Scooping them up for the Kingdom…


Lovely chat tonight out at our pub discussion thingy- talking about the Kingdom of God.

It is an old discussion for many of us, but we were chewing again on all those mysterious stories that Jesus told us- those The Kingdom of God is like… stories. Mustard seeds, fields of weedy wheat, women making bread with yeast, corn falling on random ground etc. It is all rather mixed up and mysterious, particularly as the stories from Matthew’s gospel tend to have the odd bit of smiting and burning in torment, all of which does not fit with fluffy-Jesus very well.

We talked too about our understanding of The Gospel- which for most of us used to be the saving sinners from hell when they die thing, and how this version of the Gospel comes mostly from a reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans backwardly applied to the rest of the Bible, when actually the Gospel that Jesus talked about was this one;

Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

(Or perhaps)

Its time to turn things around, shake things up, take a long hard look at yourself, because there is a deeper, more beautiful way of living that has come to you- the insurgency of God…

Our discussion then turned to what living as an agent/citizen/participant in this Kingdom/Revolutionary movement/Insurgency might mean.

The old understanding of the Gospel made it all simple- saving the lost so that they might go to heaven. Our primary purpose is evangelism. All other tasks are distractions from the Gospel. I find this narrative very difficult on all sorts of levels now, but the mission of the Kingdom is far more challenging, vitalising, engaging- we leave behind the hard in-out legalism and instead have to practice the disciplines of love (Romans 13:10)

This might in the face of it seem rather woolly and directionless, like encouraging one another to go out and be nice. However love is not just a passive thing- it demands action, particularly in the face of desperate need and danger to those who might be regarded as the recipients of our love.

I began to wonder about the old call to ‘save the lost’, usually applied to those who are not like us, so therefore were in danger of roasting in hell.

My friend Pauling put it rather neatly- Love might involve “Scooping a few people up” she said. Some people need scooped. And we might need to do a bit of scoopage.

We laughed- but despite all those old dangers of paternalism/maternalism, sometimes scooping people up- lifting them, holding them, is just what we need to do. The lost and the least, the broken people, the awkward, the lame, the lonely.

We used to call this Salvation, evidenced by conversion. For some this leads to amazing transformation- there is nothing woolly about this kind of love, or this kind of insurgency.

Is it time to reclaim the language of salvation for the Kingdom of God?

We can call it Scoopage if you like.

Evangelism revisited…


Michaela and I had a strange encounter the other day whilst walking around Keswick.

We were stopped by three boys- all aged around 12-13, two of them standing slightly to one side and letting the bravest one do all the talking. He stuttered and stumbled his way into asking us if we minded answering a ‘small questionnaire’. We were in no hurry and they seemed like nice lads so we agreed. We assumed it was some kind of school project (although I had this nagging suspicion…)

The lads had no prepared written questions, nor any apparent need to write down our answers- and the conversation went something like this;

“Erm, have you ever, erm, told a lie?”

I replied that I had not- apart from what I had just said- but then realised that irony was pointless so just said that I had indeed told lies.

“What do you call someone who tells lies?” 

We agreed that they were called liars

“Erm, have you ever hated anyone?”

A little bit, I replied, and we settled on the fact that people who hate were called haters.

“Erm, Ok then, right, so have you ever, like, stolen anything? Even like, a tiny little thing?”

I said that I had but Michaela said that she had not- which if you know her is quite believable. The boy however seemed highly skeptical. We then agreed that people who steal things are theives

Then things got rather surreal.

Ok, have you ever looked at a member of the opposite sex with lust?” 

The poor lad flushed up a bit and his two mates shuffled their feet and looked pointedly away. I was tempted to point out that I was stood next to my wife and lust had indeed had a part to play in our relationship, but in the end just said that I would never dream of doing such a thing. By now of course I knew exactly where the conversation was heading, as I am sure you do too.

