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Monday, 21 May 2012

Equating theological knowledge and ministry success with spiritual maturity

A fantastic post on The Gospel Coalition Blog by Paul Tripp warning about the danger of equating theological knowledge and ministry success with spiritual maturity.

I will not pass comment here but will offer a couple of selected quotes. In respect to equating theological knowledge with spiritual maturity, he says:
There is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is an accurate understanding of truth. Wisdom is understanding and living in light of how that truth applies to the situations and relationships of your daily life. Knowledge is an exercise of your brain. Wisdom is the commitment of your heart that leads to life transformation.
In respect to equating ministry success with an endorsement by God of spiritual maturity, he says:
God has the authority and power to use whatever instruments he chooses in whatever way he chooses. Ministry success is always more a statement about God than about the people he uses for his purpose.
Do read the full post - it really is insightful.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Michael Gove and the King James Bible

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has vowed to spend £370,000 sending a King James Bible to every state school in the country. According to the Guardian, the aim of the proposal is to 'help pupils learn about the Bible's impact "on our history, language, literature and democracy" and will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the authorised version's publication'. Unsurprisingly, several church leaders have given their assent to the move whilst the National Secular Society has vehemently opposed it. Equally predictably, an 'online Guardian poll showed an 82% opposition'. To the Guardian's surprise (despite failing to catch anybody unawares who pays any sort of attention to what the man says), Richard Dawkins has come out in support of the proposal in today's Observer.

Now, one must point out a few issues with this. In the first instance, despite Gove's claim that this will aid pupil learning, one gets the distinct impression this is a rather more self-aggrandising proposal. For example, does learning about the cultural impact of the King James Bible require gold-leaf lettering stating that the Education Secretary personally sent the Bible to the school? Similarly, is Michael Gove's own personal foreword - set to replace the already existing foreword - really necessary to achieve his stated aims? One suspects the answer, in both cases, is a firm 'no'. The Education Secretary has not asked whether any school wants a new copy of the King James Bible but has simply foisted this upon them (along with his own, personal foreword). This suggests he is less concerned with how the school will use it for educational purposes and rather more concerned with having his name in gold-leaf lettering.

In respect to Gove's stated aims, there are several further questions. It seems highly unlikely that there are any state schools in the country that do not hold at least one copy of a King James Bible already. Even were we to grant the presupposition that there are indeed some schools without their own copy, how effective could one Bible conceivably be as a teaching aid in a school of several hundred pupils? Moreover, why is he sending one copy to every school in the country - as this proposal clearly presumes one solitary Bible is an adequate teaching aid for any school - when there are doubtless many schools that already own one?

However, the biggest issue is not that Mr Gove is spending £370,000 on something that will do absolutely nothing to achieve his stated aims. Nor is it that this proposal amounts to little more than a self-important act of hubris. The real issue is, despite £370,000 amounting to little more than governmental pocket change, many people will become extremely exercised about this issue and, in the process, divert their attention away from the very real millions and billions squandered elsewhere. In reality, despite my feeling that spending £370,000 on a single King James Bible for every school in the country is not a wise use of that money, it is nevertheless not a large enough sum to trouble me too much if it is spent in this way. Sadly, many people will spend so long agitating for, or against, this colossal waste of time that they will overlook much larger, more significant issues taking sums out of the public purse.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Freedom of Speech and Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act

For one to find members of the Christian Institute and National Secular Society signing up for the same campaign is a rare occurrence indeed. Moreover, when one finds Peter Tatchell vigorously defending Evangelical street preachers live on television - singling them out as a speific case in point - one must seriously consider whether there is something painfully wrong with a particular piece of legislation. Certainly, the supporters of the Reform Section 5 Campaign think so.

Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act outlaws 'threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour'. It is the contention of the Reform Section 5 Campaign that the word 'insulting' should be removed from this legislation. The 'insulting' clause, they aver, 'restricts free speech and penalises campaigners, protesters and even preachers'. Indeed, at least one of the 'street preachers' listed on the campaign website is known to this blogger.

So, why is such a small clause causing such a big hoo-ha? Ultimately, this campaign is about freedom of speech and the reach of the law. In effect, this clause is being used to shut down the right to disagree, the freedom of open debate and allows subjective feelings, quite apart from any intention on the part of the speaker, to criminalise individuals for merely expressing opinion. In equally disturbing measure, it allows the Police to be the initial arbiters of that deemed insulting and, even the briefest look at the 'victims of section 5' page, shows that they are neither proportionate, fair nor reasonable in their interpretation.

I am well aware that, in certain Christian circles, street preaching has fallen out of favour and is considered to have had its day. However, this law has far wider reaching implications for Christians beyond those taking the gospel 'into the highways and byways' (to quote another of my street preaching friends). Just as those who preach the gospel in town centres are being criminalised for expressing statements from scripture (often, not even for expressing a view ex nihilo but following some leading question eliciting the response), it will not be long before what was considered criminal in town centres is made criminal in churches and, shortly after, even the privacy of one's own home. To be frank, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that one of those who felt 'insulted' in the street may, one day, enter a church only to find their sensibilities insulted in like manner.

This clause is neither necessary nor equitable in a society which values the freedom of speech. It is my view, along with the signatories to the campaign, that Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act must be reformed. To maintain the law as it stands and to continue to enforce it as has been the case until now, is to oppose free speech, disregard the right to disagree and allow subjective feelings to act as arbiter over objective realities.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Cranmer, censorship and the right to disagree

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) is formally investigating Archbishop Cranmer and has demanded a written response for posting the following "homophobic and offensive" advert on his blog:


His Grace has posted an unofficial response here.

This blog has made no secret of its view on the Coalition for Marriage (see 'Redefining Marriage and the C4M') but thoroughly defends the right to disagree. Nevertheless, that Cranmer - an advocate of the petition - is being forced to provide a written response to claims of homophobia for posting an advert which advocates the conservation of an already existing law is utterly ludicrous.

It has been argued by some that the 70% claim in the advert is fallacious. However, His Grace is not required to defend this assertion as he did not carry out the research. Therefore, he must only defend against the accusation of homophobia. In truth, it is thoroughly unclear what aspect of the advert is homophobic. 

Whilst one may not agree with the premise, purpose or aim of the C4M, to post an advert which states a significant proportion of people wish to conserve the current state of the law on marriage seems little more than a point of fact. Unless, of course, it is now offensive and homophobic to restate existent legislation and proffer an opinion on its relative merits.

Frankly, this attack on Cranmer serves nothing other than to make him a martyr (for a second time) and to disseminate the above advert to a wider audience. For example, this blog would not have published the advert (specifically because it does not support the C4M, though it is considerate and respectful of believers who do) but for this ridiculous story!

* Update (14th May 2012) - His Grace has posted his initial, official response here.