Blue Like a Retracted Love Story

What can I say about Donald Miller's blog post that hasn't already been said?

I was almost tempted to say nothing because I genuinely don't like a fuss and Don has taken the trouble of removing his words from his usually excellent site.

Then I read his retraction statement and I thought for a while.....

If our the Blue Like Jazz author had perhaps retracted the sentiment he had written then I probably would not have responded any further, but it appears that he has intentions of republishing his thoughts at another time.

In light of this I offer you (1) his retraction statement, (2) his original article.

I have enjoyed Donald's work in the past but I am, as a father of four daughters, saddened by what these words reveal about his view of women as needing to be validated by men.

(1) His retraction statement

‘Last week I wrote a couple blogs about living a good love story. As many of you know, I write blogs on a whim. Essentially, I’m thinking out loud. What I never expected was to incur the amount of traffic the blog received. And for that matter, the feedback both negative and positive.

To be honest, I wrote the blogs and never reread them, even after all the traffic. I’m writing books at the moment and didn’t feel the need to go back. I write blogs, misspellings and all, as a way of journaling through ideas. That said, after receiving critical feedback from people I greatly respect (along with support from people I greatly respect) I feared a backlash. Not a personal backlash, mind you, but a backlash against the actual ideas the blog presented. That is, I feared many would say “who are you to tell me how to live or how to love, I’m going to do anything I want.”

I’ve seen this sort of backlash before in other arenas. I’m convinced a number of preachers drive as many people away from Jesus as they invite toward Jesus through the harshness of their rhetoric. I’m not interested, then, in driving people away from a good love story simply because I used language and presented ideas they found offensive. Especially when the ideas were generated in no more than half an hour.

Another reason to take the blog down is that love and sexuality is complicated. To address sexual matters, especially, is often a graceless conversation, and yet a conversation that can only be healing in a tone of complete and utter grace. My blog, while straight and toned to the language many use while talking over a beer, lacked the tone of grace. That was an enormous mistake on my part.

That said, I’ll be revamping the blog posts into some sort of file that I can release to the public in time. I assure you, I’ll be checking with my harshest critics before doing so to make sure I’m not offending more people than I honestly care to offend, and that the article brings more light than heat to the topic.

If anything I said personally offended you, will you accept my deepest and most sincere apology? My romantic and sexual history is dismal, which is nothing I hide because I am covered and confident of the grace of God. I’m not interested and see no benefit in shaming anybody. Any shame that was conveyed, I assure you, was unintentional and that sort of rhetoric has never worked to make me a better or more pure man and I’ve no interest in using it as a tool.

With much love and sincere appreciation,


(2) How to live a Great Love Story, Vol 1 (For the Girls)

Living a great love story doesn’t look like winning the lottery, it looks like training for a marathon. It’s hard work and you have to do the work long before you ever meet Mr. Right, otherwise you’ll be the girl who shows up for the marathon having eaten a gallon of ice cream every night, listening to Taylor Swift songs and watching love stories about vampires. No good man can run with that girl, not for much longer than a mile.

In movies and books, there are formulas for great love stories. Not all movies follow them, but we can depend on a variation on certain themes. They go something like this:

1. Boy meets girl.

2. Boy falls in love with girl.

3. Girl is a bit hesitant knowing her heart is tender and could get hurt.

4. Boy proves himself strong enough to handle and defend her heart.

5. Girl trusts boy and they live happily ever after.

All love stories are different, of course, but these are central themes that weave in and out of the good ones. And if they don’t, the stories are normally tragedies.

Juliet does not trust Romeo right away, for instance, but he pursues her and he wins her love. The same goes with the characters in The Notebook and Twilight (I confess I labored through both) and in the great romantic novels of Jane Eyrie and Charles Dickens and so on and so on.

So, if these are the principles of a great love story, how do we play them out in our lives? How do we live a great love story? Here are some suggestions:

1. Don’t hook up: Girls shouldn’t make it too easy on the guy. Don’t hook up, in other words. A recent article in Scientific American revealed when a girl hooks up with a guy, she esteems him very highly. She may think of him as powerful or famous, somebody who is strong. But the opposite is actually true from the guys perspective. Guys hook up with girls they find less attractive and sexually easy. All they want is sex, and so if they perceive she will give them sex and then get out of their lives, they are going to jump at the chance. The girl may feel very wanted and beautiful but the truth is he’s insulting her. If he thought of her with respect, he’d sit and ask questions about her life and her family. He’d try to get to know her because he wants to develop a friendship and perhaps a romantic relationship. In other words, guys don’t hook up with girls they would marry. They marry the girls they get nervous around and are made to pursue.
So, if you become a “hook up” girl you get labeled, in the minds of guys as a girl you really don’t have to fight for. And when your husband finds out you were the “hook up” girl he’s going to have to have a lot of grace, which is fine, it just puts you in the category of “charity” in his mind and not “equal” or “partner.” He may still love you, but he will have serious questions about whether you’re in the kind of shape it takes to run a marathon. Unless you get over it and move on and do a period of time where you put it all behind you, he will and honestly should lose respect for you. Respect is not free. Respect is earned. Grace is free, but grace and respect are different.

2. Make him work for it: When a guy is made to fight for a girl, he esteems her much more highly. She becomes more attractive in his eyes, and for that matter she becomes more attractive to other men, too. That said, most of the time this will backfire because lots of guys are just looking for cheap and slutty sex and for her to get lost afterward. Still, it’s your chance to weed them out. And believe me, girls, there are a lot of weeds.

3. Weed them out: Guys who are just looking for a hook up need to hit the road. By weeding them out you definitely end up with a smaller pool of guys to choose from. It’s unfortunate and that is truly bad news. But there’s good news, too. There are fewer girls with the strength to not have one night stands, and those girls become much, much more attractive to men. Those are the girls who present a challenge, and who are esteemed more highly. These are the girls guys recognize as the kind of women they want to partner with in raising a family. In other words, it’s a great strategy to be more attractive to a smaller group than cheap and easy to a larger group. Plus, the stronger guys are up for the work while the weaker guys are just trying to get laid.

