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Posts from the ‘European Leadership Forum’ Category


A Song for Norway – a Czech protest song & the redemptive power of suffering

The news from Norway has defied words. Senseless, mindless, pointless; it is cruel, irrational evil. And supposedly in the name of Christ. Sickening.

I always resist to tweet or post about every event or topical twist and turn. I’m just not that kind of blogger, I guess. Read more »


First things first … and last – scripture’s authority and all that

Some time back, I was asked by the guys at ELF to write a brief paper on the continued relevance of scriptural authority for these crazy days. So here it is – now available on Theology Network, where it can be downloaded as a pdf.


A Czech protest song: the redemptive power of suffering

Yesterday, I left Hungary having had a great time at the ELF in Eger. So encouraging – and quite apart from the excitements of seeing folk on our network again and being involved in teaching, I was able to have some very encouraging conversations with folks from Austria, Greece, Macedonia and Bulgaria in particular. Things are really developing fast in some of those places for our work.

But am now in the Czech Republic for a few days, to do a weekend for the International Church of Prague. Had a couple of hours this morning to wander around with Simon, one of my hosts. So good to be back here. Prague is one of my favourite places on earth. Simon has been here for 18 months or so and had not yet had the chance to visit the Museum of Communism and so off we went this morning. It’s quite small – essentially a converted flat in the centre of town – but as well as tracing the history of the country during the 20th century, it manages to convey something of the atmosphere of fear and oppression. Unusually, one is allowed to take photos, so I took a few.

In one room was a looped video narrating the story of communism and in particular the protests against it. Both of us were blown away by a song that accompanied footage of police beating up peaceful protesters in Wenceslas Square in 1989 (during the months leading up to the regime’s fall). When we got home, Simon discovered that it was written by one Karel Kryl, who had lived in exile for much of the time, but wrote  string of folk songs about his homeland. Very sadly, he died only a few years after the Velvet Revolution.

The song is simply called THANKS – and is full of profoundly Christian imagery – and speaks of the extraordinary ability of people standing up for truth and justice to endure suffering and even to find redemption through it.

Karel Kryl – Thanks
Lyrics – translation taken from this fan site

God created, created a branch
So as I could make wreaths
Thanks, Thanks for the pain
That teaches me to question
Thanks, Thanks for the failure
That teaches me to work harder
So that I could bring a gift
Despite my weakness
Thanks, thanks, thanks Thanks

Thanks for the weakness
That teaches me to be humble
To be humble with joy
To be humble without any bondage
Thanks, Thanks for tears
That teach me to be sensitive
To be sensitive for those who suffer
Who suffer and cry out for mercy
Thanks, thanks, thanks

Thanks for the desire for beauty
That gives me something to long for
Thanks for the fact
That love combats spite
For the sweetness
Sweetness of falling asleep
Thanks for the feeling of tiredness
For blazing of fire
For rushing of rivers

Thanks for the thirst
That was revealed by my weakness
Thanks for the torment
That inspires good deeds.
For the fact
That I love
Although my heart is constricted by anxiety
Lamb, Thank you
You did not die in vain.
Thanks, thanks, thanks

Very powerful – not least because of the images juxtaposed with it in the museum.

Still, I couldn’t help wondering, as we left the museum, what would have happened had the Cold War ended very differently? What if it had been the West that collapsed? What would a Museum of Capitalism then have looked like?

While I definitely prefer to live in a democratic and capitalist society (no surprises there), and think there are certain aspects of it that are clearly better than communism, it is by no stretch of the imagination perfect – not least because it is equally constructed on the flimsy, flawed foundations of modernity.  I fear there would easily be enough material to prove capitalist complicity in iniquity…


Donna Tartt and Douglas Coupland on why we tell stories

In recent months, I’ve been working on the novels of Douglas Coupland, (an author I return to again and again), for a talk i’m giving at the ELF next week. In particular, I’ve found Andrew Tate’s book on his work exceptionally helpful. It’s packed with great insights and help. But the very last paragraph of the whole book has been buzzing round my mind since I read it.

