www.anthonysmith.me.uk This man enjoys math (anag.) http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk It is not a supper you eat <blockquote> <p>The word “Supper” is not a technical, theological or religious term, but is simply the designation of the ordinary evening meal. In the culture of the time this would have been the main meal of the day, not just a light snack before bedtime, which is how we are culturally attuned to hear the term. The “Lord’s Dinner” might be a more accurate rendition of what is meant.</p> </blockquote> <p><a href="http://www.john-stevens.com/"><img alt="John Stevens" title="John Stevens" src="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/assets/john-stevens.jpg" class="alignright" align="right" /></a>So writes <a href="http://www.john-stevens.com/">John Stevens</a>, National Director of the <a href="https://fiec.org.uk/">FIEC</a>, in a timely, provocative and lengthy article in the <a href="http://www.affinity.org.uk/foundations-issues/issue-68">spring edition</a> of <a href="http://www.affinity.org.uk/">Affinity’s</a> <a href="http://www.affinity.org.uk/resources/foundations"><em>Foundations</em></a> journal, entitled <a href="http://www.affinity.org.uk/foundations-issues/issue-68-article-2---not-reformed-enough-critiquing-contemporary-practice-of-the-lord-s-supper-"><em>Not Reformed Enough: Critiquing Contemporary Practice of the Lord’s Supper</em></a>.</p> <p>But bread and wine don’t make much of a meal, do they?</p> <blockquote> <p>1 Corinthians 11:17-34 indicates not just that the Lord’s Supper was celebrated in the context of a meal. Rather, it appears that the entire meal constituted the Lord’s Supper. Jesus words of institution are recorded in such a way that they bracket the entire meal enjoyed by the congregation. The bread is shared at the beginning of the meal, and the cup is then shared “after supper”. Participation in the Lord’s Supper provides opportunity for the physically hungry to be satiated, and for the over-indulgent to get drunk.</p> </blockquote> <p>How does this compare with what goes on in most churches today?</p> <blockquote> <p>It is striking that most contemporary practice of the Lord’s Supper does not involve a meal. In contrast we have taken the biblical sign of a communal meal, bracketed by the sharing of bread and cup in memory of Jesus death, and turned it into a mere token “sign of the sign”. It is deeply ironic that the Reformers, and those who have followed them, speak of the Lord’s Supper as a “meal” even when in reality it is nothing more than a tiny portion of bread and a merest sip of wine.</p> </blockquote> <p>So if the Lord’s Supper is supposed to be a proper meal, what does that say about the tone of the meal? Should it be a sombre occasion?</p> <blockquote> <p>[T]he Lord’s Supper is meant to be a joyful celebration of what Christ has done for us. This is suggested by the connection with the Passover. The Passover was commanded to be observed as a “commemoration” of God’s great rescue of his people from their slavery in Egypt. It was meant to be celebrated with “great rejoicing”. It was a feast and not a fast, a time for praising and thanking God for his deliverance, and for passing the story on to the next generations. If, as Ben Witherington observes, “Passover was meant to be the most joyful of meals, not the most sorrowful”, this ought to be even more so for the Lord’s Supper, which commemorates our far greater redemption from our eternal enemies of sin, death and Satan.</p> </blockquote> <p>But what might this look like in practice?</p> <blockquote> <p>For a short period of time when I was Pastor of City Evangelical Church, Birmingham we celebrated the Lord’s Supper after our morning service in the context of a church lunch. We met in a school and were able to make use of the kitchens. We began our meal seated around tables with a hymn, a prayer of thanksgiving and the words of institution for the bread. We then shared bread before eating our lunch together. After we had eaten lunch we ended by sharing the cup. We spoke the words of institution and gave a prayer of thanksgiving. After we had all shared the cup we would sing a hymn that gave thanks to God for the salvation that we had received in Christ. In the end a change of venue and a shift towards different congregations in the morning and evening meant that we were unable to sustain this pattern. On reflection I think we lost something significant. I felt that we had come nearer to the practice of the early church, and were blessed in our mutual fellowship as a result. We avoided making too much, or too little, of the Lord’s Supper. It became both more ordinary and more precious. I miss it and would love to be able to recapture something like it again.</p> </blockquote> <p>Worth reading the <a href="http://www.affinity.org.uk/foundations-issues/issue-68-article-2---not-reformed-enough-critiquing-contemporary-practice-of-the-lord-s-supper-">whole article</a>. Much to ponder.</p> Fri, 21 Aug 2015 11:11:46 +0100 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/08/21/it-is-not-a-supper-you-eat/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/08/21/it-is-not-a-supper-you-eat/ Kenneth Bailey on women in the New Testament <p>Discussions about <a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/07/26/the-ordination-of-women/">the ordination of women</a> often focus on certain key passages in the New Testament. This can give the impression that it’s just a matter of proof-texting, or that it all hinges on just a couple of passages. I don’t think this is the case.</p> <p>When we are asking whether women should be ordained, we are ultimately looking for a big-picture understanding of what it means to be male and female, and of the nature of ordained ministry. It is only when those general principles are in place that we can work through what it looks like in practice in our own context.</p> <p>So what role do the specific passages in the New Testament play? I suppose (with my scientific hat on) they could be described as the <em>data</em>, based on which we use a process of <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/abduction/">inference to the best explanation</a> to find a theological <em>model</em> that best explains the data. The Old and New Testaments do give us plenty of hints towards a theology of gender and a theology of ordained ministry. But often we are merely shown the outworking of those theological principles in a particular historical context. So we need to move from the particular (the New Testament context), to the general (theological principles), then back to the particular again (our own context).</p> <p><a href="http://shenango.org/bailey/"><img alt="Kenneth Bailey" title="Kenneth Bailey" src="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/assets/kenneth-e-bailey.jpg" class="alignright" align="right" />Kenneth Bailey</a> spent 40 years living and teaching in the Middle East, seeking to better understand the cultural background to the New Testament. He wrote a pair of articles at the end of that period about <a href="http://www.theologymatters.com/JanFeb001.PDF">women in the New Testament</a> (see also <a href="http://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/anvil/11-1_007.pdf">here</a>).</p> <p>First he concentrates on the positive attitudes to women in the New Testament:</p> <ul> <li>Jesus had female disciples, not least Mary, who was commended for sitting at his feet and listening to his teaching</li> <li>Priscilla was an example of a woman in the New Testament who taught theology</li> <li>Phoebe is described as a ‘deacon’ of the church</li> <li>There were female prophets (e.g., at Corinth)</li> <li>There was a female apostle: Junia</li> <li>There were women elders</li> </ul> <p>These are all pretty clear, except for the last two.</p> <p>On Junia (Romans 16:7), Douglas Moo comments:</p> <blockquote> <p>[I]t is quite unlikely that [Andronicus and Junia], never mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament, were ‘apostles’ in the sense that Paul and Peter and John were apostles. The Greek word <em>apostolos</em> has a variety of meanings in the New Testament; the one that best fits this text is ‘commissioned missionary’ (<em>Encountering the Book of Romans</em>, 196).</p> </blockquote> <p>The claim about women elders comes from 1 Timothy 5:2. This verse uses the female form of <em>presbuteros</em> (as does Titus 2:3), a word usually translated as ‘elder’, from which we get the words <em>presbyter</em> and <a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2014/02/24/when-is-a-priest-not-a-priest/"><em>priest</em></a>. Bailey claims that, since this section of 1 Timothy is dealing with holders of the office of ‘elder’, the reference to ‘older women’ should really be translated as ‘women presbyters’. But this is not convincing: as in Titus, the mention of older women is mingled with instruction about younger men and younger women. Even if Paul did have the office of ‘elder’ in mind in 5:1, he clearly broadens this to the more colloquial use of ‘elder’ (as the opposite of ‘younger’) in what follows. So the NIV, in line with every translation under the sun, translates it as follows, without even a footnote providing an alternative reading:</p> <blockquote> <p>Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.