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Curious goings on in England

23/03/2015

Discussion between a radio presenter and the Bishop of Leicester about a person who has been dead 530 years

Presenter: “Is he forgiven, Bishop?”

Bishop “Of course he is forgiven. As we all ultimately are.” (or words to that effect, not sure of exact quote)

King Richard III ProcesssionThey were talking, of course, about King Richard III who is to re-buried in Leicester Cathedral on Thursday. About 35,000 people lined the route to the Cathedral y’day, via the Battle of Bosworth site, and thousands are queuing for hours today to view the coffin.

What do you make of this?

No shortage of interpretations and opinions floating about I’m sure: for me it seems to highlight what a peculiar and conflicted place contemporary England can be.

All in all a rather strange and eccentric mish-mash of sentiment, fuzzy theology, contemporary campaigns to recover the last Plantagenet King’s unjustly tarred reputation (had you heard of a whole movement of ‘Ricardians’?), historical tourism and search for English identity.

Sentiment: – people throwing white roses on the coffin: a sense of grief; some sort of emotional connection to a long dead king.

Fuzzy theology: as quote above. The Bishop seems to be advocating some form of ultimate reconciliation. The sub-text you pick up from wider coverage is that the Established Church’s assumed role is to baptise and bury everyone regardless of life and evidence of faith. For those holding to this sort of ecclesiology, normally then final judgement would be left in the hands of God’s grace and justice. But the Bishop is pushing this further: it appears that God’s role is to love and accept all since that is what he does? I wonder how Justin Welby who is officiating on Thursday will put things.

Contemporary politics:  I don’t know enough about English history to get how and why rehabilitating Richard III is so significant to a lot of people .. anyone help me here?

Historical tourism: as always in our ‘economist’ society, just under the surface is a barely concealed delight at the fantastic financial boon the finding of Richard III’s body will be, and is already, for Leicester. There is a whole tourist industry in the process of formation.

English Identity: every day English news and media is dominated by immigration, UK Muslim insurgents going to Syria to join ISIS, the loyalties and identity of the UK’s Muslin population; fear of Islamic insurgence and terrorism on UK soil etc etc. This sits starkly side by side with the Richard III story. I wonder if the fascination with Richard III is a sort of reassertion of English identity – a reconnection to the past in the face of a much more internally complex, global and uncertain future?

Comments, as ever, welcome.

Evangelical Alliance Ireland on the same-sex marriage Referendum

21/03/2015

This is the text of a recent statement by EAI on the upcoming Referendum in May on introducing same-sex marriage.

Feel welcome to give your reactions and comments to what they say. (I should say that I have not had any involvement in this statement but I will be one of the contributors to the planned book mentioned below).

STATEMENT ON THE FORTHCOMING SAME-SEX MARRIAGE REFERENDUM

Issued 25 February 2015

The forthcoming referendum on same-sex marriage has provoked debate among Evangelical Christians. Many of us have friends and family members who identify as gay or lesbian, and there are those who worship in our churches who have been profoundly impacted by same-sex attraction and relationships.

Evangelical Christians in Ireland hold a wide variety of opinions. A minority within our movement interpret Scripture in such a way as to sanction same-sex marriage. Others prefer to ignore the issue, not wishing to create controversy or to be labelled as ‘homophobic’ (a term that should be reserved for those who fear, hate or abuse, rather than as a description of anyone who holds a different view on the definition of marriage).

However, the majority of Evangelicals hold a conservative biblical view of marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman, united as one flesh in the sight of God for the duration of their lifetime. EAI urges Evangelicals to promote and affirm this view of marriage during and after the debate.

We remind all Christians that our primary goal is to represent the grace and truth of Jesus Christ. This is more important than winning a culture war. A ‘victory’ in debate is not a genuine victory if, in the process, we insult, belittle or treat others with disrespect or discourtesy. Those who address this issue should do so truthfully and graciously – and that includes our interaction with Christians who hold different viewpoints.

EAI does not expect the State to impose anyone’s religious views on anyone else. Under Irish law and the Constitution, married couples are currently favoured over other domestic arrangements (including unmarried heterosexual couples, same-sex couples and civil partners). It is fair to question whether a secular nation State should so favour married couples, or indeed why the State should have the power to control and regulate the definition of marriage. In its submission to the Constitutional Convention, EAI argued that the laws on civil partnerships could be amended to address inequality.

