Author Archives: roger

Simone Pacot

As well as translating books by Daniel Bourguet, I have also had the pleasure and privilege of translating Evangelizing the Depths by Simone Pacot, in French,  L’évangélisation des profondeurs.. There are three further volumes, on which I have yet to spend much time; you hesitate to embark on translating when you know what a commitment is involvement. The first volume, however, is mostly being restated in the subsequent books but in different terms, so for now, any further work is not immediately likely. For reference though, the further books are Reviens à la vie! ; Ose la vie nouvelle; and, Ouvrir la porte à l’Esprit.  I will try to summarize vol I here.

Chris Hoke

Chris Hoke  Wanted

Chris describes his work with Bob Ekblad in Skagit County, Washington State among migrant workers and, mostly, young men involved in lives of crime.

That bald description is about as empty as it could be of the reality he describes, of his personal search for God and his finding him among the desperate. Chris did not fit with convention, with theology and pastorship of a nice clean church, though he did study the theology – he just found his place among the ‘outsiders’, as indeed did Jesus merely by coming among us, but explicitly in who he associated with. Chris listened to the stories, went to court, stayed up through the night, laughed, sang and cried, all recounted in the gaping wound between the beautiful descriptive prose as he describes the Skagit valley, and the distress of the men, who come to trust him and pray with him. The cruelty of much of the prison system is too great. But Chris is their pastor.

This again is very reductive! There are perhaps two strands that wind their way through the book. One is the author’s searching, probing quest for God, so the personal element is ever present; the other is the array of men we meet, some with a chapter devoted to them, but two in particular who we return to time and again. One of the stories in particular brings the two elements together, so this is something I would like to outline, in part because it brings out an important theological theme (that runs through this website).

It concerns a young man who had killed his father, is diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, and is visited by Chris in an institution. Chris speculates about what it is that causes some people to hear ‘voices’ that are not their own more clearly than do others, and posits a sort of inner antenna that is highly sensitive, and which can be broken, or pick up the wrong signals. There are hints, no more, through the book of the author’s own theological pursuits, but this is the one point where he is explicit, referring to Abraham Heschel’s book Prophets – where we find this idea of men who were unusually sensitive. The young man in question had not been going too well in terms of being a good boy, so his mother took him on a trip to Cambodia where he had an unusual and dramatic encounter with God, with love; it was not a flash in the pan thing but a real life changer; he began to talk to people wherever he went, he would know things and words would come unbidden, and they too would encounter the love of God; he would speak in churches . . . but it all changed . . .  at a youth camp.


         One night around the campfire, the night each week when the young preacher hopes students are most listening, when they are encouraged to “make a decision” to give their lives to Christ, Connor was listening very closely. And he made the opposite decision.

         “The preacher, he kept talking about ‘the cross, the cross, the cross!’ How Jesus suffered on the cross and that it was God punishing him, that it was a punishment we all deserved. I guess it freaked me out.”


Chris talks a little about this theology which ‘looks . . . bloodthirsty’, about a ‘god of wrath’, rather than Jesus, the God of love. Then he says

Connor, with his hypersensitivity to evil, was immediately more sensitive than most to such theology. . . Do I believe this? he asked himself. It caused him to lose trust in the more direct, mysterious channel he’d been dialled into that year that had filled him with a grace like pure music . . .  His Jesus Freak stage was over.

It was after three years that he began to hear voices again, but this time from another place, voices which he resisted, pondered and eventually yielded to, and killed his father.

Well, that is the sort of story the author tells, with his own reflections, and much of it concerns a dark world, the dark world, we might add, into which Jesus came. If the rejection of ‘penal substitution’ doctrine is too hard, it would be better not to read the book. However, the author’s connections typically do the same; Brad Jersak calls the penal substitution theory ‘heresy’. (In the form Jersak and Hoke present it, I think this is right; however, it is easy to go too far and miss what there is of truth.)

There is a counter-balance to the darkness, which is beauty, particularly in nature. Chris himself finds considerable peace working in a nursery and then discovers fly fishing, an art he shares with his friends from the streets; there are some lovely descriptive passages which then weave in with the spiritual landscape:

           [When the trumpeter swans arrive], in the weeks ahead, the large white birds’ honking and morphing Vs pass just overhead, heralds of winter’s advent. When the rest of us are sealing up our windows, they descend from the northern arctic to fill our emptied skies and our muddy fields with their otherworldly beauty. They fly so low you can sometimes hear the air in their feathers, hear them breathing in labor.

Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak has the following books I have read:

Can you hear me?

Kissing the leper

Her Gates will never be shut

A more Christlike God


I am going to discuss each of these books since they are all worth reading. There is some autobiographical information, particularly in Can you hear me? where we learn about Brad’s strong evangelical background, his application of self to excellence, his discovery that he lacked intimacy with God and then his discovery of intimacy with God. More recently he has moved away from the simply evangelical background and joined the Orthodox Church. While I don’t expect to follow such a route myself, a perusal of this site will demonstrate my sympathy with this. Here is his account of it, taken from his website

By now, most of my social networks and some of my readership have heard of my move into the Eastern Orthodox Church. I was ‘chrismated’ at the end of June this year (2013) and ordained as a ‘reader’ for the All Saints Monastery in Dewdney in October. You might wonder why I—an evangelical / charismatic / Anabaptist—would don a cassock and take up incense and chanting. If you’re curious, here’s the short version.  

Why did I become an Orthodox Christian? 


First, because in my theology, I already was Orthodox for over ten years. When I say ‘theology,’ don’t think of stuffy, religious hair-splitting. I’m referring to the basic questions of who God is, what God is like, why Jesus came and died, what salvation is and how that happens. On these questions, I feel most at home in the Orthodox tradition, and I finally decided to make it official.

I experienced this as a move from my foxhole to a harbor. Allow me to summarize:

The ancient Orthodox vision as I know it proclaims the saving power of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, and the ever-enduring mercies of the Father—the same Gospel I have always believed, but came to understand more clearly and preach more overtly a decade ago. To me, it’s the same Good News, but now even more so. I have experienced Orthodox theology as more evangelical—i.e. better news—than what I had known and taught in the context of popular Evangelical-ism.

Of course, there are growing enclaves and popular movements among Evangelicals where theologians of hope are hunkering down and discovering what other Christians have taught all along. But they also endure a barrage of hostilities from members of their own tribe, those who marginalize them with hateful labels and even believe God has called them to the attack. So on the one hand, Evangelicalism continues to morph and mature, while on the other, some of her popular streams still cling to a retributive image of God — and its most zealous gatekeepers are quick to brand those who don’t as false teachers and heretics. Lord, have mercy.

Sadly, it’s all too tempting to respond in kind, as illustrated by the shameless Twitter wars between ‘emergents’ or ‘progressives’ and ‘the Gospel Coalition,’ to name just one example. The mean-spiritedness that manifests in these battles really refutes the chief evidence of our discipleship: love for one another. It’s a sickening offence to those who witness it and turn away in disgust. I am reminded of Christ’s warning: “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” Lord, have mercy.

On the other hand, many faithful Evangelical friends persist on this spiritual journey deeper into the Father’s heart. We don’t always agree, but we trust each other’s hearts and persevere in prayer for one another, asking for a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ and his kingdom of love. We know how to disagree while also holding fast to our love for each other, sojourning together into the kingdom of God.

So theologically, I’ve moved from my own previous, retributive vision of God’s justice to something more restorative—from a Gospel that condemns and punishes sinners (unless…) to the one that forgives and heals sinners (even while…). I finally asked myself why I continue to scramble for cover from ‘friendly fire’ in trench networks and sub-sects of Protestantism when the Orthodox Church offers an ancient and enormous open harbor, and requires neither hiddenness nor apology for my central beliefs. They encourage and even expect me to teach the Beautiful Gospel (cf. ‘the Gospel in Chairs’) of the Fathers.