4. Be willing to suffer: What this means for you is that your love story needs to have a lot of lonely crying in it. Believe it or not, there will come a day when a man will fall madly in love with you and you will have the honor of sitting down with him one special night to explain that, while you weren’t perfect, you turned down plenty of guys and and cried yourself to sleep hoping somebody would come around and treat you with respect. He will be honored by this, and he will love you and feel humbled. If he doesn’t have the same story, he will feel intensely convicted and unworthy. You’ll really be giving him the foundation he needs to love your heart.

5. Have some faith: I’ve noticed that most women who complain a good man won’t come along are actually interested in the wrong guys. They make lists of their perfect gentleman coming to rescue them meanwhile they’re hooking up with guys who have a track record of just having sex with random women. Really? Your husband won’t really care what you say, he will care what you do. We tell our love stories with our actions, not our words. Life isn’t a Taylor Swift song, with all the hardship left out. It works more like a Normal Mailer novel, with all the gritty garbage left in. Stop falling for the romantic version of life, and start realizing that a romantic story is told with an enormous amount of pain, sacrifice, suffering and patience.

6. Don’t be thirteen: Unless you’re thirteen, ladies, grow up. Many women claim that men just won’t grow up, but then you sit and talk to them and realize they haven’t grown up either. They aren’t strong enough to demand something more from their men. They aren’t strong enough to say no to a guy who just wants to use them. These are all elements of immaturity. And it’s the stuff of a bad love story. A good man will attract a good woman. And a victim will attract a predator. Stop acting like a victim. If you want a strong man who can protect you and your children, stop trolling for predators by crying all the time. Act like a dignified woman who believes her company is valuable and should come at a price.

So, if you want a great love story, start training for it today. Start suffering, like somebody training for a marathon. Do the pain, suffer through the nights where you cry in your pillow, have some faith and stop cheapening your love story with scenes you’ll never be able to edit out.

You’re love story may not work, it’s true. Plenty of them don’t. But the chances of your love story succeeding are greatly increased when, on race day, you can actually run.

So, what do you do if you’ve completely screwed this up:

1. Be honest about it. Don’t hide it. If you went through a slutty season, don’t act like you were a helpless victim, a sweet girl who got caught up. You probably weren’t. A confession and an excuse are entirely different. Excuses talk about being hurt or drunk or being lied to. Confessions start with a radical and real understanding of how bad your human nature actually is and how you were caught up in a selfish search for validation and pleasure. Don’t lie to yourself and don’t lie to him. Don’t act like the sweet girl who “accidentally made twenty-five mistakes.” He won’t trust you because what you say and what you’ve done are different.

No good man is going to marry a woman with multiple personalities. And besides that, you’d be surprised at how much unbelievable trust you can build by being brutally honest. You shouldn’t share a bunch of details, but you should definitely share you went through a slutty season and have very few, if any, excuses. But now you want more. Now you want to put that behind you and build a love story. Honesty is very rare, and an honest girl is a girl you can build a family with, regardless of her past. I really mean this, too. If you’re brutally honest about your motives (keep the details vague, ladies. I’m serious about this. He doesn’t need visual images) then you ARE BUILDING TRUST and he can love you. If you play the victim, he’s going to walk away. And he should. A victim is great material for a counselor, but not for a husband.

2. Find out why you did what you did. Why are you capable of having sex without love or commitment? What are you using sex to accomplish? When those questions are a mystery to you, you aren’t healthy enough to get married and no good man should marry you. Those questions need to be answered and understood in a way that the two of you can build on as a foundation

3. Start training for the freaking marathon. Marriage is the hardest job you’ll ever have. It works nothing like  a hookup. The sex is more sloppy and vulnerable and affected by all kinds of emotional contexts. If you’re used to one off sex acts where you’re having crazy experiences, you’re husband is never going to be able to match up  because, well, he’s got to stick around and do the laundry and argue with you about the electricity bill. That’s not sexy stuff, that’s the stuff of real love stories. It feels boring in the moment, but twenty years in you’ll be crying your eyes out over this man who stuck with you through the thick and thin and who honestly didn’t care that you got fat! Why not give yourself to the one who didn’t care whether you got fat than give yourself to the one who makes you feel like you’ve got to throw up after eating a lolly-pop? That kind of love story sucks so stop living it!

4. Work through your need to be validated by men. You’re going to marry a man, not men. So cut the slutty dresses and facebook photos. Start acting like a woman a man can partner with to build a family, not a woman who would make a great romp on a drunk and emotionally foggy friday night. And stop using alcohol as an excuse. Nobody gets drunk and accidentally sleeps with a hamster. You know what you’re doing, drunk or not, so cut it out. In other words, become the woman who fits the character in the love story you want to live.

5. Don’t act. Don’t pretend. Don’t pretend to be a wholesome girl who is starting over when you’re secretly still wanting to hook up. These changes need to be internal and they need to be real. You are going to have to go through the withdrawal of using guys for validation. If it helps, just know you’ll stand before God one day and you want him to be proud of you. That’s the only thing that helped me stop validating myself with women. I couldn’t do it for Paige, but I could do it for God. Turns out God loves Paige more than I do. Go figure. Anyway, get over the acting part and start doing the real living part. Every great story demands enormous sacrifice. Start sacrificing your validation with other men to make a real love story happen.

Tell a great love story and you’ll dazzle the world. Do the work and enjoy the benefits. The world needs some great love stories, but few people are willing to do what it takes to tell them. No wonder we all love them so much.

Do you want a great love story. Do you want to run the marathon it takes to be married to the same man after fifty years. Do you want him to look you in the eyes with so much respect it bring tears to his. If you do, start training for the marathon. No good story comes easy. A great love story is still possible. Go for it!

