Monday, December 15, 2008

Following Jesus Doesn't Work

Greg Boyd is fast becoming one of my favourite writers. His book last year, Myth of a Christian Nation was one of the surprise successes over here in the UK (for a book so focused on the US). In this article he starts by recounting the story of a woman he encountered:

I met a middle aged woman one day who told me she had given up on Christianity. “It just didn’t work for me,” she said. My response was: “What on earth made you think Jesus was supposed to work for you? The truth is that you were supposed to work for him.”

The language we use so often betrays us, as it did here. He continues:

It seems that many assume Jesus is supposed to be our personal magical genie who grants our wishes, at least some of the time. Such a magical view of faith is catastrophic, for people abandon what they thought was the Christian faith when it doesn’t work. And worse, people think they’re embracing the Christian faith when it does.


How often have I silently thought this. If I pray enough, give enough, do enough good works etc then life will be okay. If I care about the poor enough I will always have a home for my children. In the end, Jesus does not promise these things - at least when you look at the experience of those who follow God in Scripture. Greg points out the experiences of Mary, the mother of Jesus (who despite being 'favoured' had to watch her son crucified and die a painful death) and John the Baptist, left to languish in prison and suffer some serious doubts.

We, here in the western church, seem to expect an easy life as a 'right', conveniently forgetting scriptures such as,

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that (1 Tim 6:8)

Greg expresses it this way:
To follow Jesus authentically is to die to everything the flesh-self holds dear, whether we actually lose them or not. We must die to the quest to avoid of pain and inconvenience; die to the quest for pleasure, power and fame; die to the security of our homes, family, friends and nation; and even die to the certainty of our opinions. Every attempt to gain a personal sense of worth, significance and security by what we do, what we accomplish, what we acquire and who we impress must die.

In the end, to follow Jesus is to lose my life. I would like to do that - I just sometimes wonder if I can.

Jesus commands this much, not because he is mean, but because he is more profoundly in love with us than we could possibly ever imagine. And he knows that it is this false, self-centered way of living that is keeping us from true life. When we have truly died, we discover this. To be free from the self that is addicted to the question: What’s in it for me? is to be truly ALIVE and free.

It is to enter into the kingdom of God.

But, as Jesus always taught, you can only find this life if you complete loose your life.
If you’re focusing on this life, here and now, following Jesus doesn’t “work” and we should stop telling people that it does. But if we’ll die to the attempt to make things “work” for us, we’ll discover a deeper LIFE that no longer cares about what does and doesn’t work for us. We’ll discover the LIFE of the Kingdom.

I couldn't say it any better myself - I only hope I can live it!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Modern Life is Rubbish

I have spent most of my adult life feeling removed form the world around me. I looked at the messages and expectations of the dominant society within United Kingdom and I just said to myself, “no thanks”. Apart from a very sad period of about 2 years when I was seduced by the idea of wealth and success (and failed fairly spectacularly!), I found the whole way of living in the modern world so removed from what I see in the gospels.

The thing is, I don’t want to make peace with the world because, as Damon Albarn so eloquently put it, Modern Life is Rubbish. If my life is based around the concept of get a job, get a house, get married/live together, get a bigger house, get a conservatory, get a new kitchen, remortgage to pay off the credit cards, get a pension, retire, die, then kill me now – I DO NOT WANT TO LIVE LIKE THAT. I have tried to reason through some of this and find a balance, but in the last four years it has got even more clear that balance can be enemy of change, that balance can just be a synonym for accommodation – I do not want to accommodate the corrupt, selfish, blinkered, shallow and debauched value system that I see around me. So – here are the things I am working through:

What’s the big deal with property and consumerism?

Because of a whole series of circumstances, we do not own a house. This used to freak me out – I bought into the idea that I needed to own property (or actually rent it from a bank until I hoped my endowment could pay it off in my 50’s), and that I was in trouble because I didn’t. About 2 years ago (just as house prices were going through the roof), my bank begged me to take out a £220,000 mortgage – they even sat me down and offered it to me without me asking them. Looking back, the payments and house value would have left us in a terrible situation, adn I am thankful I didn't take up their offer. I would have been working to pay the mortgage and bound to it – not free to make the right decision for my family. Everything would have been coloured by the need to pay the mortgage.

The problem is that our economy is based upon the need for continual consumer spending, and the main driver of wealth creation for the last 16 years has been property. People would find equity in their house and either see it as a pension and put less into a plan, or release it to enable spending directly. Either way, our economy is now seizing up because of the lack of house sales.

I do not accept the premise of the consumer economy. If our society needs retail spending to grow then the system is wrong. I’ll repeat that – THE SYSTEM IS WRONG. I do not want to accommodate the consumer society – I want to change it. I want to live differently, and to raise my children to live differently as well. I will not conform to this. I will find a better way to live – one more in harmony with the teaching of Jesus – principles of justice, mercy, righteousness, truthfulness, generosity, sacrifice and mutuality.