</p> </blockquote> <p>However, those caveats aside, Bailey is clearly right to draw attention to the great value placed in the New Testament on the ministry of women.</p> <p>But what of the texts that seem to speak more negatively about women, namely, 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2?</p> <p>On 1 Corinthians 14, Bailey sees this is the conclusion of a structured argument spanning chapters 11-14 (with 14:37-40 reflecting this structure):</p> <blockquote> <p>1. Disorders in worship (ch 11)</p> <p>    2. The spiritual gifts (ch 12)</p> <p>        3. Love (ch 13)</p> <p>    4. The spiritual gifts (14:1-25)</p> <p>5. Disorders in worship (14:26-36)</p> </blockquote> <p>In that final section, three groups of people are instructed to be ‘silent’: those speaking in tongues (if there is no interpreter), prophets (‘if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down’), and women. Clearly not all women were to be silent all the time, as there were female prophets mentioned in chapter 11. So what did Paul mean? Bailey’s suggestion, considering the cultural setting, is that Paul was essentially saying the following:</p> <blockquote> <p>Women, please keep silent in worship and listen to the female and male prophets. Don’t interrupt them with questions, and don’t talk/chat in church. If you can’t understand what is being said, ask your husbands at home. They understand more Greek than you do and will be able to explain things to you.</p> </blockquote> <p>This strikes me as fairly plausible (though it leaves questions open about verses 33b, 34b, 35b and 36).</p> <p>But what of 1 Timothy 2?</p> <p>Bailey argues that this is very specific to the Ephesian context. The temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, cast its shadow over the whole city. Artemis was very much a female goddess, and the associated attitudes to women were leading to serious problems with the way women were behaving in the church. It was a crisis situation, and the only appropriate ruling, under the circumstances, was to prevent all of the women from exercising official teaching roles.</p> <p>So, in context, Bailey argues that the basic meaning of ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet’ (2:12, NIV) is:</p> <blockquote> <p>I do not allow these ignorant women to batter the men. They are to stop shouting and calm down.</p> </blockquote> <p>Then what of the following verses (‘For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor’, 2:13-14, NIV)? Bailey sees this as responding to a particular error that some of the Ephesian women had fallen into:</p> <blockquote> <p>Thus perhaps some theologically illiterate women in Ephesus had been exposed to Paul’s views in some form [e.g., Romans 5:12] and had concluded that <em>men</em> had polluted the earth with their sin. Therefore the more innocent women must push them aside. The author of 1 Tim. may be responding by taking up the story of Genesis with a bold statement, ‘<em>Eve was a transgressor</em>!’ meaning, she <em>also</em> is to be blamed, not only Adam.</p> </blockquote> <p>What are we to make of this? I have to say that I find these attempts to restrict the context to Ephesus unpersuasive. Whatever issues there may have been in Ephesus specifically, Paul is clearly talking about his practice ‘in every place’ (v. 8), and it seems contrived to read ‘a woman’ as meaning ‘these women’. (And you can’t easily have ‘these ignorant women’ in chapter 2 occupying the office of ‘woman presbyter’ in chapter 5!) Of course, Paul was talking about his own practice in his own historical context — maybe his practice would have been different in our context? — but whatever he meant in 1 Timothy 2 can’t, surely, be restricted to the situation at Ephesus. </p> Fri, 31 Jul 2015 13:52:33 +0100 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/07/31/kenneth-bailey-on-women-in-the-new-testament/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/07/31/kenneth-bailey-on-women-in-the-new-testament/ John Stott on women's ordination <p><a href="http://www.zondervan.com/issues-facing-christians-today"><img alt="John Stott: Issues facing Christians today" title="John Stott: Issues facing Christians today" src="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/assets/stott-issues.jpg" class="alignright" align="right" /></a> John Stott seemed broadly in favour of <a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/07/26/the-ordination-of-women/">women’s ordination</a>, based on his <a href="http://www.zondervan.com/issues-facing-christians-today"><em>Issues facing Christians today</em></a> (4th edition, 2006). He unpacks the Bible’s teaching on the equality and complementarity of men and women in a very helpful and attractive way, and then looks at what Paul says about masculine headship in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5. This, he suggests, ‘implies some degree of leadership, which … is best expressed in terms not of “authority” but of “responsibility”’ (p. 343f).</p> <blockquote> <p>The husband’s headship of his wife, therefore, is a liberating mix of care and responsibility rather than control and authority. This distinction is of far-reaching importance. It takes our vision of the husband’s role away from questions of domination and decision-making into the sphere of service and nurture (p. 344).</p> </blockquote> <p>How would this carry over into the life of the church?</p> <p>There is no doubt that women are equipped by the Spirit to build up the church in all sorts of ways. But what about the commands to be silent in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2? Here Stott seeks to disentangle two different requirements:</p> <blockquote> <p>So is it possible (I ask myself) that, although the requirement of ‘submission’ is of permanent and universal validity, because grounded in creation, the requirement of ‘silence’, like that of head-covering in 1 Corinthians 11, was a first-century application of it? (p. 349)</p> </blockquote> <p>If this is possible (as Stott tentatively suggests), then what would this ‘submission’ look like in our own context?</p> <p>The basic answer he gives is that women should indeed teach, but always in the context of a team ministry in a local church (presumably not an all-female team, but that isn’t explicitly stated). But Stott would prefer to see men always serving in teams too, with their churches ‘repenting of an unbiblical one-man ministry’ (p. 350).</p> <p>But what about ordination?</p> <blockquote> <p>If God endows women with spiritual gifts (which he does), and thereby calls them to exercise their gifts for the common good (which he does), then the church must recognize God’s gifts and calling, must make appropriate spheres of service available to women, and should ‘ordain’ (that is, commission and authorize) them to exercise their God-given ministry, at least in team situations (p. 353f).</p> </blockquote> <p>So how should people who hold this view respond to the current situation in the Church of England?</p> <blockquote> <p>We should surely avoid the two extreme reactions. We should neither make an unprincipled surrender to cultural pressure, nor give up and secede from the church. What then? We should continue the dialogue, refusing to regard the issue as settled. Meanwhile, we should encourage ordained women to exercise their ministry voluntarily in ways which recognize masculine headship, for example in team situations (p. 351).</p> </blockquote> <p>Two reflections.</p> <p>First, if masculine headship extends beyond the marriage relationship, and if this is a good thing, then where <em>should</em> it be seen? Stott’s ideal, it seems, is for all leadership, in church and society, to be exercised by teams, and for all teams to consist of men and women. But if that is the case, it is hard to see what difference masculine headship makes in practice.</p> <p>Second, I think more needs to be said about ordained ministry. It seems inadequate to describe it simply as being commissioned and authorised to exercise a teaching ministry (though I’m sure Stott had much more to say on the topic). After all, there are many (commissioned and authorised) forms of teaching ministry that we would not described as ‘ordained’ ministries. It seems that the roles of presbyter (<a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2014/02/24/when-is-a-priest-not-a-priest/">priest</a>/elder) and bishop are more specific. In fact, I would characterise them as ministries of ‘care and responsibility’, which, in Stott’s understanding, would be the very essence of headship.</p> Mon, 27 Jul 2015 08:28:17 +0100 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/07/27/john-stott-on-womens-ordination/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/07/27/john-stott-on-womens-ordination/ The ordination of women <p>I’m trying to think through my position on women’s ordination, having tried to avoid the issue for years.