Friday, 25 January 2008


A few weeks ago, my brother sent me this article about Facebook (he is extremely anti-Facebook himself):

Now I have many problems with this article, which I'm not going to go into here. For the most part I think the writer's own extremely subjective, perhaps Marxist worldview has got in the way of objective reasoning, not to mention he completely discounts human autonomy and our ability to think and make choices for ourselves. But now is not the time. Paul has blogged about some problems with it and there is some more discussion on the Guardian here.

Despite my criticisms of the article, though, I have to admit that today Facebook has deemed itself guilty of some of the author's accusations. Each day on Facebook there is a new 'gift' you can give to one of your friends. When you first join FB, you get one gift you can give for free, and thereafter they cost $1 each, some or all of which goes to charity. They come up with all sorts of bizarre pixellated presents, such as Santa outfits, piles of turtles and cakes.

Today's gift is a 'Fat Tax Return'. This would be suspicious enough given the leanings of FB's board, but what is more, you don't have to pay for it today: it is FREE!

You may be shocked; you may be scandalised. I think it's quite amusing as it is so blatant. But then again, it's no surprise that the world's most powerful people like money is it? and I don't think it should be any reason to stop using Facebook, when the rest of our lives are run by corporations like Microsoft. Okay,I don't agree with the neo-liberal politics behind it, but that doesn't mean that because I've seen that Fat Tax Return on Facebook I'm going to rush down the street and pick up a copy of Hayek. And neither should you...

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

The light of dawn

Search the Scriptures has now moved onto Proverbs, and this verse stood out at me a few days ago more than it ever has before:

Proverbs 4:18 - 'But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.'

Now I got to thinking about this and came up with all sorts of different ways of looking at it, some of which are more helpful than others. But the one thing that really struck me, and encouraged me, was the absoluteness of this statement. It shines brighter and brighter until full day... this is a fact. The light will not flicker one day as life goes through ups and downs. It will not be extinguished by the hard times. No, if we are walking in God's ways then we are walking nearer and nearer every day towards his glory and being made like him. How encouraging! So next time you have a bad day just remember that even that day has been one more step towards 'full day'.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Handel's Messiah

I went to see/hear this for the first time this week. It was amazing to hear the story of Christ from the Old Testament through to Revelation - great theology, and to hear it sung just made me want to be standing there in front of the heavenly host when we all sing it so much louder with perfect voices! Anyway, I've been reliving some of my favourite bits via YouTube and thought I'd share it with you.

For Unto Us A Child Is Born

The Hallelujah Chorus

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Galatians 2:20

Onward bound with STS and we're off to Galatians now. Chapter 2 today, and one verse whacked me round the head and the heart (in a good way):

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Wow! How does Paul manage to pack SO much into so few words? In the context - the upholding of Gospel truth over the issue of circumcision and whether Gentiles should follow the law - it is extremely powerful.

If you are a Christian, this verse IS true in your life. (I was going to say 'is true for you', but that smacked too much of postmodernist overtones, albeit unintentionally.) It is not any more true if you have a better "spiritual" week than last week. It is not any more true if you do your quiet time every day and don't miss any. It is not any more true if you actually want to go to the mid-week meeting instead of dragging your feet to it. It is not any more true if you take 100 opportunities to share the Gospel instead of avoiding them.

We were crucified with Christ. Christ lives in us. These statements are true, all day, every day, forever.

A friend once said something extremely helpful to me. It was a while ago but I will paraphrase:

"Ask yourself 'What does God think of me today?' Most people start compiling lists of their day. Well, I did my quiet time, but I rushed the prayer... and I got annoyed with someone at work, and yelled at the kids... The real answer is, God looks at you and sees Christ, his righteousness and his glory."

We are clothed with Christ's righteousness. That's not the kind of garment you can take on and off. It's here to stay. So next time you beat yourself up because you think God's opinion of you has gone down this week, remember Galatians 2:20. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives me. Christ loved me and gave himself for me.

NB: I am not advocating not bothering with becoming more sanctified. On the contrary, the fact that we know our salvation is safe, won through Christ and Christ alone, should motivate us on to holiness even more as we know we are empowered by Christ, rather than trying to attain Christ by our works!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007


I've recently studied through Joshua, thanks to Search the Scriptures (highly recommended by the way). Today, as the last day in the book, was a 'revision' time of looking back over the book and seeing the big lessons. There are many, but I just wanted to write about one particular theme that has helped and challenged me.

People often puzzle over the relationship between God's sovereignty and our responsibility. God is not a passive God, but neither are we his puppets. How does this work in practice, and what does it mean for our lives? Joshua, I think, presents a very clear picture of how this works itself out. It doesn't give us textbook answers but it shows us what it looks like.

God gives the land to Israel

Chapter 1:2-4, Chapter 2:9, Chapter 6:2, etc. etc. The Israelites do not conquer the land in their own strength - God gives it into their hand. Even though they are a small people with no cities of their own, the other nations 'melt away' before them in terror because they know that God is with them. Likewise, our salvation is God's work. We cannot rescue ourselves from our sin-induced death (Ephesians 2:1,5). God's sovereignty and power is unquestionable.

