For a little while

Nine group Bible studies on the book of 1 Peter, including notes for leaders.

The theme of suffering and persecution strongly suggests that these Christians were under attack for their faith and lifestyle. Peter writes to encourage them through times of hardship by reminding them that suffering proves their faith, pointing to the example of Christ, and showing their future hope. His letter shows how Christ is the model for Christians: as the firstfruit of the resurrection; as the cornerstone of the house we’re being built into; as the exemplar of patient, undeserved suffering and submission; as the chief shepherd of the flock.

Download the studies here.

Season of Longing

NOW UPDATED FOR 2017!!

A series of readings for Advent 2014, focussing on the Old Testament prophecies of the king, the restoration of Israel’s fortune, the ingathering of the nations, and the new creation.

As Christmas creeps further forward each year, the season of Advent is increasingly easy to overlook. In the church’s calendar, Advent isn’t merely a time of preparation for the celebrations of Christmas, rather it is a time of longing and anticipation for Christ’s return. So the focus of Advent is on future promises rather than past events. As Christians, we have wonderful promises of the future, and as Paul tells the Corinthians, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Why not join me in taking the opportunity to reorient ourselves to that future focus of our faith?. This year, I’m going to mark the Advent season by reading through a series of texts from the OT prophets which tell us some of what we have to look forward to. If you’d like to do the same, the readings are listed here and there’s also a handy downloadable list and bookmark at the bottom of the page. As you read each passage, ask yourself: (i) is there anything in these promises you are already experiencing as a Christian? and (ii) how much more is there still to look forward to?

Longing for the king
Dec 3: Isaiah 9:1-7
Dec 4: Isaiah 11:1-16
Dec 5: Jeremiah 23:1-8
Dec 6: Jeremiah 30:8-11
Dec 7: Ezekiel 34:11-24
Dec 8: Ezekiel 37:15-28

Longing for Israel’s fortunes to be restored
Dec 9: Ezekiel 39:21-29
Dec 10: Jeremiah 31:1-14
Dec 11 Jeremiah 31:23-40
Dec 12: Jeremiah 33:6-16
Dec 13: Zechariah 14:1-11
Day 14: Hosea 14:1-9

Longing for the ingathering of the nations
Dec 15: Isaiah 2:1-5
Dec 16: Micah 4:1-8
Dec 17: Isaiah 42:1-9
Dec 18: Isaiah 49:1-7
Dec 19: Jeremiah 3:14-19
Day 20: Isaiah 35:1-10

Longing for the new creation
Dec 21: Isaiah 61:1-11, Revelation 21:1-8
Dec 22: Isaiah 62:1-12, Revelation 21:9-21
Dec 23: Isaiah 65:17-25, Revelation 21:22-27
Dec 24: Isaiah 66:1-13, Revelation 22:1-11
Dec 25: Isaiah 66:14-24, Revelation 22:12-21

Pdf download of the 2017 readings

Church Under Construction

A short book telling the history of the church, using primary sources, plenty of visual images, hymns and other material.

In 2012-13, a group of church members gathered every month at Castle Church in Stafford to hear the story of the church unfold. Castle Church is an evangelical, Anglican parish church in the UK and the book focusses on the particular aspects of history which form its heritage. The notes from those talks have been revised and expanded to form this short book which I hope will be useful not only to those people who first heard the lectures but to anyone else who has an interest in finding out how the church has come to be what it is.

Download a printable pdf here.

Additional resources for each chapter

1. Martyrdom and Mayhem (The Early Church: 70-451)
Caecilius and Octavian
Of the Father’s Love Begotten
2. Power and Glory (The Mediaeval Church: 451-1517)
Animated map of the Holy Roman Empire
O Sacred Head Sore Wounded
3. Theses and Theology (The beginning of the Reformation: 1517-1546)
Reformation Polka
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
4. Kings and the Kingdom (The English Reformation: 1525-1603)
Thirty-Nine Articles
5. Calvin, Christ and the City (The Continental Reformers: 1536-1564)
Psalm 23 from the Genevan Psalter
Heidelberg Catechism
Five Points of Calvinism?
6. War and Worship (The Puritans: 1603-1700)
Westminster Confession
Come Let Us Join Our Cheerful Songs
Who Would True Valour See
7. Mission and Mercy (The Great Awakening and its consequences: 1700-1900)
O For A Thousand Tongues
8. Oppression and Opportunity (The Modern Church: 1900–2013)
O Church Arise
 
 
General resources:
Christianity.com: Great timelines and articles on the individuals and events of church history.
CCEL: A vast collection of texts from throughout church history.

