Saturday, December 22, 2007

War on Christmas: The Advent Conspiracy

Well, its nearly Christmas, and I am currently in Canada (Kelowna, BC) and surrounded by snow. I'm taking a break from blogging over this holyday (sic) season, but before I go I want to hash out a few thoughts on the meaning of Christmas, which neatly continues my theme on cultural conspiracies.

These days there is something of a Christmas controversy going on, which according to Wikipedia (see link above) has actually been going on since the 17th century. However in recent years Political Correctness it has reared its ugly head and insisted we celebrate Christmas but just rename everything. So Christmas trees become "Holiday Trees" or "Family Trees" (excuse me whilst I puke), and we talk about the "Holiday Season" and wish each other "Happy Holidays". Actually, its all rather ironic since talking about a Holy-Day just brings us back to the non-secular aspects of the celebration.

Here in the UK it seems at last that some measure of common sense has materialised into the political scene: Trevor Phillips, chairman of the UK's Equality and Human Rights Commission, has condemned PC attempts to secularise Christmas, although I have been told by a source that this has upset at least one political figure.

In Blogdom, Peter Kirk reminds us of C S Lewis's response to the commercialisation of Christmas: "I send no cards and give no presents except to children", whilst Duncan reminds us of some current Christian approaches: Advent Conspiracy (more on that in a bit) and Just Christmas, a initiative which Morningside Baptist (Edinburgh) seems to be involved with.

To examine the more recent Christian approach to Christmas, lets look at closer detail at the Advent Conspiracy:

[AC] Advent Conspiracy from Jon Collins on Vimeo.

All well and good, but I can't help but feel that all this Christian Political Correctness on Christmas is actually missing the point as well. Surely children know something about Christmas, and what child, if asked to give their opinion of Christmas, would start talking about ethical issues and justice? For Christians especially then, there is great confusion concerning our response to this festive time, with issues such as how to celebrate the birth of Jesus, traditions of Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, pagan winter festivals, commercialisation and political correctness to deal with.

For me the problem stems from what I see to be a four-fold root to contemporary Christmas festivities. We have, in chronological order, a pagan winter festival (Yule in Northern Europe; see also Winter Solstice), the historical event of the birth of Jesus, the gift-giving tradition of Saint Nicholas (and the related cultural icon, Father Christmas), and the recent (mid 20th Century onwards) commercialisation of the above traditions.

The Christian response is usually to downplay the pagan aspect, somewhat reluctantly accept the Father Christmas figure, pay homage to Saint Nicholas (Santa Clause) in gift-giving, and go to church to celebrate the Nativity. Quite honestly, its an incoherent mess of traditions and culture. Further more, when a Christian is asked the true meaning of Christmas, they often respond along the lines of "its all about the birth of Jesus", which is rather odd as this doesn't often tie in with the associated festivities practiced by said Christian. Alternatively, they might respond, "its about peace, joy and love", which while sounding rather nice, is - to be honest - rather trite, and while its hard to disagree with, it loses the Christian perspective: many other religions could equally celebrate such virtues. While this is not a bad thing in and of itself, it may suggest we haven't yet got to the core of the meaning of Christmas. Now often, if pressed, a Christian will admit that the core meaning of Christmas is that Jesus came into the world to die for our sins. Indeed, that very message was preached at a church I attended this morning.

Died for our sins? I thought that was the meaning of Easter? Don't we celebrate the death of Jesus on Good Friday? And his Resurrection on Easter Sunday?

May I be bold and suggest that nothing I have mentioned thus far gets to the heart of the contemporary celebration we call Christmas. May I also suggest that the birth of Jesus-who-died-for-our-sins, or "peace on earth", is also not the true meaning of Christmas. Neither is it to be found exclusively in the altruistic gift-giving tradition of Saint Nicholas. So what is the meaning of Christmas?

I believe the clue to the meaning of this season is found in the British figure of Father Christmas: an ancient pagan figure who originally represented the coming of Spring. Later (6th Century AD), he became infused with the Saxon Father Time, or King Winter. Later still the Vikings infused into him the tradition of Odin, who takes on the persona of Jul and visits the earth (this is where Yuletide comes from). The character of Jul was a portly, elderly man with a white beard and a long blue hooded cloak was said to have ridden through the world giving gifts to the good and punishments to the bad.

Finally, in more recent times the tradition of Father Christmas has been conflated with the story of Saint Nicholas, to produce the contemporary figure of Santa Claus. At this point my readers may say that if I truly think this is the meaning of Christmas, then I have finally lost the plot, perhaps in an attempt to continually shock and provoke. Well, I cannot deny the latter, but I can certainly assure you I am still Compos Mentis. Please read on!

If the story of Father Christmas is the key to the true meaning of Christmas, then how so? Let us ask none other than Professor JRR Tolkien, who wrote Letters from Father Christmas. I believe if anyone understands the heart of Christmas, it is Tolkien. Here is a man, that despite his academic environment, could enter the story world of a child -- a world he called Fairy -- in a moment. Tolkien's response to Christmas was to write a Fairy Story about Father Christmas. And its here that the mystery of Christmas is revealed.

Now Tolkien had a high regard for Fairy Stories. He once wrote:

The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.

We can now come back to the Jesus, and to the historical Christian story. For Tolkien said, in relation to his understanding of Fairy Stories:

I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospel contains a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful and moving: ‘mythical’ in their perfect self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe [good 'catastrophe' - a sudden appearing of something gloriously good].

The quote above introduces many concepts which I don't have time or space to comment on right now. I leave that as an exercise to the reader. What I want to zoom into, however, is Tolkien's keen insight of the nature of the gospel story, and in particular the birth of Jesus, which he elsewhere described as the "eucatastrophe of Man's history". In other words, Christmas is not about death and suffering (of Jesus), nor is it about a feel-good mush of love, joy and peace. Rather, Christmas is mysterious. Christmas is 'magical'. Christmas is a fairy story - not to say it is untrue, but on the contrary, it is to assert that its a wonderful time when the world in fact is the way children know it should always be. Christmas is about wonder! Its about joyous anticipation, excitement, beholding marvels, dreams coming true. Its about admitting that the impossible is possible after all. It is, at the end of the day, about the Incarnation of Jesus: about God becoming Human. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. Not his death, or his suffering, or his shame. No-one, and I mean no-one, actually celebrates that in this holiday season. They may say they do, but just look at what they actually do...its all about excitement, and wonder, and magic, and mystery.

Think about this for a moment! I first loved Christmas as a small child. Father Christmas would visit our home, magically filling up our stockings with presents. Why did I believe in this? I suggest its because it represents a deeper truth, which all children, and only some adults, know intuitively to be true: that we live in a world of wonder, amazement, excitement, mystery, magic, miracles ... of dreams coming true. I ask you this: is there any better way to describe the Truth behind this truth, and to describe the Father behind Father Christmas, than to use the language of a child?

The Incarnation of Jesus - God becoming one of us, is so often overlooked by Christians and Christmas celebrations alike. The significance of the Incarnation, which at the heart of Christmas, is best summed up by the Church Father Irenaeus: Jesus became what we are so that we might become what he is. This is the meaning of Christmas - this is what we celebrate: the mystery, magic, wonder and excitement of Jesus becoming what we are, so that we can become what he is.

This Christmas, let us throw ourselves into the magic, mystery, excitement, and wonder of Christmas, however we celebrate it, knowing that in doing so, we are experiencing what Tolkien called eucatastrophe -- that sudden thrill and excitement of something wonderful happening -- and that by entering into this, we are in fact entering into the very same wonder of the Incarnation, and find ourselves transported to the Nativity scene: perhaps standing by the mysterious Magi, joining the shepherds in their wonder, and standing in complete awe as the angelic heavenly army appears in all its might and splendor and glory.

My dear friends and readers, this is Christmas: wonder, mystery, excitement, magic... the feeling that Ooh, I just know that something good is going to happen (!), the impossible becoming possible ... The Nativity, the Incarnation of Jesus, is a historical and true "Fairy Story": The ultimate story, the most wonderful story, the most enchanting story, and its what I will be celebrating this year.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Conspiracy of Denial: Porn

On a recent blog post concerning abortion, someone in the comments mentioned the phrase "Conspiracy of Denial". That phrase has sat with me, and I believe God wants to break open many Conspiracies of Denial. The next one I want to look at is porn. To do that, let me introduce you to Shelley Lubben. In her own words: "Shelley Lubben is a mother, a fighter for truth and survivor against all odds. Shelley is also a former porn actress fighting tirelessly against pornography which affects most of the world in a destructive way."

