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Rico Tice, John Stott & Paradoxology

I have been really encouraged by the breadth of support that my new book Paradoxology has been getting.
Too often in our tribalised evangelical world books end up connecting only with a certain church group.
I would love to see the different streams and tribes of the church working closely together as we have so much to learn from one another. So it was encouraging to me that some of my more conservative friends have been enthusiastic about Paradoxology.

Rico Tice the founder and creator of Christianity Explored wrote the following about the Paradoxology mini movie.

As I saw the little video by Krish Kandiah on ‘Paradoxology’ advertising his new book, I did think that John Stott would be pleased. He was so passionate about the fact that Christian maturity meant holding great truths in tension. Again and again he’d say, May I make a plea for Biblically-balanced thinking.

As some of you will know John Stott is for me; as for so many people, a personal hero. So to have him mentioned even in the same sentence as something I have written is a great honour indeed.

It was also encouraging to get such a nice commendation from Adrian Reynolds the director of the Proclamation Trust, who said:

“Paradox is at the heart of the Christian faith. After all, we worship a wonderful God who is Three-in-One. In his characteristically engaging way, Krish shows us how the paradoxes of faith are not to be feared or reasoned away but believed and actively treasured.”

You can watch the film here.

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5 Things I enjoyed about Word Alive

Its been a while since i have been to Word Alive so it was a pleasure to drive up to North Wales to take part in this year’s event.

1. Opportunity to hang out with three Nigerian Bishops

The highlight of my week at Word Alive was an evening laughing and swapping stories with three Nigerian Bishops. Each one of them doing Stirling work in a country which has some 20 million Anglicans. They shared frustrations with me about the level of wealth in some Nigerian churches and church planting which effectively took Christians from one church to another rather than saw new converts. They lamented the fact that much of this was focussed on the middle class affluent areas rather than pioneer work in the unevangelised parts of the country. I lamented we have a very similar set of problems here. There were many laughs together especially as they laid down the challenge that Nigerian food is spicier than Indian food – I need a way to see if this is possibly true. Any ideas anyone?

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2. Meeting up with so many old friends

I worked for five years post graduation with UCCF and IFES and many of my old team mates and colleagues were around at Word Alive so it was great to see them again. We all look quite a bit older and hopefully we are all a bit wiser and humbler than the old days. It is a great thing to see friends going on with God.

3. Commitment to evangelism

Evangelism is a central passion of the Word Alive team. So it was encouraging to hear Ray Evans talk about the need for churches to break down the social barriers that divide the middle classes from the working classes. I bumped into two old friends who were both independently doing graduate level research into the challenge of class for evangelism for conservative evangelicals. ( Jo McKenzie and Peter Dray).

4. Interesting Seminar Programme

Loved that there was a seminar stream on social media, another one on photography and ofcourse Baroness Cox  running a series on justice. It was a real treat to see Rebecca Manley Pippert still as enthusiastic and infectiously energetic about evangelism as ever. If you only buy one book on personal evangelism “Out of the Saltshaker” is still the one to get.  The variety of the seminars was very impressive.

5. Openness to Home for Good

We were delighted by the opportunity to present about Home for Good briefly on the main stage and to be able to run a seminar. We saw hundreds of people come over the two weeks. It was amazing to meet adoptors and foster carers from across the UK and so many people interested in exploring it further.

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How do you know if you have a problem with social media?

I am running a seminar at Word Alive with the subject:
Digital Discipleship : serving Christ on Social Media. Here’s the blurb for the seminar:

Discover the opportunities that Facebook and Twitter bring for mission and discipleship. Start the conversation early by following @krishk and tweeting a question using #Socialdisciple

As I was preparing the seminar this week, I came across these images of poor old Ella Birchenough from Dover who dropped her Blackberry down a drain and then removed the drain cover and jumped inside to try and retrieve her phone. Sadly she got stuck and the fire brigade had to come and rescue her.  Its a mini parable of our times and that is why the story with its powerful imagery travelled around the world.

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We recognise that our digital devices are invaluable to our lives but at what cost? I’m no luddite and see huge opportunities for technology for social and spiritual good, but I recognise that one of my blindspots is knowing when my technology use good be addictive behaviour. I am quite likely to have jumped in after my phone just like Ella did.

So how can you tell if you have a problem with social media ? How can you tell if enough is (birch)enough – if you will excuse the pun.

What say you friends? Suggestions please.

Photo credit. 

