Blogroll: God Gold and Generals

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Book reviews and comments by Jeremy Marshall on Christian, historical and business themesJeremy Marshallnoreply@blogger.comBlogger181125
Updated: 2 hours 45 min ago

Sorry, Eugene, thats false teaching

Thu, 13/07/2017 - 08:32

Eugene Peterson is a noted evangelical writer and teacher who just said this
A few introductory comments
Christians want to tell our friends who aren't Christians that the ultimate answer to the sick world we are in is not to seek to impose by civil law Jesus' commands on those who dont believe in him in the first place.  Rather, its to help people to believe in Jesus, for then freely they will try and follow his commands. 
Because of that, and freedom of belief and freedom of non belief, there is no place in civil society for discrimination against people on any grounds, including sexual orientation. LGBTQ people were discriminated against historically eg in employment and that was wrong. 
Our focus should be in the first place in the church. Paul said "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you." "
The church itself is for sick people not well people. We are all sinners. It is much easier to take out the sin in other peoples eyes than deal with our own. We all tend to be experts at other peoples sins. For me its much easier to fulminate on other people's issues, which dont bother me, while turning a blind eye (of which I have physically one!) to my own. As a hospital the church must be open to everyone who wants to come, straight, gay, whatever. But like a hospital which treats sick people, the churches goal is to offer "healing" from sin, all types of sin. We do this by believing in Jesus as Gods son and repenting (daily) of our sin.
Sexual orientation per se is not a sin. We are all  made "in the image of God" and some of us are made, I believe, with same sex orientation. I have many Christian friends who are same sex attracted and who live faithfully to Gods word. You can read more about them here
God is not "anti gay". He is "anti sin" (of all types) but even here the bible tells us "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."  There will come a day of condemnation but now is the day of salvation. 
If you want to understand more about this issue then please read this really excellent book by Sam Allberry
Lets turn to the issue at hand.
Why then take issue with Eugene Peterson and not say the Church of England and its bishops who are firmly headed in the same direction?
Imagine the headlines:-
"Church of England bishops hold liberal views — shock"
"Pope Catholic- shock!
If you are surprised that Church of England bishops hold (in some cases very) liberal views then you must have been asleep for at least the last 50 years, frankly. Many good things are going on to uphold orthodox views in the Church of England, but thats a subject for another post. 
Now thankfully not all bishops hold such liberal views. I thank God for those handful of bishops and many vicars and laity, individuals like our Rector in Sevenoaks, Angus Macleay or my good friend Andrea Minichiello Williams of Christian Concern who sought to uphold orthodox views at the recent Synod. But if you look at the voting by the bishops on recent debates on General Synod its very obvious that the vast majority of bishops hold liberal views on this and other issues. 
 The key question is one of ultimate authority. Liberals of course read and use Gods word but ultimately they will reject the bits that don’t fit todays culture. I know they dont see it that way but thats my view. Evangelicals (should be) the opposite. The definition, I suggest, of an evangelical is someone for whom ultimate authority is in the bible. So if God's word and our culture are in conflict, if we are an evangelical, then we have to choose the former. 
Thats therefore why I am more concerned about what evangelicals leaders say than liberals. Now some people have argued that you can still be faithful to Gods word and have a similar view to Peterson. Space doesn't allow me to deal with this, if you want to read more about what the bible actually teaches on this, read this excellent post by Tim Keller.
 For me therefore looking at what Eugene Peterson said, it's a question of authority and obedience. Jesus said two important things " heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away" and "if you love me you will obey my commands". Some commands of Jesus e.g. " love your neighbour" are aligned with today's culture and cost us nothing to obey. And we should love all our friends, gay straight or whatever. But true love has to also be about telling the truth in love. Jesus came to save us from our sins, to call us to repentance to turn back to God and be forgiven. Repentance includes, with many other things, also the command to uphold biblical sexuality. This now runs totally against our cultural norms and costs us a great deal to obey. I am very sad that people like Eugene Peterson and many others supposedly orthodox leaders are now choosing to obey todays cultural norms rather than the teaching of the Bible, because it's too hard and embarrassing
 Yes, Eugene Peterson has had great authority and influence and I have enjoyed reading his books. But, I must say with great solemnity that we are warned in the Bible that even if an apostle or an angel gives false teaching ( and let's be clear that's what I think on this point he is giving) then he is accursed. A very strong phrase which I would never even think to use were it not in the Bible. Fortunately that's Gods job not ours to pronounce judgement on what each of us has taught. But, I regret to say that Eugene Peterson has for me anyway now forfeited that credibility which he certainly had, by conforming to the spirit of the age rather than the word of God. 
We should love him and pray for him and the many other "evangelical" leaders who are either doing the same or are saying nothing because they are embarrassed about orthodox teaching in this area. May God help them and us to live as we should and obey his word, whatever the cost. We need to be grounded in the word of God, not today's cultural norms. It's very tough and it's becoming even tougher to do thus every day. Culture is shifting very fast. It's like a mighty tide. If we are not anchored on the word of God we cannot but be swept along with the tide. Look at the Church of England. By holding fast to Gods word it will make us hated. But then Jesus told us that's precisely what we would experience. 
His command to us is (Matthew 5)

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
Categories: Friends

Thoughts on leadership by Gianpiero Petriglieri from my 25th INSEAD anniversary.

