Sunday, November 28, 2010

Communities of hope gather in Birmingham

Just back from a great two days with Urban expression in Birmingham. On Friday the chairs of steering groups and regional co-ordinators met for a catch up and to share ideas and concerns. On Saturday, associates, team members, mission partners and others met to reflect, to hear stories and catch up with one another. We were well looked after by the good people at BMS' International Mission Centre in selly Oak.

I was doing the main plenary session on Saturday morning and I think I was a tad ambitious in what I thought we could cover, so the final section was a bit rushed. However, I think I stimulated some thought and I certainly had some good feedback afterwards.

This morning, I am visiting a local church to deliver a lecture and do and a question and answer session on the social history of the New Testament (the stuff in my book basically, three months ahead of publication). I'm a little uncertain how this will go, but the minister's keen for it to happen, so we'll see....

Today is the first Sunday in advent. We begin to reflect on our hope in a world where hope for many seems in short supply. One of the things I was impressed by yesterday in hearing some of the stories of UE teams around the UK was that lots of small-scale hopeful things are happening in some very challenging communities.

I guess something we can all do in advent is to ask God to open our eyes to see what he is doing in quiet ways in and through faithful communities of his followers, little signs that he is on the case, that the good news of his coming to save his people is rippling out, bringing hope and a fresh start.

Remember to go over to look at hopeful imagination which has started posting advent thoughts this morning. Lots of bloggers will be sharing reflections through this season (including me).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting things in proportion

The furore over the bishop of Willesdon is a bit overblown, isn't it? I know Pete Broadbent from Spring Harvest. He is a wonderfully vivacious, shoot-from-the-hip Bible teacher with a keen insight into how the church needs to be communicating its faith to a sceptical world. Oh, and he's an Arsenal fan and a Christian socialist.

Perhaps he shouldn't have facebooked what he did but the reaction of the bishop of London is extraordinary. His statement  to clergy in the diocese reads:

Dear Colleague, "I was appalled by the Bishop of Willesden’s comments about the forthcoming royal marriage. In common with most of the country I share the joy which the news of the engagement has brought. I have now had an opportunity to discuss with Bishop Peter how his comments came to be made and I have noted his unreserved apology. Nevertheless, I have asked him to withdraw from public ministry until further notice. I have also been in touch with St James’s Palace to express my own dismay on behalf of the Church.
Arrangements will need to be made in Bishop Peter’s absence and further details will be given in due course.  With thanks for your partnership in the Gospel.

A good bishop has been silenced for having the temerity to disagree with a senior colleague about an issue as trivial as a royal wedding. Is it any wonder that the church's credibility is at a low ebb?

So the upshot is that the men in pointy hats will tell us what we think about the forthcoming royal wedding and those who differ will be invited to take time out from all ministry. We just have to smile and pay the bill (estimated at £5bn by the CBI and Daily telegraph in lost productivity because of the extended bank holiday weekend on the back of the previous 4 day weekend).

I think I'll join Pete in Calais for a party...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Lots of bits and pieces

I seem to be starting a lot of blogs these days by saying how busy I am. Life's been full and lots of things have whizzed by with me going 'oh, I should blog about that... too late. Ah well.'

So, we've had a royal engagement (yawn). Obviously very happy for the couple, not happy for the distraction it will be from the real lives of people blighted our current government's fixation with changing things that would be better left alone, however.

And I've discovered some new music - Joseph Arthur. You've probably all been listening to him for years but I caught up with him a month or so ago. I kept hearing his song In the Sun accompanying a Davidoff ad and thinking that's a really good song but a bizarre soundtrack to naff perfume commercial. I was able to download a clutch of free tracks and found a few more really cheap and have been listening ever since. it's good stuff. He's a song writer with a nice turn of phrase and a great ear for a melody. The free stuff is still available from his website (here).

And I'm reading an interesting book by David Goertz, former editor of Leadership Journal, called Death by Suburb. I was drawn to the title because I thought it might diagnose what I was suffering from! It's quite good, but not the book I was expecting it to be.

I've been on the look out for stuff about ministry in the 'burbs and there isn't a lot (if you know of things, please share). Goertz's book is about how various spiritual disciplines can help prevent the suburbs sucking the life out of you. So it's quite helpful from that point of view. But there's not a lot of analysis about how the 'burbs work and what a church that's faithful to Jesus might look like among our manicured lawns and loft conversions.

I got news of yet another group church plant in our neighbourhood. I went to the web site and it seems to be just more of the same but intriguingly it kept telling me what the time were and that I'd be very welcome but there was no indication of where they were meeting which seemed a little curious. So, I'll not be going.

I'm having a blast teaching at Spurgeon's. It's such fun that I'm expecting someone to come into my lecture room and escort me out saying there's been a huge mistake and that a grown-up has to take my class now! My group of students are surprisingly eager for 8:30 on a Monday morning, ask really good questions and seem to be getting a lot out of the sessions. The proof of that will be when I mark their essays, of course.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Does common language really lead to integration?

Radio 4 broadcast a very moving documentary in its 9:00am slot this morning about twin sisters who have converted to religious faith from an agnostic upbringing - one to Christianity, the other to Islam. The programme followed their journey over the course of a year when their mother was diagnosed with cancer and they were each expecting their second children.

The dialogue between the sisters was fascinating and the eventual awakening of their terminally ill mother to the possibility of God was amazing. It's well worth checking out on iplayer if you haven't heard it before.

It followed a report on the Today programme about the integration of Muslims into German society following the publication of a controversial book arguing that the wave of Islamic immigration into Germany has not brought any benefits and Angela Merkel's recent speech announcing that multi-culturalism had failed.

