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.

Advent 2017

I’m planning a new series of Advent daily Bible readings this year, working through the minor prophets. These will be quite long – 3 or 4 chapters most days – but I think it’ll be a fantastic way of looking forward to the Lord’s return as well as preparing to celebrate his first coming.

I’m also going to do the 36 pictures in my colouring Bible that go with these 12 books. More than one for every day, hooray! I’ve just cast on for this year’s Advent scarf, ready to begin the actual knitting on December 3rd. That’ll give me an hour or so every day to sit down, without the TV on, without worrying about other stuff to do, to read God’s word and reflect on it.

If you’d like to join me, the readings are:

Advent 2017 in the minor prophets
3rd Hosea 1-3
4th Hosea 4-7
5th Hosea 8-10
6th Hosea 11-14
7th Joel
8th Amos 1:1-3:12
9th Amos 3:13-6:14
10th Amos 7-9
11th Obadiah
12th Jonah
13th Micah 1-3
14th Micah 4-5
15th Micah 6-7
16th Nahum
17th Habakkuk
18th Zephaniah
19th Haggai
20th Zechariah 1-4
21st Zechariah 5-7
22nd Zechariah 8-11
23rd Zechariah 12-14
24th Malachi

There’s a printable version here. Feel free to photocopy and share as widely as you like.

EU: some questions

Like pretty much everyone else, I’ve been fed up of the debate surrounding the EU referendum since before it started. One thing that has particularly struck me is the lack of engagement with any of the real issues, on either side. The Remain camp are solidly focussing on short-term economic issues, while the Leave camp occasionally make shots about immigration, but mostly stick to short-term economic issues.

There are two problems with that: it’s virtually impossible to predict the economic effects of leaving the EU and both sides have been told off for the way they have interpreted the evidence to try to make their point; but more importantly, this isn’t a question about short-term economic issues. It’s not a general election where we vote for the next five years and then we can change our minds if it’s not working. It’s a referendum on a question that I don’t anticipate having another chance to vote on during my lifetime. This is a decision for at least the next 20-30 years and potentially much longer. What happens to our economy in the next 2-5 years is irrelevant. I’ll tell you what’s also irrelevant: whether you like Boris Johnson and/or Michael Gove. If you make this vote about their political careers you are shooting yourself in the foot.

So if that’s not the question, what is? Here are some questions I’d like to be discussed and which I’d love people to consider when they vote:

Questions of principle:
1. Is there greater political accountability in the EU or out of it?
2. Are the curbs on political corruption greater in the EU or out of it?
3. Will the increasing economic ties between EU countries continue to force increasing political ties? And if so, what does that mean for national democracy?
4. Is there any inherent benefit to having a smaller government or a larger one?
5. Nation or empire? Superstate or federal state?
6. What is the role of the monarchy in an EU nation?

Questions of pragmatics:
7. Does the EU really give us greater national security?
8. Has the EU been effective in preventing armed conflict in Europe?
9. Is there any reason we couldn’t have generous and compassionate immigration policies if we left the EU?
10. Is there any reason we couldn’t establish good trade agreements with EU nations if we left the EU?
11. If we left the EU, how likely is that to trigger similar decisions in other EU countries and potentially cause the whole project to fail? What would the consequences of that be?

I’m sure there are many other questions of this sort that I haven’t thought about. I’m not an expert on any of this. But please, please, don’t let the dreadful campaigns fool you into thinking this is a vote about how much better or worse off we might (or might not) be in the next couple of years. Please.

Book review: Virtually Human

virtuallyuman Virtually Human: Flourishing in a Digital World
Ed Brooks and Pete Nicholas
IVP: Nottingham, 2015

First I want to say that this book is fine. If you’re looking for a way to start thinking about how you interact with different kinds of technology, especially online, as a Christian, you’ll find some very helpful things here. As I read through it, I agreed with pretty much everything the authors said, though in a few places I wanted a little bit more nuance. I also think it’s a difficult sort of book to write, given the constantly changing nature of technology, and on the whole I think they did a good job of being specific enough to be useful, but general enough to continue to be useful for years to come.

BUT, I didn’t enjoy reading the book, and I want to talk a bit about why, because I don’t think these issues are limited to this particular book.

I’ve read a lot of Christian books over the years. In particular, I’ve read a lot of this sort of book, aimed at the ordinary Christian in the pew, addressing a specific issue of doctrine, life or Bible study. I’ve never read one about Christians and digital media before, and given that my job is online, I was looking forward to this.

I was bored. Especially in the first part of the book, I was very bored. As the authors gave their version of a biblical theology I’ve read in practically every book of this kind, I couldn’t help but wonder why they’d chosen to focus only on the creation and fall in Genesis 1-3 and then leapt forward to the cross, as they explained their ‘yes and no’ to technology.

There’s an amazing thing about the Bible, which is that it is deep and rich and multi-layered and complex and glorious. Yet, so often, we reduce it to the same short summary. It’s not that the summary is wrong, just that it is limited. I think there would be a fascinating biblical theology to be told about technology. From Adam and Eve’s first ‘clothes’, through the construction of the tower of Babel and idols like the golden calf, as well as the proper use of technology in building the tabernacle. You’d still get the sense of human creativity and ingenuity, flowing from their creator. And you’d certainly understand the sinful ways in which humanity perverts the use of technology.

So that’s the first thing. I wanted a deeper, richer, fuller, more thoughtful and nuanced engagement with the Bible and technology. Every so often the book hints at more but doesn’t take the time to explore those questions.

The second thing I want to say about why I didn’t much enjoy reading this, is that the writing is (mostly) functional but far from beautiful. The prose is sometimes awkward, as if it has been transcribed from speech. There are far too many questions interrupting the flow for the reader. I don’t know whether some of these issues stem from the difficulty of co-authoring, or the admission in the acknowledgements that the first draft was written over the course of several late nights.

I do think that editors have a very important role to play here. Good books don’t just need good ideas, they also need good writers. And writers need the help of good editors to become good writers.

It’s as true now as it was when Ecclesiastes was written that ‘Of the making of many books there is no end.’ But please could we work a bit harder at making better books, even if that means making slightly fewer books?

Bible colouring

I’ve uploaded some pages of meditations and colouring for several psalms. You’re free to download and copy these as much as you like for individual or church use.

You can find them all here and when I have more done, this is where I’ll add them.

Please do NOT upload the files to distribute these as if they were your own. Please do NOT sell these images or meditations in any format. The copyright on them belongs to me, not you.

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