Is there a God? asks world famous theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author, Stephen Hawking in his posthumously published book Brief Answers to the Big Questions. He begins answering it with these words:
“Science is increasingly answering questions that used to be the province of religion. Religion was an early attempt to answer the questions that we all ask, but nowadays, science provides better and more consistent answers, but people will always cling to religion because it gives them comfort, and they do not trust or understand science.”
“…what is an honest spiritual life? Perhaps we should say that it is one in which the taste for truth (rather than sincerity) has become inescapable. We don’t know what we shall be, what face God will show to us in the mirror he holds up for us on the last day, but we can continue to question our own (and other people’s) strange preference for the heavy burden of self-justification, or self-creation, and weep for our reluctance to become persons and to be transfigured by the personal communion opened for us by Jesus.”
Rowan Williams, Silence and Honey Cakes, pg. 60
During his 1907 Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching at Yale University* (these lectures became his classic Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind), Forsyth shared the three ways in which he thought the Church suffers: i. from triviality. ii. from uncertainty. iii. from satisfaction (with itself, or more specifically, complacency).
He later went on in that address to emerging pastors and preachers to make this statement: “What we need is not the dechurching of Christianity, but the Christianizing of the Church.” This was his answer to the three ways the church suffers. But how was this to happen? Here’s what he said and he may well have been speaking yesterday:
“When I consider the span of my life absorbed into the eternity which comes before and after – as the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but a day – the small space I occupy and which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which knows nothing of me, I take fright and am amazed to see myself here rather than there; there is no reason for me to be here rather than there, now rather than then. Who put me here? By whose command and act were this time and place allotted to me?”
Blaise Pascal, Pensees, Section one: Papers Classified by Pascal: III Wretchedness 68, pg. 19 (Penguin Classics, 1995)
Rhythms of Faithfulness being presented to John Colwell by the Editors Paul and Andy Goodliff
Last Wednesday I paid my first ever visit to Spurgeon’s Baptist College in London (I went to Bristol #happydays). It was a secret that many fellow minister’s and tutors held as we sprung a surprise on Rev. Dr. John Colwell, for his lifetime of service to the Church and University, although he confessed to increasing suspicion as the minutes rolled by. John is a wonderful man, and it was a real treat for me to get to know him as my mentor when I moved to South Devon and first met him. He has preached several times at my church, and is a most excellent preacher at that! I interviewed him a few years ago which received more hits in the first month than any other blog post I wrote (he doesn’t know that)! What follows below is the account of that day from the Baptist Times online paper here.
I recently discovered the writing of Anne Lamott, and just loved what she says both in this excellent, honest and funny TED Talk ‘12 truths I learned from life and writing,’ and in this comment below, which is about writing in particular, but what she says about the curse of perfectionism in general, is spot on:
Donald Capps very helpfully outlines models and schemata for effective pastoral action, that I think are very helpful for getting pastor’s to think about the what and why of what they do in a community over which they exercise pastoral oversight. This post is the third of three that will develop this scheme to show how pastoral care is multi-layered and complex, requiring self-understanding, and avoiding the over-simplification of a one-dimensional approach that can be seen in self-promoting and self-serving distortions of ministry.
In Pastoral Care and Hermeneutics (a book I discovered by reading Anthony Thiselton’s A Lifetime in the Church and University), Capps first provides six Diagnostic Types for pastoral care approaches (pg. 61-65) and then, what concerned the first two posts, he locates them on three axes, with each axis viewed as a model of theological diagnosis (pg. 65-66). He uses the content analysis of published sermons in six well known preachers, showing that each preacher had a characteristic approach that was common to most if not all the their published sermons.
Now following on from the Contextual, Experiential and Revisionist models of the previous post, Capps now draws these threads together (pg. 72-78) in three characteristic models or modes of pastoral ministry (See Figure A below – A Conceptual Schema for Interpreting Pastoral Actions), that he draws from the work of Alastair Campbell in his Rediscovering Pastoral Care: