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.  

 

 

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Book Review ‘Be Afraid’ exploring Horror, Culture and Theology

Below is my review of ‘Be Afraid – How Horror and Faith Can Change the World’ by my friend and fellow Baptist pastor Joe Haward, which was recently published in the Baptist Times.  Given a very limited word count, it was not possible to dig deeper into my comments about the theological method which relies heavily on the work of Rene Girard.  This brings an interpretive framework that can draw out different conclusions than one might expect, but is a conversation/debate that is well worth having, as it could stretch the reader beyond their theological comfort zone, which is never a bad thing in and of itself but a reference point worth remembering.  My commendation for the back cover has been edited, but here is my full version: 

IMG_0386“The bold plan in this book is to bring together the horror genre of popular culture and Christian theology, in such a way as to draw out an insightful conversation between the two. We live in a complex, violent and confused world that swings between extremes of multiple and competing ideologies, and thus continues to make the same mistakes. Using a wide range of contemporary film, writers, thinkers and ancient texts, Haward interprets “horror” theologically and shows therefore, how this genre is indeed rich pickings for discovering theological insight to “see beyond” the cultural impasse. The irony is that the “alternative vision” is a very, very old vision located in the peaceable Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The book is well worth a read, here’s the review:

“Rare is a conversation with horror, which is why I welcome this book. Joe Haward helps Christians to make the links with theology and the horror genre of popular culture. He draws out key characteristics and then makes one direct comparison after another with biblical themes as they relate to zombies (resurrection), vampires that eat flesh and drink blood (Eucharist), violence and sacrifice (atonement), and so on.

Be Afraid Joseph Haward

It is interesting for a reader like me, because I don’t like the horror genre; but even so, many in our churches do, which means there is a preaching opportunity to be had here.

Haward’s theological method draws on the work of Rene Girard. As such, he regularly alludes to the scapegoating mechanism and mimetic rivalry, and shows how these ideas are put forth in horror and ancient religions. Sometimes this method can be at odds with biblical reception-history, yet the insights offered can prove fruitful. Reading his interpretive conclusions alongside two or three good commentaries on the subject will be a great way to interact with Girardian theory.

Haward is good at interpreting contemporary Western culture, and he is relentless in exposing consumerism, violence, trafficking, the worst excesses of social media and the human obsession with an utterly godless dystopian future. Throughout, he shines the light on the Person and work of Jesus Christ, who He is, what He has done and what it all means. If anything else, this is a master-class in helping anyone interested in the art of interpreting film through a Gospel lens.”

Banishing Amiable Religiosity

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:

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He Gave Them…..

A brief quote from a brilliant piece by Stanley Hauerwas a few years ago here:

Jesus was crucified because he embodied a politics that threatened all worldly regimes based on the fear of death. And so Easter has profound political consequences.

“Jesus was crucified because he embodied a politics that threatened all worldly regimes based on the fear of death. And so Easter has profound political consequences…

…He gave them a new way to deal with offenders – by forgiving them.

He gave them a new way to deal with violence – by suffering.

He gave them a new way to deal with money – by sharing it.

He gave them a new way to deal with problems of leadership – by drawing on the gift of every member, even the most humble.

He gave them a new way to deal with a corrupt society – by building a new order, not making the old.

He gave them a new pattern of relationships between man and woman, between parent and child, between master and slave, in which was made concrete a radical new vision of what it means to be a human person.

He gave them a new attitude toward the state and toward the “enemy nation.”

Stanley Hauerwas is among the several great speakers at the 2018 BMS Catalyst Live day events in Bristol and Birmingham:

 

2018 CONTRIBUTORS

David Bebbington – Professor of History at Stirling University and Visiting Professor at Baylor University; creator of the ‘Bebbington quadrilateral’, his definition of evangelicalism

Baroness Elizabeth Berridge – Member of the House of Lords, with a wide range of interests including international freedom of religion and belief

Ron Choong – Theologian of science and biblical archaeologist; Founder and Executive Director of the Academy for Christian Thought in New York

Ruth Gledhill – Editor of ‘Christian Today’, author and commentator; previously religious affairs correspondent for The Times

Paula Gooder – Director for Mission Learning and Development in the Diocese of Birmingham; previously Theologian in Residence at the Bible Society

Rosie Harper – Vicar, Chair of the Oxford Nandyal Education Foundation, writer and activist on issues of justice and equality within and beyond the church.

Stanley Hauerwas – Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law at Duke Divinity School

Harry & Chris – Harry Baker is a world poetry slam champion, and his childhood friend Chris Read is a jazz musician; together, they are the wonderful Harry & Chris

Rula Khoury Mansour – Lecturer at Nazareth Evangelical College; specialist in conflict resolution

Amy Orr-Ewing – Director of Programmes for the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics; Amy will be speaking on her doctoral research on the work of Dorothy L Sayers

Adrian Snell –  Musician; Adrian’s music is renowned worldwide, with albums including ‘Alpha and Omega’ and ‘Song of an Exile’. Adrian will be speaking on his amazing work as a music therapist, as well as playing live

Anne Wafula Strike MBE – Anne was the first wheelchair racer to represent Kenya, where she was born; she has since become a Paralympian with Team GB, has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday honours and is an author and sporting ambassador

And finally, Catalyst Live 2018 is hosted by Mark Woods – consulting editor of the Methodist recorder, author, commentator and very good friend of BMS!

 

Paradoxical Christianity:  A way the Gospel confronts common sense and conventional morality

Paradoxical Christianity: A way the Gospel confronts common sense and conventional morality

A while back, years and years in fact, my brother wrote a piece that revealed the sharpness of his hermeneutical sword.
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He used to blog at Swivel Chair Theology; I wish he still did (sad face).  You can DuckDuckGo his blog if you want (I Googled alternative search engines – a little victory I suppose), or click here if you’re not feeling adventurous!
 *
Anyway, here’s a tasty morsel of paradoxical Christianity:
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Mark 14:3-10
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.11 They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him the money.
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This story has intrigued me since I first read it years ago.  A couple of things:
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Firstly, her action with the nard was outrageously extravagant to the point of being offensive.  A tiny amount would have produced a very nice effect at more than half the cost.  
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Secondly, Jesus seems to become suddenly blase about the poor.  His words are suggestive of an ideological stance that willy-nilly accepts the socio-political and economic constructs that support mass poverty.
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Thirdly, why should this story, above all stories, be one that is remembered in connection with the spread of the gospel?  That is, there is very little to be found in the story of forgiveness, or of helping one’s neighbour, or speaking in tongues, etc.  
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Fourthly, the comments of those present (whom John informs us were led by Judas Iscariot) actually make good common sense.  Jesus didn’t need a years wages worth of perfume poured on his head, and the money raised could have helped a lot of people.
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I think that the reason why this story is so closely associated by Jesus with the spread of the gospel is that it exposes us very strikingly to the way in which the gospel is offensive to both common sense and conventional morality.
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Mary’s act of generosity flies in the face of even the most generous human action through being so excessively wasteful; it’s the gift that gives over and above any conception of need.  As perfume it is wholly a non-essential luxury product, and as a consumer product it is worth a fortune.
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Lavishing such a non-essential, expensive good even on Jesus exposes the cramped meanness at the heart of much that passes for generosity in human terms.  I’m not just referring to a few quid in the collection plate, or tithing, or whatever.  Mary’s act must have come from the Holy Spirit himself, poured out in her heart.  It was a supernatural, superabundant act of which she would have been incapable, no matter how much she loved Jesus from her natural self.
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That is precisely why it is a GOSPEL act; it does not represent how much she loved him, or how generous she was, etc; but rather it represents Mary being caught up in the love of the Father for the Son through the Holy Spirit.  The gospel is the invitation to become a participant in this extravagant movement of love.  A little sprinkling of oil would never do.  Not least, more evidence that Mary was acting under the Holy Spirit’s guidance is that her action was likewise prophetic of Christ’s impending death and burial.  That her action should be prophetic of the cross, Christocentric, and offensive to good manners/sense to boot means that what she did was done from within the very heartbeat of the gospel.
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Incidentally, while the last verse makes Judas specifically look bad, it also casts judgement on the kind of human-inspired generosity that purely human love and understanding veer towards.
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This is a guest post by Dr David Matcham
over at the rather dusty swivelchairtheology blog
Heaven: ‘The deeper tale about a bloody King who won the holy war’

Heaven: ‘The deeper tale about a bloody King who won the holy war’

mezcovI’ve walked down the road where the devil’s been;

Where the kids have seen things they should never have seen.

And the ancient stone that knows the deeper tale;

About a bloody game, they call the holy war.

 

Heaven is my home and they’ll be no shame.

 

I’ve walked down a road where the angels been;

Where the kids have seen things that we never have seen.

And the ancient stone that knows the deeper tale;

About a bloody King who won the holy war.

 

Heaven is my home and they’ll be no shame to bear;

Heaven is my home and they’ll be no refugees.

 

© 1999 Smith/Garrard. Curious? Music UK/EMI Publishing