Thursday, July 30, 2009

Getting Married in Church

Recently I went to a wedding of two of my friends from college – fellow lecturers Dave & Sally.

They wanted to get married in church and attended that church for some time in order to do so yet I don’t think they would wholeheartedly claim to be Christians. But what impressed me about their wedding was the Christian content. There was a clear talk about Christian marriage and prayers for the couple with which I felt a strong agreement.

I have been to traditional church weddings before and found them quite boring and been frustrated that the message was watered down. Perhaps this church was different or perhaps I have changed and over the years become more accepting of Christian traditions different from my own.

Like many people getting married today Dave & Sally had been living together for a while. Nowadays of course no-one bats an eyelid at an unmarried couple even signing into a hotel room together. And a forty year old virgin makes good material for a comedy.

So the idea of wanting to remain a virgin until your wedding is an unusual one. But I am not ashamed to say that that is what I did. Therefore I can understand others wanting to wait and those who become Christians who begin to learn about marriage from the Bible feeling that they should stop sleeping together until after their wedding.

But I wonder if we can also see that a relationship like my friends’ could be considered a marriage in biblical terms if the couple have already set up home? After all, Genesis 2:24 says nothing about a ceremony. People may then want to ratify such an existing relationship legally and before God. Personally, this is how I would see what Dave & Sally were doing on that day.

Congratulations to them and I pray that God will bless their marriage.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Praying 24-7

Pete Greig from 24-7 Prayer is calling people together to pray for Europe in a massive prayer meeting in Amsterdam.

And people will come. But, when local churches may lament how poorly attended their prayer meetings are, what is drawing them? A longing for more in their lives? A desire for God? A move of the Holy Spirit? Yes, I’m sure it is all of those things. But one element that marks out the 24-7 prayer movement is their use of creativity in prayer. If you’re not familiar with this movement then check out the 24-7 Prayer website to get a flavour of what is happening.

Across the UK and now across the world prayer rooms are appearing populated with people praying in shifts for a week or more around the clock. In a typical prayer room we see prayers graffitied on the walls, we see original pieces of art work sculpted or painted as prayers during the prayer times. There are candles to set the ambience and CDs are often playing.

Another element that may surprise some is the rediscovery of liturgy. In prayer room across the world people are searching out and reading ancient prayers. Celtic prayers and prayers of medieval monks are again touching people as God breaths new life into these words. People in these prayer rooms are also writing new liturgies. Having just finished reading the 24-7 Prayer Manual I want to read Punk Monk for some insights from the monastic traditions that can be applied today.

People can wander around a prayer room looking icons in the form of artwork and read prayers written on the walls or sometimes follow specific trails with items to pray about at various points. Some of this is created spontaneously while to room is open but also a lot of work can go into preparing prayer stations. On occasions, 24-7 prayer rooms have even used labyrinths so that people can walk meditatively around the room as they pray – their attention brought to certain items at certain points. As you can see in this prayer room organised by Bath City Church - log on to facebook to see the photos.

People are being drawn together and motivated to pray. They are finding prayer interesting. They are finding prayer exciting. People are praying: not out of duty, not because they are made to feel guilty, not even as an exercise in self disciple. They are praying because they want to. They are enjoying it.

In our church we have seen a glimpse of this in our Time With God where we do just one 24 hour stint every few months. I long to see more of this. Don’t you?

Monday, July 20, 2009

last week our homegroup went down the tubes

On Saturday our homegroup went to see Underground - a dance performance by Motionhouse dance theatre. With a simple stage a bit like a climbing frame the dancers rather abstractly portrayed an underground carriage. The dance was an emotionally charged and thoroughly enjoyable experience. It was a half hour performance in the open air in Cannon Hill Park outside the Midlands Art Centre. The MAC itself is still closed for renovations but the arts programmes go on.

It was good to be with our homegroup at the same time as watching the dance. And Callie really enjoyed playing with the other children in our group afterwards. Thanks to Alan for organising this.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

N.T. Wright and the Gospel

N.T. Wright is one of the writers and theologians that have been involved in developing something called the New Perspective on Paul. His views on Justification in particular have recently come into the spotlight following a critique by John Piper in his book The Future of Justification. (David Matthew has some notes on Piper’s book here.) In response to Piper, Wright published Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision outlining his views and answering these criticisms. I’m still trying to get my head around this debate. But I have done a little research on N.T Wright and found a few links that I’d like to share.

