Mushy Squishy Touchy Feely

In two separate articles by two different theologians, separated by continents (America and Europe), and 100 years, I read the budding frustration of what was happening within Sunday School education, followed by the flowering of the present state of adult education in the Western church today.

P. T. Forsyth was suspicious of the effeminate in contemporary religion in his day.  The same charge has been levelled at the church today: a place for women, children and the deluded.  I’ve heard that said with my own ears.

In an address to the Sunday School Union in 1900, Forsyth set his sights on the shapelessness of what passed for Sunday School teaching:

PTForsyth“The Sunday School is too much left to well-meaning and hard-working people, who, with all their earnestness, have no experience of controlling others, and no sense or power of discipline.  The teachers are . . . . gentle and fear to hurt feelings; or they are too tender about ejecting black sheep . . . . They have young ideas about what Christian love means.  They are too anxious to be loved and not enough concerned to be obeyed . . . . I am afraid that many teachers have more interest in the affections of their scholars than in their souls.”

P. T. Forsyth ‘As Congregational Minister’ by Clyde Binfield in ‘Justice the True and Only Mercy,’ pg. 172-3

Admittedly, some of his language needs qualifying today.  I would want to rephrase notions of control and discipline; ‘ejecting black sheep’ is a little mysterious; and finally what would mean to obey in this context?    I am not afraid of these notions, just that my 21st century conditioning requires that of me, as any misreading/misapplication of this could quite easily slip into authoritarianism.  The thrust of Forsyth’s comment is about right, and continues to be about right for today.

What Forsyth bemoans in the bud, Michael Hardin bemoans in the flowering.  For if Forsyth was right (and he was), the inevitable consequence will be what Hardin observes in today’s church:

In his ‘What The Facebook’ (pg. 65-66) he writes,

WTF“…I have met thousands of Christians and have been in countless churches.  Sadly, most of those I have met do not know their Bibles….How can we encourage Christians today to take the Bible seriously enough to pay attention to its narrative flow, to its novelistic detail, to its story or plot line? . . . . .

. . . .We desperately need more and better Bible education in the churches.  Adult Sunday School classes in so many churches teach little more than pabulum.  There is no real thinking going on or engagement with the actual text of Scripture.  Often education in the church has become a mushy squishy touchy feely “what do you think?” as though the pooling of ignorance is beneficial.  It is time for the rest of Christianity to knuckle down and for everyone to learn how to read Scripture, to learn its story and reap its benefits.  If we don’t get serious about our biblical literacy we might as well cede the Bible to the Fundamentalists and that is something I will never do.  Will you join me?”

Obviously there are exceptions here and there.  These comments are macro-observations by two sharp cultural critics who have a high value on theological and biblical literacy.




‘Let your light shine’

A Devonshire Summers day


The Urgent Need for Biblical Literacy

At the turn of the 21st century, I studied the whole Bible over nine months.  It was the most dramatic and faith building event in my life up to that point.

Studying the Bible before studying any formal theology was a life-saver.  I have found that most (99%) theological colleges assume a certain amount of biblical literacy.  This is a monumental mistake.

Our advanced post-modern cultural situation is revealing that biblical literacy is at an all time low, whether a person is Christian or not.  This includes men and women going into Christian ministry.  Aside from the problems this inevitably creates among the ‘called’, it affects evangelism, in that, we can take nothing for granted in what people know of the Christian story.

We can’t assume anything, unlike a generation ago when there was a mental framework of sorts, at least some kind of rickety scaffhold people had with which to engage in Christian discussion or debate.

This creates a two-fold problem in our churches.  For if the minister/preacher isn’t at least high average competent in the entire story-line of the whole Bible, and if those listening to sermons are biblically illiterate post-moderns, the dumbing down, the milky wishy washy sermonising, the infantilizing, the cliche driven pop-culture rhetoric will become the dominant paradigm for how the church understands itself.

Thus, the Bible becomes a kind of Sunday School cartoon book with pictures to colour in.  I have never found a Sunday School that has taught the kids, for example, Job or Revelation.  But boy-o-boy have they done Jonah and the whale, David and Goliath, Daniel in the lions den, oh, and Noah and the flood – what a sweet story that is!

I won’t even mention the cherry-picking of Jesus stories in the Gospels!

I really do think it is that serious.  In a sad addition, we must also acknowledge the rampant immaturity in many churches, and that among the long-term, Christianese speaking, pillars of the community, who often show more passion over what type of music is played than whether heresy is being preached from the pulpit.

There are no short-cuts to speed our journey.  No gimmicks that will rescue us.  No silver bullet that will cure us.  There is no way round the simple fact that God’s people must know God’s word.  And to do that we need to read it; and read it again, and then some more and keep going.

It’s living and active – how can we tire of it?

How can we assume we’ve read all there is in it?

At what point do we think we are the finished product, schooled to perfection in the Bible, no longer needing it?

For the church not to be so easily derided by our critics: new atheism, secular society, suburban mediocrity, infantile fanatics, petty media, etc, we must be in the Word.

