Category Archives: Book reviews

If the Church Were Christian – a manifesto for the emerging church

I was recently recommended the 2011 book by Philip Gulley, “If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus” (Available at Amazon). I am busy reading it, but love the general idea.

It is a wonderful bringing together of many of the concepts embodied in what has become known as “the emerging church” – a movement of progressive Christians and churches around the world trying to build a “new kind of Christian” (to quote one of the men who kicked it all off, Brian McLaren).

In his book, Gulley suggests ten ways that we can rebuild spirituality, Christianity and the church today. I am paraphrasing, borrowing from his chapter titles and main themes:

  1. Jesus needs to be a model for living – someone who’s life we follow – more than an object of worship.
  2. Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.
  3. The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments and division.
  4. Gracious behaviour is more important than right beliefs.
  5. Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.
  6. Encouraging personal exploration and experimentation with faith is more important than group uniformity.
  7. Meeting actual needs is more important than maintaining institutions.
  8. Peacemaking is more important than power or position.
  9. We should care more about love and less about sex.
  10. Life in this world is more important than the afterlife.

It’s tough to argue that these ten things are not very Christ-like.
Continue reading If the Church Were Christian – a manifesto for the emerging church

ALLin Podcast Episode 5: Ten Affirming Scriptures

The Bible is not meant to be used as a legal textbook. On many issues, we are required to look for principles in the Bible, rather than direct instructions. This includes issues such as slavery, women leaders, and democracy. On these issues, we need to identify principles from the Bible that help us understand how God would have us live. In this episode of the ALLin podcast, we look at ten passages in the Bible that provide principles for affirming gay marriage and LGBTQI people.

Or listen and subscribe on your favourite podcast platform.

Resource and recommended reading:
* https://sojo.net/articles/10-bible-passages-teach-christian-perspective-homosexuality

Ten Bible Passages that point to a positive view of homosexuality

Right now – and for the rest of our lifetimes – one of the biggest and most important discussions in the Christian church centres around the issue of the inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQI people in the church.

Progressive Christians do not see that God is opposed to gay marriage and LGBTQI people. They see the negative Biblical chapters as talking about sexual abuse, rape and idolatry. But the biggest problem they have with attempting to show a positive Biblical witness towards LGBTQI people is that the Bible never directly addresses the issue. There are no LGBTQI role models in the Bible (positive or negative, as it happens).

But if we use the Bible as a legal textbook or Constitution, looking for a subparagraph clause somewhere to proof text our position, we will always be disappointed – on multiple issues, not just this one. That’s just not how the Bible works.

The Bible is best interpreted when we use it to see – and show – the character of God, and our relationship with the divine.

A few years ago, Layton Williams, wrote in Sojourners about the Ten Bible Passages that Teach a Christian Perspective on Homosexuality. This is well worth reading (here at Sojourners or an extract below):

… In his book God and the Gay Christian, Christian LGBTQ activist Matthew Vines challenges LGBTQ-condemning interpretations of these Scriptures — sometimes referred to as “clobber passages.” But these clobber-texts aren’t the only Scriptures that can guide faithful Christians as we seek a godly understanding of sexual and gender identity.

Here are 10 Bible verses that emphasize the value of love over the law, the God-belovedness of all people, and the special affirmation of those who have been historically rejected as unclean or unholy.

Continue reading Ten Bible Passages that point to a positive view of homosexuality

“It might not look like it, but the Resistance is winning”: An excerpt from “Inspired” by Rachel Held Evans

One of my favourite Christian commentators and authors is Rachel Held Evans. Her latest book, “Inspired” has just been launched, and it looks fantastic (it’s on my reading list for the holidays). Today, on her blog, she provides an extended extract from the book, and it’s amazing. Read it in full here, or my extract of her extract below. And buy the book!

In light of recent news, it seems appropriate to share this excerpt from Chapter 5, “Resistance Stories,” in Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking On Water, and Loving the Bible Again:

The Bible teems with monsters.

From the sea dragon Leviathan, with its fearful scales and claws, to the rumbling Behemoth with brasslike bones and cedar-strong tail, to the mysterious giant fish of the Mediterranean Sea that swallowed Jonah whole, the creatures of our holy text practically roar and fulminate from the page.

In a vision, Daniel encountered four great beasts — one like a lion with eagle’s wings, one like a bear with three ribs in its mouth, another like a leopard with four wings and four heads, and a fourth with iron teeth, bronze claws, and ten horns (Daniel 7). The book of Revelation combines these images into a description of a single monster rising from the sea, resembling a leopard, lion, and bear, with “seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns” (Revelation 13:1 kjv). The beast is joined by a fearsome consort, a fiery-red dragon, whose tail thrashes so widely it sweeps a third of the stars from the sky.