</p> <p>Since I came to a living faith in my teens, the evangelical churches I’ve belonged to (pentecostal, presbyterian, independent evangelical, baptist and Anglican) have all (basically) been of the view that women shouldn’t be ordained. In those circles, it’s quite easy to avoid giving the issue a lot of consideration. After all, the Bible seems clear on the topic, we don’t really have much to do with churches that take a different view, and all the celebrity preachers and authors in our ‘camp’ also take the same view.</p> <p>But I’m now finding myself (strangely) drawn to immerse myself in the broader body of Christ, and that entails reading around a bit more, and figuring out what to do as a consequence. So I’ve been gathering a list (and a pile) of things to read (suggestions welcome!), and my plan is to post summaries here — largely for my own benefit, but hopefully at least someone out there (or even both of you) will also find it vaguely helpful.</p> <p>My particular focus is the Church of England, so the questions I’m trying to think through are:</p> <ol> <li>Was the Church of England right to decide to ordain women?</li> <li>How should those opposed to the ordination of women respond to this, whether clergy or laity?</li> </ol> <p>I’ll make this post into an index for any posts (past, present or future) that may appear on the topic. So here goes…</p> <ul> <li><a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2012/11/26/a-biblical-case-for-female-pastors/">A biblical case for female pastors?</a> (Nov 2012)</li> <li><a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2014/12/21/on-women-bishops/">On women bishops</a> (Dec 2014)</li> <li><a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/07/26/the-ordination-of-women/">The ordination of women</a> (Jul 2015)</li> <li><a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/07/27/john-stott-on-womens-ordination">John Stott on women’s ordination</a> (Jul 2015)</li> <li><a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/07/31/kenneth-bailey-on-women-in-the-new-testament">Kenneth Bailey on women in the New Testament</a> (Jul 2015)</li> </ul> Sun, 26 Jul 2015 19:05:50 +0100 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/07/26/the-ordination-of-women/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/07/26/the-ordination-of-women/ Why are we so obsessed with gender? <p>It might not be overstating things to say that we find ourselves at a turning point in Western history. History is moving forwards at a considerable pace, and some people find themselves on the right side, others on the wrong side. And as the past gives way to the future, the transition seems to be hinging on one issue in particular: gender.</p> <p>In the past, men and women lived much of their lives in separate spheres. Over the past century or so, we in the West have been breaking down those boundaries, so that men and women now largely occupy the same space. Over the past few years, we’ve all (suddenly) woken up to the fact that whether a man loves a woman or another man is immaterial. And we’re now beginning to wake up to the fact that gender itself is self-determined and insignificant. At least, that’s how the story goes.</p> <p>But why is this such a big deal in our culture?</p> <p>That question is worth pondering. If aliens landed, they might be somewhat puzzled by what they found. Why, they might ask, with so many tangible problems — violent conflicts, looming environmental crises, extreme inequality — are these earthlings getting so worked up about such obscure matters?</p> <p>Asking this kind of question can give us a glimpse into the heart of a culture, and we need to give it some serious attention.</p> <p>If you want to know my hunch, I think it boils down to a long-standing battle between <a href="http://kgsvr.net/dooy/gm.html#nfgm">nature and freedom</a>.</p> <p>Over the past 500 years or so, we in the West have been struggling to live with two apparent opposites. On the one hand, we think of ourselves in terms of <em>nature</em>. Our behaviour is determined by our genes and by the laws of nature. We study science, and try to uncover the laws that govern us. But on the other hand, we also think of ourselves in terms of <em>freedom</em>. We have free will, and <a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2006/09/17/opto-ergo-sum-1-six-choices-before-breakfast/">we’re</a> <a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2006/10/20/opto-ergo-sum-2-i-choose-therefore-i-am/">free</a> <a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2007/09/22/opto-ergo-sum-3-you-are-what-you-listen-to/">to</a> <a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2008/01/17/opto-ergo-sum-4-free-to-choose/">choose</a> what we want. We cultivate our sense of imagination, and creatively shape the world around us.</p> <p>(I would want to question whether nature and freedom are really the best ways of thinking about ourselves in the first place, but maybe that’s for another time.)</p> <p>Our inability to fit nature and freedom together is reflected in all sorts of ways. It’s reflected in the nature-nurture debate. It’s reflected in the mind-body problem. It’s reflected in the division of our universities into sciences (BSc) and arts (BA). It’s reflected in our wranglings between the state and the individual. And it’s reflected in the way that, at different times, attempts have been made to assert the absolute superiority of one over the other. So, in our day, it is freedom that has the upper hand, and our lives may be described as a quest to assert our own absolute <a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2013/02/18/freedom-from-nature/">freedom <em>from</em> nature</a>.</p> <p>But what does gender have to do with this?</p> <p>The biggest determining factor in a person’s life, apart from the place and time of their birth, is whether they were conceived with XX or XY chromosomes.</p> <p>If we are to be truly free — if freedom is to triumph over nature — then my identity — who I consider myself to be, and how I expect society to treat me — <em>cannot</em> and <em>must not</em> be determined by my chromosomes.</p> <p>So we cannot allow for our place and role in society to be influenced by our biological sex. We cannot let it continue to be the case that our future is determined from birth on the basis of our chromosomes. Gender (if we need the concept at all) must be set free from biological sex. “It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals,” <a href="http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2014/9/emma-watson-gender-equality-is-your-issue-too">as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson put it last year</a>.</p> <p>I’m not trying to say whether this account of things is right or wrong.</p> <p>But I do think it goes some way towards explaining why we are so obsessed with gender.</p> Fri, 05 Jun 2015 21:45:59 +0100 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/06/05/why-are-we-so-obsessed-with-gender/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/06/05/why-are-we-so-obsessed-with-gender/ I'm not a person of faith <p>There are two types of people: normal people, and everyone else.</p> <p>How you unpack that depends on what you think of as normal.</p> <p>So there are Brits and foreigners. Or Jews and Gentiles. Or (ancient) Greeks and barbarians. Or Muslims and non-Muslims. Or Christians and non-Christians.</p> <p>The important thing to note is that people in the ‘everyone else’ category never identify themselves by that label. No one would say, simply, ‘I’m a foreigner,’ except to say, ‘From the perspective of a Brit, I’m a foreigner.’</p> <p>So what about ‘person of faith’?</p> <p>This is the term for everyone else, if to be normal is to be secular, or ‘non-religious’ (put in quotes, because ‘religious’ is itself another of those ‘everyone else’ terms).</p> <p>So there are two types of people: normal, secular people, and people of faith.</p> <p>From the perspective of a secular, ‘non-religious’ person, I’m a person of faith.</p> <p>But, from my own perspective, I’m not a person of faith. I’m a Christian.</p> Sat, 23 May 2015 10:55:44 +0100 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/05/23/im-not-a-person-of-faith/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/05/23/im-not-a-person-of-faith/ Faith at the ballot box: Greens <p>Over on <a href="http://admiralcreedy.blogspot.co.uk/">Thomas Creedy’s blog</a> there has been a <a href="http://admiralcreedy.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/The%20Politics%20Series">series of posts</a>, in which Christians from various political parties answer a set of questions. I took part, as a Christian member of the Green Party, and my responses have been <a href="http://admiralcreedy.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/greens-politics-series.html">posted on the blog</a>, and also incorporated into an eBook, <a href="http://admiralcreedy.