Wednesday, January 28, 2009

now we are eight

With our move into a global mission role with Langham Partnership International (LPI), I have been busy writing our first letter and trying to track down the friends we have gathered over the years.
[There may well be regular readers of this blog who would like to receive our letter ... if so, drop me an email at and I will add you to the list.]

But with the writing of this first letter - and the inclusion of some family news - I am conscious that we are a family of eight. We welcome Timothy Hart into our family as he and our daughter, Alyssa, prepare to be married later this year. They became engaged in September and then four days later he was off to Liberia, not returning until July. We are very proud of him! We've been drip-fed photos - none better than these two:

The first showing the joy of being with the children. The second showing the sadness of being in a troubled country wrecked by war.

You can read more and see more photos from Timothy on his blog:

nice chatting


Monday, January 26, 2009


I love basketball. It is the sport I played the most as a kid. I enjoy following the NBA on the internet - probably making up for the fact that Michael Jordan was drafted by the Chicago Bulls two months after I left Chicago!

With people who do not know the game well, the assumption which rules is that you have to be tall to play basketball. With people who do know the game well, the assumption which rules is that having your shot blocked, or rejected, is the most embarassing thing that can happen to you (and probably why it is the #1 goal when this ol' fella plays basketball with his sons now!).

Well ... take a look at this clip which my son Martin showed me. How did I miss this when it happened? The shortest player in the NBA - Nate Robinson at 5' 6" - blocks the shot of the tallest player in the NBA - Yao Ming at 7' 5". It has to be the most remarkable thing I have ever seen on a basketball court.

nice chatting


Friday, January 23, 2009

subverting global myths

Psalm 120:1 following Psalm 119 (and its 176 verses) is like a tiny fern sitting next to a giant kauri (tree). And the stark contrast doesn't stop with size. All but two verses (I think I am right on that one - my grandma used to tell me it was every verse, but she was wrong) in Psalm 119 delight in specific mention of the word of God. It is a celebration of the word-aligned life. Shift to Psalm 120 and immediately the world-aligned life greets us. "Save me, O Lord, from lying lips and deceitful tongues." From word to world; from truth to deception; from delight to drowning.

These 119:120 contrasts came to mind as I waded through Vinoth Ramachandra's Subverting Global Myths (IVP, 2008)

He makes a case for the weapon of mass deception being more dangerous than any weapon of mass destruction in today's world. He explores "six areas of contemporary global discourse" (14) which generate myths that deceive and hold sway: terrorism, religious violence, human rights, multiculturalism, science, and postcolonialism.

One of the arts to living in a globalised world is to learn to see how others see us - and listen to them. Christianity has such an advantage because it has made its home in so many cultures. There are many people to whom we can listen. On matters of culture and theology and ethics, Ramachandra is certainly one of them. Actually Sri Lanka has given us two because on matters of spirituality and leadership and exegesis Ajith Fernando is another one to be prized. A lot of blindspots can be exposed by reading what these two men write. Afterall "we need the whole human family to unmask our cultural idols, to free us from our cultural addictions, and to draw us out of our narrow obsessions." (145)

Ramachandra has been represented as being a bit anti-Western. While this book will fuel that sentiment I think it unfair. What he is doing is making a case for a distinctive Christian mind in the very areas where it is easy for the minds of Christians to be swayed by the rhetoric and the deception in which we drown. The reality is that sometimes the Christian mind can be anti-Western! He offers the book as "an invitation to journey with the author in heretical subversion of the present reality in order to make way for another." (16) And as Stanley Hauerwas proclaims across the cover, "I have read few books from which I have learned more."

Hauerwas is right. The book needs to be read. I'd like to think that Barack Obama could take the time to read it - and you too for that matter.

Essentially the book is about truth-seeking and truth-telling in troubling and troubled areas of global life. But "lifting my body from my couch in front of the TV to start exploring the evidence ... is too discomfiting and intellectually demanding." (88) While I am not the sharpest tack in the box and I did find some parts difficult to follow, this was compensated by some purple patches for which my surrounding world had to stop and listen as I read portions aloud: "Needed: Humility and Courageous Imagination (50-56)" in the discussion on terrorism OR "Toward an Alternative Story" (99-105) in the discussion on human rights OR "A Defense of a Multicultural Society" (143-147) in the discussion on multiculturalism OR "Some Theological Reflections" (245-261) in the discussion on postcolonialism.

This post is getting long. You can quit now if you like! However I want to include some one-liners because I do not want to lose them and Ramachandra is one of those quotable people! Here goes...

