A set of questions about books.

How many books do you own?
Er. Somewhere between 1000 and 1500 I guess.

What is the last book you bought?
Christ plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson

What is the last book you read?
The Horse and His Boy, CS Lewis

Name five books that mean a lot to you (not including the Bible)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig
The Fragility of Goodness, Martha Nussbaum
The Sandman sequence, Neil Gaiman
The Duty of Genius, Ray Monk
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Stephen R Donaldson

The second vocation

The Church of England recently published “The Vicar’s guide” as a semi-official guidebook for clergy, especially those just starting out as an incumbent (like me). Lots of good stuff in it, some things more questionable, like this comment: “If your theology qualification is over five years old, it’s outdated” – which suggests that the theological developments of the last five years are more important than those of the previous two thousand. Not sure I buy that.

But this was interesting: “Francis Dewar identifies three vocations which, he maintains, can often become confused. Our primary vocation is to know God, it is the call to basic Christian discipleship. Our second vocation is to become the person we have been created to be; celebrating, developing and using that combination of gifts and experience that is uniquely ours and growing into maturity of personhood in Christ. The third vocation is to particular, recognised and authorised ministries in the Church or the world; this includes, of course, the vocation to ordained ministry. The great danger for all who have experienced the third call is that it can begin to undermine the first two. And the relentlessness of parish ministry, the fact that there is always more to do and never enough time in which to do it, can be one of the biggest contributory factors.”

That made sense.

I went on part one of a course called the ‘Clergy Leadership Programme’ back in March, which was on the whole very good, although much of the official content was revision for me (having done more management training than I care to remember, courtesy of the Civil Service Fast Stream programme). But I came away with a particular project to undertake, which would enhance and enable my ministry, and which was specifically geared to addressing the second vocation which Dewar lists. Broadly speaking, I need to take more exercise, lose weight etc. More specifically, if I get the general fitness levels up, I want to take up martial arts again (there is Judo club on the island, if I ever get round to finding more out about it).

So that message was reinforced. And it has been reinforced even further by another nugget from Kathleen Norris. She writes about accedia, and she says “It suggests sleep when what I need most is to take a walk. It insists that I shut myself away when what I probably need is to be with other people” and she quotes Waugh describing it as a ‘refusal of joy’. I think I am guilty of this particular sin; not in a dramatic way, but a legacy of a depression some years ago which I have not yet fully shaken off. The traditional remedy is prayer and psalmody, singing God’s praises (no wonder I’m so animated by that at the moment). And exercise.

So it all fits together.

Clever old God, as my director is fond of saying.

another one: what is your theological world view?

You scored as Neo orthodox. You are neo-orthodox. You reject the human-centredness and scepticism of liberal theology, but neither do you go to the other extreme and make the Bible the central issue for faith. You believe that Christ is God’s most important revelation to humanity, and the Trinity is hugely important in your theology. The Bible is also important because it points us to the revelation of Christ. You are influenced by Karl Barth and P T Forsyth.

Neo orthodox


Roman Catholic


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Reformed Evangelical


Classical Liberal


Modern Liberal






What’s your theological worldview?
created with

Karl Barth? Hmmmm. But the description is right.

which theologian are you?

got this from Maggi Dawn’s blog…

You scored as Augustine. You have a big view of God and also take human sin and depravity very seriously. Predestination is important for you.



Karl Barth


John Calvin


Jürgen Moltmann


Friedrich Schleiermacher




Paul Tillich


Martin Luther


Jonathan Edwards


Charles Finney


Which theologian are you?
created with

Have to say I find it very satisfying to align with Augustine, and that Charles Finney is at the bottom. Must be a good test :o)

Only love can believe

This is a ‘Blue Peter’ post (“Here’s one we prepared earlier”). I wrote it two years ago.

“Only love can believe”
What does it mean to believe in the resurrection?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1.3)

The resurrection is both the origin and the definition of Christianity – Christianity could not have come into being without the resurrection, nor can it be sustained except by a belief in the resurrection – “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15.14). Yet there is still room to ask, what does it mean?

It should first be pointed out that there is no clear harmony between the different accounts given in the New Testament. The appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus, for example, is rather different to the experience of Thomas. So there is room within Christianity for differing understandings of what the resurrection was.

Many people see reason to doubt the resurrection, citing various scientific, critical or exegetical grounds for doubt. Perhaps the story was made up by the early church. Perhaps the apostles had psychological disturbances which they interpreted as ‘appearances’. Perhaps it was a group pscyhosis, brought on by a combination of grief and guilt. And so on and so forth.

To my mind, these issues, although of some intrinsic interest, are beside the point. To explain why, let us engage in a little ‘mind-experiment’. Imagine that somehow, we were able to send a team of scientists back to AD33, to the time of the crucifixion. These scientists can take whatever instruments and techniques they want, and they are to assess the ‘evidence’.

Firstly, they examine the body of Jesus after the crucifixion. They confirm that Jesus is dead – the heart has stopped beating, the brain has stopped functioning, the body has begun to decay.

Let us next assume that, on the third day, they see something like what is described in John’s gospel, specifically the experience of Thomas. Like Thomas, they examine Jesus’ wounds; they positively identify that this person is Jesus; that he is alive.

The scientists then return to our own age, and proclaim – in the manner that scientists are somewhat prone to – ‘Science has displaced religion! We can prove that Jesus rose from the dead!!’

To my mind, this is to miss the point. For Christian belief in the resurrection is not belief in a matter of fact, no matter how wonderful that fact might be. Christianity sees the resurrection as a miracle – as THE miracle – and, as Wittgenstein put it, “The truth is that the scientific way of looking at a fact is not the way to look at it as a miracle”.

