From 'farewell Rob Bell' to 'You're fanatics charismatics'

It's not that long ago that John Piper felt confident in excluding Rob Bell from the evangelical playground with his infamous tweet. Many others piped in (no pun intended) to declare that Rod was now confirmed as a heretic. I presume he had been on the slide for a long time: that sort of behaviour is likely yo get you kicked out of the playground. He had been a very naughty boy in suggesting that God might be a bit more gracious than some Calvinists had hoped for.

At the time I had many an internet debate with my charismatic conversation partners about whether Pastor Piper had been too quick to make such a statement and I was surprised at how few understood my concern at the use of the 'H' word against someone to whom we find disagreement with.

Well now John MacArthur has raised his voice in support of the idea that we can exclude others from the playground by declaring that Pentecostals and charismatics are in fact worse than Rob Bell and other so called liberals and should be considered in league with the devil: or at least in swing with him.

At the time of Bellgate I was a little dismayed at how few key leaders spoke in defence of Rob's right to raise legitimate questions about how we understand the grace of God. Even if you disagree with his conclusions, it seemed to me obvious that exclusion was not helpful.

Now, some of the voices that tried to defend John Piper's tweet waving goodbye to Rob are becoming louder in reaction to their own rejection from the fold by John Macarthur. It doesn't seem quite so comfortable now does it?

Let me declare my hand by saying that I became a Christian in a Pentecostal church and spent many years as part of a charismatic stream. I am, for sure, nearer to Rob Bell's thinking than most charismatics would want to admit but I have not rejected all of my pentecostal heritage. As such I completely disagree with Pastor MacAthur's cessationist theology.

Having said this my argument is not with him or his gang of strange fire reformed baptists. My concern is with those who remained silent when Rob was being thrown out of the fold and who are now complaining because they are being given the same treatment.

It seems that the use of the 'H' word is easier to live with when it used against others.