Donna Tartt, author of The Secret History (1992) and The Little Friend (2002), a writer who, like Coupland, emerged in the early 1990s, has argued that a good novel

‘enables non-believers to participate in a world-view that religious people take for granted: life as a vast polyphonous web of interconnections, predestined meetings, fortuitous chances and accidents, all governed by a unifying if unforeseen plan.’

For Douglas Coupland, a writer who is open about his sympathies to a theistic perspective, but who is also clear that he cannot ‘join the revival tent’, fiction has become such a space of religious possibility. The uncertainties of the postmodern world have inspired him to negotiate the possibilities of finding truth, rather than that to reject it as an obsolete quest. For Kevin Vanhoozer, ‘[p]ostmodernity has opened up breathing space once again to consider what is ‘other’ to our theories. In this case, ‘the other’ is the return of a reinvigorated and – to many raised in a secular-materialist environent – deeply troubling theological vocabulary. Indeed the moral project of Coupland’s fiction might best be described by the hope of one of his characters in Life After God:

‘You know – I’m trying to escape from ironic hell; cynicism into faith; randomness into clarity worry into devotion’.

Andrew Tate, DOUGLAS COUPLAND (Contemp. American and Canadian Novelists), MUP, 2007, p157


U2: Stadium Psalmists & Prophets write up

For some reason, the Theology Network gang wanted me to write up my ELF talk on U2 for their site. So I obliged. It was actually quite a good discipline for me, because it meant that I had to revisit and hone it a bit. You can download the pdf direct from their site below.

U2 Theol Network


Preaching silhouettes – Lennox and Simeon!

Yes I was paying attention – but i couldn’t resist pulling out my iPhone during one of the morning talks at the ELF last week when I spotted the silhouette that the great John Lennox cast on the wall while he was preaching. It reminded me of the even greater regency era preacher in Cambridge, Charles Simeon. The latter was famously depicted in a series of silhouettes by the artist Augustin Edouard.
Charles Simeon John Lennox preaching

In case you’re wondering, the Simeon collage is scanned from my copy of Handley Moule’s recently republished Biography of Charles Simeon. Definitely worth a read.


The roots of faithlessness: Pablo Martinez at the ELF

I’m back at the ELF (click tag for more info below about previous visits) which is fun – lovely to see old friends and catch up. But have been musing a lot today on some of the things Pablo Martinez was talking about in his plenary session last night. For those who’ve not encountered him, he’s a Spanish Psychiatrist who’s been involved in Christian ministry for years, especially amongst university students. He’s written a number of really helpful books.

He was addressing the issue of why trust has broken down particularly in personal relationships and beyond. What are the roots of the prevalent faithlessness that is seen in the west? For clearly the days when a person’s word was his/her bond have gone.

He had a really helpful diagram which i’ve recreated here – i think it is really insightful and so thought it worth sharing. I hope he doesn’t mind! The core reason why people don’t keep their word or stick with promises they’ve made (e.g. to a spouse) is because overriding commitments take over. It often boils down to rights – these 3 overlap of course but it is helpful to delineate them. He cited a Spanish tv series which is called (I think) Unfaithfulness – and it has a strapline on the lines of ‘in order to be faithful to yourself, you sometimes have to be unfaithful to others’.

Martinez - Faithlessness


ELF Reflections published

Well, it’s been a frantically busy week with just LOTS to blog about (yippee!). So there’ll be a few things over the next few days (hurrah!). Watch this space.

But after getting back from the European Leadership Forum, I was asked to write a review of the whole thing – and lo, and behold, i find that it makes front-page news in EN. They also decided to put my ugly mug on the front (not thinking that sales would be drastically affected by this). But here it is in all its glory. A few things were cut inevitably, and the headline wasn’t mine but hey, that’s the nature of journalism.

Here is the concluding paragraph for those who can’t be bothered to read the whole thing (as if…):

It is almost 20 years since the Berlin Wall fell. The Eastern bloc looks to Brussels more than Moscow now, and the influence of American popular culture appears unabated. Couple that with profound scepticism about authority and truth, we Western Europeans find ourselves sharing, with our Eastern cousins, the challenges of a pan-European postmodern culture (despite, or even because of, our wide diversity). We will increasingly need one another. The ELF is, therefore, a hugely strategic meeting place.

