#Adventbookclub: Mary


Luke 1:26-38

We get a sense of Mary, a woman who has been well-prepared for a role as homemaker by her mother. She is a woman who loves the world, loves life, and can see God in every part of it. Her parents thought that she would find it difficult to find a husband as she was too ‘headstrong’, but

I just wanted a strong love and a deep passion, and a way to channel this energy and faith and knowledge of God which was boiling inside me.

She describes herself as having a tremendous presence of God, the beliefs infusing everything that she’s doing, although they sometimes frighten her

I simply believe in God like I believe in the flowers and the trees and the birds and the seasons. God is there, with me and for me.

“God is not a thing… God is the lens through which I look upon everything and receive everything.” She suspects that others see her as mad, holy or deeply religious, but indicates that she’s simply a girl who wants to “seize hold of life and all its benefits”, living every moment as if its the only one she’ll ever have. We get a sense of the confusion as she takes in the import of the words, especially understanding how she can be with child as a virgin… it’s all too big to take in, but “it is as if heavy has reached down to earth, and touched me.”

This chapter is interwoven with lines from Christmas carols, as Mary seeks to understand, thinks how she’ll explain to Joseph, how the world will perceive what is happening, but the words of the angel she holds onto “nothing is impossible with God”.


Just picking the bit I love from Brian’s reflections from today – how are we being shaped by this journey:

Let your ‘inner quality of aliveness’ burn, like a candle.

Go with the waxing and waning of the spiritual life.

Celebrate beauty in a myriad shades and textures (it’s not all back and white!).

Hope, don’t keep wishing.

Nurture patience, and be ripened like a fruit

#AdventBookClub: Elizabeth


Luke 1 5-15; 24-25; 39-45

Today we meet with Elizabeth, who has spent too long saying ‘if only’, and wishing for a child. She is disappointed that everyone assumed that it was her fault that there were no children (I have friends who have experienced this false assumption!), with the baby causing an emptiness between them, and a feeling of emptiness in her own life. For those who desire children, this is a sad state to be in, and there must be ways to find a better resolution – shame she didn’t have Sheridan Voysey’s book Broken Dreams to read.

Having sought to be supportive of friends who have got pregnant, she is overjoyed (but confused at the timing) once she is pregnant. Her husband, Zechariah, she describes as unsurprisingly full of doubt and fear (as age/disappointment have made them cynical), and therefore didn’t believe the angelic messenger – and so was struck dumb until the birth of John – who would come to share the good news of Jesus.

As her cousin Mary visits, she sees the life, joy and vitality in the young women. As the children in their wombs jump towards each other, Elizabeth feels that she has been reborn, losing all the bitterness of past years. She sees that her child will point the way to Mary’s child.


Brian reflected today on the juxtaposition he felt yesterday in watching the school nativity play, after the news of the Pakistan school shootings – this sentence stood out:

“This is a universe at war,” wrote CS Lewis, once upon a time. And Christmas was a key battle in it – not some soft-focused winter pick-me-up, but a cosmic fight-back. As John Eldredge reminds us, “The coming of Jesus was a dangerous mission, a great invasion a daring raid into enemy territory.” He would get himself killed, lest we forget.

I also really appreciated being given a free download of this book by Phil.

#AdventBookClub: Joseph #Advent20


Matthew 1:18-24

Today we look at what happens in ‘The Christmas Story’ from the perspective of Joseph. Joseph is ‘a practical man’ who makes things (a carpenter) – unlike those who work in the ‘learned’ sector, he finds true satisfaction in getting something ‘done’ and there being no question that it is ‘done’. This does not stop him dreaming, however (named after ‘the most famous dreamer  in history’)…

He speaks of the joy of meeting Mary, so full of hope, expectation and zest, who re-awoke his dreaming in the full. He describes this not as love in the sense that many would think of it, but of love as the ‘accumulation of shared memories… the weaving together of separate stories into this story’, maturing slowly amongst commitment and ‘determined choosing’ (not so much the words we hear about with ‘romantic love’.

We see the tough, real emotions, the doubts that fill his mind as he looks at the pregnant Mary, and thinks of the times that others call him a fool … but, as a deeply religious man, a dream from God has given him the confidence to stand by her, and once the decision was made, he got on with things. He loves the Mary that is not a weak woman but ‘a force of joy and energy and life’, although he wonders that God could not have chosen someone better prepared.

Familiar with a wide range of trees/woods, Joseph finds it hard to see the bigger picture, but knows that the sturdy trees started out as but a seed. Unlike the trees, we long to be someone or something else…

Idolatry was always our greatest failing – making God out of wood, rather than seeing God in the wood itself.

Cottrell finishes, putting thoughts into Joseph’s mind as to what the future will be for this baby? Will it bring something refreshing, or will he be a barren tree on a lonely hill?


And the piece I liked from Brian Draper today:

Try to notice the times when you are seeking to impress others, today. Stop and ask yourself, how can I act differently, lovingly –  in order to give something, instead of trying to get something, out of the situation.

Always gracefully challenging us!

#Adventbookclub: Martha #advent20


Luke 2: 1-7

Martha is the name given the Innkeeper’s wife in this version of the story. She’s a rather cynical woman who’s done her fair share of midwifery, and, clearly feels she’s been taken advantage of frequently, so is quite tough with a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude. She saw both desperation and dignity in Joseph and Mary, however, and so took pity on them. She gives a clear impression of just how dirty and dingy the space was, with straw full of excrement, probably not refreshed for several days (due to lack of time), with a trough (manger) provided for the forthcoming baby. We get a sense of just how scary this was for Mary – she’s young, and not experienced giving birth before… she goes through the full painful process.. and then engages in some ostentatious breastfeeding! Martha doesn’t understand it all, but feels that there is something different .. likening it to a new fire being kindled…


Brian thinks about those who make such a big effort for Christmas, and questions what elements of Christmas we should really/truly be making an effort for:

But it matters that we try. I mean, what was it about Christmas itself that proved so powerful that the guns fell silent, albeit briefly, in December 1914?

If Jesus was born as a child, what else is possible for us to achieve?

#AdventBookClub: David, with #Advent20


Image (CC) Wikipedia

Luke 2:8-17

Today, we’re looking at the events of that first Christmas through the eyes of ‘David’, a shepherd. We are often given a ‘romantic’ view of the shepherds, but Cottrell makes it clear that these were crude, vulgar men, used to a hard lifestyle, enjoying women and drink. Alongside, they were gentle (but pragmatic), as they cared for their animals (with fore-echoes of Jesus’ coming as look at ‘the lamb’s blood shed’, and questioning whether there’s a higher purpose to that. Unlike the Magi, his eyes are focused on the ground, as he needs to pay attention to the sheep – stupid, mindless, and silly… When the angels appeared, fear filled the shepherds, but also a calm as they basked in the glory. An ordinary man, he stated that “normal will never be the same again”. They were so excited/convinced, that they left the sheep behind, raucously entered Bethlehem, then sat in calm silence admiring Jesus, unable to understand why God would visit ‘such a dismal place‘, but filled with something that overflowed so that they had to tell everyone that they met.


As Brian looks back to 1914, when the ‘light’ of humanity broke through the fighting in that ‘simple’ football match on the front at World War 1, he suggests:

Try this! Put down your weapons, today. Look for the good in someone else. Especially in your enemy, or someone you really don’t like. Watch for goodness breaking out in difficult conditions, and celebrate it. Gossip about it, thank people, and report the good news within the RSVPs! Try to rise up beyond your own entrenched position, and see what happens when you do.

#AdventBookClub: Casper and #Advent20


#AdventBookClub: Casper

Matthew 2:1-2, 10-12

Today, we have the story of one of the Magi, a man who had planned journeys for many others based upon the stars, but (according to this interpretation), this was the first time he’d felt the need to follow a star himself (a chance to ‘awaken the dream inside’).

Better to keep looking upwards, to chase after dreams and stumble, than only ever see the few steps in front of you and spend a lifetime going round in circles, getting nowhere fast.

He talks of the experience of travelling strange lands, meeting Herod (a mistake where they took their eyes from the stars, and focused upon maps), a man who “only wanted to hear what he needed in order to subvert and control”. As he met with the other wise men along the journey, he gives a sense of how, although they had faith in what they followed, they didn’t have certainty as to what they would find, describing them as ‘wise men behaving like fools’. What they found, a babe in a manger, was not what they expected from a King … but was “better” than what they expected

We were part of a drama so much bigger than ourselves; something we would probably never understand properly. We simply had to carry on faithfully playing our part.