My Hidden Advantage When it comes to Gender Issues

I have been commenting on a blog by Mike Duran entitled 'Are Christian Feminists Hurting Their Cause?' In which he suggests that the recent response to Emily Weirengy' piece called 'The Lost Art of Servanthood (letter to my feminist sisters)' has pushed him towards complementarianism.
One or two comments have been overtly against how I see the world - even suggesting that t might be noble for a woman to stay in an abusive situation. I have been misunderstood in some of my response. I don't particularly mind this but it does show you how we all come to such issues from diverse points of view.
I have tried to suggest to Mike that the hiddenness of our prejudices make it almost impossible to not be affected when we engage in debate. In light of this it is important for us to recognise the advantage we have before we look to comment on how another group might respond to a particular issue. In one sense, as a man, I may well be sympathetic towards feminism, I may even call myself a male feminist, but I cannot truly be one because I have been given the invisible advantage of being male in a patriarchal society. The thinking goes like the:
1. When two people engage it is highly likely that one person will have an advantage over the other that they may not be aware of; but it exists. In a patriarchal leaning society the male will have travelled through life with an invisible passport not possessed by the female; this will have given access to areas in education, work life, church, and wider society that operates in an invisible way. It is not overtly expressed but is conditioned by all of the images around us.
It is not just with gender but also with race, sexuality, education, family background. So many ways. It is said that doors will have been opened more for a good looking person compared to someone less visually appealing by societies standards. This is about advantage.
2. There's is a saying in Britain that the Queen thinks the whole world smells of fresh Magnolia paint. This is because when she is about to visit a place someone will have just painted. Because of this she cannot know what the world smells like for the rest of us. At one level this might be said to be not her fault because she doesn't write to people to ask them to paint. The people do it because of some conditioning about what a queen should expect. At another level, even though she can't change it, any comments she makes will either be unconnected, if she doesn't acknowledge her privilege, or connected, if she does acknowledge her privilege.
3. When men comment on how women have reacted to an issue (as Mike has done with his blog) he does so from a position of privilege. I am absolutely certain that he has not intended to cause offence to anyone. In fact I feel very sure that he writes about what he sees as a genuine issue for Christian communities. It is, however, the lack of acknowledgement of privilege that makes the words that seem reasonable from one perspective unreasonable from another perspective. Has Mike done this on purpose; no. Is he being intentionally patriarchal; no. But the positions we have that are fuelled by the advantage we have use the patriarchal system that has given them the advantage.
So when Maya (one of the commenters who challenges the main thrust of Mike's blog) expresses her frustration that somehow there is a mismatch between how she might be treated as a woman and how I might be treated as a man, it is fuelled by the hidden advantage.
I know this because I have journeyed to try to work through my own hidden use of the patriarchal advantages that I have been handed. At first I wanted to react against it because I have always seen myself as being against sexism. The problem however is far deeper than we can often see.
Mike responded thus:
'Alan, so is there any way, any man, can suggest any woman, is ever wrong w/out having it “charged with hidden advantage”? I apologize, but this sounds more like feminist theory psycho-babble. And if you “have been where some of the men are who are commenting” and have overcome your “privileged status,” isn’t it possible that some men have overcome that bias too…but just disagree with you?'
My response was as follows:
1) Of course we can offer critique and challenge. We just have to be aware of our advantage.
2) You might want to dismiss it as feminist theory psycho-babble but I would encourage you to think again. It is wider than just a feminist issue. If I take my own context as a white, western, educated, male, church leader, then I look to be aware that:
- When I meet with my UK Asian friends I have had doors opened to me that they haven't.
- When I speak to those from say Africa I have a western advantage of both resource and opportunity.
- When I meet with those who have not had the educational opportunities that I have had I recognise that doors have been opened to me not based on intelligence but on being able to convert my thoughts in to exam results.
- When I speak to church members I try to recognise that I am afforded treatment in our community that they do not receive.
Now it is of course true that each of these advantages can have negative aspects: a bit like the fact that the queen doesn't have some of the freedoms to roam that her subjects have. She can't just pop out for a walk. But any complaint about these tends to sound like the millionaire pop star who is annoyed that his fans keep asking for autographs. It must be annoying but it is nothing compared to the privilege of their wealth and fame.
3) I don't feel I have overcome my privilege and really that is not the point of what I am saying. How much I try to work to level out the gender injustices I know that I cannot make enough difference to change the way we are conditioned to view people in certain ways. It is however the ongoing acknowledgement of the advantage and the continued debate that can make us aware of its affects upon us all.
By the way it is worth noting that you and I can also be subject to the negative affects of this hidden advantage given the right context. I am from the north of England and and have a distinct accent - in the UK there is a perception that Received Pronunciation (posh accent) opens doors that would not be readily opened for me. In a similar way it would be highly unlikely that I would have studied at Oxford or Cambridge because the top 5 private schools fill more places than the next 2000 UK schools.
I know you might want to dismiss this as psycho-babble but it is worth considering further. Alan

What this thought process does is to frame all of our comments in a context that makes us aware of the magnolia paint.

Think about how this changes the way we speak and deal with others who do not share your advantage.

What are your thoughts on this important issue?

It's not about the humour.....

Having just retreated from a social media debate about the above video Bev and I sat and licked our wounds as we talked about the difference in the way it seemed that most people has reacted.

The clip is called 'It's not about the nail' and can be found here:

The discussions go something like this:

Person A on Facebook 'This clip is soooo funny'

Various friends of person A 'Lol' or other approving comments.

Bev or I 'this undermines women'

Everyone else 'you need to get a sense of humour'

Bev and I 'ouch'

So what is going on here. Are we right in wanting to point out what seems blatantly obvious. Are 'they' right suggesting that it a just a bit of fun and that our sense of humour is deficient.

Firstly, the video is written and filmed in a humorous way and it does reflect the type of conversations men and women might find themselves in:

Woman: there is a problem

Man: let me fix it

Woman: you never listen

Man: I know but I can see what needs fixing

Woman: it's not about the nail

Audience: LOL

Now let me explain what Bev and I saw immediately as we watched the video clip (we watched it independently)

Firstly, the 'nail' or woman's problem is so blindingly obvious that anyone, including other women, could see it. What the woman needs to do is stop talking and let the man take the nail out.

