All posts by Graeme

We’re so messed up about sex

The beauty of a blog is that you can put up half thoughts. I do my best to write fully thought out pieces on this blog, but every now and again, I have what I call “half thoughts” – an idea that isn’t fully crystallised, and for which I have not thought through all the implications. But this blog is a place where these can be captured, and ruminated on, and maybe later turned into something bigger.

Anyway, with that in mind, I was watching the news recently on the sacking of John Terry as England’s football captain. Football is in sharp relief this year, as it is a World Cup year (being hosted with passion and pride by my home country, South Africa!) and England have a pretty good chance of winning it (they are some bookies’ favourites). The captain of England, John Terry, however, was recently outed by a newspaper for having an affair with the ex-girlfriend of one his team mates. Terry is married, but the real outrage seemed to be the transgression of some unwritten code about sleeping with team mates girlfriends. The fact that they were not a couple at the time doesn’t seem to have changed the outrage.

This is supposed to be an issue of morals. But it is not. The replacement for John Terry is Rio Ferdinand, currently serving a ban for violent conduct on the field of play after he elbowed another player in the head. The vice captain is Steven Gerrard, recently arrested by police for assault (he was cleared after it was shown that he hit someone whom he thought had hit him, when in fact he was just recoiling from being hit in the head by one of Gerrard’s friends).

This is an issue of our completely nonsensical views on sex. I think the church must take some of the blame for how we think about sex as a society. It’s insane. And we completely overreact to it, especially when it is discussed in public. We need to grow up.

I’m not saying that what John Terry did is OK. I am just saying that it is no grounds for removing him as captain of a football team.

The poor you will always have with you

Originally posted on 2 October 2007, updated on 2 March 2010

Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matt 26:11).

So, should we try and even solve the problem of poverty? Some people have used this verse to say that it is impossible to eradicate poverty. Others have argued that it is not only possible, it is possible within a decade – you can read Jeffrey Sachs in his best selling book, “The End of Poverty” (buy it at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net) or connect with the Global Poverty Project and see their presentation, “1.4 billion reasons”.

Who is right? If Jesus himself said we’d always have the poor then maybe we shouldn’t even try to get rid of poverty. Is this what Jesus meant? I don’t think so.

Well, Jesus was quoting from the Old Testament. And here is the context:

Deuteronomy 15:11
“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” (NIV)

So, at very least, Jesus had in mind that we SHOULD give to the poor. He deliberately used a well known scriptural phrase to ensure that his audience would have this particular command brought to their attention, without him needing to make the additional points explicit. This was certainly a style of teaching used often by Biblical writers. It is one of the reasons that interpreting Scripture can be quite difficult, and why we must be open to new understandings and deeper interpretations.
Continue reading The poor you will always have with you

Confessions of a Bible Deist

Originally posted 11 Feb 2005

From Surprised by the Voice of God, by Jack Deere

This is chapter 17 from the Jack Deere’s book. The book is about how evangelical Christians, who believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God can also believe that God speaks today, outside of the words of Scripture. His book is a magnificent treatment of the topic, which includes practical methods, theological discussion, personal testimony and helpful advice in avoiding the many excesses that may result from the application of this viewpoint.

Purchase the book at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Kalahari.net.

Augustine had an entire book of confessions. Perhaps you will indulge me for just a single chapter of my own. Here is my confession: Somewhere along the way in my academic study of the Bible, I became a Bible deist. You probably studied deism in one of your high school history classes. The framers of the Constitution of the United States were mostly deists. They believed in a religion of morality based on natural reason, not on divine revelation. They believed in God, but they didn’t think he interfered with the natural laws governing the universe. He created the world, and then left it alone – like someone who wound up a giant clock, and then left it to run down on its own. A Bible deist has a lot in common with the natural deist.

They both worship the wrong thing. The deists of the eighteenth century worshiped human reason. The Bible deists of today worship the Bible. Bible deists have great difficulty separating Christ and the Bible. Unconsciously in their minds the Bible and Christ merge into one entity. Christ cannot speak or be known apart from the Bible. At one time, Christ did speak apart from the Bible. He used to speak in an audible voice to people on their way to Damascus, give dreams, appear in dreams, give visions, give impressions, and do miracles through his servants. However, the Bible deist believes the only one who does these things today is the devil. In fact, the devil can do all the things Christ used to do. The devil can speak in an audible voice, give dreams and visions, even appear to people and do miracles. Jesus doesn’t do these things any more. He used miracles and divine revelation in the first century to wind up the church like a big clock, and then left it alone with only the Bible. The Bible is supposed to keep the clock ticking correctly. That’s why a Bible deist reads a passage like Isaiah 28:29:

    “All this also comes from the LORD Almighty wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom”

and in his or her mind, translates it into something like this:

    “All this also comes from the Bible, which is wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom.”

