Blogroll: God Gold and Generals

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Book reviews and comments by Jeremy Marshall on Christian, historical and business themesJeremy Marshallnoreply@blogger.comBlogger155125
Updated: 33 min 19 sec ago

Cancer Does Not Discriminate (Jeremy’s Story)

Sun, 19/02/2017 - 12:51
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This article was published on an excellent web site, "Chris's cancer community", designed to support people with cancer. You can see the original article here

In my work I get to meet some wonderful people and Jeremy Marshall is one of those. A man who’s life was also brought crashing down with a cancer diagnosis. I was delighted that Jeremy accepted my invitation to share his experiences on the site. His career is one that most of us can only dream about, but of course when it comes to cancer there is no discrimnation.
.“I have had a very happy and blessed life. I was never in hospital for a day, married for nearly 30 years and  have three wonderful children plus a really interesting career. Then about 4 years ago I found a small lump on my ribs. At my wife’s urging I went to the GP who said “it’s probably just a fatty lump but we will check it out.” For the next few months I went from specialist to specialist, each one of whom was puzzled. Finally, the last specialist told me “we have referred you to the Marsden.” Well, the Marsden only does one thing so it was obvious it was cancer.  Even then though the prognosis was not too bad. It was stage 1 and very easy to access for surgery. It was a type of lipo sarcoma, very rare but should be treatable.
Good probability of complete remission. So I had two operations and a course of radiotherapy, everything seemed fine and I got an all clear after about 6 months.  Then, in May 2015, I was at a friends house, having dinner and I went to adjust the collar on my shirt and felt a really large lump on my collarbone. I immediately knew what it was and had to leave the dinner straightaway, I was so devastated and shocked. The next week the Marsden confirmed the worse possible prognosis. In 2 minutes my life was changed for ever, irretrievably. “You have many tumours, they are incurable, you have 18 months”. I could have chemotherapy to try and slow it down but it was not possible to cure me.
 That was the low point. I have had two rounds of chemotherapy which while unpleasant have not been as bad as I feared. After the second round I was in hospital for a while as my immune system was completely disabled. I had blood transfusions and was kept in isolation but fairly quickly began to recover strength. Just to add to the fun, my wife and I decided after the first bout of chemo to have “the holiday of a lifetime”. Which would have been great except I suffered a detached retina on the flight out. But the time we got back to the UK the sight was virtually irrecoverable. Never mind I thought lots of people have only one eye. Then a few months later the other retina detached. For a while I was virtually blind. After numerous ops on both eyes I now have ok sight in the right eye. Both the eye specialist and the oncologist agree that this is completely unconnected to the cancer: it’s along the lines of “it never rains but it pours.” So if you read about hospitals being overwhelmed, I am personally responsible! From never being in hospital it seems like I am never out! 
Add now.. also, the Marsden have now changed the diagnosis as it was not, what they assumed, a metastatic growth from the original but a completely unrelated type of cancer, small cell lung cancer (though thank God it’s in most places but not the lungs). I await the result of the latest scan next week
What lessons would I draw from the last nearly 5 years?
Get the best expert you can find for your type of cancer. Cancer is a catch all label for a huge variety of different disease types, each of which has its own characteristics. It’s vital especially if like me you have had (two) rare types that you try and locate an expert in the field. I am fortunate to live near London and of course it’s more difficult if you live far away but specialist teaching hospitals have a level of care and expertise that is second to none. I totally trust my oncologist who is an expert in the field and this is vital.
Get fit. I am 53 and was not unfit before so this is relatively easy for me but my oncologist said this was the only thing that I should do.The reason that this is important is that the treatment especially chemo is brutal. The hospital can give you endless rounds, the question is can you tolerate it? So to my children’s amusement I go every week to the gym and work out. I don’t go crazy, just a few km of running and some gentle aerobics but I feel great and you can really heal quicker between chemo rounds
Eat healthily. I have been in touch with a friendly nutritionist who espouses but in a sensible way the alkaline diet. I know some extreme proponents of this have been discredited recently but in moderation it’s similar to the get fit advice – it can’t do any harm and it might help. So I take liquid alkali minerals (with my oncologists approval), lots of vitamins and try and avoid gluten, dairy and especially sugar. I am not obsessive about this but I feel healthy. I don’t think this can cure you but it might slow down the growth of the cancer and it certainly can’t do any harm
Be sensitive to the impact of cancer on your loved ones. As I learned from my own children, everybody reacts in a different way and has their own as they say in the trade “coping strategies.” Communication is a big challenge. There is no right answer. Some people blog about it others are very private. It’s up to you and your most loved ones to figure out what’s best for you. Things like FB closed groups can be really useful. 
Finally, the single most important thing for me which has helped me more than anything is my Christian faith. I appreciate some of you reading this will have no faith, or other faiths. What I can say is this: knowing that I have a loving Heavenly Father who cares for me and promises “I will never leave you or forsake you” makes all the difference in the world. I also discovered that God has a sense of humour. Doing radiotherapy is boring – you have to go every day and lie still while the machine does its thing. If you move or twitch you get ticked off. So I decided to memorise Psalm 34 to give me something to do. As I was running through it in my mind I started laughing ( and duly got ticked off by the radiotherapist!) for verse 5 is “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame”
Categories: Friends

Childhood memories - Culture wars VI - music

Thu, 16/02/2017 - 09:36

Of all the many arenas in which my father and I fought our 1970s cultural wars ( in a mainly friendly spirit, or perhaps better put in an increasingly friendly spirit) none was more contested than music. Yet though it was perhaps the main “front” it was not as nearly as fractious as the fronts we engaged in other topics, which I have covered in previous blogs  — except perhaps the particular “battlefield” around music in church. Why music was less contentious than say theatre, cinema or literature is not easy to explain: possibly music is more subjective than books? Also Dad was musical and came from a very musical family. His brother David was an exceptionally gifted musician who when the organist forgot some of the music at my parents wedding played the organ without sheet music from memory. Many of his children and grandchildren are also equally gifted and certainly much more musical than me. Dad wasn't as talented musically as David, in fact being a typically competitive Marshall he used to complain that he objected as a child to all his wider family paying homage to David's outstanding musical talent. Dad preferred the spotlight to be on him, he confessed, and would often achieve that not through being musical but through being naughty! 
To understand my fathers views on music you have to understand that he was in many ways a Victorian: his father was born in 1887 so was 45 when Dad was born in 1932. Certainly when Dad was growing up the music would have been serious - classical music and above all Handel who ticked the bill for both Christian faith ("The Messiah") and patriotism ("Zadok the Priest"). Of course Handel was German - but then until 1914 the dynasty ruling England was the House of Saxe Coburg Gotha. Changing their name during WW1 to the House of Windsor led to the only known joke from Kaiser Wilhelm who wondered if they would be renaming the Shakespeare play "The Merry Wives of Saxe Coburg Gotha"?
Modern music seemed to have simply passed Dad by in a way that would have been very different for someone born 10 years later, who would have been very impacted by pop and above all by the Beatles, a group I adore. Surely not coincidence that the Beatles first number one hit “From me to you" reached Number 1 on May 2 1963, just in time  to be "Top of the Pops" for my birth 6 days later. Dad's attitude towards "light" music was best summed up by his view of Gilbert and Sullivan which my mother and her family loved. "Far too frivolous Holly" ( his term of endearment for Mum ) would have summed it up. Dad's attitude reflected the seminal change that WW2 drew between those like Dad who remembered it all too well (12 when it finished) and someone like say John Lennon or Paul McCartney (respectively 4 and 2). John Lennon was  particularly not flavour of the month with Dad because of his (in) famous quote " we (the Beatles) will be more  famous than Jesus" which was bad enough but even worse was the lyrics to "Imagine"!  ("Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too".) 
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Music was a constant presence in our house from early years. It was particularly important on very long car journeys such as the ones that I have described in my blogs on bible smuggling which you can read about here Picture the scene. A maroon Austin 1800 (later a blue Volvo 144) four children packed in. Soon enough I managed to weasel my way into the front seat on grounds of a) size b) if in the back WW3 would break out between me and one in particular of my dear sisters. The car had no radio and only much later did we persuade Dad to allow us to take a cassette tape recorder with us. Each person in the family would eventually get a cassette side each - normally only stopped when as it did frequently the tape jammed and would have to be painstakingly untangled using a ballpoint pen. So Dad would lead (loudly) the family in a whole series of traditional songs the words of which I can still remember nearly 50 years later. I suspect Dad had learned them at school and in the same way that Winston Churchill ( a great hero of his) loved to sing in later life the school songs of Harrow which brought tears rolling down his cheeks, so Dad harked back nostalgically to his youth. Some were patriotic ‘Rule Britannia’, ‘Hearts of Oak’, ‘The British Grenadiers’ but interestingly not “Land of Hope and Glory” - see below under Elgar E. Some were folk songs such as  ‘ Early one morning’ ‘The Ash Grove’,”This old man” and a surprisingly large number were American “While we were marching through Georgia ‘ ‘ Shenandoah ‘ and ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas.’ 
But if there were two songs that absolutely typified our sing songs that I think Dad loved more than any they would have to be ‘Clementine ‘ (#2) and top of the charts 'Green grow the rushes oh,'.  They both have tremendous tunes and lyrics which are actually darker than they appear - which certainly appealed to my father! 'Clementine' is on the surface it seems to a child a sad ballad but actually it's a firmly tongue in cheek send up of sentimental ballads — especially the last verse "How I missed her/how I missed her/ how I missed my Clementine/but I kissed her little sister and forgot my Clementine". And as for “Green grow the rushes O” a very old folk song from the West Country of England, goodness knows what on earth the lyrics mean -  “Five for the symbols at your door…two two the lily-white boys clothed all in green oh??”. It seems a completely bonkers mixture of Christian, Jewish, Pagan and Masonic symbolism. Anyway we sang them all heartily whatever the meaning. My sisters think the first pop record we brought was "The Wombles" which may be correct as dad was probably unsuspecting that this was actually...the horror...a pop group. If you want to understand where punk rock came from then bear in mind that in 1974 the Wombles were probably the biggest group in the UK! Featuring the cuddly eco friendly creatures who lived under and tidied up Wimbledon Common they had a string of hits. Of course my tastes were in general MOR - as well as the Wombles other groups or singers I brought and liked were the painful to recall (such as the Wombles) - David Soul and "Mull of Kintyre" — the acceptable MOR - Brian Ferry, ELO and Abba and the even faintly cool like Blondie, The Police, The Jam and Kate Bush. Later on I was big time into the wonderfully named Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and in fact I would say my all time favourite single was their marvellous "Enola Gay" which reached number 8 in the charts in 1980. I also loved and continue to love The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel both of whom had broken up before I even was aware that they had been together! Finally there is the incomparable Bruce Springsteen. Sarah tells a story on "the Boss" which shows Dads devotion and care for his children. He had driven all the way to Durham to pick her up from uni and then back to Hemel Hempstead - over 500 miles of driving round trip. Sarah had a new Bruce cassette album which she played non stop. As they neared Hemel Dad asked very politely "Do you mind if we change it as I have a headache!"I guess the lesson i would draw was that my father was strict but fair and absolutely willing to debate anything and everything about what was allowed and not allowed. He also distinguished in music between a few things that were morally dangerous and in his view wrong from a Christian viewpoint and many things that were to him taste wise objectionable but morally neutral, or at least not pernicious. Its easy to combine the two categories, parents, which can create exasperation in your children. Above all, although he could drive you to distraction by his unwillingness to budge an inch (the word "immoveable" doesn't even begin to describe it)  we never doubted that he loved us. 
The "3rd of September 1939" on the musical front was that when I was I think about 10 Dad brought a record player. I can still picture it now, a fake wood trim and a black plastic lid with two very small speakers. Even by the standards of the time it was basic (remember Dad had not much money) but it worked. Dads musical repertoire was heavily influenced by his father - Handel at the top then Bach (especially the Passions, the B minor mass being noticeable by its absence, no doubt showing that the Lutherans hadn't really Reformed properly !) then Beethoven and finally Mozart (especially the horn concertos which Dad loved as do I). I don't recall any other composers, surprisingly given Dads patriotism  no Elgar - but then he was Catholic :). What there was in abundance was military music. The Band of the Royal Marines and the Coldstream Guards, bagpipes galore, patriotic songs such as 'Rule Britannia' and so on. These my father loved to play very loudly, a habit that I have inherited but does tend to annoy long suffering members of my family! On his day off (Monday) he used to turn the record player up very loudly and march around the sitting room, recreating his Army days, only ceasing and desisting when the solicitors who worked downstairs - the Old Manse had been divided into two, something i shall return to in a later blog - objected. Strangely, bagpipes were particularly prominent at Christmas, in fact we had more bagpipes than carols. The final category was church music, something we shall also return to in due course in another blog.
Now, the record player was not exactly high tech, even by its era. The really cool thing to have was a "music centre" which incorporated not only a record player but also the cutting edge technology of the era - a cassette player plus a modern radio. We had a very old "steam valve" radio which you had to wait to "warm up". The dil had exotic stations with places like "Hilversum". If you had a music centre on the other hand, you could even record on the cassette your LPs (long playing records or albums which rotated at 33rpm) and your singles (45 rpm) plus if like us you had   old records at 78rpm. Endless hours of innocent amusement could also be had playing records at the wrong speed — and that's before we get on to playing records backwards to try and get the hidden messages (if any). 