Secondly, if the piece was merely about the different ways that women and men view things then it would not have been just a nail. A nail is not an issue of perspective. In this video the man is seeing the obvious, and true issue, the woman is ignoring this and blaming the man's need to fix things.

Granted, my two observations are not as funny as the video so in one sense I can see how our interlocutors would view us as having no sense of humour.

The problem for Bev and I is that the video IS about the 'nail' but the problem that it highlights is NOT about the humour.

I would simply leave you with these two thoughts.

Men: if this video massaged your feelings of being hard done to when in conversations with your partner then pause for a minute. Did you want to turn to her and say 'see! This is what I have been saying. Pause and reflect. Is the problem she speaks about as obvious as a nail in the head?

Women: if the video made you laugh because it reflected the kind of arguments you have with your partner then pause for a minute. Consider the next time you argue that your husband might simply say 'let me take out the nail'. Will it feel funny then?

The Queen thinks the whole world smells of magnolia paint....

When living in Norfolk several years ago I happened to be completing a speaking engagement on an RAF base not far from our home. It was about a week before Queen Elizabeth was due to visit to inspect the camp.

I was given access to one of the married quarters that would be used to show the Queen how this section of her loyal servants lived. The room had been given somewhat of a makeover in order to create a good impression; new carpets, freshly laid lawn (borrowed from a local cricket pitch), a chandelier in the lounge, and a toilet that had been soundproofed just in case HRH needed to spend a royal penny. In addition the whole house had been repainted.

This taste of unreality is what the Queen experiences everywhere she goes. Each of numerous hospital wards, charity buildings, factories, and other assorted venues will have been freshly painted just prior to her visit. Hence the phrase 'The Queen thinks the whole world smells of magnolia paint'. Magnolia being the standard cover-all colour of choice by builders and decorators up and down the United Kingdom.

It is not directly the queens fault of course. She cannot truly know what she doesn't know. In a similar way each of us 'smells' or views the world in our own unique way and we don't completely know how other people perceive things.

So it is with issues of race, gender, and sexuality; we can do our best to empathise but we can only know in part. This is additionally complicated by the fact that some of us occupy positions of privilege. I, as a white, western, heterosexual, male, walk around a freshly painted world compared to the world experienced by those who do not fit into these categories.

Now there is understandably nothing I can do about these categories; without wanting to turn this into a musical 'I am what I am'. It does, however, present me with both a challenge and a responsibility.

Firstly, the challenge is for me to acknowledge the privilege that is delivered to me often without my knowledge; to acknowledge the presence of the magnolia paint and to recognise that this is not the reality for others who are not offered such a privilege.

Secondly, I have a responsibility to both listen to those who do not have the advantage of privilege and to become part of movement of change.

When I come to engage with issues of race I must first acknowledge my position of privilege in that I live in a society that is weighted in the favour of a white person. The popular press would like to present a different picture when dealing with issue such as immigration but I know that my path is eased by the colour of my skin.

Similarly when tackling issues of gender I can never fully know how it feels for a woman to deal with systemic gender bias.

Likewise when addressing issues of sexuality I am also privileged. I have been struck by some of the arguments raised against the proposed inclusion of homosexual marriage that seem to suggest those with a more traditional view are being victimised. It is my view that this stems from a lack of appreciation for the privilege position of being heterosexual in our society. We can never know what it is to face the kind of rejection and negative treatment experienced by our gay friends and family.

In first century Palestine it was thought shocking connect with Gentiles, Romans, Prostitutes, the sick,and Tax Collectors yet these are the kinds of people that Jesus related to even at the risk of being condemned himself. In doing so he showed us that no earthly constructed privilege hierarchy could truly define the value of human beings. He came to show us that all are equal and all are equally loved by God.

At the beginning of his major sermon highlighting just how things were meant to be in a kingdom where God was in charge he declared that the poor in spirit were to be known as blessed. The ptochoi pneuma (spiritually breathless) where to be makarios (free and unfettered).