As he questioned what ‘true wisdom’ was, he

… wondered if true wisdom might be this: to know what matters, and to rest secure in the peaceful affirmations of loving and of being loved.

Having met Jesus “the whole direction of our lives was changed”. As they left, rather than an ending, Casper felt that this was the beginning of something new.

#Advent20: Day 8

Advent is a time of waiting. Brian asks us what is the difference between waiting and wishing. If we wish that we could ‘magically escape’ our current situations, we may miss the opportunity to be present in the present moment. We typically dream of a ‘make-believe future where everything is all right’, or rosily remember a time in the past when all things were good… and then forget what’s good about here and now.

If we are ‘wishing’ for something, can we think about how we could turn that into something more hopeful (and active).

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; for my hope comes from him”

#Advent20: Day 9

Again, on the theme of waiting – how can we be thankful that God is more patient than we are, and think how long he waits for us, and for so many aspects of his creation:

‘Our impatient age,’ says Bonhoeffer, ‘wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot. Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting – that is, of hopefully doing without – will never experience the full blessing of fulfilment.

‘For the greatest, most profound, tenderest things in the world, we must wait. It happens not here in a storm but according to the divine laws of sprouting, growing and becoming.’

Practically, we are encouraged to think those times where we are impatient (in queues), etc and seek a way to turn that time into something hopeful, restful and/or productive.

#Advent20: Colours

Rainbow coloured swirl background (from Stockfish)

Brian today encourages us to look at the colours around us, in the sky, on the ground – an infinite range of colours, with subtle shifts and tonal changes. It’s so easy to look at our spiritual journey in black and white terms (I’m thinking what did I do/not do, have I developed or not?), but the reality of our lives is more subtle and nuanced, as these colours demonstrate, as the light reflects from white to black …

As we wait in the ‘now and not yet’, we are in a rich place – artistically, spiritually, practically, and with space to explore, without necessarily knowing what the full picture is. We are challenged to sit and watch a scene, and see how the colours subtly change, and recognise that within ourselves.

P.S. I properly looked at the full moon last night = fabulous!


‘Fathomless Riches’ by @RevRichardColes


I was given Fathomless Riches: Or how I went from Pop to Pulpit at the Church and Media Network Conference earlier this year (even got a signed copy!). I read it last week, splitting it over about 4 evenings. Here’s a handful of sections that I grabbed screenshots of:

The unwisdom of loving a particular institution, whether that be the BBC or the Church of England:


The dangers of returning to study in such an intensive place as ordination training college: IMG_20141204_080011

There’s some thoughts on the body here … what it would be discover one’s own body in all its”loveliness”:IMG_20141207_140524

Hah, everyone thinks they are going to be found at at some point! (Imposter syndrome – acknowledge it and move on)


A modern day take on the story of the Samaritans – beautiful:


And this piece on the care that must be taken re: how we know each other (also possible re e.g. support groups!)


Thank you Richard, I enjoyed it, and recommend it to other people – it’s a real. honest account of a life lived in the spotlight in different ways, and in continuing on the discipleship journey, as we all are – just some do it more publicly than others!

#AdventBookClub: Herod

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Matthew 2:3-8

So, under Herod the Great, we’ve already seen how ‘The Slaughter of the Innocents” affected the mothers (and presumably fathers), so let’s have a look inside Herod’s head!

Placed against the harrowing story of Rachel and her ‘grief to the bowels’, it’s quite a shock to come to the end of this chapter from Herod, and realise that he killed all the first sons under 2 years old for expediency, to ensure that he wouldn’t miss out killing Jesus, the threat that the Magi and the prophets had alerted him to (although as I understand it, he didn’t live to see Jesus’ ministry anyway). Herod believed that his power was threatened, that he had such a tenuous hold on power, that any threats needed to be stamped on quickly and comprehensively.

Herod was power-crazy, power-hungry, a megalomaniac, yes? A term that’s still applied to those in politics and other forms of power today. As Herod indicates, it’s a lonely place to be, and you take the responsibility for the decisions that you make when you don’t include others. When he welcomed the Magi, feasted them – Herod believed that he was using drink/food to loosen their tongues, but if we believe the prophets, this was how it was all meant to be (still an uncomfortable thought if leads to the slaughter), and the Magi, warned once they left, didn’t return to pass on further information. Herod’s problem here, was that he felt that he’d shown up publicly, in front of his people “made to look stupid, made to look weak”, and that “one painful cull and the problem solved”. There were fears about what the prophets had foretold, but ultimately, Herod believed that all these people were gullible, and therefore it was better to deal with “the problem” at the beginning (although clearly believing that it was a real enough problem that such drastic measures were needed).

See who else is blogging along at #adventbookclub, or see the tweets.

#AdventBookClub: Rachel & #Advent20: Appreciating the Dark

Luke 2 – 36-38


Image from Wikipedia

One of those uncomfortable passages in the Bible “The Slaughter of the Innocents“, which is very uncomfortable to read, and even more so through the voice of Rachel, who graphically watches her 10 month old son’s throat slit in front of here because of Herod’s fear of Jesus as a challenger to his throne. Rachel indicates that she wishes no harm to Jesus, but wishes he hadn’t been born:

I stare, silently raging against the gathering blackness of the night. My light has gone out.

There’s a definite theme of light and darkness coming through here … can surely be few things as dark as watching the child you’ve given birth to murdered. Sometimes, we need a gentle light to come back in and help us contemplate:

Image from The Worship Cloud

Image from The Worship Cloud

From yesterday’s #Advent20 with Brian Draper (which makes me think of the candle we used the other week at retreats to signal that we were sitting down to eat, to focus on the beautiful food we were eating):

It gives, she says, of the materials of its outer form in order to release the heat and fragrance held within it. That’s when we see what a candle really is: ‘its outer life is tallow and wick; its inner life is flame.’ God, through Jesus, is surely our shining example: giving of himself, selflessly, luminously, to light the way.

In today’s email, Brian draws our attention to an article by Barbara Brown Taylor ‘In Praise of Darkness’, in which she highlights that she feels her life is more like the waxing and waning of the moon, rather than the steady light of the sun. We are often afraid of the (real and metaphorical) dark but:

Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.

We live in a world, however, where we seek to be distracted from the dark, learning from “gurus” how to be happy, how to eat/buy, etc. in order to shut out the darkness, rather than learning the lessons that it has to teach us. Taylor also indicates that there are theological problems with seeking to polarise light and dark (as most church liturgy does), identifying God with the sunny side of life, and leaving you on your own in the difficult times… tucking away those things out of sight, rather than dealing with (e.g. depression) in any meaningful sort of way. Such positive churches are brilliantly life-affirming when all is going well, but when things go wrong, you’ll be told “God won’t give you more than you can handle“, etc., and church won’t seem to be a place of refuge.

WTC Theology: Week 5: The Holy Spirit



“The term pneumatology comes from two Greek words, namely, pneuma meaning “wind,” “breath,” or “spirit” (used of the Holy Spirit) and logos meaning “word,” “matter,” or “thing.” As it is used in Christian systematic theology, “pneumatology” refers to the study of the biblical doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Generally this includes such topics as the personality of the Spirit, the deity of the Spirit, and the work of the Spirit throughout Scripture.” https://bible.org/seriespage/4-pneumatology-holy-spirit

Pinnock, Clark. Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit.

Understandingthe anointing of the spirit is more central than much theological study makes it. The Spirit was visible in all of Jesus’ life and mission – he was anointed, and a man of the Spirit.

Logos Christology has ‘towered’ over other interpretations, the divine word became flesh.

Spirit Christology – views Christ as an aspect of the Spirit’s mission, rather than the Spirit as part of Christs.

“The Almighty has inserted himself into history and humanity in Jesus – as weak, powerless and dependent on the Spirit – in order to become what we were meant to be, the communion of God and humanity. By the Spirit he has also become through resurrection the first fruits of the new humanity.” (p81)

Jesus coming opened a dfoor for humanity to enter God’s presence – transformed and glorified – unity with God, which is the destiny of creation

The Spirit is not subordinate to the Son, the two are partners in the redemptive process.

Luke, in describing the birth of Jesus, describes the Spirit of God hovering over Mary – reminders of the Spirit brooding over the waters of creation. (Lk 1:35). The Spirit has aways been present/working in the world. Jesus offered the same grace that has always been there, but is being explicitly offered – unambiguously.

