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  • How do you define an Evangelical Christian?

    An interesting report from the EA to read online here.  I was especially interested in the statistical stuff which shows some interesting results (with the usual pinch of salt needed for any statisitical stuff) and the fact that under 25s are less likely to call themselves 'evangelical' than older people (and indeed that it is the oldest age group of respondents who were most likely to.... discuss!).  With significant numbers of evangelicals open to the potential for abortion, assisted suicide and homsosexual lifestyles, the old foot-stampy "it's wrong, end-of" positions are clearly not sustainable and a time has to come when those churches/people willing to engage with these issues and even, shock horror, change their views won't automatically be branded 'wishy washy liberals', 'backsliders' or 'heretics.'

    Always useful for us to ask ourselves what is essential and what is negotiable about our faith.

  • Sacred Texts?

    I like it when things make me think, and yesterday's reflection on 2 Timothy 3:10 - 17 in Words for Today certainly did that.  The writer was reflecting on what is meant by 'scripture' and what is meant by 'God-breathed' if you don't go down the 'inafallibility' route which is clearly not supported by the text.

    "Scripture" the writer asserts means '"sacred writings" - all sacred writings.  Presumably, though he does not say it, those of any or all faiths.  The inspiration cannot guard against fallibility of transmission, so presumably that would be why there are differences, assuming his logic holds.  Having read portions, albeit very select portions, of Sikh and Islamic sacred texts as part of my theological education I cannot deny that there is evidence of the same inspiration (which is probably a factor in my inclusivist, fulfilment theology).  I recall at the cross-cultural wedding I conducted using a Hindu blessing (in English!) which all the Christians could happily say 'amen' to.  I would concur that in 'officially' sacred texts we can detect God's voice, often in surprising ways.

    The writer then takes things a step further:

    'All we have to do to turn any good book into God's word for today is to ask the question "What would Jesus make of this?"

    Essentially, then, he says God can speak to us through any piece of writing that is 'good' - but then I have a question of what he means by 'good'.  Does this equate to the quality of writing?  Surely not, because that would rule out the Gospels which are in very poor Greek!  Does it equate to the standpoint of the writer - e.g. as 'my kind of Christian'?  I think not, since that would rule out the Prophets who often offended their hearers/readers!  I am not sure that I can come up with a neat definition of 'good' that would permit me to say 'God can be heard in this but not that.'  Easy enough to say 'God can't be heard in slander' or 'God won't be heard in vitriol'; not so easy to say 'God will/might be heard in...'

    So what do I do?  I decided I'd check what the Greek says, albeit using an online interlinear as all my Greek books are at church.

    Verse 15 speaks of 'sacred writings' whilst verse 17 (the one people use for their infallibility arguments) says simply 'every writing [is] God-spirited/breathed'.  The word 'good' does not appear.  Whilst it would seem reasonable, in context, to restrict the divine inspiration to 'sacred writings' that doesn't remove the question of which writings are designated as sacred.  There is, I think, an implied question of authority here, and one that any half-decent Practical Theologian ought to be willing to wrestle with!

    Suppose we say, with the simplest reading of verse 17, that God inspires writing - be that 'scripture,' hymnody, prayer, history, fiction, scientific reports, newspapers... even tweets and blogs - then there is the potential for God to be heard in any or all writing.  That does not make all 'writings sacred', some are self evidently profane, and it does not give all 'writings' equal status.  As a Baptist I sign up to a Declaration of Principle that located primary authority in Jesus Christ the 'living word' over against any 'sacred writing.'  Which is fine except that the only way to meet him is via the Christian sacred texts... it is a no-brainer that the Bible among texts has priority.  But after that?  Does theology trump fiction?  Does science give way to poetry?  Does western liberalism outweigh Asian scripture?  There are no simple answers and maybe the question "what would Jesus make of this" is a good one - so long as it not simply a case of "what would the Jesus I have created in my own image make of this?"... which of course opens up a whole new can of theological worms (as distinct from a diet thereof).

    In the end I think I am content with the idea that God inspires the enterprise of writing and that it is possible for us to detect hints and glimpses of God's voice in the most unexpected places - but I thought that before I read the notes yesterday.  I think what I have been made to consider is just how wide or narrow is my personal canon of potential resources, and that's no bad thing.

  • Ordinary Time

    Today's morning prayer asked the question 'what does ordinary time look like for you?'  A good question, I thought, as I am not in my 'ordinary time' at the moment.  So the subsidiary question then becomes something like 'what do I do with this time?'

    Now, at risk of being struck off for heresy, if one more person describes it as God's gift of time to draw closer in prayer I am likely to brain them with a copy of The Interior Castle or the work of some other female medieval mystic who suffered from headaches, poor short term memory and a weird delight in bodily illness.  Yes, there is opportunity in this time to slow down, to be still, to focus more intentionally Godwards, but that doesn't make it somehow a 'gift'.  Someone, somewhere needs to do some proper joined up theological thinking about how we view illness (generally as 'not good') and the time/space out of busyness it necessitates (often casually perceived as 'very good') recognising that illness/injury demands a lot of energy (physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual) in its own right.  One of the most helpful and profound messages in my Christmas cards this time said "keep the faith, and when you can't let others keep it for you."  This can be understood at many levels, and seems to recognise that sometimes we just don't have the energy to be 'holy' and that's OK.  And it is OK.  And maybe someone reading this needs to know that.

    So, if this time is not God's gift to make me more holy - which doesn't mean that God can't use it that way if that is what God deems best for me - what is it and what do I do with it?

    One of my challenges is to establish some new rhythms to my days, ways that avoid them simply drifting past and me suddenly finding that it is Easter and I have spent four months reading blogs or watching drivel on TV.  Actually the latter isn't very likely as daytime TV drives me nuts very rapidly.  I know all the theory about life-balance, I could give the course with my eyes closed and my hands tied behind my back, but it isn't always so easy to practice what is preached.

    So, here are some things I want to commit to for this 'ordinary time' to give it some sort of shape and meaning (they start with the holy of course ;-) )...

    • use the Pray-as-you-Go daily mediation on weekday mornings
    • use both sets of IBRA notes for personal Bible reading to give different insights on passages
    • get out for a walk every day (unless it is sheet ice underfoot!)
    • spend an hour a day reading simply for pleasure - not theology, not Bible study
    • watch in full one proper news bulletin a day
    • get that MPhil submitted!

    I reckon that's enough to be going on with.  There will also be time spent with friends and a few treats along the way.  I still have to work out what Sundays should look like but don't feel too much urgency there - it seems valuable to explore how 'shutins' manage this.

    No exactly 'oridnary time' as the church year sees it, but time when ordinariness can be explored in new ways.

  • A Little Light Relief

    Today I received through the post a little book called The World's Stupidest Signs.  As I flicked through I spotted this one which made me smile...


    Any member of staff who needs to take the day off to go to a funeral must warn the foreman on the morning of the match.

    I know, small things amuse small minds.

  • Nothing but Love...

    In an attempt some sort of routine into my world of enforced idleness, I have decided each day will begin with the pray-as-you-go meditation (I typed medication first, maybe that's true too!).  Today's began with a Taize chant that was new to me... Gott ist nur liebe. 'God is nothing but love,' so the recording tells me.  Sometimes hearing something in a different language, or at least translated from a different language, gives new insights or nuances to the more familiar.

    God is love - the usual English language way of saying it.

    God is nothing but love - somehow that has a deeper feel to it.  And if God is nothing but love how does that shape our loves?

    You can hear the song here or the meditation here