Videos & the blog – update

I’ve just uploaded the last in my series on “How to grow as a Christian” – looking at the cross from Mark’s gospel.

I apologise that my blog has become even more neglected over the last month, but I have been uploading videos weekly.

If you want to follow these videos, the best thing is to subscribe to my channel there (click the Subscribe button on that page). You can also subscribe on Facebook, but I tend to find Facebook a bit more unreliable for showing you new content.

I will try to get a mailing list set up with new videos as that is probably the safest way! But the best bet for now is to subscribe on YouTube.

I’m not going to close the blog, but I just wanted to explain where I am while I’m not here…

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Can we be optimistic about 2018?

Happy New Year to all my blog followers! Seeing as my last one seemed to be received well, I decided to do another vlog message thinking about the subject of whether we can be optimistic in 2018. Given that the world is in such a mess at the moment – the bad news seems to be relentless – can we be optimistic about the coming year? This is my answer.

Peter Adam on depression

I’ve been on a roll talking about mental health lately, so I thought I’d share this video I’ve just found (courtesy of the Gospel Coalition). It’s of Peter Adam talking about mental illness – in particular, his suffering with depression for 30 years.

It’s a very honest interview and well worth watching.  Three points jumped out at me:

  1. How helpful it was to know that the depression was not random or pointless, but that God was sovereign over it. In particular, Peter was able to give some ways in which God had been able to use his depression over the years to good effect. This doesn’t make a bad thing good, but makes me give thanks to God that he always uses evil things for good purposes in the end (Genesis 50:20).
  2. He says that mental health shouldn’t be considered a different kind of issue to others which people experience. We are all broken in all sorts of different ways. The church is a place where sinful and broken people come together to find forgiveness and healing.
  3. I really liked what he said about the church. Someone once said “The church is a hospital for broken people, not a museum for perfect people.” I think this is true: sadly, a lot of churches are museums for perfect people – where the relationships never really get beyond the superficial. In my home group lately, I think all of us have begun to reach the level in our relationship where we are able to share what’s actually going on in our lives, to open ourselves up to being vulnerable. It has been immensely helpful for many of us to open up, share, pray for and support one another. The verse Peter mentions is Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Carrying each other’s burdens – a wonderful picture of the church.

I hope you enjoy the video, he says a lot of helpful things which are well worth listening to from someone with 30 years experience.

Follow-up on mental health

A few weeks ago I blogged about a Christian perspective on mental health. In that piece I started out by saying, “There is far, far more to say and I just wanted to make clear from the outset: this is just the beginning.”

Well, today Glen Scrivener wrote an excellent piece on the Gospel Coalition website which I think is well worth reading as a sort of follow-up looking at how the gospel actually works in his and his wife’s particular example – dealing with anorexia. I said that there was plenty more to say, and I think this piece is an excellent complement to what I originally wanted to say.

I hope that this kind of thing encourages Christians to speak up more in the context of mental health. I can’t remember where I read this now, but last week I came across a quote, saying something like: “Christians can’t answer every question, but every Christian should be able to finish the sentence ‘only God got me through…’

Churches shouldn’t be museums of perfect people but hospitals for for the broken.

Glen finishes the article:

It’s always tempting to think these struggles are a departure from the trajectory you’re meant to be on. Life is meant to be an unbroken ascent into . . . wait . . . that’s a theology of glory, isn’t it? As theologians of the cross, we ought to know Jesus is at work right here and right now, even—and especially—in suffering. He’s willing and able to redeem us from all evil (Gen. 48:16).

We aren’t meant to sidestep or outwit this “departure” from our plans. The Lord knows how to redeem the years the locust has eaten (Joel 2:25). Maybe you’ll be able to comfort others with the comfort you’ve received in your affliction (2 Cor. 1:4). But whatever happens, you can let him handle those details.

So friend, receive from Jesus, get in community, look at your own sins, love your partner, and pray, pray, pray. Jesus enters the mess and says, “Here I am. Let’s engage right here, right now.”

Homophobic bullying and CofE schools

Today the Church of England unveiled a new document designed to help tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT – because there aren’t enough acronyms already) bullying in schools. You can read the press release on that page, and the document itself is linked at the bottom.

Personally I find the document deeply troubling – although I (of course) agree that all bullying is wrong, I think the document is on the wrong track about the solution needed. The main problem I have is simply this: the document has an entirely secular view of what it means to flourish – which, for a church publication, is pretty awful. And, secondarily, it doesn’t really get to grips with a Christian response to LGBT pupils.

Let me write briefly about those two things.

What is human flourishing?

The document seems to make a lot of human flourishing. The Executive Summary (p5) says:

Church of England schools have at their heart a belief that all children are loved by God, are individually unique and that the school has a mission to help each pupil to fulfil their potential in all aspects of their personhood: physically, academically, socially, morally and spiritually.

