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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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We wanted to help someone…

Claire is a fighter. She doesn’t give up easily and its a good thing too. Claire is definitely someone you want on your side when the going gets tough.  I have seen Claire in action – its because of her tenacity  championing the needs of children in care that Care for the Family got excited about Home for Good.

Claire’s adoption story is  a powerful one, it should come with a health warning. Claire and her husband Alan, already had three birth children when they felt lead to adopt a child with additional needs. Watch it if you want to be inspired and challenged, skip it if you like playing things safely.

 

Claire’s story – Mother’s Day 2014 from Evangelical Alliance on Vimeo.

Help us make the most of Mother’s Day this year by putting the need for 6000 children who are waiting for adoption in front of the UK church. Watch this video then share it as widely as you can.

Claire and Alan’s story features in the Home for Good book.

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Old Globe

Global Evangelicals

First published in Anvil March 2014

The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism, Brian Stanley, IVP

“Dwell on the past and you will lose an eye; forget the past and you will lose both eyes.”

Often evangelicals have a nostalgic view of the past, whether it is those of us who believe the Reformation was the high water mark of Christianity or those of us who discovered the worship revival of the 1970s, evangelicals often enjoy reminiscing of better days. But a Cyclops still has an advantage over the blind so it would seem a wise investment to explore the history of a movement that has grown to global status so rapidly over the past half century.

Brian Stanley is the most qualified person I can think of to write the fifth volume in IVP’s “A History of Evangelicalism” series. Previous volumes have included such luminary historians as David Bebbington and Mark Knoll but Stanley’s role as an evangelical historian serving as Professor of World Christianity at Edinburgh University is ideal for the task of writing a history of the globalisation of evangelicalism in the English-speaking world.  Stanley has written a fascinating and engaging volume that rewards careful reading.

Rather than attempting a narrative history of the 1940s to 1990s of evangelicalism, Professor Stanley writes an introduction and then eight thematic essays exploring a broad range of trends.

1. Evangelicals and Fundamentalism

The first essay explores the evolving relationship between evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Noting that in the United States the defining feature of evangelicalism was differentiation from fundamentalism while in the United Kingdom the identity of evangelicals was formed in distinction from liberalism. This is a powerful and helpful distinction and may be the root of much miscommunication between American and European evangelicals.

2. Evangelicals and Globalised Networks

The second essay explores how evangelical networks globalised. Stanley focuses on the ministry of Billy Graham, the formation of the World Evangelical Fellowship (now known as the World Evangelical Alliance), the indigenisation process at work in Scripture Union and the worldwide effects of the East African Revival. Stanley notes how the decision in 1947 of Scripture Union director John Laird to deconstruct the movement’s “imperial” structure led to remarkable growth in Africa and a whole slew of indigenous leaders developing. This is a strategy that still needs further global application for many organisations 65 years on.

 3. Evangelical Scholarship Matters

The third essay highlights the growth of evangelical scholarship once thought an oxymoron due to confusion between evangelicals and fundamentalists. The development of Tyndale House in Cambridge is shown to have played a vital role. In a fascinating piece of theological archaeology Stanley also shows how the subsequent editions and revisions of the New Bible Commentary can act as a window of the increasing conservatism on issues such as biblical inspiration, infallibility and openness to biblical criticism. Stanley also notes the way that at the turn of the century systematic expositional preaching was not a norm in the diet of evangelical churches and it is through the preaching of G. Campbell Morgan and of course Dr Martin Lloyd Jones and John Stott that it became a staple.

4. Evangelicals and Apologetics 

In his fourth essay Professor Stanley tracks the development of evangelical apologetics and highlights the work of Cornelius Van Till, Edward Carnell, Carl F. Henry, Francis Schaeffer and Alvin Plantinga who in different ways helped evangelicals to defend the faith in the academies. Yet Stanley demonstrates that  non-evangelicals such as Lesslie Newbigin and more significantly C.S. Lewis offered “an intellectual armoury of a very different kind from that offered by the sterling efforts of conservative theologians”.

5. Evangelicals and Lausanne 

The captivating story of the Lausanne Congress on world evangelisation is told in the fifth essay. The Congress, the brainchild of Billy Graham, and after some coercion joined by John Stott brought together leaders from across the world in 1974. Stanley tells how the American-dominated programme was challenged by Latin American theologians: Rene Padilla (the need to rethink the cultural accommodation of Christianity in the West), Samuel Escobar (the need to engage with social justice in mission) and Orlando Costas (the need for contextualisation). Tribute is paid to John Stott’s mediatory skills in helping to include these insights into the final Lausanne statement. It is interesting to note that the UK reception to Lausanne was lukewarm – a term which applies to my experience of UK delegations at more recent global gatherings.