Sun, 02/07/2017 - 22:48

I attended the renuion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of my MBA at INSEAD. INSEAD is a business school in Fontainebleau near Paris which I am pleased to say (immodestly) is rated the number one business school in the world at present. The above picture is me 25 years ago! 
Now ratings are fickle and there are many great schools in the USA but INSEAD's strength is that it is truly international with many different nationalities. It was great to see old friends after 25 years and catch up in beautiful surroundings including a dinner in the splendid Fontainebleau chateau. 
As part of the anniversary the school lays on lectures and I was very interested by the first one which was given by a brilliant Italian professor, Gianpiero Petriglieri. He had a lot to say about leadership which was an interesting choice of topic. Business schools tend to be known for turning out the dreaded consultants or the even more dreaded bankers - when I was there the most popular courses were things like advanced corporate finance. 25 years on this has to some extent shifted and now there is greater emphasis on what one might call the human aspect of business. No doubt this in part because as the Professor noted business has become alienated from the society in which it operates and has been rightly critiqued for just stressing "homo free marketus" i.e. that business and indeed life is only about self interest and making money. 
The professor began by noting a paradox. Leadership has never been a more popular topic and there have never been more attempts to write books on leadership. Also there is a huge effort to train people in business in how to lead and in fact one of my great friends from INSEAD, Patrick MacDonald has started the “School for CEOS” which is a very innovative and highly successful way to help develop men and women to become CEOs see here
Petriglieri noted that the other side of this paradox is that despite (or because) of all this stress on leadership, there is a massive trust deficit amongst the general public in their view of leadership. According to a recent survey,  86% (!!) of people surveyed don't think we have the right leadership to solve our problems
This could be he noted due to Incompetence ( our leaders dont know how to lead ) or malevolence (they do but are but evil). 
This mistrust is contagious. One person doesn't trust another so they won't be led by them. Each person then tends to look out for their own interests, creating further mistrust and a vicious circle. We see that in politics for example as well as business. 
Closely related is the felt lack of meaning in business and society. People are very cynical about leaders manipulating them for their own ends. A leader must give a narrative, a sense of purpose. 
He asked the assembled group of INSEAD alumni "What is good leadership?" He defined it as movement, making people actually do things for reasons above and beyond self interest. There is a difference between a thinker, a poet, a teacher and a leader. A leader delivers results 
Most interestingly for me he then started talking about the role of unmerited love in leadership. I have no idea if he is a Christian or influenced by the Christian faith but of course my ears pricked up at this point. He said " love is something given to you that you don't deserve" by which he explained he meant unmerited love, sacrifice and I would suggest what Christians call grace ( he didn't use that word but that's the term we would use). A great leader both models such unconditional love and motivates his followers to imitate his example ( I could of course think of such a person). 
How true ! Love exists as he pointed out and cannot be explained by pure economic rationale. We are more than just a monkey 2.0 who runs around looking for more bananas and more sex. We have consciousness. When we look at the immensity of the universe we are struck by how tiny we are and our own mortality. We are more than just an economically motivated ape. If we stand outside and look at the vast night sky and see the size of the universe in space and time compared to us we are awestruck. It makes us think about death and God. We should if we were purely Darwinian monkeys with no purpose other than to eat more bananas and have more sex, do precisely that. But in fact we don’t (in the main) do that, rather we want to leave something behind. This is what drives a lot of people in business. We want to leave a legacy. The achievements of some of my peers in that area are impressive. We humans are a bizarre system with one foot on the accelerator  and one simultaneously on the brake. We cannot resolve our tension between self interest and meaning. This makes us unhappy. ( I thought of Augustine at this point "you God have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you"). 
Next, he talked about "Where did leaders come from?" Historically in Europe they came through hierarchies built up by first church and then state. The power that be had the tallest buildings and controlled the hierarchy. Now business typically has the tallest buildings in world.  We have gone from cathedrals to castles to government buildings to office blocks. In the West (but not in China) it's the business leaders who are the most powerful and a lot of the backlash against globalisation is the populace feeling the effects of that. 
At the height of their power these institutions are where people (historically male people) went to get education. It started with the church. All universities in Europe spun out of the church. Eventually, education escaped  completely from the church and came under the state. Now it may also come under business and INSEAD itself is a not for profit autonomous body not linked to any state or university. 
Someone then asked a very good question “What about people like Jesus, Gandhi and Buddha who changed the world but did so outside the traditional hierarchies?" This led to a discussion about the purpose of education, specifically leadership education. 
Institutions like the church, the state, business care about education because you need to have it to put culture into people and vice versa. If a vacuum is left someone else will do this for you with their ideas and you may well not like the outcome
Stories are the main way of advancing ideas. Societies will go without food if a common story holds them together. Shackleton in Antarctica is a famous example. Moses would be another. 
Stories are powerful because as noted we are more than we are "prettier monkeys" or "Monkey 2.0." We are able to love and learn or as counsellors would say we are wide for attachment and exploration. We need food and stories and leaders have to "tell a better story". 
Petriglieri developed his theme further
What makes you forget yourself and do something beyond your own economic  self interest? It could be God, the state, "legacy" but the “monkey" wants a story that moves and goes from a story to reality. Additionally and crucially  at some point there must be a result
A leader is a person entrusted with a story of possibility for a group at a point of time.
If there are only ideas and these ideas dont lead to action, then the person is a thinker or a poet but not a leader 
The story gives the followers hope. What is the nature of the bond?  It is said Petriglieri “I give you meaning you give me trust.”
Leaders were appointed historically by rank or destiny and birth or sometimes came through disruption from the outside 
Recently we had to develop leadership in a new way as traditional authorities are increasingly distrusted.
Leaders tend to be one of two types - either visionaries or connectors. You need in a leadership team both types of leaders, you need balance 
We intuitively understand that training articulates this leadership model and that's why leadership training can be very powerful 
We are all called to be ambassadors and tell stories was the conclusion. Anyone can be a leader, anyone can tell stories, we can all be ambassadors
In conclusion, I felt very encouraged that INSEAD was talking about topics like this, reflecting on very deep issues at the heart of what it is to be human. I certainly dont expect my school to espouse Christian values but I was pleasantly surprised that the speaker based his talk on what to me anyway were profoundly Christian and hopefully most people would agree, human values.  Naturally there is a place for corporate finance and strategy and anything else that an excellent business school can offer but we are more than just DCF and WACC. People from other faith traditions and none I spoke to afterwards (eg Catholic Christians, Muslims and Jews, agnostics, atheists) seemed to have felt the same. Not everyone I appreciate will agree with my answer but the basic question applies to all. p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Arial; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Arial; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 16.0px} p.p3 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Arial; -webkit-text-stroke: #5756d6; min-height: 16.0px} p.p4 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Arial; -webkit-text-stroke: #5756d6} p.p5 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 14.0px} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} span.s2 {font-kerning: none; -webkit-text-stroke: 0px #5756d6}
In a second blog I shall look in more detail at the Christian implications of what I think was a very thoughtful and stimulating talk. You can read a recent blog I did on leadership also here. {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 14.0px} p.p3 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica; color: #5756d6; -webkit-text-stroke: #5756d6; min-height: 14.0px} p.p4 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica; color: #5756d6; -webkit-text-stroke: #5756d6} p.p5 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica; color: #5756d6; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} span.s2 {font-kerning: none; -webkit-text-stroke: 0px #5756d6}
Categories: Friends

