I have always been interested in God, as far back as I can remember. I wanted to get to know about God. I was sent to Sunday School, first in the Church of Scotland and then in the Scottish Episcopal Church. I remember hating it, especially the latter, because most of the people there seemed not to take God seriously. My spiritual development took other courses, and ones that tended to be independent of my parents.
However, this was not fully satisfying. A year later I was one of eight lads in a class of forty, and six of the lads were in the local Crusaders class, a kind of Boys' Bible Class that met on Sunday afternoons and had no formal ties with any church. I wanted to go along with them, not just because the others found it fun, but also because of my interest in God.
This I did find fulfilling, partly because the leader, Calum Wilson, was a man of sincerity, who saw God as a life-reality rather than just a belief, who in fact knew God personally, and wanted us to too. He treated us lads as little human beings, not just as children, and brought out the best in us. I enjoyed Crusaders, both the fun things like camps, quizzes, squashes, games evenings, and also the spiritual content of Bible study and worship. We were asked sometimes to lead the meetings ourselves.
At one summer camp in Aviemore the visiting 'speaker' was am AOG missionary from India, Andrew McCabe. I remember asking him something after one of his talks and he took me into his tent and led me in a prayer of commitment to Christ - the gist of which was something like "Jesus, I know I have done wrong, and am sorry, I know that you died for me, so I could be forgiven; please come into my life and take control of my life from here on."
That is probably the point at which I was 'converted' as we named the event in those days. From at least that point I had a kind of personal relationship with God as my personal Saviour.
At Crusaders we were encouraged to have a 'quiet time' each day, a time alone with God where we would read the Bible and say some prayers. The Bible readings were still the Scripture Union ones, though now there were helpful notes too. The prayers were extempore - we were to find things meaningful to us in our own lives to thank God for, praise him about, say sorry for and ask for. Because of my school times I had two quiet times each day throughout my secondary school years (12-18), to read the Bible before I left for school, and then a prayer time when I came home.
I remember those prayer times, kneeling at my bed, being times of great joy. So much joy welled up in me, what I can only describe as 'mouth-turning' joy.
Those halcyon days at Crusaders set many foundations in place for my future spiritual development. It was effective for me because of my taking things seriously, being interested in things, and having an independent tendency. It was even more effective for me because it was something that I did, of my own volition, partly against my parents' wishes; I had psychological ownership of it. That does not detract from the very real foundations laid then; it merely helps explain why I found Crusaders suited me so well.
The foundations laid included some pieces of knowledge, such as the difference between 'evangelical' and 'evangelistic', but, more importantly, a number of lifelong habits:
and a number of deeply held beliefs, or rather perspectives or paradigms on things:
Most of these have stayed deep within me all my life, though obviously refined through the years. However, I'm thankful to Calum Wilson for the foundation he helped to form in me.
Other influences on me at the time included Christian books. I had heard of Honest to God by John Robinson, and asked for it for my birthday, not realising it was not considered 'proper' in evangelical circles. Glad I didn't get it. But, in Thin's bookshop in Edinburgh, I happened across a paperback called Finding Men for Christ by G.F. Dempster. This told of a parson in the east end of London who took action one day on Jesus' command to "go" among the dockers in the 1930s. Each chapter told how he found a man and led him to Christ. That book, and subsequent ones by the same author, inspired me to (think I should) do the same.
I became confirmed in the Scottish Episcopal Church - more because it was the thing others wanted me to do than because I thought it was really important (my own personal relationship with God was the truly important thing, not some religious ceremony). However I had a book Your Confirmation which I felt I could trust as its author (John Stott) was evangelical in persuasion. It suggested that I "go over in pen what I have already written out in pencil" and pray again to receive Christ into my life. I did. I had a couple of other such 'reinforcing conversions' since then.
To this day I don't know which is the real one, since nothing much changed at any of them, and none of them gave me real assurance of salvation. All I could do was recite to myself the fact that I had prayed a prayer of commitment. Yet .. had I really and truly meant it each time, or indeed at any time? Or was there some deeper part of me that had not meant it? I was troubled by such possibilities, and led into a bit too much introspection. However, I do know where I stand now.
I was a regular attender at C.U. Saturday night meetings, and also Bible Studies and prayer groups in my hall of residence. I didn't always agree with everything said, keeping my independence, but internally. However I did not realise then that there were major differences of opinion over e.g. theological things, and tried to absorb and live up to all I was told, and tried to integrate it all together. Of course, this was without total success, as comes later.