The lad then brought out his killer line; his closer; his hook; his sales pitch;

“The Bible says that if you do any of these things in your mind then it is like you are doing them for real. If you look at anyone with hate you are murdering them, and if you look at them with lust you are raping them.”

He then wound himself up a little and looked at me- not Michaela.

You have just told me – I have not said it, it came out of your own mouth – that you are a liar, and thief, a murderer and a rapist… what do you think you need to do about that?”

Michaela and I could take no more, and politely pointed out that these were not new issues for us and that we were actually Christians. We wished the lads well and went on our way.

Which was a shame really as both of us wanted to know where the lads were from- what Christian group would send them out into the crowds of a holiday town with that kind of material, and whether they really believed they were doing something good, something right.

Both of us were troubled by our encounter.We shook our heads and raised our eyebrows for about an hour afterwards.

These questions still linger with me;

  • Did the organisers of this group of kids really expect us to be convicted of our sin by this kind of approach; to repent and turn to God on the spot?
  • Does this kind of evangelism ever work? Are we not all innoculated against it now, and if not- how many encounters are required for even a single conversion? How many are required for a single meaningful conversation even?
  • Is it not just a little creepy to set young boys on the task of asking about the lust-fullness of a random middle aged couple? Then to tell us that we are murderers and rapists?
  • If the real issue was shock- training for the boys in holy boldness and firmness of their own faith, then what might they be learning from these encounters? Chronic embarrassment or the power of the gospel let loose on the mean streets?
  • Where is the creativity, the playful engagement with culture, the relevance to the relaxed holidaymakers in a busy market town?
  • Where is the honesty? Sucking people into a conversation like this, only to sting them with what some people might find offensive?

Of course, viewed through the lens of conservative evangelicalism all of these are non-questions. What the boys were doing was to follow the purest expression of the Great Commission. They were giving people the opportunity to save their souls from the eternal torment that is our just punishment for sin. This was what Jesus came into the world for and any other Christian activity is subservient to this task.

The passage that the boys had built their ‘questionnaire’ on is of course Matthew chapter 5- the sermon on the mount. Jesus takes on the surface religiosity of the Pharisees and turns it on its head.

And religiosity always needs to be turned on its head.

I really hope that the faith of these boys will survive their encounter with religion.

‘Save me’- religious reality TV…

Saw this the other day- still not sure if it is a hoax.

Volunteers might have just missed the deadline, but you never know- drop him a line…

The bloke behind all this is Jim Henderson (no not that puppet bloke- his name was Henson.) I liked what he claims as his ‘mission’- 

The Three Practices of Otherlyness (the Way of Jesus.)

• Be unusually interested in others

• Stay in the room with difference

• Refuse to compare my best with your worst

Quite how this will work out on TV remains to be seen. Not sure it will ever air on British TV anyway- if it comes to a screen over there- let me know!

Which does bring to me again the question of the Great Commission for we followers of Jesus. Most of the Christians I know have given up on selling religious product- in fact, perhaps we have gone in the opposite direction entirely. Refreshing then, to read this via Jim Henderson’s blog- 

The old paradigm of presenting a case and demanding a verdict just isn’t working anymore (and nobody is doing it anyway). So what DOES work? And how can we get more people engaged with the process of spreading the Gospel?
Here’s what I’m banking on these days: Listening. Hearing their story. Finding out what God has been up to in their life and (gently) calling their attention to it. Becoming a safe person for others to share their doubts, fears, anger and distress with regarding life. And then, in that kind of context, being asked to share YOUR story (which is simply what Christ has done in your life), and in that context HIS story (as simply as you can). An invitation to follow Jesus may or may not fit that initial conversation. But we should be ready for it just in case, I think.
So, I am suggesting we give up the obsession with making converts and start getting serious about calling others to join us as disciples (students) of Christ. That process is messy, hard to “count”, and unpredictable. But I think it’s more like what Jesus was asking us to do in the “Great Commission”. So the short answer to your question is, “Quit doing that. Make disciples, not just converts.”
Yes, I think I can go along with that!