In 2013, the ‘Beautiful Gospel’ and the ‘hopeful inclusion’ I described in the Hellbound? documentary were ridiculed and rejected by various ‘haters’ (usually by neo-Reformed bloggers) just as Can You Hear Me?, Children, Can You Hear Me?, Stricken by God? and Her Gates Will Never Be Shut had been since 2003. The tone was vitriolic and the intent malicious. “We’re coming after you,” I was told. God had ‘called them’ to oppose and eradicate my ministry. I found myself blacklisted or excluded in circles where I once had a voice. I’ve known times of sadness and anger over this. But also gratitude.

These are beloved enemies, very hard at work (indeed, obsessively so) for my salvation through the crucifixion of my flesh and ego in ways that my friends could not approach. Our enemies serve as unwitting sculptors of our character, fashioning us one chip at a time into the image and likeness of Christ. I see God’s providence at work in their diligent opposition—in fact, they were a crucial factor in driving me to the embrace of Mother Church. How can I but thank them and pray, “Lord, have the same mercy on them that I want for myself.”


Second, while I have been Orthodox theologically for years, it was not until this year that I discovered the healing balm and therapeutic beauty of Orthodox worship—their liturgy of beautiful psalms, confessions and prayers.

Beyond the wonder and beauty of it all, at this stage of my journey, my nervous system also seems to handle liturgical worship much better than the anxieties of Revival-ism. Extended years of attending and leading protracted revival meetings, trying to ‘press in’ for the ‘breakthrough’ that would lead to a great altar call, ministry time or full-blown revival have left me weary and yes, a little cynical. I want to be completely open and responsive to God—I want everything God has for me—but there’s an anxiety attached to revivalism’s question of whether or not or how God will (or won’t!) ‘show up.’ At its worst (and I’ve been there, done that), habits tantamount to a kind of neo-Baalism manifest and faith-filled expectancy is often displaced with repeatedly disappointed expectations. There’s a sense of striving to ‘enter into worship’ in such a way that we somehow feel the need to beg or even manipulate God into coming and visiting us.

Happily, many casualties of unhealthy renewal practice have gladly shifted to healthier postures of ‘soaking’ rather than cajoling, ‘habitation’ versus visitation, and welcoming God’s presence vis-à-vis lamenting his absence. Charismatic and contemplative worship are fusing in beautiful ways. I am so glad for this, but for me right now, the old renewal cry for ‘MORE!’—the songs of hunger and thirst—is being satisfied in the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.

What I’ve found in the Divine Liturgy—composed by church fathers like St. Basil and St. Chrysostom and preserved in the Orthodox Church—is that I don’t worry about ‘entering into worship.’ I can open my heart and simply let worship enter me. I don’t need to wonder what (or if) a meeting is building towards—it always, always climaxes in the powerful gift of receiving the Spirit-anointed Mystery of the body and blood of Jesus. In the Eucharist, I eat of the tree of life and ‘taste of the fountain of immortality.’ While others are still energized by a great renewal meeting—and I can still attend and minister in them when invited—my aging and somewhat damaged nervous system needs to be infused with the holy medicine of the prayers of the people and the grace they invoke. I experience it like an I.V. drip that works its way into my deepest needs and deepest wounds. In the Divine Liturgy I pray for mercy and receive it from the ‘man-befriending God’ who comes to us as the Great Physician … and I am revived! While some in the renewal have anxiously waited for an authenticating ‘third-heaven’ experience, the Orthodox are fully aware that participating in the Divine Liturgy is a charismatic experience of worship in the ‘heavenlies,’ in communion with all the saints and angels gather to approach the throne of grace along with us.

a wider embrace

I still embrace and will continue fellowship with the entire breadth of Christian believers as best I can, in joyful obedience to Jesus’ beautiful vision of John 17 love and unity. I now serve as faculty (New Testament and Patristics) in an evangelical-charismatic (largely Anglican) theological school. I also sit as an editor for several magazines and blogs that are eclectic and quite progressive. I enjoy the friendship and support of the Fresh Wind family and Soulstream community (a dispersed contemplative network). And I continue to bring continually tweaked Listening Prayer seminars wherever local congregations and Christian colleges invite me. My heart is to participate in the love of Christ for all however I can.

At the same time, through chrismation, I intentionally broadened my embrace to reach out to my brothers and sisters from the Eastern Church. I’m ‘uncapping the wells’ of my spiritual heritage, reaching further back (centuries beyond my Baptist, Moravian and Hussite reformer-evangelist fore-parents), to rediscover my Celtic and Orthodox missionary forerunners in British and Czech lands. And while I continue to teach what I’ve already taught for the past decade of public ministry, I now try to do so from the P.O.V. of an Orthodox herald of Good News, a catechist for the Gospel, launching from a great harbor rather than peeking out from my own little foxhole.



Now for the books. Can you hear Me? is an excellent work on hearing God’s voice. Listening to God by Joyce Hugget was the first book I read in this area; it is an older book, very good; as I remember it, somewhat less ‘charismatic’, in the sense of perhaps not inculcating such a strong expectation of God speaking personally; and that really is the very strong push of this book. If we are to try to summarize Can you hear Me? I would say that he says God is talking to us absolutely all the time in myriad ways and that the moment we ask him to Jesus will show up and speak – which of course is exactly what the Bible says he will do. We just have to believe it.

Naturally, there are issues. How do we recognize the voice of Jesus? Well, the answers are standard answers – Test the source; test the content; test the fruit. An important issue is this – am I just imagining it? The answer here is very good: who would this “I” be that is “just” imagining – do we have this independent “I”? – well no, the Bible teaching is rather that there are possible sources for the images playing on the screen of our mind (whether in words, pictures, impressions), perhaps the flesh, perhaps the Spirit . . . the issue for us is discernment, but our starting point is that “My sheep do hear my voice.” There are numerous very encouraging stories as well as practical things to do to further our trust in hearing from God. Do we make mistakes? Yes, and Brad gives the normal safeguards, for example, reference to fellow believers, so – we don’t give up because of mistakes.

The process of listening is also shown leading us deeper into the spiritual life, particularly in intercessory prayer, but also dealing with blockages in our own lives as well as others. Perhaps the main point of the book, again, is that things are actually real in ways we may not expect; what goes on in our “imagination” tips over so naturally into the spiritual. Again, there are telling stories of Brad and his family as well as ‘ministry’ stories. This is one of the simplest books I know, which is as high praise as I know how to give; this is one of those few books perhaps everyone should read.


Kissing the leper contains numerous wonderful stories of God at work in those we clever clogs might feel are ‘the least of these’, and ‘things that are not.’ Personally, I love to read stories about the wonderful things that happen among children, things that blow out of the water our (my) stuffy intellectualism. (Not of course that the use of the intellect is wrong, but it can get rather stuffy.) However, many of the stories in this book are a step further than that, involving people with severe mental disabilities who are a huge blessing to their church. Of course, that isn’t all there is in the book, there is lots of lovely discussion of the simple ways of Jesus from a variety of sources and a number of stories. I want to quote from one, the story of Kathy, physically, not mentally, handicapped.


. . . she is bound to wheelchair, blind in one eye, and endures constant pain in what’s left of her hips. But within her broken body you will find a lively girl with an enormous capacity for God’s presence . . . As worship continued, the children skipped away, and I had a chance to sidle up to her. I felt her hand in mine and thought I’d invite God to love me through her. I started to feel a little woozy, and a quiet inner voice spoke to my heart past the din of the band, “You’d better lay down, boy.”

           “Are you about to download something of Kathy’s spiritual strength to me?” I asked.