The referendum, then, is more to do with marriage redefinition than it is about equality. The meaning of words evolves over time but this is a deliberate redefinition of a term that carries a deeply spiritual significance for many.

In the past there was an assumption that everyone meant the same thing when they referred to marriage. The term ‘marriage’ is increasingly minimised to simply mean “two people making a public commitment to one another”. This ‘hollowing out’ of marriage may have a more profound effect on society than the issue of whether same-sex marriage is legalised. Such a redefinition makes ‘civil marriage’ indistinguishable from a civil partnership and certainly very different from the biblical covenant.

However, the majority of marriages are still solemnised in places of worship, according to the traditions and customs of that church (or religion). Irrespective of the outcome of the referendum, there is a need for discussion as to the relationship between religious and civil marriage.

In all matters, Evangelical Christians should vote according to their consciences. EAI would advise a ‘No’ vote in the forthcoming referendum on the grounds that the State is going beyond its legitimate sphere in attempting to redefine marriage itself.

[EAI is in the process of preparing a more detailed response to this issue in the form of a short book which will include multiple contributions to the conversation. This is scheduled for release in early April.]

Refusing to worship the cult of the body

19/03/2015

I’m teaching a course on faith and contemporary culture at the moment. We focus in on the values, beliefs and narrative of consumerism as a case study. By definition consumerism is never satisfied – the (temporary) answer is always more .. and more.

A couple of weeks ago in class we talked about the relationship of consumerism with the body. Here’s Werner G Jeanrond on this theme in an unjustly little known book I’ve just started reading called A Theology of Love.

Fasting, painful sporting activities, beauty operations, all sorts of medicines and remedies are recommended in order to reach a higher level of control over the body. A new and perfect body is longed for – a kind of secular object of salvation. The desire for the perfect body seems to have replaced the desire for the perfect soul in many quarters of Western society. This fight against the present and imperfect body and for the new and perfect body can, of course, never end. Asceticism, once the hallmark of religious aspirations, has made a comeback in the secular cult of the body. This cult of the body has seemingly reached eschatological proportions. Moreover, this desire for perfect bodies has become an inexhaustible source of wealth generation for those market forces that have offered their mediating remedies to meet this desire, fully conscious of the fact that this desire can never be stilled. Love cannot be made through the production of perfect bodies.

The tasks of a contemporary theology of love, therefore, ought to include the demythologization of the ongoing cult of the body and the reconstruction of possibilities for Christian respect and care for the body. (12)

As someone without a perfect body, I say AMEN!

The destructive goal of the cult of the body is the creation of feelings of dissatisfaction and envy. The motive is money. The promise is love and acceptance by self and others. The effect is destructive of self-esteem and erosion of identity. Its target is particularly women, but has increasingly moved on to men (in order to broaden the market).

Such is the saturation of our imaginative and cognitive space by consumer messages about the body, that we don’t, I think, in the church talk, preach, teach and reflect on the corrosive impact of the cult of the body. Assumptions that ‘our’ culture is somehow ‘neutral’, ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ are naive at best. For culture continually ‘forms’ and ‘shapes’ us. It acts, as James K A Smith would say, as a ‘secular liturgy’ that trains our hearts and loves.

We, I think, need active ‘reconstruction’ of a Christian theology of the body. John Paul II’s ‘Theology of the Body‘ represents a major serious Catholic response to the body in contemporary culture but I doubt that too many Protestants and evangelicals are aware of it.  An authentic Christian theology of the body will liberate people from the relentless demands of the secular cult of the body. It speaks of a radically different story and identity. I’ll come back to this in another post – this one is already getting long

The idealised image of the perfect body is telling us what the good life literally looks like. It is telling us (well me anyway – don’t know about you!) that I am not perfect. I don’t measure up. Something is wrong, broken, lacking. But the optimistic good news is that it can be fixed! Happiness and love can be mine. Implicit in this contract is that the key to salvation lies with me – to spend money on the right products or procedures, and/or to pummel my body into shape through diet and exercise.

This is a secular ‘gospel’ of sin and redemption.