 6. Evangelicals and the Global Charismatic and Pentecostals Movements

The sixth essay tracks the development of global charismatic and Pentecostal movements. Tracing the rise in healing ministries, John Wimber, the adaptation of worship music, the Toronto Blessing, the impact of Bretherenism on Newfrontiers and the birth of Alpha. Stanley is on the whole positive about the impact, stating: “The global evangelical family gained much-needed spiritual vitality as a result.”

7. Evangelical Hermeneutics 

The seventh essay tackles hermeneutics, gender and sexual ethics. I think it was somewhat unfortunate to lump these issues together. There are very few women mentioned in the entire volume – the history of the global proliferation of evangelicalism is mainly told through white male leaders. When Stanley does get round to engage with women it is in the context of a debate around the role of hermeneutics that ends with an exploration of evangelical responses to homosexuality. Stanley tackles the controversy around women’s ministry by citing the debate between Melvin Tinker, a prominent member of Reform, who argued for a “slippery slope” that a change of view on women’s ministry would lead to the approval of homosexual relationships. Tinker’s debate with Dick France, then principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford who argued clearly and robustly that it does not. He then goes on to cite Stanley Grenz and Paul King Jewetts’ argument that there is no intrinsic link between a changed view on women’s ministry and homosexuality. It was a shame that the role of women in the proliferation of evangelicalism is only cast in the middle of this debate.

 8. Global Evangelical Trends

The last essay was a sobering one to read. Professor Stanley attempts to summarise the trends he sees at work in the evangelical world today. Stanley revisits the post-evangelical debate of Dave Tomlinson and comments that many conservatives (Professor Don Carson included) refuse to see a difference between post-evangelicals and post-conservatives such as Stanley Grenz and NT Wright. I have experienced this kind of tarring with the same brush such that if you take a different view on the role of women to the likes of Don Carson, John Piper and Wayne Grudem you are effectively labeled a non-evangelical. Stanley seeks to mediate the divide between Postconservative/ Open Evangelicals and Conservative Evangelicals. After citing Carson’s withering critique of Stanley Grenz’s “Renewing the centre” where Carson concludes that Grenz’s work was ‘truly outside of the evangelical camp’ Brian Stanley states that: “Grenz, however remained until his death a faithful member of First Baptist Church, Vancouver, under the conservative expository ministry of Bruce Milne… Assessments of the state of evangelicalism can be misleading if they focus exclusively on academic theological arguments and neglect the evidence of spirituality and church life.”

 Evaluation

In many ways this book, though skillfully written, is a depressing read. Stanley recognises this in his summation when he states: “It is part of the vocation of the church historian to remind Christians who may be depressed about the current condition of the church that states of division and uncertainty are the norm rather than the exception in Christian history” (p.237).

There is a note of encouragement in the midst of the gloom. When we look back to the halcyon days of evangelical unity that saw the renewed confidence and growth of evangelicalism – there was as much disunity and the term evangelical was as contested then as it is now and that evangelicalism seems to be perennially needing to rediscover its identity. For me if the apostle Paul can call the church to continually hold firm to the gospel and continually re-examine those that claim to present the gospel in light of the apostolic witness – it seems evangelicalism’s need to continually re-examine itself in light of scripture is a healthy one.

Sadly, I think Brian Stanley is optimistic in his closing sentiment that “the battle for the integrity of the gospel in the opening years of the 21st century is being fought not primarily in the lecture rooms of North American seminaries but in the shanty towns, urban slims and villages of Africa, Asia and Latin America”. We praise God for the proliferation of the gospel that is bearing so much fruit among the poor. We rejoice that the centre of gravity of the church has moved to the global south. But in my limited experience of working with the poor – the gospel that is being spoken about there looks a lot like the Western individualistic virtually-gnostic version that we have exported. The battle for the integrity of the gospel is being fought on social media and in the budget meetings of western publishers and conference organisers where global celebrities are made out of certain preachers who export their cultural assumptions to the rest of the world. We need to allow the spirit of the first Lausanne congress to continue on and allow the global church to be reshaping our understanding of mission and the gospel in the light of scripture. We need to continually fight the imperialism of Western domination in global evangelicalism.

 

Stanley’s well written and researched book will help evangelicals to avoid the blindness of ahistoricity; perhaps we need a companion volume to help us know what we can learn from Evangelicals in the non English speaking world?

Photo from

 

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Rachel used to avoid Mothers Day services…

Rachel and Jason have been dear friends since we were in a church together in Harrow.  Rachel told me recently that Mothers’ Day was a really difficult day for her as she and Jason had been trying for a child for some time. Rachel explained to me that  she would either not turn up at church at all that day or try to stay out of sight helping out in creche or youth ministry on that day.

With Mothers Day coming up this weekend, its important for those of us in church leadership to be careful about how we handle the pastoral implications of this day. But it is also important we put before the church the need to find adoptive mums for the 6000 waiting children in the UK. Many of these children have experienced some pretty terrible things in their lives already and to keep them waiting for a new mum seems to be adding insult to injury.  We must handle mother’s day sensitively but we cannot let the needs of the children in our towns, villages and cities go unheard.