But of course having a record player opened the door to us children buying our own music. In fairness to Dad although he objected to much of the music on grounds of bad taste he didn't that I recall ban anything, except one B side of a single by ( of all groups) Hot Chocolate. This was their magnum opus  "I'll put you together again" which reached the dizzy heights of Number 13 in the hit parade in 1978.  For those of you of tender years you bought the single "hit" which was the A side and on the back of the single was another song the B side. Occasionally you had a double A side, the one that springs to mind was the classic Boney M double side "By the Rivers of Babylon" and "Brown Girl in the Ring." Debs my sister comments "Culturally music was an absolutely key social thing in the 70's eg music shops; singles/12 inch/picture disc. Saturday would be spent looking through records in the shops. The "Number 1" (single) was MASSIVE news when announced; social times with fellow teens would involve listening to new records, looking at the album, reading lyrics, passing the sleeve round. We'd take our new records to the Thompson's for example." (The Thompson's was a church  youth group at the Thompson's house - except it wasnt a youth group. I shall return to this!)

Anyway, Dad agreed that there was no way I could have known what was on the Hot Chocolate 45 B side so kindly reimbursed it. But otherwise Dad wasn't too prescriptive, although he did like to check the lyrics which were sometimes on the sleeve. I quickly I am afraid and deceitfully figured out that the easiest way to deal with this was to take the lyric sleeve out before reaching home and replace it with a blank LP sleeve. Borrowing church officers LPs though could also be dangerous as Colin Thompson and I discovered with Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits which featured a song called “Cecelia"! 
But on the whole Dad was pretty relaxed and although he made rude comments about our taste he made them with a smile. Sometimes the study door would open and he would yell “Turn it down”. But, in fact, he secretly I know quite liked Abba, and he felt their tunes sounded like hymn tunes (try “The Way old friends do” to see what he meant.) Once he even — a great compliment — quoted from Abba's lyrics in a sermon at the Banner of Truth conference. High praise indeed! 
Now, after a period of relative calm on the music front in 1983 a Christian book was published called "Pop goes the gospel" by John Blanchard and others, which led to a long running and interesting set of discussions with Dad. Even here though he was fuelled by arguments from the book he was pretty reasonable, which confirms my thesis that between 1973 and 1983 he became much more relaxed and irenic. 

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To be continued....
Categories: Friends

Guest Blog by Patrick Macdonald: Review of ‘D-Day, The Battle for Normandy’ by Antony Beevor (Penguin, 2014)

Fri, 10/02/2017 - 20:51

This is a huge, sprawling monster of a book, 523 pages in paperback and a solid holiday read at that. Antony Beevor picks apart the myths and stories that have grown up around what is arguably the most important military campaign of the 20th century. The invasion of Normandy and the subsequent battle to break out to Paris defined World War II.The first part of the book travels over territory well-covered by previous authors, most notably Cornelius Ryan in The Longest Day. Where Ryan could interview actual veterans of the battle to bring his work to life, Beevor uses written fragments of letters, diaries and memoirs. These provide a searing insight into the realities of war, rather than the heroic gloss we often pour over them, with grim tales of war crimes, corpse mutilation, summary executions and worse. Arguably, he gets closer to the unvarnished truth – or at least, articulates it more openly – than Ryan ever did.

Beevor also punctures some of our comfortable myths about the moral righteousness of the Allied side and the supposed superiority of the experienced British troops when compared with their green American allies. Time and again, the British units perform poorly even against the exhausted German forces, failing to achieve the decisive breakthrough they sought. As one British officer says: “The famous Desert Rats landed in Normandy with an outstanding reputation – which it found difficult to retain.” This weakness extends from the frontline to the very top, with Montgomery coming across as self-regarding and narcissistic, claiming credit for victories that weren’t his and reacting to any criticism of over-caution and indecision (and there was plenty) with a prickly arrogance.

The Americans are presented as far more aggressive and ambitious than the Brits. Whether this is because they were fresher, better-trained, better-fed or better-led is not really made clear. It helped that the Yanks were generally ranged against the weaker collections of German forces. And, fortunately for the Allies, those German forces – sapped by years of war, the need to fight against Russia at the same time, a desperate lack of supplies and a complicated command structure – suffered from extreme micromanagement by Adolf Hitler himself, located hundreds of miles away and no great military strategist to start with. His short-lived generals were frustrated by interference at both strategic and tactical levels, resulting in the loss of not one but two Armies at the Falaise Gap. It was only the indecision of Monty (and, to be fair, Patton), who failed to close the Gap early and cleanly enough, that allowed thousands of German troops to escape to fight another day. Even this great Allied victory wasn’t as decisive as it should have been.

Indeed, the tendency to blunder was by no means confined to the Axis. On several occasions the Allies ended up bombing their own side, resulting in heavy losses including the death of a US general. Inexcusably, repeated confusion over basic communications between ground and air made things worse. And all too often, important pieces of intelligence were not passed on, orders were misunderstood and attacks poorly coordinated.

It’s a long book with a broad view. Beevor ranges seamlessly from the misery of life on the front line – graphic descriptions of life in a foxhole in the rain – to the grand sweep of World War II geopolitics, picking apart the egos and doubts at the heart of both Allied and Axis political and military leaderships. One minute he’s tackling the plot to assassinate Hitler and its repercussions, reverberating through the German military hierarchy. The next he is laying bare de Gaulle’s ridiculous ego and vanity, ludicrous in the telling. The pacing of the book is excellent, breathless and measured at turns.

Overall, then, this impressive, well-written book lays bare the successes, failures and often grim realities of what was arguably the pivotal battle of World War II and, indeed, the 20th Century. Had the Allies failed to land successfully in Normandy and then break out to Paris, who knows how the course of history would have run? Thanks to Beevor, we do know how it actually did turn out, in great and often sickening detail.
© Patrick Macdonald 2017
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Patrick Macdonald is a Partner at the School for CEOs. The School provides senior leadership development and training programmes. Jeremy Marshall is a Faculty member.
Categories: Friends

Personal update for those not on FB

Mon, 06/02/2017 - 12:40

So glad to say that my latest scan results this morning were good. The various tumours, to my excellent oncologists surprise, haven't really grown in the last couple of months. More chemotherapy will occur at some point, he said, but every extra week is a gift from God and gives me more time to recover. Psalm 16 which was the 'verse of the day' on my app this morning says "You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."As John Wayne has been retired and Yul Brunner is not needed again (yet) the picture encapsulates the above - go on I am sure you can work it out (at least those of you familiar with the BBC can). Prize for the first person to get it right!Thank you so much for your prayers (which clearly worked) and the many kind messages Jeremy
Categories: Friends

