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  • Advent? Certainly the Coming of Light!

    Last week the lights in the manse living room went 'phutt' fairly spectacularly, blowing all the bulbs at once.  On Thursday a nice man installed a new switch in the livining room - the lights that had been dim and flickery for four years (to my knowledge) suddenly beamed brightly.  This morning he returned to replace the defunct striplight in the kitchen - the state of the wiring was scary but we made a good team and now, after two hours I have a shiny new light that works - so well I can now see to wash up, rats.

    The minister who lived in darkness has seen great light, on she who dwelled in the land of darkness light has dawned... with apologies to Isaiah of course.  I think what struck me was that you don't recognise dinginess or darkness until it's displaced by light; that and you don't appreciate even flawed light until it fails.  Wonder what that might say about faith or mission...?

  • Preaching, Preaching.

    Yesterday we had a visiting preacher, someone exploring a call to ordained ministry who needs some preaching experience, who has never, as yet, taken a full service and who baulked at the idea of doing so for us (this time... when she comes back she will).  Listening to her speak, watching her anxiety and earnest endeavours took me back a long way!  It would be easy to find fault with her sermon, it had all the classic beginners' features - too many ideas, too many out of context quotations from other parts of the Bible, too many metaphors (dogs, vines, rosebushes, tomatoes...) but what she offered was carefully and prayerfully delivered.  I almost envied her the simple, assured message she brought, but only almost, I don't regret the challenges and questions I've faced since studying theology which have given me a deeper, more reflective faith.  I also recalled the naivety of that exploration phase - just as well I didn't know I'd end up doing what I'm doing, which is a world away from the occasional Sunday preach...  This lady has a long journey ahead of her, and is probably in for some surprises along the way, but I wish her well as she seeks to offer her life in the service of Christ's church.

    In the evening I was preaching for the Penties.  Having been involved in the civic switching on of lights events the day before, they were all very tired, but as ever very gracious and accepted what I had to say (although there was some dispute over whether Jesus was more likely to have been born in Spring or Autumn - check the web you can argue either or both!)  What struck me was how little they understand scriptures they think they know.  In my overview of Advent, one of my readings was Malachi 3: 1 - 4.  I asked them who they thought it referred to.... 'Jesus' came the answer (thinks... jokes about penguins etc) when to me it was self evident that the Christian answer (and the Matthean one too) would by John the Baptist.  The idea that it also had a meaning, and referrent, in its own time seemed to pass people by.  I'm certainly not knocking them, they are good, hardworking, sincere people; I just wonder if all the note taking they do in sermons actually helps or hinders.

    I quite like the 'hit and run' nature of visiting preaching, and find it a very different experience from the regular Sunday by Sunday, but I have to admit that, for all its frustrations, the regular week by week speaking into the lives of a congregation and individuals what I believe God wants them to hear is more rewarding - even if you get fewer compliments and more brickbats!

  • The aim of novels? Of history? Of scripture?

    Slowly, Mr Amazon is sending me a whole heap of books I ordered in the last month or two.  Yesterday I received The Implied Reader by Wolfgang Iser, Baltimore, John Hopkins Press, 1974.  Whether it will prove worth the expense remains to be seen, but a couple of the essays look promising.  Anyway, the introduction says this...

    The history of the novel as a 'genre' began in the eighteenth centruy, at a time when people had become preoccupied with their own everyday lives.  Like no other art form before it, the novel was concerned directly with social and hisotrical norms that applied to a particular environment, and so established an immediate link with the empirical reality familiar with its readers.  While other ltierary forms induced the reader to contemplate the exemplariness they embodied, the novel confronted him with problems arising from his own surroundings, at the same itme holding our vairious potential solutions which the reader himself had, at least partially, to formulate.  What was presented in the novel led to a specific effect: namely, to involve the reader in the world of the novel and so to help him to understand it - and ultimately his own world - more clearly.

    Page xi, emphasis mine.