Challenging the place of privilege, even in ourselves, is turning the system upside down so that inequality is shown for the evil that it is. Challenging the place of privilege is declaring that in God's kingdom the first shall be last and the last shall be first, even if it costs us to do so; perhaps even if it makes us look Christ-like and costs us our lives.

So here I am a white, western, heterosexual, male and I admit that the world smells of fresh magnolia paint in a way that is not true for others and I am committed to becoming part of the answer.

If Simon Cowell ran a church......

In our many musings about how to do church my wife and I were struck by the, not original, thought that much of what we do reflects the culture in which we work. In once sense this is in keeping with an incarnational model that looks to express the gospel in the words, images, and memes of the world in which we find ourselves.

As I have expressed before each of us will have a narrative of our lives and a subsequent narrating voice that will set the scene. I have long wanted mine to be like Clint Eastwood or Liam Neeson with the resultant 'Go ahead punk; make my day' or 'I will find you and I will kill you'. It all sounds so masculine; so Mark Driscoll. I fear that my narration is done by Alan Bennett simply expressing 'he sat down with a pot of tea and a garibaldi biscuit'. (Use your imagination here)

What, however, would the church look like if the narration of our church was done by Peter Dickson, the announcer on the X-factor and other Simon Cowell shows: 'for ONE NIGHT ONLY our first hymn is TO THINE BE THE GLORY'. (Again try your best to imagine this spoken by Peter)

So what would a church look like if Simon Cowell was in charge and he used the same methodology employed on shows like Britain's Got Talent. Firstly let us look at the key features of Simon Cowell's TV model.

1) It relies on the involvement of as many people as possible so that a few talented people could rise to the top and shine. The numbers game is very important here and only a few stories become relevant.

2) Some people are given a voice for a moment as long as it serves the presentation as a whole. Little care is given to how they might feel after the programme is aired.

3) The production is maintained by a group of people who have managed to make their way through the original rounds in order to fill appropriate positions. All of them, however, will be motivated by the possibility of being noticed and elevated to a more prominent position, even though most of them are unlikely to achieve their aspiration.

4) The key players, Simon and his judges, experience the joys of the seclusion and rarified air of the Green Room so that they don't have to mix with those that are merely commodities of the process. The statement 'The Queen thinks the whole works smells of Magnolia paint' fits here suggesting that everything they experience is removed from reality because others have been there before to prepare the way.

5) Even if someone reaches the centre stage or wins the competition they will never fully shape or inherit Cowell's empire.

Of course church is very different from television so perhaps our Simon would not be able to fully have his way if he became a mega church pastor. After all if he did we might see churches where the following were key indicators:

1) Success would be marked by the numbers of people who attend.

2) Any story would be included as long as it was positive and affirmed the main vision of the church. Afterwards there would be little support for the person themselves.

3) People would be valued as long as they served the vision. It would be constantly suggested that service would produce fulfilment and success in life.

4) The main leaders would generally be separated from most of the church community. They would smell the magnolia paint if you will.

5) Even when someone has been a key player, whether they have written songs or served on the main stage, they will reach a stage where their gift is redundant. They will more than likely not be a key figure in the future of the church.

I am just glad to say the Simon is not a church leader and churches that follow this model do not exist: or do they?

When making the rules means missing the point!