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/faith-at-ballot-box.html"><em>Faith at the Ballot Box</em></a>. Here’s how it begins…</p> <blockquote> <p class="text-center"><strong>-{ How would you describe your party’s political vision in one sentence? }-</strong></p> <p>The Green Party’s strapline is, “for the common good”, reflecting a vision for a sustainable and much more equal society, globally, achieved through a shift of power away from the elite few and towards a real grassroots democracy.</p> <p class="text-center"><strong>-{ What myth/accusation/misunderstanding about your party most frustrates you? }-</strong></p> <p>Often the Green Party is portrayed as being crazy. It isn’t crazy, but it is certainly calling for a radical shift away from our current systems of global consumerism and corporate power.</p> </blockquote> <p><a href="http://admiralcreedy.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/greens-politics-series.html">Read more</a> or <a href="http://admiralcreedy.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/faith-at-ballot-box.html">get the free eBook…</a></p> Fri, 01 May 2015 09:23:34 +0100 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/05/01/faith-at-the-ballot-box-greens/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/05/01/faith-at-the-ballot-box-greens/ Coding for Christ? <p>There was a post of mine on the <a href="http://faithinscholarship.org.uk/">Faith in Scholarship blog</a> a couple of days ago. It begins as follows…</p> <blockquote> <p>While I was an academic astronomer, I probably spent most of my time not peering through a telescope, but typing away at a computer, wondering why my code didn’t work. Now, computer software wasn’t my area of research, so I didn’t give much attention to it from a Christian perspective. But is there a Christian approach to writing computer software? Should we be “coding for Christ”?</p> <p>In preparation for this post, I read an excellent little book on this topic: <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shaping-Digital-World-Derek-Schuurman/dp/0830827137"><em>Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology</em> by Derek C. Schuurman</a>, who is <a href="http://cs.redeemer.ca/derek/">Professor of Computer Science at Redeemer University College, Ontario, Canada</a>. Schuurman begins by posing the question, “What does my faith have to do with my work as an electrical engineer?” The rest of the book attempts to sketch out an answer, and it contains plenty of helpful insights for those of us who spend our time writing computer code. I’d like to share a few of them here.</p> </blockquote> <p><a href="http://faithinscholarship.org.uk/coding-christ/">Read more…</a></p> Thu, 30 Apr 2015 13:00:12 +0100 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/04/30/coding-for-christ/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/04/30/coding-for-christ/ General election Bible study <p>I cobbled this Bible study together at the weekend. It is unrefined and untested, but I post it here in case it might be useful. The main inspiration is <a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/03/21/a-christian-guide-to-the-general-election-votewise-2015/"><em>Votewise 2015</em> (Guy Brandon)</a>, along with <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qi_sFK4a9g">an associated talk</a>. The latter used the excellent idea of focussing on one topic per major party (roughly speaking), and I’ve followed that approach below. One emphasis from the book was the implications of these issues for ordinary everyday life, as well as for politicians. It’s so easy to assume it’s entirely their responsibility (and hence their fault).</p> <p>I don’t expect anyone will follow this study and end up knowing who to vote for (at least, I hope they won’t). But it might help people to approach the topic in a slightly better way.</p> <ol> <li>Government <ol> <li>Read 1 Peter 2:13-17. What should our attitude be towards the government?</li> <li>Read Deuteronomy 17:18-20. What limits does this place on the power of the king?</li> <li>Read 1 Samuel 13:11-14. What does God think about people trying to have unlimited power?</li> <li>How can we make sure governments don’t get too much power? (Think about mass surveillance as an example.)</li> <li>How can we make sure corporations don’t get too much power?</li> </ol> </li> <li>Economy <ol> <li>Read Matthew 6:24. How can the economy become our master?</li> <li>Read Matthew 22:37-40. What matters to God is our relationship with him and our relationship with each other. How do you use your money to strengthen those relationships?</li> <li>We might use the word “shalom” to describe a society with strong relationships and with everyone able to flourish. How can we make sure the economy is not our master, but is used for “shalom”?</li> <li>Read Proverbs 22:7. Why should we get out of debt?</li> <li>How can we help each other to get out of debt, and to stay out of debt?</li> <li>How should the government get itself out of debt?</li> </ol> </li> <li>Immigration <ol> <li>Read Matthew 28:18-20. What should our attitude be to “the nations”?</li> <li>Read Zechariah 7:10 and Leviticus 19:34. The Hebrew word for “alien” is “ger”. How were these “immigrants” treated?</li> <li>Read Deuteronomy 23:19-20. The word for “foreigner” is “nokri”. They were temporary visitors to Israel who were economically independent. How were these “immigrants” treated?</li> <li>How do you think we should treat people who want to settle permanently, such as refugees, economic migrants, and others?</li> <li>How do you think we should treat people who are here temporarily, such as international students, or people here for work or business?</li> </ol> </li> <li>Health <ol> <li>Read Mark 5:24-34. How does Jesus heal this woman’s body?</li> <li>How does Jesus heal this woman’s state of mind?</li> <li>How does Jesus restore this woman’s place in her society?</li> <li>The World Health Organisation states, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. What can we do, as individuals, families and churches, to promote people’s well-being?</li> <li>What should the government do to promote people’s well-being?</li> </ol> </li> <li>Environment <ol> <li>Read Genesis 1:28 and 2:15. What should our attitude be towards creation?</li> <li>Read Hosea 4:3. What happens when we don’t take good care of the land?</li> <li>What can we do, as individuals, families and churches, to make sure the world is cared for?</li> <li>What should the government be doing to make sure the world is cared for?</li> </ol> </li> </ol> Tue, 21 Apr 2015 21:50:20 +0100 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/04/21/general-election-bible-study/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/04/21/general-election-bible-study/ Trident dilemma <div id="qp_all288636" style="width:100%;"><link href='//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans' rel='stylesheet' type='text/css'><STYLE>#qp_main288636 .qp_btna:hover input {background:#00355F!important}</STYLE><div id="qp_main288636" results=0 style="border-radius:0px;margin:0px;padding:15px;background-color:#FFF;font-family: 'Open Sans', sans-serif, Arial;color:#000;border: 1px solid #DBD9D9;max-width: 800px"><div style="font-size: 18px;background-color: #00355F;color: #FFF;font-family:'Open Sans', sans-serif, Arial"><div style="line-height:30px;padding:10px 15px">What if... North Korea has nuked London. Trident is ready. You are in charge. Pyongyang will be destroyed. 2.5 million people will die. Do you press the button?</div></div><form id="qp_form288636" action="//www.poll-maker.com/results288636xdf724881-11" method="post" target="_blank" style="display:inline;margin:0px;padding:0px"><div style="padding:0px"><input type=hidden name="qp_d288636" value="42103.9007407453-42103.9007241712"><div style="display:block;color:#6B6B6B;font-family: 'Open Sans', sans-serif, Arial;font-size:16px;line-height:1.5;padding:10px;margin:10px 0px;clear:both" class="qp_a" onClick="var c=this.getElementsByTagName('INPUT')[0]; if((!event.target?event.srcElement:event.target).tagName!='INPUT'){c.checked=(c.type=='radio'?true:!c.checked)};var i=this.parentNode.parentNode.parentNode.getElementsByTagName('INPUT');for(var k=0;k<i.length;k++){i[k].parentNode.parentNode.setAttribute('sel',i[k].checked?1:0)}"><span style="display:block;padding-left:30px;cursor:inherit"><input style="float: left;width: 20px;margin-left: -25px;margin-top: 2px;padding: 0px;height: 20px" name="qp_v288636" type="radio" value="1" />Yes</span></div><div style="display:block;color:#6B6B6B;font-family: 'Open Sans', sans-serif, Arial;font-size:16px;line-height:1.5;padding:10px;margin:10px 0px;clear:both" class="qp_a" onClick="var c=this.getElementsByTagName('INPUT')[0]; if((!event.target?event.srcElement:event.target).tagName!