Baptist assembly is looming - three days away and still quite a bit to prepare. But I'm sure it'll all go well - we've a really good team involved in Prism this year, so I have every confidence that it'll be all right on the night.

I've been preparing stuff for our history zone on John Bunyan and William Carey - great baptists who represent something about the core values we're exploring, Bunyan on sacrifice and Carey on inclusion.

Writing the stuff on Bunyan made me want to dust off my copy of The Pilgrim's Progress and read it again. I had not realised just how much he had written in later life or what a sacrifice he had made - he spent a third of his life in prison because he refused to tell the court that he wouldn't preach the gospel.

I hope his and other stories from our Baptist past inspire us over the weekend to live up to their example.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spare a dime for a poor rich kid

No doubt about it - the budget confirms we're in a big mess. The superlatives that have littered our front pages ram the point home: life's going to be tough and tough for a good while.

But in the midst of all the hand-ringing and talk of going to hell in a handbasket, I have found myself with an uneasy feeling. All the commentary has been about how we, we who have lived beyond our means for the past generation, we who have believed free markets hold the keys to the Kingdom for 30 years, we who have watched our asset values mushroom beyond the dreams of Ozymandias, are going to have to tighten our belts a notch - and it's not fair and someone must be blamed (providing it isn't us).

We are even being asked to feel sorry for those on £150,000 a year or more who will have to pay a touch more tax. Apparently, Kate Moss' tax bill could rise by half a million and Wayne Rooney's by £450,000. I don't begrudge these undoubtedly talented and beautiful people their wedge. But I do wonder what planet some editors and commentators inhabit.

While the super-rich struggle by on £410 a day (if they earn £150,000 a year), a billion people every bit as talented, beautiful and hardworking as Moss and Rooney luxuriate on the princely sum of $1 (about 68p at today's exchange rate).

One had hoped that the credit crunch might function as a wake-up call to us all to take a fresh look at what we value and how we value it. Perhaps it might have prompted us to ask whether there's a better, fairer, more just and equitable, more sustainable way to run the world than we've tried in the past 30 years.

But apparently not. All the talk is about how we get out of this as quickly and as unscathed as possible so we can resume business as normal. and certainly we should do nothing to disturb the fragile rich who apparently will be scared away from our shores if they are asked to contribute just a tiny bit more to the general well-being of everyone.

Yes, the budget was a missed opportunity. But the commentary on it has been as morally vacuous and empty as the statement itself.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Getting to grips with Darwin

We gathered to delve into God and Darwin last night, in the first of two evenings devoted to exploring issues of creation and evolution and the various ways Christians approach these matters.

It was a good natured gathering with all views being expressed. What was interesting (though I guess not really unexpected) was that a majority of participants were less concerned with the means by which God has created than with what an acceptance of Darwin's theory would do the way we read scripture.

So next time, we'll be looking at what the Bible says about God and the world, how we read Genesis 1-3 and (equally importantly) how we read the wealth of other material in the Old and New Testaments that fleshes out the picture of creation we are given in the first chapters of the Bible.

In particular, next time we'll explore how we understand the Fall and the goodness of God if we live in a world where life has evolved.

Personally, I've found this all fascinating. I think I have never really thought through the implications of one view over another. So, if nothing else, this has been a journey of discovery for me. I've found a whole load of helpful resources out there by scholars and theologians I've not read before - people like Sam Berry, Christopher Southgate, John Haught, Denis Edwards and Denis Alexander. Fab, stimulating stuff.

The other personally satisfying aspect of this is that I have returned to my Msc studies in the structure and organisation of science and technology and in particular the way science develops and how scientific models work. I have found it fascinating to explore the early nineteenth century landscape that darwin inhabited with its fresh questions arising from amateur fossil hunters and geologists, leading to Darwin's elegant, beautifully-written account of the origin of life.

Once I've got them together, I'll post my handouts.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Back home

Back from a busy but pretty good Spring Harvest - hence the silence! I'll be reflecting on the experience later in the week.

This week I need to sort out the Prism programme for the Baptist Assembly (just two weeks away) and the first session of our look at God and Darwin (part of our Alternative Wednesday programme), as well as catching up with what's been going on at church in my absence.

It's good to be back home after a week in a Butlin's chalet on a Butlin's diet!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Seeing in the dark of Good Friday.

One service down five to go!

We had a really nice Thursday break this lunch time. Good number, great hymns and good atmosphere. I was reflecting on the fact that virtually everyone found the first Good Friday a bit of puzzle - Pilate, the priests, the disciples. Only Jesus knew what was happening and why - and he wasn't saying much on the day itself.

This lunch time I reflected particularly on the shock of the Centurion. We don't often talk about him except to lament the fact that he was once played by John Wayne in a Hollywood life of Christ (was it The Greatest Story Ever Told?)

This guy was a battle hardened Roman soldier, possibly at the end of his career, posted in the armpit of the empire and given this ghastly job to do in the foul weather of the first Good Friday. Nothing much had happened really. The prisoner on the middle cross had screamed for aid in the midst of the storm but in a language the Roman didn't speak. it's only what you'd expect; everyone breaks eventually and goes whimpering into the dark.

Imagine his shock then, when this same prisoner shouts out and meets death with a cry of triumph. Commenting on this verse in Mark (15:39a), Walter Wangerin says 'then suddenly he dies...That's what rivets the centurion. It is as if this man chose to go fully conscious straight to the wall of death and there to strike it with all his might and, in the striking, die. Aware of absolutely everything...One thing strikes the centurion: how can a crucified criminal act so convincingly like the victor.'

Little wonder that, open mouthed, this hardened servant of Caesar who no doubt often called his commander-in-chief son of god, looked up at the cross and says 'truly this man was the Son of God.' That is to say, this strangely victorious prisoner rather than Caesar rightly claims that title.

If he saw it, can we?

Planning for Easter

Had another good planning meeting earlier this week - obviously, the busiest week of the year is the best time to meet to plan events in the spring! - to talk about a joint U2charist with the local Methodists.

It's their initiative but I'm delighted to be involved as it gives me an opportunity to indulge my interest in exploring the spirituality of U2's music. The whole thing's been put together by the Methodist's visiting interim minister, a guy from New Zealand. He's done a number of these kinds of events over there, so I'm looking forward to being a part of one over here.

Apart from that, this week has been full of preparing for Easter - another of my favourite times of the year. I'm planning six services between today and Sunday evening, including our joint Good Friday event with local churches.

What I've really enjoyed about planning all our services this year - and involving lots of others in delivering them - is that I've been able to trace the arc of the story from Jesus' final meal to the aftermath of the resurrection.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

at a cafe near you

I had an excellent second meeting today with our local Starbucks' manager and it looks like cafe church will definitely come again in early May.

I think we learned a lot the first time we did it and I'm keen to build on that experience. This time round the financial aspects should work better and we'll be able to have live music and show movies if we want to.

I'm very excited about this and am praying that we can create something that will be accessible to people on the edge of faith.