During my theological training in Cambridge I had the pleasure of attending several lectures by Dr Edward Kessler of The Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations. Central to much of his teaching was a passion to help Christians understand the Jewish world of both the Old and New Testaments.
He detailed how Jewish thought placed wider teaching around the central idea of loving God in order to help adherents to remain faithful. You will see this depicted in the diagram below. Given that the central teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures is that we should love God there is a need to place a set of laws, the Ten Commandments, around this to ensure that we remain faithful to the instruction to love God.
Our need for certainty doesn't stop there are we look to build a further fence around these laws in order to ensure we do not risk failure. These are known as the Mitzvah which represent the other 613 laws detailed in the Old Testament.
In order to ensure adherence to the Mitzvah another fence is added called the Halakha. This literally means walk and contains instruction on he the laws might be lived out.
All of the above is informed by commentary writings known as Midrash.
So we see how each fence, aimed at ensuring obedience to the central instruction, removes us further away. In the end it becomes harder to see what the main point is and so our discussions become focused on the rules rather than on God.
At this point it might be easy to consider the pictures of the Pharisees in the New Testament. Before we paint them as necessarily having wrong motives we should pause for a moment. Could it be that that in their genuine search to remain faithful they created too many extra fences. We in the church seem to find it all to easy to fall into the same trap.
I read a blog recently reminding us of Wayne Grudem's attempt at providing 83 rules to help churches know when are where women are allowed to serve (link below).
As I read this list I was reminded of Dr Kessler's teaching about the Pharisees.
How does a church become so focussed on rules that, in producing 83, it fails to see the God who longs to liberate all without reference to gender.
To listen to my sermon on John 3:16 in which I explain some of the above, click on the link below:

The Male Gaze and The Complementarian Church

In 1975 the feminist writer and theorist, Laura Mulvey, highlighted a problem to be found in the film and media industry in how it portrays women. She suggested that:

The male gaze occurs when the camera puts the audience into the perspective of a heterosexual man. It may linger over the curves of a woman's body, for instance. The woman is usually displayed on two different levels: as an erotic object for both the characters within the film, as well as the spectator who is watching the film. The man emerges as the dominant power within the created film fantasy. The woman is passive to the active gaze from the man. This adds an element of 'patriarchal' order and it is often seen in "illusionistic narrative film". Mulvey argues that, in mainstream cinema, the male gaze typically takes precedence over the female gaze, reflecting an underlying power asymmetry.

The key element here is that women are essentially referenced by men in terms of value and function. I would suspect that very few evangelicals would disagree with her view that women are over sexualised in such a way. I would like to suggest, however, that the same critique can be used in response to complementarianism; in terms of value and function if not in sexualisation.

Let's see if this theory works:

1) The male gaze occurs when the preacher puts the congregation into the perspective of the heterosexual man.

2) The woman is usually displayed on two different levels: unregenerate whore or wholesome homemaker.

3) The man emerges as the dominant power within the created ecclesiology.

4) The woman is passive to the active leadership of the man.

5) In complementarian churches the male gaze typically takes precedent over the female gaze, reflecting an underlying power asymmetry.

The destructiveness found in the media industry is worthy of challenge. The effects of the theological male gaze in church is equally in need of question.


One man's ceiling is another man's floor - Evangelical Sophistry

Have you ever listened to a sermon or read a blog that seems to have the ring of truth about it but leaves you with misgivings because you recognise that what's on offer it is not the whole story. I heard one recently and it left me with the need to dig a little deeper into what was being said. The speaker made huge statements about key issues facing evangelicalism at this time and linked them in ways that appeared to be legitimate. It didn't help that his audience seemed to be lapping up every word.

He was attempting to make a reasoned, and thought out argument, but what we were given was a great example of sophistry.

At its heart sophistry is an argument, viewpoint, or thesis that at first sounds plausible but is essentially misguided - at least in the way that the case is made. It is not that I am saying that the conclusions are without merit but that the style of argument does not prove what the speaker intended.

It went a little like this (shortened for the sake of space):

Speaker 'we need to be biblical' - Audience 'yes'.

Speaker 'we need to have a balance of grace and truth'. - Audience 'yes'

Speaker 'family life is breaking down'. - Audience 'yes'

Speaker 'people have no respect for God'. - Audience 'yes'

Speaker 'Pastor X has questioned beliefs that we hold dear'. - Audience 'yes'

Speaker 'She/he is undermining God's word'. - Audience 'yes'

Speaker 'this means that they are no longer an evangelical'. - Audience 'yes'

At first glance it may not be completely apparent why this is problematic; let me try to explain.

Sophistry can take many forms but in the context discussed here it follows this well worn pattern:

1) The speaker/writer makes a number of statements that are seemingly easy to agree with. For example 'we need to be biblical' or 'we need to have a balance of grace and truth'.

Neither of these two statements are easily measurable. To quote Paul Simon 'one man's ceiling is another man's floor'. The listener/reader is inclined to agree with what is on offer because they judge them from their own context and so are drawn into the sophistic trap.

Most Christians will concede that having the correct mix of grace and truth is essential because it suggests to them a comforting balance; but who is to judge what the correct mix is.

I am a big of a fan of television cooking competitions. Watch a few shows and it is not long before you hear the idea offered that good cooking needs the correct balance of both sweet and savoury. Here is where the difficult lies. Every judge has a different palate. They approach the dish in different ways. They can agree with the idea of balance but they cannot agree with how this should be achieved. In this context the statement 'good cooking needs a good balance of sweet and savoury' becomes a truism in that it does not offer any useful, measurable guidance. So it is with the notion of 'a balance between grace and truth' - we can agree with it as a statement but how on earth can we measure whether we are agreeing with the same theology or practice.

2) The next stage is to introduce statements that appeal to the hearers sense of fear. Often these revolve around the various levels of dysfunctionality found in society. The link is made to the problems highlighted in point 1 and so we see cause and effect confirmed in the mind of the listener/reader.

3) Added to the above is a good number of statements about unrelated subjects that show how poor the theology is of the Christian preacher being disagreed with. Quite often there is enough reference to the original speakers work to be recognisable but in truth what is offered is a caricature.

4) It is often at this point that questions are raised about the opponents evangelical pedigree; sometimes even to the point of calling them a heretic. Firstly it is worth noting here that the original meaning of the word was 'a free thinker' and used to identify those who didn't tow the party line so to speak. This is where evangelicals have a problem; essentially there is no formal party line. For sure people will trot out various reference points that suggest there is common agreement, but most groups are subject to being called heretical by other sincere evangelicals at some point. It is not that long ago that some reformed evangelical Calvinists were throwing the accusation at Pentecostals. Indeed, if you care to read the comments section on most Christian blogs it still occurs today all too regularly. Again Paul Simon's ceiling and floor analogy is useful to us here in understanding our own folly.

All of the above is intended to ensure that the audience agrees with the stated position of the speaker. This is done by a growing sense of the hearers need, or inclination, to say yes to the various statements being proposed.

We emotionally say 'yes' to the truisms of 'we need to be biblical' and 'we need to have a balance of grace and truth' even though they are subjective and not measurable.

Our insecurities are engaged and we agree that 'family life is breaking down' and that 'people have no respect for God'.

It seems obvious that 'Pastor X has questioned beliefs that we hold dear' and that 'She/he is undermining God's word'.

At this point the hearer has become so used to saying 'yes' to the statements offered that the final premiss is agreed to without question ensuring that the audience will feel comfortable in dismissing Pastor X and their 'heretical' views and nod assent to the conclusion that 'this means that they are no longer an evangelical'.

The reason that the above example can be called sophistry is because it sounds like a reasoned argument when in fact the link between the initial truisms (being biblical and the need for grace and truth) and societal dysfunctionality has not been proved, at least not in this sermon. Added to this is that Pastor X's views are being linked to the other statements in a spurious way.

I suggest that this form of argument treats neither the subject nor the audience with respect. If we feel the need to disagree with another's theology surely we can do so without resorting to sophistry.

I intend to write a further blog on how preaching and propaganda can overlap. Watch this space!

Does God owe us anything?

It is a regular Calvinist suggestion, when questioned about the harder issues of life, that 'God owes us nothing'. I presume that the statement is either meant to stop us on our tracks or to shame us into becoming silent followers of a doctrine that presents God as a vulnerable and careless creator (rather than the sovereign and benevolent deity that they try to offer).

I think, however, that such statements are far from rooted in the teachings of Jesus even though Calvinists are at pains to display their 'biblical' credentials.