Put like this is seems a pretty silly, thin and unconvincing sort of ‘gospel’ doesn’t it? I mean who really believes that shopping and/or exercise or a perfect body is the key to a happy life? But this objection fails to appreciate how consumerism works ‘below the surface’ – at the level of unspoken images, emotions, feelings and dreams. Described rationally it looks silly and superficial. But it is anything but – it is the driving force of Western culture worth mega-billions.

Why? What is so powerful about consumer images (like that of the perfect body)?

And this leads to one place where I disagree with Jeanrond’s language (and it’s not characteristic of the book). He talks about the desire for a perfect body replacing the desire for a perfect soul. But Christianity does not hope for a perfected soul. It hopes for a perfected resurrection body.

What consumerism ‘get’s in a way that some dualistic and overly rationalistic forms of Christianity do not, is that we are embodied creatures. We think, but we also feel, imagine, touch, and dream as we engage with the physical world in which we live. Smith again: we are ‘lovers’ and ‘worshippers’ who explore our way through

“an affective, gut-like orientation to the world that is prior to reflection and even eludes conceptual articulation … we are the sorts of animals for whom things matter in ways we don’t often (and can’t) articulate.” (51)

This is why pictures tend to be more powerful than words – try talking to someone who is watching TV or playing a game on a tablet. Images and pictures get into our hearts more easily and immediately than propositions and words. Images of the perfect body, for example, are designed to awaken our desire – not just sexual though that is certainly part of it – but desire for an attractive vision of an alternative life to one we currently have.

So the power or ‘genius’ of contemporary consumerism is that it instinctively understands human nature. We are holistic, not dualistic, creatures; we all desire some sort of kingdom; we all worship something; our lives are shaped by our loves. Smith puts it like this

I think we should first recognize and admit that the marketing industry – which promises an erotically charged transcendence through media that connects to our heart and imagination – is operating with a better, more creational, more incarnational, more holistic anthropology than much of the (evangelical) church … they rightly understand that we are erotic creatures – creatures who are orientated primarily by love and passion and desire … meanwhile, the church has been duped by modernity and has bought into a kind of Cartesian model of the human person, wrongly assuming that the heady realm of ideas and beliefs is the core of our being. These are certainly part of being human, but I think they come second to embodied desire. And because of this, the church has been trying to counter the consumer formation of the heart by focusing on the head and missing the target: it’s as if the church is pouring water on the head to put out a fire in our heart. (76-77)

Comments, as ever, welcome.

A Dangerous Business

27/02/2015

Here’s the text of an article I wrote on the ‘Dangerous Business’ of theological education, published in the latest Irish Bible Institute newsletter. One of the most encouraging things for me in re-reading this is how it ties in with what students actually said themselves about the transforming power of theological education. In other words, the three themes talked about below are actually happening; it isn’t just theory or nice ideas or empty words.

Feel welcome to contribute to a discussion on these. If you have studied at a theological college, what sort of experience did you have? Are you put off going to a Bible College for some reason (other than time and money)? How well can the sort of things described below happen outside a college setting in a local church? Would you list different priorities of what theological training is all about?

A DANGEROUS BUSINESS

January 2015 marked 20 years that I’ve been involved in theological education. So this is a good time to reflect! What difference does Bible College actually make in the lives of students? Let me share three themes that I hope and work and pray to see develop in the lives of students who come to IBI.

  1. Learn more about God’s redemptive story and your place within it

The ultimate source of Christian theology is the Bible. Therefore the Bible is (or should be) central to all Christian ministry and all theological education. So far, so obvious – I teach at a Bible Institute after all. But what do we mean when we say the Bible is central to Christian training?

When I started out teaching, I assumed that the ‘right’ way to introduce students to the highpoints of Christian theology was in systematic categories. Isn’t that what most evangelical statements of faith do? – a series of bullet point summaries of what is believed about God, Scripture, Man, Jesus, Spirit, the future and so on. But after trying this for a while I (and I think the students) felt increasingly something was missing.

Now of course this might just have been the teaching (!) but it felt too much like a series of disconnected topics. It also felt too much like the purpose of the exercise was primarily to ‘know’ the ‘right’ information and so the content became too much about ‘us’ – defining ‘our’ theology. The biggest problem was that there did not seem to be much connection to mission and discipleship – the heart of the Christian life.

