Inclusive Community? Pick one.

Posted on by Glen in apologetics, culture, evangelism | 2 Comments

We want community and we want inclusion. But how do we have both?

Because a community is not a random collective. A community is a unity. And it’s unified around something or towards something. Sometimes it’s united against something. Better if it’s united for something. But whatever the principle of unity there is an inner logic or goal or ethos or context or journey that binds us together.

It seems patently obvious that whatever this principle of unity is, it cannot itself be “inclusion”. If all you have is a principle of inclusion you don’t actually have a community. As we invite people to “Climb aboard” we might want to insist “All welcome, whoever you are, come along for the ride!” but we’ll be clear that this is a ride and it’s heading somewhere. What we won’t do is scoop up bystanders and include them quite apart from their commitment to the journey. Nor will we immediately put newcomers in the driver’s seat without a clear indication that they want to go where we want to go. That would not be good for the community and it would not be good for the newcomer.

Here is Rowan Williams on why language of “inclusion” might not be good for the community:

“I don’t believe inclusion is a value in itself. Welcome is. We don’t say ‘Come in and we ask no questions’. I do believe conversion means conversion of habits, behaviours, ideas, emotions. The boundaries are determined by what it means to be loyal to Jesus Christ.”

The community we want to include people into is already bounded by certain principles, centred on certain belief, heading in certain directions. Those outside the community are very welcome, but they’re welcome like house guests are welcome. There is already an ordering to the house and guests knocking through load-bearing walls is not good for the community.

Nor is it good for the newcomer.

This is Jordan Peterson’s point here as he insists that we should not simply affirm people’s self-declared identities. We need communities to contradict our individual identities. If we don’t have that, we go insane.

I’ve transcribed his 3 minutes below, but it’s worth a watch:

If the world is required to validate your identity you are done for. And the reason for that is that every single one of you have a pathological direction in which you are likely to go. And that’s because every temperamental virtue comes with a temperamental vice. You think you’re sane. You’re not. You’re not even close. If I put you alone in a cave for two weeks you’d be done. You can’t be sane on your own.

So what happens is that your parents, if they have any sense, train you, roughly speaking, to be vaguely acceptable to other people. They keep nudging and winking at you every time you’re a moron so that you get nudged into something approximating acceptable. And you’re clued in enough to pay attention so that if someone raises an eye brown or doesn’t find your joke funny, (or something rather subtle like that), you immediately revise your identity. And we are always nudging each other and revising each other non-stop – exchanging information about how to stay sane.

And if I’m forced into a position where I have to validate your identity? What if your identity is wrong? What if it’s pathological? What if it doesn’t serve you well? And I start validating you… Do you think I’m your friend. I’m not your friend at all. I’m a mirror for your narcissism. And you will disappear and drown.

I see this happening all the time with people. If you’re fortunate you are surrounded by people who like you now and wish you’d be a little better. And they’ll let you know when you’re failing on that. You don’t even have to think that much, all you have to do is watch. Is this person rolling their eyes at you? (That’s a bad one. That means divorce by the way, when you get to the eye rolling stage. That’s not good.)

But basically you’re fortunate that people don’t validate your damn identity. What makes you think you’ve got your identity figured out? You’re really complicated and you’re clueless as hell about it. Because you can’t represent yourself entirely. You’re the most complicated thing that exists. How are you going to come up with an accurate definition of your identity. You’ve got a hundred people out there helping you out if you’ve got any sense. If you’re vaguely tolerable. They’re kind of hinting at you not only what you are but also what you might become. Then you should welcome invalidation of your identity.

Now if they’re malicious well then that’s a different story. But it’s not that easy to separate out accurate criticism, especially if it hits you right where it hurts which is when you’re wrong. You can’t separate that out from maliciousness or hate speech… good luck.

You never learn anything without pain. And often, when you receive a piece of corrective information from someone, if you could throw that person in jail you would. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

Inclusion in the abstract is not a value to aspire to. Welcome? Yes please. “Come to the waters all you who thirst?” Amen. But as each of us come we leave our self-determined identities at the door. In coming we are submitting to the community – a community that will keep us sane if only we let it invalidate our most cherished identities and re-form us as children of God.