Bible deists have a tendency to substitute the Bible for God. They actually deify the Bible. Bible deists read John 10:27 like this: “My sheep listen to the Bible; I know them, and they follow the Bible.” They hear Jesus say, “If I go away, I will send you a perfect book” (John 16:7). What God used to do in the first century is now done by the Bible. If the Bible can’t do what God used to do – heal, give dreams, visions – then the Bible deist maintains that these things are no longer being done, and that we don’t need them anyway.

Bible deists preach and teach the Bible rather than Christ. They do not understand how it is possible to preach the Bible without preaching Christ. Their highest goal is the impartation of biblical knowledge. Their highest value is being “biblical”. Actually, they use the adjectives “biblical” and “scriptural” more often than the proper noun “Jesus” in their everyday speech.

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Telling the Truth vs Spreading the Truth

First published on 1 September 2007, updated on 1 March 2010

Is it ever OK to live a lie in order to tell the Truth?

Yesterday, 19 South Korean missionaries who had been held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan were freed after a 6 week ordeal. If you haven’t been following the story, and the controversy around the reported $ 2 million ransom paid, then read the New York Times article here or the Reuters report here.

This has brought to bear a HUGE issue that has been bubbling away just below the surface for many years. The Emerging Church has not quite wanted to touch this topic publicly, although many coffee shop discussions have spoken about it. The issue is now in stark relief. As part of the negotiations between the South Korean government and the Taliban, the Koreans promised to send no more missionaries to Afghanistan (South Korea has more missionaries abroad than any country other than the USA). I am guessing that not every church in Korea was complicit with that decision, but it is nevertheless a binding international public promise. (Read a Korean newspaper report on this issue).

Will the church comply? Those churches that have no intention of stopping sending missionaries surely have a duty to the truth to immediately come public and say, “We will not stop. We don’t agree with the decision.”

The issue that lies at the heart of this situation is the conflict between telling the truth and spreading the Truth.

More recently, in 2010, we have seen the case of some American church workers who went to Haiti to help in the aftermath of their terrible earthquake. But they tried to help by attempting to smuggle 30 or so children out of the country. They initially claimed that these children were orphans. It later emerged that many were not, but that their parents had consented to them being taken away by the church workers in order to live better lives in the USA. Besides the cultural imperialism going on in this story, there is an underlying current of dishonesty and lying that appeared to pervade the situation.

Doing good, but being deceitful in order to do so! Is that ever OK?

Continue reading Telling the Truth vs Spreading the Truth

Graeme preaches on The Prodigal Son

I was at ECC, a church in Norwich this past weekend, run by Pastors Paddy and Jennike Venner. On Saturday, I did an evening session on understanding different generations, and the implications for the future of the church.

On Sunday morning, I had the privilege to preach. One of the upsides of being an itinerant preacher is that you don’t have the stress of coming up with a new message every week. So this sermon has been germinating for some time now. It’s on “The Prodigal Son” as found in Luke 15. Although that’s a horrid title: the story is actually about the oldest brother, whom Jesus specifically links to the Pharisees (see the context in Luke 15:1). And, it’s also about the “Unbelievably Loving Father”. But, listen to the MP3 file below for the full sermon….

I first was alerted to the richness we can uncover in Jesus’ parables by understanding the Ancient Middle Eastern context by Kenneth Bailey. His books are awesome to read. I’d suggest Poet and Peasant (buy at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net), and Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (buy at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net). Rob Bell of Mars Hill also uses this approach in many of his books, sermons and videos. It is how the Bible should be interpreted. But more of that some other time.

Keith and Kristyn Getty – modern hymn writers extraordinaire

First published on 21 July 2009, and updated on 27 Feb 2010

I like to think of myself as someone who keeps up with trends. That’s what I do for a living after all (see http://www.graemecodrington.com, if you’re interested). But I now confess to you that I have only recently realised that the legacy of John and Charles Wesley and other great hymnwriters of ages past is being carried forward by a new couple: Keith and Kristyn Getty.