Creator Spirit? Brought forth intelligenct creations for communication and fellowship with God – capable of appreciating more dimensions of the sound. The Spirit is working to orient people towards the ‘mystery of divine love’.

(p84) As shown in the story of the prodical son. “Love is not forced on the beloved, who is allowed freedom to make his own choices, even if it means siding with the darkness.” In having ;allowed’ evil, God made salvation available, creating hope, reissuring an invitation to glory. We can see evidence of the Spirit in the Old Testament – rescuing Israel from danger and distress again and again. Jesus in coming to earth made himself as dependent on the Spirit as everyone that he was living with[and us].

Jesus rarely spoke about the Spirit, but demonstrated its reality (rather than developing a doctrine). The conception of Jesus was an act of new creation. There is a fresh start for humanity, restored into communion with God.

Baptism of the Spirit in water … baptism … Noah and Jesus’ anointing – see the spiritual and the physical flowing together. Jesus’ time of temptation – the Spirit led him down the path of suffering, as with us, not “let” to avoid it. Jesus was only able to resist temptation because of his dependency on the Holy Spirit (was not play-acting, or living as a God = fully human) – modelling a lifestuyle of faith and trust for us all. Defining Kenosis: “He emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”.

The Spirit enabled Jesus to live within the limits of human nature – to be ‘truly human’, rather than drawing on divine attributes. The Spirit was clearly with Jesus in his Ministry – providing healting – “a God who wills human wholeness”, setting people frree from entrapment, bringing hope, and liberating relationships. Because the relationship between the Spirit and Jesus is so critical, those who dismiss/discredit it (or see it as Satanic) are judged harshly. Miracles, etc. were not performed to impress, but for salvation of the body and soul – demonstrating the entrance of the Kingdom into the present. Jesus’ activities of liberation were powerful, but a threat to the status quo – leading to the Cross, where Jesus had to rely on the Spirit to get him through, and the Spriit enabled the Resurrection.

Spirit/Logo Christology are complementary, not antiethical. Logos = the Person, Spirit = his work. Neither are subordinate to the other, but reciprocal.

Why did the outpouring of the Spirit/Pentecost wait until Jesus’ death? “End time salvation could not come into play until this mission was completed and this representation had taken place.” Salvation == becoming one person with Christ, dying with him to sin and sharing the promise of his resurrection. Jesus’ death was an act of atonement that includes us (not excludes) rather than replaces us. “Christ became what we are in order that we might become what he is.” It can hard to grasp that Christ came to stand alongside us, as we tend towards individualistic thinking. Others act on our behalf all the time – e.g. govt leaders.

Soteriology is the study of the doctrine of salvation. Soteriology discusses how Christ’s death secures the salvation of those who believe. It helps us to understand the doctrines of redemption, justification, sanctification, propitiation, and the substitutionary atonement. http://www.gotquestions.org/Soteriology.html#ixzz3L1QCYiYB

Theologically – “once we grasp the fact that we are saved by Christ’s life, we may be open to fresh thinking about how we are saved by his death.” (p99). Too much theology focuses on the idea that we are saved byChrist’s DEATH on the Cross, whereas it’s his resurrection that saves us… his power OVER death. Both sin and death are problems for humankind, because death entered the world with sin. The RESURRECTION is not just proof of God’s divinity, but cause for salvation and transformation as we share life with him.

“We were created in the image of God, with a view to growing into the likeness of God”. Lost with Adam, Christ restores this likeness., is our representative on the journey.

(p101) “Humans are open to the future. They make plans and strive to realize goals. But we are mortal, and ultimately the future lies in God’s hands.”

Representation/solidarity – God entered deeply into the human situation to overcome all our alienation. Spirit Christology – centralises resurrection – conceptulise the cross as recapitulation, and give the Spirit back the world of atonement.

Popular view sees Father as Judge and Son as victim, rather than understanding that this was a united action.. the enemy defeated by an act of defenceless love. Jesus did not give himself as an appeasement, but surrendered himself to God on our behalf. C.S. Lewis spoke of Christ as the carrier of good infection – we need to get close enough to catch the virus of new life. Delicate topic = “divine wrath” – but Christ was both victim and victor on the Cross. Strange theologically as grace then appears conditional upon penal satisfaction… but it was the Father who took the initiative in reconciling the world. Jesus was not the solitary victim but representative of the whole of Adam’s race.

Vindictive anger … no … God’s saving action = serving grace. The Cross and resurrection is a trinitatarian event. Doesn’t discount http://www.theopedia.com/Penal_substitutionary_atonement, but wants to raise the question of a judge that loves us and desires our friendship – the two can work together.

Fee, Gordon D. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. (Chapter 2 ‘ God Revisits his People.’

[Interesting in a digital age] – presence (what people miss, and what cannot be taken place by any form of media (phone calls, photos, etc) – for shared life, loved ones need to be present. God made us in his own image because he is a personal, relationship being – we have lost our vision of God, and therefore our relationship with God. For Paul – the coming of Christ/the Spirit changed this forever. The Spirit represents both continuity and discontinuity between the old and new covenants. The Bible focuses a lot on Presence – from Genesis to Revelation – The Israelites saw themselves as a people of Presence, among whom God had chosen to dwell on earth. Old Testament = Tabernacle/Temple = where God is seen as most Present. The Fall of Jerusalem – lost the presence of God in their midst. For Paul it was important that this was seen as the Holy Spirit.

If people reject Paul’s call to holy living, they are essentially rejecting the Holy Spirit in the New Testament – as this is where the New Covenant is. .. the Holy Spirit will indwell in individuals – who are the new temple(s)? The gathered/corporate church is God’s temple in the community = incredibly important.

Hellenistic dualism – understanding amongst the Corinthians about the distinctions between physical, material reality and the immaterial, invisible realm – the human spirit not affected by what is happening with the body. God, however, created us in his image – in body as well as spriit. We have been purchased by God, and therefore minds/bodies are not their own to do with as they please. The Spirit filled life is not just contemplation, but the ethical life that the Spirit produces. The Spirit has removed the veil – between us and God, so that we can face the glory of God in full. We are in the image of God in the ‘now but not yet”.

The Spirit is not an impersonal force or influence or power – it is the fulfilment of the promise that God would once again be present with his people. Do we therefore need to downplay the impersonal images of wind & fire, etc and think instead of the Spirit as the personal presence of the eternal God.

Session 5.1: The Spirit in the Gospels

Jesus doesn’t have a God-switch to turn on e.g. miracles – he does his works through the Holy Spirit as he is fully man. Jesus wants us to know that it’s to our advantage to go away… if we wanted to meet him face-to-face we may be able to meet with him once in our lifetime, queing with billions of others – because the Holy Spirit means that He lives in each of us individually.

Session 5.2: The Holy Spirit Given

We will go on to be God’s representatives within the world – looking at various readings from Acts to show how the Holy Spirit of God can be received by all.

Session 5:3: The Spirit’s Love Gifts

Some of the gifts include actual people? (Ephesians) These people are sent to help equip us and train us to represent God. Ministries (1 Cor), Spirit’s graces (Romans). The Holy Spirit characters – love above all (1 Cor) and fruits of the spirit (Galations). If not giving to the poor/information/knowledge, etc. but if it’s not done through love, it’s pointless. Fruits of the Spirit are more than ‘emotions’. The character of Christ imparted to us as we grow – so we can deal with those we don’t like, want to hit, etc. but still deal gently and lovingly with them.

Session 5.4: The Spirit in Luke and Paul

We are given the Holy Spirit at conversation as a gift of the New Covenant, (baptismal) although Pentecostals would note a ‘second blessing’ for those who were already believers. The Holy Spirit as character, but also ‘being filled with’ (is it given, came upon, them, received it, , etc.) .

Session 5.5: The Spirit and Christian Identity

The Nicene Creed – we believe in the Holy Spirit (the triune God). In some churches known as a troublemaker, in heaven he’s known as God. When I’m praying, am I praying as me, or is the Spirit praying – once we can’t tell, that’s a good place to be. Is our flesh in communion with God’s spirit, or in communion with the world? We have each been anointed, and have the teacher within us… relationship not mediated through the Bible, priests, etc (which may help), but within you. 1 John 2 – identifying discernment. There are Christians or false prophets – as all Christians have the prophetic Christian spirit within them.




