Lest you think I’m being lazy…

28 03 2012

My blogging has ground to a halt, it would appear… Distressed by the fact that the fact that the front page of the blog still tells you what I created as Christmas gifts, and what I cooked for New Year, I felt the need to reassure you that my writing hasn’t curled up and died. I’ve just been writing at various other places and on slightly less frivolous matters than I tend to here.

So in case you’ve missed me (and more importantly so I can at least have something on this blog with a ‘March’ date stamp on it) here are a few things I’ve written recently which you may enjoy:

  • review of Andrew Wilson’s latest offering, If God Then What?
  • Some comments on ‘The God Issue’ of The New Scientist
  • Not strictly speaking a written piece, but my face on celluloid talking about Guinness (some writing did go into the script!)
  • And a (not very interesting) blog about a (significantly more interesting) series of Easter Week Bible studies which ChristChurch London is producing next week. So that’s the equivalent of six blog posts coming in the next week, which makes me feel a little more happy about my general prolificacy! You can check out those posts each day of next week at broadcast.christchurchlondon.org, follow ChristChurchLdn on Twitter or sign up for the emails.

Plus I’ve also completed an essay on a Christian view of immortality, and begun some research on Revelation. So who knows… maybe some of those musings might materialise in the next few weeks too. I’d also like to develop some material I taught recently on preaching, truth and beauty, and am sketching ideas for something book length – though I have many ‘ideas for something book length’ and nothing remotely near book length to show for them. So who knows?

Anyway – job done. I now have something listed under entries for March, and I can retreat to my state of thinking about writing… Until the end of April, “adieu!”





What Should Christians Write About?

8 12 2011

“Christians should write about what God wrote about. Everything in the arts is imitation in some way shape or form; godly, gracious, good imitation. Christians should write about what God wrote about, which is to say: oranges, orange rinds, mammoths, clipper ships, marriage, conversion, hanging off of cliffs and watching the river flow. And everything in between and on either side of any one of those things.”
(Douglas Wilson – Wordsmithy)





Getting my junk together

31 08 2011

I have an annoying habit – which may well be on account of my gender – of leaving items such as keys, my wallet or loose change scattered in random parts of the house. I walk into the house, and tend to just put down the items on whatever flat space happens to be available at that part particular moment in time.

Having been irritated by this for quite some time, my wife has devised a simple but brilliant solution: a small rectangular plate, approximately 12x5cm, which resides permanently on the bookshelf. This is my space, and we have an agreement that all my random items are to be placed on this plate, and on this plate alone. Not every possession I own, of course, just those little things that I’m tempted to dump on windowsills and promptly forget about. And it works the other way round too; if I fail to put my keys there and instead place them in some unhelpful location, upon finding them, Helen relocates them to the plate. Thus my junk is confined to a 60cm² piece of porcelain.

In recent months I have been scattering thoughts in too many locations around the web – an article here, a blog post there – and I’ve tried not to duplicate material too much for fear of boring absolutely everyone at every juncture. But now even I’m losing track of what I’ve written and when, and so I think the time has come to put all my junk in one place.

So consider this blog something of a porcelain plate!

When I write articles elsewhere, I’ll link to them here as well. That way, everything I say, do and write is in one searchable location, and perhaps I’ll remember where I’ve left my thoughts, should I ever have need for them again.

And so I start with something published today… This is a talk I gave at Newday 2011 called God’s Plan to Change the World, which can be found at the Everything Conference website along with an interactive presentation, my first foray into the wonderful world of prezi.

It was a fun challenge to try to articulate something of the Everything concept to 14-18 year olds… you can be the judge of whether I succeeded! At least, if nothing else, it was amusing making everyone look as stupid as my sister did:


Enjoy!





I am a worm, and not a man…

13 08 2011

Yesterday I learnt a sad, hard lesson: I am inept at barbecuing.

Well, that’s not strictly true… I didn’t get far enough to test my skills at the actual cooking. I suppose what I mean to say is that I am inept at lighting barbecues.

There are many factors I could blame for my failure:

  • The charcoal was old, and perhaps a little damp
  • I didn’t have the right equipment
  • It was too windy
  • Once the coals started to get warm, the rain began to fall

But as they say, ‘a bad workman blames his tools’ and I know if I’m honest that the failure was not due to any implement, but to an individual. There is one person to blame for my incompetence, and one person alone: my father.

You see, nobody ever taught me to light a barbecue. Surely that was his job! I was taught to tell the time, swim, ride a bike, and spit cherry stones with laser-like precision… but nobody ever taught me how to get little blocks of charcoal hot enough to burn a burger! Why this omission from my otherwise adequate education?

The art of barbecuing is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. People seem strangely cagey about their methodology, and there is something unnervingly ‘cloak and dagger’ (or rather ‘apron and tongs’) about the way in which the secrets are guarded.

It has been this way since primeval man first learnt to burn things and eat them. For many thousands of years, women and children have been banished from the grill, lest they discover the techniques behind the wizardry of the embers. Women were told ‘this is a man’s job’. Or perhaps if he were feeling a little more devious the male in question would adopt a tone of faux-chivalry and say, ‘put your feet up love and let me serve you’, whilst children were scared with stories of explosions, scorchings, and facial-scarring.