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5 reasons to cheer on Noah

1.  It’s an opportunity for conversation

Imagine the scene:

Friend ” I have been thinking a lot about God lately.”
You “Which god is that? Is it the God as revealed in the Bible?”
Friend “I’m not sure. I just can’t get the story of Noah out of my head.”
You “Well if your thinking doesn’t match that of Genesis 6:9 and the following verses then you have strayed from God’s revelation.”
Friend “Oh I thought you’d be happy I was thinking about God.”

When an Oscar nominated filmmaker decides to make a movie about a key biblical narrative you can either criticise him or start a conversation. I’m always of the mindset that a conversation is a great place to start. (Damaris have once again provided some great resources to help that conversation along).

2. It will help people engage with scripture

I spoke with a 14 year old English boy today and I asked him what he knew about the Noah story and  he told me nothing. I gave him a few hints…

- its a story that involves a lot of water …
- there’s a boat in it…
- animals…

I drew a complete blank. He had never heard of the story at all. With an increasingly biblically illiterate culture, having a mainstream film  engage with a major Bible story is a real opportunity to help a new generation engage with scripture.

3. Fresh riff on a biblical story

I have read a lot of people arguing that Noah is least biblical biblical film ever. Having seen the film I understand a little where they are coming from. Yes there are things in the film that are not in the Bible – for one thing Noah speaks; which he doesn’t do in the biblical narrative. If you are going to make a 2 hour hollywood movie about this story you are going to give your lead character something to say.

Aronofsky has made a film inspired by the Noah story. He has taken artistic license; just as every film adaptation of every piece of literature does he has introduced new elements and rearranged some parts of the story for dramatic effect.  My 15 year son and I read the whole story of Noah together before watching the film last night and it was great to have a discussion on the way home about which bits we thought were true to the text, which bits made us rethink how we had understood the story before and which bits we would like to politely disagree with Aronofksy’s interpretation. To be honest my son does (and should ask ) the same questions of the sermons he hears – even / especially my ones :)

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4. There are some profound theological questions being asked

If you can get past the Nephilim being portrayed as a cross between Bionicles and Transformers. If you can look beyond the weirdness about using a snake skin as a spiritual relic. If you can get over a slightly strange reliance on magic in the anti-dilluvian world. If you can get over the Abraham meets The Shining moments in the film then  I found some fascinating theological questions being asked by the film.

- What does it mean to be made in the image of God?

There’s an interesting conflict of interpretation coming from Noah verses Tubal Cain one arguing for a Green-stewardship model the other for a Wayne-Grudem-dominion model.

- How did Noah cope with the ethical dilemma of surviving a genocide?

- How do we reconcile a gracious and loving God with a God of Judgement? 

An area I devote a couple of chapters to in my new book Paradoxology- why christianity was never meant to be simple. Particularly the whole area of genocide and grace.

 5. There are moments of genius and beauty

There were some excellent parts of this film.

I loved the God’s eye view of the flood you are provided half way through the movie.

I loved the clever way Aronofsky allows the animals to co-exist on the ark.

I really enjoyed the retelling of the creation narrative in a way that would either get young and old earth creationists both cheering or booing.

The fall of humanity is told in a powerful way that helps us understand our current world situation.

Some of the special effects were brilliantly done.

When was the last time that you saw a major hollywood director face up to the judgement and grace of God in a $130 million budget movie?

Conclusion

Imagine if Jay Z did a remix of the Joshua Tree (which is one of my favourite albums of all time by the way). I would listen to that remix with some fear as for me there’s nothing anyone could add to Lanois and Eno’s production. But I would be excited that someone could help the album be heard by a new audience, I would be excited that someone valued the original so much they wanted to do an homage to it. I am sure bits of the album would be astounding and bits would be  things I was interested to hear the first time but wouldn’t want to listen to again. I guess coming out of watching Noah last night that is how I felt. I want to encourage everyone to go and see it and then check out the original in scripture.

Just this morning standing on the touchline watching my foster son play football Noah provided the opportunity for a conversation with another dad about the grace of God.  Noah provides  an amazing opportunity that is too good to miss.

Noah goes on general release on Thursday and is certificate 12a. It does have some disturbing scenes so this is definitely not a film for younger viewers.