 

The Missional Necessity Of Keeping People Out Of Church

Posted on by Glen in church, evangelism, mission | 2 Comments

Want the gospel to go forwards? Lock your church doors.

Here’s Vishal Mangalwadi on how the gospel transformed church and culture at the time of the reformation:

Before the Reformation, Roman Catholic Churches were open seven days a week in Holland. The devout went to the church whenever they wanted to meet with God. They would light their candles, kneel, and pray. After the Reformation, the Church leaders decided to lock their churches on Sunday nights. Not because they became less religious, but because they became more religious.

Reformers learned from the Bible that the church was not the only place to meet with God. If God had called you to be a woodcutter, then on Monday morning you ought to meet with God in the forest. If he had called you to be a shoemaker, then on Monday morning he expected you to meet with him on the work bench. If he had called you to be a homemaker, you needed to serve God while taking care of your window plants. (From The Book That Made Your World)

Whenever the gospel is on mute, people will hover around the church, desperate to keep the delicate flame of faith alive. They’ll come and “do their bit”, light their candle, keep up their devotional practices. The church provides their holiness perch and they’re desperate to stay on top of it. Needless to say, the mission of the church is paralysed by such thinking.

But the gospel actually means locking the doors of your church. It tells us: “You are not on a holiness perch, you are in Christ. You are sent. You walk in Him into your true calling. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” And so the mission of the church is served by shutting its doors.

Of course, five centuries on from the reformation we still find many reasons to keep our doors open. There are protestant “candles” we feel we must light. And the missionary flow we endorse runs dry so quickly.

This goes deeper than a scheduling problem. It’s not just solved by resolving to hold fewer midweek meetings. It took a reformation to shift the practice of those Dutch churches and it will take a reformation of our own churches to shift our mindset. It’s more than a question of administratively releasing people. Are we spiritually releasing them? Do we preach the kind of gospel that liberates our people? Can we genuinely say to them “Go in peace” because we’ve given them profound gospel confidence? Can we lock the door after them and say “Enjoy! Create! Serve! Love! Share! Be blessed in Christ! See you next week!”?

Or will we keep our doors open, running a thousand church activities and then wondering why no-one has any deep friendships with non-Christians?

On the basis of Christ’s gospel and for the sake of His mission, let’s lock our church doors.

 

Getting Pentecostal

Posted on by Glen in Holy Spirit | 2 Comments

Listen (and subscribe!) to the Evangelists Podcast where I elaborate on all these points…


What is Pentecost?

In the Jewish calendar (see Leviticus 23), Pentecost is the “Feast of Weeks”. It’s held 50 days after “Firstfruits.” At “Firstfruits” you have tasted the goodness of the coming crop. At “Pentecost” the harvest comes in.

In the New Testament, Jesus rose on the day of “Firstfruits”. He was the Seed who went into the ground (on Good Friday) and came up again (on Easter Sunday). His new life guarantees a rich harvest of resurrection.

The first ever Pentecost happened in Exodus – 50 days after the Israelites came out of Egypt. On that day Moses came down from the mountain with the law and he judged idolatrous Israel. 3000 people died on that first Pentecost. In Acts 2, the Spirit comes down from on high and brings life – on that day 3000 people are reborn!

 

What does Acts 2 teach us about the Spirit?

The Spirit comes through the Word – especially preached. (v14ff)

The Spirit is associated with the last days (v17).

The Spirit is the triune life of God poured out (v33).

The Spirit is a gift for the unworthy (v38).

 

What does the rest of the Bible teach about the Holy Spirit?

The Spirit is the LIFE of God.

The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. (Job 33:4)

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life. (John 6:63)

Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)

If Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. (Romans 8:10)

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11)

 

 

What does the Spirit do in the life of God?

1. He joyfully declares the Father’s overflowing love:

You are my Son who I love, with you I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:16-17)

2. He joyfully declares the Son’s glad dependence:

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. (Luke 10:21)

 

3. He gives life to the Son

Through the Spirit of holiness [Jesus] was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4).

 

 

What does the Spirit do in our life?

1. He joyfully declares the Father’s overflowing love to us:

God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

 

2. He joyfully declares our love as sons back to the Father:

The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ (Romans 8:15)

 

3. He gives life to us 

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11)

 

Everything that the Spirit is in God’s life, He becomes in our life! The Spirit sweeps us up into the Son’s communion with the Father. By Him we “participate in the divine nature”! (2 Peter 1:4)

 

How do we get the Spirit wrong?

The three main trinitarian heresies all have implications for how we see the Spirit:

Arianism: The Spirit is a non-Person.

Here we see the Spirit as an It, Force, an abstract Power.

Modalism: The Spirit is the same Person (as the Son / Father)

Here we forget that the Spirit unites us to Jesus and brings us before the Father. Instead modalists (eg Oneness Pentecostals) imagine that we have an unmediated relationship with God (undifferentiated). That’s not the gospel!

Tritheism: The Spirit is a detached Person

Here we think of the Spirit as another source of blessing. We imagine that we can have some blessings from Jesus but we need to go to this other power called the Spirit to get certain blessings.

If we keep looking to Jesus we won’t go too far wrong!

 

What does this mean for our Christian walk?

Let’s pray for the Spirit Himself (not just His fruit). But let’s come to Jesus to know the Spirit – there’s no other Way.

Let’s be Spirit-filled which means…

centred on Jesus,

obsessed by the word,

overflowing with words of our own,

walking by faith not works,

trusting Christ not our flesh,

looking to the future when the Spirit will raise not only us but the whole world. Then even the deserts will bloom.

The Spirit [will be] poured on us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest. (Isaiah 32:15)

 

 

Recent Talks and Videos

Posted on by Glen in My videos, sermons, videos | 2 Comments

Haven’t blogged in ages, so let me catch you up on some of what I’ve been doing…

Did you see our Christmas video?

 

And Easter?

 

Recently I was invited to the Yorkshire Gospel Partnership to talk about glorification.

I spoke of our past, present and future in God’s glorious life.

THE PAST – THE SOURCE OF GLORY – LIFE OVERFLOWING – A FOUNTAIN

THE PRESENT – THE FLOW OF GLORY – LIFE POURED OUT – A SACRIFICE

THE FUTURE – THE GOAL OF GLORY – LIFE RAISED UP – A HARVEST

I also did a Q&A session about evangelism, preaching and other mini-rants.

See their page for other brilliant talks from Mike Reeves, Sam Allberry, Richard Coekin, Christopher Ash, Don Carson and many more.

 

Here are two Easter talks at St Stephen’s Selly Park: Love Story (John 13:1-17) and Life Story (John 20:24-31).

 

Durham University Mission (STORY)

 

Real Lives with St Mary’s Maidenhead.

Go here to get individual mp3s of the interviews and talks.

 

Three Ground Rules For Understanding Revelation

Posted on by Glen in bible, revelation | 4 Comments

As I prepare a sermon on Revelation 1 for this weekend it strikes me that three lessons from this chapter should be followed by any would-be interpreter.

1. The Bible interprets the Bible

Not the newspapers. Not modern resonances. There’s a reason Revelation comes at the end of the Scriptures. It picks up and weaves together themes and allusions from every other biblical book. We don’t need to go outside the Scriptures to interpret them. Very often we don’t need to go outside the chapter. Stick to the Bible. The Bible will interpret the Bible.

2. The context is suffering

In particular it’s the suffering of John, the seven churches of Asia and the other witnesses to Christ known to John. The context is not comfortable 21st century theorists, but suffering believers. And in the first instance, they are believers of the 1st century who need comfort there and then. If they somehow thought that the kings of Revelation 17 were the EU, how exactly would that be a comfort? And how would that be a comfort to the millions of non-western believers today suffering for their faith?

3. The point is Christ

It’s the Revelation of Jesus Christ, not the Revelation of eschatological timetables. Jesus is the centre. Focus on Him and His comfort in suffering and you won’t go too far wrong.

 

 

Video For Remembrance Day

Posted on by Glen in creative, culture, My videos, poetry, videos | Leave a comment

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If I should die think only this
… A bullet flew by that did not miss…

What story of the war is told?
Romance bright or horror cold?
Triumph’s tale or tragic loss,
the iron or the wooden cross?
Lost lament or victor’s boast?
Full brass band or lone last post?
Heroes, villains, cowards, kings?
It’s war… it’s all these things.

