Friday, 30 January 2009

Canon Andrew White

The Times Online recently published a story about Canon Andrew White's ministry out in Baghdad. He truly is an amazing person - and not just because he looks ever-so-slightly like Morpheus from the Matrix. I had the privilege of meeting and "working" with him a few years ago at a conference in Solihull (of all places!). Not quite the Black Country (where I was living at the time) and certainly not quite Baghdad! Either way, we both ended up there. Him, because he is an inspiring person and had an amazing message to bring; me, because the drummer in my band was playing in the worship band and I was stepping in last minute for a bass player who couldn't make it!!

At that particular time, he was regularly meeting up with Yasser Arafat. For some reason that he could not quite understand, Andrew's son had taken a particular liking for Arafat and always would ask that his best wishes be passed on whenever Andrew was going to speak with him! In return, Arafat gave Andrew's son one of his turbans for his birthday! That may seem bizarre, but it did a world of good for me. It highlighted how we completely vilify people who are evil, and turn them into less-than-humans. Andrew's son, though, knew the truth: these people are exactly human, and as such are no more in need of God's grace than me, or you, or Canon Andrew White! And are no less deserving of love from those who claim to follow Christ. Remember, as Shane Claiborne has popularly pointed out, even St. Paul began as a terrorist... (of sorts...)

Please pray for the work that Andrew is doing out in Baghdad. It must be so difficult. His family live back in England, and he is also suffering with Multiple Sclerosis. Yet he carries on. His church is attended by over 2000 people, from all denominations, and indeed some are even from other faiths!! As he continues to be involved in negotiating peace and the release of victims of kidnapping, it is glaringly obvious (at least to me) that the world is a better place for this amazing guy.

Finally, on a more positive note, I think this story completely sums up both sides of Andrew's life (i.e. his approachable, everyday-man side and his extremely important global ministry side!). During one of the breaks of the Solihull conference, we were sat in the back room eating from a few bags of greasy chips bought from the local chippie (if Solihull has such a thing...!). Eating, laughing and telling jokes, we were all getting on very well. Midway through Andrew telling us a joke about "an Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman" his mobile phone rang. He paused from his joke to look at the caller-ID. "Oh" he said. "I'd better take this; it's the Whitehouse". And off he went into a back room! Classic.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

A Bible Commentary...

Admittedly, this is slightly irreverent... but it's still quite funny!

Quick Update...

I'm having to write this from my phone, as upgrading to 'KDE4.2' (a new version of linux) has played havoc with my computer! It looks nicer, but I'll need to do a fair bit of work to get everything working correctly! Fun.

Lecturing Hebrew at Birmingham Christian College has been going well. Even if many of the students are staring at me with a look that can only be interpreted as meaning, "keep talking like that little man, and I'll cause you pain." Which is a good sign I'm going at the right pace for a degree course. I jest, but some students are really getting hold of it[; which is really good.

I managed to play golf again recently - after my injury (grade 3 ankle sprain) - and managed my first ever birdie on a par 4 hole. This is good!

Finally, I shall be applying to read for an MPhil at Trinity College Bristol. Their O.T. supervisors are world class, and I'm really hoping my application succeeds.

That's it for now!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Theology Detached

"I don't just know about you with concepts and words, but have experienced you, lived you, suffered you."
        Karl Rahner

Internal Affairs

In my attempt to keep up with current trends in popular theology I have become embroiled in the Emergent conversation/debate/journey/community (I use those words synonymously to mean "buzz-word"). I actually think I am more 'Emergent' than I would readily admit - which is a paradoxical statement to include on something published on the world wide web (perhaps I am more readily willing to admit it than I thought).

Either way, certain spheres of the Emergent discussion (there's another one...buzzz) appear to have become something of an inward looking dialectic where the primary focus is on argument, or discussion, or questioning over what is right, wrong or 'both/and'. The unfortunate reply (or comment) to clever blogs is often something like, "wow, that's really good. That will get my mind thinking today" and rarely,

"wow, that's really good. I must change".

The Emerging Movement started off so well: challenging beliefs in the hope that it would bring about a change in the lives of those who were willing to listen - though this is still the aim of some, I am concerned it is not for many. One of the big problems I see in Evangelicalism is that it has tried to take the monopoly on truth, regardless of reality (more on this later). Now I see a similar thing happening in the Emerging debate. Though previously admitting that I am more emergent than I let on, I certainly do not agree with enough emergent thought to label myself with it. Yet I do believe that the questions asked in the emergent movement are essential questions - which I suppose derive from a preceding question of "What do we do with all this liberal stuff?" (adding "without just saying it's from the devil"). The focus was on exploring faith; then it became about defending a movement; now too many are engaging in a clique, completely separating themselves from conservative orthodoxy - when it is conservative orthodoxy that needs to participate most. To be challenged, and to bring challenges.

