Tuesday, May 30, 2006

What makes an (American) Pastor?

Sean Lucas always provides interesting posts - that's an understatement - posts that are meaty and full of both detail and analysis. Check out his review of Mark Noll's latest book, and this terrifying post on what makes for a successful ministerial career in the US.

I'd be interested to know if there is any link between the themes in these posts. How did the theological crisis of the 19thC shape church culture in the 20thC? It seems to me that, despite any supposed theological crisis, pastors or ministers have retained their power and influence to the present day in the vast majority of our churches.

While power and influence are inticing, I fail to meet the necessary requirements to be a senior pastor. By the time I have 10 years ministry experience, I'll be over the hill (over 40), I'll probably be on incapacity benefit (starting to feel twitches in funny parts of my body), and I'll still be footloose and fancy-free.

A busy week for Shed!

It's all happening for me at the moment. (This, of course, is relative - I've got the easiest life in Glasgow, so a little busy-ness is a good thing.)

Looks like I've managed to sell my car - I got the price I expected to get - but still feel I've thrown pounds and pounds away. But, I really needed the car this year. So thanks to all those who helped me buy it, and keep it on the road.

Out this evening to help at a youth group in Ruchazie Parish Church. Tomorrow, after sealing the deal and handing over the car, I meet up with my next placement supervisor. I've got to do a ten week summer placement in a church in Langside.

But, my biz this week really involves trying to prepare for a visit to Skye. Thursday morning sees me catching an earlier coach to Portree. I'm preaching in Staffin over a communion weekend, with Thursday and Friday evening services too, I think. My plan is to look at selected passages from 1 John - and finish off with a thanksgiving sermon based on Ps 100.

The picture is from my own private collection - a view of Staffin bay, with a thing called The Table in the foreground.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

World Cup memories

Four years ago, I worked in Cirencester during the World Cup. Here are my thoughts on the fateful day England was knocked out, written that very morning in the office... PS - I did bet on Brazilian players, and won the office fantasy league as a result!

Brazil Burst the Bubble: Some thoughts on the morning England were knocked out the World Cup.

Middle England is numb. The game is over, and up. During the match an anxious hush hung over the nation. Just about everyone in England must have been watching the game. The few people I saw outside during the game were wither old or female or both, apart from the postman who had the same lifeless expression he always carries with him on his round. Now that England are out a deadly hush had fallen over the country. After two weeks of ecstasy and expectation, the dream is over. It is impossible - even for an excitable Scotsman - not to feel anything other than depression. Occasions like this show that the concept of national consciousness is real, and visceral. Finance experts are already predicting a fall in the Footsie. Here, in Cirnecester, no-one is talking. No-one is working, either. It is difficult even to pretend. The first email I received today entered my mail box at 11.10 - that must be a record, even for a bloke with no friends, and no responsibility short of chasing letters.

The day proper began at 9.30. Walking to work drained the energy out of us. It was the same walk as any other day. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, but there was nothing for the English to smile about. Although the cars on the school run looked the same as any other day, there was a tardiness to the way in which they moved along the street. In the office, the only sound is the burring of fans – electric fans, that is. There are no excuses, and no complaints to be heard about hands of God, and freak goals from lucky Germans. The stark reality is unmentionable – through their own incompetence, England have failed to grasp their best opportunity of winning the World Cup since 1966. In 1970, an England team full of ageing stars from ’66 lost to the best team in World Cup history. That game remains as one of the great footballing encounters. The Banks save, the Moore tackle, the control of Pelè in the box before laying off for Jairzinho. Today, an English team full of wealthy young superstars failed to win against average Brazilians. Everyone knows that England failed to perform. Victory today would have left a semi-final with Turkey, or giant killing Senegal. In effect, a victory would have ensured a place in the final. But somehow, the composure that marked the last three England performances was lacking. Losing that goal in the last minute of the first half was one psychological blow too many for Sven’s men. A stronger team wouldn’t have lost the goal in the first place. It would certainly have reacted in the second half in a more positive way. As it is, there is little left to analyse, or admire. Those who were smart enough to bet on Brazilian players can look forward to some recompense. England fans and purists can only hope that the European Championships in Germany will see England’s latest crop of footballing talent fulfil its potential.