To get a text version click here; to get a jpg of the whole thing click here.


ELF08 – some apologetic reflections: clearing the static and sharpening our vocabulary

I’ve never studied apologetics properly. We don’t really seem to do that in the UK, unfortunately, unlike our American cousins. So I suppose that it has been more like a hobby, or rather, more an enthusiasm, than anything else. So to have a week at the ELF where apologetics has been central has been very refreshing (after all, it started out small as an apologetics conference, and has only since grown to include a whole range of other networks). There is a lot to learn. But I wonder whether we constantly need to re-evaluate and clarify how we understand its purpose because many of my friends are sceptical (if not downright hostile) about the importance of an apologetic approach. If you like this pic, there are plenty more where this came from – check out these fantastic ‘po-motivators’ from the folks at TeamPyro!

A caricature of the old way

I suppose in the old, more modernist days, there was a confidence that we could reason people into belief. It is a caricature, of course, but the idea was that one could wheel out the evidence for the resurrection, say, and thus crank the intellectual handle of reason… and hey presto, out would pop a convert. Nice and neat – and the preparation for such a result was merely down to learning the right script. But it is a woefully inadequate view and one which is doomed to disappointment. For a start, people are far more than their reason (we’re a complex web of body and soul, mind and emotions, experience and presuppositions etc etc) – so for instance, someone asking penetrating questions about God and human suffering, may not be after intellectual answers so much as emotional assurance and comfort. What’s more, it entirely omits the assertion that spiritual blindness and confusion ultimately require spiritual solutions – it is the Spirit alone that can open blind eyes.

Persuasive not unpersuasive – obviously!

I didn’t hear the seminars in which this helpful observation/distinction was made, but a number of people talked about it – the idea is not so much that apologetics will convert people by itself, but it will make our explanation of the Christian message more persuasive, rather than less (which is frankly the problem with a lot of presentations that do without the approach). But there is a danger of going too far with this fascination (isn’t there with everything?). Apologetics without gospel content or goals is merely an intellectual, philosophical game, played, from time to time, in the sandpit of people’s worldviews and assumptions. Anyone can play it, and it can become an absorbing and fascinating means by which to avoid having to get to some of the points of the Christian message. Of course, this too is grossly unfair and caricatured. But I do remember meeting a group of believers who were very well-versed in postmodernism… but who struggled to give a clear explanation of who Jesus is and why he matters. I’m not saying this was the problem at the ELF, but it is a potential problem with apologists’ acolytes. And i think that this is one thing that puts a lot of Christians off the whole business – this i think is in part behind the rallying cry for people “to preach the simple old, old story”.

Another angle – which perhaps gets us to the same point in the end…

So how do we convince such Christian of the importance of thinking through our apologetics, without them falling into various modernist or selling-out traps? Well, I just wonder whether or not we simply need to remind ourselves what working in a cross-cultural context is like, where learning to communicate is the essence. Having spent a number of years working in East Africa, this came as second nature – simply because as white Brits, we looked, sounded, thought and acted differently. It was immediately obvious that we didn’t quite fit or belong, and so we had to make every effort to understand and be understood. Being a clear ethnic minority was a healthy experience from that point of view. That’s not rocket science (grghh, cliché alert!).

Our problem is that we prematurely presume this is unnecessary when we’re at home. We might have lived in the same town or region all our lives – but if we’re Christian, there is inevitably going to be a fundamental difference in worldviews between us and our neighbours (whether they be Islamic, secular, postmodernist new age, Buddhist, or plain old materialist). The result is that we will find it hard to be understood, or to understand what lies behind their objections. I often discuss this when teaching study days on postmodernism and use this table to illustrate. On the left, what we think we’re doing; on the right, what we’re heard/seen to be doing:

It is important to stress here that the objections people have to Christianity (and Christians in particular) are not always groundless – for many Christians ARE intolerant, self-righteous or hateful! But the problem is that these days, orthodox Christianity has become regarded as NECESSARILY intolerant etc, even if those who espouse it have the graciousness of a saint. So what do we do?

