Book Review of Frontline Evangelism

I wonder if “not shockingly radical or painfully trendy” will end up in my Church Times obituary; possibly alongside “he did a good wedding”

Amazon Link

frontline evangelism

Book Review Creative Ideas

Stories to trust

Richard Lamey reads suggested plans for youth-group sessions

Creative Ideas for Frontline Evangelism with Young People by Simon Rundell
Canterbury Press £19.99 (includes CD-ROM) (978-1-84825-276-9)
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT263 )

SIMON RUNDELL is a parish priest in Plymouth who states (on his wonderfully titled website “parishLife: Me liturgy, you drains”) that his likes include mission, youth work, and espresso coffee, and his dislikes include prejudice and the Anglican Covenant.

His latest book on exploring faith with young people draws together most of his confessed passions, and is practical and worth while. It is made up of 30 fully planned youth-group sessions.

It would be a good resource for those who plan their youth programme many months ahead, and also for those who need to pick up a resource on their way to leading an accessible and yet challenging session for their youth group. It has the most detailed explanation imaginable of how to blow the yolk out of an egg before you paint it. It also has the great virtue of doing simple things really well, and of making the reader think that he or she could do this, while also setting the bar on vision and preparation very high.

The most impressive thing of all is Rundell’s confidence in the treasures found in the Bible. In his Introduction, he writes: “the stories of Christ and the early Church are so alive, so captivating and dynamic that they cannot fail to engage new audiences, hungry for timeless stories and the eternal truths that God reveals through them.”

Rundell argues very strongly, and very convincingly, that secondary-school children have the great advantage of coming to the stories of the Good Samaritan or Jonah or Doubting Thomas without preconceptions, which makes them particularly open to good storytelling, and then to reflecting on the responses that the story evokes from them.

The sessions start with an introduction of the theme, followed by a modern retelling of a Bible story, and then a practical exploration of the theme raised by the story – for example, a craft activity, an act of penitence, a drama, or some baking. Each one ends with a closing thought that drives home the point of the story.

Rundell is not shockingly radical or painfully trendy. His great strengths are his calm confidence in the stories that we have inherited, stories that speak afresh to each generation, and bring people face to face with the living God; and his ability to do simple things extremely well. It is a book to read, use, and be inspired by.

The Revd Richard Lamey is Rector of St Paul’s, Wokingham, with St Nicholas’s, Embrook, and Woosehill Community Church, Berkshire.

I’m glad they used that one – very positive. This was the other one they had on file. I know this because Emma spotted it.

frontline book review

On the Mystery of the Cross

As we come to contemplate the Mystery of the Cross, it may be tempting to simplify this mystery and boil its complex, multiple layers of significance and meaning into a single, plain, black-and-white understanding of atonement. Yet, the God who is so complex and mysterious and beyond our simple comprehension simply does not work like that. In one way, the Cross does mean one simple thing: that Christ died for our sins – something that Scripture holds clear and that we can all agree on. How is another matter.

One way of looking at it which is widely believed by some as the only way of considering the Cross is the concept of Penal Substitution (don’t snigger at the back) – the idea that God is angered by our sins, so angered at our so many sins that the only way it could be sorted (or atoned) would be by Christ, God’s only son taking on for us (ie substituting for us) the punishment that we should receive (that’s the penal bit), and that the key act of salvation was therefore Christ’s death on the Cross.

There are a number of lines of Scripture which suggest this:

  • Isaiah 53:6 – “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
  • Isaiah 53:12 – “yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
  • Romans 3:25 – “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:21 – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
  • Galatians 3:13 – “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”
  • Hebrews 10:1-4 – “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

However, this can be seen as a selective collection of passing comments related to a number of different contexts, which do not build into a coherent doctrine. Our understanding of what Christ actually did for us on the Cross is much more complex than a simple commercial transaction.

The Church of England’s Doctrine Commission published The Mystery of Salvation in 1995. It restates the view of the 1938 Commission that “the notion of propitiation as the placating by man of an angry God is definitely unchristian” (p. 213). It also observes that “the traditional vocabulary of atonement with its central themes of law, wrath, guilt, punishment and acquittal, leave many Christians cold and signally fail to move many people, young and old, who wish to take steps towards faith. These images do not correspond to the spiritual search of many people today and therefore hamper the Church’s mission.” Instead, it recommends that the Cross should be presented “as revealing the heart of a fellow-suffering God” (p. 113).