Before we listen to what Shelly has to say, let's learn a little about who she is. Watch the video below:

Now we will hear about the conspiracy of denial concerning the porn industry. The following comes from this article, which is probably an excerpt from her upcoming book.

Sex-packed porn films featuring freshly-dyed blondes whose evocative eyes say “I want you” is quite possibly one of the greatest deceptions of all time. Trust me, I know. I did it all the time and I did it for the lust of power and the love of money. I never liked sex. I never wanted sex and in fact I was more apt to spend time with Jack Daniels than some of the studs I was paid to “fake it” with. That’s right none of us freshly-dyed blondes like doing porn. In fact, we hate it. We hate being touched by strangers who care nothing about us. We hate being degraded with their foul smells and sweaty bodies. Some women hate it so much you can hear them vomiting in the bathroom between scenes. Others can be found outside smoking an endless chain of Marlboro lights.

But the porn industry wants YOU to think we porn actresses love sex. They want you to think we enjoy being degraded by all kinds of repulsive acts. The truth, porn actresses have showed up on the set not knowing about certain requirements and were told by porn producers to do it or leave without being paid. Work or never work again. Yes, we made the choice. Some of us needed the money. But we were manipulated and coerced and even threatened. Some of us caught HIV from that coercion. I personally caught Herpes, a non-curable sexually transmitted disease. Another porn actress went home after a long night of numbing her pain and put a pistol to her head and pulled the trigger. Now she’s dead.

It’s safe to say most women who turn to porn acting as a money-making enterprise, probably didn’t grow up in healthy childhoods either. Indeed, many actresses admit they’ve experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse and neglect by parents. Some were raped by relatives and molested by neighbors. When we were little girls we wanted to play with dollies and be mommies, not have big scary men get on top of us. So we were taught at a young age that sex made us valuable. The same horrible violations we experienced then, we relive through as we perform our tricks for you in front of the camera. And we hate every minute of it. We’re traumatized little girls living on anti-depressants, drugs and alcohol acting out our pain in front of YOU who continue to abuse us.

As we continue to traumatize ourselves by making more adult films, we use more and more drugs and alcohol. We live in constant fear of catching AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. Every time there’s an HIV scare we race to the nearest clinic for an emergency checkup. Pornographers insist giving viewers the fantasy sex they demand all the while sacrificing the very ones who make it happen. In other words, no condoms allowed. Herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and other diseases are the normal anxieties we walk around with daily. We get tested monthly but we know testing isn’t prevention. Besides worrying about catching diseases from porn sex, there are other harmful activities we engage in that are also very dangerous. Some of us have had physical tearing and damage to internal body parts.

When porn actresses call it a day and head home we attempt to have normal healthy relationships but some of our boyfriends get jealous and physically abuse us. So instead we marry our porn directors while others of us prefer lesbian relationships. It’s a real memory making moment when our daughter accidentally walks out and sees mommy kissing another girl. My daughter will vouch for that one.

On our days off we walk around like zombies with a beer in one hand and a
shot of whiskey in the other. We aren’t up to cleaning so we live in filth most of the time or we hire a sweet foreign lady to come in and clean up our mess. Porn Actresses aren’t the best cooks either. Ordering food in is normal for us and most of the time we throw up after we eat because we’re bulimic.

For porn actresses who have children, we are the world’s WORST mothers. We
yell and scream and hit our kids for no reason. Most of the time we are intoxicated or high and our four year olds are the ones picking us up off the floor. When clients come over for sex, we lock our children in their rooms and tell them to be quiet. I use to give my daughter a beeper and tell her to wait at the park until I was finished.

The truth is there IS NO fantasy in porn. It’s all a lie. A closer look into the scenes of a porn star’s life will show you a movie porn doesn’t want you to see. The real truth is we porn actresses want to end the shame and trauma of our lives but we can’t do it alone. We need you men to fight for our freedom and give us back our honor. We need you to hold us in your strong arms while we sob tears over our deep wounds and begin to heal. We want you throw out our movies and help piece together the shattered fragments of our lives. We need you to pray for us the next fifteen years so God will hear and repair our ruined lives.

So don’t believe the lie anymore. Porn is nothing more than fake sex and lies on videotape. Trust me, I know.

Unfortunately the church hasn't always been the best witness of Jesus to those involved in porn, erotic dancing, and prostitution. But there is Light at the end of the tunnel: check out the JC girls, below:

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


It took me a while to notice, but I've been tagged by Duncan with the thanks meme. Apparently I simply have to list five thinks I am thankful for.

  1. For Jesus dieing for my sins and reconciling me to God, and all the rest of the atonement

  2. My beautiful and amazing wife

  3. Good, loyal and faithful friends

  4. For having a nice flat to stay in, a nice car to drive, and an interesting and rewarding job.

  5. For the ministry of Mars Hill Church, for I have profoundly grown in Christ as result from their teaching.

If we want to get theological about the stuff I am thankful for, we could boil it down to beauty, truth, relationships, material provision. Amen to them!

I'm tagging Paul Ede, Peter Kirk, and BrunetteKoala. I think you are meant to tag five people but I don't know enough bloggers! :-)

Friday, November 30, 2007

Oral Sex and Backrubs

Its Friday, so time for something different. I've been debating Driscoll's preach on the Songs of Songs in this post over at Dave Warnock's blog. Apparently a preacher talking about oral sex is still controversial these days. What does the bible say about all this, you ask?

  • each man should have [sexual] relations with his own wife and each woman with her own husband.
  • A husband should give to his wife her sexual rights, and likewise a wife to her husband.
  • It is not the wife who has the rights to her own body, but the husband. In the same way, it is not the husband who has the rights to his own body, but the wife.

-- 1 Corinthians 7:2-4 NET

Read this slowly, and then read it again. This is mind-blowing. Apparently a wife has a sexual right to be pleasured by her husband. Guys, if you are married and your wife is not sexually satisfied, you may be in sin! Likewise, girls, if you are married and not sexually satisfying your hubbies, you too may well be in sin. And finally, if you are not married and are sexually satisfying your partner, you are definitely in sin! Can't win, eh?

Paul and Lori describe this principle as sexual stewardship:

It's interesting that there's a symmetry here; she owes him the same thing he owes her. This symmetry isn't found in other areas of the marriage, so God obviously felt it important to tell men they owed their wives sex. This is where we see the idea of stewardship. A steward is put in charge of something which does not belong to him. The steward is given both authority and responsibility for the thing (or person) he's made a steward of, and he's accountable to the one who made him steward. In the case of sex, God has given the husband stewardship of the wife's sexuality, and the wife stewardship of the husband's sexuality. A steward never puts his own desires above the care of what has been entrusted to him, and we must do the same with sex, putting the good of our spouse above our own sexual desires.
-- From The Marriage Bed: Sexual Stewardship.

Now the actual point of debate is whether Driscoll encouraged oral sex as a holy activity within marriage, or whether (in general or in one particular instance) he commanded it. Dave Warnock feels that he had commanded it (based on Song of Songs affirming it), and therefore that command itself would be wrong. I would agree in principle, if Driscoll indeed commanded said activity. But I never got that impression. Scripture does say something like "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin", so I think we can all agree that even if the bible affirms something, if our conscience troubles us, we are to abstain until we can resolve the issue.

Those of you who are single may be wondering why I am telling you all this. I wonder myself...but at the end of the day, biblical sexuality is the same as everything else for us Christians: our life is one of service, of sacrifice, and of great joy. Too often our sex lives are ignored by churches and pulpits. I thank God for those who are willing to speak out on this issue.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Does Mark Driscoll believe in a God of Love or Hate?