Tuning out the static, learning the vocabulary

This miscommunication seems to me to be a bit like the static on an old radio – we tune the dial to improve the signal but find that every now and then we still lose some of the important words. It seems to me that proclamation without apologetics is like that.

The broadcaster back in BBC-Radio4-land is speaking with crystal clarity but by the time his or her pearls of wisdom have reached me, I’m only getting half of it, which results in me sometimes missing the point completely. So to stretch the analogy beyond its logical bounds, if I am the broadcaster, i need to do what I can to remove the static as I broadcast. I need to use vocabulary that doesn’t sell out but doesn’t unnecessarily offend or obscure. Of course the cross in the end will ALWAYS be a stumbling block (hence the need for spiritual sight) – but too often we lack persuasive power or clarity in our presentation simply because haven’t done our homework. We don’t know where people are coming from or why they say what they do, and so find ourselves needlessly making cultural howlers. We’ve allowed the static to muddy the waters.** And that, I’d say, is irresponsible.

So perhaps a lot of the heat would be taken out of the debate if we simply saw apologetics as the primary means to cross-cultural mission on our own patch. If it is a matter of using the right vocabulary, then it becomes clear why ALL proclaimers should be well-versed in it. Learning the language of the culture we’re working in, even if that is our own culture, is one of those completely obvious but frequently omitted foundations for all Christian ministry. What’s not to like?


**PS I’m a big fan of mixing metaphors, in case you’ve never previously noticed – i think that objecting to them is pure intellectual snobbery. Surely mixed metaphors form the fount of poetry.


ELF08 – the wariness of a post-communist mindset

During the plenary on the last night, one of the Hungarian delegates was interviewed (I think his name was Tom, but can’t be 100% sure – I’m very sorry if you’re reading this, ‘Tom’ – if you are, perhaps you can put me straight!!). He has been coming to the ELF for 5 years, but had been very discouraged by the consistently low turnout of fellow-Hungarians in previous years – until 2008, that is. This year we had a bumper crop, so at last the word really seems to be getting out. Part of the interview focused on why Hungarians had not signed up before, despite the fact that the ELF is now always held on home turf. His responses were fascinating:

  • One hurdle for Hungarians was the name itself – being called the European Leadership Forum made it sound like something far too big, remote and removed, not something that could connect locally. People have experienced first-hand what it is like for a nation to be swallowed up by a system that dwarfs them – so they are understandably nervous of anything that smacks of that. This is a real shame because the ELF, in contrast to many pan-European events, is acutely conscious of the need to serve the local, catering for cultural specifics despite the wide diversity. Once people cross that perception barrier, they discover the forum’s genius – that it really is about sharing international (and even global) resources locally. My guess is that this is a fear that many of us can relate to, though – especially amongst the more naturally Eurosceptic Brits. But it all just shows that when something big has the heart of serving and not controlling the local, it can be brilliant.**
  • The other point Tom made was very helpful. The ELF is incredibly well-run. An army of American volunteers pay for themselves to come and then work their socks off to ensure everything runs like clockwork. Fiendishly complex logistics are involved to make sure that the vast number of lectures and seminars are all coordinated, resourced and recorded (NB click on the ELF Resources button on the right for an archive of previous material). Unsurprisingly, a highly-organised administrative system is absolutely necessary. But this is highly intimidating to those who have experienced years of centralized state control systems in the former Communist bloc. They are immediately suspicious and wary – so much so that even the details required in the booking process can be enough to put them off. Again, once they come and experience the nature of the forum, it is immediately obvious why these are all necessary. But isn’t interesting how sometimes the very hallmark of an event that makes it work so well can become the stumbling block for people being able to appreciate it. There’s a sermon in there somewhere…

Tom was clear that he was not making a criticism of the ELF as such – it merely illustrates yet again how fraught working in cultures with very different historical inheritances can be. Hats off to him for being willing to be so open and clear – especially because it helped us all from the Western side of Europe to understand something of what they have to battle with.