='INPUT'){c.checked=(c.type=='radio'?true:!c.checked)};var i=this.parentNode.parentNode.parentNode.getElementsByTagName('INPUT');for(var k=0;k<i.length;k++){i[k].parentNode.parentNode.setAttribute('sel',i[k].checked?1:0)}"><span style="display:block;padding-left:30px;cursor:inherit"><input style="float: left;width: 20px;margin-left: -25px;margin-top: 2px;padding: 0px;height: 20px" name="qp_v288636" type="radio" value="2" />No</span></div></div><div style="padding-left:0px;height:40px;clear:both"><a style="float:left;width:50%;max-width:140px;box-sizing:border-box;-webkit-box-sizing:border-box;-moz-box-sizing:border-box;-ms-box-sizing:border-box;-o-box-sizing:border-box;padding-right:5px;text-decoration:none" class="qp_btna" href="#"><input name="qp_b288636" style="width:100%;height:40px;background-color:#0B79D3;font-family: 'Open Sans', sans-serif, Arial;font-size:16px;color:#FFF;cursor:pointer;cursor:hand;border:0px;-webkit-appearance:none;border-radius:0px" type="submit" btype="v" value="Vote" /></a><a style="float:left;width:50%;max-width:140px;box-sizing:border-box;-webkit-box-sizing:border-box;-moz-box-sizing:border-box;-ms-box-sizing:border-box;-o-box-sizing:border-box;padding-left:5px;text-decoration:none" class="qp_btna" href="#"><input name="qp_b288636" style="width:100%;height:40px;background-color:#0B79D3;font-family: 'Open Sans', sans-serif, Arial;font-size:16px;color:#FFF;cursor:pointer;cursor:hand;border:0px;-webkit-appearance:none;border-radius:0px" type="submit" btype="r" value="Results" /></a></div><a id="qp_a288636" style="float:right;font-family:Arial;font-size:10px;color:rgb(0,0,0);text-decoration:none;margin-top:-12px;margin-right:-5px" href="http://www.poll-maker.com">Poll Maker</a></form><div style="display:none"><div id="qp_rp288636" style="font-size:14px;width:5ex;text-align:right;overflow:hidden;position:absolute;right:5px;height:1.5em;line-height:1.5em"></div><div id="qp_rv288636" style="font-size:14px;line-height:1.5em;width:0%;text-align:right;color:#FFF;box-sizing:border-box;padding-right:3px"></div><div id="qp_rb288636" style="font-size:14px;line-height:1.5em;color:#FFFFFF;display:block;padding-right:10px 5px"></div><div id="qp_rva288636" style="background:#006FB9;border-color:#006FB9"></div><div id="qp_rvb288636" style="background:#163463;border-color:#163463"></div><div id="qp_rvc288636" style="background:#5BCFFC;border-color:#1481AB"></div></div></div></div><script src="//scripts.poll-maker.com/3012/scpolls.js" language="javascript"></script> <p>Leave your reasons in the comments below...</p> Thu, 09 Apr 2015 12:50:56 +0100 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/04/09/trident-dilemma/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/04/09/trident-dilemma/ On the (social capital) deficit <p><a href="http://bowlingalone.com/"><img alt="Robert D. Putnam: Bowling Alone" title="Robert D. Putnam: Bowling Alone" src="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/assets/putnam-bowling-alone.jpg" class="alignright" align="right" /></a>Any who are concerned about the sharp decline in “social capital” over recent decades would do well to read Harvard professor Robert Putnam’s 2000 classic, <a href="http://bowlingalone.com/"><em>Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community</em></a>. I’ll attempt to give you a flavour of the book here…</p> <p>After the introduction, Section II surveys an extraordinary amount of evidence covering a remarkably diverse set of trends:</p> <blockquote> <p>Civic disengagement appears to be an equal opportunity affliction. The sharp, steady declines in club meetings, visits with friends, committee service, church attendance, philanthropic generosity, card games, and electoral turnout have hit virtually all sectors of American society over the last several decades and in roughly equal measure (p. 185).</p> </blockquote> <p>Section III asks, “Why?” What are the causes of this civic decline? Pressures of time and money? This might account for perhaps 10%. Mobility and sprawl? Again, another 10%. Technology and mass media? This might account for 25%, particularly as a result of television. This is partly because “Television privatizes leisure time” (p. 236), but also because “Another probable effect of television (not just programming, but also the associated advertising) is its encouragement of materialist values” (p. 245). But the biggest cause of civic decline, Putnam argues, is generational change, as one generation dies off and another takes its place.</p> <p>But what could explain such a difference between the generations? Strikingly, but not particularly surprisingly, the answer seems to be World War II, which served as a strong stimulus to civic and social engagement.</p> <blockquote> <p>In speculating about explanations for this sharp generational discontinuity, I am led to the conclusion that the dynamics of civil engagement in the last several decades have been shaped in part by social habits and values influenced in turn by the great mid-century global cataclysm (p. 275).</p> </blockquote> <p>Section IV asks, “So What?” Does it actually matter that social capital has been in decline? Putnam reviews evidence that “shows that in measurable ways it <em>matters</em> that social capital and civic engagement have decined in America over the last several decades” (p. 295). This evidence is largely based on comparing various criteria with a “Social Capital Index” for each of the states of the USA. He finds a strong connection between low social capital and poor standards of education, children’s welfare, safe neighbourhoods, economic prosperity, health and happiness, and democratic participation.</p> <p>So what is to be done? This is the subject of Section V. To answer this, Putnam turns to history. There is a fascinating chapter on the transition America faced during the “Gilded Age” (1870-1900) and the “Progressive Era” (1900-1915).</p> <blockquote> <p>During the last third of the nineteenth century technological, economic, and social changes transformed American life. Between roughly 1870 and 1900 America evolved rapidly from a rural, localized, traditional society to a modern, industrialized, urban nation (p. 368).</p> </blockquote> <p>But America survived. Why? It survived because of a prolonged and concerted investment in new forms of social capital.</p> <blockquote> <p>It must have been tempting in 1890 to say, “Life was much nicer back in the village. Everybody back to the farm.” They resisted that temptation to reverse the tide, choosing instead the harder but surer path of social innovation. Similarly, among those concerned about the social-capital deficit today, it would be tempting to say, “Life was much nicer back in the fifties. Would all women please report to the kitchen, and turn off the TV on the way?” Social dislocation can easily breed a reactionary form of nostalgia.</p> <p>On the contrary, my message is that we desperately need an era of civic inventiveness to create a renewed set of institutions and channels for a reinvigorated civic life that will fit the way we have come to live (p. 401).</p> </blockquote> <p>But how will this come about? Putnam himself has been active in seeking a resurgence of civic and social engagement through various initiatives (such as <a href="http://www.bettertogether.org/">BetterTogether</a>), and there are signs that the tide is turning, <a href="http://www.hks.harvard.edu/ocpa/pdf/still%20bowling%20alone.pdf">at least among affluent young white people</a>. But I was struck by some comments in the final chapter about the role of religion.</p> <blockquote> <p>Faith-based communities remain such a crucial reservoir of social capital in America that it is hard to see how we could redress the erosion of the last several decades without a major religious contribution (p. 408-9).</p> </blockquote> <p>This is based on history, since “it is undeniable that religion has played a major role in every period of civic revival in American history” (p. 409), particularly around the turn of the twentieth century. Putnam’s response is to “challenge America’s clergy, lay leaders, theologians, and ordinary worshipers” to “spur a new … ‘great awakening’” as a response to our crisis in social capital.</p> <p>Those of us who see these “great awakenings” as a work of the Spirit of God will readily turn Putnam’s “challenge” into a prayer…</p> Sun, 05 Apr 2015 18:39:08 +0100 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/04/05/on-the-social-capital-deficit/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/04/05/on-the-social-capital-deficit/ Christianity and the Green Party <p>A little flurry of online activity on this topic over the past few days.</p> <p>First, there was <a href="http://godandpoliticsuk.org/about/">Gillan Scott’s</a> post on <a href="http://archbishopcranmer.com/"><em>Archbishop Cranmer</em></a>, entitled <a href="http://archbishopcranmer.com/green-party-christians-welcome-but-only-if-you-ignore-your-faith/"><em>Green Party: Christians welcome, but only if you ignore your faith</em></a>. His post was based on a narrow focus and anecdotal evidence (which is quite out of character for Gillan), and concluded as follows:</p> <blockquote> <p>Those who keep a close eye on party politics will be fully aware of the Green Party’s narrow-minded approach to inclusion. But for those who are disillusioned with the mainstream parties and looking for a fresh political vision, going Green on May 7th would be a profound delusion.</p> </blockquote> <p>This provoked numerous responses from Christian members of the Green Party in the comments section, giving alternative anecdotal evidence, and a broader perspective. (Warning: there are well over 500 comments on the post, of varying quality, but it is not hard to skim through looking for the sensible ones.)