Category Archives: bible

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Not too late for a new theological adventure

What a Summer it has been. I have just come back from Momentum a massive conference for 20 somethings that takes place in Shepton Mallet . Its the last of the events in the New Wine &  Soul Survivor family of conferences on the site this season.

Packed in for an exposition from Ephesians at LPO.
Packed in for an exposition from Ephesians at LPO.

It will have been one of the last major events that I speak at as an Evangelical Alliance Director as I have just taken on two new jobs. It gave me opportunity to reflect a little on the transition. As I have had the honour of working for the Evangelical Alliance these last 7 years I have travelled the length and breadth of the UK and met so many people hungry to go deeper in their relationship with God, eager to relate their faith to their professional work and life and passionate to serve God in their communities and churches. When the opportunity to become the President of London School of Theology came up it seemed a natural next step to try and respond to that hunger so many people are feeling for depth in their relationship with God.

Powerful talk from Katherine Welby-Roberts about God and Mental Health
Powerful talk from Katherine Welby-Roberts about God and Mental Health

Theological education is an opportunity to think hard and deep about God’s word so that we might know God better. I have been writing and speaking a lot recently about the need to push beyond the simplistic answers and so it has been exciting to see packed out seminars at Keswick and Momentum this summer with people young and old wanting to invest time to beef up their theology. Hundreds had to be turned away at both festivals  this summer as we literally could fit everyone in the venues as we did some serious theology together. There was always a queue of people wanting to discuss rich theological questions afterwards whether it was about how to interpret scripture, how to answer friends’ difficult questions or how to reconcile difficult theological concepts together.  I also spent a week teaching at Le Pas Opton in France and decided to try and stretch guests there by taking a look at theology, technology and the book of Ephesians and tackling the book of Esther in the evenings. I was so encouraged to find all ages hungry for more of God’s word.

The hunger is there – maybe its in you too?

Great chat about space, time, free will  on the paradoxology sofa
Great chat about space, time, free will on the paradoxology sofa

So I would like to invite you to come and study with us at LST.

It’s not too late and we have a range of very exciting programmes. Let me just mention two to start with:

BA in Theology

Why not make your first degree one in theology, its not too late to get into the programme this year if you act quickly. come and study at the largest theological college in Europe with a great faculty and students from all around the world.

MA in Integrative Theology

I love this programme. This is theology for the digital age – as academically credible as possible but now more accessible than ever before. Study completely online or mix it up and spend time with us at college. Choose from seven exciting specialisations: Social Justice, Christian Worship Studies, Old Testament, New testament, Systematics and Public Leadership to get an MA in theology that will do you good and equip you to do some good in the world. The MA is flexible enough to allow you to study full or part time anywhere in the world. 

There’s still time if you act quickly to come and join us here at LST this academic year.  We’d love to help you on your theological adventure.  

The amazing photos from Momentum on this post are by Alex Moyler .  

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3 dangers in Interpreting 1 Timothy 2

3 dangers with interpreting this passage

As a young Christian, I became convinced of a complementarian position when it came to women in leadership. In any argument 1 Timothy 2:11-12 was my trump card. It was so clear that anyone who disagreed was clearly denying the authority of scripture and was driven by a culture-pleasing and ultimately liberal agenda. Though I respect my many friends who hold a complementarian position due to their reading of scripture and their conscience I have changed my mind. I am not alone in this change: Howard Marshall, Chris Wright, John Ortberg, Ron Sider and Bill Hybels have made the same journey. In such a short article it’s not possible to solve all the controversies surrounding this passage, so I’ll merely ask some framing questions to help us navigate the pitfalls this verse creates.

Here’s the passage in question:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women[c] will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

 

  1. Edit 1 Timothy 2:11-12 out of scripture, dismissing Paul as sexist

All scripture is God-breathed. That means it carries the weight and authority of God behind it. Some of my complementarian heroes accuse egalitarians of not taking scripture seriously. To be honest they have a point: but only about some egalitarians. I have heard many times that we can ignore Paul because he was obviously a misogynist. I have also heard people argue that we can ignore Paul and prioritise Jesus. But this is not an option for an evangelical egalitarian because of our doctrine of scripture. The scriptures are not a random collection of the thoughts and suggestions of certain ancient people as to how one might like to do church. No, we believe that scripture is breathed out by God which means that when we ignore scripture we are ignoring God. Paul is not speaking his own views or opinions – he is being used by God to communicate His word to God’s church.