There are many reasons for this difference in approach between science and Christianity, which I shall not enter into here. For what I would like to do is give an indication of what Christian belief in the resurrection is actually about. At its core, at its most simple, it is a claim about Jesus, that Jesus was justified by God and raised in glory – and that glory is something which the Christian participates in, by grace. In other words, belief in the resurrection is a belief that Jesus was the Messiah – and vice versa. Consider the sequence of events. Jesus proclaims the gospel, a new law of love and forgiveness, of including the outcast and healing the sick. He comes into conflict with the political and religious authorities, and is crucified. Now this demonstrates that Jesus has been rejected by God –

‘And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God; you shall not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance.’ (Deuteronomy 21.22-23)

The disciples are shattered, downcast, scattered and leaderless – and these people then establish a church which ‘conquers’ the known world. Clearly something happened, which transformed those downcast disciples into apostles and missionaries, filled with enthusiasm for proclaiming the gospel.

Whatever that something was, it justified Jesus. Instead of Jesus being condemned by God, he was instead held up by God in special honour – he was vindicated against his accusers. The world says this; the world makes this judgement about Jesus – yet God says this, and makes this judgement about Jesus.

We thus have a difference, right at the beginning of Christianity, between the judgement of the world and the judgement of God, and therefore the origin for all contrast between Law and Grace. For Grace is the principle of the resurrection – to stand condemned, and yet to be free from punishment. It is to be forgiven, to be included, to be accepted.

It should be clear, then, that this justification of Jesus cannot be divorced from who Jesus was in his life, and how he lived. For Jesus taught the path of forgiveness, of healing the sick and binding up their wounds. This was rejected by the religious authorities – and yet it was vindicated by God. So clearly God is like Jesus, and Jesus is like God. And the resurrection reveals Jesus in glory, a divine glory – a glory that we are called to share in.

We share in it through living that same life of grace that Jesus lived, ie by following the path of healing compassion, of including the outcast, of forgiving the sinner. That path was broken open by Jesus (the ‘pioneer and perfecter of our faith’), in his life, death and resurrection.

In other words, belief in the resurrection is really a commitment to living the Christian life – that which was opened up and vindicated by the resurrection of Jesus, whatever that event could be described as in scientific terms.

Once more, Wittgenstein demonstrates his sure understanding of Christian identity:

‘Only love can believe the resurrection. Or: it is love that believes in the resurrection. We might say: Redeeming love believes even in the resurrection; holds fast even to the resurrection. What combats doubt is, as it were, redemption.’ (Wittgenstein, 1937)

A new perspective on Jesus

Took a trip to London on Tuesday night to catch up with some friends, and, on the train journey there and back, I managed to read James D G Dunn’s “A New Perspective on Jesus”. (It’s a short book that fitted into my jacket pocket…)

I thought it was excellent. It goes through the ‘quest for the historical Jesus’ and skewers some liberal assumptions about the nature of the tradition, and gives a straightforward account of how the oral tradition would have functioned. The book is really a short summary of his longer book, “Jesus Remembered”, which I guess I’ll now have to read. Not for beginners in New Testament studies, I wouldn’t have said, but if you know what ‘form criticism’ or ‘Q’ refer to, then you’ll be fine.

It turns out that Dunn was the person who coined the phrase ‘A new perspective on Paul’, referring to the post-Sanders revolution in how to understand the Apostle, which I had always associated with Tom Wright (coming to a Learning Church near you in the autumn ;-). I hope Dunn makes a similar impact with his work here.


I’m reading Kathleen Norris’ “The Cloister Walk”. And I’m reading it slowly – not something I’m accustomed to – because I’m enjoying it so much. I thought I would share this. First she quotes the Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner: “If I make this avowal of faith, it must pierce the depths of my heart like a sword, I must bend my knee before you, saying, I must alter my life. I have still to become a Christian.”

That really speaks to me.

Norris goes on, “To hear so esteemed a theologian cry out, ‘I have still to become a Christian’ was humbling. The words have stayed with me all day. I wonder if one of the reasons I love the Benedictines so much is that they seldom make big noises about being Christians. Though they live with the Bible more intimately than most people, they don’t thump on it, or with it, the way gorillas thump on their chests to remind anyone within earshot of who they are.”

A wonderful image: gorillas beating on their chests and roaring, puffing themselves up. “Look at me, Look at me, Look at me”.

(or: “well I’m the king of the swingers, yeah, the jungle VIP. I’ve reached the top and had to stop and that’s what’s bothering me…..”)

It’s the difference between the Bible as a tool for use (and therefore manipulable by our egos) and the Bible as the world in which we are formed – and which therefore manipulates us. Which shapes our imaginations and gets inside us so that we breathe it in and out. The womb from which we are born again.

(The difference between the daily office and choice-driven bible studies?)

I suppose it’s all about humility. Accepting the ever-present likelihood of being wrong (and not getting neurotic about that either, which is really only a spiritual form of narcissism).

“The old men used to say, ‘When we do not experience warfare, we ought so much the more to humiliate ourselves. For God, seeing our weakness, protects us; when we glorify ourselves, he withdraws his protection and we are lost’.”
(From Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers)

The first two chapters of my book

As long standing friends will be aware, I have been working on a book for at least a dozen years. The first two chapters are now in reasonable shape, so I thought I’d let people have a look at them, and feed back any comments they might have. It’s available on my home page here for downloading.

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