</p> <p>Two blog posts have appeared in response. One was by <a href="http://newhamgreenparty.com/2015/03/22/meet-the-candidates-rachel-collinson/">Rachel Collinson</a>, who is the Green Party parliamentary candidate for West Ham. In her post, <a href="http://newhamgreenparty.com/2015/03/25/jesus-and-the-greens/"><em>Jesus and the Greens</em></a>, she wrote:</p> <blockquote> <p>The more I discovered about the Green Party, the more I realised that I might finally have found a political home for my theological conclusions. A party that has dared to paint a picture of world where our economy isn’t based on crippling personal debt; where the creation of money is democratised; where true economic equality is feasible; where the playing field for all people is level. I think I’d call it – not the American Dream, but the Mosaic Dream.</p> </blockquote> <p>Another response came from active Green Party member <a href="http://greenchristian.co.uk/">Stephen Gray</a>, with a post called <a href="http://greenchristian.co.uk/2015/03/faith-and-the-green-party-do-mix/"><em>Faith and the Green Party DO mix</em></a>. He discusses three issues on which he sees the Green Party as providing a good fit for his Christian beliefs: creation care, poverty, and immigration, and concludes:</p> <blockquote> <p>So I’ve outlined three issues that are (or at least should be) massively important to British politics in 2015 where I think that the Green Party is more in line with a genuinely Christian approach than the other mainstream political parties. In all three cases, my faith leads me to support the Green Party approach above those of other parties. Given that all three are far more salient to today’s politics than abortion, same-sex marriage, or euthanasia, Gillan’s assertion that Christians should leave our faith at the door before joining or voting for the Green Party looks a little bit silly.</p> </blockquote> <p>Finally, and unrelated, <a href="http://klice.co.uk/">KLICE</a> published the sixth of their <em>Ethics in Brief</em> election series, as part of their <a href="http://klice.co.uk/index.php/resources/election2015">2015 election coverage</a>. This was a paper by Tim Cooper and Colin Bell on <a href="http://klice.co.uk/uploads/Ethics%20in%20Brief/EiB_CooperBell_E2015_6_WEB.pdf"><em>A Greener Faith: Christianity and the Green Party</em></a>. It makes fascinating reading, as they trace the history of the Green Party, and the points of connection and tension with the Christian faith. Here’s the final paragraph:</p> <blockquote> <p>The Church of England was for many years described as the Tory Party at prayer. In future, might the Christian church, Anglican or otherwise, be portrayed as the Green Party at prayer? Time will tell. Striving for peace, justice and sustainability while challenging undue concentrations of power and excessive materialism, the Christian church and the Green Party are logical allies. A good proportion of Christians will consider supporting the Greens in the coming election, many for the first time. Is there empathy in both directions? The Green Party certainly needs support from sympathisers within the church, which environmental scientist Sir John Houghton refers to as ‘the nation’s largest NGO’. The Party seeks a renewed and transformed society in which people seek ‘the common good’; many Christians will rightly share their vision. </p> </blockquote> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 08:30:03 +0000 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/03/26/christianity-and-the-green-party/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/03/26/christianity-and-the-green-party/ A Christian guide to the General Election: Votewise 2015 <p><a href="http://www.jubilee-centre.org/votewise-2015/"><img alt="Guy Brandon: Votewise 2015" title="Guy Brandon: Votewise 2015" src="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/assets/votewise-2015.jpg" class="alignright" align="right" /></a>If you’re a Christian thinking about how to vote (or <em>whether</em> to vote) in the 2015 General Election, and if you read just one short book on the topic, then make it this one. I doubt anyone else will publish something more helpful, in terms of being brief and to the point, covering a wide range of issues (rather than just a couple of headline ‘Christian’ issues), and in terms of bridging the gap between the Bible and the political questions facing us today.</p> <p><a href="http://www.jubilee-centre.org/votewise-2015/"><em>Votewise 2015</em></a> is the third of the <a href="http://www.jubilee-centre.org/">Jubilee Centre’s</a> ‘Votewise’ books, with previous editions published prior to the 2005 and 2010 General Elections. Each book has been written afresh, and this time the author is Guy Brandon, part-time researcher for the Jubilee Centre, but with contributions from others at the end.</p> <p>The book faces the reality that many Christians will be inclined to disengage from politics, whether that’s by doing no more than voting (‘to place a cross on our ballot sheet and to use this as an excuse to disengage from politics for the next five years’, p.13), or by not voting at all. But there are many important issues at stake, and we have a responsibility to use our votes in the best way.</p> <p>Ten issues are tackled in the book: marriage and family, the economy, debt, welfare, Europe, immigration, the environment, crime, education, and health. Each is tackled in the same way: the issue is presented, then we delve under the surface (e.g., what is the economy for? what is education for? what is health?), then we look to the Bible for insight, and finally there is an attempt to draw out some implications for policy.</p> <p>One recurring theme is the importance of relationships. (This will be no surprise to anyone familiar with the Jubilee Centre.) In all of the areas covered, there is an enormous relational deficit. But the laws given in the Old Testament were all about maintaining and strengthening relationships: within extended families, within the nation, with the land, and with the surrounding nations. A Christian approach to politics will give attention to the place of relationships, in every area of policy.</p> <p>The final two chapters form something of an anticlimax, it has to be said. The chapter on relationships seems unnecessary, given the way relationships have featured throughout the book. Then the final chapter (before the conclusion) features contributions from members of each of the five main UK parties. These have no connection with the material in the rest of the book, and say very little at all about the points of contact between the Christian faith and the visions of each party. Instead, they descend into bog-standard party-political broadcasts. Much better would have been either to give the contributors a simple questionnaire, or for Guy Brandon to have written those parts himself. (An idea for next time, perhaps?)</p> <p>So, leaving those chapters to one side, that’s just 85 pages. What are you waiting for?</p> Sat, 21 Mar 2015 22:52:49 +0000 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/03/21/a-christian-guide-to-the-general-election-votewise-2015/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/03/21/a-christian-guide-to-the-general-election-votewise-2015/ Keep it in the ground <p><a href="http://theguardian.com/keep-it-in-the-ground">Major new campaign from the Guardian</a>, in partnership with <a href="http://350.org">350.org</a>. We’re heading for disaster if we burn the vast quantity of known fossil fuel reserves. We need to <em>keep it in the ground</em>.</p> <p>Here’s the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2015/mar/16/the-biggest-story-in-the-world-why-we-need-to-keep-fossil-fuels-in-the-ground-video">introductory video and description</a>:</p> <div class="embed-responsive embed-responsive-16by9"> <iframe class="embed-responsive-item" src="http://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/environment/video/2015/mar/16/the-biggest-story-in-the-world-why-we-need-to-keep-fossil-fuels-in-the-ground-video" allowfullscreen=""></iframe> </div> <blockquote> <p>We need to reduce emissions to keep our planet safe for future generations - the science is clear. However, it can be quite hard to get your head around how to do that. Here’s a very simple idea from writer and climate campaigner, Bill McKibben: keep fossil fuels in the ground. If we were to burn all the fossil fuel reserves we currently know about, experts forecast the Earth’s temperature would warm by more than 2C and have catastrophic effects. Guardian journalists explain the ‘keep it in the ground’ theory in easy to understand terms.