The story of Henry "Box" Brown, with thanks to Gary Brady

Sun, 05/02/2017 - 10:30

The story below is from Henry "Box" Brown's autobiography. He was a slave in Virginia USA who posted himself in 1849 in a box to the North to escape. We join the story as he is in "midshipment" hidden inside the box 
Many thanks to Gary Brady for bringing this to my attention.
Brown writes:
"The next place we arrived at was Potomac Creek, where the baggage had to be removed from the cars, to be put on board the steamer; where I was again placed with my head down, and in this dreadful position had to remain nearly an hour and a half, which, from the sufferings I had thus to endure, seemed like an age to me, but I was forgetting the battle of liberty, and I was resolved to conquer or die. I felt my eyes swelling as if they would burst from their sockets; and the veins on my temples were dreadfully distended with pressure of blood upon my head. In this position I attempted to lift my hand to my face but I had no power to move it; I felt a cold sweat coming over me which seemed to be a warning that death was about to terminate my earthly miseries, but as I feared even that, less than slavery, I resolved to submit to the will of God, and under the influence of that impression, I lifted up my soul in prayer to God, who alone, was able to deliver me. My cry was soon heard, for I could hear a man saying to another, that he had travelled a long way and had been standing there two hours, and he would like to get somewhat to sit down; so perceiving my box, standing on end, he threw it down and then two sat upon it. I was thus relieved from a state of agony which may be more easily imagined than described[.] I couldnow listen to the men talking, and heard one of them asking the other what he supposed the box contained; his companion replied he guessed it was "THE MAIL." I too thought it was a mail but not such a mail as he supposed it to be.        The next place at which we arrived was the city of Washington, where I was taken from the steam-boat, and again placed upon a waggon and carried to the depôt right side up with care; but when the driver arrived at the depôt I heard him call for some person to help to take the box off the waggon, and some one answered him to the effect that he might throw it off; but, says the driver, it is marked "this side up with care;" so if I throw it off I might break something, the other answered him that it did not matter if he broke all that was in it, the railway company were able enough to pay for it. No sooner were these words spoken than I began to tumble from the waggon, and falling on the end where my head was, I could bear my neck give a crack, as if it had been snapped asunder and I was knocked completely insensible. The first thing I heard after that, was some person saying, "there is no room for the box, it will have to remain and be sent through to-morrow with the luggage train; but the Lord had not quite forsaken me, for in answer to my earnest prayer He so ordered affairs that I should not be left behind; and I now heard a man say that the box had come with the express, and it must be sent on. I was then tumbled into the car with my head downwards again, but the car had not proceeded far before, more luggage having to be taken in, my box got shifted about and so happened to turn upon its right side; and in this position I remained till I got to Philadelphia, of our arrival in which place I was informed by hearing some person say, "We are in port and at Philadelphia." My heart then leaped for joy, and I wondered if any person knew that such a box was there.        I was now placed in the depôt amongst the other luggage, where I lay till seven o'clock, P.M., at which time a waggon drove up, and I heard a person inquire for such a box as that in which I was. I was then placed on a waggon and conveyed to the house where my friend in Richmond had arranged I should be received. A number of persons soon collected round the box after it was taken in to the house, but as I did not know what was going on I kept myself quiet. I heard a man say, "let us rap upon the box and see if he is alive;" and immediately a rap ensued and a voice said, tremblingly, "Is all right within?" to which I replied--"all right." The joy of the friends was very great; when they heard that I was alive they soon managed to break open the box, and then came my resurrection from the grave of slavery. I rose a freeman, but I was too weak, by reason of long confinement in that box, to be able to stand, so I immediately swooned away. After my recovery from the swoon the first thing, which arrested my attention, was the presence of a number of friends, every one seeming more anxious than another, to have an opportunity of rendering me their assistance, and of bidding me a hearty welcome to the possession of my natural rights, I had risen as it were from the dead; I felt much more than I could readily express; but as the kindness of Almighty God had been so conspicuously shown in my delivcrance, I burst forth into the following him of thanksgiving,
                         I waited patiently, I waited patiently for the Lord, for the Lord;
                         And he inclined unto me, and heard my calling:
                         I waited patiently, I waited patiently for the Lord,
                         And he inclined unto me, and heard my calling:
                         And he hath put a new song in my mouth,
                         Even a thanksgiving, even a thanksgiving, even a thanksgiving unto our God.
                         Blessed, Blessed, Blessed, Blessed is the man, Blessed is the man,
                         Blessed is the man that hath set his hope, his hope in the Lord"
This was an extract from the story of Henry "Box" Brown (c.1816–June 15, 1897) who was a 19th-century Virginia slave who escaped to freedom at the age of 33 by arranging to have himself mailed in a wooden crate in 1849 to abolitionists in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For a short time he became a noted abolitionist speaker in the northeast US. As a public figure and fugitive slave, he felt endangered by passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which increased pressure to capture escaped slaves. He moved to England and lived there for 25 years, touring with an anti-slavery panorama, becoming a magician and showman. He married and started a family with an English woman, Jane Floyd. She was his second wife; his first wife, Nancy, had been sold by their master. Brown returned to the US with his English family in 1875, where he continued to earn a living as an entertainer. He toured and performed as a magician, speaker, and mesmerist until at least 1889. The last decade of his life (1886–1897) was spent in Toronto, where he died in 1897.
Wikipedia describes how he was born into slavery in 1815 or 1816 on a plantation called Hermitage in Louisa County, Virginia. Aged 15 he was sent to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond.
In his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Written by Himself, he describes his owner: "Our master was uncommonly kind, (for even a slaveholder may be kind) and as he moved about in his dignity he seemed like a god to us, but notwithstanding his kindness although he knew very well what superstitious notions we formed him, he never made the least attempt to correct our erroneous impression, but rather seemed pleased with the reverential feelings which we entertained towards him."Brown was married to another slave named Nancy, but their marriage was not recognised legally. They had three children born into slavery under the partus sequitur ventrem principle. Brown was hired out by his master in Richmond, Virginia, and worked in a tobacco factory, renting a house where he and his wife lived with their children. Brown had also been paying his wife's master not to sell his family, but the man betrayed Brown, selling pregnant Nancy and their three children to a different slave owner.With the help of James C. A. Smith, a free black man and a sympathetic white shoemaker (and likely gambler) named Samuel A. Smith (no relation), Brown devised a plan to have himself shipped in a box to a free state by the Adams Express Company, known for its confidentiality and efficiency. Brown paid $86 (out of his savings of $166) to Samuel Smith. Smith went to Philadelphia to consult with members of Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society on how to accomplish the escape, meeting with minister James Miller McKim, William Still, and Cyrus Burleigh. He corresponded with them to work out the details after returning to Richmond. They advised him to mail the box to the office of Quaker merchant Passmore Williamson, who was active with the Vigilance Committee.To get out of work the day he was to escape, Brown burned his hand to the bone with oil of vitriol (sulphuric acid). The box that Brown was shipped in was 3 feet long by 2 feet 8 inches deep by 2 feet wide and displayed the words "dry goods" on it. It was lined with baize, a coarse woollen cloth, and he carried only a small portion of water and a few biscuits. There was a single hole cut for air and it was nailed and tied with straps.Brown later wrote that his uncertain method of travel was worth the risk: "if you have never been deprived of your liberty, as I was, you cannot realise the power of that hope of freedom, which was to me indeed, an anchor to the soul both sure and steadfast."During the trip, which began on March 29, 1849, Brown's box was transported by wagon, railroad, steamboat, wagon again, railroad, ferry, railroad, and finally delivery wagon, being completed in 27 hours. Despite the instructions on the box of "handle with care" and "this side up," several times carriers placed the box upside-down or handled it roughly. Brown remained still and avoided detection. The box was received by Williamson, McKim, William Still, and other members of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee on March 30, 1849, attesting to the improvements in express delivery services.. When Brown was released, one of the men remembered his first words as "How do you do, gentlemen?" He sang a psalm from the Bible, which he had earlier chosen to celebrate his release into freedom. In addition to celebrating Brown's inventiveness, as noted by Hollis Robbins, "the role of government and private express mail delivery is central to the story and the contemporary record suggests that Brown’s audience celebrated his delivery as a modern postal miracle." The government postal service had dramatically increased communication and, despite southern efforts to control abolitionist literature, mailed pamphlets, letters and other materials reached the South."Cheap postage," Frederick Douglass observed in The North Star, had an "immense moral bearing". As long as federal and state governments respected the privacy of the mails, everyone and anyone could mail letters and packages; almost anything could be inside. In short, the power of prepaid postage delighted the increasingly middle-class and commercial-minded North and increasingly worried the slave-holding South."Brown's escape highlighted the power of the mail system, which used a variety of modes of transportation to connect the East Coast. The Adams Express Company, a private mail service founded in 1840, marketed its confidentiality and efficiency. It was favoured by abolitionist organisations and "promised never to look inside the boxes it carried."
Categories: Friends

Book Review: Brand Luther by Andrew Pettegree (Penguin, October 2015)

Sun, 29/01/2017 - 14:15
No doubt this year will see ever more books on Martin Luther and the Reformation. Most of them concentrate on Martin Luther the man and especially on his theology. This new book is about Luther and covers his life and especially his main writings. But the main topic, which I haven't seen covered elsewhere in such a detailed and comprehensive way, is a different one - how did Luther's ideas and influence actually spread? The book is therefore in my view very important and very original and has many lessons for us today. 
Andrew Pettegree begins by pointing out, as others have done, the sheer implausibility and improbability of what happened from 1517-1520. Just looking in terms of books, Luther write his first book in 1516 when he was a completely unknown professor in a totally obscure new university, far from the main trade routes and intellectual thinking centers of Germany, let alone Europe. So obscure was he that when someone wrote shortly before the Reformation about the top 100 professors in three very obscure universities in Germany (one of which was Wittenberg) Luther did not even get a mention. 
Yet by 1520 he was by far the worlds best selling author, with no fewer than 45 highly original works, roughly half in Latin and half in German. Luther effectively completely redefined and massively expanded not only the market for theology but the entire printing industry. While printing was invented in the previous century, around 1440, it had limped along as an industry and it had proved to be a financial disaster. Both of the leading printing pioneers, Gutenberg and Caxton had gone bankrupt and the market was very small and specialised.  Luther changed the whole industry for ever. Over his lifetime something like 2 million copies of over 2000 editions of his work were published. Most were purchased by people who previously owned no, or very few, books. As the market mushroomed, so prices crashed, fuelling demand. Luther was the best selling author over the first few years of tghe Reformation by a ratio to the next best selling authors of around 10:1 — pre Luther there was almost no market for living authors. Luther and his disciples out-published their Catholic opponents by an estimated 9:1. We sometimes read that printing created the Reformation, it would be more accurate to say the reverse. 
Where the book excels is to look at how Luther actually spread his ideas. Firstly he was obviously a brilliant and prolific author. In one year alone, 1520, he produced three of the greatest theological books of all time - "To the Christian nobility" "The Babylonian Captivity" and "The Freedom of a Christian Man". As well as transforming printing Luther also pretty much reinvented and popularised the German language. He wrote in a way that was attractive and readable for everybody, not just fellow theologians. He also wrote mainly in short readable bite sized chunks. While he also wrote some long books, and translated the entire New Testament into German, most of his publications were very short and to the point. A printer could turn round an order and sell out in two days — good business. Luther was particularly good at quickly dashing off short and pithy replies to written attacks on him from his foes, which conversely tended to write slowly and often in Latin. The very act of public debate was viewed with suspicion by his opponents, who saw theology as something to be discussed in private in Latin by the learned. 
Now, some of the circumstances of the Reformation were luck (or providence, depending on how you look at things). In particular the dogged support of Luther by his protector, Frederick the Wise, who as the owner of the largest collection of relics in Germany, had every reason for handing him over to his enemies. But the way Luther's ideas spread had everything to do with a side of Luther we rarely if ever hear about — not Luther the theologian but Luther the hands on businessman. Remember that his father was a successful mining entrepreneur and that Luther was raised in an environment where risk taking and making money was a major preoccupation.
Obviously this rubbed off on young Martin. Pettegree brings out the extent to which Luther was intimately involved in all aspects of the printing and publishing of his work. The poor and one and only Wittenberg printer was soon overwhelmed by Luther's output so Luther attracted new entrants, partly by dividing his outputs across various printers and over time systematically built up the printers both in Wittenberg and elsewhere. Unlike other printing centres such as Paris for France, Germany had a multiple of printing powerhouses, none of which was capable of being controlled by the state. Most printers incidentally were not Lutheran, in fact a number were strongly Catholic, but they could sense a good commercial deal when they saw it. 
Furthermore, there was recognisable "brand Luther". Pettegree brings out most clearly of all how Luther and his great friend and artist Cranach did this. Luther was obsessive about presentation and working together with Cranach they developed an instantly recognisable and very modern style, completely different in look and feel to what Luther's opponents could produce from their outgunned presses. Nor was it just words — a flood of woodcuts (some of which are quite scatalogical) supported and illustrated the books. Cranach built a very large artistic factory in Wittenberg which encouraged many artisans and artists to produce a wealth of visual material in support of the Reformation. 
All of this in turn produced money which fuelled the Reformation. Interestingly, Pettegree brings out that although Luther was a good designer and publisher he was little interested in the financial side and in fact it was eventually his wife, Katerina von Bora, who took control of the Lutheran financial set up. Under her direction, they started to generate substantial profits which could be reinvested elsewhere. 
In general, Pettegree notes that Luther and his followers had a much higher view of women's roles than their opponents (and indeed than historians) have given them credit for. This is particularly noticeable in the field of education, where Luther in particular was very prominent in establishing girls as well as boys schools. According to one estimate, the split of girls vs boys in school was almost 50/50 in Protestant Germany but only around 0.2/99.8 in the Venetian Republic. Education was seen for both sexes as vital to advance the Reformation.
Perhaps the only area where Luther didn't spread his ideas so effectively was outside Germany. Luther's correspondence was overwhelmingly German focused, and his books were relatively slow to be translated. This contrasts very much with Calvin - who for example had intense interaction with English reformers whereas Luther seemed to have relatively little impact outside Germany, at least direct personal impact. I would have been interested to know more about why this was the case. 
In summary, this is an excellent and highly original contribution to the "Reformation" industry. Pettegree brings out brilliantly how Luther was intimately involved in all aspects of the Reformation: in particular he was a brilliant entrepreneur and together with Cranach an excellent designer. This all contributed together to build "brand Luther" which was so effective in spreading Luther's ideas. The Reformation did not (humanly speaking) "just happen". It took a lot of hard work, business flair, design and branding and money. 
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In another blog I shall look at the implications of all of this for today's Christian work. 
Categories: Friends