Biblical beasts can represent several things—the awe-inspiring mystery of the natural world, the fearful chaos of the unknown, the sovereignty of God over even the most powerful forces in the universe—but in the case of the mutant creatures of Daniel and Revelation, they represent the evils of oppressive empires.

Continue reading “It might not look like it, but the Resistance is winning”: An excerpt from “Inspired” by Rachel Held Evans

The Theology of Star Wars

It’s been a hectic year in my business so far in 2018, so apologies for the lack of contributions to this blog in the past few months. Hopefully I’ll be more regular here in the rest of the year.

But for now, here’s a fantastic resource from Think Christian. It’s a compilation of insights from some top theologians and commentators on pop culture, “A Theology of Star Wars”. A great resource for youth groups, home groups and anyone who understands the difference between Tatooine and Jakku.

Download a copy here. The Force is strong with this one, I promise.

A Fan’s Best of Christmas Music Lists

I collect Christmas music. I have been doing so since I was a teenager, and it’s become something of an obsession. I now have nearly 300 albums of Christmas music, spanning every musical genre and era.

Choosing the best of the albums and songs is not an easy task – and obviously highly subjective. But I guess I am as qualified as anyone to do so. Here then are my “best of” lists of Christmas music (this is a work in progress – latest update 13 Dec 2017):

To get into these lists the songs and albums need something distinctive, they are musically excellent (even if I don’t particularly like the style), they must not be cheesy (so, no Boney M then), and they must capture the Christmas spirit (festive or reflective). I also favoured variety (so that my list of top albums didn’t dominate the individual songs list too much). The final criteria is that I included not just popular musicians, but Christian artists and worship albums as well – it is Christ-mas, after all.

These lists are going to be updated regularly, and change as I get suggestions and come across new songs and albums (and get slapped down for my initial choices). I’d love to hear your suggestions for these lists, and any songs or albums you think are better than the ones in my lists below.

Please remember that it’s actually impossible to create a “best of” list of Christmas songs. It’s actually better to be clear on what musical styles you prefer, and then get the best Christmas album in those styles. It’s also a good idea to select the best version of each Christmas song you like. That’s what I’ve done below, knowing full well there is not one chance that any list of “best Christmas songs” will ever be satisfactory. There are just too many musical genres competing for attention.

So, add your voice below.

Xmas Baubles
Continue reading A Fan’s Best of Christmas Music Lists

Best books to read on Christians, the Bible and homosexuality

For the past ten years, I have been reading, writing and researching on the issue of Christians, the Bible and homosexuality. I have become convinced that the traditional Christian approach to the topic of homosexuality and to same sex marriage is incorrect, and needs to be adjusted. This is not due to pressure from society or to recent legislation changes in some countries, but rather through an in-depth study of God’s Word.

I don’t believe that any twisting of God’s Word is required in order to see that we can accept homosexuality and approve same sex marriage, based on Scripture and what we understand of God. I don’t believe that we have to ignore certain parts of Scripture, writing them off as cultural or outdated in order to do this. I believe the Bible has been misread for two millennia on this issue. I realise that this can be a very difficult position for conservative Christians to accept and understand, but I believe that those who are truth seekers, and are open to seeing how God’s grace and love is extended to the LGBT community, will find an acceptance in God’s Word that will surprise them. I think we’ll discover that this issue is to our generation what previous generations of Christians have had to face when dealing with significant social change brought about by women’s suffrage, the end of segregation, the end of slavery, the changing of the system of divine rights of kings and of feudalism, mindsets around foreign missions, and many other similar shifts in both theology and society in our history.

There are some excellent books available to help you to investigate this issue for yourself, and familiarise yourself with new ways of looking at God’s Word. Here is a short list to help you get started. These are books that deal with affirming homosexuality and same sex marriage, or engage in looking at the topic through multiple lenses. I am not including books that are opposed to same sex marriage – I am sure a Google search will give you plenty of those if you want to read all sides of the debate.

Continue reading Best books to read on Christians, the Bible and homosexuality

No-one is ever going to be “Left Behind”

Apparently Nicolas Cage’s latest movie, “Left Behind” is horrid (see movie website and trailer here). Critics are absolutely panning it, and from a few reviews I’ve read it sounds like another of Cage’s duds (I like him, and he has done some really great movies, but he’s done some stinkers too). But even if the movie itself was any good, the premise is bad. In fact, horrific.