University Christian Unions are interesting phenomena. They receive some external guidance and help, yet are under the control of the students themselves. So each year or two saw a difference emphasis. And the emphasis is strengthened by the keen Christian's desire to be 'obedient'.
I also settled into Above Bar Church, the local preaching centre whose leader, Leith Samuel (we rererred to him as 'Lethal Sam'), was a reputable Bible expositor. When I arrived he was painstakingly expounding Ephesians, verse by verse, and remember that he spent five weeks on the single verse "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit." Of course, it was a rich verse, in which he covered alcohol, greed, and the intricacies of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It was good solid teaching. I had seldom experienced anything like it before.
The C.U. was also involved with Portswood Evangelical Church, hosting 'student services' each term or so, led by members of the C.U. - and I remember these are highly cringe-worthy affairs (using terminology from the early nineties here!). Later on, over the seven years I was at University, I left ABC and took up with Highfield Anglican church, and then Kingswood Baptist Church.
At University I also became involved with the Navigators and Campus Crusade for Christ; Southampton was the only University that had all three. During my teenage years I had worked my way through the Nav's Topical Memory System, a method for memorising Bible verses - I learned all 108 verses and then more, and still remember many of them to this day. So when the same organization turned up at University I got involved. The first leader was a great guy, full of love for God. He left. The second leader was not the same, demanding obedience and allowing no freedom. I left.
Campus Crusade for Christ was much better. The people in leadership there were beautiful, positive people, who made you feel that God was real and relevant to the whole of their lives. They oozed real trust of God. Unlike many C.U. mouse-likes, CCC people were bold and straightforward, and very attractive. I joined them in the early 1970s when I had come to the stage, described below, when I actually wanted to share my faith.
Though I had learned quite a lot about humans, Jesus, the Holy Spirit before, my knowledge grew at University. I learned for instance that our nature is deeply corrupt ('original sin'), and we cannot of our own please God because "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags".
I learned also that there seem to be two stages of cleaning: 'justification' which happens when we first accept Christ into our lives, and is instantaneous and eternal in its effect, and 'sanctification' which the Holy Spirit carries out after that, and is progressive. The Holy Spirit, I learned, cannot (or will not) enter a person who has not received Christ. Those who have not Christ cannot truly experience God or love him. Some of these ideas have changed and mellowed over the years, but they are still core to my beliefs.
In my second year, Calvinism was the 'in thing' in the C.U. I just could not get into the idea of predestination, especially the implication that God predestines people to damnation, that we are all helpless before him and can do nothing right. Being the sort of person who takes what is said to himself, I wondered whether I myself was predestined to damnation. One Sunday afternoon I was talking to a fellow student (he and I used to help with a local Crusaders class) who was a strong Calvinist, and I became much troubled in heart by what he was putting forth. So much so that I purposed to attend church that night, not to worship, but merely to see Leith Samuel after the service and seek his help; the first time in my life that I had taken such a practical view of church attendance! He did help me, and I still remember him saying gently, "Predestination is supposed the supreme comfort to the believer, not a terror to the sensitive." That soothed my fears, and though I did not understand by reason at that time how it could be one without being the other, I started to understand in my spirit.
From my parents I had gained a love for the natural world, and before University used to walk the local hills and bird-filled estuaries of the Firth of Forth. One Saturday I took the train up to near Salisbury to walk. Off the train, I felt so guilty - that I was devoting some precious time to enjoying myself! I had then a streak in me that saw God in economic terms ("redeeming the time for the days are evil" was a Bible (KJV) passage that had been impressed upon me) and juridical terms (a ruler who did not like us enjoying ourselves), and some of that streak lies in me still, though now much diminished.
During my University years I learned too about various Christian movements and emphases. Holiness and 'full surrender' were sometimes emphasised; I tell about the latter below. Around 1969 a change came over the C.U. The first few years, an emphasis was on our religious and credal duty to God; then the C.U. committee started to realise that listening to God could mean breaking with tradition, and chose next year's president who was not this year's deputy, "because we felt he was the one God wanted". Listening to God, and expecting God to speak into our lives released into to us, and blessing resulted. I remember this president once calling telling us, the body of membership, "We feel as though nobody is praying for us; please pray for us so that we can function well." This was the first time I had heard the C.U. committee expose a weakness and engage God-activity for real, as opposed to being a duty. It found it encouraging and refreshing, and blessing followed.