Should women teach? Only if we don't tell anyone!

Take a cursory glance at the subject of complementarianism and you would be excused for making the assumption that it represents a single set of beliefs regarding the role of men and women in the church.

Begin a dialogue with church leaders who claim to hold to this theology, however, and you will see that behind the united front there are a myriad of views on offer.

Here is the problem as I see it:

Most of the key teachers on the subject (Gruden et al) speak of the bible prohibiting women in three main areas: senior church leadership, teaching ministry, and government within the home.

For sure Grudem's supplementary explanations hold less and less water the further you probe*, but at a surface level the teaching is firm: women cannot be elders/pastors/ministers, they cannot teach the main body of the church, and they cannot usurp the 'natural' order of male leadership in the home.

Judging from the dialogue I have had with leaders in local churches the situation is not quite so well defined.

Most of these local church leaders talk of the limitation to women as only being in the area of eldership.

Teaching, evangelism, small group leadership, youth work, it seems are all open to both sexes.

Given that the complementarian position is primarily a theological one it seems somewhat disingenuous of local church leaders to pay lip service to such teaching by maintaining male elderships, whilst in practice 'using' women to fulfil much of the churches ministry on the ground.

I have repeatedly tried to put this point to leaders (male) only for it to be dismissed as not important because, in their view at least, women have enough freedom within which to fulfil their destiny.

So here is the problem:

When pressed on why they hold to the limitation of women the call is always made to scripture.

When pressed, however, about how women might fulfil their gifts/calling we are offered examples of how women are released in the local church: in essence saying that there is no cause for concern.

Now correct me if I am wrong but is this not an example of male leaders wanting to have their ecclesiological cake and eating it.

On the one hand the theological position is that women should not lead or teach but at a local level they can do so given the right set of circumstances.

And what are those circumstances:

1. We don't call her an elder

2. She only teaches young people, kids, women, or the unchurched (apparently evangelists and missionaries can be female).

Or (I suspect this is probably the truth in most cases)

3. Nobody in head office gets to hear about it.

Either way the situation seems untenable and plain wrong at so many levels.

If you are going to say that women should not teach then don't pretend that the bible somehow means it is ok if she is speaking to kids or if she is on the mission field.

If you are saying that women should not lead then don't fudge the issue by saying that she can lead when it is convenient for the church to do so but not otherwise.

If, however, you are going to view these scriptures as having some contextual meaning (which in practice you obviously do) don't condemn us egalitarians for daring see a wider more liberating context for all of God's children.

My concern is that church leaders find such things too inconvenient to consider at the moment so they give a theological nod to the theology whilst adopting a more pragmatic approach on the the ground.

My hope is that the continued presentation of an egalitarian position will eventually make the issue impossible to ignore.

* Wayne Grudem agrees that it is ok for women to write books but he prefers to see that as having a chat over coffee rather than teaching.

Mark Driscoll and the Gospel according to Quincy

I am sad to say that I am old enough to remember the first showing of the TV programmed Quincy starring Jack Clugman back in 1976. The star was 54 years old and could be considered middle-aged as the pilot aired.

A regular component of the show, as with many of the other series of that particular decade, regularly set the male lead in a relationship with various women much younger than himself (see the opening title shots for proof of this).

Many movies followed a similar pattern in presenting a culture in which older men always got the younger women.

One can't help but imagine that back then most of the producers, writers, and directors were all middle-aged men; if so it would be in their own interest to present such things as acceptable.

In and of itself it might not seem an important fact but it does show the link between those in power and the culture they produce.

This brings me to the complementarian gang of pastors currently occupying a position of vocal influence upon the evangelical church.

Pastor Mark Driscoll and others are the guys (literally) in positions of power and as such they have a responsibility to help set the right culture.

It is in their continued interest to maintain the status quo in their particular brand of church; men making the rules in favour of a male dominated culture - sound familiar.

As a man (and a middle-aged one at that) I can only imagine the pain felt by any woman trying to fulfil her gift in one of these churches. It saddens me that so many of the men who have a voice have remained silent and allowed the prevailing culture to stand.

Looking at the re-runs of Quincy and other similar shows they look remarkably out dated and somewhat ridiculous now.

I hope that one day we will look back on the complementarian argument in a similar way; but given the recent resurgence in such teaching it will take women and men of courage to make a stand for the type of freedom implicit in the gospel story.

Nicer Than God

Following Mark Driscoll's recent effemigate comments about worship leaders and his subsequent less than apologetic climb down, it seems that some in the Christian bloggasphere are getting pangs of sympathy for the Seatle beefcake of a pastor.

Some have even claimed he is the 'probably one of the most uncharitably & unfairly read USA Evangelicals'.

Others have started to call Pastor Mark a brother again hoping that his non-apology is a sign that he is willing to change.

It is at this point that most good-thinking Christians start to feel the effects of having a conscience again and begin to question whether they should back off from offering any further criticism.

Whilst I too understand these feelings I have a gut feeling that the issues raised by Pastor Mark's regular comments and theological ideas are too important to fall under the axe of Christian reasonableness.

I am quite sure that both those who advocated slavery and those who currently discriminating against women, gays, and seemingly effeminate looking worship leaders have the ability to sound nice and decent when the need arises.

I can't help thinking that Pastor Mark's response is more of a fillip towards his constituency rather than an apology to those who he has offended.

I understand the need to follow biblical patterns in the way we conduct our relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ but that is no excuse for becoming nicer than God and ignoring partiality where it raises it's ugly head.

Rooted Openness


The Big Story and the Irreducible Core

Having just lived through the relatively tumultuous storm of Hellgate during which the Mars Hill Bible Church pastor Rob Bell asked some very awkward questions.

The more vocal wing of the evangelical church in the USA responded with the sort of outrage usually reserved for lefty liberals rather than one of their own.

In what seemed to resemble a Monty Python scene, the calvanistic big guns exclaimed 'He's not an evangelical, he's a very naughty boy!'