Perhaps the greatest, and most consistent, teachings of Christ about God is the idea of fatherhood. Leslie Newbigin highlights this when he shows that the use of the aramaic term 'Abba' in the predominately Greek New Testament shows a care for the actual words of Jesus in showing an intimacy within the creator/creature relationship.

Every parent has a responsibility for their child that must include the space for 'why' questions. This alone demands that the parent owes the child both a duty of care and a responsive attitude to the pleadings of their offspring. The alternative would suggest that the parent is lacking in both responsibility and love.

So it must be with God; the creator, or parent, owes the created, or child a loving response that must be open to question. In this space questions of 'why' become sacred rather than sinful.

The Polite Misogynists are The Worst Kind

There has been a recent row concerning the treatment of Mary Beard, Cambridge Professor, after her appearance on BBC's Question Time. A discussion website called 'Dont Start Me Off' contained comments from contributors that were incredible offensive.
I support the idea of free speech and am reluctant to say that some things should be censored. The level of abuse seen here, however, that included comments about Mary's female body parts and suggestions of rape, were an affront to the gift of free speech that we long to protect.
Argue with Mary's opinions if you like but do not demean humanity by making it about things that really don't concern others.
The owner of website has since closed it down but not before suggesting that Mary hasn't got a sense of humour.
Then came an article by Rod Liddle in The Spectator suggesting that Mary wasn't blameless in the whole debacle. According to Rod we need to be a little more grown up about things. Thankfully Rod is grown up and to prove it says that he runs a competition on his website called 'The Most Stupid Woman to have appeared on Question Time in the last 12 months'.
Now before you look to make your nominations it's worth noting here that Rod is only looking for Stupid Women. It could be that Question Time doesn't allow stupid men to appear. Or it could be that Rod is revealing his own misogyny, albeit in a refined and humorous way.
It seems to me that whenever I see vile, misogynist, and aggressive people expressing their views they are quickly followed by eloquent and seemingly reasonable commentators who reinforce their objectionable opinions; often calling women "whiners" or "shrill" in order to undermine a woman's viewpoint.
The overtly vile are, in one sense, easier to dismiss; people like Rod are not because they have what looks like a legitimate voice on a legitimate platform.
This behaviour is not good enough; no matter how refined it appears.

Steve Chalk and the Silence of the Shepherds

I have been struck by the relative silence on the Internet and media in reaction to Steve's recent statement about reshaping the evangelical attitude to the LGBT community. The public reactions seem to a fallen into a number of camps:

1) There are those, including me, who have offered support to Steve and see his comments as both useful and brave.

2) There are those who have made a definitive stand against what he says; some of whom have questioned his evangelical status.

3) There are some who have expressed support for Steve at a personal level but have have critiqued his conclusions.

4) There are some who have remained silent.

It is this last group that interests me most as, understandably, we have no way of knowing what has motivated them to remain silent at a public level. There are some key Evangelical voices, shepherds, that are yet to be heard on this matter.

I propose that there could be two main reasons for this lack of public response:

One - It could well be true that some wish the subject would just go away. They are perhaps hoping not to add any fuel to the current fire of discussion so that it extinguishes itself.

Two - It could be that some are where Steve Chalk was a few years ago. They have legitimate concerns about the usual evangelical stance on homosexuality but have not yet found the place where they can speak openly. In fact to speak openly will cost them a great deal and so they remain silent.

Whatever causes these key voices to remain silent I would simply say the following:

To the first group - The subject is not going away, you will have to deal with it if you want to live in the real world.

To the second group - It is time for the kind of bravery shown by Steve.

Calvinism's Untrustworthy God

Those who know me will have little doubt of my dislike of Calvinism. I am not dispassionate about it because I believe it to be a dangerous belief system not least because of the way it suggests to its adherents that the value of some human beings is less than that of those who are elect.

Of course the theologians who support this version of reformed belief will give reasons why these un-favoured created beings are not of less value and that it is all to 'the glory of God', but I am not convinced.

I have theological reasons for disagreeing with them and can find significant scriptural support for saying that they have created a closed system that is wrong.