Golden Balls failed to top the Golden Jubilee with another English triumph. Perhaps the only Englishman breathing a sigh of relief is Tim Henman – he will not be the only one to bottle it on the big stage this summer.

This Scotsman has learned a lesson. In a foreign land, when all around you are losing their way and feeling distraught,you can’t remain oblivious, or cold, no matter how passionate you are about home. You have got to feel something. After all, we are all human. But the experience has confirmed my feelings: it is time to head North, back to where I belong. The place had been nicer than I imagined; the people, too, have welcomed me, and surprised me. Some of them were even quite likeable. I will miss one or two of them. But in all things, even football matches and six-month secondments to somewhere in England, God works for the good of those who love him, even those that love him just a little.

Germany 2006

I'm just back from a trip to Derbyshire to visit old friends. At first, I thought all the St George's car flags were preparation for the World Cup fever that will grip England until, well, let's say June 30. But, apparently, English nationalism is actually growing, and my friend told me that English flags and paraphernalia are becoming a common place of everyday life south of the border.

Still, come on Trinidad and Tobago!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Here's a post providing more evidence for my conservative evangelical culture war hypothesis.

Evangelical (R)evolution in the Kirk?

Today I was able to view the debates at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. This was my first experience of what is effectively the Kirk's annual general meeting.

I was very intimidated by the atmosphere in the cafe area. I felt seriously out place - lots of clever looking people, lots of stuffiness, lots of important sounding chat. Lunch at the Jolly Judge was excellent - a Highland Tattie and a Guinness in the company of my former supervisor. But the GA itself was very interesting - certainly, procedure does dominate, and the debates are rather unreal. But all the same, the GA is the highest court in the Kirk, and it is therefore a significant event.

Despite some of my earlier posts on itothehills, the first few days of this GA indicate that slowly but surely evangelicals are beginning to hold sway in the CofS. This was confirmed for me today when Highland Theological College was approved as a suitable academic institution for the training of ministry candidates. Yesterday, leading evangelicals persuaded the GA to send a controversial report to Presbyteries for discussion and approval. This procedural move will effectively quash a report promoting liberty of conscience in the area of civil partnerships and religious ceremonies to mark them. Other significant moves that will be welcomed by many evangelicals include the surprising endorsement by the GA of a petition and motion against recent 'centralising' within the church.

However, there are serious questions facing evangelicals. Should they oppose a report on Stem Cell research commended to churches by the Assembly on Tuesday? This report apparently breaks new ground in the ethical arguments in favour of embryo research. Will evangelicals begin to use their influence to discipline fellow elders and ministers who, for example, bless civil partnerships? I am beginning to realise that words and reports don't mean anything if they don't influence practice.

But the biggest question of all for evangelicals is this: what is evangelicalism, and what would an evangelical Church of Scotland look like? Future debates in the Kirk will not really see Liberal v Evangelical. They will see conservative evangelicals arguing with emerging (liberal?) evangelicals about what church should be like in practice. At the Assembly, the most interesting commissioners were wearing t-shirts, and they consistently talked about one thing: church growth, evangelism, reaching Scotland with the gospel.

The future of the CofS is evangelical. Within 15 years evangelicals will be in the majority. But what will they believe? What will they actually be doing with their power and influence? I think these questions need to be answered sooner rather than later. Ordinary church members deserve to know the vision of their leaders.

No such thing as bad publicity...

See Google? See me? See itothehills.blogspot? Whit a big mouth!

Funny how things out of context read very differently. Here's the original post, from March 25.

And here's another relevant post from April 10.

See also Evangelical (R)evolution in the Kirk?

Monday, May 22, 2006

3 point sermons

Abbreviated 3 point sermons I have preached or will preach from a pulpit near you soon!

