Christian ministry and gender

In the Lichfield Diocese, a small group of conservative evangelicals have been meeting with various diocesan staff and others, hosted by one of our archdeacons, as a way of putting the Five Guiding Principles on mutual flourishing into practice. We have discussed practical and theological concerns in order to achieve better understanding and awareness of some of the obstacles to our flourishing.

As part of that, we have discussed a number of papers presented by members of the group. I presented this paper on Christian Ministry and Gender. We had previously discussed papers on gender more widely in the Bible, and I suggested that it would also be valuable to look at gender roles more specifically in the context of ministry. It was a fruitful discussion which revealed some very significant differences of understanding of the nature of teaching and sacramental ministries.

Recently someone asked if I’d written anything about complementarian ministry and my first instinct was to say no. Plenty of other people have written about this and I’ve never felt like I had anything new to add to the conversation. But maybe this paper adds something. It’s not everything I would ever want to say on the subject and it certainly doesn’t convey anything of my personal story of seeking to be faithful and obedient to God in this area. Maybe one day I’ll write about that too.

In the meantime, for what it’s worth, here’s the paper.

How to (accidentally) read the Bible in a year

In Advent 2017 I decided to read through the 12 minor prophets in my personal devotions. At the end of this, it seemed to make sense to keep going into the New Testament, with the gospels. I knew I wanted to move away from reading very small chunks to be delved into in great depth, to reading some larger chunks that give a bigger vision of the whole picture. Both are valuable, of course, and I think it’s a good practice to switch between different patterns. If you only ever read the Bible ten verses at a time, (a) it will take you a very long time to read it all, and (b) it will be hard to keep that bigger picture in view so that you can spot some of the patterns and references. Whereas if you only ever read it ten chapters at a time, you won’t be able to linger over every word and phrase in the same way and catch all of the in-depth nuances. So do both!

By the time I got to Lent, with my sporadic reading habits, I was at John 13, so I slowed down and did daily (kind of) Scripture writing until I’d written through to the end of John’s gospel a few days after Easter. I’d enjoyed the faster pace of reading bigger chunks, so I wanted to try that with some Old Testament books. I thought I’d start with the Psalms, since that’s a book we rarely read in big chunks! And then I kept going, through Proverbs (I found I had to take shorter sections here. Ten chapters of Proverbs is way too much to process!), Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs and then Isaiah-Daniel).

At this stage I’d realised I was well on my way to reading the Bible in a year and I’d made an actual list of all the books in the Bible so I could tick them off as I went. I’d grouped them into sections that I could alternate OT and NT. And finishing before Advent 2018 was a definite possibility. In fact, I’ve just made a weekly reading plan for all the remaining books and I have a good amount of wiggle room to play with and still be finished in a year.

I’ve tried various Bible-in-a-year plans before now and never stuck with any of them for more than a few months. What I love about this is:
(a) it’s easy. No switching between several books on the same day. No charts needed;
(b) it feels like the normal way of reading a book. Longer, consecutive sections. Slowing down for some more concentrated sections, speeding up for narratives;
(c) it’s not boring. I know the Bible is not boring, but I will admit, the thought of spending five months on the Psalms, if you read one a day, is quite daunting for those of us who always want to move onto the next thing. If you read ten a day, you’ll be done in just over 2 weeks (see above for why this isn’t the ONLY way you should read!);
(d) it’s happened naturally, rather than as an artificially imposed system. I don’t feel like I’m doing this out of obligation, or to say I’ve done it, or some other trivial reason. I’m doing it because I’m loving the way it’s helping me to engage with God’s word and respond to it. It’s okay if I don’t actually finish in a year, if I pause to do some other kind of devotions, or whatever. It is a joy to read with this kind of freedom, I find.

Some things to consider:

  • There are 1189 chapters in an English Bible.
  • If you read 4 chapters a day, you’ll easily be done in a year.
  • If you read 4 chapters six days a week, you’ll still be done in a year.
  • I find I can easily read 10 chapters of most Bible books in 15 minutes, reading at a normal pace.
  • Some books I can’t read more than 3-4 chapters (Proverbs, Romans), but that’s okay because it’s still within Bible-in-a-year pace.
  • Finishing whole books in a few days or weeks is tremendously satisfying.
  • Reading in this consecutive way lets you be sensible. If I can see that there are 31 chapters in a book, I’ll either read 10, 10, 11 chapters or 8, 8, 8, 7 chapters. If a book only has 5 chapters, that’s one day’s reading. For some of the shorter NT letters (2 John, 3 John, Jude etc), I’ll read several in one day. I don’t have to stick to someone else’s plan so I can work out what suits me! By reading much more than 4 chapters on most days, I know I’ve got time to take over other books. Like spending 6 weeks on 8 chapters of John’s gospel!

The Greatest Song

This Lent, I’ve given a series of talks at my church on the Song of Songs. The talks are all now available to watch online.

The series begins with an introduction to reading poetry, and especially Hebrew poetry. The next two sessions look at the Song in the context of the wisdom literature and show how the book includes wisdom for both women and men. Session four considers the Song in the context of the Hebrew bible and focusses on the royal bride and groom as an exemplar of Israelite marriage. In session five, we began to look at the marriage metaphor in the Song and in the prophetic literature, seeing how the horizon is pushed far beyond that of human marriage. Finally, the last session considers the Song in the light of the New Testament.

I hope you find them interesting and useful.

We are the bad guys

I hesitate to make comments about political issues where I am fully aware of my ignorance. But, here’s a thing I’ve been thinking a bit about, like everyone else lately, which is gun laws and gun crime, especially from a Christian perspective.

It seems to me that a lot of what I see defending people’s right to own guns, and especially the arguments about bringing more guns into situations like schools, is based on a false doctrine of sin. It’s because we think that there are ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. And if the bad guys have guns, we need the good guys to have them too, to protect.

The problem is that we do not live in a superhero movie. We live in a world where everyone is the bad guy. Where, given the right motivation and circumstance, all of us have the potential to act as monsters.

Of course there are plenty of gun owners who have never used their weapons inappropriately.

And there are plenty who have. When they were drunk. When they were angry. When they were scared. When they became mentally unstable for a time. When they felt they were owed something by the world. When they thought someone else deserved what was coming to them. When they wanted to take the law into their own hands.

If we think we are not capable of inflicting harm on other people, we need to examine ourselves a lot more carefully. If we think we can distinguish people who are safe to own a gun from those who are not, we need to look again at how badly that’s working. If we think that gun ownership is not related to gun crime, we need to read the statistics.

I remember when we had school shootings in the UK too. I remember that everyone was agreed that it must never happen again. So they didn’t just take guns away from ‘bad guys’. They took guns (certain kinds of guns) away from everyone. You can still own a gun to shoot rabbits on a farm. You can still go to ranges for target practice. But you can’t have a handgun at home and you certainly can’t own an assault rifle.

Because we don’t know who the bad guys are. They are all of us. They are me and they are you.