The speed and manner with which they disowned him suggests they were already waiting for a moment to issue divorce papers.

What saddens me most about the whole issue is that it became almost impossible to have a sensible conversation about the subject without the feeling that you too were being both labelled and dismissed in the process.

In a world that loves labels it is quite difficult to continue a dialogue without looking for suitable terms to describe the position you occupy.

Whether you use Evangelical, Calvinist, Arminian, Liberal, Emergent, or other it must be seen that belief exists as more of a spectrum than distinct groupings.

People like Brian Mclaren, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell have attempted to provide a vocabulary for those who are exploring what is perceived as a more progressive theology.

Other voices have worked hard to limit the effect of what appeared to be a growing movement away from the centre of a traditional evangelical position. Of course even this is more of a spectrum than a definitive ecclesiological standpoint.

There have been others, in particular Jim Belcher in his book Deep Church, who have tried to navigate a middle ground in the hope of presenting a third way.

I enjoyed Jim's book but again felt that another title didn't fully reflect the spectrum of belief described.

I understand that we do need titles and descriptions in order to locate various beliefs in a framework that allows us to address the issues concerned in a meaningful and productive way.

A further problem encountered when trying to navigate these waters is that the UK scene is significantly different to the US. In this regard some of the language and reference points offered need to interpreted for a different context.

Having studied this subject for some time (even before I heard the phrase emergent) I want to offer some thoughts on my own way of navigation.

I have chosen the two motifs of Rootedness and Openness to best describe my approach. I have long felt that the best way of finding location on the theological and ecclesiological landscape is to occupy a place of tension between two ideas.

In doing so one is free from the fear of both stagnation and excess.

Jim Belcher offers something of this but probably falls victim to an urge to affirm a prescribed tradition. I don't mean this in a critical way but just as an observation.

My suggestion of rooted-openness attempts to offer both the acknowledgement of the need for defined reference points and the understanding that there will always be a spectrum of belief.


For my own context I have attempted to describe an irreducible core of belief that is rooted in both the biblical narratives and the testimony of the historic church.

In one sense, because this is a highly personal process and by nature has to be contexualised, it should not matter to anyone else what prescription I have given to this.

In practice however, and because our faith is intended to be of a corporate nature, we will always need to offer explanation so that others can learn from our journey and we can learn from them.

For me the central component of this irreducible core is the person, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I would locate this centrality in a Trinitarian understanding of the story.

There are, of course, other elements to this core but this is not important for what I am attempting to describe here at this moment.

What matters here most is that we begin a journey to discover our own irreducible core in which we might become rooted.

It seems to me that churches that develop a core that is too wide at this point risk including ideas that limit the possibility of discussion both within the group and with other churches.

I would include here ideas such as eschatology and ecclesiology that are often held with an unhealthy reverence.

Either way I would encourage you to discover an irreducible core within which you can put down roots.


It seems all too easy for us to close our minds too quickly to conflicting voices. I feel this has happened recently in response to Rob Bell. I am not sure that on every point I fully agree with Rob but I do eagerly welcome his input. He has provided a vocabulary for many within the church who have struggled with certain presumptions made of scripture.

It is my assessment that all Rob really said was that it is possible to both uphold the bible and see things in a different way to that traditionally delivered within evangelicalism.

He gives room for ideas often ignored by much of the evangelical church. He has often been accused of being vague on some issues but that is the point; some of the ideas we have counted as definitive are up for discussion. Why are we so frightened of such dialogue?

I would like to suggest that we develop an openness to the possibility of a bigger story. Brian Mclaren suggests such when he offers the idea that God could have been communicating with the native American indians long before Europeans brought the stories of Jesus.

What perhaps saddens me most is that many of those who offer a criticism to the likes of McLaren, Bell, and Pagitt fail to offer a view on such ideas, preferring to speak against the very idea of raising questions about perceived evangelical belief.

Further than this such critics often fail to address the questions raised prefering to simple accuse others of questioning God when they are in fact questioning a theology.

Whatever theological position we hold we must always agree that our beliefs will never fully explain God; otherwise our beliefs themselves would become an idol.

In this regard it is perhaps not the question or questioner who should be exposed but our inability to conceive that others might hold valid opposing views when seeking to find an explanation for God, life, and the universe.

Openness leaves room for an understanding of God in ways outside of both our experience and theological construct. Holding this in tension with a Rootedness in an irreducible core centred on the person of Jesus Christ brings a check to how far my openness might take me.

You may well see the above as an attempt to decry existing theological and ecclesiological labels only to replace them with alternatives. This is a constant danger in such an exercise as this.

I believe however that introducing the idea of a spectrum of belief held in tension between two seemingly opposite locations allows for a broader discussion than the mere acceptance of a single label. Hopefully this understanding of spectrum might act as an antedote to much of the tribal theological turf wars we continue to see.

In truth I believe that behind all labels is the kind of spectrum of which I write. My goal is to encourage us to develop a new conversation as we admit this to be true.

If we enquire of the term evangelical for example we will soon discover that it has the possibility of revealing a variety of spectrums behind this seemingly definitive label.

One can be an Evangelical Charismatic or an Evangelical calvinist. In actuality these may or may not be mutually exclusive, however the fact of their existence reveals the probability of a spectrum of belief.

Where to now?

I believe this to be a highly personal journey that is best done in community, through the influence biblical narrative, the teachings of the church, the witness of the Holy Spirit.

Some of my findings may well cause others to cry 'He's not an evangelical, he's a very naughty boy!' but that is a risk I am willing to take.

I will endeavour to discover what it means to be rooted in the historic Christian faith whilst being open to the enormity of God's salvation story for all of his creation.

I hope to find others on a similar path with whom I can travel.

Francis Chan and a Humble View of Eternal Punishment

As Francis Chan releases his antidote to Rob Bell's controversial best seller it seems that some have been drawn in by the humble and conciliatory style of his promotional video. Don't be fooled by the tone however this is a fine example of sophistry.