Real Orthodoxy

It cannot have escaped the attention that words such as "unorthodox" and "heretic" are currently popular argot in emerging circles. To the conservative these words are very uncomfortable - which is why they are used so often, most likely! - and it is interesting to ponder why this is so. Many people are completely unaware that our current evangelical orthodoxy is the product of hundreds and hundreds of years of debate, reform, renewal, war, hatred, sacrifice, heresy, apologetic, love, revolution, research and controversy, among other things! In fact, there is not even agreement on what is absolutely orthodox among the most conservative evangelical denominations - with some opting for more Calvinist theology, and others preferring Armenian theology. Though I shall quickly swerve to avoid that debate...

If one is to declare a leaning of theology, it must be insisted that this theology is built on truth (of some sort!). Now, as I mentioned, I believe that Evangelicalism has attempted to claim the monopoly on truth, regardless of reality. What I mean by this is that there is a tendency to say, "well 'this' is what the bible says, so we must believe 'that'." - even if what we see/experience is completely different. The controversy here is highlighted by what is really meant, vis: "well this is what [I say that] the bible says, so we must believe that". Of course, conversely there are those who would begin with experience and say, "well 'this' is what is happening, so 'that' cannot be true", meaning "well 'this' is what is happening [to me, now], so 'that' cannot be true [for anyone, ever]."

Allow me to offer a question: Can truth exist outside of reality? If we say that something is true, but it never actually exists - then is it really true? The problem with the bible is that one can make it say almost anything (though that is really a problem with humankind!). There are plenty of verses which, when taken out of context, or even in context but misinterpreted, can be used to support many contradictory points of view. If truth is considered truth "for its own sake" and not grounded in reality, then discussion of differing views remains philosophical - and usually results in a faction where one group believes 'this' because it is "right for them" and the other believes 'that' because it is "right for them". Truth is separated from reality.

There is, included in this, the debate over whether Scripture is Ipsissima Verba (the very words) or Ipsissima Vox (the very voice) of God. Again, allow me to make our journey uncomfortable by swerving around that issue also! Perhaps that is for another time.

So, truth without regard for reality is not really truth at all. It is no wonder that postmodernity has rejected the metanarrative - the metanarrative existed somewhere up in the ether! Truth is relative when it is not grounded in reality - as is theology. Theology that is completely detached is not grounded in God, but in man's philosophy; it is protected only by man's thought. However, I would add that reality which exists with no regard for truth is just as dangerous. Theology that is merely a reflection of what man, so far, understands and knows is also not grounded in God, but in man's ability to experience - which is not only limited, but is different depending on the person. There are times where experience (or rather, one's interpretation of existence) is misleading and gives a false indication of what is true. In these cases, it is important to learn what is true in reality not in immediate experience.

Reattaching Theology

Thus, we are left with a Hermeneutical ordeal. How can immediate experience and actually reality be identified? Indeed, the task is impossible in many instances. However, if truth in reality is to be achieved then attention to both elements of absolute truth and elements of subjective experience must be given. If a person's faith is built on a whole set of doctrine and one aspect of that doctrine is proved wrong, then that person risks losing the whole of their faith. Likewise, if another person's faith is built on the sum of their experiences so far and they encounter something that appears to contradict that faith, that person risks losing the whole of it. I suggest a better way: let faith (and indeed mission, service, and all that comes with faith) be built on loving God and loving each other. If this is the case, then no-one need be worried about admitting they were wrong, because they still love God and one another. So, it turns out that Jonah was a parable after all - accept it and move on. Or, it turns out Jonah is an historical account, and new evidence now points to such - accept it and move on. People will believe different things. But rather than vilify those who don't fit into our particular "doctrine cast", let's celebrate that we have Jesus in common! Faith is so important, but it is dead without deeds - so, I would say, is theology that is detached.

I hope that one day we will be brave enough, and sensible enough to admit that we may not have everything completely correct. Then we have a choice: accept it and move on; or detach our theology and defend our position. I pray we choose wisely.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Better In Koine

This video is for anyone who has ever studied Greek at Bible College (or equivalent!) It's a classic (and purposefully cheesy before people start telling me "I suck"... :-) ) It's the best thing since Baby Got Book!


Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Birmingham Christian College

שָׁלוֹם לָכֶם

"Shalom Lakem" (Peace to you!)

Today was my first day of lecturing Hebrew at my old bible college. Though being excruciatingly nervous to begin with, it went well - in fact, I may have even been caught enjoying myself for the second half of the lecture... It was a coming together of three things that I have been wanting to be involved in for a while now; namely, the Hebrew language, lecturing, and Birmingham Christian College. For all three to take place at the same time is something of a shock, but something I am extremely happy and excited about.

Birmingham Christian College

B.C.C. has been through many changes in it's life - even the beginning of B.C.C. was a merger of two previous colleges (Birmingham Bible Institute and Springdale College). More recently, since I graduated, the college had moved to another premises (a far bigger premises) and began life under the new Principle Dr Raymond Pfister. I am not sure of all the details, but the Principle has now moved on to other things and the college is now in a stage of transition between the old way of doing things, and the new. The post of principle has been made redundant and the college is now being run by a managing team (which is going well, I understand). A combination of this and a massive flood in the east block over the holidays has made the first week back somewhat hectic - but nothing that is proving too difficult.

Many people are talking about how good it is to be a part of a "new beginning" and how the college is now "starting something new" etc. etc. however, what strikes me is not the new beginning, but the continuation of the story of the college. It has been through some pretty rough times over the decades, yet still it is there, making disciples, training leaders, confusing students and changing the world (well, at least changing the people who change the world...). It's a fascinating "journey" (please excuse the 'buzz words') the college has been on - though, I use the word literally - the college has actually been moved around Birmingham numerous times! Now it is moving in a more non-physical way. However you look at it - it is a pleasure to be involved with. I am looking forward to finding out what part I might play in the "morrow" of B.C.C.

Thursday, 8 January 2009


I feel I need to journal my dream from last night and share a few thoughts at the end.

I was fed up of having a bloated feeling in my stomach, so I had some tests done at the hospital. Thought nothing of them and carried on with life in general. When the results came back, the news was very bad. There was a complication and it turned out I was going to die from whatever the problem was (they did say what, but I didn't really hear in my dream).

As it turned out (in the world of dreams) the hospital were going to perform euthanasia. This was all going to have to happen on a very short time-scale. I think the day was possibly a Tuesday and my funeral was arranged for 2:30pm on the Saturday. So I was to go into the hospital Saturday morning to receive this euthanasia.

The next thing I knew it was Friday evening, I was at my parents' house with Hannah and we were sat around in the front room chatting and drinking tea etc. I had been absolutely fine with the fact that I was about to die. I think I just accepted that it was going to happen and there was nothing I could do about it. My mom had taken it quite badly, and so had Hannah, I think. Dad was keeping his emotions hidden, though I think I understood that he was upset.

I was even joking about the eventuality. I can't remember exactly what happened, but I remember my response was,

"Ah well, it doesn't matter. I'll be dead by then anyway." Everyone looked at me in disgust, to which I had to reply, "Well, it's true".

This seemed to be enough. I think I received a raised eyebrow from Hannah, but that was the extent of the criticism of my words - after all, they WERE true.

Suddenly it hit me. Like a train. I was going to die tomorrow and there was nothing I could do about it. This was crazy! I felt fine, there was no way I could possibly be dying tomorrow. I began to panic and started asking why I had to die. Couldn't we just wait and see if this problem I had would kill me or not? Or surely we could at least wait a little longer before going through with this course of action. Wait until I'm in pain at least?!

I think we phoned the hospital to find out, and they're answer was no, it had to be done tomorrow. The problem I had was inevitably going to kill me, and very soon. When it happened it would be accompanied by severe pain and would completely incapacitate me. They asked whether or not I wanted the last hours of my life to be spent like that, or like I am now (for some reason, I agreed that euthanasia was the best course of action).

It was an extremely strange feeling. I have never been faced with death before (and still haven't really; it was only a dream - but I have never had such a "real" dream). Being a Christian I believed that this was not the end, however I was still a little unsure of how I felt. Whatever happened afterwards, this would be the end of this life. Full stop. Over. Never to come back to it. Leave every single aspect of it behind.

For some reason, I asked Dad to take me out for a drive. We would go to the train station and book the tickets for tomorrow (we were taking the train to the hospital...). By this point it was night. On the way there, I started to come to terms with the gravity of what was happening. My dad asked, "So are you not so sure about it now then?" (speaking of my belief in God and an afterlife). I informed him that I wasn't really concerned with what was going to happen after I died, but what wasn't going to happen.

