We’ve all had that frustration of suddenly realising the mot juste to clinch an argument … long after it has been lost and forgotten. ‘If only I’d thought of saying …’ or words to that effect. (And as Don Carson once pointed out, we never lose arguments during their mental rerun.) Well, this is essential what Chris Russell has done in his Ten Letters: to be delivered in the event of my death (DLT, 2012). Though I’m being harsh – to reduce this extraordinary book to argument-clinching zingers after the event is very unfair. These letters are more like deep pastoral meditations after encounters, events, conversations which subsequently required extended reflection and heart-searching
It’s been a germ of an idea for ages, but at last it’s finally come about. Q now has a podcast. Hurrah. I can just sense the infectious excitement simply oozing throughout cyberspace. But there are loads of fascinating people out there: hearing how a few live out their lives and passions ought to be fun. Doncha think?
Well, whatever you feel about the prospect of Q podcasts in general, the inaugural episode in particular is definitely exciting because last week, I had the chance to record a conversation with the very talented and thought-provoking Dutch filmmaker, Jaap van Heusden. Here is the link on iTunes (or if you don’t have that, direct through Jellycast) Read more
For me, though, the standout of Francis Spufford’s reading memoir The Child That Books Built is the chapter entitled The Island. For it is here that he waxes lyrical about Narnia. It is not just because he chimes with the countless numbers who loved C S Lewis’ books (despite the likes of Philip Pullman and Polly Toynbee). It is the fact that he grasps something of their theological wonder (which will come as no surprise perhaps to those who have enjoyed his Unapologetic). Read more
Well, this is a first: a Quaerentia competition with REAL prizes (rather than the virtual Crunchie bars which I’ve so generously offered in the past! But the lovely people at IVP have given me a few free downloads of the recently published e-book of Cross-Examined. VERY exciting. Just what you always wanted for Christmas I’m sure. I completely realise that it’s themes are more to do with Good Friday and Easter Day, but it seemed reasonable enough to give them away for Christmas. Read more
Given the deeply traumatic nature of this book’s subject, this word seems entirely incongruous. But I can’t it out of my head as I try to sum up Emma Scrivener’s new book. And that’s the word beautiful. This is not because of a superficial or white-washed treatment. Far from it. In fact at times Emma is searingly, wincingly honest. And as she writes, we weep. Read more
It is a rare gift indeed to be able to evoke the confusions, perceptions and wonder of childhood from the perspectives of adulthood. And it is a gift that Ian Cron clearly possesses. His recent memoir (self-deprecatingly subtitled ‘of sorts’), Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me, is a wonderful, life-affirming account of a deeply troubled and agonised family – but it is wonderful because it demonstrates hope in some very dark places indeed.
And for that reason alone, it is a book I would thoroughly recommend. Read more
The book that has occupied my thoughts for much of the summer is that almost hidden gem of the OT, the Book of Ruth. It was the focus of this year’s All Souls week away, and so my talks are issued as a free podcast. What blew me away is that of all the books in the OT, it is perhaps the most unrelentingly positive and inspiring. This is despite the fact that its dark historical and literary context was the Book of Judges, and that the suffering and vulnerability of 2 of the protagonists, Naomi and Ruth, were very real. Read more
Yesterday was one that will be hard to forget: the funeral of an extraordinary man of God. It was an occasion full of gratitude and even joy, but also overwhelming at moments to say goodbye to Uncle John (or as we were reminded in the service, it is only Au Revoir). There was great pathos to think that, as his coffin was carried out, he was leaving All Souls for the last time. Read more
Having been dreaming, scheming and working on this little project for months with a couple of friends (the illustrious Tim Plyming and the multi-talented radio producer John Sugar), it is with great excitement that we can now announce the release of this new 30 minute radio-documentary style programme: Read more
One of life’s great joys is Radio 3′s CD Review every Saturday morning. And every now and then, it is a wonderful source for discovering previously unheard gems. Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a segment about Baltic Choral music. And I was gripped by the music of Latvian Eriks Esenvalds. I’d never heard of him until that moment. But I’m now a total convert. Read more
One of the most moving films of recent years has been Into the Wild (dir by Sean Penn). Here are some clips backing the version of Jerry Hannan‘s song Society, sung by Eddie Vedder (who did the whole soundtrack). The song has a bewitching melancholy – but also carries a prophetic voice about the absurdities of western materialism. The film is based on the true story of Christopher McCandless, a young graduate who turned his back on it all, by fleeing into the wonders and brutalities of the Alaskan wilderness.
The film’s agony is that McCandless thought he could be free from a materialistic society by escaping society altogether – only to discover (too late, tragically) that what he desperately needed was not the absence of society, but the reality of a truly redeemed society.
As part of our BibleFresh events, I put this little presentation together to gather thoughts from Psalm 119.