It’s us unleashed for good and ill,
the gallant heart, the savage will.
A Kaiser’s pride, a nation’s fear,
a global greed, it’s all in here.

What causes war, the old book asks?
Beyond the history, beneath the masks,
There grows a want, becomes a will,
demands our way, prepares to kill.

The war we mark as long ago,
is close to home, it’s all we know.
What ceases war? The pressing question.
What can halt inborn aggression?
To end all wars and retribution –
war itself is no solution.

Can terror end all terror now?
Brute force subdue itself and bow?
Can darkness drive out darkened dread?
Or death extinguish death instead?

We need to interrupt the spiral.
A healing antiretroviral.
The story’s told of an Anti-Zeus –
A God of Peace turned Human Truce.
Into our world, into our midst –
a walking, talking armistice.

A King made meek, a power made weak,
to stand and turn the other cheek,
to take the blow, absorb disgrace,
and rise to give again His face.
In grace undimmed and arms unfurled,
to bless and pacify the world…

…and you – to sweet surrender brought,
forgiveness for your battles fought,
a peace to pass to every soul,
then warfare ceased from pole to pole.

Sermons from Revelation 1 and Proverbs

Posted on by Glen in sermons | Leave a comment

Revelation 1:9-20: Overwhelmed By The Son of Man

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Work in Proverbs

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Six Disturbing Assumptions Uncovered in A World Without Downs

Posted on by Glen in apologetics, culture | 13 Comments

DS docoIf you haven’t seen it already, run, don’t walk, to see Sally Phillips’ documentary: A World Without Down’s Syndrome. In it Phillips discusses a new, non-invasive, test offered by the NHS to diagnose Down’s Syndrome in utero. In Iceland, the test has led to 100% of expectant mothers terminating their pregnancies when discovering Down’s. In Denmark it’s 98%. Already in the UK, 90% of mothers terminate and Sally wonders aloud whether, with this new test, we will go the way of Iceland and effectively see a world without Down’s Syndrome.

Sally is the mother of Olly, an 11 year old full of life and fun (and who has Down’s) and she rightly sees this future as unthinkable. She interviews mothers, doctors, geneticists, and those with Down’s from around the world. What we discover through the documentary is truly disturbing. Let me highlight six chilling assumptions informing a culture that would enable the elimination of a subgroup.

 

1. Because feelings run high, facts should be silenced

This article was written before the documentary’s airing in which Jane Fisher, Director of Antenatal Results and Choices, complains:

“Sally is a very compelling presenter, and – absolutely – it’s great to have the positive images of people [with Down’s] who are already here. But it’s very personal, and it’s an extra layer of difficulty for couples and families who might be making the decision now about whether to end their pregnancy. It risks offering the suggestion to those who have [decided to end a pregnancy] that they have made the wrong decision.”

Translation: When things are so personal, it’s unhelpful to have the other side put compellingly. People might change their minds.

 

2. “Costs” are calculated in pounds and pence

At one point Sally interviews Lynn  Chitty, professor of genetics and fetal medicine, and asks her about the cost of the test. Sally is talking about the high cost to society of, potentially, eliminating an entire population. Jane says “It’s not a high cost at all, our studies have shown that you can implement this at…” Sally interrupts “Sorry, I wasn’t talking about the financial cost… I was talking about an experiment… that may result in a catastrophic result [for] the Down’s Syndrome population.”

When one side is speaking about the cost of rolling out a programme of blood tests and another side is speaking about the survival of a group of people, we are talking at some pretty chilling cross-purposes.

 

3. Society should not be encumbered by the weak and vulnerable.

Lynn comes back at Sally with a question of her own. She asks: “How do you feel about later on in life? Because [Olly] is likely to outlive you. How do you feel about that prospect?” Sally responds: “the answer to that is not termination. The answer is that if we have a society that is unable to care for people, the problem is not the person.”

A mother whose vulnerable son will outlive her needs a society that will value the vulnerable too. Instead she is faced with someone who thinks the better course of action would have been termination. If Lynn’s views are at all representative of society at large, this is frightening indeed and it signals a 180 degree shift in our moral compass. In times past we would have thought the moral thing would be to care for the weak and vulnerable. We are shifting to a view where it’s not just permitted but positively virtuous to end the life of the weak and vulnerable because we no longer want to be a society that cares for the weak. We eliminate them

 

4. The good life is one that is free from pain and struggle

Sally meets Kate who decided to terminate her pregnancy at 25 weeks when they discovered Down’s. Kate tells Sally she’d done a lot of research – not just of the facts and figures but also listening to stories of those living with Down’s: “You see some of the difficulties that people were going through,” she says, “One woman whose 5 year old son still wasn’t walking… he was very heavy, having fits everywhere. If my child was affected as much as he was I’d feel really guilty about that, having been given the choice.”

After they watch inspirational footage of a gymnast with Down’s, Kate reflects that the gymnast clearly had to struggle far more to attain these achievements and it wasn’t something she wanted for her child.

Never mind that those with Down’s report being some of the happiest people on the planet, never mind that the greatest lives lived have been in the teeth of suffering, never mind that every human being must struggle in this world, somehow we have come to the view that a life of pain and struggle is simply not worth living.

 

5. The right to life is earned

Sally interviews geneticist George Church who is at the forefront of genetic testing in utero. As Sally raises the danger of people having ever more information about their offspring, Church says that our real battle is to educate the masses. If having children with DS is an enriching experience for all then Sally and others should keep doing what they’re doing (while George does what he’s doing). He urges Sally to “Spread the word that [those with Down’s Syndrome] are valuable members of society.”

Job done. We just need more information – both about the unborn and about their prospects in the real world. And if those with DS can be deemed to be valuable, no problem, right? Except, who says who’s valuable? And how? On what basis? The entire logic of Church’s position is that the right to life is earned. (Of course the position of the church is quite different: life is a sheer gift).

 

6. Personalising the issue is wrong.

Here’s something deeply ironic in the way the Guardian have reported this documentary. Before the documentary we were warned that Phillips was wading into emotional waters and could upset mothers with her compelling case (see point 1). After the documentary, came this review by Julia Raeside: It’s Straight From The Heart – And That’s The Problem. First the facts would upset people’s feelings. Then we’re told Sally’s case is all feelings, no facts.

Raeside says it’s “impassioned but not impartial” because Sally shows us her happy family life, her beaming, boisterous son, Olly, and the inspirational achievements of those with Down’s Syndrome. How unfair to personalise the issue. How unfair to bring these people, whose elimination we are discussing, off of the sonogram, out of the NHS leaflets and onto our screens, laughing, joking and dancing. Wouldn’t it be fairer if we dealt with them as…. what? Statistics? Lists of symptoms?

No, if we are dealing with people then it would not be impartial, it would be sociopathic to cast them in anything less than personal terms. That is the beauty and also the integrity of Sally’s documentary.

 

It seems to me that these six disturbing views are throbbing away under all our discussions in this area. Phillips’ documentary has done us a huge favour. She has confronted a culture of death with a beaming 11 year old and asked us: Who will we listen to? Let’s pray we choose well.

Olly

10 New(ish) Sermons

Posted on by Glen in evangelism, My videos, sermons, videos | 1 Comment

Galatians 6

Galatians 6 audio download

 

The Gospel and Mental Health

 

Four Evangelistic Talks from John’s Gospel

God so loved the world (John 3:16)

Doubting Thomas (John 20)

Water into Wine (John 2)

Raising Lazarus (John 11)

 

Four Other Talks

Liberated: Can Christianity really offer freedom?

Repent and Believe the Good News (Mark 1:14-20)

Jesus Walks On Water (John 6:16-24)

Jesus Sat Down (Hebrews 10:1-18)

 

Racism, Shaming, Scapegoating and Hope

Posted on by Glen in apologetics, Cross, culture, My videos, videos | 5 Comments

Here’s a response to some of the events of the last fortnight, focusing on racism and some other of the blame games that threaten to tear us apart.

Sorry for the hands-off-the-steering-wheel-gesticulations! Won’t do it again, I promise! If I do an in-car vlog again I’ll probably do it parked.

Anyway, hopefully my Jehu impression won’t distract too much from the issues discussed…

 

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