Israel had to take action and work hard

Yet although God's grace gives us these blessings, that does not mean that we are to relax and be passive. The Israelites had to fight to take possession of the land that God had given them. This is clearly seen in Chapter 10, where Joshua and all Israel fight city after city in Canaan. But why do they have success? Verse 42: 'And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel'. God's sovereignty worked out through our responsibility. Later on, even when the tribes are receiving their inheritance, the people of Dan have to fight against Leshem for the land. What does this mean to us? Even though we have been saved and the Holy Spirit is now living in us, we must fight the sin that is within. Each city the Israelites conquered is echoed by a sinful habit that we must purge, through God's grace and his Spirit. In short, we must 'work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God works in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure' (Philippians 2:12-13).

Maybe that doesn't make the technicalities of this theology any clearer. I don't think we can ever understand just how God's power and our responsibility co-exist. But Joshua shows us how it looks. We need to be ruthless with the sin inside us, just as Israel had to be ruthless in purging the land of idolotrous nations. The reason we can do this at all is because God enables us to, but we need to be strong and courageous in this knowledge and get on with it!

Monday, 10 December 2007

The philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre in 'After Virtue'

On Friday, I did an assessed presentation on Alasdair MacIntyre's critique of modern morality. MacIntyre is a 20th century philosopher who is still alive, unlike most of the thinkers we've studied so far. Go here for a Wikipedia introduction.

So what has this got to do with anything? Well, MacIntyre's thoughts on modern morality gave me much food for thought in my spiritual life too. I won't go into detail, but his basic argument is this:

We are living in a time of fragmented morality in our modern western society. Ultimately, this is because humanity has lost our purpose. When something has a purpose, you know what it is supposed to do. He gives the example of a watch and a farmer to illustrate how we can make the connection between 'is' and 'ought':

This IS a watch. Therefore it OUGHT to keep time accurately.
This IS a farmer. Therefore he OUGHT to get a good crop yield, win prizes, etc.

This connection can be made because these objects have a definite purpose; they were made to do a certain job. MacIntyre argues that Aristotelian philosophy gave man a purpose, or telos, to fulfill. Aristotle argued:

1) This is man as he is
2) This is man as he could be (his potential)
3) The ethical life

Man was supposed to live 3) so as to get to 2). So with Aristotle, we could find a unified moral code in society to help us fulfill our purpose.

However, when Aristotelian science got thrown out in the late Medieval/early Modern period in Europe, his moral philosophy did too (understandably), as did the general belief in God. Therefore we were left with a certain moral code, such as 'Do not lie, do not kill' but with no reason for why it was right. Since then, philosophers have spent all their time trying to find a reason for why we believe this moral code to be right, but without succeeding (MacIntyre cites Hume, Kant and Kierkegaard amongst others). We are human beings but we don't believe we have a purpose or that we were made for a specific reason.

What does this mean to us as Christians? To me, it gave a very helpful insight into how we should view the Christian life. To many people, Christianity is a set of arbitrary rules, dos and don'ts that satisfy the self-seeking will of a jealous, unreasonable and egotistic God. In many Christians' lives as well, legalism manifests itself in confusion over why we have a certain moral code. To some, the moral code becomes an end in itself.

I think it is helpful to take the ethos of what MacIntyre is saying and apply it to how we view God's moral code. We are called to live according to his command of what is good and right, because that way we are fulfilling our purpose as human beings. Our purpose is to glorify God through being holy as he is holy; we are his children, we should reflect the family likeness.

1 Peter 1:14-15: "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct."

We were made in his image so our purpose is to reflect that image the most that we can:

Genesis 1:26: "Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness."

So when we begin to think, ungratefully and selfishly, that God's rules are arbitrary; that he has simply decided to impose a set of unfounded laws upon us to get a kick out of it, we must repent and realise that actually, God is calling us to live this way to fulfill our purpose for being, our entire reason for existing: to glorify God by living out his image. This is how we justify the morals we hold - they are not random, but the framework that allows us to fulfil our ultimate potential as human beings. And funnily enough, as even those who don't believe in God can see, this framework does actually work. When we live how God has commanded us to live, we are healthier, happier and wiser. God knows how we tick: at work, at home, in our marriages, with our children, with money. Aristotle may have been on the right track but ultimately he was tragically wrong. Man cannot invent his own purpose. That was and is the job of our inventor.

To buy MacIntyre's book 'After Virtue' in which he constructs his critique of modernity and emotivism, go here.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

In response to the call to make abortion available in GP clinics and other 'non-traditional' settings

Time was when women were considered ‘mad’ for having a baby outside of marriage. Many of them killed their illicit offspring in an attempt to undo an act which routinely put them in a lunatic asylum. So socially deviant was an illegitimate pregnancy in Victorian eyes that it warranted a lifetime condemnation to a sordid existence as a classified maniac.