Personal update for those of you not on FB

Thu, 29/06/2017 - 08:09

This is for people not on FB.
I  would appreciate your prayers as I restarted chemotherapy on Monday at the Marsden hospital in London. The treatment should last about 20 weeks. This is my third chemo cycle. 
As last time we had Yul Brunner to celebrate impending hair loss, I thought we would go for Kojak this time, for those of you old enough like me to remember him!
Many thanks to everyone for prayers I am very grateful for them. Please pray that the treatment would work and the tumours would shrink. and that the side effects would be mild. Last time with the same drugs my red blood cells collapsed and I ended up in isolation in hospital and had to be given blood transfusions.
Two years ago i was given a very short life expectancy which I have beaten. God is very good! -------------Psalm 146 v 5 "Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God". I feel blessed because God is my hope.
The very next Psalm (147) says How good it is to sing praises to our God,
    how pleasant and fitting to praise him!2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
    he gathers the exiles of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.
4 He determines the number of the stars
    and calls them each by name.
5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
    his understanding has no limit.His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
    nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
11 the Lord delights in those who fear him,
    who put their hope in his unfailing love.---------Thank you to anyone who feels able to pray

Categories: Friends

Book Review "The Art of Turning" by Kevin De Young (10 of those, June 2107)

Mon, 26/06/2017 - 23:11

"10 of those" the excellent Christian publisher do attractive and short books aimed at the general Christian reader. The latter feature is particularly important as in general people's attention span and patience to wade through huge tomes is shrinking fast, especially young people. They consume information but in bite sized chunks. Well, this is definitely bite sized with 40 small pages. You can buy it here
Kevin DeYoung who is an American pastor (and the illustrations and examples are therefore American) writes helpfully and practically about the conscience. I am not aware of any other (recent) books on this though the Puritans in particular wrote a lot of good stuff about it. JI Packer for example writes “ The concern which was really supreme in the minds and hearts of the people called Puritans was a concern about God—a concern to know Him truly, and serve Him rightly, and so to glorify Him and to enjoy Him. But, just because this was so, they were in fact very deeply concerned about conscience, for they held that conscience was the mental organ in men through which God brought His Word to bear on them. Nothing, therefore, in their estimation, was more important for any man than that his conscience should be enlightened, instructed, purged, and kept clean. To them, there could be no real spiritual understanding, or any genuine godliness, except as men exposed and enslaved their consciences to God’s Word."
So what is the conscience? DeYoung defines it as "the moral faculty within human beings that assesses what is good and what is bad". He looks at some practical examples which are well developed - Luther and Paul. Although Luther now almost every historian agrees did not actually say “ Here I stand” - but it was an ideal very much in the spirit of his "stand" at the Diet of Worms. As always with DeYoung who is a prolific and enjoyable writer he writes fluently, biblically and practically. He looks at misfiring consciences for example and makes some good points. What I found particularly helpful is his emphasis on having a balanced approach. It is possible to be morbidly continually examining ourselves and a few of the Puritans were perhaps by temperament inclined this way. But today we have likely gone much more to the opposite extreme of not using our God given moral faculty. De Young concludes by saying that the conscience is or should be “the Christians best friend'. 
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Additionally, if you liked this I hope it whets your appetite as there are many Puritan books on the conscience, the classic being Richard Sibbes “The Bruised Reed”. But even better I think is Bunyan's wonderful and shockingly overlooked classic allegory “The Holy War” which is in my view as good as “Pilgrims Progress”. “Mr Recorder” is the conscience of Mansoul (the City which is humanity) and his job is to support and learn from “Lord Secretary” — the Holy Spirit. When Mr Recorder, the conscience, is alive and active it is therefore just as DeYoung says our greatest friend for it brings us the Spirit into everyday life. But when he’s asleep watch out boys and girls, for here comes the devil creeping in who infiltrates and then captures the city and the first thing he does is get rid of Mr Recorder. For if we have no divine sense of good and evil we are truly in trouble. Read them both yourself, both classic books and also available through the estimable 10 of those. 