Twenty-five one-liners that jolted me:
"What frightens a people serves as a reliable guide to their idolatries." (12)

"A people convinced of their own innocence cannot make peace." (50)

"History gives countless examples of yesterday's terrorists turning into today's statesmen." (51)

"For the vast majority of people on the planet life has hardly changed since 9/11." (51)

"Military spending globally is about fifteen times the amount spent on international aid." (53)

"Suffering, conflict and violence form the usual contexts in which the covenant people of God are called to witness to the power of redemptive love." (55)

"The opposite of secular is not spiritual or the sacred, but the eternal." (63)

"(it seems that) some lives are worth more than others." (81)

"The inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism leads to idolatry." (82)

"We cannot put our faith in parentheses in order to connect with another's faith." (87, quoting Anthony O'Mahony)

"The closer we get to God, the more human we become, not less." (103)

"Europe is about slavery, fascism, colonialism and genocide as much as about Chartes Cathedral, Dante, Shakespeare, the Magna Carta and democracy." (136)

We need to learn "to live with the otherness of others ... (and not just reduce them) to exotic commodities for tourist consumption." (148)

"Legal citizenship is about status and rights, but belonging is about being accepted and feeling welcome." (149)

"Intellectuals are especially prone to self-deception." (154)

"While for a rich person from a rich country borders are a mere formality, for a poor person from a poor country, the border is an obstacle to be confronted." (158)

"Those who enter the market with least are likely to leave it with least." (164)

"(Darwinian science) is too undersized to function as as a worldview that accounts fully for why we are purpose-driven, meaning-seeking and truth-oreinted beings." (186, quoting John Haught)

"The university is a place of tribal warfare, and every academic tribe feels that the only way it can gain social recognition is by exalting itself over others." (188)

"Technology has made evil anonymous." (193, quoting Freeman Dyson)

"The combination of profound creativity with moral naivete, intellectual passion with personal and national ambition, has made science an instrument of great violence today ... it is less and less a quest for understanding, a humble delight for in truth. It is tied to military power and huge commercial interests." (193)

"This is what love entails - the capacity to be hurt by the other and to transform that hurt into creative action." (212)

"The origins of change in world history have always been multicentred. World history thus needs to be decentralized." (224)

"Why are North American or British or German theologies never named as such, but Indian or Latin American or African theologies are?" (258)

"The insularity of most Western theological institutions is astonishing." (258)

nice chatting ... and remember to pray

"Show us, good Lord, the peace we should seek, the peace we must give, the peace we can keep, the peace we must forgo, and the peace you have given in Jesus our Lord." (quoted on p56)


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

inauguration day

It was great to have Barby and all my kids up early watching the Obama inauguration with me. A moment for history. As usual I thought Obama's speech was brilliant - both in its content and its tone. I am so enjoying hearing and watching the spoken word inspire people in an era where there has been a 'humiliation of the word' (J Ellul). And these are just the words of Obama, not even the words of God!

I also thought Rick Warren was not quite at his best and misfired badly by quoting a verse that mentioned "Israel". It seemed so unwise at this moment in history. And he was eclipsed a bit by a special - and unexpected - thrill with the closing prayer by Rev Joseph Lowery. If you didn't get to hear it, I've linked it below:

nice chatting


Thursday, January 15, 2009

the lost history of christianity

Over the past few years I'd have to rate The Next Christendom (Philip Jenkins) as the book which has had the biggest impact on me. So when I saw The Lost History of Christianity (HarperCollins, 2008), it was ordered immediately and then read immediately. I have so many other things I am meant to be doing but I just had to get this post written!

In this book Jenkins makes a case for a forgotten (maybe even ignored) world. There is this popular misconception that the church became European a millenium earlier than it actually did. The centre of gravity only moved to Europe around 1500AD, not 500AD. And during those 1000 years it was thriving in parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East - only moving to Europe by default when the church in these other regions was "destroyed so comprehensively that its memory is forgotten by all except academic specialists." (22) Jenkins writes to open up the work of the 'academic specialist' to a wider readership.