Today’s email has a call to be vulnerable, to be fully incarnate (part of the world) …

When the Word becomes flesh and lives among us, we see this in action, in the practical wonder of Incarnation. God is willing not just to touch but to be touched by humanity. Cradled, nurtured, raised. He will laugh, and weep; love, and be scarred. Heal.

Being part of this may not be easy … but head out and look at the moon – it’s the same moon that Jesus looked at..


#AdventBookClub: Anna


Source: Womeninthebible.com

Luke 2:36-38

I love the way this first chapter has been written, as a life story (and I’m always a bit of a sucker for those), knowing that ‘today’ she has met the Light of the World.

Anna, an old lady, widowed early, who sits in the Temple day and night (seen as a bit of a ‘crazy’), waiting for ‘the light’ to reach her – initially the sunlight, for which she waits, allowing herself to bathe in its presence … but she knows that she is waiting for something larger.

She sees that many come to the Temple seeing it as the destination, but she dreams that they will understand (or simply remember) that it was built to point to something greater, and not for its own sake.

She speaks of ‘today’, an ordinary day, in which a tired looking couple come in to have their firstborn male brought for the purification ritual. Simeon, who has been waiting for the fulfilment of a prophecy, now knows that his wait is over – he has seen the salvation of God, and the fulfilment of God’s promises to the whole world.

Jesus is described as the light – burning more brightly than the sun, which won’t burn us but kindle the fire in our hearts “a light that warms and consoles, illuminates and cheers” .. defeating all darkness… shining within us and revealing everything.

Anna sees what is to come for Jesus, the sorrows and the shadows, but she grieves that although many see her as the mad old woman shouting praises to God, that they won’t see the miracle in front of them. She talks of hurts and regrets remaining, but that they have been “illuminated, integrated and healed.” After such a meeting, the days following cannot be the same…

Brian Draper, on his #advent20 course, is also dealing with questions of dark and light, although with a particular encouragement to become comfortable with the dark (which Anna did in the Temple at night) – with a challenge to remove as much artificial light as possible and see what we notice, also noticing that in difficult circumstances (e.g. grief), the light that does shine through is even more powerful.

I can remember once, in prayer, soon after being diagnosed with depression, seeing a black night sky, in which one lone star twinkled as if this was the hope to cling on to… faith small as a mustard seed is enough.

#Advent20: No Light without Dark (@BrianDraper)


Brian describes how we often view the dark as ‘bad’, but the light as ‘good’, but:

We need darkness. Imagine if there were no sunsets, no chance to see the last colours of the afternoon flare and fade, or to feel the first cool breeze of the evening after a hot day, or to see the first star glimmering, or to sink into the luxurious depths of pitch-dark sleep.

He then goes on to talk about Moses meeting God on Mount Sinai, when a dark cloud envelops the mountain, obscuring the presence of God, because he’s too much for us to see uncovered. The photo above was taken on Christmas Morning, from the top of Mount Sinai (which I’d climbed over night), as the sun rise … a special experience .. but we’d had to “stumble” through the dark first .. but with our guides leading the way (they seemed to know the uncrowded, but potentially slightly more difficult route).

Also – look out for opportunities for #GivingTuesday (doesn’t need to be cash, suggestions include hugs, encouragements, etc.)

Also checking out @love_theology.

Stephen Cottrell ‘Walking Backwards to Christmas’ #adventbookclub

If you’ve never joined an online book club, well, there’s still time. Pam Webster has pulled together material for #adventbookclub, drawing on Stephen Cottrell’s Walking Backwards to Christmas, published by SPCK.

I have written in the diary to read a chapter every couple of days, but last night I read the introduction. Recently I went to see Simon Callow in That Man Jesus, a one man play that uses the voices of those associated with Jesus to tell the story of Jesus. This was the first thought that came to mind as Stephen Cottrell mentioned that he wanted to retell the Christmas story, telling the story ‘backwards’, through the voices of the different characters involved in the drama of that day.

We become so familiar with “The Christmas story”, that we forget what it’s all about, so I’m hoping with this book to be challenged into seeing the story afresh (in both its light and dark elements) as we move through Advent, and love the promise that we’ll get ‘underneath the skin’ of the story and begin to see ourselves in it.

Meantime, daily, I will be also be reading Brian Draper’s Advent 20, which today encourages us 2-3 times per day to:

1. Stop. Bring yourself to a halt. A proper one. Be still.

2. Relax. Notice if you’ve any physical tension, and let your body relax.

3. Breathe. A little more slowly and deeply. It will reconnect you.

4. Smile. This is a good and important thing you’re doing.

Today we’re encouraged to take some time to ‘be in the dark’ (if possible getting away from light pollution), as we await the light.

I’m also completing the Simplify plan on YouVersion – thankfully short and simple itself, with just one thing to think about each day…

WTC MOOC Week 4: Jesus  (@WTCTheology)

This week we’ll explore the story of Jesus Christ as revealed in the four Gospels, beginning with the testimony of face-to-face encounters with him.

John 20:11-18, 21:15-17

Matt 5:1-12

John 8:1-11


Jesus favoured indirect communication – appealing to the imagination/provoke thought. Asking questions without giving answers., using a range of styles (metaphors, similes, analogies, stories that mean what they say).

Also indirect communication via actions, and not just words, including symbolism in meals, action, riding in on a donkey, washing his disciples feet.

A common feature of indirect communication is creating a pause for thought between what is said and space for a realisation of what is meant.

Jesus does draw on the Hebrew Bible when talking with religious leaders, but otherwise “doesn’t engage in learned exegesis of Scripture”… otherwise used tales that were familiar to the world his hearers knew well… especially drawing on characters other than Kings – more regular ‘figures of authority’ that would have been meaningful to ordinary people in a rural context.

Narrative Parables: The stories were short, containing only what was needed in them to make the point, engaging, drawing their hearers into them – therefore popular. Let the story make an impact as a story, before seeking its message. Most are stories about the kingdom, rather than broad moral lessons or truths about God and the world

Aphorisms – short, tend to be skim read by modern readers, but are intended to be paused and pondered – and possibly memorised. Some are deliberately riddles/puzzles. All designed for an oral society – few off the cuff, but carefully prepared, repeated, and designed to be memorable. (Rote learning was common in the ancient world). As the gospels say, Jesus must have spoken at more length, but this is not what is recorded in the Bible (although a sense of this is given in the Gospel of John). He took every opportunity to teach and preach.

Jesus’ relationship with God ‘the father’ was core – God was clearly the God of the Hebrew scriptures. Jewish teachers constantly retold the story to bring out its relevance in the contemporary situation. Jesus = the start of re-establishment of God’s rule. He avoids direct reference to God’s action by using passive verbs, and although discussing ‘the kingdom of God’, never refers to God as ‘King’… likely because at that time, human kings offered oppressive rule. More frequent references to God as father gives more of an impression of a combination of authority and loving care (including loving correction). The importance of the word ‘Abba’ – typically used within Aramaic families from childhood to adulthood – evoking family intimacy, which Jesus is doing in his conversations to God… and then used by many non-Aramaic early Christians (whereas Jews had typically used YHWH). Note the compassionate face of Jesus, etc. does not remove the judgement of God – in fact his presence was testimony for the need to make a decision.

In Jewish tradition = 2 ways in which instructions on how to live were given. Interpretation of the law of Moses, or wisdom counsel on how to live. Jesus tended to offer radical interpretations … in answering which of the 613 commandments were most important = love God, love your neighbour (so 2 commandments), Loving ones neighbour was not the same as loving God, but loving God meant that one would love ones neighbour. Love is not emotional, but obedient… from the heart. In a conflict of laws, these 2 would be expected to override all (as demonstrated in the story of the Good Samaritan).

With an emphasis on oaths, Jesus was not banning ‘swearing’, but indicating that disciples should have no need to be ‘under oath’ to tell the truth, but should be telling the truth at all times. Even more challenging – do not retaliate. Jesus looks at motivation not outcome (e.g. murderous/adulterous/covetous thoughts). Pharisees were more concerned with ritual purity … at the expenses of moral demands. The Sabbath was to be a gift, not a burden – Jesus’ answer to an ongoing debate as to what work could be done on a Sunday. Many of these debates were not new, but Jesus exercised far more freedom in interpretation than other… and rarely argues but announces authoritatively. The integrity of the heart = the source of all true obedience to the law.