  1. Use 1 Timothy 2:11-12 as a lens through which to interpret every discussion of women in leadership

J.I. Packer argues clearly that “scripture must interpret scripture; the scope and significance of one passage is to be brought out by relating it to others”[1].

We don’t try and interpret a Bible text in isolation – we need to allow the rest of scripture to inform and temper the limits of the interpretation of a text. For example: Paul talks about the baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29– it would be wrong to build a theology of posthumous salvation from this verse when the scriptures are silent on this issue. Of course, holding the whole of scripture in our minds when we interpret any one part is difficult to do.

 

3. We ignore the context of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 in the letter itself

This verse is more complex to interpret than immediately meets the eye.

i) No one believes that a woman’s salvation is guaranteed through physical childbirth – the climax of the argument in v.15.

ii) I have yet to visit a church that consistently applied the prohibition of gold jewellery for women (v.9), the lifting up of hands for men in prayer (v.8) and the restriction of women from leadership roles (v.12). There are clearly time bound contextual elements in this passage that do not apply across all times and all cultures and universalising one without the others is very selective.

iii) An argument back to creation is not a deal-closer. There are two problems with arguing the mention of Adam and Eve means this is a creation ordinance. First, Paul argues from creation that women should cover their heads in worship and that men should uncover their heads in worship (in 1 Corinthians 11:7-9), but most interpreters understand the specific issue of head coverings is culturally and time bound and so does not apply today. Second, Paul’s argument is also from the Fall – it is at the Fall that Eve was deceived and “became a sinner” and the events of the Fall are being undone by the redeeming work of Christ. Also when it comes to the Fall the rest of Paul’s reflections do not pick out Eve as more culpable than Adam. (see Romans 5:14).

Finally, the specific challenges Paul addresses in the letter cannot be ignored.

As Scholer argues: “1 Timothy should be understood as an occasional ad hoc letter directed specifically towards enabling Timothy and the church to avoid and combat the false teachers and teaching in Ephesus.”

Paul’s prohibition of women in leadership in 1 Timothy was due to the specific challenges Timothy faced in Ephesus. For me this makes sense of the ministry that Paul encourages in women such as Junia, Euodia, Syntche and Priscilla. I remain convinced that those women that God has called and gifted for leadership roles within the church should be encouraged and empowered to use these gifts to the glory of God.

[1] Packer, J.I. (1958) Fundamentalism and the Word of God, IVP, p.103

This blog was first published for Sophia Network’s blog.

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You may also like:

1. Tim Keller, women in leadership and ignoring your own rules.
2. Learning from women in leadership – inspiring quotations from women leaders.

Photo credit Photoree. Alyssa L. Miller

 

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Learning from women about leadership

I know it’s a little ironic, but I have been asked to lead a seminar about women in leadership. Full disclosure, I am not and never have been a woman.

I have decided to take the opportunity and to look for ways that women’s voices can be heard in the seminar. I am also hoping to co-chair the seminar with a woman. I decided to do the seminar because I believe in the conference that asked me to speak – they have a brilliant heart and a wonderful vision and also because I believe passionately that we need to empower women to lead at every level.

I didn’t always believe this; as a teenager a proofext from 1 Tim 2.11 was all I needed to close down the debate. I have learnt a lot about biblical hermeneutics and reading scripture in its canonical and cultural context since then. So I am leading this seminar from the perspective of someone who is absolutely committed to the infallibility of scripture and to women in leadership in the church.

I really want to include as many women’s voices in my seminar as possible and so I would  love your help. I have had some terrific responses when I asked the question on twitter.

I found the responses very moving and challenging (see below to read all of them) . Here are my reflections on the tweets I’d love to know your views – I am of course open to suggestion and correction. 

