Saturday, July 28, 2007

'I think I'll leave it there.'

These were the closing words to one of the most inspirational sermons I've ever heard. Funny thing is that, apart from the preacher, and the topic, which was the death of Christ and its significance, I remember next to nothing of the detail. I only retain the sense of being bowled over by a speaker whose message seemed to lift his listeners up into the presence of God.

Ever since then I've wrestled with the content v. style debate. Both things are important, and the best preachers I've heard display excellence in both areas. But the 'I think I'll leave it there' line has always inclined me to emphasise content over style. Donald Macleod's closing line was hardly a classic conclusion to a well crafted speech/sermon. But his content, for me at least, had been so well delivered, and was just so substantial, that I didn't need a clever ending. In fact, I didn't want him to end.

Whatever you think about Tony Blair, the man had style throughout his Westminster political career. His last words to Parliament, 'And that is that, the end.', were perfectly judged and perfectly executed, even if the circumstances of his departure were benign. Most PMs lose that office in a general election before leaving the Commons. Otherwise, they are bundled out of office, like Thatcher. Blair had weeks to prepare for his final few days as an MP and a PM.

I've been wondering about my blog, and how to end it. When I started writing this post, I had in mind the possibility it would be the last post. So many blogs have such good quality content, matched with great style, that I can't compete. And I'm getting tired with sharing dull tawdry snippets of my life.

Online journals are great if you have exciting stuff happening round about you. Some of my thoughts and ideas about my work are now sensitive enough that they will have to remain unpublished. Perhaps a future role will allow me to start publishing blog thoughts again. For the moment, however, this is it, the end.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Canon within the Canon?

Here's my list of important parts of the Bible. This is not intended to undermine other books in the Bible - I could fully subscribe to chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. But the list below will be my guide if and when I take on the task of teaching the Bible as a teaching minister in a church. I would also base most of my preaching on these books too. Possible qualifications to this strategy would arise if: 1) I use the Common Order Lectionary for a year or two 2), I decide thematic preaching is needed at some stage in my ministry.

Any thoughts on the list? I've just noticed that leaving out Matthew is a shocker, and perhaps 1 2 Peter deserve a place too. But I'm happy to defend my choices in public!

1 2 Samuel
1 2 Kings

1 Thessalonians
1 2 Timothy
1 John

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Green Gospel Preacher

I've been reflecting on the remarks of Trueman and Trotter, here and here. It's interesting that no-one from the Reformation 21 blog team has been able to provide answers to the questions. I'm not going to try because I'm not sure I understand the issue, although I think the problem is more to do with the place of tradition within current Reformed and evangelical churches as much as the doctrine of the Trinity.

My reason for mentioning the above is that in the next two or three days I will write a sermon based on Jeremiah 17:5-18. This will be the first sermon I've prepared and preached in six or seven months. And I'm finding it hard to get going. My problem is this: the text is fascinating, but I can't find the gospel in it. I want to say lots of encouraging things to the people of Partick South Church, but my text doesn't allow me to say any of them. And there are lots of interesting things I could share from Jeremiah 17 (e.g. Friends, did you realise you are all dreadfully deceitful and fickle?), but I'm not sure I want to say them! And, given Trueman and Trotter above, I'm beginning to think that being a preacher is an impossible role. You can never fully represent your tradition or your theology in one sermon. It is impossible to say everything you want. And it is difficult to be faithful to Scripture without being brutal.

'I have not run away from being your shepherd; you know I have not desired the day of despair. What passes my lips is open before you. Do not be a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster.'

Green Update: (A new slot on the blog where I share my green credentials.) I'm still holding out against buying a car. This could beome an impossible stand - most of my 'pastoral work' will take place in the wild west of Glasgow, but I live in the inner east end of the city. Better news - today I used Morissons polly bags at Tesco. I've decided to start reusing carrier bags, inspired by seeing someone else do the same thing.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Kingdom Ethics 2

Notes from Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Glen H. Stassen & David P. Gushee IVP Academic Downers Grove, Illinois 2003

2. The way of Jesus and prophetic authority

Jesus knew the Scriptures well, used them in his ministry, and ‘lived within the narrative horizon’ established by them.

Jesus challenged traditions of his day through his understanding of the Scriptures.

Jesus Christ is alive. Encountering him through the Scriptures, as part of the community of faith, remains a legitimate source of authority for Christian ethics.

Jesus was faithful to the Hebrew Scriptures and to Jewish piety in the same way the great prophets of Israel were. P91 So, Jesus interpreted the Torah as a gracious divine covenant. He put greater emphasis on the moral aspects of the Law over the cultic aspects. He was concerned about the inward, heart, aspect of life.

No moral question or issue can be addressed adequately from a Christian perspective without consideration of the meaning of Jesus Christ. By ‘meaning of Jesus Christ’ the authors include his life and ministry as well as his incarnation, death and resurrection. A whole Christ is needed for a rounded approach to ethics.

There are four levels of moral norms: particular/immediate judgment level, rules level, principles level, basic conviction level.

For Christians, God’s character, actions and will constitute the basic conviction level. P106

The authors draw attention to a ‘tradition of evasion’ within books on Christian ethics. The Sermon on the Mount has been either ignored or qualified in works on Christian ethics.

The Sermon on the Mount is often understood in terms of high moral ideals. The authors suggest that the Sermon is about ‘transforming initiatives’ for genuine kingdom life. They analyse the sermon by identifying 14 triads, e.g. 5:38-42, 5.38 (the traditional righteousness), 5.39 (the vicious cycle), 5:40-42 (the transforming initiative)

Shambo Saved

But the Welsh Assembly Government will probably appeal. How very very strange.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


On returning to life in the East End of Glasgow.

Bridgeton now has a coffee shop. Sucre Coffee Shop only has about 6 seats, and it will have to compete with Greggs next door. But things really are changing if you can find flavoured lattes on Main St, Bridgeton.

My favourite barber shop, which was a mile west of Bridgeton Cross, has turned into a Chinese restaurant/take away.

At least two new barber shops have opened within two hundred yards of my flat.

You can still pick up tea time specials from Indian take aways for a fiver or so. If you are really hungry, large Munchy Boxes start from 7 pounds. A quality Munchy Box will cost you ten pounds, but there will usually be enough food for breakfast or lunch the next day.

Kingdom Ethics 1

Notes from, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Glen H. Stassen & David P. Gushee IVP Academic Downers Grove, Illinois 2003

Section 1 The Reign of God and Christian character.

The authors note that most scholars think that kingdom of God refers to both the present and the future. God’s reign has been inaugurated in Jesus Christ, its completion remains a future event.

But what are the marks and characteristics of the kingdom now? Jesus taught that no one knows when the kingdom will come in its fullness. The point is not to know the timing but to be ready for the event.

The authors argue that the book of Isaiah is the place to discover the background to the teaching of Jesus about the kingdom of God.

Seven key marks of God’s reign are suggested: deliverance or salvation, righteousness/justice, peace, joy, God’s presence, healing, return from exile.

Jesus taught what the kingdom is like, what its characteristics are, and, therefore, the kind of things done by those who participate in the kingdom now and are ready for its final appearing.

Specific practices form character - for good or bad.

There are four important dimensions or variables to Christian ‘character’ ethics - all found in the teaching of Jesus and in biblical ethics in general.

First, a way of reasoning. Second, basic convictions about God, about human nature, about Jesus Christ, and about the mission of (God’s) church. Third, our loyalties and passions influence our ethical conclusions - no human is an autonomous mind free of commitment or trust to something, someone or some other. Fourth, perception - or where our hearts are set (Mt 6:21,22) - shapes how we see things and how we act or react in any (every?) given circumstance.

Christian ethics is continuous learning, transformational repenting, making corrections and growing in Christ. p68

The New Testament speaks more about doing than about virtues.

Evangelism requires first-hand witness to the difference Christian faith makes in actual lives - that is, Christian truth can and should be validated by its historical and experiential fruits. p77

Monday, July 09, 2007


As part of my 15 month probation placement, I’m now starting to get into a routine of work and study.

Work this morning was helping at Partick South’s holiday club for children. We are using Scripture Union material called Waste Watchers. I almost always feel at a loss when helping with this kind of work, but I’m trying to hide that feeling under a perennial smile.

I know that children learn about the gospel through holiday clubs, and I know people who came to faith as children through such work. But recently I read a statistic that, if true, should seriously shake the church up. If a child either starts coming to church, or becomes a Christian, the rest of the family will follow in less than 5% of cases. If a mother…, the rest of the family will follow in less than 20%. If a father…, the statistic claimed a figure over 70%. Reflecting again on this claim I think it might have some value, even if the exact figures are questionable, and even if the context is (Christian?) America.

I can think of at least two families I know where the father came to faith, to be followed by mother and children. None of this denies the power of God in individual cases, or the value of telling children and mothers about the gospel of Jesus Christ. But it seems to me that the church in the UK tends to avoid the hard work of evangelising fathers. Our strategy appears to be to reach and win the parents (the mothers?) through the children. Perhaps this is the reason we reap so little fruit in our mission and outreach. We’ve managed to get things upside down.

Study today included reading some more of Tom Allan’s The Face of my Parish on the train. And I’m just about to read from the book - Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Snippets from, and thoughts on, one or both of these soon.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Blest be the everlasting God
the Father of our Lord!
Be his abounding mercy praised,
his majesty adored!

When from the dead he raised his Son,
and called him to the sky,
he gave our souls a lively hope
that they should never die.

None of the rulers of the current age understand this lively hope. If they did, they would not deny the death and resurrection of the Lord of glory. As it is, God has revealed it to us through his Spirit. We have not received the spirit of the age, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we can understand what God has given to us in Jesus Christ. Indeed, we who have the Spirit have the very mind of Christ.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Montana Dave

And on my bebo page you can view a video snippet of my Montana road trip. Prizes for those who are able to identify the soundtrack.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


I am now working! I'm three days into my placement as an assistant minister at Partick South Church, Glasgow. Looks like I'm going to be busy. Busyness does not explain my lack of blog posts over the last three weeks. I've had bother with my ISP, and Royal Mail decided I had 'gone away', so none of my snail mail was being delivered. Hoping to get into some kind of regular blogging routine again after this week.

Three rooms in my flat have been redecorated, so I'm in a really nice environment to do lots of reading, thinking, blogging. Initial thoughts on my first three days working include the stark divide between my studies over the last year or so, and the reality of trying to be a Christian pastor/worker/minister in a church in Glasgow. For example, all my idealized plans for changing how the Church of Scotland does funerals have been exploded. As a minister I'm not sure I've got the backbone to say to people, 'No, I'm not going to do your funeral because I've got better things to do.' But I still have a niggle that Christian ministers should have better things to do.

And, I've decided I need a car. Almost impossible to do the amount of visits I would like to do without one. Very few people I will contact over the next year or so will actually live close to the church building. So if you know anyone selling a car...

UPDATE - before anyone mentions it - yes, I know that Arnold Clark is selling a motor at the moment...