One way you can help is to watch Rachel’s powerful story, share it as widely as you can and if possible show one of our Home for Good Mother’s Day videos in a church service or small group meeting.

This is Rachel’s first Mothers’ Day as an adoptive Mum. Lets pray for more adoptive mums like Rachel can celebrate Mothers’ Day next year with their children . With your help we can make a difference to all the #6000waiting.

 

Rachel’s story – Mother’s Day 2014 from Evangelical Alliance on Vimeo.

See also Dianne’s story.

Check out the Home for Good book, which also features Rachel and Jason’s story.
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3 reasons why we all need paradoxes

My latest book Paradoxology is out. I wanted to let you know a little about the reasons I had for writing it.  The most important motive behind the book is that  I am eager that we help our churches engage with the deep things of God. Too often I have come across believers who have at best a surface understanding of their faith.

Believers who have no depth to their understanding face three problems.

1. Vulnerability in the face of suffering

If our understanding and experience of our faith remains shallow we lack the resources to withstand the storms of life. We need to dig down into the rock by knowing and obeying scripture.

In Paradoxology I am seeking to face head on some of the biggest challenges to faith.  We wrestle with suffering, the unpredictability of God, disappointment with God and his church .These challenges come framed in paradoxes as we try to reconcile two apparently competing beliefs.
God is good but bad stuff happens.
God is powerful but often inactive.
God is compassionate but painful things happen all the time

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2. Timidity in evangelism

I am so excited that across the UK we are seeing churches doing more to reach out into their communities. But strangely at the same time we are struggling to find the words to articulate the gospel. One reason is that our grasp of the gospel remains too shallow to cope with the complexities of our own lives  let alone those of the people we want to share the gospel with.

In Paradoxology we try to dig deeper into the gospel so we don’t settle for pat answers or simplistic formulas. We work hard to face some of the challenges being raised by the new atheists: for example what do we do with genocide in Joshua, child sacrifice in Abraham’s story and freewill and determinism in the Judas Paradox. Again paradox prevails. How do reconcile:
Human free will and a sovereign God.
The grace of God and the judgement of God.
The fact that God loves the whole world but has his own chosen people.

3.  Lack of depth necessary to discipling others

You can’t give what you haven’t got.
It’s hard  to help others to maturity in the faith if our own understanding and practice is stunted.

Paradoxology forces you to think outside of your comfort zone. It deliberately targets the more difficult passages in the Bible to help you gain confidence in the whole of scripture. It encourages you to up your theological game without getting too technical.

 Get hold of a copy of Paradoxology here and see if it can help you build a resilient faith that is confident in the gospel and better equipped to help others grow to maturity too.

Here’s how one reviewer put it:

Close yet distant. Kind but fierce. Thunderous in speech yet often silent. While we’re often told the God of the Bible is knowable, He is as equally perplexing. Unlike many who side-step God’s more difficult-to-discuss qualities, Krish Kandiah rushes headlong towards them. What he finds is mystery, yes—but also windows through which to see some of the toughest questions of life and faith in new light.

Sheridan Voysey

Writer, speaker, broadcaster, and author of Resurrection Year: Turning Broken Dreams into New Beginnings

 

 

 

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Dianne’s life was going along fine until…

Its been a privilege to get to know Dianne Louise Jordan over the last couple of years. We bumped into eachother when I was talking about the season of Advent on Songs of Praise (my one and only foray on SoP). Dianne was presenting and shared some of her story with me and she has been a wonderful advocate for Home for Good ever since.

Dianne was kind enough to share her powerful story for us to help inspire women single, married, with kids already or with no children to think about stepping forward to adopt.

For more information drop me a line or go to the Home for Good website. 

Watch this video, share it and think about showing it or one of the three other mother’s day videos in your church or community on Mothers Day.

Dianne’s life was going along fine, she was an in demand actress and then something terrible happened… watch the video to see what happened next.

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World Downs Syndrome Day

There is a hidden genocide going on. A friend of mine told me she went in for a routine pregnancy check up a couple of months ago and was told by her midwife that she should have the amniocentesis because she would “of course want to abort” if it was her foetus was found to have Down Syndrome. My friend was shocked by this response.

I read recently in the Guardian that in Denmark “95% of all Danish parents to be, decide to have an abortion if they find out that they are about to carry out a baby with Trisomy 21″ the indicator for Downs.  Now I am sure no one makes these kinds of decisions easily, and I am not seeking to bring guilt or shame but I do want to help prospective parents to see things differently.

As a family we had the joy of caring for a little girl with Downs Syndrome for three and a half years as foster parents until she was adopted. We still miss the pleasure of her company, her gentle grace and infectious laughter. Her picture is on our mantle piece and we think about her often.

I encourage you to share this short film as widely as you can. It may change the way we see children with Downs Syndrome. It may help end a genocide.

Photo source.
T
hanks to @lizzshaw01 for flagging up this video to me.