Some Good Books From 2015

booksAs it customary in the weird and wonderful world of the blogosphere, here are some books that I enjoyed in the past year and would recommend to others to check out. There’s a mix of old/new, and Christian/non-Christian. I’ve also asterisked the books that are probably more aimed at pastors. And inclusion in this list does not mean I agree with every word – I simply found them enjoyable, edifying, illuminating, or stimulating. So, for what its worth, here’s a few things I enjoyed in 2015:

  • Michael Horton, Ordinary
  • Jamie Smith, Imagining the Kingdom*
  • Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, The Pastor-Theologian*
  • Graham Beynon, Isaac Watts
  • Wendell Berry, Bringing It To The Table
  • Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There*
  • Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology*
  • Tim Keller, PrayerPreaching*
  • Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last
  • Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles*
  • Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society*
  • C.S.Lewis, The Weight of Glory
  • Hans Frei, Types of Christian Theology*
  • Richard Hays, Reading Backwards*
  • Michelle Magorian, Goodnight Mister Tom
  • Harper LeeTo Kill A Mockingbird
  • John Steinbeck, East of Eden
  • Bill Bryson, Notes From a Small Island; 1926
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  • Alex Ferguson, Leading

So there you have it. If you find a stranger mix out there do let me know. And do comment with any recommends for 2016.

10 reasons to invite someone to a carol service

carolsThere are so many carol services and concerts of various kinds going on at this time of year, why not grab a friend and take them along. Here’s ten reasons why you won’t regret it:

  1. They’ll appreciate being asked – it’s an expression of interest and care for another human being, and that seldom goes unrewarded
  2. Lots of people like this kind of thing at this time of year – many many people still attend an act of worship at Christmas. Why? Presumably because we enjoy it. For many this isn’t seen as a curse to be endured, but an activity to be enjoyed.
  3. A ‘no’ is a win – it communicates that you thought enough of them to ask. They may not come this time, but you’ve begun to build a bridge with someone else. This is always a good thing.
  4. It’s a great demonstration of community – gathering together to sing familiar carols builds community feel-good factor. So often news is negative, so why not stand with others and appreciate the unity and positivity that exists in our often broken world.
  5. It’s great for building a bit of festive spirit – mulled wine, mince pies, Christmas jumpers . . . it all contributes to the warm fuzzy feeling of Christmas cheer.
  6. It’s an easy invite – trying to get your friend to your Morris dancing group or Mandarin class may feel like a tough ask, but who doesn’t love a bit of a Christmas sing-song?
  7. You might establish a new friendship – it’s a great way to build friendships with colleagues, neighbours, or the crochet crew . . . you could get together for some food or drinks after
  8. You can deepen an existing friendship – there’s something about the message of ‘peace on earth’ that brings people closer together. Don’t miss out on that.
  9. It’s the greatest news ever to introduce to someone – for those of us that believe that, as good as numbers 1-8 are, the greatest thing about Christmas is the message of a God who loved us enough to send his Son, this is the most important thing people will ever need to hear. Food, family, and presents are all great, but if you’re a Christian doesn’t your heart ache for people to hear about the God who loves them?
  10. It’ll stretch your courage, your faith, and will make you pray more – any invite comes with the fear of rejection (but see no. 3 above). If you’re super nervous about asking someone this is a good way to step out in faith and to be in prayer as you seek to share something of that which is so important to you. Give it a go. God might surprise you!

No Tyson, The Bible Doesn’t Say That

I confess to having winced more than a little as Tyson Fury waxed lyrical on the radio yesterday about his Christian views.

Apparently, according to Tyson, the Bible says that legalizing abortion, homosexuality, and paedophilia are all signs that the end of days has come. According to Tyson, ‘It’s in the Bible.’

To which I want to say, ‘No Tyson, it isn’t.’ I’m a minister of a church, have an MTh in Theology, and am currently midway through a PhD in Biblical Studies, and I can find no place where it says what Tyson claims it says. The gospel to all nations? Check (Matt 24:14); war, earthquake and famine? Check (Matt 24:15-22); False teachers? Check (Matt 24:23-24); General evil and wickedness? Check (2 Thess 2:1-10); The legalisation of abortion, homosexuality, and paedophilia? Nope. Could some of these things be considered under the category of general evil? Yes, but so could a whole host of other things. Could some of the passages about the end be about the fall of Jerusalem in AD70? Seems quite likely to me. Should these passages be related specifically to legislation in 21st c. Britain? I’m not sure it’s quite that simple. Ultimately, does the Bible say that the day and hour of Christ’s return is unknown? Yes (Matt 25:13).

So, if you’ve heard some weird things in the news about what Christians believe, based on Tyson’s interviews, I can assure you that he doesn’t speak for the vast majority of Christians.