Jesus’ talking about current social structures/relationship – highlights a society in which the world’s current status/rank has no place… Fellow disciples become family … from which fathers are not listed, as fatherhood is reserved for God… Nothing (including feet washing) should be beneath a disciple’s dignity… the disciples were reduced to the lowest status, the ‘slave’ – none is more important than the others. To become like a child was not about trust, but about social status – as children had none… common thinking is subverted to do away with self-importance. Inviting the poor/destitute for meals, etc. was more than ‘generous charity’ but a well-recognised duty – treating as social equals. The beatitudes – the poor recognise their total dependence on God, whereas the rich feel self-sufficient. Jesus requires a day-by-day trust to ‘Give us this day our daily bread’.

What about Jesus’ position on Jewish political issues of the day? Again, indirectly. Protested at the markets in the Temple because the focus was on profit, which was hindering access to God’s presence, especially for the poor. The debates were religio-poltiical rather than fully political.

The story of the forgiveness of debt … the king demonstrated astonishing mercy, but the slave didn’t take the opportunity to change his world, but chose to remain where mercy is unknown – therefore the king retracted his mercy. The dark side is the seriousness with which Jesus warns of destruction for those who take the mercy and compassion of God but don’t own such extravagant generosity. The judgement therefore becomes self-imposed.



CRITIQUING Baukman – Eyewitnesses of gospel history – authoritative sources and guarantors of the traditions of Jesus.

‘The historical Jesus’ – relies on accessible material. If we don’t trust that material, how can we trust the gospels? Many have addressed these by seeking external verification to support (etc) the Gospel narratives… but can this substitute for the Gospels themselves as a way into the ‘reality of Jesus’.

The importance of testimony – to be trusted, not uncritically, but nor solely dependent upon independent verification. All history essentially relies upon testimony, and this a value and unique way of accessing historical reality. The Gospels were written within living memory – Mark early on, and the others were captured before they could be lost.

Papias – deliberately using the terminology of historiographical practice – the ‘living and surviving voice’, part of the ‘oral tradition’. He was more concerned with the voices of those who had directly connected with Jesus, rather than the collective memory of churches. Important to understand whose voices, and which names are used – what is the significance of those to ‘trust’ in the material. Evidence of commonly used names, but expected Biblical names were rare (e,g. Moses, etc.) as would have been seen as presumptuous to name ones child such. Names of the 12 disciples often given in a particular order – discrepancies across the Gospels possibly down to the way that distinctions between common names were made amongst the disciples.

Material relating to different writing devices by each gospel writer, and why some characters would need to have remained anonymous for their own safety. (especially within the early church). There are questions about what oral tradition look like, and how that helps us understand their veracity.

“Rather, given memorisation, possibly the use of writing, and the presence of eyewitness testimony, the (isolated) traditions underwent a particular kind of formal control  in their transmission.”

When these eyewitnesses started dying out ‘the Gospels will have stepped into the

role of the eyewitnesses … functioning as the guarantor of the traditions, as the eyewitnesses had in their lifetimes, and as controls on the tradition’.

Maurice Halbwach – collective memory…

In other words, ‘social memory or oral tradition has to be constantly negotiating the relationship of the present to the past. In this negotiation the past has a voice that has to be heard. It cannot be freely invented’.

Eyewitnesses would have been remembering inherently memorable events, reinforced and stablilised by frequent rehearsal soon after the event – therefore implicit reliability.

A particular focus on the Gospel of John, which appears to have been sidelined, highlighting the links between Prologue and Epilogue, showing connections.

Highlighting 2 types of discipleship – active service (Peter), and perceptive witness (John, the beloved disciple). Gospel’s interpretative nature appropriate for the subject matter. In a modern individualistic society, we need to understand more in communal or inter-subjective terms… Testimony invites trust, whereas modern historical methods come from a position of doubt… this is linked to how we can trust e.g. testimonies from the Holocaust – giving ‘truths’ in a way that other sources can’t. .. but access it as testimony.

Session 4.1: Jesus of the Gospels

‘The Word Became Flesh’ … 4 Gospels (see screenshot).


Lots of similarities, but different target audiences

  • Matthew – Jewish brethren, quotes Old Testament and how Jesus was the fulfillment of this, and the Jewishness of Jesus
  • Mark – shorter – action account, uses the word ‘immediately’ a lot. Stories revolving about Peter’s experiences. Focuses on Romans (see customs and words are explained/translated)
  • Luke – the Dr – travelled with Apostle Paul. Used many sources and researched carefully. Draws particularly on Mary (mother of Jesus) stories. Focuses on reaching the Greeks. Emphasis on healing ministry ofJesus.
  • John – 3 generations after other 3 gospels are written. Language shift – less focus on the Kingdom of God, and more about Jesus’ offer of eternal life. Jesus IS the gospel.

Session 4.2: Jesus: Face to Face

Jesus has many face-to-face, one-on-one meetings – it’s not all big mountaintop stories. They touch us because they are venues where we can also come face to face with Jesus.

JOHN 3 (NICODEMUS) – It doesn’t matter where you are born, where you come from – be born again – new life. Jesus is more than a ‘good teacher’, but the Son of God.

John 4 (Photini) – Meeting with the Woman at the Well –crossing lots of social boundaries. Evangelised, using her witness within Samaria until (probably) murdered.

John 20 – (Mary in the Garden) Mary Magdalene receives the revelation of Jesus in a garden (righting the wrongs of Eden).

John 21 (Peter on the beach) – ‘Do you Love Me?’ ‘Feed my sheep’. “I have a job for you to do” – qualifies him as a disciple and the one who would lead the story into the book of Acts.

Session 4:3 Jesus – Words of Life

‘The Sermon on the Mount’ – an introductory sermon for those who wanted to know what his core teaching was – his idea/revelation of the Torah. All of the law/prophecy – come into focus on Jesus.

The first half of each Beatitude = related to Jesus’ crucifixion, whilst the second half gives a glimpse of the resurrection. Bring into daily discipleship – what does it mean to take up your Cross daily and follow daily? What does it mean to die on the Cross but continue to live? Essentially in the Beatitudes (Matt 5-7) – not only ‘how to become a good Christian’ but how to become human. Gandhi said if we could but take up the Sermon on the Mount and live it .. many of the problems of the world would be solved.   The fine print of our Covenant with Christ – our sins are totally forgiven, and we are given the Holy Spirit as we continue on the earth.

The story of the Prodigal Son has been called the microcosm of the whole gospel. All who have wandered away are invited back – not to a retributative God, but to a welcoming God, with no need to jump through hoops for redemption. The story of the Good Samaritan is also key. Jesus picks up the broken – takes them to the Inn (church) – Jesus asks us to look after similar? If echoes today, maybe that’s a little what salt and light look like in the modern day.

Session 4:4: Jesus,: Works of Love & Power

Works of Love

John 8 – forgiving sin (woman caught in adultery) – challenging Jesus – will he obey the law of Moses or not? Law came through Moses, but grace and peace came through Jesus. (Jeremiah – writes in the dust). “Go and sin no more”, not an instruction or I’ll rescind, but because she’s been offered a fresh start (life of transformation)

Luke 8 – The demon removed from the man = a healing of his soul, not just a demon removal.

Works of Power

The miracles (signs) – including raising from the dead, healing, resurrection, calming the storm, etc.

The passion (the cross) – Matthew, Mark, Luke – seen as a humiliation/defeat until the resurrection, although John treats the Cross as the glorification of Christ at that stage.

The resurrection = at the heart of our gospel.

Session 4.5: Jesus & Beliefs

Who is Jesus? What did the church come to in the end? By the end, of Jesus’ ministry, he was seen as the Messiah, the Son of God. Fully man and fully God.

The early church – agreed on the Nicene Creed. Divine identity language – God brings everything together… God enfleshed in human form.

WTC Mooc: Week 3: Living the Christian Story – Exodus (@WTCTheology)


Core Reading

Exodus 1:1-15 (or chapters 1-15, but there’s only 10!) through to the story of the Plagues … but overall a story of oppression leading to recreation?


Israel is becoming ‘many’ as ordained at creation… but there are several obstacles to be overcome first. Seen alone, misses the ‘new humanity’ destined to restore creation blessing to the world. With Moses, see how it harks back to e.g. Noah, and forward to Israelite experiences. Moses says ‘I am’, which has led to a lot of discussions as to whether he was divine – or God’s representative. Either way it’s important to understand that God was present.

