BMS Catalyst Live – Reading, UK

catalyst live

Not Catalyst Olive, as one guest poet humourously suggested, but Catalyst Live!

Anyway, I’ve digressed already!  The event held in Manchester and Reading this week by the BMS team has been very well received.  There were many highlights, many of them great, some funny and some weird, but that’s a bit like me so I was happy with that.

There was a stupendous tumbleweed moment during the Q&A with Jurgen Moltmann and John Lennox.  Moltmann was asked a question about his universalism (I forget the details of the question even though it was stated twice – and quite differently both times),   and his reply caused a reaction in the gathering as if someone had let off a stun-grenade!  SILENCE….then murmering, then another question was asked.  The two men behind me were talking about it the whole while we spent trying to get our coffee.

Moltmann’s reply also seemed to cause the wonderful John Lennox to contort his face in some kind of disapproving horror (was he surprised by this reply?  Had he never read any of Moltmann’s writings? Have I over-interpretted his face and the crowd reaction?).  Maybe, but for now, I’ll assume not.

How does Moltmann’s theology of ‘hope’ interact with faith as a pre-requisite for securing one’s eternal security/destiny? “Do you believe all will be saved?”

“Yes.  Yes I do!”  Boom.  Silence.  Tumbleweed.  Murmerings.  Next question…

This was very exciting.  Had the Catalyst Live team forgotten that arguably the world’s greatest living theologian was well known for his universalism (Baptist supremo Nigel Wright has written on universalism in the theology of Jurgen Moltmann)?  Had they bargained for Moltmann’s brutal but refreshing directness, his honesty?  Well I say “bravo” to the BMS and Catalyst Live team for inviting a theologian who you must have known would not shrink back from his conviction.  In fact, why not invite speakers around this subject alone for next years Catalyst?  You’d have to find a bigger venue and expect a lot of nasty people, writing nasty letters on why they are upset that hell, in the end, will be empty – according to Moltmann (and many others I might add)!

It is a curious thing, that when we come to Scripture, the hell texts really do mean what traditional theology has taught; whilst when we come to universalist texts (of which there are many), traditional theology tends not to deal with them in the same way.  So what tends to happen is we latch on to certain texts, believe a certain theological eschatology around them and ‘fix’ ourselves like oak trees in the ground of certainty.  Or we don’t think too much about it and live with a kind of mushy eschatological agnosticism: we can’t really know and God will sort it out in the end.

But in reality, the hell texts and the universalist texts (not to mention John Stott’s position – the annihilation texts), sit there, in our Bibles, inter-mingling with each other.  All the while we fail to see that the universalist texts offer us hope that perhaps all will be saved; and the hell texts warn us not to take this for granted.  And so it is the Bible, not we, who are the controllers and masters of Scripture, for here is evidence of Scripture controlling and mastering us, as it should!

The Bible, by offering us both visions, will not allow us to settle down with a comfortable scheme of how the future will pan out (we are such control freaks)!  Instead it invites us to respond with hope yet without complacency.  This was Moltmann’s emphasis, he taught us about biblical hope – in Christ no less – a hope that given his personal standing, credentials and sheer theological genius, could never be accused of being complacent.

Nigel Wright himself in the above mentioned essay wrote, “Scripture is given not to bestow upon us all the answers but to create a narrative context in which we may live and which certain matters remain constructively if agonizingly open.”  The wisdom outlined by Wright can help to preserve us from complacency and self-satisfaction.  God truly does know the human heart.

Finally, the reason why I find this Scriptural and theological tension not only fascinating but challenging is because most Christians in the Western world do advocate that the vast majority of humanity will be punished for ever in a hell of fire.  What is tragic about this is the temperature of their blood, twice as hot as hell, as they defend their view against the one that God might actually accomplish the salvation of every person, as He declares in Scripture.  They seem to want people there and they would be disappointed if there wasn’t.  Of course, it goes without saying they know where they’re going!

Here is a quote I found on the Baptist Times web site in response to an article that suggested we need to talk about hell – If Jurgen Moltmann is world-class, likewise Anthony Thiselton who wrote, “…we should not characterise the Augustinian tradition of eternal torment as “the orthodox view.” At least three very different views competed in the early church, all of them seeking some support from Scripture” quoted in The Last Things, pg.148.

I end with something Moltmann actually said yesterday, in contrast to Dante’s words written over the entrance to Hell ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here,’ Moltmann said, “The abandonment of hope is to be in the entrance of hell.”  And it is precisely because he understands the hope offered in God, a God who does not abandon, a God known to us as ‘The God of Hope’ that he can say, with no shame, that this God, revealed in Christ Jesus, will rescue his people, his grace will trump our weak faith and petty lives and neat theology.  I love that he added sometime later in his talk, “We are expected by God.”

Indeed we are.

Thank you Catalyst Live 2013

Why Bother?


I consider the brokenness of the world and I think, “Why bother?”

I look at the corruption all around me and I cry, “Why bother?”

I wonder at my inability to live with my neighbour and I ask, “Why bother?”

I face my war with sin inside and outside, and I ponder, “Why bother?”

I look at the problems of the culture around me and I lament, “Why bother?”

I scan my world, broken by disease and misuse, and in sadness I say, “Why bother?”

I consider the statistics of violence and abuse and I think, “Why bother?”

I am assaulted with the reality of endless wars between nations, and overwhelmed say, “Why bother?”

I am defeated by temptation’s power and cry, “Why bother?”

I ponder how good is called bad and bad good, and in frustration say, “Why bother?”

I search for hope like a parched man for water but end up thinking, “Why bother?”

I look to myself and see weakness and want, and in grief say, “Why bother?”