Mark and I

Folks have been debating for about a week now on the whole issue of the wrath of God and how this co-exists with the love of God. Mark Driscoll's preach in Edinburgh on Friday touched upon this theme as a small part of a larger sermon on the atonement of Jesus. Many who were not present but read Adrian's synopsis have attempted to understand what Mark was actually saying. I have perhaps confused matters by putting in my thoughts, as I was also present at this meeting.

But rather than throw around opinion, what I offer now to help steer the debate is an almost word-for-word transcript of the controversial section of Mark's preach. I've cut out a few jokes and verbal slip-ups, but apart from that this is what Mark said. Please note that much of this was said with humour, which does change the way some of it is interpreted.

Jesus is our Propitiation

This word appears four times in the Greek New Testament. Most translations don’t include it, they say “people don’t know what the word propitiation means”, so they put in other words like “sacrifice of atonement.” People don’t know what that word means either! So I don’t think it helps. Use the word, it’s a good word.

1 John 4:10 is one example

“This is love, not that we have loved God”

- see that’s why I hate freakin’ religion – religion tells people, if you are a good person then God will love you. The gospel says, God has loved you, look at the cross, now you can live a new life. You don’t obey so that God will love you, you obey because God already does!

The gospel is so much better than religion. “This is love, not that we have loved God” – not that we went first, not that we initiated, but that God has loved us and sent his son to be a propitiation for our sins.

Stupid people – stupid theologians – but they say things like

“I don’t believe in propitiation because how can a loving God…”

Propitiation is how God demonstrates his love. Come on! We know God loves us because he propitiated our sin!

Here is what propitiation is: GOD HATES SINNERS. You’ve been told that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. No he doesn’t: Ghandi says that, just so you know, he’s on a totally different team than us.

14 times in the first 50 Psalms God says he hates somebody. Says he hates group like the Nicolations. Hates dudes like Esau. Hates those in Proverbs with haughty eyes. He hates all kind of people! When someone says “I hate the sin but love the sinner” that’s dumb because we are sinners. I hate the essence sum total of what you are, but I really like you!” What the! We do what we are: we have an old nature and we commit old acts of sin.

It says it in Psalm 5:5 “I hate -- or it says, You hate all who do evil”. Now let this settle. People say things like “God doesn’t hate anybody!” Yes he does! He hates tonnes of people! He does. Some people say “that’s not fair”. Course its fair! You hate people! And God’s far better than you and he knows a lot more people!

God hates sinners and he hates their sin. I preached this doctrine of propitiation. The third time I preached this … a guy pulled a knife and tried to get up on the stage to kill me. So people will respond to this doctrine … we grew the next week by 800 people [after preaching this doctrine…]

GOD HATES SINNERS. He works it out through his wrath. God wrath is mentioned more than 600 times in the bible. If you have a bucket of verses that say love, and a bucket of verses that say wrath, wrath is a bigger bucket.

The whole “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” -- that’s the wrong place to start. “God hates you and its going to go really really bad forever!” – hey now that is true…

What happens with propitiation is that Jesus stands in our place and the wrath of the Father is poured out on the Son. I want you to see the masculine suffering of Jesus. He is dying by suffering the wrath of God. And the wrath of God is poured out on Jesus and is thereby propitiated, diverted, taken away, from sinners who are in Jesus Christ.

I love this! People come up to me and say “How can a loving God send anyone to hell?” My question is, “How can a holy God take anyone to heaven?”…

People need to know how good God is, how angry God is, so that they understand how significant Jesus is. “I’m under the wrath of God? I need to go to Jesus and I need to be propitiated.”

This is shown in the Passover, when literally the wrath of God was going to visit every home except those who were covered literally by blood – substitution. And as they were covered by blood, so the wrath of God passed over them. Just as we are covered by the blood of Jesus. 1 Cor 5:7 “Jesus Christ the Passover lamb has been slain.” He is the blood that covers us, so that the propitiating work of God is accomplished, so that the wrath of God passes over.

If I may add a brief observation of my own, its clear that Mark is espousing a particular model of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA), a model which I have described in the past as "hard" penal substitution. I don't think I can fully agree with this, as it goes beyond what scripture actually says. I'm more comfortable with soft PSA, a somewhat more subtle model that theologians across the board can agree with, including Wright and possibly even Steve Chalk, although no-one really understands what he believes about substitutionary atonement these days!

UPDATE: Peter Kirk offers his revised response to this message, given the accurate transcript above.

UPDATE AGAIN: If you want to hear Mark's Friday and Sunday night preaches, you can can get them courtesy of Destiny Church Edinburgh: [ Sunday 10am | Sunday 12noon | Friday - leaders meeting]

Monday, November 19, 2007

Does God Love or Hate You?

There is a little controversy brewing at the moment, believe it or not, on the topic of whether God loves or hates us. To be honest I do think the church and general public is in a muddle right now over this issue. Let me walk you though the different points of view, and lets see if we can get to the heart of this debate.

On one side, we are told that "The Father loves you", and that in scripture we can see a love letter from Father God to each and every one of us.

Well, that settles it, doesn't it? Not so fast. Because apparently the same scriptures also teach us that God hates us !? Mark Driscoll explains it best:

To be honest even I am a little confused. And I know for a fact that there are many here in Edinburgh who are a little mixed up about whether God loves or hates people right now, following Driscoll's visit this weekend, where he spoke on this issue at a leaders meeting.

Let's see if our old friend Tom Wright can't shed some light on the issue. Wright recently wrote:

The biblical doctrine of God's wrath is rooted in the doctrine of God as the good, wise and loving creator, who hates - yes, hates, and hates implacably - anything that spoils, defaces, distorts or damages his beautiful creation, and in particular anything that does that to his image-bearing creatures. If God does not hate racial prejudice, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not wrathful at child abuse, he is neither good nor loving. If God is not utterly determined to root out from his creation, in an act of proper wrath and judgment, the arrogance that allows people to exploit, bomb, bully and enslave one another, he is neither loving, nor good, nor wise.
-- The Cross and the Caricatures, N T Wright.

Well, that helps a little bit. Let's see where we are just now:

  • God (not just the Father, but the entire trinity) is a loving, wise and good creator. God is indeed love.

  • Because God is love, he must relentlessly, absolutely, completely, and totally hate sin.

So far so good. Now here comes the catch. According to Driscoll, we can't separate the sin from the sinner. He mocks the idea that God can love the sinner, but hate the sin, as surely a person acts out of who she is. (He also correctly notes that "hate the sin, love the sinner" is one of Ghandi's teachings.)

This is where it gets tricky, and this is where I want my readers to chip in. To start the ball rolling I'll do my best to attempt to reconcile all of the above and come to some sort of conclusion.

I believe Driscoll is right in saying that because God hates our sin, he is angry at us. I prefer to put it like this: God hates that our sinful, corrupt, fallen, Adamic nature is the essense of what we have become. Therefore, without the mercy of Jesus we stand before God utterly incapable of escaping who we have become, and utterly incapable of avoiding the wrath and anger of God. Now I say "become", and not "are", because I believe also that God has created all of us in his image, and that we are all image bearers of God, whether you are a Christian or not, and whether you believe it or not. Thus far, this should not be controversial to anyone. Additionally however, I believe scripture informs us that the "Adamic" nature trumps our image-bearing nature, and therefore in some sense and in some way, we find ourselves as enemies of God, not because God for some particular reason hates us personally, but because as Wright reminds us, God hates all that is evil and wicked and wrong and perverse, and there is something of that nature in everyone.

So God loves humanity, not just a little bit, but without measure or bound. At the same time, he also hates everything evil that we do, and even more than that, he hates what we (without the grace of God) have become. Fortunately for us, he loves us even as we sin and even as we are his enemy. In other words, in the love/hate equation inside the Trinity, it is love that triumphs!. That love compelled the Triune God to send himself, the Son, in order to live, die, resurrect and ascend to Glory to sit down on the very throne of heaven itself, in order to rescue us from what we have become, and to restore us to a Glory even greater than that which we were meant to have, right back in the beginning of Genesis.

Why do I believe this? I think ultimately because of the biblical truth that on the cross, those that believe in Jesus also died with him. Although Jesus died for us, the mystery of the atonement runs much deeper. Scripture is absolutely clear about this:

2 Cor 5:17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away – look, what is new has come!

Rom 6:3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Rom 6:6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 6:7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.)