There’s no such thing as a free Bible…

A friend told a story tonight that had me in stitches.

She had been surfing the glorious interweb and checking out some Christian sites. You could say, indulging in a bit of religious surfing. Now this activity is not without it’s risks. One might be able to cope with the madness that you will encounter by trying to laugh at it all- some of it is pretty darned funny after all. Check out Ship of fools if you do not believe me.

But aiming for a bit of superior oh-isn’t-this-funny-but-I-am-above-all-this-madness is only likely to take you so far. Because it usually starts to get rather painful. You start to realise that some of this hysterical ranting is being done in the name of Jesus. Or even worse, you realise that you are starting to laugh at- yourself. Some of the madness starts to sound a little too familiar.

But back to my friend. She came across a site promising a free Bible, if you completed their online quiz. Well, she was up for that. A nice leather bound black Bible to replace her rather tatty paperback one.

She is not daft though- she e-mailed to ask if the organisation would then use/abuse her e-mail address in future- but was assured that this would not be the case. So she went ahead and submitted her details.

A few day later, she was having a duvet day- you know the sort of thing, getting up late, mooching around and watching crap day time TV, snacking and leaving the pots for a while- all the time wearing clothes that really should never see the light of the public day. We all need the odd day like this. Then came a knock on the door.

She lifted the net curtain, and there stood an African Pastor and his wife.

Holding a big black Bible.

Mission gone wrong?

Are any of you following this story?

Basically, it seems that a group of American Southern Baptists, led by a charismatic failed businesswoman Laura Silsby, travelled into Haiti, gathered together as many people from a shattered town as they possibly could, and showed pictures of a lovely hotel complex over the border in the Dominican Republic, making promises of how they wished to take any children that wanted to come along for a better life.

And understandably, families looked around at the ruins their kids were sitting in, and handed over their young ones- from as little as a few months old, up to 12 years old.

Except some, including other charities- most notably SOS Childrens Villages International were outraged. They pointed out that this looked like child trafficking- but was at very least a totally inappropriate removal of children from home, culture and extended family at a point of terrible vulnerability. No checks were done as to whether families could be supported to look after the kids long term. No proper background checks were possible. It amounted to cultural imperialism of staggering insensitivity.

The Guardian yesterday carried a long article digging into some of the background to what has become a bit of a media feeding frenzy. Now the Guardian is not noted for its sympathy for right wing evangelicalism, but I think made some sobering points about the place of religion, and oversees mission in this matter. Here are a few quotes-

Further clues as to the mindset and intentions of the Baptists are provided by a written plan of action they prepared at the outset of the trip, which they called an “Haitian orphan rescue mission”. The plan discloses their ultimate aim: to “gather” up to 100 orphans from the streets and collapsed orphanages and take them to a new life in the Dominican Republic.

The document is striking in that it displays profound ignorance of the geography and society of Haiti. It anticipates driving the round trip from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to Port-au-Prince, collecting the children and bringing them back, in just two days – a wildly overambitious schedule given the destroyed infrastructure of Haiti. It talks of rescuing orphans “abandoned in the streets”, which was fanciful as very few children who lost parents would have been abandoned; most Haitians live in extended families with relatives ready to step into the childcare role.

Such behaviour raises questions about Silsby’s motives and objectives. But for the remaining nine ignorance and naivety appear to go some way to explain how they got in the mess they now find themselves in. Certainly, that would fit a changing pattern of behaviour within the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the US to which Central Valley Baptist church belongs. Over the past 20 years there has been a dramatic shift away from “career missionaries” who spend years immersed in the culture and language of the people they seek to turn to God, in favour of “missionary tourists” who dip in and out of communities for mere days or weeks and have much less cultural sensitivity.