** Incidentally, there was a classic moment earlier on in the week, on the day after the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest. Stefan (a Swedish leader on the ELF steering group) was giving out the notices and had the privileged opportunity to announce the Eurovision results (which most will have missed as a result of living in our conference bubble). Unfortunately he didn’t have time to read out the whole list (so he claimed), but he did have time to announce the rank of the country with most ELF delegates present. There had been 25 entries in this year’s Eurovision finals. Because the UK had the highest numbers of ELF delegates, Stefan proudly announced that the UK had come 25th. AWESOME. Cheers and whoops of joy spread through this pan-European gathering, to congratulate the UK on this incomparable achievement. Oh, how we all swelled with pride.


ELF08 – the marks of Christian community: some Colossians gems from Lindsay Brown

My heart slightly sank when I noticed that Lindsay Brown’s morning expositions were going to be on Colossians. This was certainly not because Lindsay was doing it (!) but because I have been teaching through Colossians on the Bible Teachers’ Network and I was anxious about people getting Colossians overload. Instead, it has been very helpful for us all and complemented well. Over the course of the week, he has come out with some great lines and gems, as he has picked truths out from the text.

In particular, I’ve been struck by the points he has been making about how we form Christian community, and especially the differences these communities can (and should) make for members and non-members alike. This is so vital for a European individualistic culture which barely values society beyond its utilitarian personal advantages. And Colossians has MUCH to say to challenge this. Here are a number of illustrations and remarks from Lindsay’s 4 talks:

In Zimbabwe, during the bloody civil war on racial grounds during the 70s, that troubled country seemed as divided and traumatized as it is now. And race was the heart of the problem. And the University of Harare (or Salisbury as it then was) was as riven as the rest of the country – particularly vividly illustrated by standard operating procedure in the uni canteen. Whites on one side, blacks on the other. Except, that is, for the Christians. They were an integrated group – and deliberately sat together on tables right in the middle of the dining hall. During the first course, the white Christians got up and fetched the food and then served it to their black brothers and sisters; then for pudding, the blacks the same, serving their white brothers and sisters. And the effect on the rest of the university, without a single word of explanation or proclamation, was scandalously but marvelously electrifying. For it was clear to all that they were ONE body, united and mutually serving.

John Stott: We are to be morally distinct but not socially segregated… We should avoid “rabbit-hole Christianity”. We pop out of our holes into the world, but as soon we encounter something evil or corrupting, we rush back into our holes.

When things got really bad in Burundi around the time of the genocide in the early 90s, Tutsis were of course fleeing for their lives. The Chancellor of Bujumbura University made this extraordinary remark, despite the fact that he did not profess to be Christian. He announced: ‘Our culture is disintegrating. There are 3 groups of people on this campus: Hutus, Tutsis and Christians. They are the only ones who look beyond our differences and make a difference.

Meanwhile, in Rwanda, all the leaders and graduates of the national Christian student movement were killed – with only one exception. Only one staffworker was left. Lindsay was there a year later and as well as the appalling shock and agony of what had happened, the obvious question was why had they been picked on specifically. It transpired that the week before the genocide broke out (but when the storm clouds were gathering) Hutus & Tutsis met publicly on campus together, holding hands and singing songs together – “we are one in Christ, one in the Spirit”. And for that they died.

Another key theme has been the need to cultivate an attitude of constant thankfulness. Not least because this challenges our independent-mindedness. Hence this challenging line from the great Schaeffer:

Francis Schaeffer: The first sign of backsliding is lack of thankfulness (cf Col 3:15)

But the most important thing is how all-embracing our discipleship should be (I guess that is one of the ELF’s constants). There were various illustrations of this:

Lindsay remarked to the 25-yr old son of a key European Christian leader that it was interesting how few sons of great leaders became leaders themselves. The response was very helpful indeed: ‘Why should they? Leadership is a gift of God – and not everyone has that gift. As long as they are trusting in Christ, they are complete in Christ, and as long as they are exercising whatever their gifts have for him, that is ok.” Spot on.

Sir Fred Catherwood (former VP of the European Parliament): To try to improve society is not worldliness but love. To wash your hands of society is not love but worldliness.

