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Posts from the ‘John Calvin’ Category


The Black Dog (10 years on) 5: THE INSENSIBILITY OF FAITH…

It’s been very moving to have messages in the last few days about my black dog posts. Thank you! At least it shows that it’s been worth it. As I mentioned in the first post, I’m genuinely not motivated by the kind of confessional culture that is all around us; still less am I trying to elicit sympathy. And I’m definitely not seeking advice or support (kind though some offers have been!). It is only to help those who don’t quite have the words for this yet. But I do realise that it’s raised lots of questions for some… Read more »


When the Good do Bad: David Brooks’ Reflections on Human nature

It’s not every day that you find a newspaper column quoting Calvin, C S Lewis and G K Chesterton without odium or censure. But that is exactly what happened in a New York Times Op. Ed. on Monday. It’s even more surprising when you realise that its writer is a Jewish American social commentator, David Brooks. He is a thoughtful writer who seems genuinely concerned to understand what makes people tick, without prejudice or name-calling. Some will only know him for the fact that he was the one who wrote the piece on John Stott back in 2004 (which was arguably the principle catalyst for him becoming one of the 2005 Time 100). Read more »


Means and Ends: when churches resort to bribery

It came as a shock when this was first pointed out to me. Or rather, to be more accurate, it was a shock when I first realised how true it was of me. For a pastor friend was pointing out how perfectly capable we all are of justifying any action to ourselves; and worse, how perfectly capable we all are of justifying any action in specifically spiritual terms. Read more »


The papal visit and truths worth dying for

The pope is arriving on these shores next week. And there are many things that make his visit controversial. There are of course even people who want to try to arrest him. I certainly don’t think that is the right way to proceed and bear him no ill-feeling necessarily. Nor does it particularly worry me that he’s visiting the country. Why shouldn’t he? And as they say, ‘some of my best friends are Catholic’.

But if one of the purposes of such visits is to raise the profile of Catholicism, then it is perfectly fair game to re-examine the reasons why many of us count ourselves Christian but not Catholic.

Some believers constantly relive past battles of spiritual ancestors as if little or nothing has changed for decades or even centuries; while others reject the need to get involved those such debates altogether (perhaps in the mistaken assumption that this makes them more contemporary). Neither path makes sense. The past is not irrelevant but nor is it a straightjacket. As I previously quoted on Q a few weeks back, Tom Wright helpfully sums it up like this:

the trick is to recover the first-century questions and try to give twenty-first century answers, rather than taking sixteenth-century questions and giving nineteenth-century answers…

Still, some past battles continue to have relevance when they concern first-century questions – and that is in large (though not entire) part what the Reformation was concerned with in its determination to get back to the sources (‘ad fontes‘) of Scripture and the early church. We might not answer the questions in exactly the same way that the likes of Luther or Calvin answered them (not least because the presenting issues are different) After all, 21st Century Catholicism is by no means identical to its 16th Century forebear. But we would be unwise to ignore what they said and why they said it, especially if there are aspects of Catholic belief that have not in fact changed that much.

This then was the thinking behind a recent, but all too brief, series preached by the boss, Hugh Palmer last month. It was a corker on the 4 ‘sola’s of the reformation, under the title TRUTHS WORTH DYING FOR. Definitely worth checking out:


Communion and the Virtual Presence

Communion was of course a hot button issue 500 years ago. It’s unlikely to be again in quite the same way, even though the debates were fiercely fought over issues of transubstantiation, real presence or (in Zwingli’s case) a real absence. The question all revolved around the extent to which God was actually present in the breaking of bread and sharing of wine at Communion

Things have moved on – some of the concerns may matter still, but as Tom Wright so pithily put it (when speaking about hermeneutics and the New Perspective on Paul):

the trick is to recover the first-century questions and try to give twenty-first century answers, rather than taking sixteenth-century questions and giving nineteenth-century answers…

And the twenty-first century has certainly thrown up some new conundra to get our heads around – things that the likes of Calvin and Luther could never have anticipated. For it seems that a Methodist minister, Tim Ross, has started tweeting the Communion service. This was his explanation:

Twitter offers unique possibilities for communication for the Church. It’s a community that’s as real and tangible as any local neighbourhood and we should be looking to minister to it… The perception of church is often that it is rusting away in antiquated buildings and not in touch with the world around us, but this is a statement that we’re prepared to embrace the technological revolution.

Where he’s onto something…

Well, he’s right about perceptions and the unique communication possibilities that offered by new media. And I do believe embracing the technological revolution is important (as I said in my Digital life paper). For online, people can look for, find and make genuine, authentic connections with other people.  These are essential ingredients if any community is to grow and develop.

But that doesn’t mean that what is created by the likes of Twitter is necessarily ‘a community’ – not in the traditional understanding of the word, at any rate. A community is where we rub shoulders with one another, where we deal with our quirks and foibles, where personalities clash and where conflicts must be resolved somehow. Authentic community life is not a consumer’s paradise of pick and choose (and thus avoid what we don’t like), but a place where we are forced to face hard realities about ourselves as we learn other-person centredness.

Where he’s missed the point…

So Twitter might be a way of attracting people into a community, and it might conceivably be a means to deepening that community life; but it can never replace community life. Communion is one of the key, but not only, places where (if it is functioning as it should) community life is challenged to be Christ-centred, cross-centred, forgiveness-centred. That’s why ‘the peace’ (all too often, completely skimmed over) is so important, for example.

We are to forgive as we have been forgiven… And there is something important about the tangibility of the sacrament and the togetherness of a community service that no virtual reenactment (however real it might be in other senses) can ever convey. And it’s not because I’m going all anglo-catholic here. Far from it.

It’s just that I sense that (quite apart from what’s happening with the bread and wine) a communion without the real presence of the community is no communion at all.


As it’s Calvin’s birthday…

As it’s Jean Cauvin’s 500th birthday, here are a few links on the old chap:


What would JC say to DC?

No – that’s not what would Joan Collins say to David Cameron? Or Jim Carrey say to the Dixie Chicks? Or even (for that matter) John Coltrane to Don Carson?

It actually stands for WHAT WOULD JOHN CALVIN SAY TO DICK CHENEY? And is the subtitle to a fascinating article in this months’ Christianity Today. Check out Long Live the Law by David Neff. Calvin yet again gets at things in a way that both subverts his detractors and impresses his fans. He really did seem to know what he was talking about. Which is more than can often be said of the former Veep it seems.