 
 
 

The Bible from beginning to end

Five hours of teaching accompanied by printable handouts and downloadable powerpoint presentations makes this a fantastic resource for use by churches, small groups and individuals. Each handout includes brief summaries of all the biblical books discussed that week, forming a complete introduction to the whole Bible.

 

Part one: TIME OF CREATION AND COVENANT

This session introduces the whole series. It explains how the biblical books can be divided according to genre, and how they would appear in chronological order. It covers Genesis to Deuteronomy with a focus on the themes of creation and covenant. There are suggestions for different ways to read more of the Bible and some tips for reading and understanding biblical narrative.

Listen to the talk here.

Download handout for session one here.

Download powerpoint for session one here.


Part two: TIME OF CONQUEST

This session covers Joshua’s conquest of the land through to the reign of Solomon, with a focus on the theme of kingdom. It includes some tips for reading and understanding biblical wisdom literature.

Listen to the talk here.

Download handout for session two here.

Download powerpoint for session two here.


Part three: TIME OF CONFLICT

This session covers the division of the kingdom through to the exile, with a focus on the theme of God’s marriage to his people. It includes some tips for reading and understanding biblical prophecy.

Listen to the talk here.

Download handout for session three here.

Download powerpoint for session three here.

 
Part four: TIME OF CONSOLATION

This session covers the exile and the return from exile, with a focus on the messianic hope of Israel.

Listen to the talk here.

Download handout for session four here.

Download powerpoint for session four here.

 
Part five: TIME OF CONSUMMATION

This session shows how Jesus was the fulfilment of the covenants with Abraham, Moses and David, the promised Messiah and the son of Eve who crushes the serpent. It covers the whole of the New Testament including the promises of restoration and resurrection still to be fulfilled.

Listen to the talk here.

Download handout for session five here.

Download powerpoint for session five here.
 
 
 
The talks are all available here and also on the Castle Church vimeo page. These sessions were originally given during Lent 2014 at Castle Church, Stafford and all materials are used with permission.

 
 
 

Romance and religion

Even MORE people are talking about it, yay!

Here’s Jane Lee Blair who set up a tumblr and made this her first post: why she, as a Reformed Christian, doesn’t read inspirational romance. She makes lots of good points: the cheesy portrayal of Christian life, the problem of the conversion narrative, that wisdom and insight into relationships aren’t limited to Christian writers.

Authors Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner are kicking off a series of posts on the subject with a discussion of why romances so rarely feature religion. Aside from the possible marketing concerns of publishers, Emma suggests that the conversion narrative is similar – and maybe too similar – to a romance narrative. I think this fits in with my suggestion that a conversion narrative provides another climax in a romance novel which can overshadow the romantic climax.

In the comments to that post, Laura Vivanco linked to this article in JPRS by Catherine Roach. The abstract for the article reads:

The story of romance is the most powerful narrative in Western art and culture, sharing roots with Christianity and functioning as a mythic story about the meaning and purpose of life, particularly in regards to the HEA ending of redemption and wholeness. Contemporary romance novels are popular because this religious nature of the romance narrative allows them to do deep work for the (mostly) women who read them, engaging readers in a reparation fantasy of healing in regards to male-female relations. Romance novels help women readers deal with a paradoxical relationship toward men within a culture still marked by patriarchy and threats of violence.

I’m really excited that these discussions are happening and I hope they will result in more books which feature people of faith.

Writing religion into a romance

First, a lovely surprise – a fascinating comment from Laura Kinsale about her research and thought processes as she wrote Flowers From The Storm:

This was Maddy’s central conflict, trying to distinguish her own self-will, which was obviously to be with the man she loved, from God’s will. Laura V felt he was too satanic for her to love him as a husband, which is exactly what Maddy thought too, so she left him. But when she heard him speak to her, at the end, and thought and listened and wrote another paper, she felt sure it wasn’t only her self-will, but also God’s. I guess if a reader doesn’t accept that as possible, then it won’t ring true. But even though not a religious person myself, I’ve grown up in a Christian tradition, and I’m very sure that it’s taught that Jesus loved sinners more than righteous people. Beyond a romantic connection, or anything about his lifestyle, I think that is the impulse within her, that not only she but he are both sinners, and full of questions about how to live rightly, and that he was her husband and it was wrong to leave him and right to stay with him, however that would play out.

Second, an interview with Noelle Adams about her recent contemporary romance, Married For Christmas, which features a hero who is a pastor. Married For Christmas is a wonderful example of how faith can provide external and internal conflicts, rich characterisation, and a very satisfying romance. I loved it.