    Whether this might be said of some of the pulp fiction that fills our bookshops these days is an interesting postulate, but I am more immediately intrigued by the last sentence and its obvious parallel which reading both history and scripture.  To what extent does reading them involve us in the world they describe, and how does this help us to understand our world more clearly?  To what extent does reading, say the gospel according to Matthew or the letter to the church in Corinth involve me infirst centruy Christian culture?  I may come to read it expecting it to speak to me but is it as Iser suggests?  Or what of history?  Do I enter into, in some way, seventeenth centruy Baptist life, or is it more the world of the implied author somewhere in the twentieth century?  Yes, I want to make the case that this reading will 'help me to understand my own world more clearly,' to paraphrase Iser, but is this the intention of the writer?  I'm not so sure that it necessarily is.

  • Edwin Robertson RIP

    Today's Baptist Times carries a death notification for this 95 year-old Baptist minister.  Back in the days when I was studying engineering, he was minister of Westbourne Park Baptist Church in London (John Clifford's place) where I helped out with the Girls' Brigade.  Westbourne Park didn't attract many students, being small, elderly and probably marginally left of centre but "Mr Robertson" and his wife, Ida, made us welcome and served us tea in their tiny manse flat.  My first experience of Baptist life was of warmth (in a cold, damp building!) and openness.

    Edwin Robertson began life as a nuclear physicist and became a very respected Bonhoeffer scholar.  I couldn't say he was best the preacher I ever heard, he wasn't, but he was a kind and gracious man who served his Lord and the Baptist family faithfully unitl his death.  I will remember his gentle humour, his smile and his acceptance of his diverse congregation during the early 1980's.  Rest in peace, good and faithful servant.  

  • Baptist History - Protesting Too Much?

    Back to doing my research reading today... all good fun, getting to read in order to critique a text book produced for the old Baptist Union Christian Training Programme called English Baptist History and Heritage, Roger Hayden, Baptist Union 1990.  When I've done, I'll do the same with last year's new book of the same title by the same writer.

    I like this statement in the Author's Preface:

    '... writing... on this theme puts the author under great stress.  It requires a general knowledge covering a long period of history.  Inevitably it is highly selective and has to leave out so much that could properly have appeared within it.  In the end there will be some emphases which are not quite true in reality.  For this I apologize, and especially if I have misrepresented some of my friends.  There is only one proper remedy.  get hold of th eprimary documentation and read it for yourself...'

    I like the honesty of the statement, but it is suitably vague, and I wonder just how many readers will have read it before embarking on Unit 1 of an educational process they may be doing under duress (history = boring, irrelevent; training = hoop to jump through).

    So to his selectivity, having now read the first three units (believe me i'm geeting to the point where I know this story, and its emphases quite well!).  Like Underwood, and indeed just about anyone else I've read, there is a fairly lengthy discourse on the Dutch Anabaptists with whom Smyth and Helwys clearly spent time, and by whom they seem to have been significantly inmfluenced, before the familiar 'but of course we're not connected to the Anabaptists' statement.

    I know that this view is now being revisited by some, and revised by others, but I find myself, yet again, wondering why we go to such great lengths to describe somehting in order to dismiss it.  Methinks we doth protest too much.

    Likewise, perhaps because Particular Baptist origins are more vague, after long descriptions of our General Baptist beginnings - slightly earlier historically, we think, we leap to point out their heresies, strange customs and decline.  Again, if these roots are so precious, why are we keen to sever the conection as another group grows up?  And epsecially when nowadays there aren't many people who know, let alone care, about Arminian or calvinist views on atonement.

    Roger Hayden is honest about the existence of selectivity in the story we tell, but, for whatever reason, does not give away anything about the party line he follows - does he agree with it or is this one of the 'stresses' he faced?  I wonder what might happen if we worried less about what we are/were not and instead concentrated on the positive insights we might gain from reading the stories of Dutch Anabaptists and English General Baptists?  Rather than perpetuating the "rise and fall" approach to story telling, what if we accepted (as some historians do) a more life cycle view whereby the validity of these forebears is celebrated without getting hung up on their limitations?  What other ways might there be of reading/writing the story that allows it to speak into our hear and now about this diverse family of God's people?  I'd rather we were good Protestants than that we protested quite so much about what we're not!