But won’t you look a bit weird if you try and not live like the rest of society?


End of paragraph.

But seriously – SO WHAT. Since when has ‘fitting in’ ever convinced anybody that there is a better way to live. If I can learn from others who are exploring this, and if I can start to live in a way that embraces the value above, I have to. I feel an imperative not to let these feelings drift until I get to my old age and regret living in-between worlds, feeling the tension of rejecting one set of values but not fully embracing another.

I know that the logical end of what I am suggesting looks very different from the individualistic way that we live now, and that it challenges the roots of our society. That both repels and attracts me in equal measure.

So what does it look like?

I don’t know. I look at some of the excellent examples that have found a different way to live, such as The Simple Way in Philadelphia, USA and the Northumbria Community in the UK and rejoice in what they do. But I want something that works here and now in Shrewsbury, Shopshire, with the people I know. I want something that I can do now.

This is just the start of my conversation, but I will continue to blog and work this out.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hitler and the emerging church

OK - I haven't blogged for over a month, but this film was so tasteless and funny I had to post it (but I think it helps to know who the 'players' are in Emergent Village).

(HT TSK - or the Srawny Kiwi as we now know him!)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Church Planting or 'my church' planting?

Adrian Warnock has an interesting post about a new church plant project from Newfrontiers in Belfast. Now - the passion in Newfrontiers for mission and reaching people is something that really does need to be applauded - and the willingness of people to leave their current lives and uproot to work in a new area is wonderful.

However, here is the list of the aims of the plant:

The emerging vision for the church plant is:
  1. To see a Christ-centered church planted in Belfast city, on a mission seeking a transformed city.

  2. To be a church that reflects the growing diversity of Belfast.

  3. To see multiple thriving congregations established across Belfast.

  4. To plant churches in all five cities in Northern Ireland.

  5. To plant churches in every major town in Northern Ireland.

  6. To raise up indigenous leaders and church planters.
Here is my problem - there are already Christ-centred churches in Belfast. There are churches doing great work reflecting the "growing diversity". There are many congregations. There are churches in all five cities and every major town, and there are certainly indigenous leaders.

If the vision was to go into a specific community in Belfast and reach people (there are many really needy areas there!) that would be great. But, it feels like the actual aim is to put Newfrontiers churches where there are not any.

My suggestion - why not find people who are already doing great work in Belfast - and there are some great people - and offer the the people, time, money and resources to go and do what they are already doing better? Surely that would be a better testimony to Jesus?

I worry, although I would love to be proved wrong, that the reason not to do this
is actually in the rather sectarian title to Adrian's post -

A Reformed Charismatic Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland - the 11th Largest City in the UK

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Todd Bentley, divorce and the state of our hearts

With the news of Todd Bentley's separation from his wife the blog fallout has begun.

Michael Spencer (also known as the Internet Monk) offers rather a lot of advice for someone on the outside.

Peter Kirk avoids the issues to focus on prayer.

The Simple Pastor recalls a conversation we were having about the whole thing fading away - prescient, but not in the way we imagined.

A moving and honest letter from Charisma editor Lee Grady.

A bit of a 'told you so' from the heresy hunters - fairly predictable.

I remained fairly skeptical throughout the whole thing, but I sincerely hope I can avoid a 'told you so' or gloating or anything else removed from the gracious fruit of the Spirit. In the middle of this are young children experiencing one of the most painful experiences of childhood (I know - it happened to me) and countless needy people who threw their lot in with this in the hope of finding God. This all needs prayer - not covering up or gloating.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What on earth are we here for?

This cartoon is appearing in the latest issue of Private Eye (Note for Ian Hislop - please don't sue me - I want people to go and buy your mag!!!!) and it just sums up exactly what I think the problem is with the church right now.
It is, in my humble opinion, both incredibly accurate and a damning judgement form a secular mag on the sort of pathetic navel-gazing that goes on. As long as the church (and not just the C of E) insists on obsessing over issues such as gender, sexuality, the atonement etc at the expense of actually looking outwards and seeing what needs God has placed right on our doorstep how on earth can we claim to acting in the will of God. The simple answer is that we cannot. Whether conservative, fundamentalist, reformed, liberal or whatever, if we place this sort of truth above the mission in our society we have got it very badly wrong.
Rant over ...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The New Conspirators - a book review

A new Tom Sine book is one of those publishing events that, even with working in the industry, I find myself getting excited by. Tom is perhaps best known for his books The Mustard Seed Conspiracy and Mustard Seed versus McWorld.