Can you tell us a bit about why you chose to write a romance about people whose faith was such an integral part of their lives?

I didn’t start out with the idea to write about people of faith. I was actually brainstorming about realistic scenarios for contemporary marriage of convenience, since it’s my favorite trope but I didn’t want to use a premise I’d already used. That’s how I came up with the pastor hero who needed to marry to be called by a particular church, and the characters’ faith was simply a result of who they were.

In your author’s note you say that Married For Christmas isn’t an inspirational romance. What would you say distinguishes the book from inspirational romances and why did you decide not to go down that route?

As I understand inspirational romance as a genre, they are stories defined by their religious message. That’s not what I wanted to do with Married for Christmas. The story is not about a specific, explicit religious message. It’s about these characters, and these characters happen to be religious. That distinction is important to me, and I think it makes for very different sorts of books. I also didn’t want to be limited by the tight boundaries around content that inspirational romances seem to require. Since regular of readers of inspirational romance expect those boundaries, I thought it was very important to distinguish Married for Christmas from the genre. The story also doesn’t try to proselytize and doesn’t limit the Christian experience to conversion and morality. I don’t want to make broad generalizations about a genre I haven’t read widely in, but all of the inspirational romances I’ve read have done those things—which is one of the reasons I don’t read them anymore.

You do a great job in the book at showing both the interior life of faith and the external life of the church. How did you balance the development of those aspects of the plot with the romance?

This is a great question, but I don’t have a great answer. I just wrote what felt right for the characters. Since Daniel is a pastor and that’s an unusual job for a contemporary romance hero, I thought readers would want to see some of what the life of a pastor might look like. The central conflict turned around internal spirituality, however, so that had to take up a substantive part of the plot and was really the most exciting part of the story for me.

One of the things I loved about the book was the way in which you showed Daniel and Jessica’s flaws. I particularly loved the scene where she uses decidedly unChristian language! Did you ever feel that you “ought” to write Christians speaking or behaving in certain ways?

I didn’t really feel like I ought to portray them in any certain way—except what is genuinely human, which is always my guide for characterization. I did think readers might expect a different sort of portrait of Christian characters. I dealt with possible expectations by making the language at issue in the story itself. Since Jessica felt guilty about it, the topic itself could be addressed in a somewhat natural way—which I thought might help with any surprise from
readers.

I know that you’ve self-published several books as well as being published through Entangled (me too!). What made you choose to self-publish this one? Have you ever had any discussions with publishers about whether they’d be interested in books featuring characters of faith?

I’m pretty sure no publisher would have touched Married with Christmas, but I didn’t actually shop it around. It’s out of the box in so many ways it would have been a hard sell even without the pastor hero. It’s category length, but not high drama, and it’s third person limited with no hero point-of-view, and it’s religiously-oriented but has graphic sex scenes. Add this to the pastor hero, when romance readers aren’t interested in pastor heroes in anything but inspirational romances (or so I’ve been told), and you have an impossible story to sell to a publisher. Maybe I could have found one publisher who would have taken a chance on it, but I didn’t want to even try, because I didn’t want to risk the book being edited to fit a certain publishing niche. I love self-publishing, since it frees me up to take any sort of risk I want to take without trying to force myself to fit into niches that just aren’t right for my stories. I was mostly convinced this book would be a complete flop, but that was a risk I was willing to take because I wanted so much to tell this story.

I notice this is the first in a new series of books you’re writing. Will the others also feature Christian characters and can you tell us about them?

Yes, the other books in the series will be set in Willow Park and will revolve around the same church. The next one is an Easter book and will feature Daniel’s brother, Micah, who was a player before he came back to the church. I’m really excited about it!

I’m always looking for recommendations! Have you read any other romances featuring characters of faith that you can share?

Not really, unfortunately. I don’t read inspirational romance, and the contemporary Christian fiction I’ve read hasn’t really impressed me. I will say I haven’t read widely so there may be great stuff out there I’m not familiar with. It really seems like religion is a topic that isn’t deal with in non-inspirational contemporary romance—except in rather superficial ways. I don’t know why, unless writers are going with the “polite” conversation rule and avoiding controversial topics like politics and religion in their stories. I’d love to see more of it or hear recommendations if there’s more out there that I’m not aware of.

I’ve been in theological colleges and seminaries for the past 11 years. Why haven’t I met a sexy pastor like Daniel yet?

LOL. I guess they’re all already in marriages-of-convenience. I often wonder where all these young, sexy CEO’s are from romances too. Evidently, there’s one around every corner, but I never seem to run into them!

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview, Noelle. I’ll definitely be looking out for Micah’s book next year.

1 2 3 4