Moving from a time of chromos to kairos (exile is almost over):

Such is the case with chronos and kairos. Both are Greek words which mean time, but they imply different things.

Chronos refers to minutes and seconds. It refers to time as a measurable resource.

Kairos is the word used for time in Ephesians 5:16 (which I examined in more detail here). Kairos means an appointed time, an opportune moment, or a due season.


Constant battle between Israel/Egypt, pre-ordination of what will happen when Jesus comes, and defining the Israelite nation – the importance of the ‘firstborn’ sons, the gradual admittance of the ‘superior power of Yahweh’. The parting of the waves of the ‘Reed Sea’ answers the question of who is in control. The goal of the journey to re-establish the Abrahamic covenant, having passed through the water, now to pass through the human gauntlet, to re-establish ‘Edenic sanctuary’, where God can dwell again with his people. The importance of Mount Sinai to the Torah… a new covenant with God – where obedience leads to blessing/fullness of life, disobedience to curse and death – set apart as a ‘holy nation’, imaging God to the nations. Moses as the mediator between God/the people as God is too powerful, a covenant marked by blood/a sacrifice. An important part of this covenant is to work and rest. The development of the Tabernacle = similarities with Eden, but even before the covenant is made, the Israelites have broken it with false idols. The freedom emphasised by the divine is ‘grace and mercy’. In the 10 commandments, the judgements are given first, but the ‘rear view’ of God emphasises mercy and forgiveness. The golden calf doesn’t represent God, but human beings in converse with him.


Pharaoh felt threatened by immigrants (such as Jacob’s family) – so became ruthless in the tasks they imposed upon them – but despite this – the numbers increased. Considers how this is in parallel with the Latin American experiences (of men currently in jail) – especially when they are given ‘education’ but not opportunities to take jobs, so go back to what they know – a life of crime – in order to live. The ‘baby boys’ were killed before they could become a problem. The Egyptians needed the immigrants because they did the work that the Egyptians didn’t want to do, but the general thinking was for deportation or down-trodden-ness. The midwives were expected to kill the boys, but refused, so were blessed by God. By worldly standards, Pharaoh was at the top, but God was on the side of the oppressed/weak (not the oppressors) and they survived.

Often when people read the Bible, they read it through oppressive interpretations, which can be subverted by careful reading of the text itself. Guided readings can question assumptions and invite unexpected identifications. When Moses impulsively kills a harsh taskmaster, he has to flee – originally a ‘saviour’ he is now absent from the scene, and failing to intervene – how many see God also… but a deeper reading can see a bigger picture coming to fruition.

When working with Latino prisoners, the author – a Caucasian pastor – representative of the prison system, and of God … many in the prison see God as hyper-sovereign – distant judge who has pre-ordained everything, so lives cannot be re-mapped… all negative aspects of their lives are ‘God’s will’. Their theology assumes that God is just/good and therefore that they must be bad/deserving of all the calamities that have befallen them. No redemption is expected. .. and people attend the sessions for reasons such as social interaction, especially once they find that ‘accepting Christ’ does not instantly solve all their problems. They may think that attending will give a lighter sentence. Belief is, however – people are hungry for an authentic encounter whatever the original reason.

The facilitator has a careful role, which subverts those barriers, replacing the old, paralysing theology. .. with a need to distance himself from ‘taskmasters’, and make the prisoners realise that he’s on their side. God’s will happens through covert disobedience, non-compliance, etc… God listened to the groans of slaves, but they remained slaves … author discusses his experience of working with those seeking to find liberation from e.g. heroin addiction – not in terms of the ‘heroic victor’, but weakness/ignorance on how to heal. In Mexico – often become violent – taking frustration out on someone – as Moses did – direct experience of poverty/oppression = violent. No long-term respect however… required for that = respect and humility. God shows up where Moses is (wherever that wilderness is). Moses when called to go back, said that he wasn’t worthy (he was human). “There’s another really important guy in Israel’s history who didn’t feel cut out for this. Look, God used him. God can use me too.” [Imposter syndrome?]

Session 3:1 Exodus: Setting up the Conflict (Matt Lynch)

Theology and Social Action…. Exodus – reflected in the way they rebuilt their society – institutionally built into their laws, etc. Moving from being a family, to becoming a nation. There was fear-based oppression … being fruitful and multiplying = in the wrong place/time = threatening to Egyptians. Pharaoh does not know God, and does not let the people rest. God cares and hears the cry of the afflicted. God hears it and responds.

Session 3:2: Exodus – The Plagues

God has power of creation, has concern for poor and the afflicted. Conflict between Pharaoh/God. God displays his power over Pharaoh and over creation with the boils. God “you can’t act this way towards my people and get off the hook.” Why does God harden Pharaoh’s heart? The plagues are not to get the Israelites out of Egypt, but to show his power to Pharaoh… who has fraudulent power… shows future generations his power?

Session 3:3 Exodus – Concern for the Vulnerable (Bob Ekblad)

What actions lead to liberation (Exodus 1)? Do we see the presence of God in this text? Confusing – God blesses people who lie in order to protect the innocent? [Makes me think of Corrie Ten Boom – ‘they are under the table’]. What does God do? He’s on the side of the underdog? How does God liberate? Who are the main characters from most powerful to weakest? Who is God with?


  • Shiprah and Puah (midwives) à non-compliance and deception
  • Moses’ Mother à Hides the baby not obey the law
  • Moses’ Sister à Spies for Moses (proactive)
  • Pharaoh’s Daughter à Seeing/having compassion

Session 3.4: Exodus: Liberation Today

Understanding contemporary law enforcement. A challenge to those who believe that deception is a sin – most characters are undertaking this in this story. What does the use of these weak characters tell us about God? How does God save now? It tends to indicate non-compliance. Pharaoh’s daughter uses her privilege to rescue. What would that look like today? Funding people to look after other people? Should we be giving work to denied asylum seekers? Educating them? What are the limits of compliance for us?

Session 3.5: Exodus: Seeing the Vulnerable

The importance of “seeing” human beings (rather than ‘the mass’). [Seeing individuals/telling people’s stories?]. Moses (and most on the margins) assume that God is on the side of law enforcement and the status quo, but Moses’ violence response doesn’t disqualify him from God’s mission to be an agent of liberation. God is looking for similar characters in contemporary culture.

WTC MOOC: TH49X1: Living the Christian Story: Sin & Redemption (Week 2) @WTCTheology


Core Reading

Genesis 3-4; 12: For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Romans 8: For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Revelation 21-22 : No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants[h] will worship him.

Tom Wright/Scripture

Scriptural authority – needs an integrated view, including listening, wresting with, obedience and proclamation.

Scriptural ‘reading’ may encompass a range of tasks but:

We read scripture in order to be refreshed in our memory and understanding of the story within which we ourselves are actors, to be reminded where it has come from and where it is going to be, and hence what our own part within it ought to be

The Bible (and not just the newspaper/latest political fashion) in hand, in which the church can go to work in the world – confident that Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not. Not about ‘telling people what the Bible says’, but about radical transformation of life, a personalized faith. Can happen if just the Bible is read, but more commonly comes about through the work of God’s people – who understand it and apply it to their own lives. That authority works at the cosmic, political and personal level.

Church needs to pay attention to tradition, listening carefully/humbly/not uncritically to how read/lived scripture in the past… helps us understand what we read ‘naturally’. We should see the ‘living voice’ of the ‘very human church’ as it struggles with scripture… why this is a fresh challenge for each generation.

We need to pay attention to reason, to being attentive to context (especially our own biases), detail, etc. where public discussions and debates (NOT shouting matches) are so important… rather than trying to ‘wipe one’s opponent off the board’. Pay attention to the input of other subjects, such as science (which studies the repeatable) and history (which studies the unrepeatable?) – reason forms the language of understanding.

We need a multi-layered view of God, understanding genre, setting, literary style, etc… and take care when referring to The Bible as one book [especially when used for lifestyle understanding].

5-Act Hermeneutic: Creation, ‘Fall’, Israel, Jesus, the Church. Even if we don’t accept this model, we need some kind of overarching narrative, otherwise becomes mere ‘fuel for devotion’ – there is continuity with previous acts (as plays), but that continuity implies change. “We must be ferociously loyal to what has gone before and cheerfully open about what must come next.”

e.g. We can discuss how things were, but not directly change that (e.g. Garden of Eden) as it will be, as it will have been transformed and fulfilled. We should not imagine a world without redemption. We don’t need to rebuild [live by?] OT structures such as the Temple. We are not living in Gospel times so the rules may be different, but that is the foundation for our current lives – they are not relativized by the passing of time, or by cultural shifts. We are living in ‘the fifth act’, after which will come a new creation… we ‘improvising’, which doesn’t mean a ‘free for all’, but “a disciplined and careful listening to all the other voices around us, and a constant attention to the themes, rhythms, and harmonies of the complete performance so far, the performance which are now called to continue.” This may include ‘fresh expressions’ – all churches need to ‘play the same tune’, but may devise their own variations, though not from other tunes, or with a different ending … this understanding would lead to more respectful interactions.

Contextual reading of scripture – each word within a verse à within a chapter à within a book à within its historical, cultural and canonical setting. All is ‘culturally conditioned’, so cannot add/set some aspects aside. We need to understand both the culture of the time, and our own culture… this will be an ongoing project! Work with both the bigger picture and the detail.. read incarnationally – paying attention to both the humanity of the text and of its readers.

The key importance of corporate worship, where the Bible is read – we’re prepared for it, appreciate it, and given the opportunity to meditate further on it… not just to understand content, but to use the media to shape the mind and life of the community. The readings should be arranged so that glimpses into the story of both the OT and NT are seen, rather than lost as a pre-cursor to a sermon. At communion:

“Scripture forms God’s people, warming their hearts as with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, so that their eyes may then be opened to know him in the breaking of the bread.”

For life-changing transformations, then ordinary Christians need to read, encounter, and study scripture for themselves, in groups and individually. Since the enlightenment, the Western world has prioritised private reading, but Wright would emphasise communal reading/understanding. The church should understand what individual readers are discovering in the text, facilitating bringing a range of viewpoints to the wider body, enriching the larger community, and ensuring that maverick/misleading readings can be gentle/appropriately corrected. Fresh insights presented by churches should build up, rather than threaten – the mission and life of the church – scholarly research is encouraged, but the framework used should be taken with care, as scholars will always be working within a framework of some kind. The church needs to re-establish a hermeneutic of trust, rather than a hermeneutic of suspicion and anti-intellectualism.

Church leaders need to examine their practice, especially at the more senior levels, where life becomes so busy, there’s no time for fresh, careful, prayerful re-interpretation of the text, but rather an old sermon is shaken off… The importance of sermons as the place where heaven and earth meets .. as a time of sacrament.

Session 2:1 – Creation-Fall (Matt Lynch)

Act 1: Creational Shalom & Unfinished Tasks – humanity is not only to tend the garden, but to help it flourish and become what it has not yet become.

Act 2: Falling out between God, creation and humanity. Fallout was not just felt by humans, but by all parties involved. Not just humans implicated, but the serpent. Originally parity of humans, now we have hierarchy, plus shame, fear and hiding … complicating the ability of God to carry out his creational purposes. Sin as a theological problem – the serpent introduces the question of God’s goodness/abundance and blessing. As Adam/Eve questions this – they act in rebellion to God, as they seek an autonomous wisdom.

Sin and death are now in the picture, so how will God accomplish his purposes.

Session 2:1 Flood-Israel

Act 3: The floodwaters sent over the earth covered a world that was already ruined…. God (with Noah) is already preparing the way for a new creation. However, the ‘damaged’ humanity took their issues/damage onto the ark, so God promised never to destroy in the same way again – so what is he now going to do to uphold the integrity of creation? Creation post-flood is an act of grace.

Act 4: Most important part of this story is the calling of Abraham, as the start of the nation of Israel. In the Song of Songs we have a recapturing of the original equality, and – set in a garden – Eden can be recaptured if people live out God’s will in the world. Old, infertile couple to become immigrants in a foreign land as the solution to the fallen world… God chooses King David to represent Israel … Solomon is to build a temple – Kings has many high points with times of obedience, with glimpses of the Garden of Eden – but mixed with ongoing reaching for autonomy and idolatrous rebellion.

Session 2:3: Exile Jesus

Act 5: Exile and the death of Israel – back to Babylon – the land, the people, etc. were all devastated, so there was a question as to whether God was still good, and faithful to his people. Not a return just to the land, but the resurrection of a righteous people – God breathing in new life and becoming ‘covered with skin’. There is a return to the land – in Nehemiah, they are still in a condition of slavery.

Act 6: Jesus and the restoration of humanity. Previously was God focused on Israel? Is that scrapped to focus on the wider church? Think about the story in context of his Jewish identity. What is so significant as the Jewish story? He comes as the representative of Israel before God, but also the representative of humanity (what Israel couldn’t do on its own). With trust in Jesus, we get the benefits of his obedience.

Session 2:4: New Creation and Review

Act 7: The story of new creation … we as humanity have not yet reached this stage. We don’t know what this is going to look like – God isn’t go to start again, but burn off what doesn’t endure. Including the sea (seen as chaos in Biblical thinking).

Jesus came, as a human, to connect the past and the future … in this he accomplishes the tasks given to Adam and Eve in the beginning. By succeeding where humanity has failed, the reconciliation process begins, with the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit.

Col 1: 19-20 – Christ comes in weakness, something that we can see as a pattern of God, but works through them. The weak things of the world shame the wise. We need weaning off our idolatrous pretensions – our wish for fame, power, significance – our reaching after Godlikeness.

Now have a sense of the bigger picture, and next – unpacking the significance of living out this story as Christians in the world.

WTC MOOC: TH49X1: Living the Christian Story: Creation (Week 1) // @WTCTheology

So, I’m a little late starting this one, but I can see a two-fold benefit from it. 1) I do theology every day, but am “a little hazy” about the terminology, the core names (or ‘meaty theologians’ as someone put it earlier) 2) I get to see a second online course in action and think what works/what I’d improve:


Intro: Module Rationale and Overview: The premise of this module is that an enriched and engaged Christian life depends on engagement with the riches of the Christian story, a story told in the Old and New Testaments, and in the life of the early Church. This module explores that Christian story and then considers several ways that Christians can creatively and meaningfully live out that story in their everyday context.

Overview: Matthew Lynch – Biblical story in old/new testament, early testament creeds/doctrines, social practices/social justice and in the workplace and ministries.

Core Reading:

Genesis 1-2

‘The Drama of Scripture’ – the importance of the ‘name’(s) of God, the understanding that the moon/sun are created by God, so God the creator is to be worshipped rather than the sun/moon itself. Written particularly to help those in the ancient world who were promoting different worldviews.

The importance of understanding the way that the story is told is important, clearly crafted, with an overview of themes (pp10)

  • God is the divine source of all that is
  • He stands apart from all other things in the special relationship of Creator to creation.
  • The fashioning of humankind by God was intended to be the high point of all his work of making and forming.
  • God had in mind a very special relationship between himself and this last-formed of all his creatures.

We worry so much about how that we think less about the why, and of our own place in the divine story. The main ‘actors’ in the play are God and humanity, and the relationship between them.

Creation = an amazing piece of art, and Genesis introduces us to the artist. In OT times, there were lots of questions about ‘authority’, and God is introduced as the ultimate authority. There is a relationship between God and his subjects, and we are invited to partake in the task of filling/ordering the world, which is our home.

Whatever questions there are about evolution, etc. the important point is that we are not random products of time/chance. Augustine Confessions would say that we are made for God and ‘our hearts are restless until we find our rest in him’. We are distinct from God, but made in his image. We are not given authority for ruthless domination over nature/tyrannical exploitation, but to steward/caretake it well. It’s like being asked into the studio to finish one of Michelangelo’s designs, and ensure that his reputation will be enhanced by the finished product… God is revealed in work, art, music, life, etc… We are not fully human on our own, but built in a variety of relationships. The world is not something to be looked down upon by those who are ‘saved’, but described by God as ‘good’. We are God’s image bearers, but we are tarnished (unlike Jesus).

Session 1:1 (Introduction)

There are 2 creation stories, which help us understand (according to the Bible), what does it mean to be human? They are also ‘the background music’ to the rest of the Bible.

“God is at work creating a people and a place for his presence so that creation can share in his abundant life.”

There’s a people focus, but there’s also a place.

The Bible has given us 2 lenses through which to understand the stories – a liturgy of creation, and ‘the drama of dirt’.