CPRConfidence, Purpose, Realism. - a sermon using 1John1 – CPR is that procedure you can learn at first aid classes to save life, John’s message is about Jesus, the Saviour of the world - so, in my sermon I present a spiritual CPR for all who want to choose life, live life and hold out life to others. No prizes for guessing where I go with this – John’s confidence – a clear message; his purpose – fellowship and joy; his realism – sin and stuff. Here’s how my thinking went for this one. I had Confidence and Purpose down as themes for the first four verses. I was then thinking about Message – but it didn’t fit any abbreviation I knew – and it was already a sub-theme of John’s confidence. I started thinking about packaging - CPR came to mind, and I ‘realised’ I could use Realism to cover John’s discussion of sin. Nice work, I think.

PEWPut others first, Expose deeds of darkness, Worship the 3-in-1 God – a sermon using Eph 5:10-21. I thought this was nicely contextualised – the people were sitting on pews – hence PEW – easy to remember… my girlfriend at the time thought this was a sloppy day’s work on my part – but I was chuffed.

ABCAttitude, Battle, Curse – sermon on Genesis 4:1-16 – an ABC of Cain – this was the first sermon I preached during a placement on Skye last summer. No idea how I came up with this one – what’s the connection between ABC and Cain? But, there was some really interesting stuff in this sermon – I enjoyed preaching it, even though the subject matter was fairly bleak.

I don’t usually do three point sermons – but I’m beginning to realise that you really do need to package what you preach. The medium is the massage (sic), and all that.

Friday, May 19, 2006

My blog is my pulpit

Not my words, but the words of one emergent church leader interviewed as part of the research for ‘quite simply the best book yet on the emerging church’ (cover blurb). Emerging Churches: Creating Christian community in Postmodern cultures by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger probably is the best book yet on emerging church. Gibbs and Bolger seem to have the coolest job titles ever: one is Professor of Church Growth, and the other is Professor of Church in Contemporary Culture. Only thing is none of that means much to you if you are part of the emerging church movement.

The book itself is characterised by the same tensions and creative frictions that make the movement so intriguing, so exciting, so frustrating. It is based around the stories of about 50 church leaders. These people have given up on modern churches to create postmodern churches. Gibbs and Bolger try to categorise the experience of these people using nine practices that they share in common. The text becomes a massage of quotes and analysis and theological descriptives. The quotes are varied, the analysis is qualitative and sympathetic, and the theology is, well, postmodern, postevangelical and ‘cool’.

Ideas and thoughts leap from every page. To begin, here are the nine practices that the authors identify (the first three are core practices):

Identifying with the life of Jesus
Transforming secular space
Living as community
Welcoming the stranger
Serving with generosity
Participating as producers
Creating as created beings
Leading as a body
Taking part in spiritual activities

Now, here are my immediate thoughts. The book is a fascinating read because it confirms almost everything you think you know about emerging church. Most of the leaders were brought up in evangelical cultures as children, and if they weren’t, they were probably converted to Christianity through evangelical or charismatic friends. They articulate many of the frustrations that people have with these movements: ‘I grew tired of church structure.’ ‘Sitting in pews, standing up, sitting down, the same format each week – it just wasn’t working for us.’ ‘While growing professionally, we felt we were slowly dying spiritually… it seemed like we were serving the church more than Jesus.’ ‘I became conflicted as I realized that seminary was not a place for open exploration of theological nuance…’

The interesting thing is that emerging church is described as a movement against pop evangelicalism as much as more historic forms of evangelical Christianity. We find that the leaders are dynamic people – men and women who start businesses, men and women who can build church communities from nothing, men and women who can leave thriving projects to go start something new. They are highly intelligent and highly qualified. In fact, they are an elite. This is the only sad thing about the movement – you begin to realise that, even if you are attracted to many of the principles, and many of the ideas, you probably don’t have the mindset or attitude required to engage.