The charismatic movement hit Britain during those years. The next C.U. president had received 'baptism of the Holy Spirit', and was so overjoyed that he took the C.U. into (divisions over) the charismatic movement, which was gaining momentum at the time (as a twenty-year preoccupation, which is of less interest today). It was a new experience for many at the time, and books like 'Nine O'Clock in the Morning' (Dennis Bennett) were doing the rounds at the time, and there was much controversy. Especially this was about the phenomenon of 'speaking in tongues' (mentioned in Paul's letter to the Corinthian church). I was cautious, not so much out of fear as out of a dislike for fads, yet I was often challenged. Sometimes I asked God for this 'baptism of the Holy Spirit' but none of the exotic experiences portrayed in the books happened to me. However, deeper than the exotica, I observed that this experience led many into a close love for God, and a desire to please and relate to him. This made sense, as the greatest command is to love God and, if only the Holy Spirit can get us to love God, then this is his greatest work, so 'baptism' in him would result in great, unfeigned love for God.
I developed my knowledge of these and many other theological issues in the years at University, when I had access to excellent teaching, to Christian books and to the encouragement of like-minded friends. But what I see as the most important theological issue I deal with below, which is part of 'discovering and receiving new life'.
In January 1970 something much more remarkable and important happened, for which, perhaps, 'full surrender' paved the way. I had always felt there were things God wanted me to do that, deep down, I didn't want to, such as helping other people, or telling people about my faith, or things that, if I was honest, I did but did not really enjoy, such as praying or reading the Bible. Conversely, there were things I wanted to do that God didn't want me to do. Much of my will seemed always to be at variance with God's will. C.S. Lewis talked about our wills being "freely aligned with God's will" - aligned with God's will, yet truly free - and that is what I now realised I wished was true of me. I had little hope it ever could be. All I knew was struggle and duty - 'being faithful'. Either I tore myself apart inside, forcing myself to do something that deep down I didn't want to, or I felt dead guilty.
For instance, I knew I should 'witness', that is, share my faith - yet I baulked at the very idea of doing so. In my third year (1969) the C.U. held a mission, led by David Watson entitled 'My God is Real'. I remember thinking: God isn't real to me (as an experience) but I know he is real (as an objective fact). I did my duty taking leaflets around doors etc., but it was not much more than duty. And almost nothing happened. Also, most of the time I had been at University, prayer had held little real joy for me.
Many will have had similar experiences, so it is a delight to share how I came out of it. (I know that some will contend that guilt is not real, and that I merely needed to ignore my sense of guilt, after all God is a loving God who surely wouldn't want us to do something against our inner desires, for they are what we really are and we cannot escape what we really are, etc. etc. But I found another way, one that is much more satisfying.)
I suppose that up to this time I had seen my relationship with God in terms of being 'marked for heaven' by virtue of my conversion, and that until that time I had merely to 'keep my nose clean', as it were, do my religious duties, and tell people about this 'wonderful hope' I had. (Though, of course, I didn't 'own' it deep inside.) A rather flat, and oppressing existence even though in theory there was light at the end of the tunnel. Where was the 'abundant life' which Christ promised?
"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
For God is at work in you, to make you willing and able to do his good pleasure."
Note: not just able to do God's pleasure - I knew all along that God had made me able to do what he wanted, and so I was guilty if I didn't do it.
But also to make me willing. That is, God would take my warped will and "freely align" it with his own. So I prayed at that time something like,
"Lord, forgive me if I am taking this verse out of context, but it seems to me that it says that you are at work in me to change my will. Please do so."I had a sense that I was claiming a promise from God in a way, and with a reality, that I had never done before, but soon I forgot about it because I had little faith that prayer actually works in the real.
Yet, about three months later, I suddenly realised I wanted to do some things that I had previously done only out of duty. I genuinely wanted them in my own right, rather than because I felt God wanted them. I remembered my prayer of January and was a little excited: God had indeed made a change in my will - (a bit more) aligned with God's will. This change continued through the months after that, and I came to value things that I had before not cared for - things to do with God. I cannot remember in which order things happened, but over a couple of years:
At last! my relationship with God was more than being 'marked for heaven'. It was also a here-and-now experience of God. More than that, it was not just my attempting to keep my own nose clean; God would clean it out for me. He was not just loving me from the outside, he was changing me from within.