Perhaps I should live for leisure and comfort and give into “Why bother?”

Maybe I should exist for the hear and now, and forgetting forever say, “Why bother?”

I am tempted to live for power and control, and for greater things say, “Why bother?”

Perhaps personal pleasure in the here and now is what it’s all about; “Why bother?”

But in exhaustion I look up and not around and I say, “Why bother?”

Why bother?

Because You are and You are good.

Why bother?

Because You dispense goodness and grace.

Why bother?

Because You bring life out of death.

Why bother?

Because You have a plan and it will be done.

Why bother?

Because I have been welcomed into Your Kingdom of Life.

Why bother?

Because I am always with You.

It is true that my eyes don’t always see and my heart isn’t always confident.

It is true that darkness overwhelms me and fear leaves me weak.

But You come near.

You remind me once again that I can be confident because You were unwilling to say, “Why bother?”


Paul David Tripp, A Shelter in the Time of Storm, meditations of God and trouble (using Psalm 27), p. 139

The poem above comes out from verse 13.

Practical Joke


I am perturbed.  I don’t know about you, but it does seem to me that one of the highest forms of praise we give people in our our day is that of being practical.  And most practical people are busy people since practical people loathe the thought of anyone thinking of them as lazy!  To be named as practical is high praise indeed!

Conversely, the impractical (by whatever criteria one is using – no doubt a practically minded one), are dismissed as worthless on the one hand, and irrelevant on the other.  Consider how you have often (every time?) felt the need to activate some form of personal-activism when someone catches you unawares reading a book and relaxing!  Well, Gralefrit says, “What a pile of tosh!”

The onslaught of our Corporation and media driven global village world relentlessly favours what it terms ‘practical’.  Get up and go; look busy, be busy; don’t be idle; an over-full diary; a work hard, play hard attitude; and so on.

This is not to say Christian spirituality is not intensely focused on a physical, practical world.  We do work, we do practical things as spiritual people, and no true spiritual life can be separated from these things, I mean, even Jesus was a practical carpenter for heaven’s sake!  But.  And what a big but it is….

Under this pile of activity, there is still a mass of confusion.  Millions of people who think they are being practical are not.  They are living frantically busy lives with no thought for thought and no time for time nor for prayer as centering on the inner life of the Holy Spirit’s activity.  In this sense, most people then are living totally impractical lives, while all the while convinced they are no nonsense, straight forward, take-it-or-leave-it, I am what I am, what you see is what you get – people!

Have you ever heard the phrase:  “He’s so heavenly minded he’s of no earthly use.”?  This is the golden rule and governing document of the practical brigade.  It is a dismissive put-down designed to trump anything but a practical person’s version of what practical actually is.  This is what I mean by the practical joke.  Well, it makes me laugh!

I’ve argued through preaching (and down the pub), that the church is drowning in such a sea of practical activism that the heavenly minded person is sidelined, marginalised to such a degree that they resemble the marginalised Old Testament prophet or the absurdly irrelevant vicar of many a period drama on TV.

And because I’ve argued this, I’ve tried to turn this ugly practical coin over, by insisting we as a spiritual body of God’s own people, start remembering that activism can be spiritual, but most often the way we go about it, isn’t.  That practicality is necessary and useful, but should never be the default for a faulty spirituality.

Therefore, if most people who think they are being practical are in fact being impractical, it goes without saying that people (and of course I do often put my sorry self in this category), are living badly.  It always saddens me when people are heard to say at the door of a church, “Ah well, back to the real world!”  I want to scream in their face, with all the fire and righteous indignation I can muster, along with as much spittle as possible, “NOOOOOO!  The worship of God, under the Word of God, with the people of God, united by the Spirit of God IS the most practical, real thing this world has!”  What causes a Christian to actually believe the lie that the Church is not the real world?  This kind of practical-ism is profound evidence of a terrible unbelief.

If we fully and finally succumb to the practical, then we effectively abandon what it means to live in biblical hope.  If the impractical are ridiculed because they don’t conform to a self-appointed practical world, then hope, that impractical stuff of biblical promise, is surely likewise to be dismissed as wildly impractical, hopelessly inefficient and so heavenly minded it is of no earthly use!  But to live in hope when things are hope-less, is to believe God.  It is to see the future of what God has promised when all about you are losing their practical heads.  To have the impractical hope that God gives, is to commit to actions that connect with God’s promises.

Thus hope isn’t pious escapism for the religiously retarded, it is ultimate practicality that subverts the chaotic pseudo-practicality that most people live with.  Hope is living with God’s word, and God’s word will always subvert what we thought was practical.  That’s why Paul writes in Colossians 3:1-2,  “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Among many other things, this surely means we need people who are so heavenly minded they are by definition, of supreme earthly use.  The Bible subverts our thinking and cultural assumptions.  To be biblically practical, we must first and foremost be worldly impractical.  We must be heavenly minded.

And being heavenly minded is to live in hope.  It is easier to live in despair.  That’s why so much of the world does.  To live in despair is to take no risks.  It is to live unthinkingly, lazily, with reputation in tact, going with the flow, being cynical and living cynically, hanging out only with those you like and agree with.  To live in hope, to set your mind on Christ, is to go against the stream – and it is extremely practical and gloriously impractical too.

So we have to get practical.  Really practical.  And what is this most practical thing we can do?  To hear what God says and to respond to it in hopeful and faithful ways.  You will often look like a fool.  You will often be viewed as irrelevant, outlandish, other-worldly, useless (Onesimus), but what these things seem in the world, God is seen by those with eyes to see, at work, in people and the world.   What seems useless is really very useful indeed.

Faith, hope and love.  The most practical things in this world, and God’s hilarious practical joke on the practical jokers!

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