Originally published on 20 May 2009
Last week, President Obama spoke at the graduation ceremony of Notre Dame university. This was made controversial by the 24 hour media, as they pointed out that Obama is “pro choice” and Notre Dame is Catholic, opposing abortion. I don’t want to deal with that particular issue in this blog. But I do want to say that I think the President hit exactly the right note in HOW he dealt with the issue.
He did not sweep it under the carpet. He did not step down from his own position. But he did show how we can still talk, even when we don’t agree. He showed that there is a way to engage in which we honour all viewpoints, and work towards outcomes that make sense for everyone.
You can read a transcript here. And you can watch it on YouTube, starting here.
In Part 1 on YouTube, notice how he deals with the hecklers (and notice how none of the students heckled!!). The best bit about faith and love is in Part 3.
Continue reading How to talk when we don’t agree – an object lesson from President Obama
Originally posted on 20 August 2009
It has taken me five years to realise the gap left by my father’s death will never be filled
by Matthew Parris, in the 12 August 2009, Spectator magazine
It is five years since my father died. I thought I would get over it, but I haven’t. This is not a plea for sympathy — I’m fine, all’s well — but simply an observation, a report. Unusually for a man of 54 I had never, before Dad’s death, lost anyone close; and I had no idea what to expect.
I guessed, though, that the experience would not differ from other violent emotional traumas: first the shock, then a blank aftershock; then busy-ness — displacement activity; then perhaps a relapsing into grief. And after that and over many years a slow but steady process of what sensitive people might call ‘healing’ and the rest of us would call getting over it.
The shock, it turned out, though expected, was the phone-call. At the bedside of a dying man I expected no theatre, and found none. Just as I’d supposed the immediate feeling was only bleak, banal — no trumpets or violins, no wailing or floods of tears, but a kind of bleakness, a grey hour in a grey dawn. And so it proved: the rain coming down softly (I remember) outside in Catalonia. Blank.
Then (I thought) might follow a few weeks’ false-normality: still numb, but with arrangements of a practical nature to busy myself with. One would have too much to do to mope.
Continue reading An amazing reflection on the death of a loved one
Recently, the crazed Fox “News” commentator, Glenn Beck, argued that social justice was a foil for Nazism and Communism (see the original clip on his radio show on 2 March 2010, or an extended version on his TV show on 23 March 2010, part 2, 3 and 4).
I don’t want to give his crazy notions more airtime. His fundamental error happens in the first few minutes of his program, when he basically defines social justice in a way that no-one would recognise – in a way that plays completely into his own agenda. In fact, one of the best video responses (see it here), points out how ludicrous it is to see “social justice” as a “progressive” plot. Ronald Reagan was a big supporter of social and economic justice, and I don’t think you can accuse him of being communist or socialist! Another video response (here) comes from Jim Wallis, the man Beck attacks.
It seems to me that it could just be a case of bad terminology and definition. (Although to see the real problem with Beck and Christianity, you need to look at part 3 at about 07:00 – he wants Christianity to be completely internal and unrelated to public policy at all). We’ll see how it plays out.
Over the past weekend a group of Christian film makers started a project to get people from around the world to submit video messages proclaiming their support for social justice. See the campaign website here, and respond to the YouTube video here.
Concidentally, just last week I posted one of the best defenses of Christian social justice I have ever read at this site. If you didn’t read it, do so now – I am sure you will find it very helpful.
For the record: I am a Christian. I am a social justice Christian.
I have been invited once again to speak in Iran later this year – and I am really looking forward to it. I have done a lot of work in the Middle East over the years, and enjoy Persian culture the most. The hospitality of the Persians is the stuff of legend. In fact, some guidebooks even warn you to be careful about complimenting your hosts furnishing too much, as they are quite likely to give you the object as a gift – and that could be embarrassing.
One of the reasons I am fascinating by Middle Eastern culture is that this is the modern representation of the culture that forms the backdrop of the Bible. Obviously, much has changed over the centuries, but in many parts of the Middle East you can still find people living very similarly to the type of world Jesus would have encountered. Some scholars have dedicated their lives to helping us understand the impact that the prevailing culture should have on our interpretation of the Bible. My favourite is Kenneth Bailey (buy his “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” at Amazon or Kalahari.net).
An understanding of the underlying culture can dramatically change the reading of a story (see, for example, a recent sermon I preached on the Prodigal Son).
But my issue today is that if a new insight is so big that it changes everything we were ever taught, would we be prepared to change everything? I mean, everything from the stories we tell our children, to how we view specific characters? The correct answer, of course, is that we MUST make such changes if we realise that we have misunderstood (or even misrepresented) the Bible. God’s Word must stand supreme over all.
There is such an issue… and it relates to one of the greatest of all Bible stories. And we have it all wrong.
Continue reading How can we change ingrained mistakes in our Bible reading?