I burst into tears as I said, "I'll never get to hold my son in my arms. Or take him over Barrel Rock." (Barrel Rock is a place in Bude, Cornwall where we go on holiday. I am quite looking forward to taking my kids there!) I think the Barrel Rock comment was specifying a more general concept of sharing experiences with a son.

At this my dad also cried. Doing those things had meant a lot to him, and he understood how horrible it would be to never get the chance to do them. We pulled up outside Rowley Regis train station. Dad said to me, "you'll still go there" (meaning Barrel Rock). I'm not really sure what that meant! I think it was my dad not quite understanding the theology of the afterlife, and assuming I believed I would be some sort of ghost or spirit able to still go places on the earth. I got the impression that he didn't actually believe what he was saying, he was just trying to make me feel better.


Then I woke up. Feeling extremely... uncomfortable. I wasn't quite awake enough to realise I had been dreaming, so I still felt that stomach turning dread of imminent death. It was truly horrible.

Throughout my dream I had been both looking forward to seeing what happens and being absolutely petrified at the thought of leaving everything I had behind, especially Hannah and the chance of having any kind of family with her. I had resolved in my dream to let her know that I wanted her to move on and that she should never feel bad about finding someone else - it's what I would want (etc. etc...) though I don't think I ever got chance to - which is possibly a subconscious attempt at admitting I would struggle with that!

Anyway, I don't think I've had a dream that has affected me this much for years and years. Ironically, the only dream that ever did was a recurring dream I had as a child where Mom had a terminal illness. What a morbid mind I appear to have!

The dream, however, has genuinely forced me to rethink my priorities. Life is not guaranteed. Life insurance only pays out money - not more life. I shall resolve to give this life the respect and attention it deserves. Not just for myself, but for all people. Thinking of the horrific events in Gaza recently, it is such a horrible thought that life has ended for so many of those people. How cheaply life is viewed. Not just by those killing others, but by we who hear the stories and think, "oh, that's a shame." It is far more than a shame. Life is such an amazing thing, and our crime is that we don't really realise.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Behold the Liberator!

This is my attempt to review the recent translation of the New Testament (and soon the Old too) called simply the "Voice". The initial idea for this translation was proposed by Chris Seay, a prominent Emergent theologian - but don't allow that to cloud your perceptions just yet.

When I first heard of this translation I was extremely excited as it seemed to promise something I had been looking for; i.e. a translation of the bible that attempted to replace some Christian "jargon" words, produce a literary work that reflected the different literary styles of the original authors (as opposed to 99% of bible translations where every book sounds the same - apart from the content), and to make this new translation suitable for reading aloud in large sections (as this is what happened with the original scrolls of the New Testament).

For just over £6 from amazon, I joyfully bought myself a copy - it was delayed in arriving... twice... but eventually the thud on the floor mat inside the front door heralded its arrival. As with any new translation, I flicked straight to the "controversial passages" to see what they had made of them... not overly impressed.

Anyway, perhaps the more popular verses would be better (John 3:16 and the like), not bad; not great - but perhaps I am being a little over pro-traditional. So, down to reading Luke (seemed a good place to start)...

For me, there were too many times where I thought, "Oh, that's a bit naughty" (referring to the translation of the Greek - not the sauciness of Luke... of course.) Also, I think they have replaced the wrong words. Or at least replaced them with the wrong words. "Christ" is rendered as "Liberating King" throughout the New Testament. This seems a little clumsy to me. However, the problem is exacerbated when the shortened term "The Liberator" is used. No matter how hard I try, I cannot get connotations of the Terminator out of my mind - which isn't always helpful when reading Luke, I have found.

There are far worse crimes of which this translation is guilty however. The author of the blog puts the translation through a fairly crushing critique; however, I don't agree with absolutely everything he says. He certainly has a not-so-secret hatred of anything Emergent - which doesn't help the objectivity of his review! Still, much of his exegetical argument stands.

Having said all of that, the Voice is actually very enjoyable to read! I found I read through Luke with great joy! The language of the text really does paint a very vivid picture in your mind and the person of Jesus (the Liberator... [chuckle]) is given real character (which is ironic after my terminator comment, I suppose!). Like The Message before it, I would have serious issues with accepting the Voice as a useful translation of the Greek biblical texts - however, having access to one (even if it is just to read casually) is probably not a bad idea.

So, behold the Liberator!