He employs the sophists skills of presenting an argument that is hard to disagree with only to deliver a conclusion that is not really connected with his original thrust. It goes like this:

1. It's good to study

2. Study is a humbling process

3. This is a very important subject

4. Some people have spoken about it with a lack of care

5. God's ways are not our ways

6. We need to be careful

All the way through these points his hearers nod in agreement - what is there to disagree with.

He then goes on to present a Calvinistic understanding of the subject as if this is the only way in which we can be true to his previous points.

It is sophistry because you can agree with his first points and still come to a different theological view point.

His humble style is appealing but not necessarily affirmation that he is right. Yet it is this style and his initial points that make people think that his conclusion must be correct not the veracity of his conclusion.

I look forward to reading the book for more humble calvinistic insights.

PPI - Does the church mis-sell personal assurance

A recent ruling by the High Court in Britain condemned UK banks for mis-selling Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) when offering mortgages for individuals to buy property. The court took the view that customers had agreed to take on the extra cost involved because they believed that they might not be granted the loans if they were to refuse.

There is little evidence that banks overtly told customers that this was the case but the methods employed in the transactions left a clear implication that agreeing to PPI was an essential part of the process.

There are perhaps lessons for the church, and related mission based organisations, to learn from this ruling.

Firstly, people agree to propositions for a variety of reasons and we should not assume that the overt call for a response is fully understood by the hearer.

An alter call might well be seen as having a clear evangelical message by those who attend the church regularly. The visitor, however, might be responding to the suggested answer to a particular felt need on that occasion.

For example; a young girl arrives at church fresh from the break up of a long standing committed relationship. During the sermon the preacher affirms that speaking with God can offer comfort to those in crisis.

The regular attender hears this as a call to 'become a Christian' and 'start attending the church'. The guest, however, hears that their pain can be eased by praying.

The appeal is given and the woman responds. The church counts this as a decision to become a follower of Christ and processes her application for assurance according.

Thus there are two different interpretations of the same event. The church now speaks to her as if she has made a full commitment to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. She is 'sold' personal assurance on the back of responding to receiving comfort for her felt need.

Secondly, churches and agencies might offer an individual some much needed help in their moment of crisis. During the delivery of this kindness a church worker explains the gospel and offers to pray with them if they desire to respond.

The person in need senses that to refuse this part of the deal might lead to the help being withdrawn or limited and so agrees to become a 'follower of Jesus'.

The church worker may not have intended to mis-communicate the message but in their eagerness to see people respond they perhaps ignore the emotional vulnerability of those in need.

If we consider the high court ruling and allow this to reflect on the two examples above we might consider that some parts of the church could be accused of mis-selling.

Here are a few thoughts to help church leaders avoid falling into such a trap.

1. Avoid using the Barnum Effect*

We perhaps need to be careful in our calls for a response to the gospel that we do not offer a proposition so wide that it could include just about everyone whilst making it look as if we are speaking specifically to individuals.

Appeals that start off with some suggested insight into the circumstances of the intended responder but end up being aimed at 'anyone who is breathing' undermine the strength of the message.

2. Avoid the commoditisation of individuals.

There is a danger that churches measure such responses as the number of 'souls saved' as if this were some key performance indicator. We should never turn people's story into a mere measurement of our success.

It's not that measurement is in itself wrong but that we can begin to count the initial act of getting people to respond as the main indicator of success.

Every person's back story is more important than the ecclesiological statistics of any given church.

3. Understand that behind every person there are many others.

Behind those who responds are others who will develop their own commentary on how the church treats this newcomer.

Families are understandably concerned when their loved ones adopt new patterns of behaviour. The church is rightly judged for how it treats these people.

Much of our teaching, explicitly or otherwise, draws people out of their old life and into a new community. This can cause a division between individuals and their families. One has to question whether this is a goal consistent with the gospel message.

I have often heard evangelical leaders asking the question 'why is the back door bigger than the front?' in the context of church growth.

Perhaps to fully answer this we need to understand more about the journey made by those coming into the church.

If, as we have seen, there is the possibility that the church and those who respond to an appeal can view this transaction in a different way, we must make every effort to handle these moments with care.

We don't want to be accused of mis-selling personal assurance.

(* The Forer effect (also called the Barnum Effect after P.T. Barnum's observation that "we've got something for everyone") is the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.)

Should we rejoice at the death of an enemy?

Several years ago, when our children were still quite young, my car was attacked by a gang of drunken thugs.

I was stuck in stationary traffic with no way of driving away from the incident.

As my third daughter screamed in the back of the car our assailants (more than ten of them) began to kick and rock our vehicle before opening the drivers door and attacking me.

Fearing for our safety, and with what appeared to be very few options, I managed to fall out of my seat and looked for an opportunity of defence.

I hit the one nearest to me and managed to get to my feet. I had no chance of winning against so many guys.

As I continued to fight, with the sound of my daughter still ringing in my ears, several other drivers came to our rescue.

By this time however a rage had come over me and I continued to hit one of our attackers; eventually having to be restrained by my rescuers.

On telling this story to family and friends on my return home I was unequivocally congratulated for having stood up in defence of my daughter.

However, I knew the truth of how I had somehow crossed a line from being the defender to the aggressor. This line was somewhat feint to the external observer but I knew of it's presence so very clearly on that day.

I began to see that evil did not just exist in my attackers but in my heart also, as my fear turned to the most intense rage. I wanted to hurt someone and I wanted to hurt them so badly that other people had to restrain me.

This is our problem when it comes to defending our freedom and our families we can so very easily cross a line; rather than revealing a noble sense of honour it shows the grim truth that evil is not just in another place or another heart.

Times like this are moments for reflection rather than celebration.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Can we question God?

Questioning God

I have been struck by a particular sentiment that seems to be coming from the Calvinist camp in the recent argument over Rob Bell's book.

