Monday, November 3, 2008


Saint Paul wrote letters, David wrote poems and songs, Solomon wrote proverbs and the occassional saucy love song, none of them wrote chapters and verses.

Yes chapters and verses are useful in that they make reading a memorising texts easier, however I would suggest that they actually detract from the original meanings of the texts and create lazy thinking Christians who can quote chapter and verse for every situation but are still out of touch with both God and the world around them.

The very basis of the hermeneutical circle is that we can only understand the parts of a text by understanding the whole, and by then understanding the parts we achieve a greater understanding of the whole, and so the cycle goes.

By relying on a system of chapters and verses which most certainly were not in the mind of the original authors, I fear we fail to fully grasp the whole of the texts we read and thus impair our understanding of the parts, and so the cycle of misunderstanding goes.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Conditional Christianity

Going back to this morning's broadcast on the World Service about praying at the pump, one of the people interviewed stated that the Bible says "ask and you will receive" and that it "really is simple". Yet in the very next sentence he claimed that "all you have to do is believe" - immediately placing a condition on on whether or not you receive what you ask for. Yet within the context of Luke 11, just after Jesus has taught the disciples how to pray there is no mention of "needing faith" but rather the focus is on how God is like a father who gives his people good things rather than bad.

Is prayer the solution?

Listening to the BBC World Service this morning and there was report about a group of Christians in America who have decided that the only solution to rising petrol prices is prayer. Sometimes I despair of Christians, though probably well meaning, who are incapable of analysing a problem and addressing the deeper roots rather than the symptons.

The increasing price of petrol across America is being portrayed as a threat, a crisis in the heart of the American way of life, yet the reality is that it is an opportunity. This is an opportunity for Christian people to lead American society by cutting back on car use, and by extension cut back the noxious fumes which are poisoning the very planet God called on mankind to care for.

Unfortunately all this little group have done is show themselves ignornant of the mechanics of the free market, which I am sure if asked they would claim to be dedicated supporters of, but also to show Christians in a bad light, yet again. If God is interested in the price of petrol in America, why is he not interested in the genocide in Darfur? Again priorities have become muddled in the minds of the believing public, God does not call his people to maintain a status quo which is choking his creation to death. A comment from an article in the Daily Telegraph quotes a member of this group as saying:

"The poor are really suffering from this crisis. This movement is giving people hope."

I would argue that this movement is giving people the wrong kind of hope, the delusional hope that God cares about the price of petrol - you would think that he has more pressing things on his mind right now. What the church needs to be doing is addressing the real root cause of this problem, which is people's slavish attachment to the motor car. The church should be at the very forefront of the Green movement, looking for ways to lessen our impact on the planet.

It is always easier to treat a sympton than a disease, if I have a headache I take a tylenol - but if the cause of that headache is a tumour then no matter how many tylenols I pop, I will die because I have failed to address the problem. Praying at the pump is mere tylenol for the spirit.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Some late reading

It is now a decade since I took my final exams back at BBI and got my degree in theology, since then I have taken the time to actually read some of the books on the reading list properly, for example it was only after graduating that I found the time to read Antony Thiselton's "New Horizons in Hermeneutics" - it was something of a trawl but certainly worth it. Now I have decided to actually read rather than dip into Alister McGrath's "Introduction to Christian Theology".

At the moment I am reading the historical development of theology, and one thing that has become clear is that the most potent theological minds, such as Calvin, sought to make Scripture relevant to the context in which they found themselves. In one sense the Reformation was much like the Liberation Theology movement today - appealing directly to the foundational texts of Christianity in order to address their world.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Divine confusion

Religion is an infintely fascinating subject. People who claim that the Bible is full of hate, contradications and old thinking are often the people who haven't read the Bible, or any religion's holy texts for that matter. The thing which I find so interesting about religion is that in attempting to define the spiritual realm, we end up describing human beings far more succinctly than if we purposefully set ourselves that task.