Steve Chalke, a high-profile Baptist minister has described the idea of penal substitution as  “cosmic child abuse”, for which he has received much criticism from those who use penal substitution as a test of biblical orthodoxy. However, St Paul used a number of different metaphors to describe the meaning of the cross, and clearly continued to develop his theology as he continued to be led by the Holy Spirit. We forget at our peril that Scripture was (and continues to be) a work in progress.

Fr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, broadcast a Lent Talk a few years ago:

“What sort of God was this, getting so angry with the world and the people he created, and then, to calm himself down, demanding the blood of his own Son? And anyway, why should God forgive us through punishing somebody else? It was worse than illogical, it was insane. It made God sound like a psychopath. If any human being behaved like this we’d say they were a monster.

It just doesn’t make sense to talk about a nice Jesus down here, placating the wrath of a nasty, angry Father God in heaven. Christians believe Jesus is God incarnate. As he said, ‘Whoever sees me has seen the Father’. Jesus is what God is: he is the one who shows us God’s nature. And the most basic truth about God’s nature is that He is Love, not wrath and punishment.

Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love showed a God who didn’t need placating. As she was “drenched in the love of God”, she realised that the wrath of God is no more than a human projection, and that for God to be God, he can’t be less merciful and loving than the best of human beings. As Julian wrote,

“wrath and friendship are two contraries… For I saw that there is no manner of wrath in God, neither for short time nor for long;-for in sooth, if God be wroth for an instant, we should never have life nor place nor being.”

The cross, then, is not about Jesus reconciling an angry God to us; it’s almost the opposite. It’s about a totally loving God, incarnate in Christ, reconciling us to him. On the cross Jesus dies for our sins; the price of our sin is paid; but it is not paid to God but by God. As St Paul says, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Because he is Love, God does what Love does: He unites himself with the beloved. He enters his own creation and goes to the bottom line for us. Not sending a substitute to vent his punishment on, but going himself to the bitter end, sharing in the worst of suffering and grief that life can throw at us, and finally sharing our death, so that he can bring us through death to life in him.”

We can be so fixated on our picture of the punishing God of power we imagine up in heaven, we can’t grasp he’s really down here, bleeding and dying at our side.

The most powerful illustration of this comes not from a Christian writer but a Jew, Elie Wiesel, the holocaust survivor and Nobel prize winner, who described his experience of Auschwitz in a famous book called Night. In the face of so much horror and evil many lost their faith; yet for a few it became, paradoxically, a new realisation of God’s closeness to them. In one harrowing passage Wiesel tells how a young boy was punished by the guards for stealing food. He was hanged on piano wire, while all the other prisoners were forced to watch:

“For more than half an hour the boy stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony before our eyes. We were all forced to pass in front of him, but not allowed to look down or avert our eyes, on pain of being hanged ourselves. When I passed in front of him, the child’s tongue was still red, his eyes not yet glazed. Behind me a man muttered, ‘Where is your God now’? And I heard a voice within me answer him, ‘Where is he? Here He is. He is hanging here on this gallows’.”

This above all is the meaning of the Cross: that God is one with us in our sufferings, and not just 2000 years ago but through all time. The Cross should not therefore be seen as punishment, but as a victory, a coming together of God and humankind, an act of God’s love and not his punishment of a scapegoat. It is an overcoming of death: the resurrection is therefore much, much more important than the cross.

On the cross God absorbs into himself our falleness and its consequences and offers us a new relationship. God shows he knows what it’s like to be the loser; God hurts and weeps and bleeds and dies. It’s a mystery we can hardly glimpse, let alone grasp; and if there is an answer to the problem of suffering, perhaps it’s one for the heart, not the reason. Because the answer God’s given is simply himself; to show that, so far from inflicting suffering as a punishment, he bears our griefs and shares our sorrow. From Good Friday on, God is no longer “God up there”, inscrutably allotting rewards and retributions. On the Cross, even more than in the crib, he is Immanuel, God down here, God with us.”

 

“Please de-baptise me”

“Please de-baptize me,” she said.
The priest’s face crumpled.
“My parents tell me you did it,” she said.
“But I was not consulted. So
Now, undo it.”
The priest’s eyes asked why.
“If it were just about belonging to
This religion and being forgiven,
Then I would stay. If it were just
About believing
This list of doctrines and upholding
This list of rituals,
I’d be OK. But
Your sermon Sunday made
It clear it’s
About more. More
Than I bargained for. So, please,
De-baptize me.”
The priest looked down, said
Nothing. She continued:
“You said baptism sends
Me into the
World to
Love enemies. I don’t. Nor
Do I plan to. You said it means
Being willing to stand
Against the flow. I like the flow.
You described it like rethinking
Everything, like joining a
Movement. But
I’m not rethinking or moving anywhere.
So un-baptize me. Please.”
The priest began to weep. Soon
Great sobs rose from his deepest heart.
He took off his glasses, blew his nose, took
Three tissues to dry his eyes.
“These are tears of joy,” he said.
“I think you
Are the first person who ever
Truly listened or understood.”
“So,” she said,
“Will you? Please?”

