A Saint, A Wolf & Covid-19

What follows is my extended script for a BBC Radio Devon Pause for Thought planned for Sunday 19th April 2020.  It is a fascinating truth-containing fable of the 13th century involving a famous Saint and an infamous Wolf:

St Francis of Assisi and the Wolf

During the early 13th century, we meet an extraordinary figure:  

A determined pleasure seeker in his youth, loving the good and fast life of high society.  

 

But he had an experience of Jesus Christ 

that transformed this classic sinner into a most radical saint.

 

His name is Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, but we know him as St. Francis of Assisi. 

Continue reading “A Saint, A Wolf & Covid-19”

One Step Enough for Me

I am reading John Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, which is to say, as intellectually stimulating as it is and as he is, this Anglican turned Catholic turned recently canonized Saint, is very demanding (thanks Tony)!!!

Newman

Anyway, I came across a poem he had read after following up on another thing, and came across a poem he wrote whilst sick and away from home.  In the current Covid-19 pandemic that has swept the globe, we can easily feel overwhelmed and disorientated.  But the language of the poem, though old fashioned does convey a truth about God’s providential care that we will do well to remember; namely that while we can never know the fullness of the How’s and the Why’s, we are nevertheless called to trust God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if not for the first time, then for the umpteenth time and in deeper, personal ways, daily.

Notice the lines in the first stanza: Keep Thou my feet; I do not see, The distant scene; one step enough for me!

Continue reading “One Step Enough for Me”

Yes to Science; No to Scientism

There is a lot of confusion in the debate between science and religion (I use the term “religion” here as it relates to Christianity).

Science is a wonderful, glorious thing.  But scientism is the troll under the bridge that just loves to prance around when it can.  Science is way of knowing the physical and natural world – observe, measure, hypothesise, experiment, drawing conclusions and verification of the conclusions – and has enormously enriched and refined our knowledge of the world.  As Spandau Ballet so memorably sang in True, “I know, I know, I know this much is true.”  And this is the point – science is a search; a search for what is true; it is a search for Truth itself.  In this sense, it is, as G. K. Chesterton noted, “[Physical science] is either infallible or it is false.”  He adds with his usual razor wit, to mix these up is to confuse the role of a medical doctor who tells us that this or that food will kill us; but it is for the philosopher to say whether I ought to be killed.

Scientism is the reduction of all knowledge to the scientific form of knowledge, and this can take the forms of a strong or weak scientism.  The “strong scientism” is seen no more clearly seen than in the current debates around religion and science, especially from the fiercest critics of religion – the “New Atheists” (of whom there is nothing new at all), and which Alistair McGrath reminds us, that scientism is not only alive and well, but has “become the official ideology of the movement.”  John Crosby writes, “Scientism takes the paradigm for knowledge and truth to be the knowledge and truth gained by the natural sciences.  To the extent that philosophy or literature or religion is not amenable to the methods of natural science, it is treated as a sub-standard form of knowledge” (A. J. Ayer and his ‘Vienna Circle’ pals in the 20’s and 30’s and their logical positivism are foundational to the present situation).  It is quite perverse though how this has happened!  It creates a false distinction, as though one has to choose between science and nonsense, which is nonsense!  Scientism is a shame and a sham!  Nothing but an epistemological reductionism masquerading as an enlightened, open-minded, free-thinking and progressive world-view.

This was exemplified in a 2019 science and religion debate between John Lennox and  Peter Atkins over at Unbelievable?  These two are extremely clever men, but one is a Christian (Lennox) and the other an atheist.  The problem is that despite Lennox being a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, Atkins, with quite staggering arrogance, still dismisses Lennox’s Christian faith as immature, telling him and all other Christian/religious people  to “grow up!” It is this kind of allegiance to a scientific-only worldview (i.e. scientism) that even makes Richard Dawkins look sluggish.  Atkins made some good and interesting points, but overall, he only served to prove one thing: that he is so deeply locked into an epistemological method of scientism, with its great reduction and dismissal of any other form of knowing, that he does, in fact, look silly.  He betrays the almost universal consensus that there are non-scientific ways to knowing, as the famous atheist Bertrand Russell once admitted, in acknowledging that mathematics (of which Lennox is a professor!), is a doorway to religion and mysticism.