Categories: Friends

The intolerance of tolerance

Sat, 17/06/2017 - 15:34

For those of you outside the UK, Tim Farron resigned on Wednesday as leader of the liberal party, which is the third centrist party in the UK. This was despite a much better than expected showing in the election. Farron's own words indicate best the reason behind his decision
"To be a political leader - especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 - and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me. 
I’m a liberal to my finger tips, and that liberalism means that I am passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things to me.  
There are Christians in politics who take the view that they should impose the tenets of faith on society, but I have not taken that approach because I disagree with it - it’s not liberal and it is counterproductive when it comes to advancing the gospel.
Even so, I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in.
In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.
I want to say one more thing: I joined our party when I was 16, it is in my blood, I love our history, our people, I thoroughly love my party.  
Imagine how proud I am to lead this party.  And then imagine what would lead me to voluntarily relinquish that honour.
In the words of Isaac Watts it would have to be something ‘so amazing, so divine, (it) demands my heart, my life, my all’.”
In short he was constantly hounded by the press for his Christian faith and views, even though he said repeatedly that he fully supported his own party's views on issues such as same sex marriage and abortion. 
I have no view on whether or not Tim Farron did a good job as Liberal party leader. Maybe he was ineffective, i dont know.
My points are more general and are threefold.
The intolerance of tolerance
The nature of sin
The challenge and opportunities for Christians. 
The intolerance of tolerance
The ethos and spirit of the age preaches (and I use the word advisedly) mutual tolerance respect and diversity. Not everyone about this is wrong, of course, in fact in many ways it's been good. Groups who were discriminated against in society — sometimes by Christians, sad to say - have gained full rights. It's good that all are treated with respect. And the church has got it wrong, especially in the past. Voltaire said "Of all religions, the Christian should of course inspire the most tolerance, but until now Christians have been the most intolerant of all men."
However, what began as a right attempt to overthrow prejudice and intolerance has itself become (oh the irony) profoundly intolerant of others' views. Tolerance and diversity are now defined as "agree with what I agree with or else". Any attempt, for example on same sex marriage, to advocate an alternative "diverse" view is howled down under the slur of "homophobia". Christians may have been on occasion guilty in the past of this, but there is all the difference in the world between hating or fearing homosexuals (which is wrong) and arguing that Gods design for humanity is one man one woman monogamous marriage (which is what 99% of Christians worldwide believe and have believed for hundreds of years).
Tim Farron indicates the depth of the hatred towards anyone who expresses an orthodox a Christian view on pretty much anything. Another example is the DUP. For those of you outside the Uk this is the Protestant  Unionist party in Northern Ireland whose support is vital for Theresa Mays minority government to stay in power. Like Farron they have been vilified, their democratic right to argue for what they believe in has been trampled on,  because of their Christian beliefs. If you want some idea of the depth of hatred — and the word is not too strong-please read the comments of the Guardian readers below the story of Farron's resignation. Not everyone says this but a large section go far beyond arguing against the Christian faith , which is fair enough. Instead they launch a savage attack on anyone who dares even share their beliefs with their children, let alone advocate any Christian view in the public square. What happened to the famous dictum attributed (wrongly ) to Voltaire, but actually said by someone else (rightly) about his attitude  "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. "
This intolerance of Christian views is monstrous and rank hypocrisy. It's absolutely morally bankrupt to lecture everyone else on the need for tolerance and diversity and then use this a cover for imposing your own atheistic views by compulsion on anyone who disagrees. So that even advocating a Christian view point it in and of itself objectionable. 
This is not a party political point, it's a freedom diversity and yes above all a liberal point. "Liberal" is in fact defined as "willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one's own; open to new ideas". This anyone can see is precisely not what is happening in society to the Christian faith. Because our opinions are different they are neither accepted or respected. 
I deliberately stress "Christian" not "religious". Just imagine that Farron was a Muslim or a Hindu. Both of these major religions have identical or in the former case far stricter views on these issues. Would we be having these discussions if he had one of these faiths? I think not. Though in fairness Christians are not unique in being hated, perhaps in the UK just more virulently. Look what’s going on in politics, and in the fears of the 'other' — xenophobia, anti-Muslim sentiment, etc. 
Tim Farron is not the only one to have faced this kind of intolerance. Recent cases from Christian Concern highlight the increasing intolerance in our society for orthodox Christian views. Felix Ngole for example, was expelled from university for expressing his views on his personal Facebook account. Barry Trayhorn was pushed out of his job at a prison for quoting the Bible - in a chapel service of all places. School teachers have been disciplined for expressing their moral convictions in response to questions from students.
All I am asking for is mutual tolerance and respect. Many friends of mine hold different views from me on sexual morality. Fine, I respect that. Let’s discuss and debate. The Christian faith must be big enough to be criticised, same as anyone else. But there is all the difference in the world between criticism and unwillingness to even allow a person to hold or voice a view because its a Christian one. We are in a democracy so if the opposing view as is the case on abortion and same sex marriage  wins, then so be it. Hopefully we can persuade people to change their minds. I am not asking for agreement but tolerance of diverse and different views. In other words, let liberals be liberal.