The Paul Page is a site dedicated to the New Perspective on Paul and contains many articles. N.T Wright himself has written an article called ‘The Shape of Justification’. I found his comments on the relationship between the gospel and justification interesting:

"By 'the gospel' Paul does not mean 'justification by faith' itself. He means the announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord. To believe this message, to give believing allegiance to Jesus as Messiah and Lord, is to be justified… by faith (whether or not one has even heard of justification by faith). Justification by faith itself is a second-order doctrine: to believe it is both to have assurance… and to know that one belongs in the... family of God… But one is not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith… but by believing in Jesus…

“Let me make it clear that I do not, in any way, drive a wedge between 'the gospel' and 'justification'. They belong intimately together… But they are not the same thing. 'The gospel', for Paul, is the proclamation that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord of the world. When Paul arrived in Thessalonica, or Athens, or Corinth, or wherever, we know what he announced, because he tells us: The Messiah died for our sins and rose again... [Whereas] 'justification' is the declaration which God at once makes, that all who share this faith belong to Christ, to his sin-forgiven family, the one family of believing Jews and believing Gentiles together, and are assured of final glorification.”

I agree that it does sound sensible to preach Jesus’ death and resurrection – as the apostles did in Acts - and then teach the principles of justification later when someone has been a Christian for some time. I do wonder if gospel summaries would be better emphasising these facts about Jesus more than trying to explain justification. It is what Wright actually means by justification that needs further investigation.

I have also found a number of videos by Wright on YouTube including this one on what he believes about hell. I don’t think this is a major emphasis of his but some may feel that he is watering down the gospel here. What he says about hell sounds sensible to me but I wondered where exactly he was coming from.

I found this blog entry that pointed me to Wright’s book ‘For All The Saints’ very helpful. There he discusses the fact that universalism – the idea that all are saved in the end – “has gained enormous popularity in mainstream Western Christianity and compares this with the traditional teaching of eternal conscious torment”, and with a “middle position of “the ‘conditionalists’”. He explains that conditionalist teach that, “since humans are not by nature immortal, only those who are saved are granted immortality, so that all others are simply extinguished…” Wright then comments that he doesn’t “find any of these three traditional options completely satisfactory, but I think a somewhat different form of conditionalism may be the best we can do.”

Here I would tend to agree with Wright again. I rejected the idea of hell being everlasting conscious torment some twenty years ago now after reading John Stott’s chapter in Essentials where Stott argued for hell being a place of annihilation. More I recently investigated Universalism. I found it a lot more plausible than I expected but I couldn’t quite embrace it. (For more on this see David Matthew’s notes from the Evangelical Universalist.) I don’t find the Bible that clear on what happens to us after we die. I am looking forward to being with God for eternity but I fear I must agree with Wright that not all will make it but I cannot see that meaning those who don't will burn forever.

Anyway, it looks like Wright’s new book Justification is a key one to get – along with Piper’s book that he is answering. Skimming an extensive review of Wright’s book here I was struck by the reviewer’s comment that told how he previously “favoured evangelism over what I perceived as a liberal concern for social action and justice.” But then “began to explore the work of N.T. Wright.” And found himself “developing a larger theology in which God is calling a people to himself to be a blessing to the world. A gospel which embraced justice and social concern as well as a need to evangelise.” Once again I would say that this reflects my own journey and is an emphasis I would appreciate.

Whether I come to agree with him on justification or not Wright does appear to have some good points that are well worth listening to.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I recommend this booklet: 'Transforming Preaching'

I just love this little booklet entitled Transforming Preaching by Jonny Baker. I would say that this booklet is a must-read for preachers today. It is in a series on evangelism but it is just as relevent whether you are preaching the gospel or preaching to the church. Jonny Baker looks at how we can fully engage the interest of our listeners. It goes way beyond just having a flashy PowerPoint or the occational visual aid.

Jonny ‘slays the sacred cow’ of the sermon being a long monologue and looks at other ways to engage people in learning about God creatively and interactively. In Jonny’s ‘remix’ of the sermon things look very different. He doesn’t see the preacher as someone who merely spoon feeds information and opinions to the congregation. Instead he sees the preacher as just one voice among many as people are encouraged to take part discussing, interacting and responding in various imaginative ways. Jonny clearly outlines the principles to follow that will get you going in this direction.

This provocative little booklet is now published by Grove Books and can be purchased from them here for £3.50 or from Church House bookshop here. But I’ll let you into a secret: Jonny originally wrote this as a chapter for a book on preaching. When it didn't make the final volume he made his chapter available as a free download from his own site here.

If you have anything to do with preaching then please get hold of this booklet, read it and put it into practice.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Writing a Booklet on Media Psychology

I am currently working on a booklet for college about Media Psychology. This is a new and interesting area that we will be teaching our second years next year.

There are some old chestnuts like whether violence in the media makes us more aggressive. But now we look at computer games and the internet and not just films & TV. But still the evidence is not as conclusive as you might think. There is also evidence for media like computer games actually being good for us.

The booklet also covers how media persuades us and influences our attitudes and a section that looks at why we are so interested in celebrities and how much we worship them.

If we get to publish the booklet somewhere as a PDF I’ll add the link.