Three things I have learned so far…

1. Leadership Humility

I was struck by the gracious and humble tone of the advice. So many of the contributors encouraged patience and kindness towards those who opposed or rejected women’s leadership. I wish I could see more of this evidenced from people on both sides of the debate when they write about this subject – perhaps it is there but I have been reading the wrong stuff. Wherever we stand on this debate we need to approach this subject with grace and humility.  We are family together and  scripture calls us to be exemplary in the way we handle disputes and debates among us.  For those of us that oppose women in leadership we  need to recognise that the tone and language used to express your views can crush someone who is trying to follow God’s call on their lives to use their gifts. Leadership is often lonely and isolating and attacking someone’s honest and faithful response to God’s call is a dangerous thing to do. This is not just a theological issue : someone’s call to leadership is linked directly to their sense of identity. Similarly for those of us who support women in leadership we need to recognise that for those that don’t agree with us – this is often a question of conscience  for those who oppose us. It is a dangerous thing to ask another Christian to act against their conscience and we act carefully as we seek to persuade someone to change their minds. I was moved by the maturity and generosity of those who offered comment on my twitter question as they encouraged other women to be patient and gracious with those that stood against them.

2. Leadership Integrity

I found this tweet and many of the others like it very enlightening.  There were a lot of calls to be authentic, to be true to whom God has made you to be. I found these words encouraging as it is vital for all leaders to understand the right balance between knowing whom God has made us to be and how we live into that calling with the ongoing challenge of resisting the sin in our lives. 

 

Too often we overemphasise sin to the exclusion of our God given identity or we overemphasise our identity to the exclusion of the sin in our lives. Now some people will say we should find our identity in Christ and not in the role we have received from him and I do understand that. But the New Testament knows about the intertwining of call and identity – Paul writes:

” For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

1 Corinthians 9:16ff

I was moved by so many of the tweets that emphasised the need to be true to yourself in light of the opposition that so many women have faced to taking on leadership roles. It seems that many for many women leaders their identity has been challenged or dare I say oppressed by those that stood against their sense of call as leaders. I remember as a twenty something having a strong sense of call on my life to be an evangelist and a leader in my church telling me I should leave it aside and become a school teacher. I found it crushing that call on my life was being doubted how much worse it must feel to have large groups of the church oppose so vehemently so many womens’ sense of call on their lives to lead.

3. Leadership and Accountability

There were a lot of tweets that emphasised the need for support and accountability. For me that is where groups like Sophia Network have been so helpful . I loved the tone of Rachel’s comment:

I know that when I have felt isolated and criticised I have sometimes responded by  stopping listening to anyone’s advice or critique and to assume that I am always right – to become self-righteous. Rachel’s tweet is rich with wisdom encouraging us to find genuine friends both male and female to speak truth into our lives. Rachel; who has been a family friend since I was a teenager, is a terrific leader and   models the humility this tweet suggests.

You can read all of  the responses below:

(Photo was adapted with text but taken from JustArd’s lovely Flickr account)

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Spirit of Paradox

It is not every day you get to meet someone who has helped to start a genuine movement of change and restoration.  So you can imagine my excitement when it came to spending time with David and Mary Pytches – the couple who helped to birth both New Wine and Soul Survivor.

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David and Mary returned to the UK with four young daughters after serving as cross cultural missionaries in Chile.  Unsure what God wanted them to do they looked for a base in Chorleywood, which offered education facilities for the girls.  David was hoping to learn how to run a parish from the Vicar, but the Vicar was about to leave and David was offered the incumbency.  David speaks about his sense of inadequacy and eventually set up a daily early morning prayer meeting.   From this time saw an increasing number of people added to the church.   Mary recounts how they faithfully retained the liturgy at the same time as being open to the Holy Spirit.

Learning that John Wimber was coming to York David suggested that he call in on Chorleywood on the way.  It was an unforgettable weekend.   Despite very different ecclesiologicol backgrounds John and David hit it off and became close friends.   And soon David was helping John to find organisers for the UK conferences.

I enjoyed being able to tell David how grafeful I was for the Brighton Conference in 1986, where a friend of mine came to faith.  He later stood up in our class at our rough and ready comprehensive school and shared his new found faith in Jesus.  This was Steven Whittington – a key influence in my becoming a Christian.   It was great to learn about a young youth worker from a Baptist church where had run an open youth club, until the local teenagers rampaged the church.  The youth worker was Mike Pillavachi, who later became the youth worker at Chorleywood.