Session 1:2 (Genesis 1 as Liturgical Poetry)

Genesis 1 is structured carefully/poetically, and therefore that should inform how we should read it.

What existed before Creation is not fit for any form of habitation by creatures. God ‘breathes’ creation into existence. Creation of domains, and the filling of those domains.

¼ Light/Dark // Create heavenly bodies

2/5 Waters above/below // birds/fish

3/6 Earth // humans

7 – Sabbath ‘a day set apart’.

This is to be emulated by God’s people, including animals. All creation is made for a rhythm of work and rest.

Materiality – God declares it ‘good’, it has a goodness apart from its usefulness to humans. Invites rhythm, and meditation upon the story itself, and our fundamental relationships in/within the world.

Other texts echo the idea of the importance of creation (the importance of the creation of the tabernacle), the number 7 is woven into other Biblical accounts. Ensure that creation is not squelched in its use.

Session 1:3 Humanity in Genesis 1

God does not make idols of himself elsewhere, but chooses to be present in “us” – in the Bible, with the exiles. God’s continual movement towards humanity, to be with them.

God shares his power/rule with humanity, which then has an enormous responsibility for both the environment, and to ensure that each human is dignified as an image bearer (OT – special concern for the poor). No such thing as ‘human-to-human’ encounter, are encountering the divine – so to oppress the poor is to oppress their maker.

God shares his abundant life through blessing and provision. It’s not just giving good things, but provisioning for a task, with male/female working together as equals.

Session 1:4 Humanity in Genesis 2

‘The drama of dirt’ – God gets his hands dirty in the creation of the world. This is an earth-oriented story, whereas 1:1 is heaven oriented. There was no human to cultivate the earth, til Gen 2:7, when God could begin to form humanity (unclear whether it was ‘a man’ or ‘a human’.

To be human means to live with ‘bounded freedom’. Eat from every tree (a generous, giving God), except the tree of good and evil. Important to hear that the first command is one of generous abundance, but there are constraints. If the playground is a place where everyone can play ‘freely’ (without rules) then there is no freedom to play within that space.

Humans are deeply connected to the earth – images are made in the image of God above, but formed from the ground below. Humanity has a God-given task, of work – not as cheap labour, but to tend the divine garden (in the OT East, an abundant garden was a sign of wealth).

Man & woman are made for co-equal relationship. There’s a belonging together, serving as partners in the task (not a subordinate). The term ‘helper’ is used elsewhere in the Bible to speak of God. The first words spoken about man/women spoken about how they are alike, rather than how they are different. Loneliness is not seen to be good in creation. The human need for relationship is not threatening to God, or a sign of weakness in human beings. We are made for community with others as well as with God. In the ancient world, women typically left their household to join the man, Genesis encourages the man to leave his household.

Session 1:5: Reading Genesis 1& 2 Together

Being human before God – we share God’s life, power and rule, but we are made from the earth – the two need to be taken together. If we’re feeling down, look up, if we’re feeling superior, look down…

Being human in Creation – we rule/subdue it, but we also serve and steward it. We’re to be kings, but also to be servants.

Being human in community- in relation to other humans. Gen 1 – corresponding to the divine, whilst Gen 2 – corresponding to one another. What does the Bible understand as the ideal purpose of humanity? Jesus is seen to come as the fulfilment of the perfect role model…

Next week: looking at the overall Biblical story, what happens when sin enters?

‘Citizen’ by @AwakenRob

1794824_10154732177950161_9058088988011595710_nSo, I met Rob earlier this year at Spring Harvest, and it was a nice surprise to receive this in the post a few weeks ago with an invitation to read/review… this morning I picked it up, and read it quickly, and appreciatively!

The overall question that Rob is asking is what does it mean to live as a citizen of God’s kingdom, living as ‘resident aliens’ (Hauerwas’s term) on earth?

I was struck by Rob’s questioning of what was a ‘successful’ life, as he sought to live a life true to God’s leaning, discern his passions, and to ensure that prayer was accompanied by action, challenging the gospel of individualism – aka ‘Golden Ticket Theology’ (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory style), which focuses the question on ‘if I died today, where would I go?’, and doesn’t challenge our life on earth too much. Using the character of Frank:

He has not allowed Jesus’ gospel to permeate his being. Instead, Jesus has become an add-on when Frank has run out of options on his own, a go-to in times of trouble. Frank is trying to live the “Western dream” and bring Jesus along for the ride as well. (p27)

Rob’s emphasis is that yes, Jesus died to save you from something, but also for something. We are looking for transformational living, not just of our own, but also as a part of community (especially those who wouldn’t set foot in a ‘traditional’ church). We are called to reimagine our lives, reposition our values, re-identify who we are, and re-centre on Jesus (p29) – and in this – lose our fear – we should be the biggest risk takers on the planet… but we prefer safety, comfort, routine, etc (p100)

We long to be noticed, to be listened to, to be known and understood, and our identity – the way in which we see ourselves – is affect by all of these things. (p49)

Giving us a sense of citizenship through both his own journey from the States to the UK, and notions of citizenship in Jesus’ time, as they affect our identity – although this ideally should not be dictated by our present circumstances. As we claim our identity in Christ, we claim a solid identity – which breeds security. We gain an understanding of the word ‘ecclesia’ as it was in Roman times – an exclusive, and how Christians reclaimed the word to make it an inclusive meeting. Rob emphasises the importance of friendship in identifying the beauty of others, but also in ourselves, and cautions that in a modern world, it’s easy to have many friends and be incredibly busy, but avoid deep friendships.

On p70-71 Rob highlights the difference in the way we introduce ourselves. In Biblical times (and still in many cultures) people are introduced as part of a clan and identified as part of a line of descendants, whereas in contemporary Western culture we are introduced by what we do. What we do achieves us certain material goods and lifestyle, but we, as Christians, are unlikely to be satisfied by this because we were not made for this (and you know, having decluttered strongly, and done a lot of work on values, etc. this is far more satisfying = less things to maintain/upkeep!). Rob also challenges the denominational model that so many align themselves with: “What matters is that each of has found Jesus, and our citizenship is now in heaven” – however much the denominational lenses may differ. We spend too much time and energy arguing about our differences, than focusing on our unity… and that much of church growth is done at the expense of other churches, rather than a joint venture. Christlikeness does not happen by osmosis, but by practice… note Mahatma Gandhi… if we are Christians, it is part of our identity and therefore should inform how we live (see some thoughts on this from a talk I gave at Spring Harvest) – see also p139 re sacred/secular divide.

Rob talks about the dangers of inoculating the world with mild Christianity – we give the impression it doesn’t matter to us/makes not difference to our lives, so they go about their business. If we compartmentalise our lives, we end up living Pharisaical or secret lives. We like taking the benefits of living with Jesus – but often don’t see the full picture, thinking nuns/monks, etc. are those who need to do the full thing. This is all part of a process of sanctification of ‘becoming more like Jesus’.. a proactive, not a reactive process – one that involves spending time with other ‘citizens’, being honest, asking hard questions and examine your motives with more mature Christians. On pp 127-129 Rob calls on Rich Wilson’s session on discipleship in a digital age – noting that what people feed on tends to dictate who they become, that the world/information moves so fast that we have no time for questioning the ethics and impact. The top 0.05% of users on Twitter are celebrities, but are read by approximately 50% of users. They become ‘the cultural disciples of our day’.

I love Rob’s example of counter-cultural notions of success as p142 outlines – when choosing what grade to aim for at theological seminary, the tutor noted that those with other responsibilities such as family, should not be aiming for an A, as family was a higher priority. We are challenged as to whether we have an ‘association’ or a ‘relationship’ with Jesus – have we given into the priorities of the world? If we follow religion rather than faith, we echo actions and behaviours of others and feel that we are ‘doing it right’. WE need a life of intentionality.

These disciples became citizens and observers of the Kingdom way of life as they walked and lived with Jesus. He modelled for them what heaven on earth was to look like, and then he took them aside to explain it to them. (p158)

We are challenged that we should not be ‘outsourcing’ evangelism, but looking at what we as a community can do. We need to consider how many programmes, activities and Bible studies we are involved in, giving us no opportunities to be part of the wider world. The gospel is not just something you speak/profess, but something that you live and act upon. We need to identify what is broken in our world and begin righting the wrongs, even if it is at our own cost – God continually identified with the poor, and so must we. See Isaiah 58:3-9 in The Message.

Inspired? You should be … to read the whole book!