Sin. This was the question that Farron was repeatedly  asked — was gay sex a sin?  There is a profound misunderstanding I suggest at the root of this question, which is that Christians are trying to impose our view of sin our morals on everyone else. Morality in other words.  Now sometimes Christians have done that. We can come across as "holier than thou" trying to argue that we are inherently morally superior to everyone else and seeking to impose our standards on everyone else. We have the right, same as everyone else, to advocate for our moral views but again in a democracy that may or may not be accepted 
But the bible teaches something much more profound than morality. It tells us that each one of us has sinned and is a sinner. Sin is anything that falls short of Gods absolute moral purity. Ultimately, the heart of sin is a revolt against God`s rightful ownership of us as made in His image; of wanting to be God` of our own lives — with the consequent mess that it results in. We try and kick God off the throne of the universe and place ourselves there — which is both rebellion and idolatry (as in “he was a self made man — he worshipped his maker")
Different people sin in different ways. We all (maybe Christians in particular) tend to be experts at detecting sin in others but very poor at doing it in ourselves. But each one of us, if we are honest, will admit to ourselves at least that we have done many things in our lives that are wrong. That small voice is our God given conscience. People who eliminate their conscience, incidentally, are normally called psychopaths. 
The Church itself is full of sin. At times, it has been hypocritical, misguided and sometimes even evil — yes, not just sinful but evil. So the church the Church deserves condemnation.  The Church has often behaved more like the scribes and Pharisees than Jesus. After all, Christianity should be a revolutionary guerrilla movement, not a self-preserving bastion of the establishment. There go my non-conformist roots again!
The answer to our sin, to our brokenness both as individuals and society is not moralism. Christians are not saying we are better than everyone else but that we are exactly, by nature, the same fallen people. The difference is that we have found a cure for our disease. The church is not an elite moral university it's a hospital for people with incurable diseases. The answer we offer is not a moral code. The moral code cannot save anyone, in fact (see the book of Romans) it will drive us to despair. The answer to the mess we are in is not moral principles but a person, Jesus Christ.
Jesus, like Tim Farron, was confronted by people trying to trap him in exactly this area. It's is a famous story which you can find in John, who was an eyewitness of Jesus life. Here it is
"At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”. They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”“No one, sir,” she said.“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”"
Jesus points out that we are all sinners and none of us has the right to "throw the first stone". 
He then passes judgement on her — as he alone has no sin so is entitled to do so. But far from throwing a stone, he explicitly says "neither do I condemn you". But then he also says "go and leave your life of sin". What the woman did was wrong and Jesus doesn't duck that (incidentally it takes two to commit adultery - what happened to the man?) Christians are against sin but not because we think we are better than everyone else, rather we know we are all sinners.
Jesus said "I did not come into the world to condemn the world but to save it". There will come a day when Jesus will come again and each of us will have to give an account for all our sins. Then it will be too late for excuses. But this is not that day, this is the day of forgiveness of sins, this is the heart of the Christian message. That we are all sinners, one way or another, that we are all dying and that we need a rescue from the "cancer" of sin that is unstoppable and incurable. That rescue is not morality which never saved anyone, but Jesus Christ.  
Finally, a brief word for Christians. We should not be surprised that we are hated. After all our founder was murdered because he taught the truth. John again says "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed." If we turn on the light in our teenagers bedrooms in the morning to get them up, please don't expect a friendly response! Darkness hates light. We should not in any way be surprised by opposition and persecution. It will get worse. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't, the same as anyone else, have recourse to the law or the press to get justice. Groups like Christian Concern do a great job here. But we shouldn't be afraid or surprised that we are hated. As Churchill said "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."
A further point. Helen Thorne of LCM and Good Book Company has written below very helpfully about our response to Tim Farron's departure. Its very easy to lash back in anger. No, as she rightly points out, we should react with love and forgiveness.
Finally, back to Tim Farron. I was very moved by what he said, especially that quote from Isaac Watts. How about us, dear reader? Will we make every compromise to avoid getting into trouble or will we with Tim Farron, who has sacrificed his whole career for this, "Stand up stand up for Jesus?"
 As the good old hymn says:-
"Stand up, stand up for Jesus! you soldiers of the cross;
Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss:
From vict’ry unto vict’ry, His army shall He lead,
Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.
Stand up, stand up for Jesus! The trumpet call obey:
Forth to the mighty conflict, in this His glorious day;
Ye that are men*now serve Him against unnumbered foes;
Let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.
Stand up, stand up for Jesus! Stand in His strength alone,
The arm of flesh will fail you, you dare not trust your own;
Put on the gospel armour, and watching unto prayer,
Where calls the voice of duty, be never wanting there.
Stand up, stand up for Jesus! the strife will not be long;
This day the noise of battle, the next the victor’s song;
To him that overcometh a crown of life shall be;
He with the King of glory shall reign eternally.