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Unconscious Decoupling of Reality – Trouble in Paradise

Coldplay’s music has become the default soundtrack to much of my life.  Whether it’s the loop of music in my favourite coffee shop or the trailer for the latest BBC drama Chris Martin’s ethereal vocals and have become commonplace in our consciousness. The transcendent quality of Coldplay’s music has turned stadiums into sacred spaces and even train carriages into moments of quiet communion.  Many a morning my commute has been a commune with the delicate beauty of a Coldplay riff, I try to suppress the urge to proclaim out loud

“God put a Smile upon your Face…”

“See Jerusalem Bells are singing…”

“High up above or down below
When you’re too in love to let it go
But if you never try you’ll never know
Just what you’re worth

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you”

Once I  arrive at my local station Gwyneth Paltrow peers down at me from a billboard where she is non- ironically modelling perfume for me to buy. The  promise of associative advertising implying that we can somehow connect with Paltrow’s charmed life if we smell like her. She has become the icon of domestic tranquillity and perhaps we can commune with her if we buy the incense that Hugo Boss are selling. Paltrow once described Boss Jour as a “ quietly optimistic”  Fragrance. Paltrow offers hope to us mere mortals that we can achieve another level of existence if we heed her lifestyle instructions on Goop a cyber portal through which her wisdom is dispensed.  We can buy the vestments of our worship through its online store. We can commune with Paltrow at table too – there are meals we can consume together that will allow us through eating quinoa to achieve the heavenly body Paltrow models for us.

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Modern life is laced with new forms of worship. Gwyneth and Chris are just one denomination. Choose your own icon: Beyonce and Jayz,  Kanye West and Kim Kardashian and ofcourse Will and Kate. Paltrow, somehow more than Martin has been on the receiving end of a lot of hatred. Jealousy has always had its monstrous side yet envy is such a powerful marketing hook that celebrities willingly take the risk and revel in our covetous cooing but are shocked when it gives way to hate.

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As the news breaks about Paltrow and Martin’s decoupling no doubt some are enjoying the spectacle, enjoying the prospect of the poster couple for domestic bliss are experiencing the same woes as the rest of us. I don’t now want to be one of those people that have knives out.

But I do think it‘s worth pausing to think through the apologetic for why divorce is good that Paltrow has put on her website. Paltrow published a piece on Goop which describes her situation as a conscious decoupling. Now, divorce is a painful thing, Christianity describes marriage as becoming one flesh, so divorce is like trying to separate conjoined twins. Its painful, risky and no one leaves unscarred. Recognising the pain involved and we ofcourse don’t know and indeed shouldn’t know the full story. So I want to be clear that I am engaging with the ideas put forward in this piece not Martin and Paltrow’s decision to uncouple.

1.    Promises should have an expiry date

The following excerpt is from piece was written by “Dr. Habib Sadeghi & Dr. Sherry Sami on the Goop site:

For the vast majority of history, humans lived relatively short lives—and accordingly, they weren’t in relationships with the same person for 25 to 50 years. Modern society adheres to the concept that marriage should be lifelong; but when we’re living three lifetimes compared to early humans, perhaps we need to redefine the construct. Social research suggests that because we’re living so long, most people will have two or three significant long-term relationships in their lifetime.

It argued that because we are living so much longer the idea of “death till us part” is an unnecessary and unrealistic anachronism.

To put in plainly, as divorce rates indicate, human beings haven’t been able to fully adapt to our skyrocketing life expectancy.

This is not a great argument. I know how I feel when I have been promised a two year warranty for my phone only to find out that because of a technicality I am no longer eligible. We want to claim all the time we are promised in these circumstances. I watched A song for Marion recently which showed something very moving about a long lasting marriage. A friend of mine is a mother of four and her husband was in a catastrophic Rugby accident leaving him physically and mentally disabled. The vow she made to her husband was not rescinded by his age or his abilities. A promise is a promise.

2. True emotional maturity is independence

With an internal support structure, we can stand strong because our stability doesn’t depend on anything outside ourselves. …

There is a good point here. We need to examine the degree to which we find our identity and self-worth from being in a romantic relationship.  It’s an argument for not getting married too young. From a Christian perspective one’s primary identity is found in our relationship in Christ. We don’t want to be over reliant on others. But the idea that you could be wholly independent of others can’t be a healthy one for a parent, a friend or a for building healthy community.

It also seems to cut against the grain of the messaging behind Paltrow’s books and most of Cold Play’s songs.

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When we examine our intimate relationships from this perspective, we realize that they aren’t for finding static, lifelong bliss like we see in the movies. They’re for helping us evolve a psycho-spiritual spine, a divine endoskeleton made from conscious self-awareness so that we can evolve into a better life without recreating the same problems for ourselves again and again. When we learn to find our emotional and spiritual support from inside ourselves, nothing that changes our environment or relationships can unsettle us.

This sounds like a very instrumental view of relationships. We are the centre of the universe. Our relationships exists as a kind of scaffolding so we can achieve emotional maturity which leaves us in a kind of stoic isolationism.