Have times changed? In some ways, yes. Single mothers are no longer thrown into a modern-day Bedlam. Yet I would argue that society still considers women who decide to keep unplanned babies as socially deviant.

“Just have an abortion” is a phrase frequently thrown at the television when at least one soap character per month becomes unexpectedly, and undesirably, pregnant. A Guardian review of the recent film Knocked Up criticised its unrealistic failure to have the main characters seriously discussing the possibility of an abortion when the highly attractive and intelligent female character becomes pregnant after a one night stand with the ‘loser’ male lead. They have a point: sugar-coated Hollywood films are a far cry from the reality of 1 in 5 of ALL pregnancies in England and Wales ending in abortion. That’s 20% of our potential population.

Abortion is seen as an emblem of choice for women today. No longer are women forced to bear and raise a child they did not plan to conceive. Abortion, or ‘termination’ as it is more palatably referred to, gives women an option of which lifestyle to pursue: that is how it is seen now. This is exemplified most effectively by the name of the ‘pro-choice’ lobby.

I am not going to enter into a debate about when life starts, or whether a woman has the right to have an abortion. I am merely going to discuss one particular fact, which is this: for many women, abortion is not a choice they make. It is the only option open to them. And for many women, abortion is not a ‘quick fix’, but a decision, often taken hastily and under pressure, that leads to innumerable negative repercussions both in the long-term and short-term. These repercussions can be emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual. Go here for real-life stories and facts about PAS (Post-Abortion Syndrome):

And here

Regarding the current pilot schemes testing whether making abortion available in GP clinics is viable, Phil Willis, a member of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, said this:

"I am certainly in favour of women always having choice in terms of where they can have a procedure.”

But how many of these women actually feel they have a choice on whether to have this ‘procedure’ in the first place? There are a number of factors in most women’s lives constricting that choice and eradicating the options. Pressure from family, from their partners, from society, from friends, from work – these are no small factors. Together they stifle any meaningful, valuable choice that a woman may have.

In legal terms, a woman still has the right to keep her baby if she wants. But this is as far as the choice goes. Supposing someone’s parents are threatening to throw her out, her boyfriend is insisting he will abandon her for good if she keeps the baby and her friends tell her an abortion is the only “sensible” thing to do? Not to mention the social stigma attached to becoming pregnant without planning to. Who doesn’t know someone from school who “got pregnant and kept it”, the one who everyone sees pushing the buggy around town when they’re back in their university holidays?

The debate over pro-life and pro-choice has become so polemic that women have been forgotten in the midst of emotive rhetoric. Step into their shoes for a moment. Women who have unplanned pregnancies are immediately offered by their GPs, the BPAS, FPA, and many other acronyms. The downsides of it, the post-traumatic stress which can last an entire lifetime, the possibility of infertility, the tears on every anniversary; these things are lost beneath the gloss of what a convenient and quick procedure this is. There is no real support offered. Does BPAS offer friendship and ongoing help to these women? Well, they offer a follow-up call after 24 hours and the ‘option of a post-treatment check-up’. What about after 24 years? If you don’t believe me, just ask the post-abortion counsellors working hard around the country, fuelled by compassion for the women who were duped with the promise of no-strings-attached abortion.

I’m aware that I have only addressed the problems of this potential new legislation in terms of the damage it does to women, to the lost mothers of our generation. This is not to the detriment of my belief that all life begins at conception. But in my opinion a large chunk of the debate is missing from both lobbies: the part where the woman comes in. Is abortion, literally on demand, the best thing for her, let alone the unborn human being inside her?

There are many other debates to be had. ‘Tough on the causes of crime’, Blair said. What about being tough on the causes of unwanted pregnancies? What about tackling our nation’s deluded belief that such a thing as ‘sex with no strings attached’, as Fatman Scoop said, exists? What about healing the deep-set insecurities that propel women (and men) into strangers’ beds? What about, ultimately, redressing the belief, proudly held by so many, that sex confined to marriage is restrictive, damaging and unnatural? Show me your evidence. Show me the benefits brought to society by this ‘liberation’. There are none… the price we have paid for a false liberation is to be found in surgical bins, counselling clinics and anguished women all over our country.

Of course there is only one solution to these problems, and Blair would never have mentioned that in public. Jesus Christ, who loves sinners and treats us as worthy to be known by him, the God who knows exactly what makes humans tick and what is best for them. He loves these women, and their unborn children, and you, and me, more than any of us can imagine. And regardless of what you believe about the rights and wrongs of abortion, we are all murderers. We all have God’s blood on our hands, as Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins. Yet the very blood that condemns us is the blood that cleanses us from these sins. It is blood that flows from God’s great mercy, forgiveness and love. And we as his church, his body, should be a vehicle of this love, offering the support, care and most of all unconditional acceptance that society cannot give, to these women, and everyone we have the privilege of knowing.

For more information on how the church is doing this already please visit Care Confidential– unbiased pregnancy and post-abortion counselling and long-term practical and emotional support in hundreds of centres around the country