Guest blog: Is your head screwed on? By Dan Tiley

Thu, 26/01/2017 - 22:06
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p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 16.0px Arial; color: #323333; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} Dan is my personal trainer (don’t laugh) and a great guy. He discusses mindfulness below. I think mindfulness is not necessarily  incompatible with Christian belief. A Christian writer has commented “ On Boxing Day 2004 Tilly Smith, a 10-year-old British girl, saved 100 tourists on a Thai beach because she noticed that the waves were receding. She remembered her geography lessons and told her mother that the beach was about to be struck by a tsunami. Two thousand years ago a centurion paid attention to the present moment, and as he saw how Jesus died he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’ (Mark 15:39). At the birth of Jesus, there were a host of people who watched, waited and paid attention - the shepherds, the magi, Simeon and Anna, and Mary who pondered and treasured all these things (‘pondered’ and ‘treasured' are words about attention and awareness)" JM
Over to Dan...
3 mind-set rules for achieving Well-Being
The New Year naturally brings about the motivation to change; we’ve made another trip around the sun and, as the cycle begins again, we move full steam ahead, super motivated to shed the pounds and improve our health and fitness – but for how long will it last?
Think about 2016, did you achieve everything you wanted to? If you weren’t happy with your achievements then what were the barriers or obstacles that made it tricky along the way? Was it time, money, work, family, motivation, lack of focus, injury, illness…or a combination? 
In my view, mind-set is the number one reason getting in the way of desired health and fitness. Whether it’s to be pain or disease free, to be lean, or simply to have more energy; having a good mind-set is paramount.
Let me outline the three key areas of mind-set and attitude that need to be considered to reap the by-products of being fit and healthy.
  • Be aware, be mindful

Everything starts with a thought; you literally become what you think about! In order to change you must first appreciate where you're currently at, how you think, move, eat and sleep. Most of us exist in a state of ‘doing’, we’re unknowingly in our thoughts and actions without even knowing it, going through our day playing out one unconscious habit after the next. Most of us exist thinking about the past or the future, without experiencing the present moment. We have too many gadgets and distractions, and we’re too busy to stop and think (what we’re thinking!). This state of ‘doing’ means we miss vital feedback from our body regarding our diet and lifestyle choices.  Learn to listen to your thoughts, your ‘gut’, and your body, and you’ll make the right choices!
  • Understand you reap what you sow

Using farming as an analogy, if you have fertile soil and two types of seed – one corn and the other deadly nightshade – you sow the seeds, water and feed, what do you think will happen? Of course you will harvest corn and deadly nightshade. The same goes with health and fitness, you are the way you are today because of your choices. If you want to change long-term, understand being fit and healthy is about taking responsibility about what ‘seed’ you’re nurturing!
Appreciate the compound effect
People that reap the benefits of being healthy understand that it is the seemingly insignificant daily choices that compound over time to make a significant difference. It's the conscious choice of going to bed before 11pm, or drinking a couple of litres of water a day, or eating protein with every meal. It could also be committing to walking 10k steps a day, or not drinking coffee after 2pm… it's saying “yes” to exercise when you can't be bothered.

Of course, this compound effect works the other way too, not making these seemingly insignificant choices over time will compound to being overweight, having low energy, not sleeping and experiencing symptoms of dis-ease. 
One of the reasons people choose not to carry out a seemingly insignificant behaviour is that they believe it won't matter; let me tell you that it does!

Stuff to take away
If you truly want to change, long term, work on becoming more mind-full of your thoughts and aware of your daily habits. Up until then you’ll be none the wiser. Understand that you are where you are because of the choices you’ve made to date, but feel empowered that you decide which direction you take from here on in. 
Invest in learning what it takes to get you where you want to go and then focus on making consistent healthy choices. Choices which may seem insignificant in isolation, but compound to significant results over time!
Learns simple but powerful health and fitness principles that will serve you for years to come. For people living in or near Sevenoaks, you can book a place on my Lifestyle Transformation workshop on 29th January at Bore Place. {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Times} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Times; min-height: 18.0px} p.p3 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: center; font: 12.0px 'Times New Roman'; min-height: 15.0px} p.p4 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px 'Times New Roman'; min-height: 15.0px} li.li1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Times} span.s1 {text-decoration: underline} ul.ul1 {list-style-type: disc}

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Categories: Friends

Why "America First" is to put it mildly an unfortunate slogan

Sun, 22/01/2017 - 21:37

President Trumps' inaugural address centred on the theme "America First". I think that both from a Christian and historical perspective this is at best unfortunate and at worst an extremely dangerous slogan.
I am not going to rerun my previous blogs about President Trump. You can read them here
Nor am I arguing that Trump shares the same ideology in any way as the people who popularised the expression “America First”. Trump is certainly not a fascist or a fascist sympathiser. Nor is he an isolationist — which was a movement of which America First was an extreme example — though he is certainly less "interventionist" than Obama. Anyway, Donald Trump is not really a Republican either - I have argued previously in the above blog he stands in the American populist tradition
But, I want to argue that the language our leaders use is extremely important. Certain phrases or words are loaded whether we like it or not with connotations. Thats why for example I think its better that Christians dont use the word "crusade". Yes you can argue that the crusades were defensive, but the behaviour of the crusaders was totally unChristian — not just against the Muslims but against Jews and their fellow Christians. see here.
“America First” as a slogan has truly a terrible history. It would be much better to use a different slogan such as “Make America Great Again". America First was a committee formed in Chicago in 1940 to oppose the US president FDR, who was seeking to give aid to the beleaguered British who were on their knees after the evacuation of Dunkirk. They argued that the best option for America was to avoid any support for Churchill, though some supporters went further and were actively pro Nazi. America First was not just isolationist — which was a strain in the Republican party from the 1920s onward — but some of its members were pro Nazi and virulently anti Semitic. Amongst its prominent supporters were many business leaders including Walt Disney, Senators of both parties, especially from the Mid West, and many then current or future "celebrities" such as Frank Lloyd Wright and two future presidents - Gerald Ford and JFK (yes really)!. The latter may be explained by the fact that his father was the US ambassador to the UK and a defeatist who thought it was time to make a deal with Hitler. Separate from America First but with broadly similar isolationist views was the Catholic priest and prominent broadcaster in the 1930s, Father Coughlin. He was a leading anti Semite. 
But the most prominent of all America First speakers was the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly the Atlantic solo. Lindbergh became a prominent advocate for Hitler. In a speech in Iowa on 11/9/41 (interesting date) for America First, a commentator notes that “ Lindbergh blamed three forces for driving America into a global conflict that no patriotic American wanted. First, he chastised Winston Churchill for turning to America to assist England in fighting the Germans in what was a desperate time for the British. Second, he singled out the Roosevelt administration for beating the drums of war. But, most of all, there was one entity in America agitating for war: the Jews. “Instead of agitating for war,” Lindbergh told a cheering crowd in the American heartland, “the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way, for they will be among the first to feel its consequences….The greatest danger to this country lies in [the Jews’] large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.”
Two weeks after Lindbergh’s attack on American Jewry’s abuse of power, SS Einsatzkommando 4A murdered more than 33,000 Kiev Jews at Babi Yar. SS units gathered the Jews of the Ukrainian city and marched them to a ravine where they were forced to strip, hand over all their valuables, and approach the edge of the ravine. The Germans—with the assistance of Ukrainian collaborators—machined gunned Jews to death into the ravine with automatic weapons. This brutal mass slaughter preceded the establishment of the death camps in Poland. The Nazi mobile killing units succeeded in murdering more than a million Jews in Russia in a short span of time."
This speech marked a turning point but not in the way Lindbergh had hoped. Many decent American people (including some in America First who suddenly saw the light) were revolted by his blatant anti Semitism and Nazi sympathies. Resistance to America First was led by amongst others Dr Seuss (yes really — the author of "The Cat in the Hat" and "The Grinch"). Its worth reflecting on his cartoon above which critiqued the “pull up the drawbridge” attitude of America First towards refugees which resulted in numerous refugees from Hitler being turned back and ending up in the gas ovens of Auschwitz.
A few months later, Pearl Harbor "a day that will live in infamy" marked the end of "America First". 
To be clear, I am NOT equating Trump in any way with America First. I am merely saying it's a very bad slogan. 
I have no problem at all with Trump appealing to American patriotism, which I think in general over nearly 250 years has been a force for good. Most wonderfully, America has saved the world on various occasions, most importantly in World War 2. Thousands of ordinary American young men (no doubt including some who had earlier misguidedly supported America First) laid down their lives for the cause of freedom and liberty. Just think of D day. Lets take one of thousands. 
John J. Pinder, Jr. (picture above) was a professional baseball player when the U.S. entered World War II. He played for several teams, ultimately with the Greenville (Alabama) Lions when he was drafted in 1942. Pinder’s younger brother Harold joined the Army Air Force and was shot down in January of 1944, eventually captured, and spent the rest of the war as a POW. John Pinder, meanwhile, fought in Africa with The Big Red One and then traveled to England to prepare for D-Day. By then, Pinder was a Technician 5th Grade, in charge of communications for his unit.
Landing on Omaha Beach on June 6, Pinder was carrying heavy radio equipment and was shot as he waded ashore. Refusing medical attention, he continued to carry the equipment to shore to deliver the radio. Then he went back into the water three times to collect and salvage other communications equipment. He was shot again on the last trip off shore. Still refusing medical attention, he set up a radio communication station on the beach. Pinder was then shot a third time, this time fatally. 
June 6, 1944 was also his 32nd birthday. 

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Thank you John Pinder and countless others. This is America at its best. A Great America that is a beacon of light and hope to the world — as the Pilgrim Fathers said "We shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people upon us".p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: justify; font: 15.0px Helvetica; color: #362f2d; -webkit-text-stroke: #362f2d} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Helvetica; color: #252525; -webkit-text-stroke: #252525} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} span.s2 {font-kerning: none; color: #0645ad; -webkit-text-stroke: 0px #0645ad}
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Categories: Friends

Set Gods people free - with a lion to help!

Sun, 22/01/2017 - 10:22

This report was just released by the Church of England.
Having been critical of much of the Church of England's output in the past I think it's fair to say that there is much good in this report, and although I have some points I would have put differently the overall thrust is excellent and helpful.
There are a number of interesting points raised about how Christians can be better supported in their work "callings" — we are all called by God to serve him in our place of work, not only those in "full time Christian ministry". I want to focus on one issue so if you want to research this more generally by far the best place to start is the excellent work of LICC and Mark Greene

LICC have a superb set of resources to help Christians think about how they apply biblical principles to their work place. 

The issue of mobilising the "laity" by the "clergy" raised in the report ( two terms we don't seem to find in the Bible we might note — both come from Medieval English) is however we define the terms a key one. 
Above all, for evangelism, as the report notes.
Evangelism is the bible tells us something for everyone who is a follower of the Lord Jesus, not just the "clergy". This is fundamental to the New Testament. For example 1 Peter 3:15-16, Acts 11:19-21. Those of us in the conservative evangelical camp sometimes have a too high view of preaching (yes that is possible)!. We see it as something only done by the vicar or pastor. If nobody is getting saved that's the pastors responsibility. We can sit back in the pew (or these days comfy chairs) and shake our heads at the lack of harvest.

But the NT pattern is quite different. Yes, there are particularly chosen and gifted  evangelists, the Rico Tice's of their age, but telling others about Christ is everyone's responsibility.
Not only that but I suggest it's more likely to be effective. 

Firstly, far more people in the church are "laity" compared to "clergy" probably in a ratio something like 99:1 as the report notes. So immediately there is a 100 fold increase in numbers. If we weren't trying to avoid (dreadful thought) "managerialism" we might call it "scaleability"
Secondly few non Christians sadly come to church these days. The pastor can deliver a wonderful evangelistic sermon but few if any hearers who might be saved will be there. 
Thirdly, I think that an "amateur" evangelist is often more effective than a "professional" one as their testimony may appear more authentic — after all it's not their "job", they catch people by surprise and fly below their "keep the pesky Christians out" radar. God is often honoured by using unlikely means to reach people.
Consider this wonderful story of how one of the greatest Christians of all time was converted. In his autobiography he wrote:-
"But upon a day, the good providence of God did cast me to XXX.. and in one of the streets of that town, I came where there were three or four poor women sitting at a door in the sun, and talking about the things of God; and being now willing to hear them discourse, I drew near to hear what they said, for I was now a brisk talker also myself in the matters of religion, but now I may say, I heard, but I understood not; for they were far above, out of my reach, for their talk was about a new birth, the work of God on their hearts, also how they were convinced of their miserable state by nature; they talked how God had visited their souls with His love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted, and supported against the temptations of the devil... they spake as if joy did make them speak; they spake with such pleasantness of Scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that they were to me as if they had found a new world, as if they were people that dwelt alone, and were not to be reckoned among their neighbours.
At this I felt my own heart began to shake, as mistrusting my condition to be  naught; for I saw that in all my thoughts about religion and salvation, the new birth did never enter into my mind, neither knew I the comfort of the Word and promise, nor the deceitfulness and treachery of my own wicked heart......I left them, and went about my employment again, but their talk and discourse went with me; also my heart would tarry with them, for I was greatly affected with their words, both because by them I was convinced that I (lacked) the true tokens of a truly godly man, and also because by them I was convinced of the happy and blessed condition of him that was such a one.
Therefore I should often make it my business to be going again and again into the company of these poor people, for I could not stay away; and the more I went amongst them, the more I did question my condition; and as I still do remember, presently I found two things within me, at which I did sometimes marvel, especially considering what a blind, ignorant, sordid, and ungodly wretch but just before I was; the one was a great softness and tenderness of heart, which caused me to fall under the conviction of what by Scripture they asserted; and the other was a great bending in my mind to a continual meditating on it."
The XXX is Bedford and the man, pictured above, was John Bunyan. We may note:-

One would have supposed that Bunyan, almost the archetypal English Calvinist and Puritan was converted by some eminent (male!) preacher such as John Owen. Not all - it was by "three or four poor women sitting at a door in the sun" literally gossiping the good news 

The importance of the power of the bible. The women were it seems just chatting about the bible. The bible has an awesome supernatural power to change us and change our friends and family. 
So how can we do this? I have always struggled to be a good evangelist. If there is a line at the gates of heaven to review missed evangelistic opportunities, please dont get stuck behind me! One tool I am finding so valuable is the Word 121 which I have written about here Its simply reading a gospel with a friend supported by easy to use notes. It was developed by my good friends Richard Borgonon who works in the City and William Taylor the Rector of St Helens Bishopsgate. We feel inadequate and hopeless at sharing our faith — good! Only when we realise we need help will anything happen. By ourselves we can do nothing. We need supernatural help — through the bible and prayer  - John 15:7 " If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." The words of Jesus are of course above all found in the gospels. Richard’s notes are based on Johns gospel. I have after 40 years of trying to evangelise found them amazingly liberating. All we have to do is ask our friends "Have you ever read one of the gospels? Would you like to read one together”. Its nothing more complicated than that. i am not arguing that we stop using excellent courses like Christianity Explored or indeed evangelistic sermons. The Word 121 dovetails perfectly with these. For example, as happened to me, people who complete the wonderful new course "LifeExplored" and then ask "whats next?". 

But I am saying that like Bunyan's poor women sharing the word of God with our friends and family is the obvious place to start. 

Research has shown the drift away in the UK from some kind of ill defined Christian belief is not to atheism a la Dawkins but to "none of the above". This often has its roots in biblical ignorance. It's staggering that, for example, a very large number of people in the UK seem not to know that Jesus was a real person, not mythical like King Arthur or Robin Hood. How can we tackle this? Let the lion (the bible) loose! Good old Spurgeon said   "There seems to me to have been twice as much done in some ages in defending the Bible as in expounding it, but if the whole of our strength shall henceforth go to the exposition and spreading of it, we may leave it pretty much to defend itself. I do not know whether you see that lion—it is very distinctly before my eyes; a number of persons advance to attack him.... many suggestions are made and much advice is offered. This weapon is recommended, and the other. Pardon me if I offer a quiet suggestion. Open the door and let the lion out; he will take care of himself. Why, they are gone! He no sooner goes forth in his strength than his assailants flee. The way to meet infidelity is to spread the Bible. The answer to every objection against the Bible is the Bible."

Having a lion is good because the biggest challenge to sharing our faith I find is my ear. In the case of Word121 its both fear that the person asked will say "no" (embarrassing) AND fear that they will say "yes' (now I actually have to do it!)! 
So ……I would like to challenge gently all my Christian readers…can you at least try this? Who are you going to ask today to meet for that first study …
Or to whom are you going to introduce Word 121 today …whether as an organisation , a church or an individual Christian …
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If you need support on how to do this please contact me or Richard (via the web site in his case)
May God bless the challenge to "set Gods people free". 

May God give us the courage to set the lion freep.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Verdana; color: #555555; -webkit-text-stroke: #555555} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} p.p1 {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} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 16.0px 'Helvetica Neue'; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1 {font: 12.0px Arial; font-kerning: none} span.s2 {font-kerning: none} p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 15.0px Helvetica; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1 {font-kerning: none}
Categories: Friends

Childhood memories V: the 1970s culture wars

Sun, 15/01/2017 - 19:00

It is hard to imagine from the perspective of 2017 but in the 1970s the "culture wars" were raging and my father was at the vanguard of those trying manfully to resist the impact of the 1960s "permissive culture". While as you will see below in some aspects he was perhaps a bit like King Canute as the tide flowed in around his feet - incidentally King Canute was doing this to prove to his obsequious  courtiers that he was precisely not omnipotent - in other ways he was far ahead of his time. For example, the BBC. My father had a deep and visceral dislike of the BBC which he nicknamed in jest "Beelzebub's Broadcasting Company" ( incidentally "Beelzebub" is a derivation of Baal the false God of the  Old Testament who was resisted by the prophets of Yahweh such as Elijah. It came to be used in time as a name for the devil and may mean "Lord of the Flies" which is why William Golding used it for his famous eponymous novel.) When I asked my father why he so disliked the BBC and forbade us as children to attend even BBC children's shows, he answered that he regarded the BBC as the single thing most used in the UK  to pervert culture and undermine morals. He died before Jimmy Saville ( a BBC employee who was an evil paedophile) was unmasked but he would have perhaps said "you see Jeremy I told you that the BBC was corrupt". So although some of his decisions below might seem a little unusual, he was motivated by a deep love for his children and a desire to protect them from what, especially in the light of what has emerged over the last few years, was a very dangerous world. 
Now this series of memories is not meant to be hagiographic . Hagios means saint in Greek and a hagiography is a biography that makes its subject out to be a saint, to be perfect. I loved and greatly respected my father but like all of us and certainly like me he had his faults. In this series of blogs I am not trying to paint my father as a saint - he would have said all believers are "saints" anyway - but to point past him to the founder of the Christian faith. The Christian message is for bad people, not good ones. "The healthy don't need a doctor, but rather the sick". 
What he did have which was very good was a sharply developed sense of moral evil. Something that people like CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien also possessed. So his instinct for evil, often masquerading in plain sight as "modern culture" was strong. But his plan to combat it was I think at times perhaps a little simplistic. But maybe better to err on the side of caution? Many of us parents are frankly blissfully ignorant of much that goes on, for example teenage access to pornography on the internet. 
Let's go back to let's say 1977 ( I was 13). The famous Star Wars film, the first one was released. I desperately  wanted to see it. My father viewed the cinema, theatre, TV, gambling, dancing, and various other related amusements as inherently sinful. Christians and their children were to strictly avoid them. So I was forbidden to go. I went anyway, my father found out ( somebody ratted on me!) and he was not "best pleased". Thats a euphemism! 
So cinema was forbidden. Even the Saturday morning "pictures" were off limits. TV was certainly equally verboten. One of the longest drawn out arguments in our house was the one along the lines of "why can't we have a TV - Uncle David has a TV". This was a version of "Well, so and so at school is allowed to do that". To which the answer was either (humorously) " if so and so jumped out of the window would you do so too?" Or (if less good tempered) "I don't care what my brother does we are not having one."  Now there were some very good results of the no TV policy, such as a life long love of reading. But as often on life there was the "law of unintended consequences". In this case it meant that we would all scatter along Alexandra Road where we lived to our various friends houses and watch whatever they were watching. Our  friends parents (Nigel Ginger and David James in my case) were incredibly friendly and often laid on supper or other nice things to eat. They didn't seem to mind at all having these refugees in search of the goggle box. Maybe they felt sorry for us! And while both of my host families wouldn't have watched anything bad, we certainly saw lots of TV that my father wouldn't have approved of. 
Dad had a particular aversion to dancing. I recall on a holiday in Highland Scotland that Dad was shocked that the farmer whose caravan we were staying in and who was a pillar of the local Free Presbyterians would, in the words of Dad "watch Cliff Richard cavorting around with half naked women". Cliff Richard as what Dad would call "a professing Christian" (which meant Dad was sceptical about even that!)  was a particular source of critical material. Dad used to argue that the only mention of dancing in the new Testament was when John the Baptist got his head chopped off. To which I would reply that the only mention of anyone disapproving of dancing in the Old Testament (Michal on her husband David) resulted in God punishing her for her disapproval. Imagine my delight when my dear Aunt Lucia revealed to me that my father was a noted dancer at Oxford, in particular with a countess (no less). 
The culture wars had many fronts. Dancing was one. Literature was another. Not so much in the home - though there was some of that - but above all in school. Dad's choice of books at home which he disapproved of was at times sometimes hard to follow. In particular I can recall him disposing in the coal burning stove a birthday present to me from one of our relatives, "The Borrowers" by Mary Norton. This was on the grounds that it promoted theft. He then forbade me to tell them he had done this as (not unreasonably ) it would have triggered a strong reaction from their side. Now my father became a lot more relaxed over time and when I used to tease him many years later about running an "evangelical auto da fe" he would groan and admit he had been mistaken. As Christians we are not going to pretend to be be perfect but to admit that we often get it wrong and Dad was big enough to do that. I would threaten to reveal his deeds to the relevant relation, though I never did. 
But the main front on the literature front was the local comprehensive school. The entire English literature teaching department used to visibly blanch when a Marshall appeared in their class. My father was nothing if not willing to tackle people head on and within a few minutes of a book appearing in our satchels a lengthy letter would be being composed by my father to the headmaster. Often this was followed up by a letter to the Local Education Authority for the entire county. Dad was certainly not going to be brushed off by some (in his view crypto communist) teachers or bureaucrats. His favourite tactic was to quote some particularly offensive bad language or salacious sexually descriptive detail and ask if this was the sort of thing they should encourage 13 year olds - or whatever - to read. 
For us children we just wanted a quiet life and not to be laughed at by our classmates. So we would do our best to suppress the offending literature. But Dad had a sixth sense. The two books I most recall him tackling the school head on, like a submarine slamming torpedoes into a battleship, were "Kes" by Barry Hines and "A Kind of Loving" by Stan Barstow. Both were typical of gritty 1960s Northern realism, both of the books  were turned into films. Kes had a cover with a boy making the V sign (for non UK Readers this was a rude a gesture as can be imagined). Dads objection to this book was bad language and violence while the objectionable content in "A Kind of Loving" was about sex.
After a while the English department like us children also wanted a quiet life so every time a new book was handed out I would be led off to the stock cupboard and told to choose something else. I recall one occasion with Mrs Riddle our English teacher where book after book was on reflection disallowed with the comment "perhaps better not".  I ended up with "Wuthering Heights" after maybe half a dozen books were considered not worth the fight with my father. 
This is probably a good point to reflect on whether my fathers unceasing cultural hostilities made sense. This is before we even get onto the front where the biggest warfare raged - music! 
Against him was the fact that like the incident with the Borrowers going  up in smoke, if you have a list of banned books it could create a legalistic mind set and might risk turning your children into Pharisees. There were certainly books and films that my father I think was right to object to and in fact when either  "The Exorcist" or "Clockwork Orange" - or possibly both - were being shown at the local Odeon in Hemel Hempstead  my father along with others protested outside. Good for him. But to equate the Borrowers with the Exorcist or Star Wars with Clockwork Orange shows to me that the forbidden list was too long. 
But, on the other hand, there clearly was a moral agenda going on at both Hemel Hempstead School and the BBC. That agenda still exists today and we are highly naive if we dont realise that. One of my sisters took exception to a book given to her junior school daughter, aimed at 10 year olds. The book is about a 10 year old girl sexually abused by her evangelical pastor. In fairness to the school when she objected they removed it, the head commenting "I have never met a parent before who reads her children's books from school." My point is not that books should criticise evangelicals — i have read plenty, most famously "The Way of All Flesh" by Samuel Butler who i regret to say was a graduate of none other than St John's College Cambridge - but a) it's completely inappropriate for 10 year olds and b) how surprising (not) that it's the evangelical who is the guilty party...imagine the outcry if an evangelical wrote such a book and placed as its villain a.....
The agenda was to dismantle traditional Judaeo Christian morality. That agenda by and large triumphed. Dad used to comment that within his lifetime there were sexual practices which would not have even been discussed in a tough Army barracks which ended up being taught to school children. Whether or not you think that tremendous shift to sexual permissiveness, bad language, glorification of violence etc was good or bad depends of course on your point of view. But everyone precisely has a point of view. It's naive to think that there is some kind of morally neutral point of view. The Christian or the Muslim is as entitled to his or her view as the social liberal. When it comes to culture, popular or intellectual, everyone has an axe to grind. So what I think was very good about my fathers approach was that it protected us from evil. It also made us think about what we consumed and to have a critical view of modern culture. Not only was that culture promoting permissiveness it was often not (even) very good culture. Who would prefer "A Kind of Loving" to "Wuthering Heights" as a work of great literature?
Finally, as I have noted in other blogs, though my father required obedience, the rules themselves were very open to discussion. Though some of dads rules were a little "unusual" he moderated what could have been tough medicine by actively encouraging debate around what was and wasn't allowed. Not that he changed his mind very often but the rules themselves were open for debate.  And sometimes he did change his mind. One of my sisters was invited to a ballet at the ROH and after 2 hours of discussion with our wonderful neighbour (who was also very kind to me) she was allowed to go. Over time Dad mellowed his views considerably, in addition. My younger siblings got away with murder! So he wasn't at all a "nutter" but a loving parent trying to his best, sometimes he got it wrong. It was also important to recognise that it was a different age, unimaginably so in many ways. For example, corporal punishment. One of my sisters can remember being in assembly at primary school (thats aged 5-11) and seeing through the glass door a boy being beaten by the headmaster! And our state primary school wasn't in any way savage in fact it was pretty liberal. 
One writer whom I am eternally grateful to Dad for putting me onto who explored this theme was the late great Francis Schaefer. He was particularly good at diagnosing the nihilism and evil in much (though not all) modern culture. Schaefer said  “People today are trying to hang on to the dignity of man, but they do not know how to, because they have lost the truth that man is made in the image of God. . . . We are watching our culture put into effect the fact that when you tell men long enough that they are machines, it soon begins to show in their actions. You see it in our whole culture -- in the theatre of cruelty, in the violence in the streets, in the death of man in art and life.” And "Most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society, the way that a child catches the measles. But people with understanding realise that their presuppositions should be chosen after a careful consideration of which worldview is true.”

How true both are I suggest and the second is incredibly important. We all have our presuppositions our ideas. Some favour for example sex only within marriage between a man and a woman while some have a completely different view. Some think children should read almost anything, others don't. But everyone has got their views of right and wrong. The key question is the worldview that lies underneath those views — which is true? 
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Categories: Friends

Guest Blog: Ken Brownell's 9.5 Theses

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 11:55

This continues from Ken's previous blog which you can read here
9.5 Theses for the recovery of Reformation Christianity based on Martin Luther's 95 ThesesI propose 9.5 theses that are drawn from the 95 Theses. In this way I trust we can see how the seeds of the Reformation were sown in the 95 Theses and appreciate how it grew from it. But I also want us to see how the Theses can help see what is needed for a recovery of Reformational Christianity today.
1: Reformational Christianity needs to be nourished by reverent and rigorous  theological learning. The Reformation was born within a university. It was through his study of the Bible aided by the scholarship of Erasmus and others that Luther came to understand what was wrong with the Roman Catholic penitential system and its understanding of the nature of salvation. Not surprisingly in the years to come learning was highly prized by Lutherans and Calvinists across Europe and eventually across the world. Universities and theological academies were founded to ensure that churches had well trained pastors and preachers. Today Reformational churches still need theological learning. Such learning must be reverent as well as rigorous. There is as there always was a danger that learning becomes an end in itself or becomes worldly in seeking cultural acceptance or academic respectability, but the antidote is not to shun learning but to ensure that it is serves the churches in their mission to the world. A priority - not the only one but a main one - must be the nurturing of theologians for both the lectern and the pulpit. In part that should be done in the secular academy, but far more important is to have flourishing centres of theological learning that are accountable to churches.  An important aspect of this is to have local churches should also see the support of theological learning as a priority in their giving and praying.
Thesis 2: At the heart of Reformational Christianity is the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone which is essential for a proper understanding of the gospel and all that means for becoming, living and dying as Christians.  The doctrine of justification by faith alone is not in the 95 Theses. It probably wasn't until two years later that Luther had his breakthrough.  In 1545 Luther wrote:"At last, by God's mercy, meditating day and night...began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely faith....Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through gates that had been flung open..." The seed of justification was in the 95 Theses and particularly Thesis 1. It states:T1: When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said "Repent," he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.
Luther had come to see that penance as taught and practiced by the church had nothing to do with repentance as revealed in Scripture. Repentance was the turning of the sinner to God for mercy from his or her sins and that happened not once or occasionally in the life of a Christian but throughout the entire life. The reality of being a Christian was a lifelong struggle with sin and with Satan. But as Luther was beginning to discover the only basis on which such a struggle could be conducted was on the basis of the passive righteousness of Christ that is received through faith alone. United to Christ and clothed in his righteousness  the believer can turn to God again and again from his or her sins knowing that he or she will not be condemned but accepted and forgiven. 
The seed sown grew to be the great "oak tree" of the Reformation doctrine of justification which is at the heart of Reformational Christianity. While not the entire gospel, justification by faith alone is indeed the doctrine by which the church stands or falls as Luther later said. Today we must not only confess the doctrine of justification as eventually understood by Luther but preach it and appropriate it so that it is a living reality in our churches and lives. Against all attacks on the doctrine whether from old opponents or new we must be vigilant.
Thesis 3: Unbiblical doctrines and practices in churches that contradict or undermine the gospel need to be challenged, repudiated and discarded if Reformational Christianity is to flourish.What Luther was coming to discover in 1517 was that the marketing of indulgences was basically about selling and buying grace  Here is how he stated the problem in Thesis 5:T5: The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit, any penalties except those that he has imposed either by his own authority or by the authority of the canons.Luther at this point still accepted the authority of the Pope and the place of penance and indulgences in the church. In fact in thesis 7 he says Christians must be in humble subjection to a priest and in thesis 71 he pronounces an anathema against anyone who speaks against papal pardons. At this point his problem was the abuse of indulgences. But he was quickly coming to realise that Pope, penance and indulgences were all part of a system of religion antithetical to the gospel as revealed in Scripture. His direction of travel is indicated in Thesis 79:T79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up by preachers of indulgences, is of equal worth with the cross of Christ, is blasphemy.
As Reformational Christians today we must challenge, repudiate and discard the similar doctrines and practices that contradict or undermine the gospel. One pernicious modern form of contemporary indulgence is the prosperity gospel that is so widespread. Whether in its softer or harder forms it is basically about selling and buying grace and it must be challenged as it fundamentally distorts the gospel no matter how formally orthodox its proponents might be. 
However it is important that we are discerning and patient. In a way that many of us might find difficult Luther picked his battles. For example, when in his enforced absence from Wittenberg his colleague Andreas Karlstadt went further than Luther in removing images and introducing a vernacular service and other things, on his return Luther reversed the changes. He felt he couldn't force the pace of reform before people were ready for them. More important for Luther was the doctrine preached in the pulpits, taught in the catechisms and expressed in the liturgy. Many "hot Protestants" today would be wise to follow his example. Some things are non-negotiable as far as the gospel is concerned but many more are not. And in whatever we do we must do in love and humility and with courtesy. That is just as much Reformational Christianity..Thesis 4:  Reformational Christianity must be concerned for ordinary people and their spiritual welfare.While born within a university context, Luther's concern about indulgences was no mere academic exercise.  His concern was fundamentally pastoral. He was anxious for the spiritual welfare of the people he preached to in the Castle Church and live among in Wittenberg. Two theses express this pastoral concern:T36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.T37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part of all the benefits of Christ and the church; and this is granted to him by God, even without letters of pardon.Indulgences were robbing people of what was rightfully theirs as Christians. If forgiveness of sins was so important for Christians an indulgence certificate shouldn't be necessary. His concern was further expressed in two related writings. The first was Luther's letter to Albrecht of Mainz that he sent with the 95 Theses on the day he posted them. Here is part of what he said and he didn't mince his words:" In this way, excellent Father, souls committed to your care are being directed to death. A most severe reckoning has fallen on you above all others and is indeed growing. For that reason I could no longer keep silent about these things....How...can the [indulgence preaches] make the people secure and unafraid through those false tales and promises linked to indulgences, given that indulgences confer upon souls nothing of benefit for salvation or holiness?"
For Luther that was only the beginning. He was one of those theologians who could write learned tomes as well as simple books. An example of the latter is his wonderful little book on prayer written for his barber Peter. His Small and Large Catechisms distilled his teaching into a memorable form for families and children. When some of his academic colleagues complained that his sermons were too simple he told them he was preaching not for them but for the maid at the back of the church. And what sermons! Read almost any of them and you can understand why people loved to listen to him. Faithful to the text they are full of life and colour and humour as they bring the gospel to life.
It should hardly need saying that Reformational Christianity today should be concerned for the spiritual welfare of ordinary people as it has been at its best throughout history. Yes we need reverent and rigorous theological learning and pastor-theologians but we also need popular preachers and a passion to reach all kinds of people. What should drive us as it drove Luther  and even more the Lord Jesus is the desperate spiritual needs of ordinary people who so often are like sheep without a shepherd.
Thesis 5: In Reformational Christianity Christians should be encouraged to do good to others because they are saved by grace and not to earn merit with God.One of Luther's concerns was that indulgences diverted money from the poor who needed it to the church which could do without it.T45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need and passes him by and gives his money to pardons instead, purchases not he indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.T51. Christians should be taught that it would be the pope's wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.