           “To which the voice repeated, “You’d better lay down.”

Occasionally I’m smart enough to obey. So right there and then, I lay down on the floor beside Kathy’s wheelchair, still holding her hand. Suddenly, what felt like a powerful jolt of electricity drove through my body. It felt like the time I grabbed the bare section of a 220 volt drill press wire. I caught my breath just in time for a second jolt. Then a third. It seemed to me this was a power-of-God thing, but it was so intense that I prayed, “God, I want everything you have for me. Help me not to beg you to stop.” Four. Five. I was counting the jolts . . . Twelve. Kathy let go, dropping my limp arm to the floor. She just sort of smirked, then carried on in worship. [Well, Brad wonders what this is all about, because it does not seem to have an impact on him – but then a few days later, in the course of his ministry, there is a very dramatic healing, beyond his previous experience, so he asks God about it . . .]

He replied, “That came from me and from Kathy. You were just the “capacitor” ( a temporary storage unit for power) storing my power until M. needed it.” What could I say? I signed off not with a hearty “Amen” but with a humble “Oh.” St Paul said, “God has chosen the weak and foolish things to confound the [so-called] wise and strong” (1 Cor 1:27). That looks good on paper, but what if he really meant it? How might that look in this world that exalts competence and expertise? How might that look in the Church, which has been co-opted by the world system of hierarchical power?

Kathy West is my constant reminder that God’s kingdom is much different than our kingdoms. It is the realm where those who exalt themselves are humbled, and the humble are exalted; where true greatness is achieved through servanthood; and where downward mobility is the name of the game.


Her gates will never be shut would seem to have cost Brad a lot of support. He examines the doctrine of hell, and his conclusions are not the orthodoxies of most current (conservative) evangelical thought, so that it has led to an accusation against him of ‘universalism’, the doctrine that all will be saved. This is not what is said, and in fact is explicitly denied; instead a ‘hopeful inclusivism’ is espoused. We cannot make a definitive judgment  since judgment does not belong to us – which I would add is precisely the position taken by Daniel Bourguet.

The big issue of the book is how literally we are to take the biblical doctrine of hell, “infernalism”. Like myself, Brad comes from a classical evangelical background, with its clear distinction between the believer who goes to heaven on death and the non-believer who goes straight to hell; an important element of evangelism is the question, “if you were to die tonight, where would you go?” Like me, Brad doesn’t seem to have found this whole position very helpful. It may well be true as doctrine, though it is not clear that that is really what the Bible teaches, but as a  basic approach to evangelism, I am not very convinced – though it may at times have relevance. While to simply dismiss Brad’s approach is not possible, it’s also important to bear in mind something like what is for me a foundational testimony for me, Kenneth Hagin’s moving personal story as told in I believe in visions. It is wrong to discount the idea, to quote Hagin, that ‘there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun.’ But what does the Bible itself actually teach about hell? Brad examines the range of scriptures with their historical backgrounds, together with the range of historical church teaching on the subject, because of course there is a whole other side to the issue, and there are certainly scriptures that point away from eternal hell for non-believers, as well as those that suggest it as a reality. As I understand it, Brad concludes that the Bible deliberately leaves these things open. Some people (perhaps many) might feel that their cherished evangelical views are being subverted here, but that is not the purpose of the book. The following passage states the book’s contents well:


No matter our view of hell, if we stand back and look at Jesus’ character, preaching, and ministry as a whole, we can probably all agree that the defining characteristic of the God whom he revealed is love (John 3:16; 1 John 3 to 4). He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet 3:90. Further, he sent his Son into the world as Savior to forgive us and reconcile us to himself (2 Cor 5:19). He welcomes all, the righteous and the wicked, to the heavenly banquet (Matt 22:10). Jesus says his Father has rendered all judgment into his hands (John 5:22-27), and yet Jesus said he did not come to judge or condemn (John 8:15; 12:47) but to extend unilateral mercy, which trumps all judgment (Jas 2:13).

With this revelation of God as our foundation, a punitive judgment of eternal torture in burning flames that can never satiate God’s wrath is not merely a paradox – it is a flat out contradiction. Can we not therefore dismiss the texts that bear such threats? How could we, especially when some of the Bible’s direst warnings about hell come from the mouth of Jesus, himself? Instead, if we are truly people of the book and followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we must heed such warnings with the utmost respect.


It is interesting to note that an exploration of early church belief leads, as seems to be usual, to Augustine (see Roger Forster) having initiated huge change in doctrine, and this seems to be a major source of over stated infernalism.

Her gates has an extensive bibliography. Brad does not claim to be a scholar; he does claim to be endeavouring to bring the best scholarship to the general reader. To me, this is a thoroughly helpful book.

The contents of Her gates will never be shut clearly link to A more Christlike God.

In one sense this book can be described as  a look at the issues of theodicy – how do we reconcile the God of love with all the suffering and pain in the world? So far as I have understood these matters in my not particularly extensive reading of theology, I am not sure these questions would exist in the virulent form they do were it not for Augustine, who introduced an understanding of God’s sovereignty which actually causes there to be a problem. If God is conceived of as willing evil, which he must do if he is an absolute sovereign as formulated by Augustine, then it is very hard to reconcile this with his being good, and it just won’t do to say that this is a paradox we don’t understand because, in the end, it seems to make God repulsive; I mean – it repels people!

Brad, in this book, works through many, many of the issues that arise – in fact, to be honest, he points out issues I had not thought of. An issue that did occur to me recently was to ask how reports of  God’s instructions to Israel to wipe out the Canaanites differ from Mohammed telling his men that God said to destroy a large group of Jews who were resisting him. This is not an easy question to answer. Well, Brad takes a tour through this sort of thing. His conclusions will not be pleasing to those with very literalist understandings of the Bible rather than of the Bible as a progressive record of human understandings of the God with whom we have to do; whether you approve his views or not (and I do while wondering if sometimes he overstates things) he does cover a lot of ground and a lot of scriptures. An issue he covers particularly closely is the ‘metaphor’ of God’s wrath.

It is perhaps with this topic of God’s wrath that we turn to the book’s central intent, which I take to be debunking the doctrine of ‘penal substitution’, the Calvinistic teaching. ‘Substitution’ is simply biblical, but the penal substitution Brad has in view is not. I have a theologian friend who holds the penal substitution view; he writes extensively and almost invariably quotes Jesus’ ‘cry of dereliction’ from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Intrinsic to his view is that Jesus really was forsaken, that God turned his back on Jesus, who was bearing a punishment that should have been inflicted on us. (Note – this clearly connects with the doctrine of ‘infernalism’ discussed in Her Gates.) This friend consistently points to Jesus in his doctrine, and very helpfully too, but on this matter . . .  not so sure that I don’t find it a negative dead end! And to me this is the point; like Brad I grew up being basically taught, or absorbing, the penal view, and like him it left me with a big headache, a big negative headache! It’s not, I believe, what was taught in the early church, and I think that Brad shows this, shows how mistaken the view is, and states the orthodox view clearly. In fact, he goes so far as to say that the penal substitution view is ‘heresy’!  This is a strong statement,  and, in the form he states penal substitution, I think perhaps is correct. (“My God, my God ….”: Jesus is quoting the whole Psalm, the whole hopeful psalm. For a full treatment of Jesus’ experience on the cross, see The Silence of God during the Passion by Daniel Bourguet.)

(An interesting little personal observation – it’s not that Jesus was bearing the punishment we ‘should have borne’ ie eternal separation, but that he was bearing what people DO bear, the weight of sin, and now no longer need to!)

As above, this is not a scholarly book per se , but does refer to scholarly works. For myself, the one book on what I tend believe theologically is the Roger Forster book referred to elsewhere, but this book helps a lot too.