And by being in the Word, we are better able to confront Pharoah, Caesar, Empire.  Being in the Word, we are more likely to be confronted ourselves.  Confronted by a loving and holy God, perfect in beauty and awesome in majesty.  Being in the Word helps us, enables us, forces us to take the ruddy great plank out of our own eyes first.  Being in the word is being transformed.

By being in the Word, we are able to be biblically faithful and biblically prophetic as we give answer for the hope that we have.  It is prophetic, timely, mature, loving and relational.

There are no short-cuts.  We need feeding, God’s precious people need feeding, the world needs feeding.

Go on.  Pick up your Bible and read.


The Old Testament in 64 Sentences

• God created the universe, the world and people and it was all very good.
• Mankind disobeyed the one thing and the curse of sin and death came in.
• Sin increasingly spiralled so God brought a flood, saving animals & 1 family.
• Sin increased and God scattered the nations at the Tower of Babel. The world was bleak.
• What was God going to do?
• God initiates His salvation plan by calling Abraham and making promises with him.
• Abraham’s family are chosen and God works in their lives.
• The family end up in Egypt to escape a famine.
• The Hebrews become slaves in Egypt for 400 years.
• As with Abraham, God calls Moses, with the message to Pharaoh: ‘Let my people go!’
• The Israelites are rescued from Egypt with signs and wonders (ten plagues)
• At Mt Sinai they learn what this rescuing God is like: He is holy.
• God gives them laws, religious, social, medical, legal and Ten Commandments.
• They immediately break the rule and worship a golden calf (seriously, you couldn’t make it up)!
• That generation do not enter the Promised Land. They die in the wilderness.
• Joshua leads the new generation into the promised Land.
• They are told to drive out all the idolatrous nations (Canaanites).
• They drive out most of them and then settle and divide land between 12 the tribes.
• The Philistines become their main enemy and oppress the Israelites.
• The Israelites are oppressed because they keep breaking God’s Laws.
• Every time they get desperate they cry out to God for help.
• God always sends a deliverer, or Judge to rescue and lead the people.
• Then they do well for a short time before sinning worse than before and crying out again.
• This goes on for between 200-400 years. These days are very dark, the sin very bad.
• Despite the bleakness, the story of Ruth and the line of David happens here.
• Then the people demand a King ‘like the other (idolatrous) nations’ thus rejecting God’s Kingship.
• The people choose Saul. He looks good on the outside but is bad on the inside.
• God appoints David as King when Saul dies. Saul persecutes David.
• David becomes King. God makes a very special covenant with him: Messianic promises.
• Although David was ‘a man after God’s own heart’ he still had a human heart & it was bad!
• David murders, commits adultery, lies, steals and disobeys, but God never forsakes him.
• David’s time is marked by wars and warriors. David is trying to finish what Joshua began.
• David’s son Solomon reigns in peace and builds a world wonder: God’s Temple.
• Although Solomon is very wise he’s also very stupid. He commits mass idolatry in later years.
• His peaceful reign is superficial. When he dies, the Israelite Kingdom is torn in two.
• Ten tribes to the north. Two in the south.
• Multiple dynasties rule the north for over 200 years. All kings were idolatrous & evil.
• Because of God’s promise to David, his family rule the south for 400 years.
• After 200 years, the Assyrians capture the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and Exile all the people.
• They are destroyed forever and it was all spoken by the prophets and the Law.
• The prophets to the North were Hosea, Joel, Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Jonah and others.
• The South (Judah) were captured by Babylon 200 years after that.
• Persistent idolatry, covenant unfaithfulness were Judah’s downfall.
• They were Exiled and held in Babylonian captivity for 70 years.
• Many prophets came to warn them this would happen.
• Prophets such as Jeremiah, Amos, Obadiah, Habakkuk, and others.
• The people didn’t believe it? Why?
• Because God had made unconditional promises to Abraham and David. God wouldn’t lie.
• They forgot to add into that the conditional promise made to Moses at Sinai
• “If you disobey, then this (curse) will happen…” “If you obey then this (blessing) will happen….”
• Prophets also spoke during and after the Exile. God was speaking and acting all the time.
• Prophets such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zephaniah, and others.
• During the Exile, the Jews were saved from annihilation by a brave Jewish girl, Esther.
• After Exile, the Hebrew people were freed to go home (a new generation).
• This historic return was led by Ezra who re-taught the religious laws of God to the people.
• And led by Nehemiah who rebuilt the city walls and the Temple (a poor imitation of Solomons).
• But the people soon forgot the Law and broke the covenant.
• God sent more prophets to warns them back: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
• The OT ends in some disarray. It’s a cliff hanger.
• God’s word is ignored. Sin keeps spreading. Prophets are ignored. Lessons not learned.
• The last prophet and word in the OT is Malachi. He promises a special messenger.
• This messenger will announce the way for God Himself to come.
• Then the prophets stop prophesying. God is silent for 400 years (as he was in Egypt).
• Until we hear the shouting of John the Baptist in the NT: “Prepare the way of the Lord…”

The God Who is There

Slavoj Zizek, Slovinian philosopher and cultural critic, said that the only way to be a true atheist is to go through Christianity.  This series of videos will do just that!

D. A. Carson takes us through the whole Bible storyline in this excellent series designed for those who know nothing or very little about the Bible or the Gospel.  Enjoy.

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