But presumably there would be some point at which the child would be taught the methodology of barbecuing? Just the male children, of course. Stone-age fathers who gave birth only to daughters would have been scorned, or considered cursed, for having not produced an heir to the grill.

At some point in time, the young boy would come of age and be allowed into the circle of trust – perhaps once he had undergone a right of passage, such as slaughtering a wild boar with his bare hands, or spending a night in a snake infested cave – only then earning the right to learn the secrets of the cinders. At that point, and not a moment before, would a father take his child to a remote forest, and teach him the ways of barbecuing. And as they left the village, the other stone-age fathers would exchange knowing looks; today is the day a child becomes a man.

Somehow I missed out on this experience.

At some point in the early ‘90s, the father to son transmission of the secrets was interrupted, and I was never inducted into the order of the embers. I feel that perhaps I was the only one. Did I not prove myself? If there was some kind of task I was meant to complete in order to ‘come of age’, nobody ever told me! I would happily have wrestled a bear, or drunk the blood of a goat, or whatever it took to earn the right to learn this precious skill.

And so, alas, last night I spent hours standing before a pile of frigid coals, using an entire box of matches, googling many tips and techniques, writing the majority of them off as old wives’ tales, and finally retreating inside to the hob and the electric grill. I smelt of smoke and had nothing to show for it.

I can’t help but wonder if Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, felt the same sense of shame and bewilderment as I did? Was King Louie some self-referential device, used to vent the author’s personal angst at his inability to barbecue?

What I desire is man’s red fire, to make my dreams come true.’

All this is to say that I am not to blame for my failure. I am the victim of inadequate parenting! I have been overlooked and under-taught and I protest that my inability to light a barbecue in no way diminishes my masculinity.

That’s my excuse, and I’m clinging to it ‘til I die.

p.s. Dad… I’m only joking; I don’t blame you. But seriously…

Give me the power of man’s red flower, so I can be like you!





Oh for truthful beauty, and beautiful truth…

2 08 2011

Trevin Wax has posted a brilliant comment on Chan and Sprinkle’s Erasing Hell, in which he’s picked up on a concern I’ve had for sometime with the battle between the Emergent and Reformed camps. I’ve been meaning to post something to this effect, but he beat me to it, and did a brilliant job.

Read the whole thing, please, but here are some of the key sections I would like to comment on:

‘Chan and Sprinkle approach this topic from an analytical, exegetical point of view. And […] at the exegetical level, the book succeeds. But that’s not where the battle is being waged. No one is discarding hell because of the convincing nature of Bell’s eisegesis. No… people are following Bell because of the compelling way he has made his case.

Chan and Sprinkle are analysts. Bell fashions himself as an artist. (It’s no coincidence Bell’s first book is Velvet Elvis.)

Chan and Sprinkle are theologian-pastors. Bell fashions himself as a risky explorer.

The power of Love Wins is not in Bell’s exegesis or in his thoughtfulness. The power of Bell’s book is in its aesthetic qualities. Bell is appealing to the sentiments and emotions in a way that proves effective for many disaffected evangelicals today.

Bell’s book is troublesome, not because it is a thoughtful representation of the optimistic inclusivist position. (See Clark Pinnock’s work if you’re looking for that!) It’s troublesome because it is seeking to make inclusivism beautiful. Bell succeeds at “dressing up” falsehood. Meanwhile, his evangelical critics aren’t even bothering with the wardrobe. We are Nixon, and he is Kennedy. From a purely rhetorical, debating standpoint, we win. But Bell understands the medium.

What is needed is a response that takes into consideration the beauty of Truth. We’ve got the truth portion down when it comes to propositions. What is needed is a beautiful and compelling portrait of Truth – the Person. God is inherently beautiful, but many times, we don’t do well at drawing out the inherent beauty of Truth with a capital T.

I’m not calling out Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle alone on this. God bless them – they care about precious truths and they are working to preserve them. No, I’m indicting myself in this too. We struggle in the area of aesthetics, and I’m not sure why. After all, the Reformed wing of the church is influenced by Jonathan Edwards, who wrote more about beauty than virtually any theologian in Christian history. The study of true beauty is the study of God. So why doesn’t the result of our study reflect that?

[…]

The problem with the responses to Love Wins is that, while we are experts at critiquing Bell’s vision of God, we aren’t stepping up with a more compelling portrait of God’s magnificence. We are scribbling down our thoughts under Bell’s chalk drawing instead of taking up the paint brush and creating something that reflects the beauty of biblical truth.

We can write 50-page criticisms of The Shack. Meanwhile, men and women like William Young continue to craft great stories. We grasp the issues, but others grasp the medium.

Beyond that, we often appear pedantic in the grasping of these important issues. In the study of the communication arts, there is a part of the brain known as Brocha’s Area which acts like the gateway to whether people actually listen. Surprising or intriguing Brocha is one way to get that door to open – something that art in its many variations is capable of doing.