I’d better throw in two clarifications here. I believe in the importance of right doctrine and the supreme authority of Scripture. But over time I’ve come to love and appreciate the Bible more and more as one great all-embracing narrative with Jesus Christ at the centre of the story. And the purpose of that story is not given to us just as interesting information, but for personal and corporate transformation.

The Bible tells the (true) story of universal history. Its opening chapter begins with creation and its closing chapter ends with new creation. In between, we are given the story of Israel which, after many twists and turns, culminates in the promised saviour. Jesus is the ‘shocking’ Messiah no-one expects: a crucified man who is also creator, judge and resurrected Lord of both Jews and Gentiles, before whom every knee will bow (Phil 2:10).

Too often we reduce this story down to Jesus as my personal saviour. While this is true for every believer, on its own it individualises the gospel and narrows the Bible story to be ‘all about me’. This is why I have re-shaped my teaching to a more narrative shape. This changes how we ‘do’ theology profoundly. It is the Bible asking questions of us. It puts us and our narrow concerns off centre and in their proper place within the flow of God’s work in the world, and taking our (small) place within the story of God’s people (more of that in a moment).

The more you read the Bible this way, the more all the great doctrines of the Christian faith – such as justification by faith, sin and salvation, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the mission of the church, the future hope – make sense. I want students to ‘get’ the biblical storyline, and how the myriad of sub-plots fit within the redemptive mission of the triune God. This draws them in afresh to that story and their place of serving the Lord within the story of their own lives. And that’s one of the most satisfying and exciting things to see happen in someone’s life.

  1. See your whole life as a calling to participate in God’s mission within God’s people

But there is more to biblical theology than even this. It’s also exciting to see students ‘get’ how intimately the gospel is connected to God’s choice of a people to bear his name. In other words, understanding the Bible as a narrative connects individual faith with the mission of the church.

This goes against the grain of our individualised, consumerist, Western culture where, even for Christians, church becomes an ‘optional extra’ to ‘my’ faith. But the Bible will have none of this. The identity and mission of each individual Christian is to be worked out within the role given to the church within the mission of God. It is an incredible privilege and high calling to be invited by God’s grace to join in with others in his redemptive work in the world! How many job offers like that do you get in a lifetime?

This leads to how good theological training is taught and lived out with others in a local church community. A goal of going to Bible College is therefore far more than mere academic progress; it should help to equip and train students to preach, teach, do pastoral care, evangelism, lead, listen, and model a life of service to Jesus alongside other brothers and sisters within the family of God, wherever exactly God has placed them (Eph. 4:11-13).

  1. Being transformed by the Spirit to love God, love others

A third theme is how God’s primary agenda for students, and for every Christian, is personal transformation into the likeness (image) of his Son (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor.3:18). As Jesus both taught and demonstrated, love is both the motive and the practical form of a truly Christian life. Love is the primary result of the Spirit’s transforming presence. It is love alone which is eternal (1 Cor. 13:13) and without love all Christian ministry is a waste of time (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Love is most supremely demonstrated at the cross of Christ and gives shape to all Christian ministry (1 Cor. 9): it is not about the self – our own agendas and ambitions and achievements, but about loving and serving others for whom Christ died (1 Cor. 8:11). And for many Christians globally, sacrificial love leads to suffering.

So it has become clearer and clearer to me over the last 20 years that love is the first and most essential ‘mark’ of authentic Christian ministry. It is why ‘character’ or ‘Christian maturity’ is in Scripture the primary ‘qualification’ for any ministry. This is why the relational track record of someone in life and ministry is of primary importance, not just a footnote at the bottom of their CV. Therefore any form of theological education that does not place a high importance on Christian character is failing to do its job.

Conclusion

Understanding the Bible; knowing your true identity and calling; joining with others in serving the risen Lord; participating in God’s mission to redeem this broken world whatever the cost; being transformed, head, heart and hands, to love God and love others – this is what going to Bible College is all about. It’s a dangerous business – might God be daring you to give it a try?

Patrick Mitchel

Musings on sex, capitalism and the same-sex marriage referendum

24/02/2015

Ireland will vote on same-sex marriage in a referendum in May.

I’ve been re-reading Daniel Bell’s excellent The Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern World (Baker Academic, 2012).

What have these two rather random things to do with each other? Well, while Bell’s analysis of capitalism isn’t focused on sex, reading him with the upcoming referendum in mind opens up what I think is an often overlooked angle on how we think about sex and sexuality. Namely: how deeply and profoundly contemporary our attitudes are shaped by the beliefs and values of free-market capitalism.