What I read from the above is this: there was something so wicked, so evil, so corrupt, in each one of us, that God has to destroy and kill this in order to give us life. Jesus is not only our substitute, our sacrifice, and our representative. Metaphysically, or spiritually, those of us that trust in Jesus have been crucified on the cross with Jesus!

I believe that this is why God "hates us" -- because of the "old man" and "body of sin" that cannot be separated from the "true you" apart from blood of Jesus. So perhaps I would summarise the whole issue like this:

  1. God, that is, the Father, the son -- Jesus, and the Spirit, is love.

  2. God loves each and every person on this planet.

  3. God created us all with dignity, value and worth. We are all image bearers of God made by the hands of God, whether Christians, Muslims, Hindus, or any other faith, including no faith at all.

  4. God, because he is love, absolutely hates sin and wickedness and perversion and evil.

  5. All humankind finds themselves alienated from God, and in a sense he is opposed to us, because we are not "good people doing bad things", but image-bearers who have been tainted with a terrible disease of sin from which we cannot escape.

  6. We are under and subject to the wrath of God, for he opposes what we do and what we have become.

  7. Yet, even as we rebel against him, God loves us and his love triumphs and wins through. His love and forgiveness is poured out at the Cross of Jesus. Jesus himself says "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do".

  8. And even though God loves us and forgives us, our "old man", our Adamic nature, is crucified and dies on the Cross of Calvary alongside Jesus.

  9. And finally, those that do not accept the reconciliation that God offers may ultimately face the prospect of existing for an eternity outside of God's love and outwidth his Kingdom; in other words they will be in hell. This is because although God loves all, he hates what we have become, and unless we turn back to him, we can never escape the corrupting influence of the body of sin.

Thanks for listening. Perhaps there are more concise or better ways of explaining this. What do my readers think?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is Your Church Missional or Missing The Point?

I was just listening to talk by David Bisgrove, from Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and heard a great soundbite. In fact, I have stopped listening in order to write this. David was talking on the subject of sharing the good news of Jesus in a post-Christian culture. Let's cut to the chase:

Scripture tells us that ... non-believers are expected to be in our worship services ... [They should find our] worship challenging and comprehensible, NOT comfortable.

When you preach, or teach, preaching is done as if the whole community is listening...If you preach as if non-Christians from the community are there, even if there are not, it will not long be long before they are brought.

In most (even thriving) churches the whole service usually assumes
- a lot of biblical knowledge
- a we-them mentality
- a lot of evangelical terminology.

Most Christians, even if they are edified in the church, know intuitively that their non-Christians friends would not appreciate the service.

Sad but very true. For years now I have lamented the "Christendom" or "Holy Huddle" approach to meetings, where it is always assumed everyone is a Christian, an often a mature one at that. I always feel somewhat bad about this, because people often respond with "but the service blessed me", "I really found the Lord during worship", "the sermon was really interesting". I'm glad David Bisgrove has hit the hammer on the head of the nail with this one. Public Christian meetings should not be catering for obscure teaching, bless-me praise times, and lengthy in-house announcements which often bore the people the news relates to, let alone anyone else. I think many churches believe their public meetings are a cross between a social gathering and an annual general meeting. In other words, there is a preoccupation with internal, inward-looking, in-house matters, rather than the public proclamation of the gospel, a time of worship which both Christians and non-Christians can in some way enter into and appreciate, and a time of corporate prayer for the city and nation.

Now some people will say, "but Alastair, we want meat, not milk; we want depth, not shallowness; we want to glorify God, not be seeker friendly". I suppose the answer to that is two-fold: One, as David Bisgrove went on to say, should people really be seeking such things from a public worship/gathering ? He points out that Redeemer has other venues and times where education, training, counseling, etc. takes place. They don't jam it all into their Sunday meetings. In addition, I believe it is possible to hold a public Christian meeting in which God is given the glory, he is worshiped in Spirit and in Truth, and the gospel proclaimed, in such a way that both Christians and non-Christians can a) comprehend/appreciate and b) be challenged by and (c) be given space for appropriate ways to respond.

So what do you think?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mark Driscoll in Edinburgh This Weekend

When I first heard about this I was very skeptical that Mark would come along to Edinburgh, what with the huge number of speaking engagements he must be offered on a daily basis. So I am thrilled to announce that Mark will be in Edinburgh this weekend, and you will be able to catch him at a number of different venues.

  • Friday 16th 7pm Destiny Edinburgh Destiny Edinburgh is hosting a leaders meeting with Mark Driscoll. If you want to attend you'll need to email Destiny first - check the link above for more details.

  • Saturday 17th 9.30am Men Makers Mark Driscoll will be the keynote speaker at this annual conference. Its for men only (sorry girls), and I strongly encourage all Edinburgh men of faith to come along.

  • Sunday 18th 10am Destiny Edinburgh Mark with be preaching at Destiny Church Edinburgh.

  • Sunday 18th 12noon Destiny Edinburgh Mark will be preaching at the lunchtime service as well.

  • Sunday 18th 6pm - GLASGOW Mark's last public speaking engagement in Scotland will be with Destiny Church Glasgow, at 6pm.

UPDATE: Adrian (didn't realise he was around and didn't see him unfortunately!) has provided a detailed synopsis of both Mark's preach on Friday, Andrew Owen's preach on Saturday, and Mark's first preach on Saturday.

Monday, November 12, 2007

New Bibles

I'd like to draw attention to two new bibles out on the market.

The first is the NET Bible Compact Edition, which is essentially the NET bible text with abridged notes and some nice extras. Its great to see the NET bible slowly maturing into a premium product.

The second somewhat more news-worthy bible is the Gay And Lesbian Study Bible, translated and edited by Dr Ann Nyland, and based on her previously released Source translation. If you want to jump into a discussion on this bible, you'll find one over at Better Bibles.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

UK Abortion Debate

I'm not sure where to start, but I'd like to blog a little on the topic of Abortion. Forty years on from the introduction of the Abortion Act, abortion is as controversial as ever. According to the BBC, "terminations in Britain are running at 450 a day." Although this is an outrage for some groups, for others its not even enough.

I actually believe that there aren't enough abortions
-- John Parsons, a consultant gynaecologist

Recently the UK's House of Commons select committee on science and technology concluded (amongst other findings) that there is no reason to lower the current 24-week limit for abortions. Now it appears that this cross-party committee was relying on the findings of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), which has recently been accused of ignoring data supporting a lowering of the limit. So what evidence is this then? Apparently Professor Stuart Campbell and Dr KJ Anand have both been pioneering research into pre-natal life.

Campbell has produced new 4D imaging which "has produced vivid pictures of a 12 week-old foetus 'walking' in the womb." However it appears many Gynaecologists have dismissed these images, saying that although more detailed than what was available previously, they haven't brought anything new to the table. ("The RCN’s view is that 3D and 4D imaging only serves to reveal what is already known, but with greater clarity.")

Dr Anand, it appears, has established (through an as unyet unpublished paper?) that a foetus can experience physiological stress similar to and consistent with what we understand to be pain from around 20 weeks gestation.

My first comment on this complex issue is this: what is the big deal about feeling pain? If an regular adult was anesthetized so that she could not feel pain, would it be ethical to terminate them? As important as pain is, surely the debate needs to move beyond this to looking at defining sentience and human life.

BTW, for sources for unsubstantiated quotes, check out Ministry of Truth (*), which appears to be a pro-choice blog (can anyone correct me?). BTW for the avoidance of doubt, I cannot endorse the opinions and views presented on the Ministry of Truth blog.

Update: Ruth Gledhill (Times religion blogger) has a good summary on recent events concerning this.

Update 2: Channel 4 has covered this issue recently with their Dispatches programme.