One of my favourite parts of the Christian scriptures is the chapter in Hebrews which describes the church as being surrounded "by so great a cloud of witnesses", which it then goes on to list. Men of Biblical renown such as David, Isaac, Jacob, Solomon, thieves, liars, adulterers and murderers.

Take the life of David for example; everyone knows the story of how he killed the giant Goliath with a sling shot; how he wrote many beautiful psalms which are sung in various contexts around world every weekend. This man is held up as an example of Godly living, both in Scripture and in sermons - this is after all a man whom God loved. This is a man who had sex with his neighbour's wife; and to cover up his sin saw to it that the neighbour, who happened to be an officer in the army, would die in battle. Lust, adultery, murder - and yet David is regarded as a great and godly man.

That one story tells us everything we need to know about humanity - within the soul of a person lies the ability to perform great deals, to create sublime art, and the will to pervert all that a person holds dear simply to get what you want. Living with this paradox is one of the challenges of being human, accepting that there are no good people or bad people, but that all people are good and bad at the same time.

That gives me hope, tells me that I have choice as to how I life.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Anglican woes

The Anglican Communion does indeed seem intent to tear itself apart, in particular over the issue of homosexuals in the priesthood. In the pub on Friday night, myself, Mrs Velkyal and a mate called Jay were discussing this issue. The discussion really helped me clarify my thinking on this issue, especially with regard to Gene Robinson.

Personally I don't believe that Gene Robinson is fit to be a priest of the Anglican Communion, let alone a bishop. And not because he is a homosexual, but because he is under holy orders and yet lives openly a lifestyle which is contrary to the teaching of the church. Gene Robinson is the polar opposite of Jeffrey John, who accepts the teaching of the church and as such is celibate.

This brought up the wider issue of people being "as God made me". Nobody is "as God made me", we are all broken in our own ways - as St Paul says in Romans, we are all sinners - not one of us is perfect. Quite why homosexuality has been singled out as the most pernicious of evils by some is beyond me. Arguing purely from scripture that homosexuality is a sin is I feel unhelpful, especially when the vast majority of Christians ignore the scriptural ban on shrimp without so much as a thought.

If in the mind of God there are no shades of sin, then the mind of the Church should reflect that reality and accept the fact that we are all in one way or another a sinner - though I struggle with the idea of homosexuality as "sin", but that is not for discussing here. What I do know is that the human race is messed up in many many ways and to single out a particular group is unhelpful at best and downright bigotted at worst.

The sooner people accept that we are all broken, all in need of help then perhaps we can move forward rather than fighting each other.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I hate the sound of my own voice. I wish that statement meant that I am not prone to bouts of “holding court” when sat in the pub with mates. It is literally true, I hate to hear myself on a video or on tape – I remember cringing at college when listening to myself preaching. However, the human voice is the most wonderful sound I can think of – being human depends so much on having a voice, on the ability to communicate complex notions to those around us. The human voice inspires, imagine Martin Luther King Jr with a thin reedy voice – his “I have a dream” speech would not carry the same weight, despite the words being the same.

In my mind, the most “spiritual” forms of worship are those without instrumentation, I was going to write “music” there but the voice is itself music. Once upon a time I liked worship with a healthy dose of U2, and it has on many occasions brought me to tears. However the ancient sounds of Gregorian chant, Gaelic psalms and the Islamic call to prayer call to the spirit, reminding me that there is no new revelation. I don’t want to get into the rightness or wrongness of different religions and denominations, but I believe that religion is primarily a human construction. Whether that construction is in response to divine self-revelation or the innate needs of man, I honestly don’t know and I am not arrogant enough to claim that knowledge.

In particular I love the Gaelic psalms as sung in the Outer Hebrides, a form of worship which has not changed in centuries, as such carries with it the expression of a culture which goes beyond the individual. And yet the individual can be found in the psalm singing. The precentor sings each line and the congregation repeats it adding their own inflections and embellishments – some have even suggested that this tradition is the wellspring of Gospel music in the USA, as opposed to African music.