Reason and Faith

Reason and faith

The title of this article is in fact taken straight from a book Reason and Faith by Roger Forster and Paul Marston; obviously this is a book I am recommending. First, though, some discussion.

Sometimes it can be a little surprising to me when I hear of people coming to faith through the application of reason since this is by no means the path I followed; the subject of ‘apologetics’ is treated with some scorn by evangelist TL Osborn; we are inclined to say that faith is of the heart, of the spirit, not of the mind . . . and then we come across people who find God by a process of reasoning and discussion of issues and through sound apologetics. Hugh Ross is one such discussed on this site, and his ministry is devoted to careful argument. In his books Richard Wurmbrand describes an artist couple, who began to reason that since they created art, they must themselves by created and since their art relied on the opposable thumb they decided to worship the God who made the thumb, and this sufficed until they heard a fuller account of this God by contact with Bible believers (as Paul says, “If perhaps they might seek after him. . .”). Here was a very nice piece of reasoning by the well known Indian preacher of the early 1900s, Sundar Singh, reasoning which turned him away from Indian religion and was a way station on the road to faith in Christ; the setting is a discussion with a Sadhu –

I [Sundar] do not see how this increase of knowledge will be able to do much, for it looks as if further knowledge will result in my needs and difficulties being still more clearly seen by me, and how will these new needs be met?

The Sadhu replied: “Not with imperfect, finite knowledge, but with perfect and final knowledge will your needs be met; for when you get perfect knowledge you will realize that this need, or want, is only an illusion, and that you yourself are Brahma (God) or a part of Him, and when you realize this, then what more will you need?” I persisted, “Excuse me, but I cannot believe this, for if I am a part of Brahma or am myself Brahma, then I should be incapable of having any more Maya (illusion). But if Maya is possible in Brahma then Brahma is no longer Brahma, for he has been subordinated to Maya. Hence Maya is stronger than Brahma himself, and Maya will then not be Maya (illusion) but will be a reality that has overcome Brahma, and we shall have to think of Brahma himself as Maya, and this is blasphemy. . . .  you are throwing me into a whirlpool. I shall be most thankful to you if from your experience and knowledge you can help me to know Him so that I may satisfy my spiritual hunger and thirst in Him. But please remember that I do not want to be absorbed in Him, but I do want to obtain salvation in Him.’

This is a clear sightedness of a high order!

Another useful story I refer to elsewhere is that of Charles Colson. His primary response to the Good News was emotional, a substantial experience of surrender and a flood of feeling. He then describes in Born Again how he then spent a little time apart to explore what this meant intellectually, an exploration undertaken with the help of CS Lewis and Mere Christianity (while I don’t understand the fascination there seems to be with Lewis and his works, I do think this is a good book – a record of a series of radio talks to the average but thinking man in post-war Britain). This was a vital step to Colson.

As we have said elsewhere on this site, it is good that someone does the intellectual spade work; of course we need our thinking to be properly undergirded. And of course, in most cases the reason is engaged first, through preaching or reading, this being the means by which the Logos (the reason) gains entry to our hearts; and of course, in the Hebrew conception it is not possible to make the distinction between mind and heart that we tend to adopt. There must, then, surely be appropriate material to engage with people whose orientation is distinctly intellectual.

Having thus, apparently, concluded that good works on reason and faith are important I have to report that a visit to a Christian bookstore is unfortunately likely to find books in this area that are very disappointing. I have bought a number of books that promised to explore some aspect of philosophy or science in relation to faith, only to find them confused and confusing, woolly and muddled. It is not part of my purpose to say which books these are but to point to reliable sources, of which there are no doubt many. The Forster and Marston book is excellent.

As stated above, Roger Forster is a thoroughly reliable pastor/thinker/communicator, and it turns out in this book that Paul Marston is an expert in the area of the history of geology. The fundamental push of the book is to explore the faith/science relationship; the sub-title is Do modern science and Christian faith really conflict. It might be noted that it is a 1989 book and so there are ideas that are subsequent to it that might need exploring, but I can’t see that there is much change except to the names of those who propose particular ideas and the details of their arguments.

The tone of the book is very calm, very reasonable, so it is enjoyable. There is a nice look at philosophers’ search for meaning in life – and how in some cases their search leads to despair and then to faith. There is a look at religion in general, and then a series of chapters on the evidence around the person of Jesus, from archaeology to a look at the resurrection; because the discussions are undertaken so reasonably, they are both a very good introduction to these topics without becoming too weighty  and typically make good points I haven’t seen elsewhere; the notes give some nice bibliographical pointers; the discussions often make the most sensible and quotable statements about whatever the subject is, for example some statements about the study of history. We then move on to the issue of man as spiritual. What does this mean? Do miracles take place? In line with this there is a discussion of ‘mind’ and determinism. I have found Roger Penrose interesting in this area, though too long-winded for me; here we have all I feel I need. (Satinover The Quantum Mind is also a wonderful book in this area.) The second half of the book deals with Genesis, the history of science and supposed clashes with faith, creation/evolution . . . The site associated with Hugh Ross is also recommended on these issues, but the Reasons to Believe organization really has more to say about the science and is comparatively sketchy on the history of science; Forster and Marston is the best brief resource I know on the history of science and religion. In particular the discussion of the history of geology is the most detailed area of the book, it having been the subject of Marston’s PhD. I found the last chapter of great interest, “God, chance and design”: the discussion of chance was particularly valuable.

Conclusion: I would suggest this is a text book discussion of the issues.




Some of us grew up with a tradition of evangelical faith with a strong emphasis on gateway experiences, particularly being born again. There was a whole ethos into which we were born, and I for one tried hard to conform myself to this, but some elements of it have not proven to be very satisfactory, and we have needed to go searching for answers.  I must arise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares, I must seek him whom my soul loves. (Song of Songs 3.2) This can be  taken to mean searching among other viewpoints and spiritual ways. This has led me to look among other places at Orthodox traditions. Nowadays we have the eastern Orthodox churches, the Greek, the Russian etc., but perhaps we can extend the term to talk about eastern church views generally, going back to the Church Fathers.  There is a different take on spirituality; and this article will look briefly at some of the places (including some which clearly are not Orthodox) at which I have looked, as well as an effort to describe some of the distinctives of thought.

Firstly, what have I read that can be recommended? Well, first exposure was to the Russian Orthodox — I studied Russian at school, and this led to one or two contacts — specifically with a man known as John of Kronstadt, who exercised a beautiful and influential pastoral ministry. This made me open to the otherwise alien ways of clerical garments, long beards, Metropolitans, priests etc., but not very much to the thinking. Many years later, when I was really searching for input outside the confines of Pentecostal evangelicalism, I found my way to the excellent The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware. This opened my eyes to a different way of thinking and led on to further reading. This included The Way of a Pilgrim, an account of the results of praying ‘the Jesus Prayer’, and I bought a copy of the Philokalia, the compendium of writings from the Church Fathers. There was a cross over from the Toronto, Catch a Fire ministry through the writings of Guy Chevreau with Theresa of Avila, so I looked at some of the ‘medieval’ writers, Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, Catherine of Sienna and Catherine of Genoa. It is worth mentioning too that years before I had read Madame Guyon, of whom there is an excellent biography by Phyllis Thompson. (I mention these writers, not as in a formal sense ‘orthodox’, but as part of a different tradition. I have always found the Protestant divines of 17th and 18th century England dry and difficult, more given to polemic than devotion — the devotional, more ‘mystical’ outlook is much more sympathetic. I have also found in similar vein to Jeanne Guyon, Gerhardt Tersteegen, who, like, Guyon, influenced John Wesley. A very good Catholic writer on prayer is Jean Grou.) But then, as chronicled elsewhere on this site, I found Bob Ekblad and he sent me on to Daniel Bourguet, who has engaged seriously with the orthodox/patristic tradition and with its monastic element. Through this I have looked again at some of the writings in the Philokalia; some of the theology is really devotional in nature. Bourguet quotes from a number of sources. I read material from Isaac the Syrian as well as Matthew the Poor, a modern day Egyptian Coptic monk and author. There was a very good biography of Seraphim of Sarov and other material on him, and recently I found another Russian of similar ilk, Theophan the Recluse, who was another influential figure in his country, particularly through his writings; he has a charming book titled Tales of a Magic Monastery.