I do wish Atkins could argue properly with Lennox, rather like the early 20th century debates between Christian G. K. Chesterton and atheist George Bernard Shaw, who could properly argue but still hold a meaningful friendship.  Atkins despises Lennox and all other Christians, and it is at this point the meaningfulness of debate breaks down.  Once, when preparing for a debate, a rotund Chesterton said to a skinny Shaw, “To look at you, anyone would think there was a famine in England!”  Shaw replied, “And to look at you, anyone would think you caused it!”  Sadly, this kind of banter born out of mature relating and friendship is lost to many who hold to scientism.

Continue reading “Yes to Science; No to Scientism”

P. T. Forsyth a Man of Faith

See the short video (June 2019) on The Fuel Cast, filmed at Torre Abbey ruins, Torquay.

Who was P. T. Forsyth?

Peter Taylor Forsyth was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on this day in 1848 to a working-class family, and was educated there through his university years.  Afterwards, he became a Congregationalist minister serving in five successive congregations in England at Shipley, London, Manchester, Leicester and Cambridge.  

 

 

Continue reading “P. T. Forsyth a Man of Faith”

Can Science Explain Everything – a review

This review in the Baptist Times of ‘Can Science Explain Everything?’ by John Lennox, is written by my former tutor, the Revd Dr Ernest C. Lucas, who is Vice-Principle Emeritus of Bristol Baptist College and a former research biochemist:

“John Lennox is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University. He is a well-known speaker and writer on Christian apologetics, especially in the area of science and faith. This book is intended to be an introduction to the “Science and God Debate”. It is especially written for those who think that “God and science don’t mix”.

Can Science Explain Everything

In response to the claim that it is not possible to be a scientist and believe in God he points out that many of the outstanding pioneers of modern science were convinced believers in God, and that more than 60 percent of the Nobel Prize winners from 1901-2000 identified Christianity as their religious preference.

Continue reading “Can Science Explain Everything – a review”

Twelve glorious pounds gets you this:

relating-faithHaving a commendation on the back cover, it is no surprise that I am a fan of Rob Knowles’s work.  I am also a friend!  Friend first, then fan, or “Frand” as my son tells me!

Anyway, below is the write up on the Authentic Media website for his alarmingly critical-but-profoundly-biblical look at church and culture and church-culture!

If £12 is too much, you could get it here for £7-ish.    If that is too much, get in touch with me and I’ll send you a copy myself!  You can see why I think this so important by reading my redacted version under “commendations” below.

In this book, Robert Knowles seeks to encourage Christians to embrace and model authentic biblical Christianity – or “Relating Faith” – in their discipleship, church, and mission. Our faith is relational in that “love for God and neighbour sums up the Law and the Prophets” and in that, in response to the Great Commission, we are to relate our faith in Jesus Christ to the world where it is actually at today. Such “relating faith” is biblical not least in that Christians are to be matured and refereed in their love, or biblical lawfulness, primarily through the Holy Spirit’s formative and relational activation of biblical speech-acts.

Knowles argues, however, that the Western church has so allowed itself to be shaped by ancient, modern and postmodern Western culture and thinking, that it has in effect lost its authentic biblical shape as “relating faith”. Knowles identifies five broad kinds of inauthentic or unbiblical sub-culture within the contemporary Western (and especially British) church that, whilst they are by no means the whole truth about the church, have still critically compromised its biblical shape and mission so as to render the church “non-relational” and even oppressive. Knowles then argues that these five counterfeit non-relational church sub-cultures are responsible for Christians hopping between churches or else leaving the church in droves, and for non-Christians increasingly seeing the church as irrelevant.