Monday, October 29, 2007

This Blog is Not Dead

Sorry for the lack of blogging. Moving house, and changing jobs has caused the last few months to be very, very busy. I hope to resume blogging soon. I note that some of my fellow bloggers in the local scene have also been very quiet recently. Hopefully God can grant us all some time to blog, assuming he still wants us to!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Still Alive

Just a quick update to note that I've been on holiday for a month, interailing around Europe with my wife. Blogging will resume soon...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Manifesto of Hope for Edinburgh (What Scotland can learn from MH III)

Barclay Church, Sunset on Bruntsfield Lynx
I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with the churches in Edinburgh, which is were I live. This frustration began shortly after I became a Christian. Now I don't want to blog a whole shed-load of negativity; rather I want to set-forth a manifesto of hope in Christ for Edinburgh. This is my dream: this is what the Bride of Christ in Edinburgh should look like; this is the church I am looking for. If I can't find it, maybe I will start a new one...

In this post, I pick up lessons we can learn from Mars Hill, and following their methodology, offer a vision of a contextualised church for Edinburgh which is shaped in response to the city and country.

  • Jesus At the end of the day (and at all other times!), if a church does not focus on Jesus, you might as well just forget everything else. Yet I know for a fact that many so-called churches in Edinburgh have forgotten their first love. If you think I am being harsh, simply pick up your bible, flip to the New Testament, and read a random couple of verses. If you don't find yourself reading about Jesus, I reckon you've picked up the wrong book. Now compare to how many times you hear him mentioned in your church service. If you hear something or someone else mentioned more often, then you know what I mean. Increasingly, I've noticed that Jesus is literally everywhere in the bible. You can't get away from the man! Mars Hill Seattle have really shown me the importance of exalting Christ. I'm not alone here, as Adrian Warnock blogs on how blessed Terry Virgo is as a result of the Christ-focused teaching of Mars Hill.

  • MissionI am looking for a church in Edinburgh that spends the bulk of its time, money, prayer, and energy on Edinburgh. Hardly a novel idea, you would think, but its a fact that many churches devote themselves to easier tasks such as blessing overseas ministries. This is of course to be admired, but I am looking for a majority focus on Edinburgh, not a token amount of prayer/outreach money after the bulk of resources has been used up by non-missional activities.

  • Relevant Scottish Worship I don't know why churches don't get it. Why is there a different musical genre when one walks in from a pub or club into a church? Of course I realise that worship will sound different to other types of music; but there is no excuse for the boring, dreary, cheesy annoying sound that to be honest is barely better than the old pipe organ. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, take a look (and listen!) to the music playing which everyday normal people listen to. Is it so hard to then use this genre and redeem it for Christ? Scotland is home to an entire movement of techno/rave, but the only time I've heard it used in worship was when I was spinning the decks myself. The Edinburgh clubs are filled with hard rock bands, yet reach out to them and you'll be forced to tell them that Christian worship in Edinburgh is 30 years behind their musical expression. Folks, this is not about worship wars: this is about worship being contextual, being missional, being relevant, and quite simply keeping with the times. Where is the Celtic worship? Where is the folk worship? Again, Mars Hill scores points here: their music (and they have about 7 different genres represented in their musical worship) may not be your cup of tea, but that's the point: its Seattle's cup of tea, which is all that matters.

  • Neither religious nor anti-religious Many churches I have visited fit into one of these categories: either they have a spirit of religion over the church, permeating much of what they do; or, there is a weird spirit of "anti-religion", which ends up being the same thing. Its hard to explain the latter, but its this attitude of "we aren't like the religious churches" sort of thing, which becomes a religion of its own. Thankfully Mars Hill doesn't fit into either category. We need more churches in Edinburgh which can say the same.

  • Celtic Spirituality: Signs & Wonders I believe that Edinburgh needs a greater emphasis on this than is present at Mars Hill Seattle. Our country has a wonderful heritage of the supernatural, thanks in part to the ancient Celts. We are a spiritual nation, in the broad sense of the term. The great powers of spiritual darkness over Edinburgh need to be broken in Jesus' name in part through the supernatural signs of his Kingdom.

  • Unity - breaking the spirit of tribalism & sectarianism Compared to other cities in the UK there is a disturbing lack of unity amongst the churches of Edinburgh. Surprisingly, there is a lot of grass-roots inter-fellowship between the various churches. Yet most churches simply plough on doing their own thing. And in the nation at large, we are plagued by tribalism on the small scale and sectarianism on the larger. The whole East vs West thing in Scotland is another example. This is one area that the church needs to demonstrate to the Powers that it is One in Christ, and that all peoples should be One in Christ.

  • Land of the Book Scotland was once a land that revered the Word of God. Edinburgh is also very much an educated, humanistic and elitist city. The church I am looking for needs to be both soaked in God's word and be able to present an intellectually credible faith for the educated masses of Edinburgh. It must also be able to oppose and denounce any and all philosophies which turn our attention away from Christ.

  • Financial Generosity Unfortunately I believe Scotland suffers from a poverty spirit. One of the ways this needs to be broken is by the wholehearted proper funding and resourcing of Mission, along with a new generosity which will blow the city away by the amount of time and money the Edinburgh Church gives to its own city, and especially the "poor".

  • Celebration If there is one thing we can do well in Scotland it is to party. This is something the church simply MUST capitalise on. People often ask my why I don't dance more often in church (I love to dance). The answer is quite simply: well play some darn music that makes me want to dance! The Church Edinburgh needs is a church that is caught up in God's Joy and in the celebration of the victory of Christ. Currently, quite frankly the non Christians in Edinburgh are doing a better job of celebrating than the rest of us. Its high time this changed. In the Old Testament, an entire 10% of Israel's income(the whole tithe was over 30%) went towards community celebrations. How much money does your church spend on parties for the city? Last time I checked, it was the Pagans that were funding city celebrations. Shame on us.

  • direct confrontation of the Pagan Powers Edinburgh has its fair share of Pagan activity. The church needs to stop avoiding this issue and hit it head on, now. And before anyone jumps in, I would be the first to say the church can learn from many of the pagans and witches and whatnot. They have a unique view of spirituality that we can learn from. But ultimately, the spiritual background to their faith is demonic. And we can't sit around and ignore their activity any longer. Its high time the church of Edinburgh got their act together here.

  • Finally, raising up the Warfare generation. Scotland is plagued with inactivity, indifference, "what do I care?" attitude. The spiritual power has influenced the church as much as the rest of the land. Its high time for the church to start fighting back. In prayer and intercession, I might add. There is so much disinterest in prayer. And I include myself in that sweeping generalisation. Warrior prayer is needed to apply Christ's victory to our darkened land. And this applies even more so to the men: because they are the ones who are absent from most prayer meetings. Men of Scotland, get yer freakin' act together, unite, and form a prayer army, and lets pray for our city and nation.

So what do you folks think? Does such a church exist? Am I just dreaming of the impossible? Should I hold out to find this church? Should I try to bring this vision to where I am currently at? Or should I just attempt to find some like-minded souls and start a jesus-centric, Kingdom-working, Missional, Relevant, Contextualised, Charismatic, Evangelical, Warfare, Partying church? One thing is for sure, I have no more time for "business as usual" or "church as usual". Forget it.

Oh, and before I sign off, one more thing. The Scottish church of tomorrow will need large dose of a "senses of humour" :-) Cos we're gonna need it...

Friday, June 08, 2007

Mars Hill Church: part II: what can Scotland learn?

Yesterday I blogged about the time my wife and I visited Mars Hill, Seattle. Today I will continue to discuss Mars Hill and without further ado highlight what I think contributes to their success. I should note that I am an outsider to Mars Hill and I would welcome comments from those who consider this their home church, as I am sure you know much more than me.

  • Community - right off the bat, its obvious that there exists a great sense of community at Mars Hill. I find this interesting for two reasons: 1) I don't get the impression that Driscoll stands around preaching on the importance of community, as some churches have done. Yet I get the impression that, despite the size of the congregation, the community at Mars Hill is one of the appealing aspects of the church. The other reason I find this interesting is that the Sunday service itself is not designed to be community inclusive: its not as if everyone gets up to share a word, as happens in some churches. Yet despite (or because of?) the from-the-front emphasis of the Sunday service, the rest of the church life appears to major on community.

  • Professional attitude. I have always said that the problems with many Christians and churches is that when they do something for God or ministry, its always in a half-hearted way when it comes to the level of professionalism and the amount of financial investment. I think of the number of clapped-out church sound systems I have come across, for example. Or the quality of the coffee I've been forced to drink over the years since I became a Christian. I am happy to report that when Mars Hill does something, it does something well. I simply love this - and in Edinburgh I believe this is something we really need to learn. We often operate under a poverty-spirit, a spirit which has afflicted Scotland for some time now.

