Month: April 2013

A beautiful monologue about what ‘Christianity feels like from the inside’: Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic

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A humanist friend bought this book for me, which was a kind thing of him to do, as it’s blessed me. I haven’t read much in the field, but it’s the finest apology for Christianity I’ve encountered.

There are so few contemporary Christian writers whose prose is beautiful, but this book is beautiful in places, and full of the kind of insight into human experience one hopes to find in the best literary fiction, and rarely encounters in Christian nonfiction.

All this said, I’m hard pressed to sum up Spufford’s argument. It’s less an argument than a beautiful monologue about what ‘Christianity feels like from the inside’ – about how, apparently, it makes emotional sense.

Spufford states early on that he is a fairly orthodox Christian, but he writes as someone who carries little theological baggage, and perhaps that’s why he’s refreshing. He describes his inner life and how it resonates with his faith. He actually manages to cover all the key areas of the faith in this account, from his limited but important experience of God, to the message of Jesus and the significance of church.

It’s not a book which will sit easily with evangelicals; he likes to use f-word, and he claims that hell is not something many Christians believe in. For me, I’m so glad to find this  account of a fragile but very real faith that takes seriously the prospect of being wrong, the spectre of atheism and the reality that we often hear nothing back when we pray, and spins from these threads a compelling account of ‘why, despite everything’ Christianity might still be true.

Why don’t (Tanzanian) men go to church?

I wrote on the ‘feminisation’ of the church earlier, and why I disagree so strongly with such an analysis. Over on “Meet Jesus at Uni” blog, Tamie has a superb contribution to this debate, writing about Tanzania and how, despite their touchy-feely male culture, men STILL don’t go to church.

Meet Jesus at uni

The contention of the ‘Why men hate going to church’ movement is that church has become feminised. From David Murrow’s website:

With the dawning of the industrial revolution, large numbers of men sought work in mines, mills and factories, far from home and familiar parish. Women stayed behind, and began remaking the church in their image. The Victorian era saw the rise of church nurseries, Sunday schools, lay choirs, quilting circles, ladies’ teas, soup kitchens, girls’ societies, potluck dinners, etc.

Modern day church activities are ‘an emotional hothouse’ and focus on being ‘verbal, studious or sensitive’, none of which are ‘natural for men‘.  You’d hardly call this science – even social science is a stretch – but much of it seems to resonate with men and so Murrow gives some suggestions for manly church. Laying on hands during prayer is a no-go: men need their space. And…

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Promises

A question from my devotions this morning I find hard to answer: ‘What are the promises God has offered to me?’

I can start by ruling out the obvious – God has not promised success or even happiness. God has not promised a long life, although I wish God had so I can have some certainty about how long I’m here for. God has not even promised to stop the pain when it comes; Jesus seemed to promise quite the opposite.

God has promised to set the world right. God has promised that Christ will return and God’s kingdom will come in all its fullness. God has promised the Holy Spirit to take us through to that day – but my experience is that we can’t always sense the Holy Spirit.

I went to a charismatic church for several years, and they talked a lot about God’s promises there; I always found that hard. I was never clear what the promises were. What did they mean? I know they meant more (or less) than I do. But maybe, when pushed on this, I’ll refocus on those promises I can affirm.

Daily devotions – some resources

The daily ‘quiet time’ (I don’t like the phrase; I’m not sure why – something from childhood) is the centrepiece of evangelical spirituality, and surely a source of much guilt. It’s hard to do. The Bible is hard to read afresh; prayers sometimes fall so flat.

I’ve been glad in recent times to find a few things which have worked for me.

1. Take Our Moments and Our Days is an Anabaptist prayer book. It’s designed for use in corporate worship, but is of value to the individual to read to themselves. It’s a wonderful combination of liturgy and Anabaptist themes. Each liturgy has a call to praise, a call to discipleship, and a call to intercession. I don’t have a Kindle, but bought the Kindle edition and read it on the Kindle for PC program. Sometimes it feels too much to try to do in a morning devotion, but I have been blessed by it.

2. Thank you, Methodist Church in Britain, for ‘A Word in Time Bible Study‘ online resource. Each day brings a good portion of scripture to read, with commentary and some questions to ponder. (You can even answer the questions in the comments section, but that doesn’t often happen.) There is also a daily prayer on the site, which for me is a good prompt to prayer. (I wish there was a stronger Methodist presence in Australia. We would be the richer for a good dose of Wesleyanism; I’m not convinced the influence comes through the Uniting Church. It would make for a stronger advocacy of a more Arminian approach to theology, for one thing.)

3. I’ve just discovered the Ancient-Future Bible Study Series, which has actually been around a couple of years. It takes its name from the late Robert Webber’s ‘ancient-future’ approach to Christianity, drawing on the wisdom of the early church – in this case, a lectio-divina approach to reading the Bible. I’m only two chapters into the book on Abraham, but so far I have found it very spiritually enriching. It’s built on some well-handled commentary; I’m glad it combines a contextual reading of the Bible with a spiritual one. It is available as an ebook, but I wouldn’t recommend that, as writing down answers in the space under each question is surely central.