But with so many people at the forum from the former Eastern Bloc / Communist countries, the challenges of living in a corrupt society are daily reality. But even if we don’t all find ourselves facing that directly, we all increasingly find ourselves surrounded by hostility. So how do we handle this? Well, here are some helpful principles for those seeking to make their stand in all walks of public life (whether commercial, political or artistic). These are loosely based on the life and witness of the prophet Daniel in Babylon:

  • Set clear ethical standards from the start
  • Develop a support group (of people who understand the challenges of your workplace or context) – John Wesley: The bible knows nothing of solitary discipleship
  • Consider the cost of compromise (so you know what you lose if you do)
  • Be prepared for sacrifice – the Lord doesn’t often deliver immediately – and sometimes the sacrifices last until the day we breathe our last. Our call is to fidelity.

ELF08 – Integrations and ‘Coincidences’

One of the things I love about the ELF is that it is so all-encompassing in its scope – so concerned for the whole of life – in a way that is only right if we have an understanding of God as our Creator and therefore Lord of All. This is of course the result of (for one thing) the influence of Francis Schaeffer and L’Abri. This is why there are so many different networks here (ranging from Apologetics, Bible Teachers (our one) & Disciplers to Politics, Scientists and those in the Arts). We are interested in everything here because everything is interesting, because everything in all the world derives from, and should be offered to, God.

So last night an integral part of the programme was the first ever ELF Culture night. My initial reaction was to groan at the thought of every nationality providing some sort of national/cultural “entertainment” complete with stereotypical lederhosen, Russian dolls and Camembert. Fortunately, it was nothing of the sort. On offer were 5 different acts, repeated in succession 3 times, so that we could go to 3 different ones – Jazz & Poetry, two singers, sculptors etc etc.

Thought-provoking Thought

Bill Edgar, a jazz pianist and professor at Westminster in Philadelphia, said something fascinating before the session, which some have perhaps heard put like this before, but I’d not:

We don’t want to be ‘soul-only Christians’, no more than we want to be ‘body-only Christians’. We are integrated creatures of God and so he is interested in every aspect of our lives. For:

  • What is a soul without a body? A ghost.
  • What is a body without a soul? A corpse.

But together, body and soul (a great jazz standard!) we are called to live and bring glory to God our Creator and Redeemer.

Nice. We then took the children to the Jazz & Poetry session which we all loved. But the most extraordinary thing about it was one of the performers – a Frenchman by the name of Olivier.

Our ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ moment

Rachel recognised his surname from the evening’s programme – and the fact that he is based in Marseilles. For the south French coast is where her grandmother was from – they were that very rare thing, a French Protestant family (although their roots were originally Italian). One of my minor obsessions has recently been that cliche thing, working out our family tree. So we looked Olivier up on my computer – and found one. So i had the joy of going up to him with these great words: “Excuse me, we’ve not met. But I’m Mark – and I know that this is a really weird question, but was your grandfather called Claude?”

And he was – which means that Olivier is Rachel’s second cousin – sharing the same great grandfather. How cool is that?! A French Christian cousin! The children were thrilled, as were we. And so, I hope is he…! And what is also extraordinary is that he is involved in the arts – as is Rachel’s mother (Olivier’s father’s 1st cousin). So there are both biological and spiritual genes in common.

I don’t know what it is about coming to Hungary that has this effect. But last year’s ELF saw me meeting an old University friend, whom I’d not seen for ages, in the baggage reclaim at Budapest airport – we’ve since met up a few times. And then there’s another one. On Friday, literally minutes before leaving home for the airport to come here, I got a phone call from another old Uni friend, John (whom I’d not seen for 15 years). He travels for work all around Europe and was ringing because he’s passing thru London soon. I couldn’t meet obviously, because of being here at the ELF. But then John said that his wife, Hilda, is Hungarian and that they actually live in Budapest despite his travels. What’s more, they have a country cottage only 20km from Eger AND they have children exactly the same ages as ours. So on Sunday, we all met up for lunch and had a great catch up. Hopefully, we’ll see more of each other in the future

All in all – this is proving both to be a place of great intellectual and spiritual stimulation – as well as the means to making extraordinary contacts and reconnecting with olod friends – both within and beyond the network.


