Local discussion forum thingy…

We have had a house group at our house for a number of years- some dear friends, a pot of tea and lots of chatter. However, for some time now I have been thinking that it is time to move on into something new. We have floated the idea of starting a local discussion- probably in a pub.

The are a few reasons for this- groups like ours (no matter how lovely) can simply become too familiar, too safe- and the Lion of Judah is not a tame lion. I just think it is time to step out again a little.

Next, those of us who were part of all the ’emerging church’ discussions/conversations/debates/slanging matches perhaps became a jaded with the same theological merry go round. Post modernity, post evangelicalism, post charismatic- we all embraced the questions but had no certainty about where the road might be leading- and that was fine.

But there comes a time when a new direction for our theological journey begins to become a little clearer. All those questions start to find some kind of answer, even if incomplete and held lightly.

Of late, there have been some discussions about ‘teaching’ within Aoradh. I was rather shocked at first as I was not that sure I wanted to teach anyone anything. I was happy to learn alongside others as we journeyed together, but the idea that other people should be shaped and moulded by  my (or one of my friend’s) knowledge and wisdom was rather beyond me. At first the whole idea of it seemed a step back towards something that I was glad to leave behind.

But of course, St Paul talked about the gifts given to the body of the church- apostles prophets teachers miracle workers healers helpers organizers those who pray in tongues. I am no longer given to treating the suggestions of St Paul to the people in Ephesus as a blue print for the organisation of ‘church’, but neither am I going to ignore him either!

Having said that, there are a few other positions in St Paul’s list above that still have no certified incumbents. Whilst I hope that we can be respectful of church tradition, I have no real desire to start a journey towards a new clergy. Rather let us use the passion and talent that we can, and encourage the same in others around us. If we have a teacher, let him/her teach.

Or let us just gather to learn together- this still sits much easier with me.

So- if you are in the Dunoon area, do you fancy being part of a discussion group?

My working idea has been to use some of the questions proposed by St Brian of Mclaren in his book ‘A new kind of Chrisitianity’;

1. What is the overarching storyline of the Bible?

2. How should the Bible be understood?

3. Is God violent?

4. Who is Jesus and why is he important?

5. What is the Good News?

6. What do we do about the church?

7. Can we find a better way to address the issue of homosexuality?

8. Can we find a better way of viewing the future?

9. How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?

10. How can we translate our quest into action?

I am determined that any of these discussions has to start and end with respect for a diversity of opinion- and even to embrace this, and if we start to fight truth wars than we will not continue!
Up for it?
Here is a taster of St Brian, talking about Questions 9- pluralism;

Melvin does St. Paul…


Ah the joys of Radio 4.

If any experience refines and celebrates my sense of connectedness with the place of my birth, it is listening to Radio 4. And because I am often on the road driving around Argyll, the station has become my faithful traveling companion.

This morning is a case in point- Melvin Bragg speaking to theologians  about the impact of St Paul on western civilisation. You can listen again, or down load the podcast here.


Saul of Tarsus- he was only human… wasn’t he?

Interesting discussion in housegroup the other night.

We are continuing with a study on Acts of the Apostles as part of the Exilio study, and we are up to chapters 25 and 26. It is in this passage that Paul manages to offend the Jews (again) and they get the Roman Governor to throw him into prison.


This is not a new thing, Paul has been on the end of imprisonments and beatings in just about every town across the region. Each time, it works out for the best in the end.

But this time, when he is offered a trial, he does something he has not done before- he appeals to Caesar.

Paul was a Roman Citizen. We do not know how he acquired this status, but according to Wikipedia (so it must be true) citizenship was granted for one of the following reasons

  • Roman citizenship was granted automatically to every male child born in a legal marriage of a Roman citizen.
  • Freed slaves were given a limited form of Roman citizenship; they were still obliged in some aspects to their former owner who automatically became their patron.
  • The sons of freed slaves became full citizens.
  • Auxilia were rewarded with Roman citizenship after their term of service. Their children also became citizens.
  • Only Roman citizens could enlist in the Roman Legion. However an enlisted Roman legionary was deprived of many of his rights. He could not legally marry, and therefore all his children born during his military service were denied citizenship, unless and until he married their mother after his discharge.
  • Some individuals received Roman citizenship as a reward for outstanding service to Rome.
  • One could also buy citizenship, but at a very high price.
  • People who were from the Latin states were gradually granted citizenship.
  • Rome gradually granted citizenship to whole provinces; the third-century Constitutio Antoniniana granted it to all free male inhabitants of the Empire.