This one was a sweat, if I’m honest. But last sunday, we recommenced our Galatians series after a 2 month break (the result of that little inconvenience alternatively known as Christmas and New Year). And the passage felt a bit like a minefield because it includes Paul’s notorious figurative use of the 2 families descended from Abraham. I think too many come down far too hard on Paul’s OT handling here – for he is completely open about what he is doing and his points made are entirely valid.
It struck me forcibly again that, in his disputes with the Judaizers, the key issue is the relationship between Abraham and Moses. It was only after I started to build a passage summary table (below) that the full shock of Paul’s shocking (and even apparently mistaken) inclusion of Mount Sinai in the ‘red’ Hagar column became apparent. If Moses is a biological descendent of Sarah & Isaac’s line (which he was), the God-ordained leader of God’s people (which he was), and he received the God-given law on Mt Sinai (which he did), then surely Sinai should be in the green column.
But this is Paul’s point – being a child of Abraham depends not on bloodline and being descended by race (and figuratively, by depending on law); it depends on trusting God (having faith) and being dependent on grace (and thus figuratively, depending on promise). As he says earlier in the letter:
Consider Abraham: “He believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then that those who believe are children of Abraham. (Gal 3:6, quoting Genesis 15:6)
Anyway – here is the talk, such as it is. I was certainly glad to have it over with! Am posting the table because a number of people asked for it after seeing it on Sunday. Hope it’s of use to a few.
Apologies for the rather contrived alliteration but couldn’t resist. Have been in Sofia, Bulgaria since Monday and on my way now to Athens for another couple of days’ meetings. Pretty intense but lots of big encouragements. Here in Bulgaria and Greece to plan for the launch of Langham events in both countries this Autumn.
But I was very struck by this sight in a Sofia church’s meeting place, where we’ve been having our meetings and discussions. It’s amidst the brutalists, not because of the character of the neighbours or local inhabitants – far from it! – I’m using the term (albeit rather loosely) in the architectural sense. For this church has created a meeting space on the second floor of a pretty modern apartment block in a classic, anonymous suburb of Sofia. Like so many European cities, it is all grey concrete, girders and pure functionality with little or no attention to aesthetic values. Huge impersonal squares are surrounded by long residential blocks and the odd supermarket or small health-club. But on entering Holy Trinity church, you are confronted by this unexpected blaze of theological colour.
Of course, the predominant Christian tradition in Bulgaria is Orthodox – and this has clear echoes of Orthodox iconography – quite a surprise in a Protestant Evangelical church. But what I found particularly powerful was the sweeping shape of the wooden cross, which is clearly the focal point of the installation – both because it is a the only physical structure in the set up, but also because the wall-painting and the frosted glass window are designed to highlight it (note the crown of thorns traced on both).
Because of the lines and shape of the wood, this is a cross that opens its arms wide in a welcoming embrace and also, somehow, lifts one up in its embrace – which is a profoundly true theological statement. Wonderful. (Click on the photo for one or two other shots).
Of course, the real joy of being here was to get to know some brothers who will form the team for Langham Bulgaria. We had very encouraging discussions and have great hopes for how things could develop here.
It doesn’t happen often but last Sunday, one of our church stalwarts, Robert Willcox, led our corporate prayers so well that I thought they were worth reproducing here. Great stuff. Wouldn’t have been out of place in The Valley of Vision.
We come together humbly to the Lord of Glory and the Prince of Peace.
Lord Jesus Christ, Creator, Author, and Redeemer, we pray that our few concentrated minutes consciously in your presence would please you and humble us.
We acknowledge you as Creator, who precedes and sustains everything
- as Visitor in Bethlehem who is truly adorable
- as Author not of fairy tales but of reality
- as Redeemer who dies to make us whole
So, convince us that this Christmas news is the best news ever
- that though you are high yet you are lowly
- that though you are defined by eternity yet you are couched in humanity
- that though you are cramped in obscurity yet your glory is for all who have eyes to see
- that our freedom is born in a stable and secured at the Cross
- that all other supposed solutions are false avenues in the light of your beauty and grace
- that our very life depends on you
Refresh our hearts in wonder and loose our tongues in songs of joy
We worship you afresh
Lord of Glory and Prince of Peace
Our living God is not remote, uncaring or idle
but who is engaging, outgoing and active
We, His people are called to be like Him
Let’s pray that we may reflect Him more accurately
Lead us your people to shine in the mess of the world
Lead us in humble service
Lead us in courageous abandonment of life and reputation
Strengthen our mission partners all over the world
We pray for all in danger or hardship that they may be renewed in courage, faith and hope.
And we pray for the multifaceted nature of our church here in London,
that we might be filled with His energy, His love and His humility.
So make the stable our context and the real world our activity centre.