Erasing Hell is functional, but not beautiful. From a functional point of view, I recommend it. But I think we need to be pushed on the beautiful side of this equation as well. The gospel shouldn’t shut down our imagination, but rather fuel it and direct it toward the beauty that is inherent to the truth. We need more than analysis; we need artistry.’

He is absolutely right.

The thing I found most frustrating in the whole Love Wins fiasco was the lack of creativity, compelling writing and aesthetically-evocative engagement I saw coming from those who defended an orthodox position. As Wax said, we can write the 50 page responses with proof-texts galore, but they’re the ones writing the good stories.

I could list half a dozen responses to Love Wins which I think are genuinely, biblically excellent. DeYoung’s tome is outstanding. Carson’s Gospel Coalition session is very helpful. But neither of them has that ‘I must turn the page’ factor. None of them has me holding my breath, or causes a tear to form in my eye like Bell does when he pleads with me “but don’t you wish this were true?”

So we saw papers, articles, blogs and debates with people who dotted every I, crossed every T and painted a picture of a God with no heart, soul, or emotions. (Perhaps ‘painted a picture’ is too artistic a term: I fear ‘chalked up an equation’ may be more apt). In fact, sometimes I wonder if the god they defended wasn’t some wizened old coward with his hands tied, mumbling feebly “I really wish I could help… genuinely I do… but logic prohibits me!”

The thing we have to remember is that it is not, on the whole, those with neo-reformed predilections who are being swayed by Bell. It’s the emergent, arty people; those who’ve often been hurt by churches, or who tend to (rightly or wrongly) be wary of black and white statements and hardline positions. It’s the disaffected and suspicious; those who need to be wooed rather than lambasted. Therefore we can’t simply expect to speak to them in Reformedese, and imagine that they will respond positively. We need to engage with them on their terms, in their language, in a style they’ll understand and warm to.

So nobody with a predisposition to engage with the emergent style is going to take kindly to being handed a missive by Carson, or an angry rant by Driscoll (for different reasons: one has a lot of academic clout, but sometimes feels a little dry, and the other has a loud voice that gets people’s backs up immediately, irrespective of the content). That would be somewhat like complaining to your local street cleaner that he missed a spot, but doing so in finely honed, point-perfect, totally abstruse and impenetrable Latin. You’re simply speaking a different language!

(Ok, maybe it’s not quite like that. No offence to emergent guys or street cleaners… But there is an issue of language at stake here: tone, style, timbre and vernacular. And we can’t assume that because we technically speak the same language: ‘English’ we speak the same form of English.)

You can’t just approach someone who loves grey areas and say:

‘Look, it’s just black and white! There’s no middle ground and you have to choose!’

But you can say gently and with a winsome tone:

‘Sure, that looks a bit grey. But there are even different shades of grey. And surely you can see that this shade of grey is darker than that one… and hey, this shade of grey is only one step away from being black.’

And thus we woo…

Ultimately, whilst I may favour the Reformed perspective, I am drawn to beauty. And I wish beyond wish that there were more people from the orthodox perspective writing with the same level of creative engagement as some of the emergent guys. Because frankly, some of the Reformed guys make me want to switch sides… Call it petulance, but I have artistic tendencies that are often unfulfilled by many of the guys I read or listen to. I have the odd postmodern gene bobbing along in my bloodstream, and if my head-shape were a little more regular, I daresay I might be tempted shave my hair and wear emergent, thick-rimmed glasses… If you catch my drift.

I want truth and I want beauty. Surely that’s not asking for too much?

We need to find ways of turning phrases, and painting vistas that are compelling and evocative, not simply perfectly lined up, puritanical and soulless. I don’t want to write (or read!) books that make people go “Well, I guess I have to believe that, even if I don’t like it, because at the end of the day he showed me more proof texts than the other guy.” I want to write and read books that make me see the beauty of unpopular doctrines.

As I write, I am on the train on the way home from speaking at a seminar at the Newday youth festival. At the end of the seminar a girl came and asked me if in the new creation she would remember her non-Christian friends. And if so, how could she remember them without feeling a sense of sorrow at their absence. We spoke for a while and settled on the fact that there will be a good number of things that we will come to with a fresh perspective “when we’ve been there ten thousand years.” Perhaps one of the reasons we won’t feel sorrow is that we will be captivated by a new understanding of judgment; one that emphasises justice over emotive-offence; one that sees things from God’s perspective at last. And the things that once seemed abhorrent may then shine like precious jewels.

If only people could begin to write in such a way as to help us see like that now… Oh for truthful beauty, and beautiful truth!





Pedant’s unite!

6 12 2010

On the way to work this morning I walked past a church called St Paul’s, which was advertising a talent show they are running. The poster read as follows:

We warmly invite you to:
‘St Paul’s got Talent’!

The pedant in me wondered how they were going to pull off an event where the only display of talent came from a long-deceased Apostle?! But then I started to wonder where the apostrophe ought to have gone?! The Church is named after St Paul, so there ought to be an apostrophe between the L and S, but how do you then go on to express that you are condensing the sentence ‘St Paul’s has got talent’?

I have been bothered by this all morning, and so hope there are other pedants out there who can provide me with the answer… Then I can take my sharpie and correct it on the way home.

p.s. – The title is ironic…