It seems that we human beings are not allowed to question God. I suppose if you consider humanity to be totally depraved then it probably stands to reason that the God of the universe doesn't owe us anything.

Until that is you consider the self revelation of God as Father. In this respect the creator God has offered a relationship to his creatures that allows for communication within the household.

If God wanted us to think that he was just a distant creator who had remained outside of creation itself then any attempt at raising a question or two would be futile.

If, however, this God has indicated that he sees his creative role as that of a parent producing children it could be thought that he has a responsibility to that which he has birthed.

It's difficult to imagine respecting any parent who would consider that they owe their offspring nothing. Quite the reverse in fact.

God, in his self revelation as Father, has declared himself to be responsible in his love for his children.

In this respect our exploration of this relationship should contain questions that allow for God's revelation to flow through.

Following this thought I would want to answer that God does have a responsibility towards us and we are allowed to ask even the hardest of questions.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Does God owe us anything?

Questioning God. I have been struck by a particular sentiment that seems to be coming from the Calvinist camp in the recent argument over Rob Bell's book. It seems that we human beings are not allowed to question God. I suppose if you consider humanity to be totally depraved then it probably stands to reason that the God of the universe doesn't owe us anything. Until that is you consider the self revelation of God as Father. In this respect the creator God has offered a relationship to his creatures that allows for communication within the household. If God wanted us to think that he was just a distant creator who had remained outside of creation itself then any attempt at raising a question or two would be futile. If, however, this God has indicated that he sees his creative role as that of a parent producing children it could be thought that he has a responsibility to that which he has birthed. It's difficult to imagine respecting any parent who would consider that they owe their offspring nothing. Quite the reverse in fact. God, in his self revelation as Father, has declared himself to be responsible in his love for his children. In this respect our exploration of this relationship should contain questions that allow for God's revelation to flow through. Following this thought I would want to answer that God does have a responsibility towards us and we are allowed to ask even the hardest of questions.

'How much more.......?'

'How much more.......?

'In the midst of all the conversation hitting twitterland about the Rob Bell book and the conservative evangelical backlash it is illuminating to see how much of what is being said reveals what Christians believe about God.

This is, of course, what Rob Bell calls 'the question behind the question'. Or perhaps it has become the statement behind the statement. Many, though not all, of the leaders who criticise Bell believe that God has chosen a select few to be 'saved' and that in this predestination His love is fulfilled.

This is of course at odds with the wider hope expressed by Rob Bell and has lead to him, wrongly in my view, being labelled a universalist. It strikes me that, given Jesus' revelation that we can approach God as Father, the idea of any partiality or favouritism is out of keeping with a complete expression of love.

I fail to imagine that any book on parenting would give the advice 'now have a few children and pick one of them as a favourite'.

Good parenting and a lack of partiality go hand in hand for any decent earthly parent.'How much more.......?'

Defining God by Love

A recent response to Rob Bell's book at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary seems to have captured the imagination of those who are already suspicious that Bell has jumped the evangelical ship and deserves the nebulous term unorthodox. The quote in question goes something like this: 'Rob Bell is defining God by love instead of defining love by God' At first glance it might seem like an excellent assessment of how the subject has been dealt with given that Bell openly admits to have written with disconnected people in mind. When you dig a little further into the idea that we might be able to somehow define love by God you realise that it is possible more sophistry than sense. That is the problem with sophistry it always sounds like it makes sense. It has to be said that it is impossible to develop any theology that is not communicated in an anthropomorphic setting. Scripture itself is given in fully human terms that call upon the hearer to engage with the Divine in the words (inspired as they are) of a particular people at a particular time. It seems to be the way God has chosen to communicate with us: the divine in fully human terms. To accuse Bell of defining God by love and not the reverse is to not only ask the impossible, but to ask him to do what God hasn't done. My challenge in return to those who think this latest critique is correct is: go ahead, describe love by God without using human reference points. I guess we will find that it probably looks a little like describing God by love. But that's ok, incarnational thinking is not a new idea.

Who has the right to say what is orthodox?

Following the recent controversy regarding Rob Bell's soon to be published book about the meaning and nature of hell, one commentator suggested that Bell should no longer be considered as an evangelical.

Quite what difference this would make to the sale of this new book can only be surmised.

This statement did send my thoughts back to some study I had undertaken several years ago about the nature of orthodoxy.

All organisations and cultures develop their own plausible reality structure; one in which certain assumptions and beliefs are taken to be orthodox.

The evangelical community is no exception in this respect and has gathered around a general set of values and beliefs that have become sacrosanct over many years.

This is not to suggest that there is homogeneity of belief within the camp but that the centrally held tenants are seen as the prerequisite for entering into the fold; indeed for continued inclusion.

This said it would not be impossible to produce a list of many points of disagreement between various subsets from within the movement. Everything from eschatology to ecclesiology has the potential to bring division given the right set of circumstances.

From time to time particular subsets develop the loudest voice and therefore, by implication the greatest influence.

Calvinists, Baptists, Pentecostals, charismatics, church growth movements have all been significant voices in shaping the evangelical topography. Usually such voices are initially seen with suspicion but have been able to ride the calls for exclusion on the grounds of orthodoxy due to their popularity.

Their stories are not unlike that of today's fresh thinkers: some of whom have welcomed the label emergent to describe the subset they find themselves within.

Others, like Bell, have earnestly tried to avoid such labels: perhaps in the hope of engendering a wider and deeper conversation.

It seems unavoidable that groups will attempt to define orthodoxy at some level and, by implication, will feel the urge to exclude those who differ significantly at those points that are seen as key.

The sadness is that the call for exclusion often comes at the beginning of the dialogue when questions are being raised.

If individual and groups are to be labelled as heretics for asking key questions about generally accepted views it is likely to create a culture that is all too ready to act as accuser than enquirer.