Lord of Glory, Prince of Peace
Hear our prayers
Have managed to get round to reading Carson’s 2010 book Scandalous – to great profit and provocation. Will get round to fuller comments in due course. But for now, I was very struck by this section, in which he ponders the significance of some historical revisionism in James Cameron’s film Titanic. In expounding the divine love that is the foundation of the gospel, he says this:
It was not nails that held Jesus to that wretched cross; it was his unqualified resolution, out of love for his Father, to do his Father’s will – and within that framework, it was his love for sinners like me. He really could not save himself.
Perhaps part of our slowness to come to grips with this truth lies in the way the notion of moral imperative has dissipated in much recent Western thought. Did you see the film Titanic that was screened about a dozen years ago? The great ship is full of the richest people in the world, and, according to the film, as the ship sinks, the rich men start to scramble for the few and inadequate lifeboats. British sailors draw handguns and fire into the air, crying “stand back! Stand back! Women and children first!” In reality, of course, nothing like that happened.
The universal testimony of the witnesses who survived the disaster is that the men hung back and urged the women and children into the lifeboats. John Jacob Astor, was there, at the time the richest man on earth, the Bill Gates of 1912. He dragged his wife to a boat, shoved her on, and stepped back. Someone urged him to get in, too. He refused: the boats are to few, and must be for the women and children first. He stepped back, and drowned. The philanthropist Benjamin Guggenheim was present. He was traveling with his mistress, but when he perceived that it was unlikely he would survive, he told one of his servants, ‘Tell my wife tha Benjamin Guggenheim knows his duty” – and he hung back, and drowned. There is not a single report of some rich man displacing women and children in the mad rush for survival.
When the film was reviewed in the New York Times, the reviewer asked why the producer and director of the film had distorted history so flagrantly in this regard. The scene as they depicted it was implausible from the beginning. British sailors drawing handguns? Most British police officers do not carry handguns; British sailors certainly do not. So why this wilful distortion of history? And then the reviewer answered his own question: if the producer and director had told the truth, he said, no one would have believed them.
I have seldom read a more damning indictment of the development of Western culture, especially Anglo-Saxon culture, in the last century. One hundred years ago, there remained in our culture enough residue of the Christian virtue of self-sacrifice for the sake of others, of the moral imperative that seeks the other’s good at personal expense, that Christians and non-Christians alike thought it noble, if unremarkable, to choose death for the sake of others. A mere century later, such a course is judged so unbelievable that the history is distorted. (pp30-31)
Came across this lovely story from Bede while reading Gene Fant’s God as Author. It’s a book I enjoyed and picked some lovely gems from it. May post some more sometime. But he recounts this story to illustrate the way in which our experience of the world (as general revelation) interacts with our understanding of worldviews and life, especially when we encounter special revelation.
The Venerable Bede (c673-735) records the story of King Edwin of Northumberland at the hands of the missionary bishop Paulinus. Edwin was willing to hear the preaching of Paulinus and to convert at once, but he called together a meeting of his council of elders, which included his pagan high priest, Coifi. Paulinus presented the gospel to him, and one of the chief advisors replied with this observation:
“Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thegns and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a moment of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing. Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.”
The adviser was stating the insight that something he had observed in nature had created in him an imbalance, a longing for something more. Clearly drawn on a personal experience of watching such a sparrow’s flight, the adviser heard the gospel of redemption and eternal life as the restoration of that balance that had been lost. Moreover, Coifi, the chief priest, revealed that he too had found in his own observations of life and nature an imbalance.
“I have long realized that there is nothing in our way of worship; for the more diligently I shought [sic] after truth in our religion, the less I found. I now publicly confess that this teaching clearly reveals truths that will afford us the blessings of life, salvation and eternal happiness. Therefore your majesty, I submit that the temples and altars that we have dedicated to no advantage be immediately desecrated and burned.”
God as Author (pp82-83)
Now Bede was probably indulging in not a little bit of artistic licence and historiographical imagination here (especially with Coifi’s speech – that seems pretty unbelievable – or am I just being an old cynic?). But I did find the image of the sparrow a very powerful and suggestive one indeed.
Staying with the folks in Norfolk again for half term. In a nearby village, a friend of theirs (Lorie Lain-Rogers – see below) is part of a group (Call2Prayer) that has set up a 1:1 scale reconstruction of the OT Tabernacle. I don’t know much about this group, but recreating the Tabernacle is a fascinating idea. It travels the country apparently – so I suppose you can book it if you want to.
They’ve tried to do everything as authentically and faithfully as possible (from the clear and explicit instructions in the Pentateuch) – though I’m not 100% clear about whether or not the original had provisions for parking
Most striking to me was its size – despite not being in a desert but enjoying glorious Norfolk sunshine in a fabulous garden, one could well imagine the tribal elders gathering in the space within the linen walls. Anyway, here are a few pics – click to get to the rest…