Friday, 28 November 2008

God, Order and Chaos - René Girard and the Apocalypse

I'm happy to report that Steve Finamore's excellent PhD thesis is nearing publication with Paternoster in the Biblical Monographs series.

I have been asked to write some words for the back cover, so here they are:

'In the wake of heated debates surrounding the understanding of violence in various models of the atonement, Stephen Finamore offers an insightful analysis of the violent and chaotic plague sequences of the Book of Revelation. Through careful engagement with the biblical text, and creative engagement with the work of René Girard, the enthroned ‘lamb that was slaughtered’ emerges as the decisive witness to the non-violent kingdom of God breaking into human history and offering an alternative to the cycles of violence which otherwise dominate human culture.'

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Where Christ touches down

John Rackley is leading the prayer times here at RSC, and last night he quoted Margaret Magdalen (from her Grove booklet Vocation: Exploring Call and Identity p.6):

'the call of Christ today always touches down on an inner hunger.'

And this really resonated with me...
  • Where is my inner hunger?
  • Where am I starved, needing food?
  • What am I hungry for?
  • How does Christ's call 'touch down' at that point?
As we are gathered here to consider issues of 'calling' and 'vocation', I once again find myself pondering just what it is I am called to. What am I hungry for?

I'm not going to blog my answers, but it strikes me that the question is worth pondering.

A Question

Does the Kingdom of Heaven operate a points-based immigration system?

How long in the pool?

Spotted by my parents at a swimming pool in Reading...
My Dad's comment was:
'Yeah, this would work. After all, I wouldn't go at a busy time if I had to stay for an hour. Twenty minutes is usually plenty for me!'

Monday, 24 November 2008


This morning I'm off to the R.S.C., but sadly (on this occasion) I'm not going to Stratford-on-Avon. Rather, I'm heading a bit further north to Hothorpe Hall, to the 'Residential Selection Conference' which is where we spend three days interviewing those who are applying for Baptist Ministry but have not trained at a Baptist College. I'm doing the academic interviews, and I've asked the candidates to read Nigel Wright's Free Church, Free State, and Brian McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus.

Sunday, 23 November 2008


This post has been substantially updated - May 2013.

In the Spring 2013 issue of the Baptist Union Retreat Group (BURG) The Journal, Ian Green pondered whether we ‘tailor make our retreats for introverts’, and wondered what a ‘retreat for extroverts’ might look like? Well, I've done the Myers-Briggs test a few times over the years, and I consistently report as a strong 'E' - that is, I am an Extrovert, rather than an Introvert. This means I am energised by being with people, and drained when I spend time alone. I’ve been on many ‘retreats’ and ‘quiet days’ over the years, and have variously found them either draining or challenging, but never refreshing. And so I think Ian might be onto something. The question I have frequently found myself asking is whether my ‘Extroverted’ nature means that I am inherently any less 'spiritual' than those who report as strong 'Introverted' types?

In their book 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' (SPCK, 2003), Malcolm Goldsmith and Martin Wharton comment that: 'Extraverts... often feel that they are unable to pray, and they feel uneasy when prayer is being discussed... and they probably need help in realizing that their thinking and action might well be a form of prayer... Retreats and Quiet Days can leave them feeling 'outsider', and somehow 'second class' when it comes to spirituality.' (p.158)

I've done a fair bit of reading over the years on 'spirituality', and have frequently been left feeling rather inadequate. Those whom the church looks to as 'spiritual' people, the great 'spiritual' writers of past and present, seem to advocate pathways to God which are predominantly 'I' rather than 'E'. Ignatian Spirituality is predicated on the idea of retreat, with silent meditation and contemplation featuring high up the agenda. The practice of Lectio Divina is based on silent reflection upon the text and the world. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross are similarly focussed on the inner journey undertaken in solitude. When I was growing up, I was told that I should prioritise my daily Quiet Time, finding a silent place and meeting God in my solitude.

And all of this is fine, up to a point. And the point is this: For me, this is all a lot of hard work. I'm not denying it's value: I do indeed take quiet days, engage in silent reflection and meditation, and spend time alone in prayer. But, and it's a big but, this is not my naturally preferred place to be. It is tiring, draining, hard work. It's not that I'm afraid of a bit of hard work from time to time: we all have to work hard at things. But I'm not sure I want to locate my primary place of divine encounter in that place which also drains and exhausts me. Because if I do, when I am tired and stressed from the rest of my life, the last thing I'll want to do is go and meet God. Spending time with God, when understood as an Introverted exercise, can become just one more tiring task to put on the extrovert’s 'to do' list, which they then never get round to completing.

But, nontheless, 'sprituality' = Introverted has become almost de rigeur in Christian culture.

And, forgive the rant, I'm getting less and less happy with this status quo.

  • What if it is just as spiritual to meet God in others as it is to meet him alone?
  • What if it is just as spiritual to hang around at the end of the service talking to people, as it is to go home and contemplate the sermon?
  • What if it is just as spiritual to spend the afternoon visiting, as it is to spend it in prayer?

I was talking this through (as you might expect) with my Spiritual Director, and I was complaining about my perception of 'bias' in the spiritual literature towards Introverted Spirituality. She made what is I think a good point: most people who write books are Introverts, because writing is an essentially introverted discipline. This means that most of those who have put words to their spirituality have done so from a introverted perspective. The extroverts are too busy 'out there' getting on with life.

And so I'm starting to wonder, what might an Extroverted Spirituality look like? I’m starting to wonder what spiritual disciplines would look like that offer a sustainable and nourishing challenge for extroverts, in the same way that more introverted disciplines function for more naturally introverted people? And I also wonder whether an exploration of extroverted disciplines might pose a helpful challenge to those of a more introverted disposition, in an analogous manner to the way in which the introverted disciplines challenge extroverts?

Are extroverts any less 'spiritual'? I think not. I often take encouragement from Revelation 8:1 ‘When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.’ And I think, as an extrovert, that that’s about right. Half an hour – not a morning, or a day, or a week, or a month…

So, in the interests of getting the discussion going, here is my emerging manifesto for Extroverted Spirituality:

  • Intentionally seek to encounter God through interaction with others.
  • Listen for the voice of Christ when talking with others.
  • Seek the counsel of others when engaging in discernment.
  • Believe that it is as we gather that we discern the mind of Christ.
  • Practice accountability with others.
  • Engage in introverted spiritual disciplines, but not daily.
  • When Christ is encountered, tell someone about it.
  • Seek the forgiveness of others, because it is often there that our own forgiveness by Christ will be encountered.
  • Pay attention to what is encountered in the other, because it is often there that we find our inner self.
You might also enjoy: Nancy Reeves, ‘Spirituality for Extroverts (And Tips for Those Who Love Them)’, Abingdon Press, 2008.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Why can't the English learn to speak?

Robyn has commented on the "English" Language...
In 'My Fair Lady', Colonel Pickering moans: 'Why can't the English learn to speak?' (His friend Henry 'enry 'iggins Higgins also moans: Why can't a woman be more like a man?' but that's another story...).
Pickering claims he can identify a person's origin to within six miles by careful application of the science of phonetics. And I think he's probably right. Certainly, when I went up to university in Sheffield, I met a fellow student who correctly told me which school I went to simply by my accent! I met her again recently, for the first time in 14 years, and she reminded me of this.
I've moved around the UK a bit myself, and I've noticed various vocabulary and idiomatic changes from 'proper' English (i.e. that spoken in Sevenoaks).
In Sheffield, the 'while' means 'until'. e.g. 'I'll wait for you while six O'clock but then I'm going.' or 'Today I have to work nine while five'.
In Bristol, a word which ends in a vowel will usually attract an 'L' at the end. So, when I went to my first Bristolian Deacons' meeting, I was met with: 'Have you got tonight's agendal?', and 'That's the ideal!'
In Bristol, plimsolls are daps.
In various places 'ignorant' means 'rude' not 'unknowledgable'. e.g. 'That driver who cut me up were right ignorant!'
In South Wales, 'now' means 'eventually'. e.g. 'I'll do that for you now' means 'I'll do that for you when I get round to it'.
Which leads me to conclude that I'm more ignorant of English than I thought, and that it'll be some time while I work it out, which I'll go and do now.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The Smiths - 'Stretch out and wait'

Revelation in culture.

The Smiths - 'Stretch out and wait'
Will the world end in the night time? I really don't know.
Or will the world end in the day time? I really don't know
And is there any point ever having children? I really don't know.
All I do know we're here and it's now,
So stretch out and wait.

Thanks to Simon for posting this, and Craig for pointing it out!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Just Say No!