However, in the words of Voltaire (if he did actually say it!), I disapprove of what you say, and I defend to the death your right to say it. All right, maybe not to death – I’m too much of a coward for all that – but really really strongly! Tyson’s certainly no Aristotle, with his logos, ethos, and pathos, but those aren’t the qualifiers for expressing a view. It’s no good the media goading him into saying something for the story, then demanding that he be silenced. Removing him from the Sports Personality of the Year is a ridiculous example of the thought police running rampant. The best way to deal with ideas is to discuss them, not shut them down. That way they can be seen for what they are and responded to accordingly. SPOTY is a public vote anyhow, so that will quickly reveal what people think of his views.  Taking ‘offence’ is such a slippery criteria for discussion. Your offence at his offence offends me in its offensive response. So what now friend? Shall we just discuss the weather and Bake Off? What are ‘acceptable’ views anyway? Who decides? Is it the view of the majority? Is Big Brother going to tell me what to think about issues that might cause disagreement with others. Is Thomas More’s Utopia George Orwell’s 1984?

The Main Arguments in the Syrian ISIL Air Strikes Debate

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I’ve listened today to some of the Commons debate regarding the issue of Syrian air strikes. Here’s what I think (as I heard it) are the key arguments being made on either side:

For:

  • UN resolution 2249 – to use ‘all necessary means’ to combat this threat to international peace and security
  • Our allies have requested our help
  • We can make a significant impact against terrorist forces – at least we can reduce the threat of terrorism, and prevent (to some degree) its spread
  • We must do something; we can’t do nothing
  • This action is simply a small extension of what we are already doing in Iraq
  • Diplomacy cannot work as terrorists are unwilling to negotiate
  • The threat is present, real, and significant, therefore we need to act to protect our citizens
  • We cannot know all of the unintended consequences, but inaction also carries unintended consequences

 

Against:

  • It won’t really make much difference – a few planes won’t achieve much; you’d have to put significant numbers of troops on the ground, which is a very different thing
  • It’s just a symbolic gesture – revenge for Paris is not a sufficient condition
  • The fact ‘we can’t do nothing’ doesn’t mean ‘we can do anything’
  • Anything less than complete defeat of ISIL is pointless; and if you do defeat them what do you put in its place?
  • It’s not our job to police other governments or others’ disputes – defending our borders and invading someone else’s are very different things
  • Diplomacy and peacemaking efforts have not been exhausted
  • Action may provoke further retaliation and threat, and may serve to radicalise many more – recent US bombing has served to increase the numbers of ISIS recruits
  • We can’t guarantee the safety of civilians
  • There may be all sorts of unintended negative consequences which we cannot foresee

As I say, these are the arguments as I heard them – there may be others, and doubtless they could be better put. In my own thinking and reflection I’ve come to the following conclusions.

First, no-one seems to disagree with the first argument against. All (as I heard the debate) agreed that action would not be decisive. Opinion ranged from those who thought it would make a little (but real) difference, to those who thought it would make no difference. This seems to me a significant problem. The stakes are too high for symbolic gestures. Posturing shouldn’t gamble with non-combatant lives. Second, UN resolution 2249 does place the UK under a responsibility to take all necessary steps to combat ISIL. We ought to take that responsibility seriously. Perhaps action will not achieve significant change, but numbers alone cannot be the measure.

All of that said I’m still really not sure what I think. I pray for those who have the burden of making these decisions. Everyone will have their own opinions on the issues at stake. To me it appears far from clear. And so perhaps the best thing my fellow Christians can do is pray for our leaders, for victims, for refugees, and yes, even for the perpetrators – God has a history of dealing with extremists (see Acts 9). Pray for justice, and pray for peace on earth and goodwill to all men. And above all pray Maranatha!

7 Small Group Characters

On Monday evening we had the privilege of having Peter Hayden, from Chessington Evangelical Church, do some training with our small group leaders. Peter’s been looking after small group ministry for over a decade so has great experience. His session was practical and wise, and we’re so thankful to him.

One thing he looked at with us was the ‘small group cast of characters.’ Being aware of the different characters in our groups can help us understand and address varying group dynamics. The ‘cast’ are as follows:

  • The spectator – they won’t contribute much at all, but will sit and watch, taking it all in. We need to draw them out with simple direct requests – eg. ‘would you read’, or get them talking in pairs.
  • The dictator – they dominate discussion and love the sound of their own voice. We need to find ways to encourage them to let others contribute.
  • The sidetracker – always has a red herring to throw into the mix. Some of these are worth pursuing; others will need to be left for another time. The skill is in knowing which is which.
  • The joker – always quick with a gag; slow to get serious. This person is a real asset energizing the group. At the same time we need to be careful they don’t distract everyone else. A quiet word may be in order.
  • The professor – knows everything about, well, mostly everything. Again, can be useful, but keep bringing the study back to practical application, and don’t let the prof hide behind the language of Zion.
  • The controversialist – someone who has a hobby horse, or who likes debate for debate’s sake. Robust discussion is good, but make sure we don’t end up with more heat than light. Perhaps some topics need to be addressed outside of the group meeting, one to one.
  • The chatterbox – tend to ramble and can be quite random. These people are good at breaking awkward silence. We just need to step in to help someone else have a go.

Peter helped us see how each of these characters can bring something good to the group, and how their strengths can also be weaknesses. He also gave us loads more ideas on how to best help and utilize these characters, which we don’t have space for here.

But then Peter dropped the bomb. He asked, ‘And which one of these are you?’ Are we aware of which role we play in a group – are we a chatterbox, dictator, joker, or professor. And how is that helping and harming the group.

It’s a really helpful little tool – one I know Peter wouldn’t mind me sharing. Do chip in if you think there any characters missing here?