  • Missional worship. Another topic I have been banging on about for years, but no-one seems to be listening. Its clear from listening to the podcast feed that Mars Hill Worship attempts to bridge the gap between Christian worship and "secular" music. This whole sacred-secular thing is a pile of nonsense. Why are Christians forced to listen to cheesy, trite worship songs which bear no musical relation to the music we all love to listen to? Why does Christian music sound like the secular music of 20 years ago? When I am at home or in my car I listen to all kinds of music, including funk, hip-hop, techno, country, etc. But so often these genres are not to be found in church. And why don't we here any Scottish folk music in Scottish churches? At least we sing the old hymns, which often have a Celtic feel to them. But nothing more contemporary.

  • No religious mumbo-jumbo. Many churches are have their own lingo and jargon, which although sometimes is helpful, often simply alienates and further distances the congregation from the "real world" (TM). In accordance with modern missional thinking, I'm happy to report that Mars Hill avoids all such Christian babble. All of their spoken output seems free from the incessant nonsense that comes out of many churches.

  • No charismania. I love the Holy Spirit, and I love when he moves powerfully through anointed speakers. I love all the gifts of the Spirit. But since I became a Christians I've had the misfortune to come across a tribe of people known ascharismaniacs. You know of whom I speak. These people always have a "word" for you (its never a biblical one, and often a condemning one), fall of their chairs during worship services, and make strange animal noises when being prayed for. Now there is a time and a place for everything, and the annoying thing about these people is simply that they don't put a lid on it. Curiously, they are almost always single, and female. Mars Hill, whilst embracing the gifts and ministry of the Spirit, seems to be walking the line and avoiding excesses of charismania. Actually, I think they seem over cautious. From my perspective, they seem like evangelicals first and charismatics second. My own church background would be the opposite.

  • Focus on the city Mars Hill is on a mission, and is clearly focussed on bringing Seattle to Jesus. This is a stark contrast to many churches I know, which don't really seem to have any clear vision for their own city. They are often active in second or third world countries, but have little money or time or thought left for Scotland. If you don't believe me, just compare the amount of money some churches allocate in their budget for overseas "ministry", and compare that to the local outreach fund. Normally the overseas ministry spends an order of magnitude more. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against foreign mission, but if a church is not spending the lion's share of its prayer, money and time on local mission, something is seriously wrong.

  • They are cool. Controversial I know, but it seems that most Edinburgh church buildings I have visited seem to be described by one or more of the following: old-fashioned, cheesy, trite, childish, overly feminine, drab, ugly, shambolic, boring. Take your pick. I really feel like we have lost something here. Maybe it was the fault of the reformers, but many of our churches do not have a theology of beauty and aesthetics. What could speak of God more than beauty? Beauty is one of the values of Mars Hill. I think Scottish churches need to recapture this.

  • They speak out on relevant issues Finance. Sex. Dating. Marriage. Work. Things that people are interested in, and things that matter. Real stuff. They make theology interesting, and practical. Unfortunately many church leadership teams in Edinburgh are living in denial as to the world in which their congregation lives in.

  • They don't assume everyone in church is a Christian. The entire church service is missional: its equally relevant and accessible to Christians and non-Christians. I've been hammering on about this for years as well. Churches over here make two mistakes, typically, when it comes to this issue. Either they completely alienate visitors with obscure preaching and out-of-date music, or they force visitors to put their hands up half-way through the service. Talk about a big no-no. No wonder these churches are struggling to grow.

I could go on and on, but this will do for now. Hopefully we can see that Scotland has a lot to learn from Mars Hill. In my final posting on this topic I will wrap it all up, and perhaps reflect on a few ways that the Scottish church needs to forge ahead in a different direction from Mars Hill.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Mars Hill Church: Part I: my own experience

Been a little busy recently, folks, so I apologise for the lack of blog posting. For a few posts I want to change topics and talk about Mars Hill, before going to issues such as hermeneutics and the atonement.

Mars Hill Church, Seattle WA, is a great success story. Starting off as a bible study in Mark Driscoll's living room, the church has grown consistently at around 60% per year after a few initial rocky years. Every time you check out their numbers, the size of the church appears to have grown. Last time it was around 6000. I think they peaked at around 10,000 for their Easter services.

Some people, when told of the growth and size of Mars Hill, simply mutter something about "oh, its in America, its different over there". Indeed, in the Bible Belt states, much of the population considers itself a Christian, so its no surprise to hear of large churches. However, this is not the case in Seattle, which is very much a liberal, educated, left-wing, alternative-lifestyle city, which along with Portland, OR, has the lowest figure for church attendance in the US. Most people on Sunday mornings are in Starbucks, not church! Further more, the few churches of note in Seattle tend to be in the more wealthy sub-urban areas, rather than in the city itself. This makes the success of Mars Hill all the more intriguing.

Having visited Mars Hill, heard hundreds of their sermons, read numerous interviews and articles, and both of Driscoll's books, I would like to offer some insight as to where they have got it right, and why they are doing so well. I may also offer a critique or two in a few places, although the thrust of this article is to look at what they are doing right. To begin with, I'd like to recount the time my wife and I visited Seattle and checked out Mars Hill.

  • 7.30am We were staying in a nice hotel in the Queen Anne district. We have decided to visit the 9am service, for two reasons: (1) we wanted to spend the rest of the day sight-seeing, and (2) we had heard it is difficult to actually get into some of the later services, as they are so popular. Don't you just love that: how many churches in Edinburgh (or Scotland for that matter) have to turn people away ? I long for the day when this starts to happen in my own city. Anyway, after a healthy breakfast of muesli and Seattle coffee, we called a taxi and asked to be taken to Mars Hill, in Ballard. He knew where it was without further direction. I was impressed: the only time a taxi driver knew where a church was in Edinburgh, it turned out he was a Christian. Not so in this case. I make a mental note: this church is known in the city.

  • 8.30am The first thing I noticed as we approached their building is its simple exterior. Its a converted warehouse, painted in industrial grey, with a large clear sign. The building looks contemporary, and certainly doesn't look churchy. We walked around outside for a while, since we were quite early.

  • 8.40am As I walked in, I was impressed by a huge work of art adorning a wall to my left. I've never seen anything quite like it. It was a huge painting of the crucifixion, the work of a local artist. It just blew me away...I waited here for a while whilst my wife went to the bathroom. One thing I did notice is that no-one came up to me and tried to speak to me. On one hand, I appreciated not having an artificial conversation with a "greeter". On the other hand, it would have been nice if someone had said hello.

  • 8.45am As we walked into the auditorium, we were immediately struck by the low light level and a soft chilled out sound coming from a DJ's decks. It was very peaceful and relaxed. There was no band faffing about on stage, or anything like that. There was a sense of people coming together in anticipation. Rather surprisingly, even though the service was about to start in 10 minutes, the place look less than half full. "So much for not even getting in", I thought. Perhaps these stories were just exaggerations. Perhaps the 9am service was a quiet one. I took the opportunity to nip out to use the bathroom.

  • 8.50am Walking into the men's bathroom I was impressed by the quality. It was very stylish, with a low light level, stainless steel, and quality fittings. Probably the nicest church loos I've ever used... OK, so it won't start a revival but it doesn't do any harm to have a decent bathroom! By now I got the impression that Mars Hill was consciously trying not to look and feel like a regular church. I thought this was good. Ask most people what they think of when they think of a church building, and I'm pretty sure they would not describe anything remotely like this...

  • 8.55am Back in the main auditorium, I was absolutely amazed to see that the place had filled to the brim. I could barely get back to my seat. I immediately thought this was a huge contrast to my church-going experience in Edinburgh, where people wonder in casually throughout the entire service, meaning the service starts half-empty. Here, everyone was keen to arrive early!