One of the things I'm very bad at is saying 'no' to things, especially when they're exciting new possibilities which feed right into my ENTP desire for change and novelty. Even more so when they're (a bit) high profile. However, I am pleased (I think) to report that for the second time in recent months I have successfully said 'no' to something...
I think what it boils down to is a sense of calling. Not 'can I do this?' nor 'do I want to do this?' nor 'would it make me look good to do this?' but 'am I called to do this?'
I remember Brian Haymes once saying that some ministers go off with stress not because they are too busy but because they are too lazy... too lazy to take control of their lives... too lazy to take control of their diaries... too lazy to stand up for what they are called to do against the many voices that would load more and more and more into already pressured schedules... too lazy to sit and ask God... what actually I am called to do, at this moment?...

Monday, 17 November 2008

Barack Obama as the Antichrist

I'm teaching later today on 1,2,3 John, which of course contain the only biblical references to 'antichrist'. Here they are:
  • 1 John 2:18-19 Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us.
  • 1 John 2:22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.
  • 1 John 4:2-3 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.
  • 2 John 1:7 Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!
However, as this report from the Guardian makes clear, it appears that not only is the Antichrist present in the book of Revelation, he is also with us today in the person of Barack Obama.
This story grew wings and flew in the run up to the American presidential election, as this report from CNN demonstrates.

My Desktop

Jim West has issued a challenge to post whatever picture is currently on your desktop.
Sounds (a) like fun; and (b) easy. So here it is. It's Turner's 'Death on a Pale Horse'.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Iron Maiden – Number of the Beast (1982)

Another fine example of Revelation in culture.
Video available here.
For the ongoing list see here.

Woe to you O earth and sea
For the devil sends the beast with wrath
Because he knows the time is short
Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast
For it is a human number
It’s number is six hundred and sixty six

I left alone my mind was blank
I needed time to think to get the memories from my mind
What did I see can I believe that what I saw
that night was real and not just fantasy

Just what I saw in my old dreams were they
reflections of my warped mind staring back at me
Cos in my dreams it's always there the evil face that twists my mind
and brings me to despair

The night was black was no use holding back
Cos I just had to see was someone watching me
In the mist dark figures move and twist
was all this for real or some kind of hell
666 the Number of the Beast
Hell and fire was spawned to be released

Torches blazed and sacred chants were praised
as they start to cry hands held to the sky
In the night the fires burning bright
the ritual has begun Satan's work is done
666 the Number of the Beast
Sacrifice is going on tonight

This can't go on I must inform the law
Can this still be real or some crazy dream
but I feel drawn towards the evil chanting hordes
they seem to mesmerise me...can't avoid their eyes
666 the Number of the Beast
666 the one for you and me

I'm coming back I will return
And I'll possess your body and I'll make you burn
I have the fire I have the force
I have the power to make my evil take its course

Steve Harris (1982)

Pause for Thought - Radio 2 #2

Weekend Pause for Thought's tend to go in pairs, so here's today's offering...

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Pause for Thought - Radio 2

I was the 'Pause for thought' voice on Radio 2 this morning.
You can listen here if you're interested.

Friday, 14 November 2008


As one who does, indeed, do his own 'bloody research' (thank you Mr Lyons), here's my response to the tag...

The Rules
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

So... six random things about myself:

1. I can recite all the books of the Bible, in one breath, in order.
2. I can sing (well, sort of) 'How much is that doggy in the window' - backwards.
3. My Dad drives a Red London Doubledecker for a living.
4. I once spent a year selling Indonesian clothing on Camden Market in London.
5. I ride a Honda VFR750f.
6. I really really really really don't like bananas.

And... some people to tag (if they pick this up and want to play) ... Andy Goodliff; Geoff Colmer; Robyn Steele; the Skinny Fairtrade Latte; Glen Marshall; Nigel Coles.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Sean's last night

Tonight marks the end of an era! Sean Winter is stepping down as moderator of Council, but is doing so in fine style! Our loss is Australia's gain. And the New Testament Conference won't be the same again either.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Quote of the day

'Creeping Presbyterianism under the guise of beaurocracy'

Time to remember

In his song Mighty Trucks of Midnight, Bruce Cockburn sings:

Everything that exists in time runs out of time someday

John Weaver, leading Council in our act of remembrance, reminded us that Qohelet puts it like this:

 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

The gospel message is that evil is constrained within time, and is therefore under judgment.

As we remember the evils of our past, present and future, the one who is beyond time calls us proclaim and participate in the inbreaking kingdom of heaven.