In order to address this problem, Knowles gives detailed expositions of the shape of authentic biblical discipleship, church and mission on the one hand, and of the shape of Western modernity and postmodernity on the other hand. In the light of these expositions Knowles argues that the apparently more “modern” and/or “postmodern” shape of the five inauthentic or unbiblical contemporary church sub-cultures that he has identified has resulted, in part, from a long-standing anti-intellectual, anti-theological, and anti-biblical attitude of cherished ideological and cultural ignorance within the church. Notably, Knowles argues that this pietistic attitude has allowed the church to see false prophecy as “true”, and to see the truly prophetic, the theological and even sometimes biblical doctrine as, at best, of only marginal or “merely academic” importance. This conclusion forms the platform from which Knowles calls Christians back to authentic biblical discipleship, church and mission – to “relating faith”.

COMMENDATIONS
“Rob’s gift to the Church is to communicate rich theological truth in profoundly relational ways with the Scriptures at the centre. Those who want more and know there’s more but just don’t know where to look, would find in Rob’s work a goldmine of wisdom, and Christ is the fount of it all.”
– Rev’d Richard Matcham, Minister of Barton Baptist Church, Torquay

“I am glad to commend this book. It combines such technical-sounding topics as speech-act theory and postmodernism with very practical issues in bible study and the Christian life. Dr Knowles has shown that these are down-to-earth tools and issues which can be of practical use in everyday Christian discipleship. Issues such as that of church leadership are also raised in a practical way.”
– Anthony C. Thiselton, Emeritus Professor of Christian Theology, University of Nottingham

“Rob Knowles is one of those people who has had a massive influence on my life and ministry; his work is always thoughtful, challenging, and very helpful. Rob always seeks to be thoroughly biblical, and he’s never one to duck the tough questions or offer easy platitudes. I thoroughly recommend this volume as one which will help you significantly in your life and ministry.”
– Rev’d Ted Fell, Vicar of All Saints Anglican Church, Kings Cross, London

Finally, a review from the above link.  I’ll use Tim’s review, I’m sure he won’t mind, since we were the central defense duo for the famous Woodies FC in the late 90’s.  I’ve saved his bacon a few times and now by quoting him he can return the favour!

By ‘Tim’

A very enlightening read for anyone who attends church; a helpful read for people who are struggling with church; and an indispensible read for people who lead Christian churches or facilitate church activities, church structures or church communities.

Dr Rob Knowles has written a book about how the church can be more like God intended it to be. Knowles is a philosophical theologian who has written a previous, more theoretical book, an exposition of Professor Anthony Thiselton’s theology (Anthony C. Thiselton and the Grammar of Hermeneutics – Paternoster, 2012), whose influential thinking he also scrupulously acknowledges here in Relating Faith.

Relating Faith had me ‘laughing out loud’, ‘nodding in agreement’ and ‘making sharp intakes of breath’ in equal measure. Before I explain why, a quick, simplified précis of the contents.

Part one of Relating Faith (on Discipleship) outlines some ways in which people can experience, and be formed as disciples by God, through reading the bible. This section has practical examples and a novel model for devotional times. This section of the book proceeds in detail to expound Christian discipleship in terms of love, or biblical lawfulness.
Part two, (on Church) draws on this account of Christian discipleship as ‘love for God and for others’, and explains the ways in which the church has often departed from this emphasis. No one tradition is given prominence, and whatever your church tradition there is something challenging for you to reflect on.
Part three (on Mission) summarizes contemporary ideas in the Western world, and how these influence church culture and Christians’ attitude to and practice of relating to those around them – particularly with respect to mission.