Here however I want to offer an emotional, and hopefully thoughtful, response to their view that God has favoured some people before they were even born.
I find no comfort in being loved by a God who, without explanation, chooses to include me and yet not others. You have to remember that, given the Calvinist's belief in total depravity there is nothing moral about the one elected that sets them apart from from the one damned. In this environment their can be no security. To counter this argument they offer the idea of the Perseverance of the saints (once saved always saved) in order to make sure that believers do not lose hope.

Of course they produce scriptures to prove their point but it is not hard to show that the weight of the New Testament in general, and the life and teaching of Christ in particular, shows a God who loves all that he has created.

The favoured child of dysfunctional parents will never be free from the neurosis caused by being surround by love that is selective. It is only unconditional love that is complete: it is only inclusive love that is able to satisfy.

My wife and I have just watched a television report about people, mainly women, being raped, killed, and burnt in Syria. The majority of those victims would never have had the opportunity of hearing, at least in any meaningful way, about God's answer in Christ. The Calvinist answer would be a mixture of 'none of us deserve salvation anyway', 'God is just', and 'we shouldn't question God'. Occasionally you will hear the real truth of their belief from a particularly devout commentator: 'God hates some people and loves others'.

I fail to be impressed by such ideas. I fail to be impressed by a God who would have no compassion on those who we witnessed being brutalised in Syria. How can God have less compassion than we have.

You may wonder at why I am so passionate in my objection to Calvinism. It's not as if Calvinists would perpetrate the kind of behaviour seen in Syria. It is difficult for me not to draw a comparison, however, with the wasteful acts of those who would do such things in this life and the suggested fate of those who are supposedly predestined to suffer condemnation without hope in the next. Holding a belief in a God who is so selective must influence one's view of the value of humanity: especially of those who are deemed to not be 'in' the elect.

In this regard I have no wish to be loved by a God who has favoured me whilst possibly damning those I love without offering them the opportunity of being included. I am pleased to say that they are wrong: God IS love and he is not a untrustworthy.

Now that is good news!

Steve Chalke: Brave or Foolish?

In light of Steve Chalke's statement on the evangelical response to homosexuality I am struck by a few thoughts regarding the reaction offered by some commentators. The following are three of the observations that I trust will be of use in the conversation.

1) I am concerned that some of those who oppose Steve Chalke's position wish to all too quickly suggest he can no longer be considered an Evangelical. This behaviour only serves to silence the conversation it does remove the need for it. It is a lazy form of debate to use this tactic.

2) I have noticed that some have suggested that Chalke's motives are questionable. I always find this a concern as no-one can really know what moves another person to act in the way that they do. It also serves to distract us from the discussion at hand. Take this tweet from Andrew Evans (@andysstudy)

RT @andysstudy: New on the blog: Steve Chalke's selective reading of Scripture lacks compassion and seeks to make himself God

I appreciate that Andy has a valid opinion but I am somewhat bemused that he would state that Steve 'seeks to make himself God'. There is nothing in Steve's original essay that suggests he is motivated by wanting to be God. In fact I see a certain humility in his writing as he looks for the very compassion that Andrew says he lacks.

3) In offering a defence some have tried to suggest that many evangelical churches are infact inclusive even if they don't share Steve's acceptance of homosexuality in a committed relationship. The difficulty here is that as soon as weight is placed on acceptance of the usual evangelical position it makes it almost impossible for people to have an open discussion about the subject. The fear that one may be perceived as unorthodox is likely to silence anyone who wants to ask deeper questions. This in itself raises questions about the type of inclusion that some are suggesting is already present.

In areas that have the potential to be controversial it is all too easy to speak to our own constituency. Steve expresses that this pressure was one reason he has struggled to speak out before. If we fear being rejected by other leaders, our denominations, and our congregations we will be less likely to engage in the level of honesty that such subjects warrant.

Where others have viewed Steve as foolish I have considered him brave. Where some have suggested he has been unbiblical I feel he has expressed a Christ-like compassion.