Sep 202013

“In the beginning, when God created…”

The opening verses/chapters of Genesis are almost guaranteed to excite debate. Whether it is science v. creationism, or poetry v. history, interpreting the opening part of Genesis seems to cause splits between Christians and atheists, and Christians and other Christians.

Creationism (and its associated ‘young earth’ and ‘seven literal days’ doctrines) has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons (actually, maybe for all the right reasons) in recent weeks here in Scotland. A Christian group, working in primary school chaplaincy, were handing out creationist literature to the pupils, even the very youngest. Chaplaincy is a privileged position in schools. Chaplains are allowed in only at the invitation of the Head Teacher. It is clearly understood that proselytising is not acceptable, although that is not to say that we cannot share an understanding of our Christian faith. Handing out faith tracts which represent a fairly marginal position to children who do not have the critical faculties to assess it is, I would suggest, an abuse of that privilege.

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Jan 102011

I’ve just finished Scot McKnight’s book, The Blue Parakeet and have thoroughly enjoyed it, both as a challenge and an affirmation. His basic premise is that we all read the Bible with our own bias and preconceptions – and we should all be honest about that. Nothing new there really – except perhaps the call for honesty from all readers and interpreters.

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Dec 212010

There’s been plenty of chat on Facebook and on blogs about the new dramatisation of the nativity on the BBC. I’ve seen the first two and have been pleasantly surprised. Obviously it’s highly speculative, but in seeking to tell the human story behind the events so well-known to Christians, it has, I think, brought a fresh dimension to it.

I think when we visit the story we focus so much on the ‘Christian’ aspects (because that is, rightly so, the important part for believers) that we forget there is a very human story there. Can we really expect Joseph to just accept, unquestioningly, what he has been told in a dream, regardless of how devout he may be? Putting the human face on the story makes it, I would suggest, even more ‘believable’.

Of course, that assumes the historicity of events in the first instance and I was interested to discover that one of my former lecturers at new College was an historical advisor to the programme. Dr Helen Bond writes about her take on the adaptation here. She makes the wise observation that the historical accuracy is, in a sense, a secondary consideration, because it is the story in all its dimensions – the theological, the historical, the human – that is important. To separate out the parts may make for a more acceptable story to the more ‘rational’- or ‘secularly’-minded, but it is only as a whole that it makes sense, because it is a story which must, by virtue of it being a story of faith, contain all of those elements.

The Nativity helps, I would suggest, give that nudge back towards remembering the human story behind it all.

Sep 032010

Sometimes I think I must be excruciatingly dim and I have to wonder why I ever felt I ought to respond to a call to ministry. I was reading a post on one of my favourite blogs earlier and came across these words:

The entire trajectory of Scripture points to a kaleidoscopic people of God, ever more diverse, with always surprising revelations of unlikely people using their gifts in unexpected and even subversive ways to encourage the family and bless the world.

A simple enough statement but about something that has just whooshed past me without me noticing. It’s such an obvious statement about the witness of scripture that I can’t help but feel somewhat dim for only just noticing it.

Of course, as for the implications…

Dec 222009

Stewart has challenged me to:

Summarize the Bible in five statements, the first one word long, the second two, the third three, the fourth four and the last five words long. Or possibly you could do this in descending order. Tag five people.

So… here goes…


God’s Love

Humanity turns away

Jesus died for everyone

Live in forgiveness and faith

I tag:

Mrs Gerbil





Nov 132009

No, not a shiny new sports car or fancy techno-toy, but a Bible. An NLT Mosaic Bible to be precise. Actually, to be even more precise, the ‘deluxe’ version:

Mosaic Bible - cover

I ordered one a little while back and collected it today. And very pretty it is too. Lots of ‘niceness’ about it, including dictionary/concordance, Hebrew and Greek word studies, centre-column cross-reference and a huge section of devotional material including full-colour artwork. Did I mention it was very pretty? Some sample pages below and you can get more info at Tyndale’s Mosaic website.

Sample page 1Sample page 2Sample page 3

And no, I’m not on any commission, just very impressed by a beautiful book made more beautiful.

Jan 202009

I’ve uploaded the short talk I used for my speech training session to the downloads page (and fixed the non-working downloads while there). It’s called ‘Confusion’ and is a slightly different take on John 4 and Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. It developed out of a passing thought as I was preparing for this Sunday.

Dec 172008

I’ve heard many conversations this advent about the ‘real’ Christmas story. I don’t know if it’s simply a fashionable trend or whether there are more people genuinely seeking answers, but it’s been surprising how many conversations there have been that including such statements as “There was no donkey!” or “It wasn’t actually a stable!” or “There might have been three gifts, but three men is only an assumption.”

In one respect such discussions are interesting because it gives you an opportunity explore the ‘real’ story a bit more. But I wonder if puncturing the ‘mythology’ that has grown up around the Christmas story is altogether valuable. When we assume three wise men or conflate the timing of wise men and shepherds or have Mary travelling on a non-existent donkey, does it really undermine any fundamental doctrines or Christian ‘truths’? By allowing ‘stories’ to grow around these events do we not, rather, encourage a greater sense of involvement and ownership in those who hear and retell these stories? So long, of course, as the underlying gospel is faithfully represented.

On the other hand, by exploring and exposing some of the accepted wisdom in the traditional interpretations, there is opportunity to reveal further colour in the stories. On Sunday past, at my placement church, there was the third in a short series of advent reflections – myrrh, the other two being gold and frankincense (the 4th Sunday being given over to the junior church nativity service). The ‘traditional’ teaching on the gift of myrrh is that it is looking ahead to Jesus’ death as it is often used as an embalming ointment. However, Stuart began his sermon with an ‘all you never knew about myrrh’ presentation. I must confess to wondering where it was going and he duly went – myrrh has just has many uses, in fact more, for the living as for the dead and so myrrh could just as easily be a reminder of some of the many facets of Jesus. Myrrh has healing properties, it soothes, it takes away the stench of decay. When we explore the ‘story’ and even allow other stories to come into play, we unwrap a few more layers and thereby show the depth of meaning behind the simple ‘facts’.

There’s another thing that stories do. Facts explain things. Facts tell us where limits are. They provide ‘data’. Stories bring colour and depth and vibrancy. They bring out meaning and yet can also shroud in mystery. How can mere facts reveal the mystery of a virgin birth, God incarnate as a baby or the sense of wonder experienced by those who came to worship?

I think I’d rather see the mystery than the trivia, interesting though it may be.