Emerging church leaders are influenced by a multitude of theologians and thinkers. Karl Barth, Herman Dooyeveered, Billy Graham, Hans Küng, Stanley Hauerwas, Dallas Willard, Douglas Coupland, Stanley Grenz, Lesslie Newbigin, Walter Brueggemann, U2, N.T. Wright, Jack Caputo, Black Sabbath, Gandhi, Jesus, Francis Schaeffer, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Tony Campolo, Pseudo-Dionysius, Meister Eckhart, Carl Jung, Henri Nouwen, Mother Teresa, Thomas Mann, Herman Hesse (recontextualised, of course!) Couldn’t find a reference to Moby, though!

The influence of NT Wright, in particular, is interesting. However, it is not clear if Wright has influenced the emergent churches themselves, or whether Wright’s work has offered a useful lens that Gibbs and Bolger have used to understand the movement. Wright’s view of the kingdom of God, the missio Dei, and the narrative approach to the Bible all seem to inform many emerging church movements. But, to pick out Wright is really quite arbitrary, because the movement just screams out a veritable hotch-potch of Christian and non-Christian influences. Its emphasis on the kingdom of God is hardly new, given the rediscovery of that motif in biblical studies and in liberation and urban theologies. If there is an emergent eschatology, it could be post-millennial or a-millennial – I’d be surprised if there were many pre-millennialists in the movement. It is almost impossible to define an emerging theology, even if there are claims made about the uniqueness of Christ.

Architecture and clubbing. Painting and meditation. Soup kitchens and drunkards. Drama and multimedia. Participative worship, NGOW (‘Non-Guitar Oriented Worship’). Teaching (optional) ‘We had a logo before we had a venue.’ ‘This group was a vision with a website before it was a church.’

If you are disillusioned with church, read this book, and be prepared to laugh and cry. You will see yourself in many of the illustrations and stories. You will hear echoes of words you have spoken yourself as you read clichés and paraphrases about the secular/sacred dualism that apparently overwhelms the church. You will scream at the disregard for propositional truth, as if reconnecting with cultural and present realities means that verbal communication is bad. But, even if you are more critical than me, you will almost certainly admire the ‘vision thing’ that these people put into action. After all, in the words of Maxi Jazz, him of Faithless fame, ‘you don’t need eyes to see, you need vision.’

This one's for you, Crawford

At least one person has been concerned about the lack of posts over the last week. I really haven't had much to say, and I'm still on dial-up at home.

But, broadband is coming to my study soon, and this summer I'll be concentrating on two or three areas of study and preparation for my future career. Stay tuned, my friends - the best is yet to be.

Thanks for all the kind remarks about my 30! post. One friend informed me that 30 is the new 20. So, I intend to spend more time in bed, more time watching TV and more time in the pub. Two of these will coincide nicely with Germany 2006

Friday, May 12, 2006


Yes, today I’ve crossed a significant milestone. It’s official. I am no longer young.

Things I should have done by now:

Wife and kids.
One day of significant hard work - real work, the kind that leaves you tired at night, and the kind that leaves you with a sense of achievement.
Some ironing.
Mount Everest.
Fill in a tax return.
Fulfil my potential.

Things I still want to do, even though I’m 30:

Play lead guitar in my own band - rock and roll!
Grow my hair long - rock and roll!
Be really good at something - golf or football or astronomy.
Fulfil my potential.

War of the Literary Worlds

A year or two back, there was a really dreadful film that combined the Predator and Alien films. It was called, Predator V Alien, or something like that.

Anyway, I think it’s time we had a literary equivalent - The Da Vinci Code V Left Behind.

Most of you will know about The Da Vinci Code, the ultimate conspiracy theory novel. Here’s my confession - I haven’t read it. I’m not that bothered about it either. Evangelical Christians are making a really hearty meal out of the whole thing - writing books about how DVC is full of errors. Funny that, a (fictional) novel being full of errors, who would have thought it? One blog I read, by a high profile evangelical academic, who just happens to have book out about DVC, gave an in-depth program describing how churches should respond to the DVC phenomenon - it included reading books about DVC... Still, I was actually asked what I thought about DVC at a party recently, so maybe I should be a little better prepared. How many ways can you say - it’s all a load of rubbish, it’s just a right good conspiracy theory novel?