This stance will only ever lead to a clamping down on the essential element of theological discovery that has taken us from the worst aspects of Christendom to a faith that is able to cope with the nuances of modern life.

Leslie Newbigin once describe the missionary calling as being willing to leave the safety and vantage point of the hill of the cross in order to travel to where another human being exists. In doing so we must risk the notion that they may be right and we may be mistaken whilst trusting that the Holy Spirit will meet us in the dialogue to confirm the work of the cross.

Perhaps church leaders need to adopt a similar stance when looking to build the unity that is so implicitly a part of Christ's passion.

Leaving the safety of our long held doctrines to meet our Christian kinfolk. Taking the risk that they may well be correct we trust that the Holy Spirit will meet us in the dialogue and guide us to truth.

If I am honest I don't sense this willingness in the words of those who call for fellow Christians to be placed outside of their own version of orthodoxy.

We must do better.

Five thoughts on the Rob Bell controversy

1. To those who think they know what the word Evangelical means and feel that all of their congregation believes the same as they do.

Ecclesiological labels don't work anymore.

2. To those who present a firm theological response on every subject.

There is a difference between having a good memory for bible verses and understanding the big story.

3. To those who want to reject people who have genuine 'life' question.

Ignoring important questions does not make your views more correct.

4. To those who spend time trying to defend a religion.

Deciding that someone is OUT of the orthodoxy does not mean they are.

5. To those who want to destroy a man in order to destroy an idea.

You can be wrong even if you were right.

- Posted from my iPhone

God and the City

A recent church leader’s conference in Belfast had as its theme the idea that cities are strategic for the growth and continuation of the church. This along with similar themes heading our direction from across the pond got me thinking about church life in rural Yorkshire; after all I don’t want to be wasting my time in the ecclesiological wilderness.

It does seem that the largest congregations in the UK, and indeed across the world, have church planting policies with a defined city focus. We might have Hillsong-London but it’s hard to imagine Hillsong-Dibley.

The idea appears to be set against the back-drop of, what commentators have called Salvation and Lift. Particularly relevant amongst churches that have been started in the poorer areas of our society during the mid to end of the last century, it suggests that once individuals have found the ‘salvation’ offered via the church they move on to experience a widening of their personal horizons; leading to greater aspiration in everything from education, healthcare, and career, to property ownership.

Although their newfound spirituality begins in the inner city church they soon wish to move to the suburbs in order to build better lives for themselves and their families.

Perhaps some church leaders feel the need to reverse this trend by encouraging congregation members to move back to the city.

So is this a valid claim and should I pack up my family, sell my lawnmower, and head for the high-rise flats of Leeds.

I suppose the bible does mention cities an awful lot and these examples are often trotted out as proof that cities are important.

A quick bible word search reveals that the word city is mentioned six times more than village; although things are evened up somewhat when you add the results for town. It needs to be added, however, that multi-storey car park isn’t mentioned a single time whilst manure has two references. At this point I could rest my case but it needs to be considered that very few of the initial Jesus followers would have been seen as the influencers of their day. The comments made about Peter and John being uneducated in Acts 4 seem to hint at this.

These biblical references are usually followed by a series of sociological ‘facts’ concerning the nature of modern life; not least of which is that people who live in cities are the movers and shakers of society and therefore city churches have a greater opportunity for influence.

At first glance this might seem true, yet when you consider that not all cities are the same you start to realise that perhaps the idea is somewhat flawed. The major capital cities of the world have a distinct role to play in their respective nation’s sociological make up that others smaller cities do not have.

No disrespect to the people of Cornwall, but Truro ain’t no Paris.

Therefore to present cities as a focus without specifying any of the potential differences perhaps misses the point. Secondly, most of the movers and shakers suggested as influential do not surely live in the cities but have built their homes in the towns and villages that fill our countryside. They may well commute to the city to fulfil their chosen role but they live elsewhere.

In this respect the church with the greatest opportunity of influencing such people must be the rural congregation.

So, if the real driver of this city focus is not biblical or sociological, what could it be?

Perhaps it is what the business world calls ROI or Return on Investment.

For those involved in commerce this is generally related to finances though I am not suggesting that this is necessarily true for those groups that focus their energies on cities.

It could be said, however, that any community based project demands a certain emotional, social, physical, and spiritual investment and that the human condition needs the encouragement of some level of return on this outlay.

In this respect the city offers the greatest opportunity for return on investment. Whilst the project might have more competition, so to speak, from other churches, it has a larger population from which to gain new members. There is also a higher chance of gaining disenfranchised members from other churches to give the launch a little more momentum.

The rural church plant can never match such an ROI and in many ways may always be called upon to give more than it receives. But this in no way lessens either its potential influence or indeed its value.

Having said all this it does strike me that there is another reason for questioning the idea on offer; namely it does not reflect how contemporary life works.

People are no longer making social connections merely by geography. In fact the evidence suggests that geography is becoming the lowest driver of connectivity for those under thirty. In this respect the opportunities for influence are not limited merely by the churches postcode.

It doesn’t seem to work either biblically or sociologically; although it may well work from a business perspective. Perhaps this is why the energy of some of the world’s largest churches is focussed on cities rather than towns and villages. I am grateful for many of those larger churches and their leaders, and I wish them well.

As for me; I will keep spreading the manure and avoiding the multi-storey car parks.

The Great Cake Conspiracy

It is several weeks since the end of the recent holidays and I need to confess that I am still eating Christmas cake.

I set new year course towards a more healthy lifestyle but I hadn't considered on one thing; namely a friend of ours called Christine.

I feel sure that everyone must know a Christine and that their lives are enriched by the experience. For she is one if life's bakers. Not by trade you understand but by way of a hobby.

Every social occasion, when we gather with our friends, she takes the opportunity of bringing some tasty offering that is sure to beat even the most determined fitness resolve.

Banana cakes, scones with strawberries and cream, lemon flans, and her now famous Christmas cake.

