What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning.
I must do this more.
Matthew Hosier has written a helpful article reflecting on the 1994 Toronto Blessing / PMOTS ('present move of the Spirit'). He explores the extent to which our experiences of the Holy Spirit are culturally mediated, and goes on to relate this to current UK movements that identify 1994 in their roots:
The danger in my pointing this out is that I will be accused of claiming these experiences are ‘merely cultural’. Not at all. Rather, that we need to be wise in distinguishing what is from God, what is deception, what is imperative, what indicative, and what is our culturally mediated response.
Twenty years on, I’m not sure I have an adequate answer to the question ‘1994 – What was that all about?’ I believe God was in it, but that there were excesses, and that the form PMOTS took reflected other cultural trends evident in western society at the time.
I don't think the point here is to question the degree to which our experience of the Spirit is 'genuine', but to recognise that the way we experience the Spirit's work in our lives is not done in a cultural vacuum. I'd be interested to know the degree to which moves of the Spirit break down aspects of (often church) culture that are blockers to the work of the Spirit in our lives.
I'm a little bit late in reading this one but Andrew Wilson has written a fascinating article that explores the role of Holy Trinity Brompton and its associated courses, events and activities. Wilson argues that the centre of contemporary evangelicalism is increasingly becoming aligned by shared conferences, courses and choruses, rather than confessions, creeds or catechisms. Because HTB's conferences, courses and choruses are amongst the most widely used, they play a significant role in shaping UK evangelicalism in the UK and abroad.
HTB represents British evangelicalism’s friendly face: biblical but not dogmatic, evangelistic but not ranty, activist but not politicised, Anglican but not really, centred rather than boundaried. Hard not to like, right? And certainly more likely to unite evangelicals, and to get favourable write-ups from cultural gatekeepers in the Telegraph or the Guardian, than the hardline confessional types. As such, if HTB represents the new centre of British evangelicalism, then nearly everybody wins.
The degree to which HTB has avoided taking a 'position' on a number of controversial contemporary issues is one that is especially close to the bone and deserves a lot more reflection. Churches that managed to hold together a diverse group of people - many of whom may disagree with one another on the hot issues of the day - are often, in my view, the stronger for it. But holding together these diverse views within church can often be in competition with the danger of appearing 'wooly' on important (if not primary) issues.
I also agree that if you wanted to meaningfully group evangelical churches together into like-minded segments
you’d get a more accurate picture if you divided them by the evangelistic course they use (Alpha for most, Christianity Explored for those who find Alpha too floaty, individualistic or charismatic, and nothing at all for the churches that aren’t that fussed about preaching the gospel) than by the denominational family they come from (Anglican / Baptist / Methodist / Free).
To a degree, I think this is the evangelistic courses that churches run is a fault-line that defines what 'unity in the gospel' often looks like in local communities - especially where these courses are run jointly between churches.
James Mumford on the BBC comedy Rev:
But when asked why Rev is so good, the usual answer cites “an insider viewpoint” on an inner-city vicar. Which is precisely what it’s not. Rev is an outsider’s imaginative construction of an insider viewpoint – a secular take on the sacred...
Which is all well and good. Yet it remains an outsider’s perspective. An insider view of the church would, by contrast, revolve around the reality of shared faith. From the outset, Rev’s operating assumption is that faith is individual. The Rev Smallbone’s prayer monologues are purely personal. Faith is not something held in common. Nor is it transformative. Which is, rightly or wrongly, what people of faith think it is. Perhaps the show’s most wonderful character, the drug addict Colin, is a parishioner Adam is genuinely friends with. But there’s never a question of faith freeing him from addiction.
I've really enjoyed this series of Rev. It is, at times, profound and touches on brilliance, and at others is deeply disappointing. Somehow Adam Smallbone struggles through temptation and personal doubt to do the right thing. Yet James' points are right on. Its take on the church is deeply undermining, of corporate faith that is shared between believers skin deep. The supernatural is entirely absent.
Denying the insider view denies the rich diversity of the church in England. This is both a lack of creativity and a failure of representation.
Alastair Roberts on Rob Bell:
The ad man doesn’t persuade his customer by making a carefully reasoned and developed argument, but by subtly deflecting objections, evoking feelings and impressions, and directing those feelings and harnessing those impressions in a way that serves his interests. Where the lawyer argues, the ad man massages.
Rob Bell’s theology seldom approaches you head on. It typically comes at you couched in a question, insinuated in an anecdote, embedded in a quotation from one of his friends, or smuggled in a metaphor. Its non-confrontational and conversational tone invites ready agreement. Even if you don’t agree, Bell hasn’t pinned himself down. He’s only asked a question, quoted an acquaintance, or related an anecdote, and could easily distance himself from any of them.
This seems like a fair assessment to me. Much of the criticism of Bell I've seen - leaving the theology aside - fails to take account of the highly creative and persuasive elements of his style, that are so often missed or grate with linear thinkers.
"Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand" (Romans 14:4).
“By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
“It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love.” ― Billy Graham
“We shall, as we ripen in grace, have greater sweetness towards our fellow Christians. Bitter-spirited Christians may know a great deal, but they are immature. Those who are quick to censure may be very acute in judgment, but they are as yet very immature in heart. He who grows in grace remembers that he is but dust, and he therefore does not expect his fellow Christians to be anything more; he overlooks ten thousand of their faults, because he knows his God overlooks twenty thousand in his own case. He does not expect perfection in the creature, and, therefore, he is not disappointed when he does not find it. … I know we who are young beginners in grace think ourselves qualified to reform the whole Christian church. We drag her before us, and condemn her straightway; but when our virtues become more mature, I trust we shall not be more tolerant of evil, but we shall be more tolerant of infirmity, more hopeful for the people of God, and certainly less arrogant in our criticisms.” ― Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon's Sermons Vol. 1-10
As I reflected in a previous post, the problem we face is that the desire to see evil judged is made more complicated by they fact that we are often the ones in the wrong.... I need to humbly reconise that the bad things we see in the world and wish God would prevent or punish in others is right there inside of me.1
I want both God's justice (exposing the truth about our wrong) and mercy (forgoing the negative consequences we deserve). Sometimes God saves by judging2 - but I'm with Billy Graham and the Bible. Our job is to do the loving.
- A bit of an adaptation of: "The evil we so much wish God would prevent or punish in others is right there inside ourselves" (Christopher Wright, God I don't understand p. 34). ↩
- By judging our evil, by naming it for what it is, by penetrating our denial and self-delusion, God begins saving us. (McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, p 95) ↩