    *or women! 

    The Lord promises to his followers is this.  If we for a few brief days "stand up" for him, he will "stand up" for us in eternity.
    Categories: Friends

    Quick thoughts on the UK election result

    Fri, 09/06/2017 - 11:18

    Some quick thoughts on the election result

    Often the electorate is wiser than we might think — long live democracy. 
    The nation is deeply polarised and split
    For the Tories, to call one election carelessly and unnecessarily and lose it is bad enough, to do it twice is incredible!
    Jeremy Corbyn ran a really effective campaign, Theresa May ran a terrible one. We are a parliamentary democracy not a presidential system. Whoever was advising her not to appear in the debates and on the disastrous "Dementia Tax" has a lot of explaining to do
    "Strong and stable leadership" — what a fiasco. 
    Young people who didn't vote previously were mobilised by Corbyn. I dont like his neo marxist stance but I admire his willingness to stick to his principles (even though I think they are wrong). What did Theresa May actually stand for? 
    Revenge of the Remoaners
    UKIP collapsed but their vote split about 50/50 Tory and Labour
    Congratulations to my old friend Graham Winter who didn’t quite get elected standing for Labour in Camborne in Cornwall but increased the Labour vote by 19%. Bravo Graham! I am proud to know you.  I just hope the mad cat enjoyed your dinner :)
    George Osborne elected MP for Schadenfreude Central
    We have effectively 4 parties Tory Remainers, Tory Brexiteers and the same for Labour. I hope that there can be some common cause on Brexit between Remoaners and the more sensible Brexiteers on both sides, to make Brexit as soft as possible, in the national interest
    This is 1974 all over again. See above picture. That year there were two elections in one year, with not very different results, a minority Labour government after the second election then limped on until 1979 when a certain Margaret Thatcher came to power. I remember those years well - in fact I campaigned for the Liberals! The 1970s were a disaster (three day week, winter of Discontent). History doesn't repeat itself but it does rhyme. 

    What happens next?

    DUP (thats the main unionist party in Northern Ireland) must be rubbing their hands. Their 10 votes make all the difference. 
    So a minority Tory government propped up by DUP
    We have a mess it will be almost impossible to get anything decided. Brexit negotiations - good luck with that! 
    But, with two silver linings from my view point
    No hard Brexit (I hope!)
    SNP reversed, long live the Union! Well done Ruth Davidson.
    May is damaged goods and will be replaced, likely by Boris. Tories are ruthless at sacking leaders
    There will be another election before year end
    and finally
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    While I am interested in politics, the real cure for the illnesses of the world is the good news about Jesus Christ. Politicians of all parties will always eventually disappoint and "all careers end in failure". Not so with Jesus! "Vote" for him and you will never feel let down. His "policies" offer amongst other things eternal life and reconciliation with God. 

    Categories: Friends

    The Souls of China: the return of religion after Mao by Ian Johnson (Allen Lane, April 2017)

    Tue, 06/06/2017 - 14:53

    If ever there was a country that looked set to eliminate religion, it was China in the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s. As part of Maos cultural revolution, all religions were fiercely attacked and both participants and especially clergy killed or thrown into labour camps. As if to finish the job, while the overt persecution relaxed after the death of Mao, the next four decades saw the increasing sway of secularism and atheistic materialism - " to be rich is glorious" as Deng said. Nor was religious belief especially strong in China in the first place. Before the communists gained power there were about a million Christians, fractured along denominational lines and a much larger number of followers of traditional Chinese religion, often known as Daoism or Taoism - the former is the correct term. This latter group you can argue is not really a religion at all, rather a very broadly defined group of traditional Chinese cultural practices. Even so, whether a "religion" or not well over 1 million temples were closed or demolished.

    But as this new and highly original book by Ian Johnson, the Pulitzer Prize winning Beijing correspondent of the New York Times, argues, the unexpected has triumphed. Despite every conceivable reason not to believe - and the Chinese communist party is still officially atheistic - religion is flourishing in China as never before. Johnson's book title is a little misleading as it's not a general account of religion in general in China. Islam and Catholicism hardly feature at all, while Buddhism is dealt with sketchily, mainly in terms of its impact on Daoism. About two thirds of the book is about this "faith" and the remaining third is about evangelical Protestantism. The book features a large array of characters, with whom Johnson has obviously spent much time. He writes very sympathetically and movingly, moving from place to place, following the ancient Chinese lunar calendar.
    What's particularly striking about the book is the enormous amount of time that Johnson has spent with grass roots practitioners. He spends what must be weeks for example following round various Daoist teachers and thinkers. He goes to funeral after funeral, trying to understand what motivates modern Chinese urban dwellers to try and give their parents or spouses a "religious" send off. On the Christian side, he goes to prayer meetings, church meetings, interviews many different pastors and members. The result is a richly original first hand account of what is happening at the Chinese religious coal face. Furthermore, he doesn't leave it at that but tries to draw all these disparate strands together into a coherent analysis.

    What he shows is that 70 years of scientific atheism and materialism has not satisfied the Chinese people. On the contrary, they have become disgusted with many of the trends in society and are diligently searching for something, anything. Even the Communist party, officially dedicated to rooting out the opium of the people, either encourages (daoism and Buddhism ) or turns a blind eye in the main (evangelicals) to religion. It is both uneasy at these alternative moral centres and despite itself attracted by the moral absolutes and social cohesion that they offer. Not least because the moral vacuum left by the Cultural Revolution means that the at times pragmatic Chinese government recognises if it doesn't fill that vacuum then the result will be more and more corruption.
    The net result is that there are maybe 300-500 million people who in some sense are "religious". In order this would be maybe 2-400m Buddhists or Daoists, and up to 75m Christians. The term "religion" as Johnson explains has a different meaning in China to here, so maybe a better term is people who have some kind of religious belief. Of course this is strictly controlled by the government, especially in terms of public expression. But under the surface, hiding in plain sight are tens of thousands of house churches (mainly urban) and a vast multiplicity of groups of Daoist followers (mainly rural, or with rural roots).