Posting from Council

Well, it seems The Hayes has hit the 21st century. I'm posting this from my room, using my lovely new Windows Smartphone (a UBIQUIO 503g if you're interested) over the wi-fi cloud.
Council is going well, but last night after hours was a VERY late night!

Monday, 10 November 2008

BU Council and Kings College London

Off to BU Council shortly. Partly I love it, partly it feels like a life sentence to the country's largest deacons meeting! It's always great to catch up with friends there, and share in some discussions (formal and informal).
Then on the way home on Weds I'm going via London, to give a paper at the Biblical Studies Research Seminar at Kings College.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Gog and Magog

At the Lord Mayor's Show in London each year, two huge wicker statues of Gog and Magog join in the procession. They are the traditional guardians of the City of London, and have been part of the show since the time of Henry V. Interestingly, the Lord Mayor's Show website traces their history to pagan/Roman origins, not mentioning the antecedents in the Hebrew Bible (Ezek. 38.2) or the Book of Revelation (20.8).

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Ghostbusters (1984)

Winston Zeddemore: Hey Ray. Do you believe in God?
Dr Ray Stantz: Never met him.
Winston Zeddemore: Yeah, well, I do. And I love Jesus's style, you know.
Hey Ray. Do you remember something in the bible about the last days when the dead would rise from the grave?
Dr Ray Stantz: I remember Revelations 7:12...?And I looked, and he opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake. And the sun became as black as sack cloth, and the moon became as blood."
Winston Zeddemore: "And the seas boiled and the skies fell."
Dr Ray Stantz: Judgement day.
Winston Zeddemore: Judgement day.
Dr Ray Stantz: Every ancient religion has its own myth about the end of the world.
Winston Zeddemore: Myth? Ray, has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason we've been so busy lately is 'cause the dead HAVE been rising from the grave?
Dr Ray Stantz: [Pause ] How 'bout a little music?
Winston Zeddemore: Yeah.

(NB Should be Rev. 6.12)

Prince - Seven

All 7 and we'll watch them fall
They stand in the way of love and we will smoke them all
With an intellect and a savoir-faire
No one in the whole universe will ever compare
I am yours now and U are mine
And 2gether we'll love through all space and time
So don't cry
One day all 7 will die


And I saw an angel come down unto me
And in her hand she holds the very key
Words of compassion, words of peace
And in the distance an army's marching feet (Hut 2 3 4, hut 2 3 4)
But behold, we will watch them fall

And we lay down on the sand of the sea
And before us animosity will stand and decree
That we speak not of love, only blasphemy
And in the distance, 6 others will curse me
But that's alright (that's alright), 4 I will watch them fall
(1 2 3 4 5 6 7)


(Never grow old)

And we will see a plague and a river of blood
And every evil soul will surely die in spite of
Their 7 tears, but do not fear
4 in the distance, 12 souls from now
U and me will still be here - we will still be here

There will be a new city with the streets of gold
The young so educated they never grow old
And ah… there will be no death 4 with every breath
The voice of many colors sings a song that's so bold
Sing it while we watch them fall (Fall)


(Never grow old) {x3}

© 1992 Controversy Music - ASCAP

The Clash – Four Horsemen

Well they were given the grapes that go ripe in the sun
That loosen the screws at the back of the tongue
But they told no one where they had begun - four horsemen

They were given all the foods of vanity
And all the instant promises of immortality
But they bit the dust screamin' insanity! - four horsemen

One was over the edge, one was over the cliff
One was lickin' em dry with a bloody great spliff
When they picked up the hiker he didn't want the lift
From the horsemen

But you!
You're not searching, are you now?
You're not looking anyhow
You're never gonna ride that lonely mile
Or put yourself up on trial
Oh, you told me how your life was so bad
An' I agree that it does seem sad
But that's the price that you gotta pay
If you're lazing all around all day
Four horsemen coming right through
Four horsemen and they're pissing by you
They make you look like you're wearing a truss
Four horsemen and it's gonna be us

Well they gave us everything for bending the mind
And we cleaned out their pockets and we drank 'em blind
It's a long way to the finish so don't get left behind
By those horsemen

And they gave us the grapes that went ripe in the sun
That loosen the screws at the back of the tongue
But we still told nothing 'bout what was to come
Four horsemen