Back to the reactions I mentioned earlier, and also a chance to comment on the style of the book.
• ‘Sharp intakes of breath.’
The book is hard hitting in style. It contains detailed accounts of the ways in which our behavior tends to be narcissistic. It also describes many ways in which church has become distorted. Behind this, one senses the author’s conviction and excitement that a more ‘truthful’ view of things can ‘set us free’ from such distortions. Grace is also strongly highlighted (chapter 3). If you have similar assumptions to me, then I expect Dr Knowles will convince you that the Western church has a longer way to go before it appears like the ‘bride of Jesus Christ’ than you previously assumed.

• ‘Nodding in Agreement.’
The book puts forward a detailed explanation as to why we sometimes find church less than perfect. The author uses ‘types’ such as ‘Applause-seekers’ or ‘Local Heroes’ to describe the ways in which the church has (sometimes unwittingly) copied ways of doing things from the culture surrounding it, such as celebrity TV shows or business models of leadership. From my limited experience of different churches, these examples often ring true. More fundamentally, this analysis offers a different starting place for reforming churches than ’10 things to make your meetings more welcoming’.

• ‘Laughing out loud.’
The author has a way with words. A classic example is the 101 word sentence in chapter 9, in which Knowles seeks to essentially capture the downsides to the ‘consumerist-driven’ ‘bad aspects’ of postmodernity influencing western culture. The book is aimed at the general reader. The author himself acknowledges on p.168 that there are a plenty of ‘long words’. Some people may find reading takes a fair bit of effort. But it’s a good way of expanding anyone’s vocabulary, plus it’s a gripping way of getting a handle on some of the key ‘buzzwords’ and ‘ideas’ which really shape contemporary society.

Personally, I found the book contained dense nuggets of description which chimed with – or even explained for the first time – my experiences in many different spheres of life. To give just a few examples: it provoked new excitement about devotional times; raised awareness about the influence of the culture around me, including why I have sometimes in the past found various jobs rather oppressive; convicted me that I had failed to love others, perhaps because I related to them in ways which were more about trying to win approval in my internal church structures; and gave hope and a particular vision for the church – as a God centered community of people – as potentially loving, wise, growing and relationally mature.

If you’re serious about your faith, PLEASE get this book!
relating-faith

Communion: A Table Liturgy

Cross on Cliff“Whether Prince or pauper, commoner or King, wealthy or poor, foolish or wise, lost or found, young or old, man or woman, sinner or saint, Conservative or Labour, despairing or hopeful, healthy or unhealthy, rested or tired, faithful or unfaithful, hungry or full, grumpy or happy, doubting or sure, successful or failure:

Come to this Table.
The Table of Christ.
One Table, One Saviour, One Church, One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Do not come because you are perfect, but because you are not.
Do not come because you know everything, but because you don’t.
Do not come trying to earn God’s love, you can’t.
Do not come to impress others.
This Table of Christ is a Table for sinners.
There is room for everyone.
This Table of Christ speaks of a sacrifice for sinners.

The invitation is to all who are near and all who are far off.
The invitation is for all who believe and who want to believe.
The invitation is to share in the life and death of Jesus Christ.
The invitation is to show God’s willingness to draw you near to Himself.

A God so near: Take and Eat.
A God so near: Drink this, all of you.
As He was crushed for our sins;
So we crush the bread between our teeth.
As He was lifted up;
So we lift up the cup.

The Cross of salvation; the Blood of the New Covenant; A broken body – Jesus the Son of God slain. For all sin everywhere.

And as you eat and drink physically, so eat and drink spiritually.
This physical act, sharing the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is a profoundly spiritual act of the heart.

It doesn’t depend on feelings or mood, but on Christ who says come.
Take Mary’s advice and “Do what He says!”
It depends on a rolled away stone, an empty tomb, a Risen Saviour.

So come.
Here it is.
The gracious offer of God to forgive and redeem.
The gifts of God to the world.
The power of God for salvation.
Body, blood, cross.
Bread, wine, table.
One God, One salvation, One Cross, One Saviour, One Way, One Church.
Amen.

Communion

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