    The latter are little understood in the West - or indeed in China. They are strongly volunteer led, often around pilgrimages and social groups that cohere around particular temples. Their teaching as Johnson discovers is not exactly coherent and the ceremonies are ad hoc. Part of its strength is that precisely it relies on volunteers, people who are respected for not being corrupt, for living differently. Often older and retired people are joined in such practices by people who have effectively made a business out of advising and practicing Daoisim, especially around occasions such as funerals. There is one particularly moving account where a Daoist practitioner who runs a business from his belief tries to help a widower, a teacher, left with two young children after the death of his young wife, organise a funeral which according to Chinese tradition, has to be "done right". As in the UK the secular funeral can be empty and meaningless and the teacher needs a lot of persuasion and hand holding, to say nothing of angry haggling over the exact cost of the ceremony, before his wife's body is lowered into the ground in approved fashion. I learned a lot about Daoist thinking, which defies traditional Western labels. The best description for an english reader is perhaps that its a bit like a combination of the National Trust (volunteers, tradition, lots of elderly retired, journeys to historic buildings) combined with some of the less enthusiastic bits of the Church of England ( very vague beliefs, no doctrine and many people sort of think they should support it).
    On the other hand, the Chinese church has very defined beliefs. Not only evangelical it's openly Reformed and in one scene an enthusiastic pastor is trying to convince his confused congregation about the validity of the Westminster Confession and why they should have presbyters and practice infant baptism. Congregations sponsor their pastor to learn theology part time and in turn he tries to teach them Greek! Says the pastor "Chinese society has been dominated by Marxism and Marxism is a complete system towards every aspect of society. Calvinism is the only holistic worldview in Protestantism."

    One interesting point about both Daoism and Christianity in China is that they are not only highly successful in "evangelistic" terms but also address people's real social problems such as bereavement, family breakdown, disaster relief, social dislocation and so on. Churches in the West tend to be good at one or the other, often preferring to concentrate on the latter and neglecting the former. But in China both Daoists and Christians see the world much more holistically. As they do good they spread the good word.

    What lessons does China have for us in the West which we can draw from the fascinating book? For the general reader there is much that is interesting and instructive about Chinese society and thinking. This ancient civilisation and its beliefs is little known in the West. Yet it is by some measures the largest economy in the world. Anyone who wants to understand Chinese culture and society would do well to read the book.

    I would argue that for Christians in particular the lesson is that persecution can ( if the believers are faithful) refine and strengthen the church. This was the lesson of the early church in the first few centuries after Christ until - a wrong turn in my view - Christianity became the state religion. Especially China shows us that the Christian faith eventually will flourish if as in the first few centuries, it remains true to its founding principles, refuses to compromise and produces lives that are genuinely strikingly different to the troubled and corrupt world about it. Not as we seem to be doing in the Western church to ape society but to offer an alternative, credible, holistic world view- and crucially in China to b able to do that without threatening to overthrow the "powers that be". Isn't it ironic that when the "Christian " West pushed China around and Christianity was identified with foreigners, the church spread very slowly. By being driven underground, it gained its own intrinsically Chinese and I would argue a much stronger biblical character than we have in the West.

    I recommend this book very highly. Read from a secular perspective, it's a very insightful and moving account of all how kinds of belief in China have not only survived but flourished. For a Christian, it shows that God has done, without really any outside "help" from anyone, an astounding miracle.
    Categories: Friends

    Book review: London's Triumph by Stephen Alford (Allen Lane. April 2017)