David and I had this opportunity to meet after he had read my book “Paradoxology” -  Why Christianity was never meant to be simple.  David explained to me that it was the title that grabbed him as he had reflected for many years on the paradoxes of scripture which we tend to brush under the carpet, which means our Bible teaching has no real integrity.   David reminded me of Charles Simeon, a great evangelical clergyman and bible teacher who had said

“The truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme; but in both extremes.”

Mary commented on how we tend to cut God down to our size but ‘wouldn’t we rather have a big God’.   Interestingly we talked a lot about the liturgy undergirding our spirituality and both Paradox and Liturgy are things that James K.A. Smith has been arguing for recently.  Sadly many churches seem to opt either for intimacy with God or depth of teaching when there doesn’t need to be a choice.   Depth of true teaching should help us develop intimacy with God and our intimacy with God should drive us towards deeper teaching – it should be a virtuous circle.

David has kindly written a commendation for the reprint of ‘Paradoxology’ which is out soon.  It has some typos and corrections added thanks to those of you who spotted my errors.  The book will be even better  because of you.   David says:  “I have been looking for a book like this for the last fifty years and am so delighted to have found it.”

I came away from David and Mary greatly encouraged.  They are rare people who have experienced so much of God and done so much in His name, and in their seniority are still keen to bless others.

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Fathers for the Fatherless

Fathers Day is a great marketing opportunity for pen knife manufacturers , greeting card producers and mens hosiery. It’s not an age old festival having only been created in the 20th century to complement Mother’s Day but I want to make a plea that we need to make the most of it .

I know it can be a sensitive time for people who have grown up without a Dad or even worse with an abusive father. I know it can be difficult for single people and childless couples who may be mourning the lack of opportunity to be a father. But nevertheless I want to make a plea that we make the most of it this weekend. Here are three reasons:

1. God is our Father

Despite their being some terrible father’s in the Bible story God is not ashamed to call himself a Father. The problem comes when we project our experience onto God – for example someone might say – “I had a terrible father so God must be like my dad.” That way of thinking is not a helpful way to approach God  - God is not just a projection or an extension of our understanding of things. God is the defining centre.  So God sets the example of what true Fatherhood is like, just like Jesus sets the example of what true humanity is like.  This Sunday we should take the time to enjoy and celebrate what it means for all of us to know God as our Father and offer everyone the opportunity to get to know him.

2. It’s not too late to become a father

Of course if you are going to talk about the Fatherhood of God that is something that every Christian can claim only because of God’s adoption of us. We have been given the right through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection on our behalf.

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”

Galatians 4:4-5

God’s decision to adopt us into his family was driven not by any inner need in the godhead but rather was driven God’s compassion for our plight as vulnerable children (see Galatians 4:3-4). In the same way with so many children waiting in care for adoption – 100 000 children in the USA ; 30 000 in Canada and 6000 in the UK. There are plenty of opportunities for us to become an adoptive or father or at least to offer support to others who are seeking to foster or adopt vulnerable children.

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Spike was a Tornado Squadron leader now works as a Airline Pilot and Foster dad.

3. God calls us all to care for the Fatherless

Having been loved by God with unconditional adopting love. Should we not pass this grace and privilege on to others? God describes himself as “Father to the Fatherless” so those of us who claim to be his followers should be prepared to be the same for the Fatherless children in our neighbourhoods? Please help us to spread the word about this through our Father’ day church resource pack. 

Men, this Sunday as we celebrate Father’s Day, as we recognise God’s Fatherly love to us would you consider playing your part in a vulnerable child’s life?

Take a look at this little video on what it means to be a foster father.

Father’s Day 2014: You know what a foster carer looks like, don’t you? from Evangelical Alliance on Vimeo.

 

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Labyrinth of Prayer

Love the fact that our little local church is so keen to help all ages experience God together. This morning we continued a series on spiritual growth through looking at a number of spiritual disciplines. This week we used the Labyrinth prayer experience as a church.