Some of these unacknowledged assumptions are rising to the surface in the same-sex marriage debate. Assumptions shaped by the ubiquitous, pervasive and ‘normalised’ nature of capitalism in our culture. Since it’s the air we breathe, we don’t notice it. It’s such a natural and assumed part of everyday life that it just ‘is’.

The purpose of this post is to suggest, and invite discussion on the idea, that the culture in which we live is deeply shaped by a capitalist and consumerist view of human relationships. More specifically, it is to suggest that the reason that the same-sex argument for equality of treatment of gay couples with heterosexual couples is so ‘obvious’ and powerful (and unstoppable) is because if fits perfectly into the assumptions and beliefs of contemporary capitalism.

Just to be clear – this post is making no comment at all on the rights and wrongs of same-sex marriage. That’s another topic entirely. These are musings on why the same-sex marriage argument is going to win the referendum.

Nor am I proposing that it is ‘only’ proponents of same-sex marriage (or sexual equality and freedom in general) who are shaped by the beliefs, assumptions and values of capitalism and consumerism – just take a look at the disintegration of traditional marriage in Irish and many western societies (and Christians are far from exempt).

So, to Daniel Bell. He sketches various characteristics of what he calls ‘HOMO ECONOMICUS’: an anthropology shaped and moulded by capitalism. I’m loosely linking to just some of his ideas.

  1. The Individual

The freedom of the individual will benefit society. Limits on the expression of individualism will harm society in terms of freedom and prosperity. Individual autonomy comes before any form of collectivist control (state or religious).

This means that there is little expectation or vision for what society ought to be. Indeed, there is no ‘ought’ in capitalism apart from the market being free.

In terms of human identity, each one of us becomes our ‘own’ manager: creators of our own ‘brand’. We alone are owners of ourselves: our bodies; our possessions; our lives. We are free to dispose of and do with them as we wish. No-one has a right to tell us otherwise.

At the top of O’Connell St in Dublin you can go the monument to Charles Stewart Parnell. At its base there is a quote from him saying this

No man has a right to fix a boundary to the march of a nation

In his day, nationalism was the unquestioned good shaping the direction of Ireland. Today, we could paraphrase Parnell to say

No man or woman (or anyone on the gender spectrum in between the two) has a right to fix a boundary to the onward march of the individual.

To question unfettered individualism is a very modern heresy.

Links to current debates about sex and sexuality are not hard to see. The 1937 Irish Constitution was written in a different world: a culture where the individual’s rights were circumscribed by family, faith and nation. Some arguments opposing same-sex marriage are functioning from (or wishing we could go back to) that framework. Some argue that the big issue is what form of marriage is best for children. But such is the unquestioned good of individualism within capitalism such arguments will gain little or no traction.

For it’s the unfettered imagination, creativity and entrepreneurial power of the free individual that drives capitalism. In terms of sexual identity the individual must be allowed and encouraged to pursue his or her own authentic identity – whatever form it takes: bisexual, lesbian, gay, transgender or queer or ….

  1. Freedom for freedom’s sake

It’s important to understand capitalist freedom. It is freedom for freedom’s sake. What matters is that the individual is free to choose. What the individual chooses is virtually irrelevant because capitalism has no logical internal ethic or moral core. It has no teleology – no ultimate goal or end result in sight. It is freedom from restriction of choice rather than freedom for something in particular.

So, when capitalist freedom is applied to sexual ethics, it is obvious that the individual should have a right to choose whatever sexual identity and practice they wish. Human dignity derives from the individual’s right to choose. To deny such freedom is to deny human dignity and identity. Free choice is a virtue to be defended.

Opponents of same-sex marriage (and various other restrictions on freedom of sexual expression) are therefore not defenders of morality but deniers of virtue.

  1. Self Interest

Bell uses the term ‘interest maximizer’ but this really means self-interest. Let me clarify here – I’m not proposing that somehow all proponents of sexual freedom for the individual are motivated by selfishness. Self-interest is not the same as selfishness. It is self-interest that is a vital factor that drives the success of capitalism.

For example, Adam Smith saw human life as being shaped by self-interest and this to him was a very good thing. It is the way the world works. Self interest drives the market: it is a powerful source of reform, renewal, market efficiency, creativity and liberty.