In all these writings there is a solidity and gentleness that can certainly be lacking in modern day charismatic circles. The gentleness I note is something I generally find true of writers from a Catholic background when compared to (particularly American) evangelicalism. There is a lot in our modern churches which is not very appealing to more educated people, but it is not just a question of what is attractive — there are also what we might term truth issues. An interesting take on this may be found in the writings of Brad Jersak and on his website Brad was decidedly ‘charismatic’ , but explains in this article why he has changed streams.

So, there are certain distinctives to orthodoxy which are very different to the evangelicalism with which I grew up, and I will endeavour to explore this a little,  the doctrinal elements, and the very obvious issue of the contemplative life, with its particular expression in monasticism.

I recently encountered a book which is a good basis for this discussion. Its title is The Mountain of Silence by Kyriacos C Markides. The author is a Cypriot origin American sociologist who finds his way, after pursuing other thinking, to Orthodox spirituality.  First at Mount Athos and then in Cyprus he gets to know a monk who becomes the abbot of a monastery in Cyprus, and with him investigates monasticism and orthodox spirituality. I find it very interesting to put it alongside our ‘evangelical’ teaching – much of it is the same and is very familiar – I am happy with both traditions, although my ‘theology’ is clearly more comfortable with the orthodox – but this particular book has given me a new context for quite a lot of thinking. The author dwells on the contrast between eastern orthodoxy and western Christian thought, but a big part of my response is that this is overdone, I think because the author has little or no knowledge of Pentecostal spirituality. The spiritual tradition he describes in Greece and Cyprus has a very large emphasis on experience of God – experiences with Christ, with angels, with miracles, with dreams and visions, with spiritual gifts …with the Holy Spirit! Almost nothing of what is described is other than common with spiritual Pentecostalism, and some very wonderful, unusual things are described. In the context of looking at orthodoxy it is normal to describe this as “mystical” – but it is just the same as is experienced in our churches too.

There are however some distinctives of orthodoxy as opposed to our evangelicalism, many of which are strengths, with however what looks to me like one substantial weakness.

We focus on gateway experiences and on two in particular, being born again (being saved) and then being baptized in the Holy Spirit (and I would prefer to say, speaking in tongues). “Are you saved?” we would say. “I was saved when I was 16 years old.” “Are you Spirit filled?” “I was baptized in the Holy Spirit as in Acts 2 on such and such a date at 10 in the evening.” The idea that we would still be trying to save our souls is really quite alien except for those times when our attention is directed to James 1.21. The idea that would you go into a monastery to “save your soul” seems odd — “you mean you’re not saved yet?” However, this idea is integral to the orthodox way, a way which seeks theodosis, an experienced, felt union with God. “But – ‘he that is united to the Lord is one spirit’” Well, that may be true “positionally” we might say, but not as a fact of our everyday lives, and the orthodox way has a well worked out, well formulated pastoral system for helping believers towards a very godly, saintly life, but without the focus on gateway experiences.

So, what is this way? Well, firstly, it involves withdrawal from the world, spending time with God, in the ordinary disciplines of the spiritual life, in ‘putting off the old man’. In the Cypriot context this is termed catharsis – subduing the passions, letting the peace of God rule in our lives. We do all this, but not in such a focused way. (It is worth noting one nice little story in our book. A young man joined a monastery very eager for spiritual experience, for a life of prayer and seeking God. To his dismay the abbot gave him a copy of David Copperfield, telling him that he needed to connect properly with the ordinary affections of life before setting out on ‘spiritual pursuits’. The spiritual life is for ordinary, well balanced people!) One particular ‘technique’ is to constantly pray the Jesus Prayer – ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (Nowhere in the literature have I come across any reference to speaking in tongues, which seems to me a very sad omission!) Veneration of the saints is important — and of course we do this too, only we don’t call it that, we just call it reading biographies of prominent men and women of God. Only it is done rather more purposefully in the orthodox setting and with surprising results. Mary is venerated in a way we don’t. Icons are highly regarded – and they certainly have some very beautiful religious paintings that help create a feeling of holiness. Then there is the liturgy – and there is good reason to see this as sadly weak among us, while perhaps we are both more user-friendly (perhaps a good thing) and more spontaneous. There is a concept called logismos which basically means thoughts, and how to deal with the thoughts that pass through our minds; we call this ‘renewing the mind’. Physical work is an important part of dealing with these in the monastic setting.There seems to be a whole pastoral science of how to apply the various disciplines (forms of asceticism) to individuals according to their circumstances. We do it all in our practices too, but not in a very well focused way perhaps.

After catharsis comes fotisis or perhaps photisis, light coming into the soul, enlightenment. We probably tend to focus too much on doctrine, correct doctrine, rather than the element of light. To me it is an utterly extraordinary thing that one of the supposed great works of western theology was written by a man (Calvin) who was only about 25 — this has to be wrong! The orthodox are very clear that this is light shining into the heart! We have this too, but they are perhaps clearer.

The final sort of stage is theosis, which is seen as union with God. It is perhaps here that the most substantial differences between the two traditions are seen. As one reads the literature it is plain that some of the orthodox saints, elders, or in Russion starets (which means elder), do reach a remarkable degree of sanctity, one which it is hard to find the equal of in the west. Some of the stories of these people are quite amazing. Perhaps we have different ideas of sanctity. “As holy as I ever want to get,” said TL Osborn, “is to reach down into the gutter and lift a beggar up.” This does not seem to be the primary objective of orthodox spirituality, so this seems to be the weakness. It is not Orthodox monks who are transforming the lives of millions in Mozambique, for example. Where we ‘receive the Holy Spirit’ to empower us for witness, the orthodox emphasis seems to be to ‘attain the Holy Spirit’ at the end of a long process of discipline. However, they emphasize humility. It is hard to see the orthodox having people of undeveloped character exercising spiritual gifts in the way frequently seen with us.

Happily, cross-pollination between the two traditions seems to be happening more.



John Noble

John Noble – I found God in Soviet Russia

This might well be an older book but it is very much up-to-date since it is the account of a man of faith living among the godless. The appalling moral degeneracy of the Russian people after being denied knowledge of God is so very similar to what we see around us today; the answers are timeless, and this man’s testimony is a very strong one – and nicely written.

His family, which had lively Christian antecedents, had returned to Germany from the US for commercial purposes but was caught up in the final events of WW2 and unable to escape. They had been so focused on business that they were paying no attention to God at all. Noble describes himself as a careless young man. They were in Dresden and therefore part of the Russian zone and, as Americans, he and his father were arrested on false charges and thrown into prison. Here they were subject to a system designed to starve most of the prisoners to death, and it was as he was dying that Noble reached the end of himself. He had started crying out to God, but to no apparent avail – he was telling God what he wanted; finally he cried out in desperation “your will be done, whether death or life . . .” and as he did so his mind was flooded with peace, and over the next days, despite no improvement in rations, his body began to get stronger.

After months of essentially solitary confinement he and his father, who had also recovered faith, were moved on to Buchenwald, where Noble was able to share his new faith. His salvation was so clear that God was now his mainstay and purpose. The whole process of starvation and then recovered faith had in fact seen his father healed of numerous physical ailments; the father was now released and made his way back to the US, but John was shipped off to Russia, and to Vorkuta, great coal mines in the far north, commonly considered the worst destination.