That was somewhat wishful thinking on Luther's part, but we get his point. It would be far better in God's eyes for Christians to do good for the poor than spend hard-earned money on useless indulgences. 
The importance of doing  good works became a big theme in Luther's preaching and teaching. Contrary to what some people think Luther was very concerned about how Christians live as well as with their relationship with God. However against the teaching of the Catholic church that good works won merit with God, Luther emphasised that they were the fruit of faith in their lives. This was the outworking of Luther's first thesis that "the entire life of believers should be repentance".  This is how he puts in 
 "O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever....Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times.. This knowledge of and confidence in God's grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith.... Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire."
No less than Luther, Reformational Christianity must emphasise the doing of good works in the world in general and in the various callings in which Christians find themselves in particular. Or put another way, we must emphasis progressive sanctification or transformation by grace and through faith. This is nothing less than the emphasis of the New Testament in which we are exhorted to "do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Gal. 6:10). This is how Christians can influence and even transform the world.
Thesis 6: The word of God and the preaching of it must be central to the life of the church and the Christian in Reformational Christianity.In the years around 1517 Luther was deeply immersed in the Bible as he prepared his lectures. The effect was a growing conviction about not only what was revealed in Scripture but also the authority it must have over the church and the centrality it must have in her life through preaching. Not surprisingly he felt that indulgences threatened to supplant the word of God.T53. They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who bid the Word of God to be silent in some church in order that pardons may be preached it others.Luther still had confidence that the Pope was on his side. He went on:T54. Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on the Word.In a lot of sermons today it may not be indulgences that supplant the word of God but many other things can such as an excessive number of anecdotes, opinions on an array of things, self-help advice or simply mishandling the text. When that happens then the gospel is hidden which is shameful since as Luther puts it in the 62nd thesis:T62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.As Luther was coming to discover this treasure was not something that the church owned and could dispense through indulgences or anything else, but of which she was to be the faithful steward through the ministry of the word and sacraments. Why this is so important is revealed in comments by Luther in his Explanations of the 95 Theses which he wrote fairly soon after they were posted but only published later in 1518. He writes:"According to the Apostle in Romans 1, the gospel is the preaching of the incarnate Son of God, given to us without any merit on our part for salvation and peace. It is a word of salvation, a word of grace, a word of comfort, a word of joy, a voice of the bridegroom and the bride, a good word, a word of peace....Therefore the true glory of God springs from the gospel."
If churches are to be Reformational then it is essential that the word of God and the preaching of it is central to their lives. While styles of preaching can vary greatly depending on gifting, culture, temperament and other things, Reformational preaching will, like Luther's, is fundamentally expositional as the message of the gospel is explained and applied from Scripture so that Christ is proclaimed in the power of the Spirit.  Sadly such preaching is not always to be found even in many evangelical churches. But we must work and pray that it would be, not least by ensuring there is such preaching in our churches and that our churches conduct themselves under the authority of God's word. 
Thesis 7: In the face of challenges and opposition enterprising creativity is required in advancing Reformational Christianity.Not so much in what he said in the 95 Theses but in what he did with them Luther revealed the enterprising creativity that would come to characterise his subsequent life and ministry. Remember that the Theses was a customary format for proposing an academic debate. What Luther did was to turn this convention on its head. He introduces what Timothy Wengert calls "a sharp lay person" who rather than raising objections to Luther poses embarrassing and rather cheeky questions to the advocates of indulgences.T82. Such questions as the following: "Why does the pope not empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and for the sake of desperate souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number so souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?"This was typical of Luther. He broke conventions left, right and centre. His style of preaching was unlike anything people had heard. In his sermons as well as writings he used his robust sense of humour both in service to expounding  Scripture but also to excoriating his opponents. He was also very enterprising in seeing the possibilities of the new printing technology in advancing the Reformation cause. Wittenberg quickly became a publishing centre with Luther's works at the top of bestsellers lists. In partnership with his friend Lucas Cranach the younger Luther developed and controlled the Luther brand as images of himself were sent all over Germany. It wasn't simply by word of mouth that the Reformation spread to fast so widely. Reformational Christians need to learn from Luther as indeed many are. The new digital technology of our age needs to be harnessed for the gospel. Of course it can be abused but that was true of printing technology in Luther's day. The kingdom of Christ advances today as it always has done by the prayerful preaching of the word but that doesn't rule out, as it didn't in Luther's day, enterprising creativity as well.

Thesis 8: Reformational Christianity requires not preachers of glory but preachers of the cross of Christ.Near the end of the 95 Theses Luther hints at a theme that would become an important one to him and that is the contrast between what is taught by theologians of glory and theologians of the cross.T92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Peace, peace," and there is no peace!Echoing the words of the prophet Jeremiah  Luther accuses the preachers of indulgences of offering people a false peace which means, of course, that they have no peace with God. Rather, what is needed is the preaching of the cross of Christ.T93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Cross, cross," and there is no cross!.The cross of Christ would become central to Luther's theology and preaching. The problem with the preachers of indulgences was that they offered glory without suffering and not only that of Christians but even more that of Christ. As Luther came increasingly to understand salvation was not to be found in the outward things to which people were likely to look to and trust in such as indulgences, but in what was hidden to those who didn't believe. For Luther it was in the hiddeness, foolishness and weakness of the cross of Christ that God supremely revealed himself. It was in what God did in sending his Son to die for sinners on the cross that the punishment for sin was removed from those who believe so that for them there was "no cross". If Reformational Christianity is to be recovered what is needed are unashamed preachers of the cross of Christ.
Thesis 9: Reformational Christianity demands costly discipleship.Having spoken about his cross, Jesus called on those who would be his disciples to deny themselves and to take up their cross and follow him. For Luther such discipleship was the essence of the Christian life and such discipleship was costly.T94. Christians are to be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death, and hell.T95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations, rather than through the false assurance of peace.In this life Christians should expect afflictions and suffering as the Bible makes abundantly clear contrary to the false gospel of the indulgence preachers of Luther's day and the prosperity and positive thinking preachers of our day. But sadly we can all shy away from the costliness of following Jesus. Confronting the culturally comfortable Lutheranism of his day Dietrich Bonhoeffer echoed Luther when he wrote:"Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.By contrast the grace of the gospel is costly even though it is wonderfully free." 
Reformational Christianity must not and cannot shrink from or hide the costliness of following Jesus. Luther didn't and more importantly Jesus didn't and we mustn't.

Thesis 9.5: While action must be taken in advancing Reformational Christianity we must not forget the role of God's providence and prayer in accomplishing his saving purposes in history. I admit that having 9.5 and not 10 theses is something of a gimmick but one I like to think Luther would have approved. God's providence and prayer merit only half a point not because they are not huge subjects but because they are not mentioned in the 95 Theses. That the Theses sparked the Reformation is an amazing testimony to God's providential activity in history. In 1517 Luther didn't intend the Reformation to happen but it did. Later he may have claimed only to have sat back and drank his Wittenberg beer with Philip Melanchthon and let the word do it all, but it wasn't as simple as that. God did indeed work powerfully by his Spirit through the preaching of the word, but he providentially so ordered things that the Reformation spread like wildfire. As we think of our own situation today we would do well to remember this. Troubling as our world is, our God is providentially in control of all that is happening. Recent history bears witness to how the gospel has advanced and continues to do so in the most unlikely places and circumstances.  We need only think of the growth of Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa, or China or the growth of Protestantism in Latin America. On our part here in the Europe that calls for faith and prayer as we wait patiently for God to work in his way according to his timescale and not ours. Though I haven't touched on it we need to remember that Luther was as much a man of prayer as he was a theologian, preacher and church leader. What all this means is that we can be confident that God is at work in small events and ordinary lives to advance his saving purposes in this world. That's what happened with Martin Luther in 1517 and that is what happens today. 
Categories: Friends

Review of article "The Bleeding of the Evangelical church" by Dr David Wells

Wed, 04/01/2017 - 16:57

Many thanks to Paul Yeulett for drawing this very interesting article to my attention. Its by David Wells, a very well known evangelical writer who has written many superb books 
It is a very thought provoking and insightful article which from my limited knowledge of the US (we lived there) is accurate (though emphatically not true of the church we attended)
The question I would like to consider is "How applicable is it to the UK evangelical scene?" and a subsidiary question posed by Paul "To what extent are 'market forces' and Biblical principles in direct opposition?". By evangelical I mean the group I identify with, that is conservative evangelicals of the Lloyd-Jones/Stott/Dick Lucas school (I know the first two didn't exactly see eye to eye). The reason I want to be specific is that its very easy to be an expert at critiquing our brother and sister Christians' traditions, its much harder to do it to our own. 
My answer is that it's certainly in general relevant to us as anything strong in US evangelicalism is bound to sooner or later come here, so it is generally a good article which i agree with. But, that many of the specific points are not in my opinion directly applicable to the UK scene. Others may disagree (please do so!) and of course i have a very personal viewpoint, I am not a pastor so others (such as Paul!) may have a much better overview
Here are David Wells's main point
1. Theological conviction has been replaced by marketing ethos, adapting the gospel to peoples felt needs. We measure success by the effectiveness of our marketing — numbers — not faithfulness. 
 This is certainly a temptation but not one I particularly see in "our" churches.  In the US, business has to some extent "invaded" the church but in the UK (as a business person) I dont feel thats the case at all. In fact being provocative, many evangelical churches might benefit from more not less business input I would argue (not least in their finances). It's striking how Martin Luther harnessed a whole range of "business" "marketing" and "entrepreneurial" skills to develop the Reformation. You can see my review of this excellent book by Andrew Pettegree called "Brand Luther" here which brings this out very clearly. 
It all depends what we mean by "marketing". It is defined on Google as "The action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising." Now in a strict sense of course we are not promoting or selling a product. But we absolutely are trying to proclaim (even promote)? a message. We have no freedom whatsoever to change the message and we must be truthful to the instructions of the "message manufacturer". But I would argue that churches should do all they can to "spread" the good news — having for example a good web site and being active in social media. This for me is (good) marketing.
2. Professionalisation and Career Management of and by pastors
If you know anything about "careers" of evangelical pastors in UK thats laughable. I think of my own late father, nearly 50 years in one small and rather obscure (sorry Dad) church. Dad told me in 1984 when I started work that I was earning more at 21 than he was at 52. Nobody sane goes into the Uk evangelical ministry for careers let alone money. Very different in US. Professionalisation I see as more of a factor, many activities which were previously done by unpaid volunteers (and could still be) have been taken over by paid staff. Does this make sense? Organisations like the National Trust run on thousands of enthusiastic volunteers — could evangelical churches do better? 
3. Growth of parachurch organisations with entrepreneurial ideas vs local church: in particular says Wells "Where the market principle is at work, there you will get entrepreneurs and though entrepreneurs have great ability in getting things started, it is also the case that sometimes if entrepreneurs are not careful what they build is also their own personal fiefdoms."
 I would be interested in understanding more of what Dr Wells mean here. Is he saying that para church organisations per se are dangerous or that only when personal agendas interfere? The question, related to the point above, is maybe why Christians with entrepreneurial ideas sometimes feel they can't make a contribution to their local church? I can certainly see the risk of the local church being sidelined — para church organisation should only exist to support local churches. But clearly there are many excellent parachurch organisations (including the Banner of Truth which published the article!). Personally I dont see in the parachurch organisations I am involved with any personal fiefdoms — but then maybe mine are part of the problem! 
4. "Cultural" evangelicals vs real Christians. Many people call themselves born again or evangelical but they dont meet even the basic test of true faith
This is a huge issue in the US where it has become, as David Wells says, quite respectable to be evangelical and evangelicals are seen as very important to be courted in elections. This is a big danger - see my post here on President Trump. That is so far from the case in the UK as to be laughable. 
5. Bible ignored, "God is love" replaces "God is holy and loving"

I dont think this is the case at all here in our churches. One of the most encouraging trends has been the growth since WW2 in the UK of not just expository preaching but of openly Calvinistic expository preaching. In some ways it's the opposite to the US - we have a strongly biblically based message but it's having little impact. I can see then the risk of "watering" down in point 1 to have an impact and maybe in some churches this has happened. Thats wrong - we are called to be faithful not successful. But in the conservative evangelical churches in the UK we can be thankful that there has been a recovery in Biblical christianity — not least thanks to the action of the Banner of Truth and others like IVP. 
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Finally "To what extent are 'market forces' and Biblical principles in direct opposition?". Luther's example (and biblical texts such as the "gift of administration") shows to me that the market forces can be a splendid servant of biblical principles. They are an awful master (as David Wells shows) and that is a big danger in the USA, but much less I think in the UK conservative evangelical scene. p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 13.0px Arial; color: #232323; -webkit-text-stroke: #232323} span.s1 {font-kerning: none}
Categories: Friends

1517: Martin Luther and the 95 Theses Guest Blog by Ken Brownell

Mon, 02/01/2017 - 12:20

Ken is a good friend, Minister of East London Tabernacle Baptist Church at Mile End in London

This is an adapted version of a lecture he gave at the Westminster Conference in London in December. I will publish a number of articles to mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.
-----------------------------------What happened 500 years ago next year has impacted our lives in many ways but supremely in making it possible for us to have the gospel of God's saving grace in Jesus Christ to believe, live by and make known to others.