Metallica - The Four Horsemen

Ride the ROCK

By the last breath of the four winds blow
Better raise your ears
The sound of hooves knocks at your door
Lock up your wife and children now
It's time to wield the blade
For now you have got some company

The Horsemen are drawing nearer
On leather steeds they ride
They come to take your life
On through the dead of night
With the four Horsemen ride
Or choose your fate and die

You have been dying since the day
You were born
You know it has all been planned
The quartet of deliverance rides
A sinner once a sinner twice
No need for confession now
Cause now you've got the fight of your life

The Horsemen are drawing nearer
On leather steeds they ride
They come to take your life
On through the dead of night
With the four Horsemen ride
Or choose your fate and die

Has taken its toll on you
The lines that crack your face
Your body it has torn through
Withered in every place
For what you have had to endure
What you have put others through
Deliverance for you for sure
Now there's nothing you can do

So gather round young warriors now
And saddle up your steeds
Killing scores with demon swords
Now is the death of doers of wrong
Swing the judgment hammer down
Safely inside armor blood guts and sweat

The Horsemen are drawing nearer
On leather steeds they ride
They come to take your life
On through the dead of night
With the four Horsemen ride
Or choose your fate and die

Friday, 7 November 2008

The Four Bikers of the Apocalypse

It did not escape their notice that all four strangers had HELL’S ANGELS ON THEIR JACKETS. And they looked dead dodgy as far as the Angels were concerned…
‘You’re Hell’s Angels, then?’ asked Big Ted, sarcastically…
The four strangers nodded.
‘What chapter are you from, then?’
The Tall Stranger looked at Big Ted. Then he stood up. It was a complicated motion; if the shores of the seas of night had deckchairs, they’d open up something like that.
He seemed to be unfolding himself forever.
He wore a dark helmet, completely hiding his features. And it was made of that weird plastic, Big Ted noted. Like, you looked in it, and all you could see was your own face.

They came down the outside lane of the motorway like destroying angels, which was fair enough…
Pigbog wished he’d paid more attention to the Book of Revelation. If he’d known he was going to be in it, he’d have read it more carefully. ‘What I mean is, they’re the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, right?’
‘Bikers,’ said Greaser.
‘Right, Four Bikers of the Apocalypse. War, Famine, Death, and – and the other one. P’lution.’

Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, Good Omens, Gollancz: London, 1990, pp. 262, 274

The Book of Revelation in Contemporary Culture

This post has been re-posted here to neaten the URL

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


  • The 'race' for the 'White'house has been won by one who is non-white.
  • The 'race' for the black and white F1 chequered flag has been won by one who is non-white.
  • We are now one year on from the momentous decision by the Baptist Union Council to offer an apology for the transatlantic slave trade.
I was fortunate enough to be part of the discussions at BU Council last year, and on my return I penned the following letter to the Baptist Times (published Nov 22nd 2008). I think it bears repeating...

As one of those who participated in the 'kairos moment' of the Baptist Union Council discussion of the enduring legacy of the transatlantic slave trade, I offer the following reflection. Many will rightly see the unanimous statement agreed by Council as the Baptist family becoming a more inclusive gospel people. I want to suggest that it is not just about inclusivity: It is also about us becoming a prophetic gospel people.
The question before us is this: In what ways are we, as British Baptists, a gospel people offering good news for all nations?
We in the Baptist Union of Great Britain are the inheritors of empire; some of us represent the beneficiaries of empire, some of us represent the victims of empire, but all of us are diminished by our shared imperial heritage.
As the prophetic people of God, we are called to expose and oppose those systems which oppress and diminish humanity, which mar the image of God in all of us. I believe that those of us who have inherited power can shape a prophetic act of gospel witness by seeking to find ways of restoring divine balance within humanity. An apology thereby offered becomes a commitment to reverse the effects of empire, to repent and turn away from our legacy and from our complicity in the ongoing effects of empire.
In this way, we begin to offer genuine good news, we become a genuine gospel people, prophetically witnessing to the world that in Christ there is neither slave nor free, for the healing of the nations.