At no point did Noble pray for release. Instead he figured that his presence in Vorkuta was God’s will, that he could help the faith of others there, but most of all that one day he would be able to reveal to the world what was happening.

He recounts the terrible conditions; the utter degeneracy so common among the Russian people, which he ascribes to their complete lack of knowledge of God; the cruelty with which prisoners were treated, the lack of regard for life; the great heroism of many of the believing men, notably nuns and priests – some of whom refused to work for the communists and were eventually left alone to pray; the thirst of many Russian ‘free’ workers for the word of God . . . and Noble’s eventual release before his 10 years was up. (The Soviet authorities denied all knowledge of his whereabouts, until a letter smuggled out and prayer by the father’s church led to US pressure that secured his freedom.)

While there is no point giving more than a taste of the book here, it will be understood that this is the sort of book one might feel all careless Westerners should read!


Iris Global

Iris Global Ministries

Elsewhere in this site you will find something of an introduction to books by HA Baker. His grandson is Rolland Baker, married to Heidi Baker, and together they initiated what is now Iris Global Ministries, centred in Mozambique but with connected ministries around the world.

Here I will mention books by the Bakers, Compelled by Love, Learning to Love, The Hungry always get fed, Birthing the Miraculous; and then a book by a close associate Michelle Perry, Love has a Face.

Before  a very brief look at these books, which are very consistent in content and message, a preliminary point. TL Osborn  was the pre-eminent “world evangelist” of last century. He said something like the following: “I have seen the Pentecostal revival, then I saw the Healing Revival, then the Charismatic Revival, the Teaching Revival, the Faith Revival, but there is one thing I haven’t seen, but I believe it will come before Jesus returns, and that is the Love Revival. O, how we need the Love Revival.” Well these books and this type of ministry are that Love Revival in action!

I will add that I am currently spending time watching Youtube recordings of Heidi centred around the idea ‘Soaking in God’s Glory’. She is very passionate and the music, particularly featuring violin, calls deeply into the heart. Alongside this is that in this setting she speaks repeatedly on John 15, the True Vine, and to me this is really ‘it’ for the heart of Christian faith. My comment is that this movement (for lack of a better word) is very focused on Jesus.

Although the Bakers and people like them or with them are happy speaking to crowds, that is not the modus operandi  described in these books. The Bakers’ ministry has mostly been to marginalized, the poorest of the poor, firstly in Asia and then latterly in Mozambique; “loving the person in front of you” summarizes their activities, in Mozambique starting with children on the rubbish dump, taking in orphans. Although the Bakers both have PhD’s, their ministry is simply about weak people putting themselves in the hands of Jesus and loving people, and Jesus proves himself very able!

Part of the story is a very strong encounter with God at the Toronto revival centre, and prophecy from Randy Clark, and this was a prelude to tremendous miracles in Mozambique. Healing miracles abound and so do miracles of food multiplication . . . normal parts of the Jesus life . . . wonderful, but the theme throughout the books is simply loving Jesus and loving the person in front of you. Wonderfully simple, and much of it to do with children. The love of God then spills out across the country, with thousands upon thousands of churches . . . Some of the books are in the style of diaries, chronicling various events in the ongoing outreach; Birthing the Miraculous is keyed to Scripture.

Michelle Perry, a woman with one leg, went to war-torn South Sudan and started a home for orphaned children. The way God meets others as she makes herself available makes her book a must read. A particularly memorable story concerns a very little girl who came to their home (not orphanage because they are not orphans any more!); she was so hurt and wounded that at every opportunity she would creep away to the muddiest, dirtiest, nastiest corner of the compound and lie down in the mud and cry. How was she to be reached? Eventually, Michelle decided that she had only one option – to lie down in the mud with her – all day. For several days. On the second day, the girl would allow Michelle to hold her little hand . . . and she slowly began to realize she was safe . . .

None of the writers presents themselves as a great person of faith; indeed there are times of severe sickness and near despair. This weakness serves only to magnify God’s delivering love, Jesus.

Walter Brueggemann

Brueggemann is a prominent Old Testament theologian. I don’t know about this academic prominence but I can say that he has some very pertinent things to say that directly affect the way we read the OT and then the application of it to today. As with a number of authors, I encountered his books through Bob Ekblad, who describes his outlook as ‘from the historical-critical perspective’; there is a broadness of outlook to his writing which is quite different from some rather narrow ways of reading the Bible. I have  reservations, in particular because of  Brueggemann’s apparent understanding when it comes to  the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ salvation from sin; to give a specific example he seems to think that, rather than being a sinful lifestyle from which Jesus offers salvation, homosexuality is an acceptable behaviour to be (perhaps even) embraced. To me this means he needs to be read with care. [But see below for an updated account of this – B. is something of a prophetic voice.]

Firstly, Brueggemann is a voluminous author as well as very scholarly. There are numerous books of the nature of commentaries; I have Genesis, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Isaiah as well as 1st and 2nd Samuel. There are also books in a series of preaching notes on 1 and 2 Kings. Then there are more thematic books, among them one on David called David’s Truth, of which more shortly. Finally there are heavy tomes on theology; I have Theology of the Old Testament. It is the thoughtful and very sensitive reading of the texts, particularly the narratives, which I have found helpful.

The response I am giving here is very limited; but the elements I have found profitable are useful. Firstly, to the theology. I tried reading the book just mentioned, but am not able to; it is a specialist book belonging to academia, but there are points I gleaned about the theological outlook which will become clear.

An example would be two alternative ways of looking at the calling of Jeremiah. In Daniel Bourguet, there is a lengthy investigation of Jer 1.9 –The Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth; Bourguet takes this very literally and talks about the great degree of intimacy that existed between Jeremiah and the Lord for this to have taken place; the interest is entirely in the ‘mystical’, ie lived, experience, what might be termed the spiritual aspect. Brueggemann takes a diametrically opposite view; he considers the account of Jeremiah’s calling to be a formalized traditional cultic initiation to the prophetic ministry. They can’t both be right, and clearly I find the Bourguet view of much greater interest, but neither is it possible to discount the Brueggemann view. (Perhaps the two can be reconciled.) The Brueggemann outlook is deeply informed by historical research, by 200 years of textual criticism investigating the sources…and he seems to approach the OT substantially not as revelation from God (which is an outlook I think he terms fideism) but rather as Israel’s account of it’s faith. Brueggemann therefore approaches the OT as Israel writing about, recording, discussing its history and faith. The reading is therefore very fluid; the great strength of the books that help me is a tremendous literary sensitivity, which seems to me, as a trained literary critic myself, to be because the author is unclouded by either excessive piety or unbelief; he takes it very much at face value. The immediate weakness one feels is that it discounts the accounts as God engaging in revelation — one can suspect that God is not being taken as seriously as one might wish; but the whole point is that the OT is Israel investigating its faith in the real God and his actions – which remain mysterious, often being no more than grasped at. This outlook does not conform to the narrow evangelical protestant view with which I grew up, and I will try to detail how Brueggemann expresses this; the attraction is that he makes the OT very real and immediate as we too grapple with God’s activities in a confusing world.