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All age travel guides

One of the exercises today involved everyone writing down a prayer on some special paper and then heading off into the Labyrinth. Once you got to the middle of the labyrinth there was a font with some water in that you placed your paper prayer into and it dissolved.

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Then you were encouraged to write an attribute of God that you appreciated as an act of praise in chalk on the floor.

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Then for your journey out of the labyrinth as you go on to face the world you are to take a psalm with you to meditate on.

A Psalm for your journey
A Psalm for your journey

All the ages took part today with some of us acting as guides for the travellers.

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Well done to the team that put this together!

My 7 year old daughter had a great time, though her prayer did make me laugh…

“Please God please don’t let me get lost in the maze.”

Other ideas for all age services here.

 

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A matter of perspective

I couldn’t believe these amazing street art photos from: justsomething.co

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Its an amazing skill, lining everything up so that from just the right angle these 2D pictures suddenly take on a whole new dimension. It reminded me of the opening lines of a Tale of Two Cities “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” was the French revolution the best thing to have happened to France – it depended who you were and where you stood. That got me thinking about  the most significant crisis in human history – was it a disaster or deliverance? The Cross of Jesus is either the lowest point in history or the highest point – it just depends where you stand…

Take a listen to a 2 minute little taster from the Cross Paradox which is taken from Paradoxology my new book which tries to bring a new perspective on some of the  most challenging parts of the Bible.

You can listen to the 3 other recordings here from the Premier Christian Radio Thought of the Day series I did here. (1) (2) (3)

For more Premier Thought of the Day material by other speakers check here.

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Paradoxological Thought for the Day #4

There’s been a lot of debate recently about which books should be included in the English Literature syllabus. “To Kill a Mocking Bird” is out and so is “The Grapes of Wrath” as they are not English enough. What is often missing in these debates is the way that English literature has been shaped by the Bible. So many of the key tropes and themes in our literature have been shaped and formed by the biblical narrative. For young people to fully grasp English literature they need biblical literacy too.

In today’s thought for the day take a listen to my reflections on one of the all time classics of English literature (even though it is based on the French Revolution.)
This is a taster for a chapter called “The Cross Paradox – how God wins when he loses” in Paradoxology. I hope you enjoy it.

You can access more of Premier Christian Radio Thought of the Days by a whole range of speakers here. 

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Paradoxological Thought for the Day #3

People grow up quickly.
Looking at the actors from Harry Potter on the first day of filming and then again on the last day is a strange experience. We all watched Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint grow up in front of us. We feel older and wiser as we recognise this fact but we also wonder where the time went.

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If you are a believer I wonder how long it has been since you became a Christian?  I look back on the last 27 years since a friend of mine helped me to become a follower of Jesus and wonder where the time went. I’d love to be more mature in my faith by now – I ought to be more mature by now…

I am trying to take some deliberate steps to grow in my faith and by God’s grace I hope as I grow I will be able to help others. My book Paradoxology tells a little a bit of the story. Listen in to today’s excerpt to see what I mean.

You can also click to  listen to Day 1 and Day 2.

 

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Paradoxologial Thought for the Day #2

I love the strapline for the latest Adidas World Cup advertising campaign: “All in or Nothing.” It reminds me of my secondary school PE teacher. I wrote about him recently in a Christianity Today online article.

“I loved the way he wanted my rough comprehensive school in Brighton to have a rugby (for U.S. readers: think American Football but without the body armor and helmets) team that could take on the well-to-do public schools in our area. I was virtually blind without my glasses on, but I could run fast, and was given the role of winger. Our coach drilled us to fully commit to a tackle: hit the runner with all our might, grab on to their legs, and hold on for dear life. A half-hearted tackle would certainly end up with a boot in the face—so we needed to go “all in or not in at all,” he said.”

It was that mindset that challenged me to write Paradoxology, where I try to go “All In” by tackling the most difficult parts of the Bible that I could find: genocide, predestination, child sacrifice etc. I wanted to show Christians there’s no part of the Bible that is off limits. But the book also challenges us to go all in with our thinking about God, our living for him and our love for him.

Here’s part 2 of my Paradoxological Thoughts for the day. (click here to listen to part 1) based on my book Paradoxology.