I want to explore how Luther got to the point of posting and sending his 95 theses and why what he did is so significant. I intend to do that by firstly looking at Luther's life up to 1517 and the factors that brought him to the point of posting his theses. Then secondly I want to look more closely at the 95 Theses themselves which I will recast as 9.5 Theses for the recovery of Reformational Christianity. Reformational Christianity is simply orthodox Christianity shaped by the great concerns of the Reformation. Our circumstances are very different from those of Luther in the late 16th century but the need for the Christianity that emerged from Reformation is still as great if not greater.
How and why Martin Luther came to post his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on the 31st of October 1517 Who was this Martin Luther who posted his now famous theses? He was at the time a Professor of theology in the relatively new university of Wittenberg. Wittenberg was not, compared to some other German cities, a very important place and at this stage in his life Luther was not a very important person. He was born in Eisleben in 1483 where in a curious turn of providence he would die 63 years later in 1546. His family moved the year after he was born to Mansfeld where his father Hans worked in the mines and eventually came to manage several of them. Comfortably well off, Hans wanted his son to become a lawyer and to that end paid for him to attend good schools in Mansfeld, Magdeberg and Eisenach. A precociously bright boy, young Martin matriculated at the University of Erfurt where he began to study law. However having earned two degrees Luther changed course and decided to become a monk in 1505. What convinced him was famously a frightening thunderstorm during which he cried out to St. Ann for protection and vowed that if he survived he would enter take the monastic vow, which he did. Hans was furious but Martin was determined. He entered the Order of Augustinian Hermits and celebrated his first mass in 1507, his father refusing to attend. 
Having devoted himself to the monastic life Luther began to climb the theological academic ladder. In part this suited his inclination to study, but it was also with the encouragement of his confessor Johann von Staupitz as a way to divert Luther from his preoccupation with the state of his soul. Luther simply could not find assurance that he was in a state of grace in spite of the most assiduous use of the church's penitential and devotional practices. As Luther wrote about this time, "I hoped I might find peace of conscience with fasts, prayer, vigils, with which I miserably afflicted my body; but the more I sweated it out like this, the less peace and tranquillity I knew." A visit to Rome on behalf of his order didn't help. Later in life Luther used that visit as ammunition against his Catholic adversaries, but at the time he was more concerned for his own soul than the state of the church. Staupitz was a wise, gentle and patient counsellor as well as a friend, but his efforts did little to help. Academic work was, however, a practical outlet at which Luther excelled as was administrative work for the order of which he became a district visitor. By 1511 Luther was transferred to the university in Wittenberg where he gained his doctorate in theology the following year. His specialty was the Bible on which he began to lecture: the Psalms in 1513, Romans in 1515, Galatians in 1516 and Hebrews in 1517. 
At the same time as Luther was settling into his academic career his attention was drawn to the sale of indulgences. Over preceding centuries the church had developed a very elaborate and complicated system for dealing with the sins of Christians. This was the penitential system at the heart of which was the sacrament of penance. There were four parts to penance: contrition or sorrow for sin, confession to a priest, satisfaction and absolution. As is evident in the 95 Theses initially Luther did not have a problem with this system as such. His problem was with what was being demanded of Christians for the satisfaction of their sins, that is indulgences.  Over time, they had evolved to become the means by which the church remitted or cancelled the punishments in purgatory of Christians that were owing when they died. In the years before 1517 Luther was coming to see that something was wrong about all this. 
What brought things to an explosive head was the way indulgences were being sold in regions neighbouring Electoral Saxony where Wittenberg was located. The main culprit was a monk named Johan Tetzel who had been employed by Albrecht, the Archbishop of Mainz and the senior ecclesiastical official in that part of the world. Tetzel went around many towns and cities in Germany selling indulgences that were not merely intended to let purchasers off doing penance but to get them or those they had been purchased for out of purgatory altogether. His indulgences promised total forgiveness of sins after death. In selling these indulgences Tetzel was a master salesman. His entrance into a town was a big public event with a loud and colourful procession attended by all the local "bigwigs". Famously in preaching indulgences he used the jingle that Luther would quote in his Theses: "Every time a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs." 
If Luther's problem with indulgences was only one rogue salesman, nothing much would have probably come his protest. However Albrecht had taken on Tetzel because he needed money. Albrecht was a younger son of a prominent aristocratic family who had become Bishop of Magdeburg. However soon after that the far more ecclesiastically important and politically powerful position of the Archbishopric of Mainz had become vacant and to get that required that he pay a lot of money which he had borrowed from the Fugger banking family. Where was he to get the money to repay the loan? Happily for him Pope Leo X also needed money for the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome in the magnificence that we can still see today. Employing Michelangelo, Raphael, Bramante and a host of other architects and artists cost a lot of cash of which the papacy was short. So in 1515 Leo had decreed a plenary indulgence, that is an indulgence that remitted all a person's sins, for the purpose of raising funds for the rebuilding project. 
 Luther's problem was the way they were being sold indulgences meant that people could escape dealing with sin and the judgment of God to the peril of their souls. He began early in 1517 to preach about indulgences. In one sermon he  expressed his concern that indulgences "work against grace" by which he meant inner repentance. "You see," he said, " dangerous a thing the preaching of indulgences is, which teaches a mutilated grace, namely to flee satisfaction and punishment." Luther still believed that sin in the lives of Christians sin had to be dealt with according to the church's penitential system which included doing penance to make satisfaction for sins. The problem was that the indulgences Tetzel was selling undermined that. 
Alongside his preaching Luther began to investigate the history of indulgences. In this he used the approach to ancient documents that was a feature of the New Learning that had emerged from the Renaissance with its motto ad fontes or "to the sources". The New Learning involved going back to the ancient Greek and Roman classics and careful philological study. As well as examining the church's documents related to indulgences, Luther also went back to the church fathers and beyond them to Scripture. His approach was not to accept the authority given to some writings by the church but to give priority to older writings over more recent ones in line with the approach of the New Learning. He was beginning to see that indulgences were not in line with the teaching of the Bible. In this he was helped by developments in the study of the Bible, particularly by the publication in the previous year of the Greek New Testament by Erasmus of Rotterdam which included in parallel columns the official Latin Vulgate version that had been translated by Jerome in the fifth century. From comparing the two versions Luther discovered that penance as understood by the church was not repentance as taught in Scripture. Whatever other basis penance had it was not in the words of Jesus. Whereas the Vulgate translated the relevant words of Jesus in Matthew 4:17 as "Poenitentium agite" or "Do penance" the Greek text should be translated, in English, as "Repent". As Luther was beginning to understand that was something completely different. In this he was being helped by his preparation for lecturing on the Bible. Helped by the New Learning he was being forced to deal with the text of Scripture. Not only in relation to indulgences but in many other areas his thinking was changing as he encountered the word of God.
So Luther finally decided to do something about the scandal of Tetzel's indulgence sale. Posting a series of theses for an academic debate was customary for a professor like Luther and in Wittenberg the door of the Castle Church was the place to post them along with other public notices. There is some question whether Luther actually did post the Theses on the door. Somewhat surprisingly Luther himself never mentioned that he did so and he wasn't one to not mention things he did that he thought important. He was a great talker but not once in his Table Talk is it mentioned. I think then that it is probable that Luther did post the Theses but that the posting was more a matter of course and not all that important in itself, in spite of the significance it has gained in retrospect in the Protestant imagination. 
But far more important to Luther than where he posted his Theses was what he did that day in sending them along with a letter to Albrecht of Mainz. It was this more than anything else that sparked the flame that became the Reformation fire. Luther was unaware that both Albrecht and the Pope were deeply implicated in the indulgences scandal and they wouldn't have welcomed his interference. Albrecht sent Luther's theses to the local theological faculty in Mainz and to the Pope in Rome. Before long both condemned what they read and Luther's quarrel with the church began in earnest. Luther never formally got his disputation but did get people talking. Almost immediately they were printed and distributed all over Germany and very soon Luther became a household name not only throughout Germany but across Europe. In the succeeding months Luther began to understand that what was at stake was far more than the abuse of indulgences.  As he deepened his understanding of the Bible and its message of salvation by grace alone he came to see that the problem was with the church itself. In the years to come his evangelical theology and programme for reformation was forged in the crucible of debate in public disputations and in print with the prospect of martyrdom as always a possibility. After the 31st of October 1517 nothing for Luther or the western Church or indeed the world was the same again. The western church divided as parts of Europe became Protestant, unleashing spiritual, political, social and cultural consequences that no one, least of all Luther himself, could have foreseen. Today we continue to live with those consequences.
But what about the 95 Theses themselves? As a long series of terse propositions for an academic debate they don't exactly get the heart beating faster. There are a few good turns of phrase but most of the theses are about arcane aspects of the doctrine and practice of indulgences. And to Protestants the Theses seem very, well, un-Protestant. As a still loyal son of the church Luther affirmed his belief in the Pope, penance, and indulgences and he has nothing to say about justification by faith or other distinctive doctrines of Protestantism. We need to remember that Luther's theology is very much still taking shape, although it will quickly become identifiably Protestant in the next few years. 
 The Theses begin with an Exordium or short preface in which Luther introduces himself. Theses 1 to 4 outline the underlying assumptions of the debate Luther wants to have. Thesis 5 states Luther's Primary Thesis about indulgences. This is followed theses 6 to 80 by the  Confirmation in which Luther seeks to confirm the primary thesis: theses 6 to 20 clarifying the primary thesis; theses 21 to 40 rejecting the false claims of the indulgence preachers; theses 41 to 55 highlighting the tension between preaching indulgences and encouraging Christians to do good works; theses 56 to 68 affirming that the treasure of the church is the gospel; theses 69 to 80 outlining how the church should respond. Theses 81 to 91 is the Confutation, a rhetorical  device in such academic disputations in which the disputant raises objections to his primary thesis. Finally in theses 92-95 there is the Peroration with which flourish Luther rests his case.

To be continued, Ken will develop his "new" 9.5 theses for today.

Categories: Friends

Happy New year and some highlights of 2016s blogging

Sat, 31/12/2016 - 18:24

Happy New Year to everyone who reads my blog!

I greatly appreciate your taking an interest. If you want to follow me on Twitter where I tweet interesting articles from other people you can do that here

Here are some stats for 2016

Number of blogs viewed in aggregate -  around 28,000

About 75% combined of those readers came from the UK and USA

Then by far next Italy - which had a huge increase in 2016. Forza Italia!

After that Russia, then another gap to France, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Malaysia and Australia

Most popular blogs of 2016 in order

1. On Archbishop of Canterbury and evengelism

2. On Brexit (obviously had a huge impact - not!)

3. Personal reflections on Psalm 145

4. Review of TV programme on Christian faith in UK

5. On Trump

6. Personal memories of my childhood - arguing

7. Review of a book on the future of the church

8. Personal memories of my childhood - down and outs

9. Personal reflections on being ill

10. More childhood memories - open air preaching

These are the best books i read and reviewed in 2016:-

'East West Street' by Philippe sands: a moving personal history of two Jewish thinkers in WW2

'The Penultimate Curiosity" by Roger Wagner and Andrew Briggs: Faith and science

The top three Guest Blogs were as follows;

1. My aunts memories of my father and her WW2 experiences

2. Joseph Pettitt assumes the mantle of John Bunyan

3. Chris Hackman tells another amusing tale - about submarines

an especial thanks to everyone who wrote Guest blogs, i welcome more and indeed feedback in general, you can email me with ideas or comment on, or lave them on the relevant post

Happy New Year!


Categories: Friends