My first read was of Brueggemann’s account of David. He is not very keen on the sort of pietistic background from which I come – ‘yes, we know about David’s adultery but this was a severe slip up in this godly man’s life and we see the fruit of it in his repentance; Jesus is the Son of David, and here we find David’s true significance, as a type of Jesus’; and indeed the truth of this outlook is seen in the Messianic psalms. Brueggemann, however, is purely interested in the text,not the evangelical interpretation! There are at least 2 different accounts of David’s life blended together in the various scriptures; one of these is uncritical, and indeed somewhat hagiographic in the pietistic style; the other is much more nuanced, much more investigative of David and his motives. There are certainly these two strands, perhaps by different authors, perhaps different traditions. The literary teasing out greatly helps the reading; the confusion between the two serves to highlight what Brueggemann sees as Israel’s ‘endless fascination’ with the person, the figure of David; by contrast, there is, for example, little interest in the person of Solomon, though much interest in the consequences of his reign and policies. In David there meet so many currents of thought and action; there is his evident rather wonderful attitude towards/ relationship with God; there is his position at the crossroads of Israel’s political development; in him the prophetic and the kingly aspects meet for really the only time; then there is, simply, his character, deeply flawed and deeply attractive. As I say, B. looks at all this as it comes up in the text most sensitively; he has almost no interest in the typological ; very occasionally he refers forward to Jesus, but fundamentally he is just taking the text at face value. As commentary goes, he is as readable as the wonderful narratives themselves.

So this was my introduction to reading B., and I went ahead on the strength of that to order a number of his books. It is in the Introduction to the commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel that I found the best place to get hold of the general outlook.

First up, ‘the books of Samuel present the radical transformation that occurred in the life of ancient Israel when Israel ceased to be a marginal company of tribes and became a centralized state’. That is, I would point out, ‘salvation history’ is just not in view; however, I would also add that it is very hard to dispute that what Brueggemann says the book is about is in fact exactly what it is about. B. sees three ‘factors at work in this social transformation’; firstly there are the historical processes – social, economic, political, military, technological – these are all clearly present in the text; then there is the character of David, and ‘Israel can scarcely find words for David’; thirdly there is the central role in the transition of Yahweh. ‘The neglect of any one of these [3 factors] will diminish our reading…’ B. warns against two excesses in reading, the pietistic which overlooks the elements of brutality, seduction, ignobility, that this is ‘unlaundered history’; and ‘rational reductionism’, the ‘elimination of the “Yahweh factor”’.

He likes to return to the anti-pietistic view. ‘The transformation of Israel as understood in the Samuel narrative will not be properly rendered in an excessively ‘theological’ idiom, one preoccupied with religious questions. Such a theological portrayal would give disproportionate attention to the role of God, the faith of Israel, and the piety of David. It would preoccupy us with religious matters that lead us away from the intent of the text.’ I am inclined to respond that this is exactly right, but perhaps it is better to say cautiously that this to me is a breath of fresh air; it is a sort of incarnational view of things, God at work in human history, and in so far as we live in human history this is frankly of great concern to us! The text is therefore an ‘artistic idiom’ of investigation; again I find this a sympathetic point of view. He goes on ‘….an artistic rendering of life is now an urgent responsibility, not only because of the character of the text but because of our social-cultural-moral circumstance. The community gathered around this text…is one of the few places left in contemporary society where an artistic rendering of life may be pursued. Ours is a society beset by excessive certitude [the theological reading] and reductive truth [the historical]….an artistic reading is peculiarly required in our cultural situation of brute power and monopolistic certitude…. What strikes one …in the Samuel narratives… is the power of speech in these stories. People talk to one another and their talking matters…People listen and are changed by such speech, and God is drawn deeply into the conversation.’

I think this says most of what needs to be said about B.’s outlook. I note two things of great interest. Firstly, the concept of a community ‘gathered around [a]text’; this is something that seems to be lost from the churches I attend – it is many years since I heard expository preaching, and when present it brings a sense of the centrality of the Bible in church life. Secondly, the cautious approach which amounts to something like realism which finds humanness an ever present and ‘holiness…strangely present’. However, being gathered around a text does not seem to leave much space for the Holy Spirit, for the actual Presence of God, and the element of ‘strangely present holiness’ is not pursued. The approach seems to fit better with what I would in an untutored way refer to as liberalism rather than the robust pentecostal faith of the book of Acts. In one place he refers almost scathingly to fideism which seems to mean a simplistic acceptance of the Bible as the ‘Word of God’; well, I am inclined to think that a simplistic acceptance may not be  right, but  B. goes  too far in seeing the Bible as man’s presentation of relationship with God; I think God has more to do with it than I understand him to say!

I think that is a fair introduction to the way Brueggemann proceeds. I would stress again that it provides a framework for a very sensitive and frequently surprising account of the texts.

[I have since read further in B. and find some aspects of what I have written thoroughly inadequate. B. is much more gospel orientated, perhaps ‘incarnation’ orientated, than I thought. I have found this in his work on the Psalms The Praise of Israel and in a later book which is not to do with the OT, The Gospel of Hope – which I am currently reading, and seems to be genuinely prophetic in outlook. More later.]

Why Jesus did not become king

The following is an excerpt from 100 Prison Meditations, on our lack of fitness to govern society:

 Why did Jesus not allow himself to be made a king?

When Jesus perceived that the Jews would make him a king, he departed (Jn 6.15). Surely he would been a better king than Herod and He must have known it. Why, then, did he not accept?

We can only postulate his motives.

One reason would be that the choice would not be His. Nations are fickle: today they elect a king; tomorrow they overthrow him. Christ does not accept the roles we choose for Him. The choices must be His. His decision was to be a Saviour for eternal life rather than a king in this life.

On the other hand, the fact that He was a good Saviour does not prove that he would have been a good king over Judaea, just as a good Sunday school teacher might not necessarily be a good prime-minister.

As man, He sometimes showed utter indifference toward human suffering, just as he could also show compassion. None of these attitudes dominated Him.

He chose among them. He was told about innocent Galileans killed by Pilate. A kingly person in the earthly sense would have shown indignation and would have organized the tyrant’s overthrow. Jesus said simply: ‘Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish’ (Lk 13.2-3).

He is told about a catastrophe, a tower which has collapsed killing eighteen people: Jesus does not give instructions about building more safely in the future, nor does he organize relief for families of the victims. He repeats the above words and makes this another occasion for teaching repentance. He acknowledges only one real motive for grief: that of not being a saint.

This is the correct attitude for a Saviour, but not for an earthly king.

When Jesus heals a man inhabited by demons, He causes a large herd of swine to drown (Lk 8.33). Jesus shows callousness towards this destruction of property. But it was acceptable for a Saviour to destroy a herd and leave someone impoverished in order to heal his fellow man, and therefore Jesus does not justify himself, nor do the evangelists defend his action.

He achieves the objective to be expected from a Saviour. For an earthly king such behaviour would not be right.

Jesus predicts a national tragedy: the destruction of the Jewish state. He does not call upon men to risk their lives in defence of their fatherland as a secular king would have to do. He tells his disciples, ‘At such a time, flee’ (Lk 21.210. The abandonment of their countrymen at such a time forced the final break between Christianity and Judaism.

The Saviour had entrusted the disciples with a deposit of eternal truth which had to be kept intact. This was more important than the defence of the land.

So thinks a Saviour. An earthly king has another calling. These two purposes do not mix.

Jesus could not be an earthly king, and those who try to make Him the Solver of earthly problems are mistaken.



Anointed for Burial

This article is a sort of opinion piece about the, to me, vexed subject of ‘revival’. Although revival is not a word that appears in the Bible, it is nevertheless a Biblical phenomenon; but, as I personally have heard the term used all my Christian life in our western churches, it seems to be a very unhelpful term and almost a badge of despair about the state of the church. “We need revival. God! Send revival.” The meaning being, “things are going from bad to worse; society is a mess; we don’t know what to do; we hope God intervenes!” I believe there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the idea of revival, one that needs doing away with.