Left Behind was the first in a series of novels about the end times, the Rapture and all that, the apocalyptic conclusion to Earth’s history. The Left Behind Series has sold millions of books, and the twelfth book (I think) in the series is due for release on 060606. Unlike the DVC, which appears to contain the underlying theme that the Christian worldview is all one big conspiracy, Left Behind cranks up the Christian worldview in fantastically literal representations of key Bible passages. So I’m told, at least. My second confession? I haven’t read LB. But, I know a man who has, and he’s written a book about it! Due for release 060606! Go buy it - Crawford not only knows what he is talking about, he can tell or write a great narrative too.

What’s my point in this post? Here’s my thesis - these literary phenomena are two systems of thought that are battling for the soul of the Western world - you read it here first, remember! DVC V LB - New age conspiracy V Pre-critical fundamentalism - the battle for the 21stC.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Two funny posts in a row?

Ever had to look for a church? Check out this King of the Hill clip (you will need broadband).

My blogging usually takes me to American blogs. I'm still fascinated by American (mostly US) evangelical culture, and the changes in Reformed evangelical culture in particular. There are loads of cultural debates ongoing. Check out this blog by a student at Westminster Theological Seminary to follow them from one perspective.

Check out this funny post, too, about emerging church. I wish I could be emergent, but I'm too poor (I don't have a laptop), and too dull (I'm very uncreative).

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Will i get away with this one...

I found it quite funny that Forward Together will host its General Assembly lunch in a Quacker Meeting Hall. And there is to be a speaker on the theme of 'Christians and Freedom of Speech'.

'Pray, silence for Prof Leigh,' indeed!!

Please advise if this post is in anyway amusing, dangerous, out of place, etc. Still, I might be lucky. If Prof Leigh does end up speaking he may well defend my prerogative.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


I liked this post on my mate Donald's blog. I'm one of his bebo friends too!! (I think you need to sign into bebo to read it, so I've copied the post below.)

I love 24, anyone that watches it will appreciate this.
4 days ago

- You can lead a horse to water. Jack Bauer can make him drink.
- If Jack Bauer was in a room with Hitler, Stalin, and Nina Meyers, and he had a gun with 2 bullets, he'd shoot Nina twice.
- If you wake up in the morning, it's because Jack Bauer spared your life.
- Upon hearing that he was played by Kiefer Sutherland, Jack Bauer killed Sutherland. Jack Bauer gets played by no man.
- Osama bin Laden's recent proposal for truce is a direct result of him finding out that Jack Bauer is, in fact, still alive.
- Jack Bauer once forgot where he put his keys. He then spent the next half-hour torturing himself until he gave up the location of the keys.
- Jack Bauer was never addicted to heroin. Heroin was addicted to Jack Bauer.
- 1.6 billion Chinese are angry with Jack Bauer. Sounds like a fair fight.
- Jack Bauer killed 93 people in just 4 days. Wait, that is a real fact.
- Jack Bauer doesn't miss. If he didn't hit you it's because he was shooting at another terrorist twelve miles away.
- Jack Bauer let the dogs out.
- Superman wears Jack Bauer pyjamas.
- Jack Bauer's favorite color is severe terror alert red. His second favorite color is violet, but just because it sounds like violent.
- If Jack and MacGyver were locked in a room together, Jack would make a bomb out of MacGyver and get out.
- Jack Bauer played Russian Roulette with a fully loaded gun and won.
- Lets get one thing straight, the only reason you are conscious right now is because Jack Bauer does not feel like carrying you.
- Jack Bauer got Hellen Keller to talk.
- When you open a can of whoop-ass, Jack Bauer jumps out.
- Killing Jack Bauer doesn't make him dead. It just makes him angry.
- The quickest way to a man's heart is through Jack Bauer's gun.
- Jack Bauer can get McDonald's breakfast after 10:30.
- Jack Bauer is the leading cause of death in Middle Eastern men.
- People with amnesia still remember Jack Bauer.
- It would only take 1 bullet for Jack Bauer to kill 50 Cent.
- Jack Bauer once won a game of Connect 4 in 3 moves.
- Jack Bauer has been to Mars. That's why theres no life on Mars.
- When the boogie man goes to sleep, he checks his closet for Jack Bauer
- Simon Says should be renamed to Jack Bauer Says because if Jack Bauer says something then you better bloomin do it.