This sounds like management speak. The language of ‘potential’ is one which is not taken from the Bible: fulfilling our potential sounds very ‘me-focussed’ – we are not here to fulfill our potential but to glorify God.

Jesus said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) The real genius, if I may put it like that, of Jesus’ words is that we only find our true potential when we deny ourselves and take up our cross – when we die to ourselves, we find true life.

It’s precisely this kind of language which is absent from the CofE document.

The core of education in the CofE Vision for Education is “Life in all its fullness”, which is explicitly taken from John 10:10 (see page 10). The problem is, this is completely devoid of meaning if it is taken out of the context of John’s gospel. When Jesus said those words, he didn’t mean that he wanted everyone to have the kind of life they always dreamed of living, or have a good life whether they believed in God or not. As I explained in my post about mental health, this is God’s world. We only achieve “Life to the full” when we live in accordance with God’s will and his ways – in contrast with “the thief” who comes “only to steal and kill and destroy”. As Jesus said in the previous verse “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” You can’t take ‘fullness of life’ as a principle and ditch the rest. It just doesn’t work!

The next page of the CofE document goes on (and I could pick many examples, but I will make this the last one): “At the heart of Christian distinctiveness in schools is an upholding of the worth of each person: all are Imago Dei – made in the image of God – and are loved unconditionally by God”. Again – one cannot talk about being made in the image of God without talking about the Fall, where we – as one of the CofE confessions puts it – “marred your image in us”. One cannot talk about unconditional love without talking about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.

Quite frankly, all this is sub-Christian. This doesn’t even mention the basics of the gospel, let alone have a coherent theological framework.

Supporting LGBT pupils

On page 19, the report talks about supporting LGBT pupils. It says:

An important aspect of creating an inclusive school environment is the support offered to LGBT pupils. Many LGBT pupils do not feel supported at school and many report that they do not have an adult at school with whom to talk about being LGBT. This can impact on the mental health and wellbeing of pupils and it is therefore important that school staff members receive appropriate training to support young people. For many, coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or non-binary is a joyful liberation into full selfhood. However for others it can become a lens through which other issues of personal non-acceptance are magnified. Supporting pupils struggling to feel at home within themselves requires careful discernment and loving wisdom.

This paragraph does not read to me like it was written by someone who actually believes what the Bible (and the CofE – for the moment) teaches about marriage. Surely a Church of England school should have the confidence to believe and teach what the Church of England believes? As I said before about Tim Farron, God doesn’t simply give us arbitrary commands because he feels like it. God doesn’t want to spoil our fun, he wants to maximise our joy – which is why he gives us good rules to live by. Those who go outside of these rules are harming themselves.

Surely this has a big impact on how we offer support to young people. We can’t simply say that we’ll offer support to affirm children in whatever decisions they want to make on these issues. If we believe in the Bible, if we believe in what Christians have always believed, we have to say that we cannot affirm things which are against God’s will. And that’s what baffles and distresses me about this document – there is no gospel at all in it. There is not even a hint of a suggestion that God might want us to live in particular ways. Although it recognises that there may be different opinions about sexuality etc. in the school, it simply sides by default with the ‘affirming’ viewpoint.

This is simply not a Christian document.

Responding to bullying

I believe that children should not be bullied. I was bullied at school, I know many others who experienced the same – it can affect you well into adult life. Nonetheless, I don’t think this response is sufficient when it comes to bullying.

Jesus tells us that the second greatest command is to “love others as yourself”. He demonstrated what that meant in his own life. You can love people while strongly disagreeing with them – in fact, loving them sometimes requires you to disagree with them! (Ian Paul wrote a great blog post about this today.)

Jesus’ response to those who he considered sinful (i.e. everyone) was not to condemn: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). Instead, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). Jesus had compassion on those who were broken and hurting – but it was a compassion which led to transformation.

People who truly believe in the traditional Christian ethical teaching on marriage and sexuality should never bully anyone – because loving people is part and parcel of that same ethical teaching. But it is from love that we should boldly proclaim God’s way of living.

We live in strange times, where even defending the traditional Christian view of marriage can get you into hot water (see e.g. Tim Farron and Jacob Rees-Mogg for two examples lately – there are many others). Some people think that simply stating the case for Christian marriage is bullying!

What is incomprehensible to me is that the CofE should be encouraging its schools to essentially deny the gospel and contribute to a secular worldview which is leading to the demise of the CofE. Affirming children in sin is unloving, uncompassionate, and fundamentally unChristian. And the church should have no part in it. Rather, the church should be holding out the light of Christ to all, teaching children what it means to follow him.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)