</p> </blockquote> Tue, 17 Mar 2015 08:27:33 +0000 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/03/17/keep-it-in-the-ground/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/03/17/keep-it-in-the-ground/ The first chapters of everything <p><a href="http://www.christianfocus.com/item/show/1639"><img alt="Alasdair Paine: The first chapters of everything" title="Alasdair Paine: The first chapters of everything" src="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/assets/paine-first-chapters.jpg" class="alignright" align="right" />This recent (2014) book on Genesis 1-4</a> by Alasdair Paine (of St Andrew the Great in Cambridge) is a joy to read. The emphasis is on how the chapters make sense of the world in which we live. Indeed, the book’s subtitle is, ‘How Genesis 1-4 explains our world’. Summing up the value of these chapters, Paine notes how they make sense of ‘the magnificence of the world we inhabit’, its orderliness, the ‘dominance of the world by the human race’, ‘the extraordinarily mixed nature of life in our world’, ‘hatred, and the power of sin to master us’, and much more (p. 179-181). The book grew out of a preaching ministry — and it shows. Issues beyond the concern of the text are kept in their proper place, and dealt with in a sensitive way, and the book is filled with vivid illustrations and pointed applications.</p> <p>However, despite the excellent material in the book, and despite having the right approach to Genesis (‘Persistently asking the question “what is the message here?” is the correct way to handle the book,’ p. 8), I’m not sure Paine quite hits the target. The reason for this is the lack of attention to the <em>context</em>.</p> <p>Genesis 1-4, as well as being the first chapters of everything, are also the first chapters of the Book of Genesis. And Genesis, like every book of the Bible, has an immediate context. It was not written for us as isolated human beings trying to make sense of the world around us. It was written for the covenant people of God — for the (physical and spiritual) descendants of Abraham. Assuming a (basically) Mosaic authorship, as Paine does, we can focus still more sharply on the primary audience, which must surely have been Israel in the wilderness.</p> <p>And when we do that, the text suddenly opens up in a fresh way.</p> <p>Genesis 1 can now be seen not only as teaching us about God the Creator, but as teaching us more about <em>our</em> God: the God who has just set us free by triumphing over the gods of Egypt, who has entered into a covenant with us, and who has promised to give us the victory over the people of Canaan. The emphasis on God’s word in chapter 1 can be traced through the rest of Genesis, with its emphasis on God’s word of promise. Will the people of Israel trust God’s promises as they enter the promised land? Will <em>we</em> trust God’s promises? Then, just as God finished his work of creation, so he will most certainly fulfil all that he has promised to do. And he will work out each step of his plan, so that someone like Joseph (who, incidentally, ended up having dominion over much of the earth) can look back and say that ‘God meant it for good’ (Gen. 50:20, ESV), clearly echoing the language of the creation week.</p> <p>Genesis 2-3 come to life when we think about the Tabernacle (as Paine does, very briefly). Eden was a garden sanctuary, in which God was especially present. In the same way, Israel in the wilderness has become a mobile sanctuary, with God present in their midst. And just as Adam and Eve faced the choice of life or death, so Israel was about to face the choice between life and death as they entered the promised land: ‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,’ (Dt. 30:19, ESV). Would they listen to the L<span style="font-variant:small-caps">ord</span>, or would they listen to the serpent, enticing them to serve other gods? And what about us?</p> <p>I have found this to be a very fruitful way of approaching the first chapters of Genesis. Just as when we read a New Testament letter, we try to hear it first through the ears of the original recipients, and only then begin to apply it to ourselves, so it should be with Genesis. We shouldn’t bypass the Exodus and the wilderness wanderings in order to hear Genesis more directly. God speaks to us today through the word that he spoke to his people in the past. We need to keep them in mind if we want to hear what God is saying to us now.</p> Sun, 01 Feb 2015 19:27:09 +0000 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/02/01/the-first-chapters-of-everything/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/02/01/the-first-chapters-of-everything/ On the Green Party's policies <p>A couple of people asked me what I made of the Telegraph’s recent article on Green Party policy, <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/green-party/11356354/Drugs-brothels-al-Qaeda-and-the-Beyonce-tax-the-Green-Party-plan-for-Britain.html"><em>Drugs, brothels, al-Qaeda and the Beyonce tax: the Green Party plan for Britain</em></a>. So I thought I’d jot down a few notes for a (potentially) wider readership.</p> <ol> <li> <p><strong>The Green Party has some crazy, wacky, ludicrous or disturbing polices</strong>, and if you are willing to wade through 161,403 words, you will find them! The party’s policies have been built up over decades. The only way policy can be changed is by the party conference. This makes the policies very democratic, but also gives them a tendency to grow, and grow, and grow. Few people in the party spend much time reading the policies, and members are far more likely to propose additions to policy than deletions from it. Have a quick look now at <a href="http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/">policy.greenparty.org.uk</a>.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Only a small subset of the policies are important at any given time</strong>, and these policies may be found in manifestos and heard in media appearances. It’s much more important to pay attention to those.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>The broad principles are more important than the individual policies</strong> and that’s what attracted me to the Green Party. Green politics, internationally, is built on <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Pillars_of_the_Green_Party">four pillars</a>: <em>ecology</em>, <em>social justice</em>, <em>grassroots democracy</em>, and <em>nonviolence</em>. Derek Wall’s book, <a href="http://newint.org/books/no-nonsense-guides/green-politics/"><em>The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Politics</em></a> is a good introduction to this: see my posts <a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2012/12/29/green-politics-holistic-politics/">here</a> and <a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2012/12/31/green-politics-policies-and-practice/">here</a>. If you like the sound of that, don’t be unduly put off by the minutiae.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>A vote for the Green Party could influence negotiations in a hung parliament</strong> even if your vote doesn’t directly contribute to a Green MP being elected. The small number of MPs the party ends up with would be able to say they represent the views of a huge number of people around the country. So they might have a disproportionate amount of bargaining power — still not very much, though — but <em>only</em> in respect to the party’s most <em>prominent</em> and <em>realistic</em> policies. This might be on energy, welfare, benefits or scrapping Trident, depending on how willing the other parties are to make accommodations. There’s absolutely no risk that any of the party’s more idiosyncratic policies will get implemented.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Other parties don’t disclose their policies</strong> and either keep them secret or make them up as they go along. When I joined the Green Party I familiarised myself with the core principles underlying party policy and, for comparison, tried to find something similar on the websites of the other major parties. Could I find anything? No.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>You can change Green Party policy for the better</strong>. Just join the party and go to the conference! That’s what I’ll be doing in a few weeks’ time. Or join some other party and get involved in that one. But I doubt there is another party in the country that is shaped so directly by its members as the Green Party is.</p> </li> </ol> <p>(No, that wasn’t a listicle!)</p> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 09:01:22 +0000 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/01/23/on-the-green-partys-policies/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/01/23/on-the-green-partys-policies/ Christians in Politics: will you #ShowUp? <p>In politics, it has been said, decisions are made by those who show up.</p> <p><a href="http://www.christiansinpolitics.org.uk/"><img alt="Christians in Politics" title="Christians in Politics" src="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/assets/christians-in-politics.png" class="alignright" align="right" />Christians in Politics</a> launched a new campaign today:</p> <blockquote> <p><a href="http://www.christiansinpolitics.org.uk/showup/">The Show Up campaign</a> aims to encourage positive Christian engagement in the run up to, and beyond, the 2015 General Election.