I was left scratching my head at the end of it. Didn't the Germans invite Turkish 'guest workers' to their country to take the plethora of factory jobs being created in the sixties and seventies by the then West Germany's economic boom?

One of the points being made was that migrants were slow to learn German or in some cases were not learning German at all. It's an example of the tendency to judge the success or failure of integration purely on the language issue. We think that if people learn our language, they integrate. I think what the Radio 4 documentary this morning suggested was that sisters with a common language and common upbringing were not 'integrated' in the sense that they saw eye-to-eye on some pretty fundamental issues arising from their different faiths.

Common language helps but it is not the touchstone of integration. I note the fact that the early Christians spoke Greek which was OK in the Greek speaking parts of the Roman empire - Greece, Asia minor (though even there Greek was not the native language, it was an imperial imposition); but what about in Rome? Rome was a Latin-speaking city yet when Paul wrote to the churches there, he wrote in Greek. He was writing to a migrant cult that had taken hold in the slums where the 'guest workers' lived, those who had come seeking a better life in the imperial capital.

Paul didn't tell the Roman followers of Jesus that the key to success in mission was learning Latin. It would probably have helped. If Robert Jewett is right, one of the reasons Paul wrote to the churches in the city was get support for his mission to Spain that was being funded by Phoebe. The support in question could well have Latin speakers who would have helped smooth Paul's passage into that part of the empire.

Clearly speaking the host language helps integration at the some pretty basic levels - shopping, accessing health care and education. So maybe the Germans should have been welcoming their guest workers with help to acquire the necessary language skills; basic hospitality would suggest that.

But I'm not sure that lack of common language is the reason for opposition to migration across Europe, a continent whose history has been made by wave after wave of migration. We need to look elsewhere to find that.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A footnote to the new NIV

The eagle-eyed have begun to pick up the differences between the TNIV and the new NIV. There is a good round-up of opinions here. I wonder if the new version is now written in stone or the translation committee is still open to the opinions of its readers. maybe worth sending your comments.

I'm puzzled as to why the new version of Matthew 4:4 has reintroduced the term 'man' when the Greek anthropos clearly means humanity as a whole and which the TNIV properly rendered 'people'. Nothing is gained by suggesting that it's only men who eat bread and read scripture.

Preserving the best of Today's NIV

Something unexpectedly good appears to be happening to the NIV (I never thought I'd type that sentence!)

A while ago the publishers of said ubiquitous translation announced that the TNIV (my favoured incarnation of the NIV) would be withdrawn in 2011 when the new, revised NIV was produced. My heart sank. I feared another rowing back from the great strides made in the inclusive language NIV (withdrawn in howls of fundamentalist protect in the late 90s); it seemed as if the TNIV would suffer the same fate.

But the new version is now available on Bible Gateway (here); and lo, it is good; it is very good; in fact Philippians 2 (often my touchstone of how good a translation is) appears identical to the TNIV. Hallelujah and break out the party poppers!

Does this mean the 2011 NIV will be a repackaged TNIV? Oh, I do hope so: by far the best NIV backed by the marketing muscle of Zondervan and Hodder (something the TNIV hasn't been).

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Getting to grips with rewrites

Today I start rewriting and recasting my dissertation, sharpening the arguments, creating better signposting and even adding commas (my supervisor is very keen on commas). This should all be relatively straight-forward - though I have to substantially rewrite the economics chapter (mapping that out is today's task). It was the first one I wrote and I was constantly feeling my way into a style of argument as I wrote it, even making up my thesis as I went along, so I suspect it makes a number of contradictory cases simultaneously.

The bit of this I am not really looking forward to is compiling the bibliography. So is there anyone out there who has discovered a good tool for doing this - one where you put the author's name into a search engine and all his/her books come up in full bibliography style, for example, or where an ISBN number will yield the full title and publsihing details in a form that can be transported into a Word document at the click of a mouse?

So, better get a coffee...

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

More good listening and reading

As well as good reading (I've just reviewed Stuart Murray's Naked Anabaptist for Spurgeon's - wonderful!), I've also been discovering interesting music. I am, of course, working away at a whole load of things as well!

Gungor are an American worship band - three words that usually have me running for the door. They are, however, pretty good. Excellent tunes, poignant lyrics that touch on real things and a complete absence of bombastic triumphalism - which makes a pleasant change - and lovely guitar playing.

I am already tagging one or two tracks for use at our later service as calls to worship or aids to response. You can check them out here where you'll find all the usual info/downloads/pictures/videos/etc.

Here's a flavour of the lyrical content that had me pondering grace the other day:

All this pain

I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found
in You

You make me new, You are making me new

I was alerted to them at Robin Parry's consistently excellent blog (here).

And talking of good blogs, check out David Kerrigan's excellent post on Israel/Palestine today (here). David consistently shows himself to be a wise irenic missional leader.

Continued learning from the early Christians

I am reading a really excellent short book by Morna Hooker and Frances Young. Called Holiness & Mission: Learning from the early church about mission in the city (SCM), it consists of the Hugh Price Hughes lectures delivered in London earlier this year.

Hooker and Young, colossi of New Testament and patristic studies respectively, write two chapters each dealing with their specialism and then a joint chapter drawing lessons. It's wonderfully erudite, concise and yet chock-full of information and insight.

I wish it had been available six months ago when I was mapping out my MA because it would have helped me shape the argument. It covers not just the NT period but the sweep of early church history up to and a little beyond Constantine. I strongly recommend it. It's made me want to read more by Frances young.