ELF08 – The Dawkins-Lennox Debate Revisited

Once again, John Lennox has been present at the ELF – and he has been talking about (and showing a video of) the debate he had last October with Richard Dawkins in Birmingham, Alabama (see Quaerentia passim – but esp here) – what was interesting was that the format was agreed by both men – but the frustration they both felt with it was caused by the fact that the radio broadcasters were pressurizing them time-wise. That certainly explains the sense of it being truncated at the end.

  • Watch the whole debate online in low-res video – – you can also buy CDs and DVDs of the debate
  • Despite the fact Richard Dawkins & John Lennox have both worked in Oxford for years, they had never met before. But since the debate, they have seemed happy to work together again. So they have met subsequently and recorded an hour-long follow-up conversation. This will soon be broadcast on the radio and then available on the internet. Watch this space – as soon as i know, I’ll post a link.
  • Then this coming October 16th, they will meet in Oxford – on one night the film of the debate will be shown, and then the next night, the two will meet in Oxford’s Universe Museum of Natural History to discuss and debate further. This is quite a deliberate and poignant move – for this was the location for the famous 1860 evolution debate between ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’ Thomas Huxley and the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce. Again, no doubt this will be broadcast and available. Watch this space.


  • In August this year, at the Edinburgh Literary Festival, John will be debating Christopher Hitchens on something on the lines of “The New Europe is better off with the New Atheism”.

ELF08 – Day 1 – curiosities and provocations

Well, we made it – all 4 of us – to Eger in Hungary, for this year’s European Leadership Forum. See last year’s posts for more info. Am here again to run the Bible Teachers’ Network, as part of my role working for Langham Partnership. But because this year it is taking place during the children’s half term, we decided to come as a family. So it makes a nice change to be off on a Langham jolly without having to leave the others languishing at home. This year sees a record number of attenders from across Europe – over 400 delegates from over 30 countries. That is hugely stimulating. But also, there is a range of fascinating speakers and lecturers here – including Wayne Grudem, John Lennox, Richard Winter, Pete Williams, Ranald Macaulay, folks from Ravi Zacharias Trust, IFES movements across Europe, L’Abri teams etc. Quite an amazing combination. The only real disappointment (not least for me because they were both due to speak on my network) was that Os Guinness and Richard Cunningham have not been able to make it this year – which is very sad for us.

Curiosity of the Day

Eger is a wonderfully beautiful city (as the view (above) taken from the children’s room shows – with Eger town centre and castle in the background). And it is a joy to be here with great weather and lovely people. The only drawback so far has been the lack of drawable curtains. See right for the full extent of the curtains’ drawability – not ideal when the sun rises around 5 and not quite sure what their point is. Ho hum – but that complaint is completely minor.

Foreign English Quote of the Day

We are so spoiled as native English speakers – spoiled rotten. We go round the world and simply expect and assume people to understand our gabbling. What absurd arrogance and complacency! Still, this doesn’t mean that foreign attempts to post instructions in official English always work – there can be hilarious linguistic accidents. Thankfully for the family, the conference hotel has a swimming pool. So here are a couple of quotes from the swimming pool signs:

  • The usage of the towel on the sauna’s desk and the showering before the usage of the sauna is binding.
  • Fordouching and leg washing are binding before bathing.

Well, there you are – now you know.

Thought-provoking thought

The first night’s plenary was given by Martin Haizmann, who is the European Regional Secretary for IFES and who lives in Germany. He was able to give a very helpful overview of the state of things Christian around Europe. And of course, a phrase that often springs to mind when thinking and speaking of the scene is that it is hard soil. We are often reminded that we live in a post-Christian society, riddled with the assumptions of the enlightenment but at the same time, doubting the optimism those assumptions bring. But there is something we must remember as well, something that an old pastor passed onto Martin when he first started out in ministry.

The hardest soil is not to be found in the harvest field before us, but in our very own hard hearts. Remember God had a harder job getting Jonah to Nineveh than he did getting Nineveh to repent.