    Mon, 29/05/2017 - 23:13

    The City of London is under severe pressure. Continental rivals are after its trade, the government is in financial difficulties and can’t support its debt. A huge scandal has devastated many people’s fortunes and the disgraced perpetrators are trying to lay low. Meanwhile the ever increasing number of foreigners flocking to London are met with hostility and at times violence by the indigenous population. We talk of course of C16th not C21st London, but the parallels are uncanny. Some things have improved — it’s unlikely for example that around a fifth of the city’s population will be wiped out by bubonic plague, as happened in 1563. Nor is it likely that one of today’s refugees will have as a lodger the man whom is generally acknowledged  to be the worlds greatest dramatist — one William Shakespeare who around 1600 was indeed lodging with some Huguenot refugees. 
    This new book is by Stephen Alford, an expert on Elizabethan England. His previous book " The Watchers"  was a compelling and well documented account of the Elizabethan spy apparatus. The book is very well researched and starts in around 1500, tracing the development of London. London had always been a place of trade since its foundation — the famous Roman historian Tacitus noted it as a town “crowded with merchants and filled with merchandise”. But it was still relatively minor in the global scheme of things by 1500. The transformation of London in the next hundred years was breathtaking. In size it grew from maybe 50,000 in 1500 to over 200,000 by 1600. By 1650 only Paris was bigger. In 1600, the next largest cities in England, Bristol and Norwich, had populations of 12000. Complaints about London being over dominant are nothing new! In many ways — personal hygiene apart - London was a very modern city. The explosive growth in population came from migration of young people drawn in by economic opportunity. These people were too busy making money to do much else, so for example a whole industry of “fast food” grew up. Deliveroo is nothing new either as Londoners could order meat, fish, eggs, cheese and more plus the finest wines and beer. Beer was popularised by the Dutch religious migrants, though concern was expressed by 1600 that “drunkenness, which was the Dutchman's headache, is now become the Englishman's’” The C16th equivalent of Bookatable was noted by a Venetian merchant wrote in 1562 who noted “if anyone wishes to give a banquet, he orders the meal at the inn, giving the number of them invited and they go there to eat”.  Alongside this conspicuous consumption was great poverty and rampant inequality, jewelled merchants walked past starving beggars, abandoned servant girls gave birth alone in dark alleys. 
    More generally, from being a relatively minor economic power, London and through it England  became immensely influential. From being probably around 10th in rank of the main European cities, far behind the number one and two (Naples and Paris), it became first. From trading mainly with the Low Countries (todays Benelux) and France it had bases all over the world, from Russia to Persia to Japan, as well as colonies in North America. From merchants with limited capital had sprung global trading companies that circumnavigated the world.   At the same time, London’s cultural reach and knowledge increased immeasurably.  Thanks to the printing trade, books, pamphlets and maps had filled in many spaces on the map and corrected perviously laughably inaccurate folk tales of what happened in far continents. Furthermore, English, which nobody outside England spoke in 1500 had begun its rise to global domination. And the very term the “British Empire” was coined at the end of this period when the new nation of “Britain” was formed after the joining together of England Scotland Under James I of England/VI of Scotland. 
    The backdrop is of course the convulsions triggered by 1517, the Reformation. England quickly and decisively moved into the Protestant camp. Its main rivals, especially France and the Low Countries, were convulsed by religious violence and civil war. One of the strengths of the book is that it takes seriously the religious world of people of the time. For example, the strict Medieval prohibition of usury (i.e., interest) were rapidly overridden by merchants who were devout but managed to square their consciences over the sometimes vociferous objections of Puritan clergy againts charging interest. Religion and trade were hand in hand — sometimes uncomfortably so. One of the main complaints of the preachers in the huge old cathedral of St Paul’s was that the church building was being made into a “den of thieves”. Indeed the church itself was the main centre for dealing and deals, even during divine service. Not until the construction of the impressive Royal Exchange by the brilliant merchant Sir Thomas Gresham just before 1600 did London have a “proper” meeting place for business. 
    One lesson which is obvious from the book — too late those of us like me who are keen Remoaners — is that fortunes can shift very quickly based on political shifts. In 1500 Antwerp was far bigger and more important than London, in many ways London was a branch of Antwerp. Yet by 1600 Antwerp had been badly hit by the religious turmoil of the Dutch revolt. Pre 1540 Antwerp was by far the more important centre for ideas and was the main place for Protestant publishing. Only in the second half of the century did London take off as a place to publish ideas, religious, travel and business ideas, and these were mainly being churned out by printers who had fled from Antwerp. But the reception of foreign refugees was often hostile and never easy. When the (as now) terribly cash strapped government in 1552 demanded an emergency loan from the City, the quid pro quo demanded by the City was the expulsion of German merchants who had long enjoyed favourable trade terms. Sort of proto UKIP! These migrants though both gained religious freedom and brought wealth. So keen to use skilled foreign labour were the merchants that they often broke or bent the laws against employing foreign migrants. Londoners were not against helping fellow Protestants fleeing the Spanish army, but it was quickly evident that there were refugees of all sorts. In 1573, a survey showed that nearly 40% of refugees admitted that had come to London only to find work. Plus ca change! This acceptance mixed with fear towards refugees found expression on the stage. In 1600 various playwrights, including Shakespeare, collaborated on a play about Evil May Day 1517 - which you can read about here.  The topic was too explosive even 83 years later and various references in the play were censored by the government. 
    One of the pivotal events in this period was the arrival of  a foreign famous explorer, Sebastian Cabot in 1547 or 1548 (yes that’s Cabot as in Cabot Square). Cabot was Italian and was “poached” by the King for the colossal sum of £100 from Spain - shades of the Premier League. Cabot and his backers formed what you might call one of the worlds first multinationals — the splendidly named “Mystery and company of the merchant adventurers for the discovery of regions, dominions, islands and places unknown”. Which this company and its offspring promptly succeeded in doing. Interestingly enough, the first market which really took off was Russia - which was a complete accident as the explorers were hoping to reach what we would now call the Far East and they called “Cathay”. Soon Londoners were gawking at richly dressed Russian “oligarchs” arriving to trade. The first Russian delegation bearing costly gifts (most of which perished in a shipwreck off Scotland) was received not by Protesant Edward VIth who had died while they were en route but by the Catholic Mary and her husband, Philip, the King of Spain and Lord of a vast empire stretching over the world. Had she lived subsequent history might have been very different. maybe we would be all Catholic and Spanish would be the global language? Yet, from one rather hare brained scheme, designed not for conquest but trade, was spawned an Empire “on which the sun never set”. The laws of unintended consequences indeed!  
    But the real strength of the book is that Stephen Alford has clearly done a large amount of original research and really brings out the characters and human stories behind London Just to take one example, he tells the fascinating story of one Thomas Wyndout who entered into a contract to borrow money which he would pay back “At the time that I, Thomas Wyndout, mercer, be wedded unto the wife of Thomas Shelley, mercer of London.”. Given that Mr Shelley was very much alive when the contract was signed, not surprisingly this caused a storm from which Wyndout barely escaped. There are many other stories and I wont spoil the book by detailing them all. A truly impressive scam in the late C16th based on gold mines is another story with many contemporary relevances. 
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    All in all this is a fascinating, richly researched book which above all succeeds because it is not dry economic statistics but the story of real people, who partly by design but mainly by accident (or providence as some might see it) shaped the next 500 years of London and the world. 
    Categories: Friends
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