Brian McLaren

“The six most important decisions you will ever make, for yourself or on behalf of a little one” I tell them. I mean it. The baptism of my own son was my conversion. “Blimey, I believe this” I thought, and you can’t just ignore that revelation. Now look, see how much of a sense of humour He has…

Remember Me

To the living, I am gone.
To the sorrowful, I will never return.
To the angry, I was cheated.
But to the happy, I am at peace.
And to the faithful, I have never left.
I cannot speak, but I can listen.
I cannot be seen, but I can be heard.
So as you stand upon the shore,
gazing at the beautiful sea, remember me.

As you look in awe at a mighty forest
and in its grand majesty, remember me.
Remember me in your hearts,
in your thoughts, and the memories of the
times we loved, the times we cried,
the battle we fought and the times we laughed.
For if you always think of me,
I will never have gone.

Anon.

Maximilian Kolbe

Maximilian Kolbe’s martyrdom is the least important thing about him. We are none of us likely to find ourselves in a position to emulate his sacrifice, and speculation as to the heroic way in which we would have behaved in his place is a pernicious waste of time. What is important is that he acted the way he did because of who he was – or, rather, because of who he had become.

It is because of who he had become that we revere him as a saint: he would have been a saint (though perhaps not canonized) even if he had not been martyred. And that process of becoming is something we can all emulate. We can all become people for whom doing the right thing is obvious, natural, and easy. It requires no heroism, no special gifts: just perseverance, and prayer.

From the Universalis commentary.

Amen and Amen.

Legillium Mass Book – the toolkit you will need to say the Mass (beautifully)

Front PageIt’s good to know that you have everything you need – or might possibly need – to hand.

Based on the book that was on the legillium in my title parish (Holy Spirit, Southsea), this is key texts for the Mass: a rock for every low mass and a godsend when visiting unfamiliar places. If I have this in my bag, then I know I can get through it. I have added to it over the years, borrowing a good introduction to confession, absorbing an offertory prayer, ensuring that I have the MU prayer at the back for those times when you need it and so it represents an ongoing toolkit for my ministry and a swiss-army knife for the everyday offering of the sacrifice.

So why don’t I let you have a copy?

You can download it (from Dropbox) from hereThis is the original, in Microsoft Publisher format in A5. I also have a version for use on my Tablet in Microsoft Word format which is available from here. The latter is pretty unformatted because it’s easy to scroll down in that way, whereas the Publisher version is designed to be printed out and folded into  (fold on the right-hand-side) one of those A5 document books.

Of course, it is highly idiosyncratic, but it works for me and my particular spirituality. The point of sharing of course is that you will be able to use it as a basis for your own toolkit. So, by all means use this as a start and make it your own: take out and add as you need. After all, unless you are in the Diocese of Exeter, you’ll need to change the names of the Bishops and the patron saints that your Churches are dedicated to…

So if (like some) you resent the amount of Roman material in it, and refuse to pray for the Bishop of Rome, the Ecumenical Patriarch and the leaders of the reformed churches, then replace them. If you really want to use Prayer H  – although I have no idea why you might want to :-) – then put it in. I won’t judge you.

Adopt. Adapt & Improve.

If, as a part of using this you would like to offer a prayer for me and our ministry here in NE Plymouth, then we would be most appreciative: call it prayerware if you like!

I’m always willing to be sent additional bits, so let me know if you find something you think I should have in my book as well as yours. May it help you to celebrate the Mass to his honour and glory beautifully.

Baptism

Many clergy will at sometime have experienced a… challenging baptism.

Reflecting on that has led me to add the following line to my webpage on baptism:

However, if you aren’t sure about being able to make these promises, if you simply don’t believe in all this, if you are just having “the baby done” for the sake of a nice party and some lovely photographs, then I’m afraid baptism isn’t for you. We don’t routinely offer the Thanksgiving for the Birth of a Child unless your child was (for example) baptised in an emergency when they were born, as this is the chance to thank God for that already baptised child; but we don’t offer it as “baptism-lite”: these promises are serious.

It’s a shame that a few experiences from the past have to make this worth saying, but many will understand why…