A first point is this: many would say that the worldwide church has been in a state of revival for over a 100 years, and one idea might pin the beginning of this to Azusa Street, the ‘outpouring of the Holy Spirit’ which led to the worldwide Pentecostal movement. Smith Wigglesworth had a nice story to express his convictions. He tells of the early days of steam locomotion; George Stephenson wanted to take his sister on a maiden journey of his steam engine. She looked at it and shook her head, saying, “George, it’ll never go. It’ll never go!” But she got on, the engine started to move and she cried out, “George! George! It’ll never stop! It’ll never stop!” If we have eyes to see, we might not cry out for revival in quite the way that seems prevalent; it’s been running for a hundred years.

A second point would be that the worldwide revival has specific incidences. A wonderful example is events in Lewis, the Outer Hebrides, associated with the preaching of Duncan Campbell. The presence of God was so strong, it is said, that as ships approached the island, there was a particular range at which the ships would pass into that presence and sailors would fall to their knees! All that sounds very good; whatever one might think, the feature to note is that this was not an institutional revival, a change in the way the country operated, in social structure….no, it was a coming and sense of the presence of God. This is the point where so much of popular thought goes so wrong; that the church envisages itself, the church, changing society and thinks of this as revival. That is not an incidence of the worldwide revival.

I believe that as long as the church thinks like this it is fated to fail; in Australia, for example, as long as the church sees itself as part of society, a part of society trying to turn back the tide and return Australia to being a Christian country, whatever that means, it opens itself up to wave upon wave of condemnation and guilt.

Here is author Bob Ekblad on this issue:

“When followers of Jesus see themselves too much “according to the flesh” (as a citizen of their particular nation, member of a religious denomination, ethnic group,  sexual orientation, or political party), they can easily fall into either justifying  their ethnicity, nation or orientation, or agreeing with accusations against themselves and seeking to right the wrongs. The Accuser, rather than the Defender, ends up setting the agenda for people’s actions, unless we are continually remembering our identity as beloved son or daughter by adoption and living according to the Spirit. Whenever people live in agreement with their natural identity, they give the Accuser permission to harass them with their shortcomings according to their identity in the flesh. When our focus becomes righting the wrongs of our country or ethnic group, we step under the gaze of a judge whose demands for restitution are infinite. Voices of accusation will make sure we know that we are never doing enough. Finally, any headway we do make toward justice will end up serving the powers, magnifying the names of creatures rather than the Creator.

It seems to me that ‘righting the wrongs of our country’ is in fact exactly what we western Christians seem to have in mind when we talk about ‘revival’; we see society in decay, in a parlous state, and we want to see that put right, and the answer we propose is ‘revival’. And so, “we are never doing enough”; the result is part of the institutional despair that permeates church life (so my experience tells me) despite the wonderful things we see happening in the lives of individuals within the church. We reach a few individuals, but in society as a whole, we are simply off target.

Among possible outlooks, here is one which, I believe, can help move us towards being a place where an ‘incidence’ of the worldwide revival can take place – it helps me anyway; it has reference to the gospel passage in which Jesus is ‘anointed for burial’. We remember that he is in a certain house and a woman comes bearing an alabaster flask of perfume, ‘very precious’, and breaks it over him; we are told that ‘the fragrance filled the house’. The woman was of course accused of wastage, but Jesus said that it was a good thing she had done, she had ‘anointed [him] for burial’. (Of course, one also wonders what else can ever be done with perfume; how can it be a waste – it has to be used somewhere; where better than on Jesus?)

Jesus did not come to set up a worldly kingdom. He came to a cross, a burial and a resurrection and a kingdom ‘not of this world’. If we begin to see the Church as similarly bound for death, burial and resurrection, dead to the world, buried away from the world, resurrected into a life not of this world, and act in accordance, that is as ‘anointed for burial’ in our relation to society, then we might find a tremendous release of fragrance that fills the house. This means not agitating in the world’s forums; it means not being hand-wringingly concerned about what we see in the world. It means having an identity in Christ not as eg ‘Australian’ – ‘in Christ there is no Greek or Scythian or…Australian’. It doesn’t mean not being involved in the affairs of this world, but it does mean that if we are involved it is to be as ‘anointed for burial’, the body of Christ covered in perfume. Our place is not to set to rights the things we don’t like. As long as we do that there will be no fragrance, no presence; no, we will insist on selling the perfume on, and engaging in some relatively worthless act of charity. Fighting for justice, yes; seeing perfume being used as perfume on Jesus as a waste, and not being ourselves ‘anointed for burial’, no!

“The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God.” As long as churches and church people are fighting against society, trying to pull it back to moral ways, that is merely a moral reform movement, the wrath of man attempting to work the righteousness of God. There is no fragrance.

It is the fragrance that is beautiful; not morality, not safety in the streets, not economic assurance, not ‘Christian’ laws, but fragrance. The world crucified Jesus. Jesus said very plainly that it will do the same to the Church. We have to accept this, the crucified role of the Church in society! It is beautiful! Not being listened to – anointed for burial and then dead on a cross – is the good place to be, a place of freedom; actually void of responsibility! It is very nice not to be responsible! The world and many of the disciples call it a waste, (O, you have to be responsible – we are going to sort the nation out – actually we are going to be in charge), but Jesus says it is good, and the fragrance filled the house!


Frank Bartleman Azusa Street

A brief account by Duncan Campbell of the Lewis awakening may be found under the title of When the mountains flowed down – and a number of books on ‘revival’ tell the story in more detail.

Like a Mighty Wind  by Mel Tari tells some of the story of the incidence of revival in West Timor, as does The Gentle Breeze of Jesus.


The following is an excerpt from Richard Wurmbrand 100 Prison Meditations, on our lack of fitness to govern society:


 Why did Jesus not allow himself to be made a king?

 When Jesus perceived that the Jews would make him a king, he departed (Jn 6.15). Surely he would been a better king than Herod and He must have known it. Why, then, did he not accept?

We can only postulate his motives.

 One reason would be that the choice would not be His. Nations are fickle: today they elect a king; tomorrow they overthrow him. Christ does not accept the roles we choose for Him. The choices must be His. His decision was to be a Saviour for eternal life rather than a king in this life.

On the other hand, the fact that He was a good Saviour does not prove that he would have been a good king over Judaea, just as a good Sunday school teacher might not necessarily be a good prime-minister.

As man, He sometimes showed utter indifference toward human suffering, just as he could also show compassion. None of these attitudes dominated Him.

 He chose among them. He was told about innocent Galileans killed by Pilate. A kingly person in the earthly sense would have shown indignation and would have organized the tyrant’s overthrow. Jesus said simply: ‘Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish’ (Lk 13.2-3).

 He is told about a catastrophe, a tower which has collapsed killing eighteen people: Jesus does not give instructions about building more safely in the future, nor does he organize relief for families of the victims. He repeats the above words and makes this another occasion for teaching repentance. He acknowledges only one real motive for grief: that of not being a saint.

This is the correct attitude for a Saviour, but not for an earthly king.

When Jesus heals a man inhabited by demons, He causes a large herd of swine to drown (Lk 8.33). Jesus shows callousness towards this destruction of property. But it was acceptable for a Saviour to destroy a herd and leave someone impoverished in order to heal his fellow man, and therefore Jesus does not justify himself, nor do the evangelists defend his action.

He achieves the objective to be expected from a Saviour. For an earthly king such behaviour would not be right.

Jesus predicts a national tragedy: the destruction of the Jewish state. He does not call upon men to risk their lives in defence of their fatherland as a secular king would have to do. He tells his disciples, ‘At such a time, flee’ (Lk 21.21). The abandonment of their countrymen at such a time forced the final break between Christianity and Judaism.

The Saviour had entrusted the disciples with a deposit of eternal truth which had to be kept intact. This was more important than the defence of the land.

So thinks a Saviour. An earthly king has another calling. These two purposes do not mix.

Jesus could not be an earthly king, and those who try to make Him the Solver of earthly problems are mistaken.