According to David Key, director of Baptist Studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, that sea change has come at a time when the convention has been increasingly focused on domestic social and political issues as part of the Christian right, which has led it to sound a strong note of American superiority. “Anyone under 40 years of age will have spent their entire life in the America First model of evangelism,” says Key.

The business of ‘short term mission’ has fascinated me. I spent some time in America as the guest of some really wonderful people- Southern Baptists in fact- who I met when they came to Scotland as part of a mission trip. They subsequently invited me to go over to lead some worship and run some workshops. It was a roller coaster of a trip- full of highs and lows- you would say it gave me a taste of ‘short term mission’- only in this case, in reverse.

‘Short term mission’ is big business in the Bible Belt. There are travel agencies that exist just to set these up, and Americans pay thousands of dollars to go on trips across the world- taking choirs, paint pots, projectors- all for an inclusive price. Check out this site for example.

Does that make this kind of mission bad? My experience of the folk who came over to Scotland was a very good one. Lovely folk on an adventure, trying to serve God on an adventure holiday.

But at the same time, the ethos of these mission trips have always made me feel very uncomfortable. They are a way of fitting mission into a lifestyle. They organise a kind of package tour evangelism, that costs nothing that can not be afforded. The long term value of such trips seem to offer far more to the missioners than to any of the places to which they are ‘sent’.

Back to the kids in Haiti.

The people who took the kids are clearly convinced that they were doing the work of God. They were able to believe this, it seems to me, because the worldview that they plugged God into gave them a set of goggles that filtered out all other viewpoints.

There are lessons here for us all/

Reclaiming the spirituality of serving the other…

Another post about kindness…

I have written before about this issue– suggesting that I thought that kindness is a good measure of spiritual maturity. We talked a little around this the other night with my Aoradh chums.

Of course, being kind is not a universal sign of spiritual, or emotional health. The drive to please other people can be a destructive one. However, I still maintain that Christian spirituality that lacks kindness as one of its visible manifestations is likely also to be missing the point.

Which of course- is love.

The kind of love that is patient, kind and does not envy, boast, act proudly or haughtily. The sort of love that is not rude, or self-seeking, is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs. A love that does not delight in seeing evil in others but makes partnerships of truth. A protective, trusting, ever-hopeful kind of love that just does not give up. (1 Corinthians 13.)

The idealism of this kind of love defeats me at times- but it is an idealism that I will not let go.

So, if we Christians are called to be a blessing on the world around us because of the distinctiveness of our loving,  the way that this will be revealed is in this simple thing called kindness– expressed between ourselves in community, but also looking outwards into the places where we live work and play.

Here are links to a couple of resources that dig into this issue.

Firstly- Generous. This is an opportunity for Christians to sign up to acts of generosity- for the sake of the environment, and for the sake of others around us. There are whole categories of suggested actions that you can consider putting time/energy towards.

I came across Off The Map recently- a group trying to encourage us to reimagine evangelism- together they designed an approach to evangelism that “rescued it out of program prison, made it doable for ordinary Christians and restored it back to the spiritual practice Jesus modeled in his interactions with Outsiders.” They called it Doable Evangelism. This led to a book called Evangelism Without Additives and an organization called Doable Evangelism.

Here is some thing that they produced that resonated with me for its simplicity- and it’s kindness.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “The spiritual discipline of serving“, posted with vodpod

Doing battle with the atheists- ‘probably’ a waste of time…


So, Christians find themselves in the news again.

Ron Heather, a bus driver from Southampton turned up for work last week, and found himself faced with a vehicle emblazoned with advertising paid for by an Atheistic campaign, with the slogan- ‘There is probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’ Ron, as a Christian, found this objectionable, and so told his employers that he could not drive the bus. Ron seems to be a good bloke from the little we can see of him, and his dilemma heart felt and honest. Check out the story here.

But the story of the campaign is a fascinating one for many of us. It seems to shine a light on the place of faith and belief in our time and context, and perhaps it may yet enable healthy debate and discussion.