The most respected leaders in history don’t measure up to emotional maturity on this scale. Nelson Mandella, Mother Theresa, William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale poured themselves into others and relied on their friendships and family members to do so. So I reject the premise that relationships are a beetle like exoskeleton we need to grow out of. Relationships are the stuff of life.

Anne Carter puts it well:

No matter how it is euphemistically defined, the stark sadness of divorce cannot be masked by redefining it as ‘conscious uncoupling’. In an attempt to downplay the reality of a family severed by broken relationship, this less offensive phrase has been very carefully chosen.  Ultimately, the children won’t be concerned by semantics. They will face the reality for what it is: their parents no longer love each other enough to live together anymore; their family unit has been broken

Lets hope for everyone’s sake that this redefinition of divorce doesn’t catch on. Let’s hope for Paltrow and Martin that there is  a way forward for their relationship.

 

 

Photo “Beetle” from Flickr.

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4 reflections on Driscoll

Regular readers will know that I have many questions about Mark Driscoll’s approach to leadershipI recently put out a tweet as a kind of peace offering. Encouraging Pastor Mark for committing to the steps as he “resets his life.”

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Pastor Mark had written a letter to Mars Hill stating:

To reset my life, I will not be on social media for at least the remainder of the year. The distractions it can cause for my family and our church family are not fruitful or helpful at this time. At the end of the year, I will consider if and when to reappear on social media, and I will seek the counsel of my pastors on this matter. In the meantime, Mars Hill and Resurgence will continue to post blogs, sermons, and podcasts on my social media accounts, but otherwise I’m going offline.

I will also be doing much less travel and speaking in the next season. In recent years, I have cut back significantly, but I will now cut back even more. I have cancelled some speaking events, and I am still determining the best course of action for a few that I’ve committed to, as they are evangelistic opportunities to invite people to salvation in Jesus Christ, which is something I care about deeply. I will be doing very few media interviews, if any. Also, I’m communicating with my publisher to determine how to meet my existing obligations and have a much less intense writing schedule.

I wanted to encourage these first steps of apology. But as I reflect on my tweet I am wondering if this really is the beginning of a process for Driscoll or if he feels he has done all that is necessary now to put things straight.  The challenges that Driscoll and Mars Hill are facing seem to warrant more than just a fasting from social media and less travel…

1. Create a healthy leadership culture

Here are some clips from sermons where Pastor Mark talks about leadership. I think they date back to 2007. They are controversial in themselves, but some senior members of the Mars Hill team Brent Meyer and Paul Petry were apparently fired and threatened  straight after this talk.

I recognise that Pastor Mark has apologised for being “an angry young prophet” but this week some 20 former leaders of Mars Hill are asking for more than an internal letter to the church, they want a mediation process to begin. 

The approach to criticism that is talked about in these clips demonstrates a pattern of behaviour we have seen over the years. Some readers will remember the way Driscoll criticised every preacher in the UK… and then his apology was basically a defence of what he had said.

hope this is a joke but it appears to be a real excerpt from the Elevation church kids programme.

Hope this is a joke but it appears to be a real excerpt from the kids programme material of another church lead by Steve Furtick called Elevation. I am not convinced this is helping to raise discerning children.

I have experienced a style of leadership very similar to what we seem to be seeing here in  Driscoll.  In my situation I saw  a cult of personality being built  around one gifted individual. There was a sycophantic corporate culture that sought the total affirmation of the leader. There was such a high degree of idolisation that gracious critique was not welcome. It lead to a very toxic situation with lots of casualties . The accountability structures that were in place completely failed.

Lesson 1: we need to ensure we have accountability structures that actually ask the critical questions.  Accountability structures that don’t allow a person to become the brand but instead that we follow in the footsteps of John the Baptist who declared of Jesus “He must increase, I must decrease” John 3:30.  We need accountability structures that recognise we are all fallible therefore we need good governance. We need accountability structures that recognise we are all equally in the image of God and therefore operate with grace at the centre. We need accountability structures to create and preserve a healthy leadership culture. 

2. Learn how to deal with criticism

I am guessing a big challenge to Mars Hill was distinguishing the haters from the genuine victims. There are a whole group of people who feel they have been wounded or damaged by their experiences with Mars Hill.  The tone of their writing; in my opinion, does not reflect a group of people who are simply seeking to defame or deride Pastor Mark but instead these men and women who are trying to do the right thing, they speak in a measured and graceful manner and are looking for positive ways forward rather than just trying to sling mud.

There are of course other people out there who are just looking for a way to take down evangelicals or even conservative evangelicals that want to take down ‘successful’ innovative approaches to church life.  In defending yourself against the haters one reaction is to ignore all criticism.