With The New Conspirators Tom wanted to chart the rise of a number of new Christian movements, as well as try and plot some of the future direction (his speciality). He identifies four main new streams:

  • Emerging church
  • Mosaic, multicultural church
  • Missional church
  • Contemporary monastic movement

The book is divided into five ‘conversations’

  • Taking the New Conspirators Seriously
  • Taking the Culture Seriously
  • Taking the Future of God Seriously
  • Taking the Turbulent Times Seriously
  • Taking our Imaginations Seriously

The first section is a superb overview of what is happening – mainly in the United States and the United Kingdom, but also including some interesting stuff in other commonwealth countries, from inner city churches, social action projects to new forms of community. The stories are inspiring and really practical – a refreshing change from what you often see (heavy on theory, lacking on how to actually do it!).

The next three sections are all analysis of where we actually are as western culture – from religion through to commerce and society. The sections on the global village, the global mall (a phrase I first heard in the wonderful
Colossians Remixed) and the imbalanced lifestyle of the west are helpful and provoking. After this, when discussing global poverty it starts to get a bit bogged down in detail and loses some of the inspirational impact.

The final section, Taking our Imaginations seriously, is far better, and much more engaging. It allowed me to feel the breadth of opportunity and possibility that exists when the messages of our culture are no longer limiting the way we might live and the impact we can have.

Overall a great book that is a useful addition to the whole discussion of where the church is going and what it can do.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Crumbs from your table

So 'revival' is hitting Florida and Dudley (!!). The blogosphere has created the usual difference between those who love it and those who just hate it. There have been some gently sceptical posts that have been much more balanced, such as Phil Whittal and Terry Virgo.

I remain pretty suspicious of the whole thing for a number of reasons.

1. Todd Bently talks about this angel called 'Emma' who apparently ministers in his revival meetings. See here.

2. The Gnostic overtones of special knowledge and revelation.

3. The seeking after 'blessings' - it seems to distract from the 'business' of being the body of Christ to a needy world. I am reminded of the words of U2:

‘You speak of signs and wonders/well I need something other/I would believe if I was able/but I’m waiting for the crumbs from your table’

I'm not sure - I don't want to judge, but I am concerned that we will all get pulled off track from doing what is really important - helping the poor and needy, loving the lost, caring for each other etc.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What does it mean to be Christian in the UK?

This post was partly inspired by Phil's comments on the recent debates on embryology and abortion in parliament this week - see here for more info.

It got me thinking - I always feel really uncomfortable by much of the Christian response at times like this - especially the alienating, strident and above all, apocalyptic tone adopted by Churches and Christian pressure groups - something is always the 'thin end of the wedge'.

I have to be honest, I cannot help but think that these issues are more nuanced and subtle than we give them credit for. I am naturally a non-scientific person. I distrust the grand claims of science to solve the ills of the world, and also for it to be free from moral control as if it were beyond morality (think Hitler). However, I do find myself out of step with the loudest Christian voices on many issues:


Abortion is always a terrible thing. In most cases it is an absolute wrong with no grey areas (there may be some exceptions to this). However, we do not live in a world where everyone will think like this. The experience of women who were forced by familial pressure (or their own desperation) to seek an illegal abortion is enough to persuade me we want to avoid that. So - I guess I do support limited early termination - not because it is right at all - it is very wrong - but as a very unsatisfactory sticking plaster to prevent two evils being commit ed instead of one. This really pains me - legislation the ending of a life is something I find repulsive, but it may be the lesser of all the evils.


Hmm - I am pretty sure the bible condemns homosexual practice - the greek word is pretty specific but I blush to describe it here!. It does not condemn homosexual orientation (whatever that is), homosexual feelings, or being in a loving (non-sexual) life-long same-sex relationship. As far as I can see. However, the Church should have the right to hold this position. It does not have the right to dictate how the rest of society behave, and nor should it. It this country decides to allow gay marriage then that is up to that society. Why is Gay marriage making a country that has done so much harm to so many people during the last two centuries LESS Christian? Also, is a life-long gay relationship really as sinful as a serially monogamous heterosexual one? Is it not hypocritical to allow married divorcees full membership in the church and not those in a gay partnership? I'm not sure but I do wonder.


This is an emotive issue - and I do worry that we have a situational ethical approach here - "anything is ok if it can one day help someone" sort of thing. That frees science from moral accountability which leads to what C S Lewis called 'scientism' where the scientist becomes the dictator of behaviours within society. However, research on embryos that are only a few days old is a moral, but not a practical, wrong. The ten day old embryo has no nervous system, cannot feel pain, is not suffering. In that sense it is very different from mid to late term abortion. But if we accept life already exists then it is a moral wrong. BUT - it is not in the same league as mid-to-late-term abortion, where there is real suffering, and we weaken the argument on that by equating them

Anyway - my rant over - I am just trying to sort through these issues.

What are we here for?