I am a bit of collector of two specific types of music: Christmas albums (I have bought a minimum of two new Christmas albums every Christmas for the past 20 years, and have nearly 60 Christmas albums in my personal collection), and worship music. Listening to worship music is probably the most powerful way for me to personally do daily devotions. Over the past few years, though, good worship music has been a bit hard to come by. The big music houses around the world realised worship music was a winner (financially, I mean) about 7 years ago, and so most major Christian recording artists have realised (at least one) worship album in the past few years. But, as with all things, they’ve become a bit stale – formulaic, repetitive – and worst, we’re now getting compilation after compilation album that just repackages old stuff.

So, it has been refreshing to discover some great worship writing talent in the UK (I moved to London last year, and we have now been at our church, Dundonald since September 2008 – our worship leader, Andy Fenton is a fan of the Gettys).

Continue reading Keith and Kristyn Getty – modern hymn writers extraordinaire

Creation and evolution Myths

First posted on 10 February 2009

I am an avid reader the New Scientist magazine. This magazine is obviously pro-evolution, and anti-creationism. Well, that’s what you’d think. They actually present very balanced articles on creation and religion, but have very little time for unthinking fundamentalist religion that poo-poos science. Or is just anti-scientific.

I believe that there is a way to harmonise science and religion. I believe that there are great questions that Christians can ask scientists that help us all have excellent conversations about God, creation, eternity and so on. But the way in which many Christians approach science is counter productive, and unhelpful.

Maybe I’ll come back to this issue sometime soon and talk about how I think we can harmonise science and religion. For now, for those of you interested in becoming better acquainted with science and creation, you may find the 24 myths and misconceptions about evolution to be very helpful. This is available from the New Scientist website – click here.

At very least, it will help you stop sounding like a moron when you speak to people who have done some work in scientific fields.

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The Adoption Option

Originally posted on 9 July 2009

My wife, Jane, and I adopted a Zulu orphan in July 2005. Since then, we have discovered hundreds of families who have done the same – responding to the tremendous crisis in sub Saharan African, brought on by the AIDS epidemic.

Often, as Christians, we read the Bible selectively. We’re so quick to claim certain promises, and get hot under the collar about certain instructions and commands. But, then, we feel happy completely ignoring others. My wife and I became increasingly convicted about James 1:27, where it is very clear that “religion that is pure and acceptable to God is to take care of widows and orphans…”. That doesn’t mean adoption, of course – there are many ways of taking care of others. In fact, adoption means that we have reduced our impact because our focus is now on only one orphan, rather than the possibility of caring for many. But, religion that is acceptable to God must include significant amounts of social action and social justice.

In May 2008, I spoke at TGIF in Hyde Park, Joahnnesburg, and told the story of my family’s adoption of our third daughter, Rebecca. I told her story, our story, and gave details on the process of adoption in South Africa. For those interested in the story, it was recorded and is available for download as an MP3 file, by right clicking here (select SAVE AS).

The Transformational Gospel vs the Evacuation Gospel

Originally posted on 7 May, 2007

I attended a conference in Uganda in 2007 which was a significant moment in my “emerging church” journey. It as the first time I really understood that the “stories” of my faith were incomplete, and that a future church would need to find new ways of expressing what it meant to be church. The talk I make available below was one of those “aha” moments for me. I hope it can be for you, too.

A message by Claude Nikondeha, from Burundi, delivered at Amahoro Gathering in Uganda

Download the MP3 recording here

The sections marked (GC) in italics are my commentary, not Claude’s words.

The problem with a Gospel that only promises release when Jesus returns, is that Jesus has not yet returned. The people are not released – they live in suffering, poverty, famine and wars.

“The Gospel is not a doctrinal formula for the salvation of the individual but it is the Good News of God’s movement through Jesus Christ to carry out his purpose for the entire human race.” Rene Padilla

Jesus did not come to announce an evacuation plan, but a transformation plan.

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The Archbishop of Canterbury on Global Warming

Originally posted on 11 Nov 2009

Recently, Dr Rowan Williams gave an excellent speech on the issue of our responsibility towards Creation and a Christian response to environmental crises. The Bible has a clear message about caring for the environment – not just for the here and now, but also because at the end of time this planet will be renewed and restored to pre-Fall glory and be the paradise heaven of God’s Kingdom.

I don’t agree with everything Dr Williams says, but his message is well made and worth listening to. You can read it on his own website, listen to it online (42Mb MP3), or see an extract below.

Continue reading The Archbishop of Canterbury on Global Warming