  • 8.58 Waiting for the service to start, I read some of the notices that were being displayed on two large projections screens to the left and right of the stage. One good thing about the services here is that there are no announcements. Ask most people what they would change about the church service they attend, and its "less announcements". Sometimes I get the impression that churches make up things to say during this slot, as if by some Holy Command the worship must be interrupted to hear mundane news that 95% of people aren't interested in. At Mars Hill, announcements are done by video projection before and after the meetings, and by email, newsletter, and podcast.

  • 9.00 Pretty much bang on time, a worship team appears on the stage out of seemingly nowhere, and we are invited to stand. As the music starts, I am impressed by the quality of the PA. It sounds better than most gigs I have gone to, and better than any church sound system. I learned later that it was one of the best sound systems in Seattle, donated by one of their members. We sing a hymn and then sit down.

  • 9.10 Mark Driscoll has appeared on stage. He starts speaking as the band are still putting down their instruments. "They don't waste any time here", I thought. The lighting adjusts to help us focus on Mark, rather than the band. Without further ado he launches into the text for today. It was quite a contrast to some services I have visited, where up to five minutes can be wasted as people faff around trying to get the next part of the service ready.

  • After the preach we are encouraged to pray with one another, confess sins, take bread and wine and enter into the worship. Every week the congregation takes bread and wine as part of their worship. The whole experience was quite different to what I was used to, yet I clearly felt God in and through what was going on. We worshipped for about half an hour, maybe a little less. Then Pastor Lief appeared on the stage, reminding everyone about the BBQ that was on later that day.

  • After the service I grabbed a free cup of real Coffee and I approached a help desk and asked if it was possible to speak to Mark. I was told that would not be possible. Oh well. So we picked up some free literature and left to enjoy our day.

Next post I will offer some thoughts on what Scottish churches can learn from Mars Hill.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Worst Worship Songs Ever

Things are getting a little heavy round here (theologically speaking). Its Friday today, so to lighten it up a little, lets talk about the worst worship songs. You know, the ones you hate, the ones you don't sing, the ones which either the music or the lyrics make you want to puke up all over the lady next to you in her Sunday best. The songs that enrage you so much, you almost think for a minute about changing teams and joining another religion. You get the picture :-)

Inspired by this post, I want to list my own top five worst worship songs ever. Please feel free to comment and add your own lists, just remember to give a reason why you nominated each song.

  1. His Banner Over Me, by Kevin Prosch. No offense Kevin, but I don't know what you were smoking when you penned this one. Its just awful. Musically, it makes me sick to the stomach. Not only that, but the theology is just terrible, and in fact, down-right wrong. Taking verses out of context left-right-center, the song demonstrates an utter failure to grasp the basic meaning of the message of the Song of Songs. What the KJV or NIV means by the "his banner over me was love", is quite plainly, "He desired to make love to me.". Basically, under the guise that we are singing about the Father's Love, we are really singing about How's your Father? Please. If that doesn't want to make you hurl, this trite line will: "You do all things well, just look at our lives.". Saint Paul, when looking at his life, said he was the chief of sinners. If there is one thing that does NOT give God glory, its the flippin' mess we make of our lives!

  2. I Could Sing of Your Love Forever, by Delirious/Martin Smith. I Know, Martin Smith is an amazing guy, and I don't want to offend him, but this song is plain pish. Its trite, its silly, and it has three main flaws:

    • "I could sing of Your love forever" -- maybe so, but I sure couldn't. I'd get bored after a while, and get a sore throat as well.
    • "Oh, I feel like dancing - it's foolishness I know" Really? Try telling someone in a nightclub how foolish it is, and then run out before he chucks his pint over you.
    • "they will dance with joy, like we're dancing now." One truly hopes that the world categorically DOES NOT dance the way most people dance during this verse. Every time I sing this, I look around and see people nervously fidgeting and perhaps tapping a foot or nodding their head, usually out of time to the beat. If anything, lets pray the world will dance with joy UNLIKE we're dancing now.

  3. Come, Now is the Time to Worship, by Brian Doerksen. OK, before reading further, let me just say that Doerksen is Da Man, and my wife and I even used some of his music at our wedding. But this song is just plain daft. Instead of getting to worship God, we just look around at each other, inspiring one another to come to worship. But since we are all assembled to worship, why the heck don't we just start praising God, rather than telling everyone to start worshipping! Its catch-22.

  • Heart of Worship, by Matt Redman. Now Redman has written some amazings songs, no doubt, but this one is a stinker. I'll cut to the chase:

    1. "For a song in itself Is not what You have required". Here we have the absurd situation that we are required to sing a song telling God that he doesn't want to hear us sing the very song we are singing. Genius! Only a Christian song could come up with this logic.
    2. "I'm sorry, Lord, for the things I've made it" Why in Flaming Hell am I apologising to God now? Rather than getting on with praising Him, the song makes you mumble a half-hearted apology about some supposed "thing" that we have made worship. I love worship. The only "thing" that gets in the way is the triteness of the lyrics we are forced to sing!
    3. "Though I'm weak and poor...". The irony of all those well-fed, Middle-Class White Christians singing such a line...

  • There's some song about the Father's Love that has to qualify as one of the worst songs of all time, Christian or otherwise, but thankfully I can't even remember its name.

    There's loads more, but that's all I can think of for now.

    What songs would you nominate? And why?
  • Tuesday, May 22, 2007

    Fierce God At War: Part III - The Gospel

    A Herald
    Photo courtesy of Ted Szukalski's
    Digital Photo Gallery

    There has been much banter going on recently about what the gospel is, and what it means, and whether evangelism involves proclaiming the gospel. Before I spill the beans on the ultimate theory of atonement (UTA), I'd like to thrash out perhaps the most important question every Christian should ask themselves, namely "What is the Gospel?".

    First, lets do some lexical footwork. We'll start by looking at the Greek word used for the gospel, as found in your Bible. The word in the manuscripts when transcribed into Latin script is literally euaggelion but is often written (and pronounced) as euangelion. This breaks down into two words, thus:

    eu — good, benign
    angelion — message, from angelos, messenger.

    According to Vine: "[it] originally [i.e. before N.T. usage] denoted a reward for good tidings; later, the idea of reward dropped, and the word stood for the good news itself. "

    It seems that caught up within the idea of the good news is the intrinsic concept of it being proclaimed, announced, preached, told-forth, etc. This of course goes back to the image of a messenger arriving with exciting news. So we see the word gospel used along with the following Greek words:

  • kerusso, "to preach it as a herald," e.g., Matt 4:23; Gal 2:2 (see PREACH);
  • laleo, "to speak," 1 Thess 2:2;
  • diamarturomai, "to testify (thoroughly)," Acts 20:24;
  • euangelizo, "to preach," e.g., 1 Cor 5:1; 2 Cor 11:7; Gal 1:11
  • katangello, "to proclaim," 1 Cor 9:14;
  • douleuo eis, "to serve unto" ("in furtherance of"), Php 2:22;
  • sunathleo en, "to labor with in," Php 4:3;
  • hierourgeo, "to minister," Rom 15:16;
  • pleroo, "to preach fully," Rom 15:19;
  • sunkakopatheo, "to suffer hardship with," 2 Tim 1:8.

    I want to underscore what should be obvious from above: the good news or message that Christians have should be proclaimed, heralded, spoken-forth, announced and otherwise made known!

    Now some people have the taken above as a warrant to pitch up uninvited or unwanted and to subsequently start shouting out about God's judgement on the wicked, or the need to repent. The problem with that is a failure to properly contextualise the examples of the Apostles. The Apostle Paul reminds us: "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!". Since Paul was specifically called to take the gospel to the Gentiles, I am not sure we can all apply that verse to ourselves. But I do think it stands a general encouragement to consider how seriously Paul saw the gospel and its telling forth.

    Now the astute among you may be wondering what the heck this has to do with Fierce God at War. Without further ado, lets drill down into what exactly the message of Christianity actually is. Scholars such as Walter Brueggeman and N T Wright have argued that the essence of the gospel is God's Cosmic Victory and the idea that Jesus is King. My attempt to put that together is the following:

    The gospel is the narrative proclamation of Jesus as King over all, a triumphant King who has defeated all the powers of darkness, including Sin, Satan and Death itself. The arrival of this King has put the World under judgement, and salvation is found by "changing teams" and aligning and pledging allegiance (repentance) to this King Jesus, who is God in person as a human being.