Once I came to realise that God's love is not just good-feeling towards me, not just friendship, not just a benefit, but is actually a deep warm unconditional love, I could come to fuller assurance of salvation than I had ever had before. You see, if God really loves me this much, then he will not be likely to nit-pick about the mode and degree of my coming to him (though he will still be demanding), and also once I am his, then he will love me more (not less) than those outside, and a kind of positive feedback would take place, rather like the latching that takes place in digital electronics: once I was near enough then the attractive force would be so great that I would come ever nearer. So, because I now had a reasoned basis for assurance of salvation, I gained it - after all those years!
It is notable that this view and this love for God has remained with me ever since.
Once one accepts that growing maturity is what God is working for, we have to ask the question how does God achieve this? One answer is that it 'just happens', and we need not worry about it. Another is a kind of divine education process, in which God reveals the truth to us about what he really wants, and encourages us to achieve it with a system of rewards and punishments. Another answer is that it is a result of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, now seen as an instantaneous event a bit like a 'second blessing' after conversion. But none of these satisfied me, and none seemed to fit comfortably with the Bible as a whole.
I found that answer that has satisfied me ever since, soon after my experience of Phil. 2:13 above - which told me that God is actively at work in me, to change me, including my will. Then I discovered Jeremiah 31:31-34, which promises a 'new covenant':
"The new covenant that I will make with the people of Israel will be this:
- I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts.
- I will be their God and they will be my people.
- None of them will have to teach his fellow countryman to know the Lord, because all will know me, from the least to the greatest.
- I will forgive their sins and will no longer remember their wrongs. I the Lord have spoken."
(bullets inserted for clarity) This 'new covenant' is contrasted with the older one, made at the time of Moses, on the grounds that the old covenant depended on two sides - and the human side broke the covenant - while the new one depends only on God. Notice the terms of this covenant are "I will ... I will ... I will" rather than "If you ... then I will ...".
Notice several things about this:
This was amazingly deep, and wonderful. All this was very much in the spirit of Phil. 2:13 and, I soon discovered, with many other scriptures. I found a similar promise of a new covenant in Ezekiel. I found similar emphasis on the proactivity of God in the face of human reluctance or rebellion in Isaiah and other prophets. And all seemed to relate to the coming Messiah. In the New Testament I found other similar expositions of the idea that the covenant depends on God alone, and we can depend on him, and that the essence of this is not just being 'marked for heaven', but to be made mature by the inner working of the Holy Spirit. e.g. "God is at work in you." "Changing you from glory to glory" The 'indwelling' of the Holy Spirit tied in very nicely with this new idea that God makes individuals different in the very roots and kernel of their nature - yet without damaging their freedom.
The 'baptism' of the Holy Spirit gained a much richer perspective - not merely a one-shot experience, not even a sequence of such experiences, but something far more meaningful and effective.
Several times since that first application of Phil. 2:13 I have had recourse to it. These have been times when I knew that my will was pointing in the opposite direction to that in which it should be pointing. For instance, sometimes I didn't want to give way to my wife but knew that I should, yet could not. So I reminded God of his promise in Phil. 2:13, and asked him to work in me to change my will. He has done so. I try not to over-use that verse, because I do not want to degrade it, but still find it is true.
That this is so is wonderful, a tribute to God's grace, because I have, once and more times, said 'No' to him.
I didn't know how to share my faith - though my experience had shown me many ways not not to! So I joined Campus Crusade for Christ, to learn how. They had a book entitled The Four Spiritual Laws, which gave a simply summary of belief-steps to accepting Christ. I did have a few issues with them at the time, and as an academic felt they were a bit simplified, but I agreed with their basis ideas. So I took active part in the training, and practised sharing my faith with this method. Later on I found a different systematic approach, EE, which was useful in different situations, and now have yet a third approach of my own, GG.
Paradoxically, as I also found later, learning some simple steps by rote gave me freedom.
Not only did CCC train in sharing faith, but it also gave a useful perspective on the Holy Spirit and on Christ being on the 'throne' or control-seat of my life. This emphasised confession of sins, in a way similar to Roy Hession in his Calvary Road, to "keep short accounts with God".