Apply capitalist thinking to sexual ethics and you end up with no particular moral or ethical boundaries to sexual relationships. If two (or more – there is no logical boundary to formalising polyamorous relationships) people enter into freely chosen behaviours that are in their mutual self-interest, this is what the market allows and should not be restricted but rather facilitated.

Therefore, those that would put boundaries on the individual right to pursue their own self-interest are seeking to control freely chosen acts of autonomous individuals and should be resisted.

  1. An invisible God

A final characteristic of capitalism is the irrelevance of God and / or religious belief. The ‘god’ of the free market is invisible and impersonal; a hand of providence that ensures that the individual pursuit of self-interest ends up (supposedly) benefitting the whole. The system does not need God, or any form of particularly Christian ethics to function. It believes that most good is done when most individuals pursue maximal gain.

Again, apply this to modern debates about sexual ethics and it becomes apparent that this sort of capitalist thinking well describes the zeitgeist. Religious beliefs should be kept invisible; they have no place in the public square. They are actually a hindrance to the wider good. Most good is done when most individuals have the free choice to live as they please. No particular ethical or moral framework should be allowed to dictate to free individuals. God, if he exists, is in the far background out of sight and mind.

Individualism

Freedom

The virtue of self-interest

 An invisible God (no particular moral or ethical framework)

These are powerful forces in western contemporary culture that when combined provide a formidable cultural wave that will wash opposition in Ireland to same-sex marriage aside.

What do you think? How does this description make you feel?

If capitalism reinforces and affirms individual freedom and sexual identity above all, what are the implications for Christians living in such a culture?

Do you agree that much conservative and Christian opposition to liberalising law around sexual ethics tends to concentrate on the symptoms and not the cause? In other words, conservative and Christian opposition to same-sex marriage tends to ignore how capitalism has reformed and deformed human relationships. Neither does it tend to be self-critical of how Christian practice of marriage and sexuality has also been debased by capitalist consumerism.  This is because capitalism is either seen as a good thing or it is such a ‘natural’ everyday presence that it is not even noticed.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

The unique contribution of theological education?

16/02/2015

This post is prompted by a day of oral presentations recently given by final year students at the Irish Bible Institute reflecting critically on their own learning journey during their studies.

It was a fascinating day. There were no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers for which students would get better grades (including being complimentary or not about the staff and teaching at IBI). The focus was on the process of critical reflection itself.

Obviously I can’t name names or get into detailed specifics , but the presentations highlighted for me the distinctive and powerful contribution of formal theological education in preparing and better equipping men and women for the demands of Christian ministry.

Bible studyI’m aware that some may disagree, but I think that the focused scope and content of many things the students talked about just would not happen in any structured way in the messiness of daily life and/or in church ministry.

Nor will it happen in the same way within an ‘in-house’ church discipleship programme.

And this is why I’m convinced that giving dedicated time to theological education is a powerful and transformative process that remains virtually indispensable for those that would lead and minister.

Please note that I’m not saying that such things can only occur at a Bible Institute / College / or Seminary. In each point listed below, I have used words like ‘greater’ or ‘increased’. Theological education builds on what is already there in the life of a Christian.

But I am suggesting, from experience, that time at such a place is powerfully transformative in a way that almost impossible to replicate elsewhere. Student after student said it was a life-changing experience.

These are the sort of things (in no particular order) that students identified as happening within their own experience of theological education and training:

  • The value of formal constructive criticism – in academic work, in personal accountability and so on. The value of having a mentor.
  • Greater clarity of the need to train and disciple others and the skills to do so
  • Deeper awareness of one’s own learning style and taking appropriate steps in response
  • How to handle the Bible better: skills in biblical exegesis and appropriate application
  • Training in pastoral care: practical skills, theological framework and the importance of knowing your limits
  • Deeper self-awareness of one’s own theological assumptions, biases and prejudices;- this particularly highlights the value of diversity within theological training. Such diversity will tend to be flattened out where all teachers and students are from one tradition.
  • A stronger foundation for Christian faith: one that has been explored, questioned and examined critically in dialogue with various alternative voices
  • The importance of dependence on God and on others rather than independence: the power of a diverse community of learners.
  • Improved self-esteem coming out of a stronger theological understanding of being made in the image of God
  • A holistic (rather than a previously dualistic) understanding of life and ministry. All of life and work is ‘holy’ and Jesus is Lord of all.
  • Improved skills of communication; oral and written. Like any skill, practice leads to improvement.
  • A deeper ability to integrate theology with everyday life: not easy or automatic, but a call to faith and trust in the goodness and providence of God in the face of suffering and fear
  • A clearer sense of the primacy and importance of love within all Christian ministry
  • An enhanced understanding of the context and challenge of Christian mission within a post-Christendom culture: earthed and worked out in discussions with interviewees.
  • A clearer understanding of self-identity within the greater mission of God. Salvation is not just ‘all about me’ but how I can love God, serve others and shape my life around the mission of God.
  • Increased humility (I know how little I know) and less dogmatic: and therefore more compassion for others
  • More able to teach; less focused on narrow ‘what does this mean to me?’ interpretation but on wider context and theology of the text.
  • A greater understanding of the place and importance of the church within the redemptive plan of God
  • An increased appreciation of the whole Bible and the importance of the OT for contemporary life and ethics.
  • More awareness of the importance of listening: to other points of view; to non-believers; to the wider culture – and a sharper sense of the alternative story of the Christian faith.
  • A deeper faith that is concerned about much more than personal happiness, but can face suffering, persecution and rejection.
  • A sharper awareness of personal and corporate (church) failure and sin – and the need for grace, compassion and good news in everyday Christian life and ministry
  • A clearer sense of personal gifting and calling to specific areas of ministry emerging out of critical reflection, mentoring and constructive criticism
  • A more positive and holistic view of life in general and an ability to enjoy the good things of God’s creation with gratitude and thanks
  • A greater sense of urgency in mission
  • A committment to every member ministry in light of the gifting of the Spirit to all believers
  • A sharper awareness that Christianity, and the Bible, is centered on Jesus with all sorts of implications for discipleship, teaching, evangelism, preaching and so on.

Hearing these sorts of things was very encouraging.

I’d be interested in your opinions on this list – anything strike you in particular?

Do you think that formal theological education does have a unique contribution to make to the church? If so, what is it? If not, why not?

 

 

In honour of Greece

12/02/2015

David McWilliams is by far the most entertaining and creative economist in Ireland today. “Not much competition” I hear you mutter. Perhaps. It’s true that those adjectives are not normally associated with the ‘dismal science’. But McWilliams has a wonderful gift for making economics both understandable and, more importantly, human.

That’s because he’s a great story teller and his post of a couple of days ago is one of his best. Germans, Greeks, Bob Marley, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Jubilee, Capitalism, Communism, Catholicism, morality and the future of Europe all appear.

He is, in my amateur opinion, absolutely right about Europe now being a Bankocracy. And a bankocracy, I suspect, will collapse sooner or later as the elite whom it best serves become more and more isolated from an alienated majority.

I wish the Greeks well in their bid to re-negotiate down their absurd, immoral and unpayable level of debt. I admire the people’s courage to call the bluff of European elite who are protecting reckless lenders from taking responsibility for the risks they took while ruthlessly punishing the entire Greek nation for the mistakes their own leaders, bankers and some of the people made in getting into such debt.

We visited Greece for the first time last summer. On an island, after a tough enough hike in the hot sun down to a secluded and beautiful beach, we gratefully found a little family-run tavern nearby. The owners treated us like family, bringing out a delicious supply of mama’s home-made creations to sample. Afterwards, the son offered to drive us back up the long and uphill road. We were so glad of the lift!

In the car he told he was a qualified architect, but like everyone his age group, he had absolutely no hope of any work. He had had to return to his parents little home to have a roof over his head and food to eat. It’s his ‘lost generation’ that I wish well. I hope that some sort of reason prevails that can give people like him some sort of hope about the future instead of endless economic contraction and imposed austerity.

Here are some photos in honour of a beautiful country with generous and welcoming people.

IMG_2909

Corinthian Canal

Corinth

Delphi

Delphi

Tholos in Delphi

Tholos in Delphi

Naxos

Naxos

Parthenon

Parthenon

Young Athlete 340-330BC

Young Athlete 340-330BC

Epidaurus

Epidaurus

IMG_3121

Nafplion

Entrance to Mycenae

Entrance to Mycenae

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