A European Vision – Leaders for the future

img_7496.jpg What an amazing conference last week in Eger, Hungary – The European Leadership Forum. It was the brainchild of a handful of Christian leaders 6 or 7 years ago and has developed into quite a movement. Around 300 people gathered from across the continent, all committed to Christian ministry in all its forms – meeting in various ‘networks’ for all kinds of walks of life: Apologetics, Politics, Counselling, Pastors, Scientists, Artists etc etc. This was the little group of Pastors (we definitely need to do better at recruitment next year) that we met with (ie Jonathan Lamb and me, operating the Pastors network as reps of Langham Partnership). Despite our small size, we had a great time and a remarkable spread of guys: Switzerland, Latvia, Norway, Serbia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Spain and Sweden: 4 from the ‘east’, 4 from the ‘west’.

But the vision of the conference goes far beyond the actual annual gathering in Hungary. The idea is to help people to meet others in similar fields from across the continent, and thereby share ideas, mutual encouragement and resources. img_7488.jpgThis creates real synergy (one of steering committee member Richard Cunningham’s FAVOURITE words). A brilliant example is the website – which contains a HUGE resource in itself – many of the talks and lectures from the last few years are online and free to download: ELF Resources. You can get a sense of the diversity of interests and thought just by looking at the Topics list. 2007 talks will be added soon. The key in all this is to help people gain confidence in the fact that we can have sensible things to say as Christians about anything and everything. This is not to say that Christians always do have sensible things to say about anything and everything. In fact more often than not, i find myself cringing when we Christians try to say things for they are far from sensible. [NB I’m certainly not claiming for myself perfect sensibility, let alone sense] So anyway, Jonathan & I were there to help a little in thinking about preaching, not just sensibly, but faithfully, clearly and relevantly, not as experts, but as fellow travellers. We had a laugh and got a lot out of the week, even if the guys didn’t much!


Ottoman Hungary – Eger & Islam


I’m really not in a position to comment authoritatively because of my extreme ignorance about central European history. But am in the city of Eger in Hungary for the European Leaders Forum – a fantastic event, on which more in a future post – and have had the chance to wander around this wonderful Baroque city a bit. The period for which this city is perhaps most renowned in Hungarian minds is the Ottoman occupation in the second half of the sixteenth century. Suleiman the Magnificent (right) had started his expansion into Europe in 1520 and by 1552 was knocking on Eger’s door. The story of the courageous resistance that his forces met at Eger has passed into legend – with the Hungarian Istvan Dobo holding out for 39 days of bloody and terrifying fighting – culminating in a full Turkish withdrawal.

However in 1596, under the decidedly unpleasant Sultan Mehmed III, the city finally fell to the Turks and this resulted in nearly 80 years of Turkish rule. So every now and then, in this impressively Baroque and extravagantly Roman Catholic city, you turn a corner to find a relic of its Muslim past.eger minaret The famous Minaret (left) is the tallest in Hungary and the northern-most in Europe. It looks precarious and unsteady – despite the fact that it is 400 years old and tourists can still climb its 97 steps. But it stands as a helpful reminder of the shifting sands of European history – and the simple fact that political power imposes worldview changes as much as (if not more so) than simply following the winds of shifting worldviews. 20th century history is a sufficient evidence of that – with the drastic and often violent impositions of Fascism, Nazism, Communism and (dare I say it) Capitalism. Of course, before that Christianity itself was all too often imposed by force, so Christians can’t exactly throw stones on that front.

But i have to say that there is a fundamental difference between the means by which Christian growth is mandated in the New Testament and the foundations of Islam. For it would be impossible to justify any notion of forced conversions from the New Testament (eg Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 is radical in his denunciation of any form of deception, coercion or dishonesty in preaching). Whereas early Islamic growth was brought about by Muhammad leading an overpowering military force on the resistant city of Mecca. It is totally inconceivable that Jesus would ever even have considered such a tactic.

The thing is there are secularist forces at work challenging both Islam’s and Christianity’s right even to exist and speak in Europe. They are following the same old pattern – with a significant number using political means to impose (ironic, isn’t it?!) libertarian ideology. This is frightening – but not in the end surprising, nor omnipotent (as the fluidity of European history illustrates). But it presents Christians with a huge challenge. We must hold our nerve and resolutely follow Paul’s example today and avoid responding in kind (despite so many media distortions, untruths and misrepresentations of Christians). As we find ourselves increasingly marginalised in Europe – we MUST avoid any underhand, deceptive or coercive means by which to present to cause of Christ. More on this to come!