I think it is this timelessness that appeals to me. These ancient forms of worship are not prone to zeitgeist, the whim of leaders and those with sufficient musical talent. Generations of people have found in the chanting and harmony a renewed faith or comfort in dark days, by connecting with the long established traditions which have nutured faith for millennia.

Of course the human voice can likewise be used to tighten the grip of evil on this world, with calls to murder and rape. That is the conflict of being human, to accept that within each one of us resides the same potential as in a Hitler or Gandhi.

The human voice is a double-edged sword, at once a sacrament and a curse. The choice though is ours as to what we do with our voice – it is our voice after all.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Don't worry, I am not going to use all the books of the Bible as heading for posts.

A question that I am often asked is why have I stopped going to church so often.

So a bit of background is probably in order.

We have to go back to my second year at the Birmingham Bible Institute. In that year, I met a man who was to have an incredible impact on my faith and life, he was the priest of the church in Hull where we did a mission trip.

The priest was called Allan Scrivener, and he came from the Catholic tradition within the Anglican communion - one which until then I had never really looked into. We found common ground in our shared interest in the Ancient Irish Church - what some people refer to as "Celtic Christianity". The week we spent as a team in Hull was the most painful and difficult I can remember. I had been asked to be the team leader, yet I had a team that bluntly refused to be servants of the church we had been sent to.

I failed to lead.

During that week I stayed with Allan in the vicarage, and most nights we would sit up talking for long hours. I felt I had found someone outside my context with whom I could be brutally honest with my doubts and someone who would not condemn me or blithely offer "to pray" for me. I didn't need prayer, I needed counsel. This is something I have come to love about the catholic tradition of confession, the freedom to talk openly about sin and the doubts that faith inevitably creates.

One night Allan challenged my Protestant belief in "justification by faith" - or rather he asked me the most poignant question I have ever been posed, and one which still bothers me:

"why do evangelicals preach justification by faith but live justification by works?"

That night I realized that the evangelical world was not the one where I could ever in all honesty belong - and thus to cut a long story short I was eventually received into the Anglican Communion at St John's Cathedral in Oban by the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles.

One of the interesting things here in Prague is the number of people I have met with similar stories, people once firmly in the embrace of a particular brand of Christianity who for the sake of their own faith had to leave the churches they were in and struggle to find somewhere to call home. People who have lost touch with friends, because they are afraid of questions such as "what are you doing for the Lord?". People who believe in Jesus but can't handle the church.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


I am not really a big fan of science. I am not saying that I am a creationist by that statement, any more than I would be an evolutionist if I state that the world changes. I am just not a big fan of formulae and nice tidy explanations. That is part of my constant struggle with third millennium Christianity, or rather the forms of Christianity within which I grew up and had my formative religious experiences – namely evangelicalism, in particular the charismatic wing of that very broad movement.

I often sit and wonder what Jesus would make of the modern church. I am sure there are many things that would please him immensely. According to statistics more people have become Christian in the last century or so than in the preceding 20 combined. The church has been at the forefront of movements seeking justice for the oppressed, thinking especially here of Archbishop Tutu in South Africa. In many local communities, the church in its various guises provides a wealth of social care programs, education, medicine and countless other services which bind communities together.

And yet I find it difficult to go to church. Indeed, I haven’t darkened the door of a church for quite some time. Why is that? Simply put, I just don’t feel as though I belong. I am not much of a social creature by nature, I much prefer to be with a few select friends with whom I can be brutally honest. At most churches I have been too, I find that it takes too long to find such souls with whom to have the deep communion that I crave. I find people disturbed by my inability to state beyond question that I believe in God, the same can be said of my atheist mates who do not understand why I cannot refute entirely my faith.

I have found that many religious and atheist people are essentially the same; they want certainty and tidy explanations. I find certainty a rare commodity in the modern world, and as such I am disinclined to search for it – although at the same time I envy those so sure in their world view that they are untroubled by questions and doubts. Life is messy, and while in some ways it is understandable to want to tidy life up into various compartments, to do so is to miss the richness of being human.