I, of course, feel it is my duty as a friend to try all of the produce on offer; well! It would seem rude not to.

Mrs M, my bride of almost thirty years and self-appointed personal nurse, has her own opinion on whether this approach is helpful for my general well-being.

We had a friend with similar skills when we lived in Norfolk. Ros would also bring to our social gatherings a selection of tasty mouthfuls that would often become a pleasant feature of the evening.

Her speciality was chocolate and toffee shortbread and she was so aware of my attachment to this particular item from her repertoire that she brought a whole box full to our fiftieth birthday party last year.

So, as I experienced in Norfolk, I am still eating Christmas cake well beyond the resolution deadline.

There is another similarity between our two baking friends; both of them are not particularly keen on sweet things, meaning that they bring all this delicious ware but do not eat anything. In fact both of them, unlike this wayward writer, are slim. Some may be cruel and say that I am fat but I prefer to think of myself as jolly.

This provision of delicious produce by friends who don't like sweet foods has started me thinking. What if these lovely folk are actually part of a big conspiracy by thin people to keep us tubby ones from losing weight.

I put my idea to our friend Christine last week when she tempted me with fruit filled cake, and she chuckled, treating my comments as just a humorous aside. She didn't technically deny it however.

Mrs M, as usual not crediting my thoughts with any seriousness, said that such a theory does not remove any sense of my own responsibility.

I responded with 'My name is Alan and I love cake!'

Even after my wife's dismissive attitude, I still feel that I have hit on a valid theory.

So Christine and Ros, along with the rest of you conspirators, I know what you are doing. So please stop bringing so much cake in order to keep my rotund.

If Mrs M is not listening, however, can I have just one more piece of your delicious Christmas cake.

After all I don't want to appear rude!

- Posted from my iPhone

Lydia the Snail Farmer

Mark Driscoll recently made a statement indicating that men should not be stay-at-home dads. He went on to inform his listeners that if anyone did to choose such a lifestyle they would face church discipline. Although the comments were mainly aimed at men, career women were obviously included as a target.

It is hard to think that such statements would be made this far in to the twenty first century yet we should not be too surprised. This offering comes as part of the general backlash being raised against the rising tide of a more progressive approach in the evangelical scene.

The forthright pastor used 1 Timothy 5:8 as his proof text, a verse that records the Apostle Paul saying ‘Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.’

I could spend most of my time commenting on his lack of understanding of the text or the fact that he takes the whole thing out of context but I think there is a deeper issue here. I will, however, briefly point out that the preacher ignores the earlier reference to widows and places the emphasis upon men when the Greek text does not.

I need to mention at this point that I am the father of four beautiful daughters and I am proud to be so. Their mother is also beautiful and somewhat feisty and together we have raised our girls to be capable young women. You may think that this would make me somewhat biased when it comes to talking about such things. I will admit to the potential for bias if you will concede that my circumstances may well have focussed my mind a little sharper on the issues involved.

My wife and I dealt with the egalitarian argument and women in leadership some years ago when we took the time to read every available book on the subject and speak with many church leaders from a variety of backgrounds. My bride of thirty years is a capable preacher and leader in her own right and, I might add, has changed the mind of more than one theological seminary teacher on the subject.

As we studied the material and reflected on the biblical texts we were mindful that we wanted to get this right for our daughters. We were determined to face up to the truth we found which ever way it went.

What we discovered was a shocking display of bad exegesis and bias from some of the world’s leading theologians and systematic teachers. They approached the key texts on such matters in ways that they would never approach other parts of the bible. We were left slightly shocked as we heard such arguments as the following examples.

In answering how God can use a women to lead in the mission field and yet not in the church we heard; ‘God will sometimes use a woman until he finds a man to take over the lead role.’

In answering the question about women who write books we were offered; ‘I prefer to not see these books as teaching and view them more like a conversation over coffee.’

There were, of course, some on the opposite of the argument who spent their time deconstructing the Apostle Paul, trying to say that we should ignore some of what he says because he was biased.

So what were we to make of it all in the light of our own experiences, our reading of scripture, and the future of our four young daughters?

There were several things that struck us during this time that helped us to form a view.

1 We have to allow for some contextual understanding of the texts. Everybody does this even if they declare otherwise. Most evangelicals view Luke in a different way than they see Leviticus for example. We had to try and understand what was being said to the original hearers.

2 We had to allow the life and teaching of Jesus to help us interpret the rest of scripture. This sounds like basic stuff but as we researched we realised that most of our doctrines had been based upon the letters of Paul with only a cursory glance back to the teaching of Jesus.

3 We had to realise that God did not make us to be church members primarily; he created us to be children of his kingdom. In this respect God does not differentiate between what happens inside the church and outside of it. We tend to ask ‘How can we be good Christians?’ when the Holy Spirit is urging us to be good human beings.

From these thoughts we decided that Jesus affirmed and released women. He included them at the most important parts of his life and ministry. We also saw some of the best examples of obedience from the female members of the cast.

Added to this were some of the revolutionary ideas found in the very verses that have become a difficulty for us. 1 Timothy 2 tells us that ‘A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.’ The church has focussed on submission without seeing the almost culturally offensive idea that women should, in fact, learn. Quietness and submission were a mark of learning for men and in this sentence Paul includes women at a level that would not have been generally accepted by his community.

We also began to realise that God has a holistic approach to our lives. If, as we see from examples like Lydia the Snail Farmer in Acts 16, God is pleased to have women lead in business, medicine, education, politics, and most other arrears of life, why would he confine them in the church.

Granted, these few thoughts might not be enough for your to make a decision about such things, but for us it felt like a release.

So, if one of my daughters wants to pursue a career and let her husband raise the kids then they will receive my support. If one of my son-in-laws is better equipped to run their family home, then so be it.

And if any of them, male or female, feel that the Holy Spirit is guiding them towards church leadership I, for one, will say a loud and hearty Hallelujah!

- Posted from my iPhone