So- what is it all about?

Step forward the first protagonists- atheist (It is well worth checking out their website.)

The campaign, interestingly enough, seems to have started as a REACTION to bus campaigns about judgment and sinners burning in lakes of fire run by Christians! Here is some footage from the launch;

Toynbee and Dawkins- the heavy hitters behind this campaign- are interesting figures. One a broadsheet columnist, and intellectual- the other a scientist who has a brilliant but flawed reputation. Neither of them are people who could be thought to have their finger on the pulse of post modern Britain. In fact, Dawkins in particular seems to me to be regarded as a severe and arrogant figure, whose rationalistic determinism is particularly modern.

Then we have the counter reaction from Christian Voice. Here is a quote from their director Stephen Green

‘According to one national newspaper, ‘some atheist supporters of the campaign were disappointed that the wording of the adverts did not declare categorically that God does not exist, although there were fears that this could break advertising guidelines.’

‘Well, I believe the ad breaks the Advertising Code anyway, unless the advertisers hold evidence that God probably does not exist.

‘The ASA does not just cover goods and services, it covers all advertising. The advertisers cannot hide behind the ASA’s ‘matters of opinion’ exclusion, because no person or body is named as the author of the statement. It is given as a statement of fact and that means it must be capable of substantiation if it is not to break the rules.

‘There is plenty of evidence for God, from peoples’ personal experience, to the complexity, interdependence, beauty and design of the natural world. But there is scant evidence on the other side, so I think the advertisers are really going to struggle to show their claim is not an exaggeration or inaccurate, as the ASA code puts it.

The Christian evangelist is not concerned by fears that his complaint will lead to atheists complaining about Christian adverts. ‘I am sure many of them have complained about Christian advertising already,’ he said, ‘but a statement such as “The Bible says ‘the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord'” is entirely factual. The Bible does say that. The statement “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life – no-one comes to the Father but by me,'” to take another example, is a Biblical quote, from the same Bible which is part of our Christian Constitution and upon which witnesses promise to tell the truth in Court. The Bible is, to coin a phrase, our Bible.’

So, the battle is joined over whether you can ‘prove’ God exists, and predictably, for some Christians the proof is to be found in the didactic statements taken from the Bible(the King James version of course)- and so that is enough. For others, this argument is akin to believing in Klingons because we saw them on Star Trek.

Again- it is well worth checking out the Christian voice website. The message given is that Britain is a land that is sliding into a cess pit of sin, promiscuity, perversion and homosexuality. Christian voice casts itself as a lone voice speaking for the truth of God in the middle of a the Godless heathen, who are all heading for the fires of hell, lest they heed the warning.

In reading it I find myself, even as a Christian, alienated and ashamed of what these people have made of the Gospel of Jesus. I find myself disagreeing with both the substance and the tone of the message. It sits at such odds with everything that I understand the Gospel of Jesus to be about.

But what might be the outcome of this little splash of media attention given to we people of faith, and the militant evangelists of atheism?

I have mixed feelings- and feel another list coming on!

  1. As a Christian, I find the atheist slogans upsetting- but think that they have as much right to display them as Christians have to display our evangelical messages.
  2. Some of the Christian slogans make me feel just as uncomfortable!
  3. I wonder whether this is a real opportunity for people to think again about God, and rather than a negative campaign, this might encourage people to ask questions and in fact, draw them closer to God?
  4. This battle seems to belong to an earlier age- a time of Christendom and modernism. It seems to me to engage with a debate about spirituality that most people have no interest in at all. It is as likely to alienate people from Dawkins and his disciples as it is to turn them from God.
  5. Is our role as Christians to ‘defend the faith’ or to ‘defend God’? Is it to set ourselves up as moral arbiters for our society- pointing the finger at the ungodly and the sinful wherever we see it? Or is it rather to let others know our allegiance by the love we show for one another?

So- here’s a question. Please vote!