Jan 072011

Santa was very nice this year (as he is every year, I must add) and brought me a Kindle 3 (hence the new sidebar item). I was always somewhat sceptical of electronic book readers, always claiming that you couldn’t beat ‘the real thing’ – and never mind the trees; plenty more where they came from. That said, the geek in me cannot resist a techie gadget and when the Kindle 3 finally hit what I think is approaching a sensible price point, I was persuaded to give it a go, especially in light of the many positive reviews it has been receiving.

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May 202010

I’ve been catching up on some reading recently (I’ve not long finished The Mystery of Christ by Robert Farrar Capon and Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell) and currently working my way through The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann. When I’m not banging on about Emerging Church, one of my soapboxes is the need for Christians (especially Christian leaders) to be the ‘prophetic voice’ within society – pointing out its failings and pointing to a better way. This is at the heart of Brueggemann’s book and I came across a passage worth quoting:

The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us. Thus I suggest that prophetic ministry has to do not primarily with addressing specific public crises but with addressing, in season and out of season, the dominant crisis that is enduring and resilient, of having our alternative vocation co-opted and domesticated.

The italics are Brueggemann’s and state the hypothesis for  the book. The extract, I believe, succinctly states the mission and problem for the church. The church needs to be counter-cultural. And that doesn’t mean that it decries culture, rather it should always be asking if this is the ‘best’ we can achieve. And by ‘best’, I would suggest that that means being more ‘Christ-like’; being fully human and fully spiritual creatures, living life in its fullest measure without fear of discrimination, oppression and injustice.

But the extract also highlights the biggest danger the church faces – becoming ‘co-opted and domesticated’. (The phrase, “Aslan is not a tame lion” has just sprung to mind). My biggest fear of Emerging Church is that the Christian distinctives get subsumed by a desire to be ‘relevant’ – faith and worship are co-opted to suit a context, rather than that happening the other way round. Domestication comes when the church is no longer proactive but reactive and is ‘used’ to provide social services or a place where religious-types can go on a Sunday morning. Or perhaps domestication has come through the church becoming a useful branch of Historic Scotland responsible for the upkeep of a bunch of old buildings. I’m sure there are many ways in which we have become ‘co-opted and domesticated’.

How easy is it though to rediscover our revolutionary voice?

Apr 232010

I recently read Between Noon and Three by Robert Farrar Capon. It was so gripping I read it in just a few days. It’s a book about the offensiveness of God’s grace and it is excellent. If you’re a Calvinist you’ll maybe want to add to to your list for the next time you’re planning a bonfire. But anyway, I recently came across this from another of Capon’s books and just loved it:

There is no sin you can commit that God in Jesus hasn’t forgiven already. The only way you can get yourself in permanent Dutch is to refuse forgiveness. That’s hell. The old baloney about heaven being for good guys and hell for bad guys is dead wrong. Heaven is populated entirely by forgiven sinners, not spiritual and moral aces. And hell is populated entirely by forgiven sinners. The only difference between the two groups is that those in heaven accept the forgiveness and those in hell reject it. Which is why heaven is a party–the endless wedding reception of the Lamb and his bride–and hell is nothing but the dreariest bar in town.?

Robert Farrar Capon
(The Mystery of Christ: And Why We Don’t Get it, 1993)

Sep 112009

Blue Like Jazz book coverI’ve just finished reading Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. It’s one of these books you often find referenced in all sorts of blogs and websites. It also seems to be a ‘love it or hate it’ book depending on which side of the liberal/evangelical divide you sit on (a bit like The Shack, I suppose). But it’s been on my wish list for a while and so I spent some birthday vouchers on a copy.

It’s not a ‘big read’. It only took me a couple of days to get through it. It’s written in a light, very conversational tone so it skips along at an easy pace and engages you in the unfolding story. That story is Miller’s faith journey as he questions many of the religious baggage he carries as well as much of his behaviour and attitude towards himself and others. For that reason it’s very much about ‘experience’ and it has been heavily criticised for just that. In a sense it is very self-absorbed with faith growth being about growing as an individual and reconciling many of the big questions about relationships and life through a very personal lens. In essence, it starts with ‘self’ and aims God-ward. Continue reading »

Oct 092008

theshackbookI’ve just finished reading The Shack. It’s a book that has caused a huge stir among certain Christian groups in the US, not least because of its depiction of God. So it has been hugely hyped at both ends of the conservative-liberal spectrum (and many in-between) and that’s been the main reason I’ve avoided reading it. But I had to spend a few pounds to make up the value of a book order to get free shipping and thought I’d add it in.

I’m very glad I did. I found it to be quite a compelling read. Just to be clear – it’s a novel and it’s ‘fiction’. By that I mean that the story is made up. Like many novels it’s a composite of the author’s experience, circle of friends, family and so on. In that respect, the outline story isn’t even all that great. It’s contrived and compressed and wouldn’t generally merit a second glance in a discount book shop. It’s also a bit ‘American’. But, if you ignore that aspect of it and treat it simply as a vehicle for the ‘main story’ then you’ll find a very thought-provoking piece of writing.

On one level it’s an apologetic, on another it’s very evangelistic but I enjoyed it for its theology. It can be read ‘lightly’ and without any real engagement but then it would be a pretty poor novel. But it deserves to be read ‘engagingly’. It does a great job, in my opinion, of trying to find words to describe the Trinity and the consequences of its presentation of the Trinity (I don’t want to give away too much – it is genuinely worth reading). It stirs up issues of ecclesiology and what it means to be ‘church’. It challenges Christian behaviour and our response to others. It tackles the big questions of evil and why do bad things happen. It touches on eschatology and heaven and rebirth. Above all it’s a story about redemption and what it really means.

In many respects it resonates with my own developing theology. It comes up against the usual language barriers when a word or phrase is used that you twitch a little at. But the the book’s trying to speak of God and language is never sufficient to do that. So in that respect, the book isn’t ‘perfect’. But then I’ve yet to come across a theology book that is. It would be a great book to run a discussion group on. I suspect it would challenge many of the popular conceptions of God and the Christian life.

I do see why it created such a stir when it appeared. Conservative evangelicals especially were up in arms (here’s a little spoiler – God the Father is mostly portrayed as a comfortably built Afro-American woman – but there’s a very good reason for that). It definitely challenges much ‘cosy’ Christianity. It certainly challenges Sunday Christians. It gives Bibliolatry a real savaging. What it does emphasise though, over and over again, is that being a Christian is about being in a relationship with God. Where the book may well challenge you is what the nature of that relationship is.