</p> </blockquote> <p>The launch video is below, and puts it very clearly:</p> <blockquote> <p>We have a choice as believers in the UK. Are we going to spend the next few years just commentating and complaining about the state of our country? Or are we going to follow the biblical precedent of people like Joseph, Esther and Daniel, who served in the midst of regimes that make present day politics look positively virtuous. Surely it’s time for Christians to <strong>Show Up</strong>.</p> </blockquote> <p>What could <em>you</em> do, beyond just voting?</p> <div class="embed-responsive embed-responsive-16by9"> <iframe class="embed-responsive-item" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/rXLCcRaGx48" allowfullscreen=""></iframe> </div> Tue, 13 Jan 2015 21:46:53 +0000 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/01/13/christians-in-politics-will-you-showup/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/01/13/christians-in-politics-will-you-showup/ Christian same-sex marriage? <p><a href="http://www.dltbooks.com/titles/1741-9780232530117-permanent-faithful-stable"><img alt="Jeffrey John: Permanent, Faithful, Stable" title="Jeffrey John: Permanent, Faithful, Stable" src="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/assets/john-pfs.jpg" class="alignright" align="right" /></a>I recently read one of the most prominent books of its kind: Jeffrey John’s <a href="http://www.dltbooks.com/titles/1741-9780232530117-permanent-faithful-stable"><em>Permanent, Faithful, Stable: Christian Same-sex Marriage</em></a>. It’s the first such book that I’ve read; I understand it might not be the best example, but it is certainly short.</p> <p>Jeffrey John is Dean of St Albans, and made the headlines in 2003, when he didn’t become the Bishop of Reading, following a big fuss about his stance on same-sex relationships, not least his own. The book was first published in 1993, then again in 2000 and 2012. This most recent edition has a new preface and postscript, lamenting the lack of progress on the issue within the Church of England, and rejoicing in the developments in the UK, with civil partnerships introduced in 2005, and with same-sex marriage looming on the horizon at the time (see <a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2012/01/31/those-whom-the-state-has-joined-together/">here</a> and <a href="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2013/02/06/same-sex-marriage-anyone-for-a-punch/">here</a> for a couple of my posts on that particular development). You can get a clear impression of the hurt and sense of injustice that people in John’s position have experienced. Any pastoral response needs to take that into account.</p> <p>The core of the book consists of three chapters: ‘Is it Scriptural?’, ‘Is it Moral?’, and ‘Is it Achievable?’. John argues that the biblical texts speaking against same-sex sexual activity are either against only <em>some</em> such activity, or are intended simply to make a sharp distinction between Jews and Gentiles. A couple of pages are devoted to the centurion and his servant, with the suggestion that ‘Any Jew … would almost certainly have assumed they were gay lovers’ (p. 14). On the moral question, he sees sex within marriage as ‘good in itself, quite apart from any possibility of childbirth’ (p. 26). Thus he sees no reason to consider same-sex relationships to be morally inferior. The achievability chapter tackles both the question of promiscuity and fidelity and whether it could conceivably find acceptance within the church.</p> <p>I found John’s biblical exegesis strained at times. But rather than deal with that here, the thought occurred that, even supposing his interpretations are correct, his case still wouldn’t be settled. First, with one exception, John doesn’t make a positive case from any passage; he merely tries to deflect the negative case. The one exception is the centurion and his servant. John takes Jesus’ words and actions to at least hint at approval of their (alleged) relationship. I find this far from compelling. But, second, I don’t think I would make the case against same-sex relationships primarily on the basis of those few verses that address the matter directly. A broader perspective is needed.</p> <p>What is completely missing in John’s approach is any sense of the significance of ‘male and female’. As NT Wright makes clear in the superb video below (prepared for <a href="http://humanum.it/en/">the recent Vatican conference on the topic</a>), the complementarity between man and woman is intimately entwined with a thread that runs unmistakeably through the whole Bible. The marriage relationship, between a man and a woman, is one of the clearest signposts we have, to point us towards ‘the fulfilment of God’s good purposes for creation: the coming together of all things in heaven and on earth in Christ’ (16:20).</p> <p>I realise this leaves a thousand questions unanswered. Some other time, perhaps!</p> <div class="embed-responsive embed-responsive-16by9"> <iframe class="embed-responsive-item" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/AsB-JDsOTwE" allowfullscreen=""></iframe> </div> Fri, 09 Jan 2015 09:04:08 +0000 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/01/09/christian-same-sex-marriage/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/01/09/christian-same-sex-marriage/ Election 2015: Christian comment from KLICE <p>The excellent <a href="http://klice.co.uk/">Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics (KLICE)</a> has a <a href="http://klice.co.uk/index.php/resources/election2015">new page devoted to the 2015 (general) election</a>.</p> <p>You can read all about it in their recent <em>KLICE Comment</em>: <a href="http://tyndalehouse.createsend.com/t/ViewEmail/r/92E079557F585A102540EF23F30FEDED">Beyond Pantomime Politics: KLICE pauses for thought before May 2015</a>.</p> <p>Here’s the introduction from the page itself:</p> <blockquote> <p>KLICE is commissioning a range of thought-provoking election pieces between January and April 2015. These will provide serious theological reflections for readers as they prepare to engage with the election issues and reflect on how to vote. Our major offering is a special series of eight <em>Ethics in Brief</em> on the main British political parties. These won’t advise you how to vote but may help to think more critically about your political allegiance.</p> </blockquote> <p>Make sure you <a href="http://klice.co.uk/index.php/contact#klicenews">sign up for <em>KLICE Comment</em></a> for email updates.</p> Mon, 05 Jan 2015 11:26:23 +0000 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/01/05/election-2015-christian-comment-from-klice/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/01/05/election-2015-christian-comment-from-klice/ Steel Angels: the personal qualities of a priest <p><a href="http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/steel-angels/"><img alt="Magdalen Smith: Steel Angels" title="Magdalen Smith: Steel Angels" src="http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/assets/smith-steel-angels.jpg" class="alignright" align="right" /></a>The Church of England puts people forward for ordination based on nine criteria. Those criteria form the basis for <a href="http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/steel-angels/">this 2014 book</a> by Magdalen Smith, who is the <a href="http://www.chester.anglican.org/news.asp?Page=705">new Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) for the Diocese of Chester</a>.</p> <p>Such a book could potentially be extremely dull. It could end up reading like an interminably long ‘person specification’, with essential and desirable characteristics of the successful candidate sprawled out for page after page. It could be like <a href="https://www.churchofengland.org/media/56413/Summary%20of%20Criteria.pdf">this</a> or <a href="https://www.churchofengland.org/media/1274926/criteria%20document%20-%20web.pdf">this</a>, but only longer.</p> <p>Mercifully, that is not the approach of this book. Rather than stating what the criteria <em>are</em>, Smith instead shows us what they <em>look like</em>. Vivid images, such as ‘steel angels’ (a reference to <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel_of_the_North">The Angel of the North</a>) are combined with real-life anecdotes to give us an attractive portrait of the kind of person the criteria are intended to select. As such, I found the book had the effect of opening up possibilities and stimulating my imagination, rather than restricting and narrowing, as dry criteria can easily do. It makes me want to pursue ordination, rather than just giving me a huge list of reasons why I might not be suitable.</p> <p>The book has the fairly standard parish priest in mind; it might not be so relevant for people serving or seeking to serve in less typical contexts.</p> Sun, 04 Jan 2015 16:35:01 +0000 http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/01/04/steel-angels-the-personal-qualities-of-a-priest/ http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2015/01/04/steel-angels-the-personal-qualities-of-a-priest/