I like hymns...

We have heard a joyful sound,
‘Jesus saves!’
Spread the gladness all around,
‘Jesus saves!’
Bear the news to every land,
Climb the steeps and cross the waves.
Onward! – ‘tis our Lord’s command.
Jesus saves!

I’ve been attending a church on placement for the last 8 months or so. This has allowed me regular use of the latest edition of The Church Hymnary (CH4). CH4 is basically the new hymnbook for the Church of Scotland, and the United Free Church of Scotland. Apparently, the Presbyterian Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church of Wales withdrew from the CH4 project early on to produce their own hymnbooks. Traditionally, several Presbyterian churches within the British Empire supported the Church Hymnary. CH2 was ‘Authorized for Use in Public Worship’ by 8 churches.

Anyway, this morning I scanned through one section of CH4 – ‘Our Response to Christ – In Devotion’. The section contains 36 hymns. As I browsed through the hymns I was surprised by how many I already knew and loved. It was more anecdotal evidence towards my latest popular theory about Christian culture – Christians are all singing the same songs regardless of their practice or beliefs. My top ten hymns in the section are listed below. My only quibble is that ‘Fairest Lord Jesus’ is misplaced – it only makes the ‘Also suitable’ list, and is found in a previous section, ‘Christ Risen – Reign and Priesthood’.

I like CH4, and I hope to make a suitable donation to my placement church in return for keeping a copy. The thing is I’ll never use it as a minister – how long until people attending church are given palm tops and/or mini-digital video audio devices – electronic hymnbooks/Bibles? Will these ever replace the projection screen? Whatever, the age of the hymnbook as we know it is surely coming to an end.

How deep the Father’s love for us
As the deer pants for the water
In heavenly love abiding
Oh, for a closer walk with God
O love that wilt not let me go
Christ whose glory fills the skies
Jesus, the very thought of thee
When I receive the peace of Christ
There is a Redeemer
Lord, I lift your name on high

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Another Evangelical crisis?

Check out this post that, if you follow the links, will lead you to ongoing blog discussions about the roles of men and women in conservative evangelical culture. Michael’s post assumes lots of insider knowledge about Reformed Evangelical culture. However, I think the overall point is clear – and it is something that I’m only just beginning to realise – there is a cultural war within conservative evangelicalism.

This war is not a direct confrontation between two well-defined camps. But it is a consequence of something that Mark Noll describes in his book Between Faith and Criticism. In this book – perhaps Noll’s most undervalued work? – you find a discussion of how evangelicals in America have treated the Bible in academic terms. Noll tells the story of how American and British scholars created an evangelical Biblical scholarship over the late 19thC and most of the 20thC. This movement wrestled with the consequences of critical study of the Bible carried out by non-evangelicals. But it also wrestled with popular views about the inspiration of the Bible. Evangelical scholars have always worked within a strong popular movement that held on to traditional ideas – ideas that are probably cultural as much as they are biblical or theological.

Noll describes two approaches – he acknowledges necessary caveats, but maintains his distinction: ‘The major division lies between those who tie the belief in biblical inspiration tightly to traditional interpretations and those for whom this bond is somewhat less secure.’

I think we are seeing this division in a number of issues that are being discussed in evangelical circles. The debates over sexuality. The discussions over the doctrine of justification, and the New Perspective on Paul. The rumblings over the role of men and women in church ministry. These are the big three debates that I can identify in conservative evangelicalism at the moment. They are by no means the only problem areas, and they are probably all secondary issues. But I think they all point to a deep unease about what evangelical Christianity is or is not. No tradition provides a safe haven, or an obvious unifying motif or creed. There is a cultural fragmentation within evangelicalism that leaves many of us unsure about our role as evangelicals. Is any battle worth fighting any longer?