It iseems clear that in acquiring and then using  his rights as a full Roman Citizen, Paul was pulling rank. I wonder if in some way he was taking a step back- no longer being Paul, but rather reverting to Saul…

Citizenship seemed to involve swimming in some murky waters;

Roman citizenship was also used as a tool of foreign policy and control. Colonies and political allies would be granted a “minor” form of Roman citizenship, there being several graduated levels of citizenship and legal rights (the Latin Right was one of them). The promise of improved standing within the Roman “sphere of influence”, and the rivalry for standing with one’s neighbours, kept the focus of many of Rome’s neighbours and allies centered on the status quo of Roman culture, rather than trying to subvert or overthrow Rome’s influence.

The granting of citizenship to allies and the conquered was a vital step in the process of Romanization. This step was one of the most effective political tools and (at that point in history) original political ideas (perhaps one of the most important reasons for the success of Rome).

As a precursor to this, Alexander the Great had tried to “mingle” his Macedonians and other Greeks with the Persians, Egyptians, Syrians, etc in order to assimilate the people of the conquered Persian Empire, but after his death this policy was largely ignored by his successors. The idea was to assimilate, to turn a defeated and potentially rebellious enemy (or his sons) into a Roman citizen. Instead of having to wait for the unavoidable revolt of a conquered people (a tribe or a city-state) like Sparta and the conquered Helots, Rome made the “known” (conquered) world Roman.

There is the rather telling line in Acts 26 in which Festus suggests that Paul had done nothing wrong, and so would have been free to go, had he not have appealed to Caesar.

Paul was never free again after this point.

So- the question that hit me was whether in playing this political game, Paul got it wrong somehow. Perhaps he stopped relying on God, and the rollercoaster ride of following the Spirit into the missional life he was called to.

Because he was human. We easily forget this, I think as we read the accounts of his life in Acts, and as we live out doctrine based on his inspired writings. But there are enough hints of his human frailty despite the esteem in which he is described. The falling out with other people, the ‘thorn in his flesh’.

But if we can read the Roman Citizenship thing in this way- it seems harsh. Almost as if God is vengeful, merciless towards the mistakes of Paul, his faithful but imperfect servant. Is this a God you recognise?

It kind of reminds me of Pilgrims Progress, by Bunyan- a work that I have always disliked. Pilgrim has a road laid out before him, and should he step off this road- should he make the wrong turn, then he is in for trouble…

The fact is, this way of understanding the life of faith is just too deterministic. Almost as if Paul lived out a life of micro cause and effect, making choices like moving chess pieces, leading to sacred or profane consequences.

Almost as if God has mapped out a plan- a pre-determined track for each of our lives, and our task in life is to find it, and stumble along taking the utmost care to stay on this path at all costs…


If this is not true, then how does God interact or respond to our choices? Is he just a (mostly) benign presence watching from afar as we, the ephemera, live out our little lives?

I think that this view of God neither matches the account from the Bible, nor my own experience.

I have come to believe that life is indeed about choice- decisions made in the presence of the Spirit of God, as we move through the difficult terrain of life. Some things go bad. But the Spirit is still there, still prompting and calling us on to a higher deeper way of loving others and serving the Kingdom.

And some decisions have consequences that go beyond the immediate situation. Does that mean that we can count on miraculous intervention by Angels to rescue us? I do not think so. But then again…

But if not, it is perhaps good to remember that the mission of Paul began anew- on a journey to Rome, and through the wonderful letters written to early outposts of the Kingdom that survive today.