A colleague and friend of mine, Clive Simpkins is a deep thinker and spiritually enlightened all round nice guy (who nevertheless always tells it straight). He has great insights on a wide variety of subjects. Today, on Good Friday, he has posted a reflection on the Roman Catholic Church which is really worth reading.
Clive’s professional work is in communications. He is a great communicator himself, and helps others to improve theirs. He brings these insights to bear on how the Catholic Church has responded to fresh allegations of child abuse by some of their priests – especially in Ireland and Germany. I think his suggestions are spot on.
Read his article here.
Originally posted on 24 February 2008
Recently I spoke at TGIF (Thank God it’s Friday), a Christian discussion group that meets at the (ungodly) hour of 6:30am every Friday morning. I was asked to record it, and make the recording available, so it is available for downloading, by right clicking here and selecting save as. It’s about 8 Mb in size.
The content is a version of my presentation, Hannah’s Rules on the rise of the ethical consumer. It’s since been renamed, “The Future is Now” – see details here.
Originally posted on 1 June 2008
There was such a great response to a recent post of an article written by my father, that I thought I’d post something else by him. Anyone who grew up thinking that the “social gospel” was a problem would do well to read this.
Jesus and the “Social Gospel”
Dr Reg B Codrington
When I was growing up, the denomination of which I was part used the term “Social Gospel” almost as a swear word. We were taught that “liberal” denominations who placed a focus on meeting social needs were guilty of, and I quote, “sending a well-fed sinner to hell”. The focus had to be on “saving souls” and everything else had to be subjugated to that aim.
Now let me make it clear at the outset that I still believe that the most important thing that can happen to a person is that he or she enters into a vital, living relationship with Christ and lives in accordance with His teachings, as revealed in the Word of God. But I have become increasingly convinced that what I was taught as a youngster was just a part of a much bigger picture which, sadly, I only began to understand nearly forty years later! What a serious responsibility lies in the hands of teachers of the Word to ensure that they teach the whole gospel to our young people!
Continue reading Jesus and the “Social Gospel” – by Dr Reg Codrington
Originally posted on 1 September 2007
I have recently been accused of only asking questions and not “putting it out there”. I therefore thought it might be good to state what I believe. It’s not a magnus opus, it’s not a systematic theology, it’s not a comprehensive description of all I believe. But it is enough of a starting point if you’d like to interact with me.
The original context of my discussions and interactions had to do with what the church is meant to be. Someone said “Acts 2:42 – simple as that”. I asked why they didn’t read the rest of chapter. Using that as a basis, then, this is what I believe.
I believe that it is fairly dubious to use the book of Acts as a manual for church praxis in the 21st century. Not because I don’t believe it’s God’s Word, but because there are so many different models presented in the book of Acts that you can base almost anything you want on it.
Continue reading What I believe… about the church (the short, reactionary version)
In March 2007, I preached a sermon at my local church, Bryanston Bible Church, in Johannesburg, South Africa. This is one of my favourite sermons of all time, and deals with something that I actually think is at the heart of what’s wrong with the evangelical church today.
Last Sunday, while attending my current local church, Dundonald, I was reminded of this sermon and the concept behind it. We were having a special outreach service, and as part of it there was an interview of some of our church members. One of the questions that they were asked was: “What’s the best thing about being a Christian?”. The answer was interesting. They said that it was “the hope of spending eternity in heaven and living today without guilt or condemnation.” No doubt, these are great benefits and worth enjoying.
But is it enough? And is this really the BEST thing about being a Christian?
I grew up in a tradition that largely held out the threat of hell as the main reason for accepting Jesus as “my personal Lord and Saviour”. Evangelical churches rightly focus on evangelism. But they often use this approach of fear of retribution. Therefore, the message is primarily about what we are saved FROM.
But, salvation is just as much about what we are saved FOR. Eternal life begins now, and our salvation demands a response – on this earth, in this life. We need to be careful – we are in danger of preaching a watered down, half-truth Gospel. We are saved FOR something, as well as saved FROM something.
Listen to the sermon by downloading it here (13 Mb, MP3 file). You can see the notes I preached from below.
Continue reading What we are saved from and what we are saved for – sermon podcast
Originally posted on 10 June 2008
Like all evangelicals, I believe in the inspiration of the Bible. This means that God inspired human writers in such a way that every word in the Bible (in the original language and original documents) is exactly the word God intended to be there. But this does not mean that God simply dictated the Bible, nor that he turned the authors into automatons. He understood the character and personality (and expertise and background) of the writers, and worked in partnership with this to write a series of documents that is truly unique – a divine collaboration that is both infallible and inerrant (in the original).
To interpret the Bible, we must understand both God (as far as possible, and doing so empowered by God’s Spirit) and the human author. This means that, amongst other things, we must understand the author’s personality, culture, context, writing style, background, training and experiences.
A fun example will illustrate…
The story of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years is repeated in different Gospels. Mark, the most direct of the Gospel authors explains her situation like this:
Mark 5:25-26 – “And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.” (NIV)
Continue reading A fun example of the human side of Biblical inspiration