Lesson 2: a wise friend of mine used to urge me to listen to the grain of truth in every criticism. This is a difficult lesson to learn as it is far easier to ignore people that disagree with you and to surround yourself with people that will applaud you.  

3. Take special note when even your close friends are raising issues

This article came from the Gospel Coalition website.

Pastor Mark has, in my estimation, been distancing himself from the so-called “neo-Reformed” movement or the gospel-centered tribe for a few years. Stepping down from the council of The Gospel Coalition and from the presidency of the Acts29 Network and aligning more and more with voices in the “attractional” or “church growth” crowd, he has been communicating his shift away from one tribe and into another (perhaps a new one of his own cultivation) for quite some time. I am not insinuating sin in any of that at all; the attractional guys are our brothers in Christ. We tend to do ministry differently, of course, and I won’t lie in saying I think they largely approach church – or preaching specifically and the worship gathering generally, at least – in a distinctly wrong way, but it is certainly Pastor Mark’s right to partner with whom he wants and find his ministry kinship wherever God leads him.

Lesson 3:  the old proverb comes to mind: “An enemy multiplies kisses but the wounds of a friend are trustworthy.” Sycophants don’t help, real friends love you enough to point out your weaknesses and your sins. Strangely we live in such a tribalised world that I know very few Christians who have friends outside of their tribe. It leaves us susceptible to the same blindspots. I am grateful to my friends who have different views to me on everything from gay marriage, to the role of women or to politics. We disagree often but we can do so and maintain genuine friendship. They are a very patient bunch to put up with me.

4. Build discerning congregations

There’s a style of teaching that produces clones. Here’s the truth. It’s my way or the high way. In every sermon I have heard Driscoll give – and there are a lot. I have never heard Driscoll equivocate. He speaks in a direct and often very engaging way. But in all the times I have heard him he leaves no room for dissent. For Driscoll scripture is clear-cut on everything whether it was the role of women, caring for the environment, sexual conduct in marriage, watching Avatar or dealing with negative people in the church. Driscoll was adamant that he had a clear word from God on the subject.

The problem is that sometimes Driscoll is not preaching scripture. As we all do; without recognising it sometimes, he is injecting into the Bible his own worldview and  his theological presuppositions. Stylistically the impression is given that if you disagree with Driscoll on a subject then you are on the wrong side of orthodoxy. Sadly this kind of Bible teaching doesn’t actually develop discernment, it just clones the opinions and presuppositions of the preacher onto the congregation.

Lesson 4


How do we model to a congregation that scripture alone is infallible not the preacher? It is Catholicism that argues for an infallible Pope. Reformed Christians believe in the concept of being “reformed and always reforming.” If our theology and practice was infallible then nothing would need reforming. We need to demonstrate hermeneutical humility when it is appropriate. There are things that are very clear in scripture and there are things that are harder to understand and Christians can come to different opinions on. Over the years evangelicals have agreed to disagree on a whole range of issues from baptism, age of the earth, styles of worship and leadership and even the leadership roles of women. Rather than anathematising one another we have learned to be humble about these things whilst being crystal clear on the core doctrines of our faith. There is room for humility. There is room for being open that Christians disagree on things and we can help skill up the congregation to understand scripture to come to different conclusions to us on secondary issues.  We can help Christians hear both sides of an argument and conclude for themselves. 

I am hoping to learn and make changes in my life as I reflect on these issues. I recognise in Mark Driscoll huge gifts and skills and passion and I pray that his plans to reset his life will bear the fruit he hopes for.

 

Photo from 

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Teaching Paradox

I am a big fan of the creative sermon series. By taking a fresh angle we can help the congregation encounter God in scripture in ways that will equip them for the life of faith. 

My latest book Paradoxology comes out on the 10th of April and as some of my other books have been helpful to churches as a interesting teaching series I thought I would give you a heads up on how a church could get the best out of the book.

Paradoxology aims to help Christians to life-proof their faith by pressing into the deeper and more difficult parts of the Bible. Parts that are usually skirted round or ignored all together – the parts that cause us to face some of the paradoxes in our theology. By deliberately pursuing these difficult parts we can open up the scriptures to people by dealing with some of their biggest fears or challenges.

The book could easily form the basis of a teaching series – perhaps broken into two: chapter 1-8 are Old Testament while 9-13 are New Testament.  I have preached all of the chapters over the years – and they do work well as a series.  I am a big fan of positive reinforcement of the preaching so having people read through a chapter before meeting for small group will help people grapple more fully with some of the big ideas they are encountering.

I am toying with making some small group questions available. If you are interested let me know.

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