    I had to stop there, but I was going to put in loads more stuff about the resurrection, the New Creation, and so on. I will look at all this soon through the lens of the unfolding drama/narrative of the gospel throughout the bible. In the meantime, I want to return to the original word, euangelion, and propose its meaning thus:

    • The phrase literally means, at a grammatical level, "good news"
    • The connotations extend the meaning to include the idea of a message being proclaimed, a victory being announced, a war being won, and even the proclamation of a new king being enthroned. In the that lase sense, it was a summons to allegiance, to pledge your life to the new King. Remember, so far we are just looking at the nuances of the word as used in its historical context, before it was even used by Christians.
    • Looking at the phrase and concept in the narrative of scripture, we come across in Isaiah the Herald in the mountains — a messenger is running across the mountains, with an important message for Israel: “Your God reigns!”, he shouts. He has come to announce the best news in the world: God himself — Yahweh — is personally returning to Zion, to Israel, in order to sort out Israel and sort out the world, by becoming King of Israel, dealing with Israel's enemies, judging Israel, judging the pagan nations, and somehow through and in this dealing with Evil, Death and Sin itself. After this we see the Glory/Paradise/Shalom of God come to cover the whole earth, peace comes to all creation, heaven on earth, everyone is full of joy, wolves and lambs making babies, etc, etc.
    • Looking at New Testament usage, we see the word in the most basic sense refers to the basic facts of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. In other words, we could say it refers to the Christ Event itself, and in particular, his Passion.
    • Beyond that, the word by extension refers to the proper interpretation of these facts: in other words, the gospel is the personal, social, national and cosmic consequences and implication of the Christ Event. This is where finally we see the notion of the Kingdom of God: the legacy of the Cross.

    Finally, I leave you with this story, an good example of how to do evangelism ("preach the gospel") in this post-modern world.
  • Wednesday, May 16, 2007

    Fierce God At War: Part II - Christus Victor

    Jesus The Warrior

    With all these furor going on about penal substitution, and whether or not Steve Chalke is possessed by a demon (OK I exaggerate!), I thought it would be time to push the debate on to a very much neglected theory of atonement: Christus Victor. For some reason it seems that when this phrase is mentioned, some folks just shake their head and mutter something about ransom to Satan being absurd. And with that, the entire theory is dismissed.

    Enter Gustaf Aulén (1879-1978), a Swedish theologian and scholar, who authored a ground-breaking book on the atonement, entitled Christus Victor. Wikipedia picks up the story:

    Aulén argues that theologians have misunderstood the view of the early Church Fathers in seeing their view of the Atonement in terms of a Ransom Theory arguing that a proper understanding of their view should focus less on the payment of ransom to the devil, and more of the liberation of humanity from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil. As the term Christus Victor (Christ the Victor) indicates, the idea of "ransom" should not be seen in terms (as Anselm did) of a business transaction, but rescue or liberation of humanity from the slavery of sin.
    -- Wikipedia, "Christus Victor"

    Far from being a rehash of the idea of Jesus selling his life to Satan to buy humanity back (the Ransom theory), Christus Victor is the idea and drama that Jesus came to fight against and triumph over the evil powers of the world, the 'tyrants' under which mankind is in bondage and suffering, and in Him God reconciles the world to Himself.

    If I understand this correctly (I haven't actually read the book), we would see the following elements included within this "theory" of atonement:

    • freedom and deliverance from evil spirits, the occult, etc. (Col 1:13)
    • the disarmament, shaming, and triumph over the Powers (Col 2:14-15, Cf. 1 Cor 2:6)
    • overcoming the "world" (John 16:33)
    • liberation from the elemental spirits/false gods (Gal 4:3,8-9)
    • the defeat, binding and assured future destruction of Satan and his evil angels (Heb 2:14, 1 John 3:8)
    • the victory over Death & Hades (Heb 2:14)
    • redemption from the curse of law (Gal 3:13)
    • freed humankind from Sin & Death (Rom 8:2-3)
    • the unification of mankind; the breakdown of hostilities and ethnic division (anybody got a verse for this?)

    If the above isn't enough, some folks would even add reconciliation of the entire world to God into the bargain. Now, with such a great motif, is there any need for other theories of atonement? Well, actually there is, and I will blog on that very soon. But for those that whine on about "Penal Sub Only" (PSO*), let it be known that heavy-weight theologian N T Wright is a big fan of the Christus Victor theme. And those who listen often to Mark Driscoll will know that he often describes the atonement as Christ's victory over Satan, Sin and Death. Greg Boyd also holds to Christus Victor, and weaves it into his warefare worldview (which has been critiqued by Jeremy over at Parablemania). So dwell on this for a while, beforeI move on to talk about my grand theory of atonement... :-)

    * - I just made this up, from the KJO = King James Only phrase...

    Sunday, May 13, 2007

    Fierce God At War: Part I

    I've just finished reading Satan and the Problem of Evil, by Gregory Boyd, a scary sounding book with an even scarier front cover. Apparently eyebrows were raised when this book was delivered to the children's charity where my wife works! Far from being some dark nefarious tome, filled with incantations and insights into the demonic, this book is actually a thesis of how free will and God's ultimate control (omnipotence) balance out. I haven't got the space and time to delve into Boyd's full thesis, but rather I want to reflect on his dominate theme: God is at War. Contrary to the idea of the somewhat Greek philosophical concept of the omnipotent God in complete and utter control of creation, Boyd asserts that the scriptures themselves do not paint such a picture. Rather, the primary motif we find in the bible is one of divine, heavenly and spiritual conflict. Something has gone seriously wrong with the fabric of creation: the whole world, seen and unseen, is rebelling against its creator. Greg calls this viewpoint the trinitarian warfare worldview.

    I may at some point delve into the philosophical implications of this viewpoint, but at the moment I want to stay on the theme of warfare: the idea that God, the Father-Son-Spirit, are in some sense in a battle against evil, against Satan and his "hosts of spiritual wickedness". I also want to explore a parallel idea: the notion that Christians, being "in Christ", join in with this spiritual battle.

    I find this idea in the writings of another favourite author of mine, John Eldredge. In a fantastic book called Waking the Dead, Eldredge warns his readers concerning the danger of dismissing the warfare worldview, by which he means, the notion that as Christians we are fighting a spiritual battle against Satan and his allies. Jesus himself told us that "the thief comes to steal and kill and destroy", yet according to both Boyd and Eldredge we often just roll over and accept much of our life as "God's will".

    The warfare paradigm of scripture is not very popular these days. Our bible translators do their very best to hide it from us. We read words like "Lord Almighty", and think of some lofty god, when the actual Hebrew means something like "the God of angel armies", or "the God of the armies who fight for his people" (Waking the Dead, p160). Over at The Resurgence, Anthony Bradley tells us the story of Jesus In A Pink Dress, a mural he saw in a church building which has subsequently shut down due to the death of the congregation. My point? That perhaps the feminisation and pacification of Christianity, Christ and Creation is doing more harm than good. I know this is going to be controversial and offensive to some, and I welcome pushbacks. But I believe I am onto something here.

    Eldredge writes further on:

    The attitude of so many Christians today is anything but fierce. We're passive, acquiescent. We're acting as if the battle is over, as if the wolf and the lamb are now fast friends. Good grief -- we're beating our swords into plowshares as the armies of the Evil One descend upon us. We've bought the lie of the Religious Spirit, which says, "You don't need to fight the Enemy. Let Jesus do that." ... Seriously, just this morning a man said to me, "We don't need to fight the Enemy. Jesus has won." Yes, Jesus has the won the victory over Satan and has Kingdom. However, the battle is not over."
    -- Waking the Dead, p168.

    I've got loads more to say on this topic, but I'll leave you with the words from one of my favourite films:

    Théoden: "I know what it is that you want of me. But I would not bring further death to my people. I will not risk open war."

    Aragorn: "Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not."

    Is the contemporary church and the contemporary Christian more akin to Théoden or Aragorn? Why has Jesus been seen in a pink dress? And are the rumours of Jesus driving around the Middle-East in a Volkswagen Cabriolet offering aromatherapy really true?! Watch this space... (and feel free to comment!)