Barak goes into battle

Then Deborah said to Barak, “Get ready! This is the day the Lord will give you victory… for the Lord is marching ahead of you.” So Barak led his warriors down the slopes… into battle.
Judges 4:14

Remembrance Day

Let me tell you a story of war: Come back in time with me, sixty years, to the Second World War, and let me introduce you to a young couple… Their names were Madge and Fred, and they had been childhood sweethearts: Fred was a Sunday school teacher in the local Methodist church, and they planned to be married some day, hopefully someday soon. But this was wartime Britain of the late 1930s, and Fred was called up to serve in the Royal Air Force, so the marriage plans had to go on hold until he became eligible for compassionate leave.
Eventually, in mid-1941, Fred was allowed six weeks leave to be married and he and Madge took an extended honeymoon together. Then, all too soon, Fred had to return to the Air Force where he was a navigator on the Lockheed Hudsons which guarded the transatlantic convoys.
A few days later Fred’s plane was damaged by enemy fire and tried to limp back to its base in Cornwall. But a couple of hundred yards off the tip of the Lizard, the Hudson ditched into the sea. Local fishermen saw the plane come down and set off to see if they could help. Two were rescued, but Fred’s body was never recovered.
Madge, waiting back home, got news of her husband’s death shortly before she realised that she was pregnant with my mother. Such is the tragedy of war.
As a postscript to this story, the wreckage of the aeroplane was dredged from the seabed in the mid 1970’s and it is now on display at Flambards in Cornwall, together with the flight logs listing my grandfather’s name and the flights he took. And my mother is in possession of his medals, which include the Distinguished Flying Medal.
But these are little consolation for the loss of a husband and father.
Such is the tragedy of war
And on this remembrance day, it is important that we never forget.

Thought for the Day originally delivered on 11th November 2003 on Radio Bristol

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

The great David Pawson / Simon Woodman apocalyptic smack-down

Church Times, 31 October 2008, p.18
What the Spirit is still saying
Here are two very different ways of reading the Bible, says Michael Perry

David Pawson, the veteran Baptist preacher, says: “I would feel terribly insecure if my religion was not founded on something or someone infallible because I would never know whether I was right or wrong in my faith.”
But have no fear: the Revelation of St John, on which he provides a running commentary, and which, he assures us, comes directly from Jesus, “is there to tell us accurately what future history will be like… Every single thing that this book says will happen will certainly happen” (and probably within the next 30 years).
Some of it, of course, is symbolic; but Pawson takes its basic thrust literally – including the 1260 days of the final tribulation, the 3944 million cubic miles of the New Jerusalem, and the precise site of Armageddon. We should love god, provided we fear him first; because the anger of Jesus, like the vengeance of God, will come to judge all those who reject the message and to bring them eternal punishment. Activities like inter-faith dialogue, or support for a world government, sail dangerously close to the wind.
If this is not your way of reading the book of Revelation, you may be happier with Simon Woodman – another Baptist, but with a very different agenda.
Woodman writes with second-year undergraduates in mind, but his book will appeal to a far wider clientèle. He gives us no verse-by-verse commentary, but a series of essays looking at the overall impact of John’s exuberantly kaleidoscopic metaphorical vision.
John wished to encourage the Church of his own day – small, apparently insignificant little house churches, beleaguered and seemingly powerless. He showed them what they really looked like – from a heavenly perspective, in which they were vital participants in a cosmic drama.
Woodman expounds the book’s structure, its dramatis personae, its imagery, and its message – which is not simply for the Church of the last days, but for Churches of any age. Those who persevere through hardships and persecutions will eventually enjoy the future that God has planned.
There will be bloodbaths and natural catastrophes on the way, but they are not vindictive punishments. Satanic evil holds the seeds of its own self-destruction, which will be the natural outworking of a system in which the mindless luxuries of the few are provided by the repression, poverty, and hunger of the many.
Rome feasted on titbits while its provinces starved. Do we do any better, nowadays, for the Third World?
Canon Perry is a former Archdeacon of Durham.

Radio 2 Pause for Thought

It's my turn to do Pause for Thought on Radio 2 again, and I was at the Beeb in Cardiff yesterday to record them, with the wonderful Karen Walker producing. You'll be able to hear me on 15th and 16th November, at 3.30am and 6.15am. Or, of course, if you're keen but not that keen, on the wonderful iPlayer!
Who, one might wonder, listens to the Radio at 3.30am? Insomniacs? Truckers? Well, no apparently: There's a whole lot of people who work through the night. From hospitals to factories, Radio 2 is (again, apparently) the station of choice. This means that this slot is the equivalent, for a lot of people, of having two minutes in the middle of Steve Wright! It's a fast-paced show for those whose day is the night. And the 6.15 slot is what a lot of people wake up to. So, more people will hear these broadcasts that one might at first imagine...