It is based on the second best selling book series of all time (after Harry Potter) by Tim La Haye and Jerry Jenkins, “Left Behind”. This 12 book series tells a variety of stories about the rapture, and what happens in the aftermath of all the world’s Christian believers disappearing “in the blinking of an eye”. Especially in conservative Christianity, this 150 year belief (yes, it’s not something the historic church has believed) that comes straight of dispensationalism, has taken hold and is even an article of faith for many (by writing this blog, I am guaranteeing that I will be getting a long list of loving comments… watch my Facebook feed for evidence of the wrath of the faithful).

The problem is that this concept is entirely unbiblical. Not only does the word “rapture” never appear anywhere in the Bible, the two verses that the concept is based on have been badly misunderstood on the basis of a very simple misinterpretation of a single Greek word. I also think that the whole concept of a rapture goes directly against the central message of the Gospel itself, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

I am not a lone voice in this. Some very significant Biblical scholars have carefully debunked the concept.

Let’s start with that Greek word. The word for *meet* (εἰς ἀπάντησιν) in 1 Thess. 4:17 (see also 1 Cor. 15:51-54 and Phil. 3:20-21) was a technical term that described the custom of sending a delegation outside the city to receive a dignitary who was on the way to town. The delegation would go out to meet the guests and then immediately return to the city with them – basically just escorting them into the city. Luke uses this term in this way in Acts 28:14b-15: “And so we came to Rome. The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet (εἰς ἀπάντησιν) us.” Therefore, what Paul is suggesting in 1 Thess. 4:17 is that the dead in Christ will be raised, caught up with Jesus in the air, and then come straight back down to earth with Jesus. That is in fact where Jesus is heading: to earth. This fits pastorally with what Paul’s trying to say in the rest of 1 Thessalonians, as he encourages persecuted believers to understand that they will be vindicated when Jesus returns.

The whole Bible points to the fact that this earth will be renewed and restored to fit God’s original creation plan. It’s an incorrect view of the end times that sees Christians being “rescued” from a “dying” planet that is then destroyed. In fact, the Bible says the opposite: God comes down, establishes a new Jerusalem, restoring this earth. This may be figurative language, but it’s the best we’ve got, and at no stage do we see this earth being done away with, or being left to rot. God’s game-plan has always been to bring heaven to this earth. Not to take us away from earth into heaven.

Continue reading No-one is ever going to be “Left Behind”

We Make the Road by Walking

One of the most anticipated books of the year is released today. My friend, Brian McLaren, launches his latest book, “We Make the Road by Walking”. I know that this book has been almost a decade in the making in his mind, and a full year of focused writing. Early reviews have been brilliant, and I am looking forward to getting my copy.

Here’s why you should get a copy.

This book is designed to take us on a journey through the Bible and the Christian faith in a year. It’s 52 chapters are short reads with reflections and group study guides. Organized around the traditional church year, each chapter reflects on a different story from Scripture and invites contemplation, discussion, and action.

People who are committed Christians, but have lots of questions, doubts, and frustrations with the version of faith they’ve been given and would like a fresh start are really going to get a lot from this book.

As Brian says: “You are not finished yet. You are ‘in the making.’ You have the capacity to learn, mature, think, change, and grow. You also have the freedom to stagnate, regress, constrict, and lose your way. Which road will you take?”

Read more about the book here. You can read the first three chapters online here.

Buy it:
Amazon.co.uk Paperback
Amazon.co.uk Kindle
Kalahari – in South Africa

UPDATE: Here is a review by Tony Jones.

UPDATE:
May online resources are now springing up to help you work through the book with small groups, families, etc.

Here’s one for families.

It’s all about the Bible – and it’s important!

The major debates raging in Christian circles these days all actually distil down to one big issue: how we interpret the Bible.

Many people treat the Bible as a combination of scientific textbook and heavenly constitution. If we believe this, then we can use verses and phrases to prove key points of differentiation and detail. We still have to explain away any competing statements or interpretations, but our approach is to look to the Bible for proof in the sense that modern day scientists, jurors or lawmakers would understand. The extreme view – which is completely untenable, but is still the idealised view of many conservative Christians – is that all of the Bible is “literally” true.

Liberals might find themselves on the opposite extreme claiming that the Bible contains little more than myths, legends and poems, and that it can really mean anything we want it to.

But maybe there are other ways to look at the Bible, that find a middle way between these two extremes.

This is the conversation that has taken hold in our time.

Brian McLaren recently created the following list of up-to-date resources for those who want to pursue this journey. I certainly do, and have found these very helpful:

Watch Steve Chalke’s video here:

Restoring Confidence in the Bible from Oasis UK on Vimeo.

Join in. This will define the future of Christianty for the next few centuries.