1. Some stray sentences from the book

"As late as the 11th century, Asia was still home to at least a third of the world's Christians, and perhaps a tenth of all Christians still lived in Africa - a figure that the continent would not reach again until the 1960s." (4)

"In terms of the number and splendour of its churches and monasteries, its vast scholarship and dazzling spirituality, Iraq was through the Middle Ages at least as much a cultural and spiritual heartland of Christianity as was France or Germany, or indeed Ireland." (6)

"The Christian impact on Islam was profound ... the severe self-denial of Ramadan was originally based on the Eastern practice of Lent." (37)

"For several centuries, Merv was one of the world's greatest Christian centers." (45 - located in southern Turkmenistan)

"Syria has a strong claim to be the source of Christian music." (48)

"Mosul - in Iraq - boasts the tombs of three biblical prophets: Obadiah, Nahum, and Jonah." (84)

"During the thirteenth century, the Muslim states suddenly found themselves under attack from a lethal enemy whose activities made the Western Crusades look like fleabites. The Mongol assault ... posed what was unquestionably the greatest threat ever to the existence of Islam." (120-121)

"Where the African church failed was in not carrying Christianity beyond the Romanized inhabitants of the cities ... and not sinking roots into the world of the native peoples." (229, unlike the Coptic church in Egypt)

"Persecuted churches could endure for centuries above the 2000 foot contour, but succumbed nearer to sea level." (248)

"The Christian faith has established itself in China on at least four occasions and the first three missions ended in ruin." (255)

"While the 1915-1925 period in the Middle East marked the extinction or ruin of ancient Christian communities, this was exactly the era in which the religion began its epochal growth in black Africa, arguably the most important event in Christian history since the Reformation." (261)

2. Some stray implications on my mind

If I was just starting a career in theological education (rather than finishing one) I'd be pressing for a revolution in the way Church History is taught. The story of what happens "beyond the old Roman borders" (46) needs to attract far more attention. Just because the book of Acts tends to move West (although the gospel reached Ethiopia before it reached Rome!) doesn't mean that there was no movement South and East. There was! The Dark Ages were not the Dark Ages everywhere. As John Stott is known to say 'every Christian needs to be a committed internationalist'. Well, let's start with the way we teach Church History.

Excavating this lost millenium makes what is happening around the world at the start of this third millenium just so exciting. "Far from being a daring innovation, the globalised character of modern Christianity is better seen as a resumption of an ancient reality." (40) The growth of the church in Asia and Africa and the Middle East takes on a whole new appearance for me after reading this book. So, let's see Jenkins' books as required reading in both history and mission courses.

Inter-faith relationships need to be reconsidered, particularly where Islam is involved. For centuries Christianity and Islam coexisted pretty well. Maybe it is still possible. This needs to be explored. But lets not be seduced by the stuff my kids bring back from school and university where there is this serious miscalculation which always pits Muslim tolerance against Christian bigotry in a manner that "beggars belief." (99) The Crusades are not the only event which occurred in the relationship. "The deeply rooted Christianity of Africa and Asia did not simply fade away through lack of zeal or theological confusion: it was crushed in a welter of warfare and persecution." (100)

I still find one of the enduring attractions of Christianity is its shifting geographical centres of gravity, its committment to indigenous languages and peoples and it being a religion where "many mainstreams once flowed." (27) It is that incarnational principle lived again and again down the centuries and across the time zones. It started with Jesus and it kept happening. There is no other faith like it. It is one of the central reasons why I am a Christian. "How deep a church planted its roots in a particular community and how far the religion became part of the air that ordinary people breathed" (35) impacted whether it died or survived - with North Africa and Egypt being the stories of contrast here.

For the record, the other books of Philip Jenkins which I have are:

The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (Oxford University Press, 2006)

God's Continent: Christianity, Islam and Europes Religious Crisis (Oxford University Press, 2007)

The Next Christendom: Revised and Updated(Oxford University Press, 2007)

nice chatting


Friday, January 02, 2009


A new year offers the opportunity for a new look.

The rather lame 'nice chatting' was only ever meant to be a transitional name for my blog while I thought of something that captured the essence of why I am blogging. That name lasted three years - UGH!

While it is a technical term that I learned when I studied Greek and Hebrew, 'exegesis' is a word that sums up what this blog is about. The idea is one of unpacking - taking what is tightly packed and densely complicated and opening it up and laying it out so that people can see and understand more clearly.

And while it is most often used for tasks associated with the Bible - like interpreting and preaching - 'exegesis' is a word I have loved to use more widely. This has been the great love of my working life for two decades now. Our culture needs exegeting. People need exegeting. I need exegeting. On and on it goes... It is as these things become unpacked that the potential for re-packing becomes possible.

So I have settled for exegesis: the art of unpacking because this is something which animates me. I like to see this blog as a service, as a resource that can help readers live a little more faithfully within word & world.

My thanks to my lovely daughter Alyssa for designing the new header for my blog!

nice chatting


Thursday, January 01, 2009

seasonal spirituality

You gotta love the seasons of the year and the way God remains active in each one of them. The way he works in his creation is so like the way he works in his new creation.