One might say that it was Peter Gillquist's teaching in Love is Now that set me on the course to join Campus Crusade for Christ. This is ironic because Gillquist, who used to be in CCC, reacted against its teaching on the need for confession and Love is Now is an expression of that reaction. However, it was Gillquist's teaching that led to me wanting to share my faith. How naive was I that I joined the very organisation that Gillquist fled from! Yet is not the Living God is above and beyond all our little squabbles? Is his truth not embracing many of these apparently conflicting positions?
I was at a Christian Union meeting sometime around 1972, led by some guy whose name I cannot remember, but I do remember he was a leader in the charismatic movement at the time. As I knelt on the floor, he prayed with me, laying hands on me. I felt something rise up in me, some ecstasy, that I knew was related to speaking in tongues. Without thinking, I said "No, Lord", and the feeling subsided.
The sad thing was that I did not mean 'No'. I wanted whatever God had for me, though perhaps was a bit cautious about the extravagances of some at that time who were discovering God's gifts and immediacy. It was not really me who said 'No', but something inside me.
For thirty years, I did not had much in the way of the miraculous in my life, and have lacked such ecstasy. But, worse, I sometimes feel I said 'No', and have been plagued by fears from time to time that I have become like Esau, who "could not repent, though he sought it with tears." I have indeed asked God's forgiveness, and have repented as far as I am able to, determined that if ever God gives me such a chance again, I would not mess it up this time. Yet the doubt remains: have I, like Esau, lost my inheritance, with no possibility of regaining it again?
But those fears only arise in times of depression. Most of the time I have a different perspective. I see that God is at work in my life, that he does make things 'go' for me, make things work together just right, as I do his will, and that he does use me to help others. So it cannot be that God has totally washed his hands of me. So, the question remains: how does God see the situation now?
Just a couple of days ago [that was probably in 2001] I was speaking with my brother, Nick Basden, and he told me of a similar experience he had been through. He told me that we make choices, and our heavenly Father desires to bless, whatever choice we make. I had made a choice at that time (even though it was not the one I meant to make, I made it). Our Father seeks to bless the choices we make. Not only so, he does not bless in spite of our choices, but he blesses according to our choices. He blesses in line with the choices themselves.
That made sense to me. I have not gained much of the miraculous or ecstatic in my life. But I have gained a lot along the lines of being able to understand and see things clearly, to analyse and yet maintain intuitive thinking too, and to make what I see available to others. So, it seems that the Father has blessed according to the choice I made then. It is as though God is someone who does not take umbridge at what his children choose, but works with them rather than rigidly in spite of them. Isn't he wonderful!
Now (17 March 2012) I seem to be free of that fear that God has left me to second-best. Partly because in recent years, he does seem to have been using me to bless others. See later.
To summarize, then, I see that if we, who have believed God, say 'No' to God, then there are the following ways in which God could react:
Up until a few days ago (that part written 1999) I thought the only good options were (3) and (4) above. Most of the time I thought I was on (4) but in times of depression I thought I was on (3). But I now think I am on (5). The Scripture tells us that God respects and upholds human choices and functioning. Worthy is he!
(Now, of course, that is only true in the context of humility toward God rather than pride or self-dependent rebellion. Maybe I was not actually saying 'No' to God, but only to one small gift he was trying to give me at the time.)
To be a 'child (teknon) of God' merely means having been 'born again' which happens at conversion. To be a 'son (hios) of God' means having a nature like God's, and to have our heart and will so much aligned with God's heart and will that when we make decisions and judgements on our own we will tend to make decisions and judgements that God would have made in our place.
That is what 'spiritual maturity' means. That is what God is aiming at: not a horde of 'children' of God - though he does delight in children - but mature 'sons' who are like him.
Now, that makes sense of our being ambassadors for Christ, and, back to Genesis, God's stewards. God wants us not just to enjoy him like babies, not just to work for him like servants, not just to fight for him like soldiers, not just to cheer him when he does miracles, but to be like him - to grow to the full stature of the measure of Christ.
How sad that many of God's people today are so unlike him, especially in their attitude to his creation; but the reason for that remark comes later.
Something else I learned during those years was being honest with God. Or, rather to be open with God. God knows all about us - including the bad points - and he still gave himself for us, and has forgiveness available for when we come short. So it's rather stupid of us to try and cover up what we are before him.
Yet, in many subtle ways, that is exactly what we do. I would try to be my best for God, afraid all the time that I was less than best, yet unable to face that fact. The Bible says "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, strength." Even the last of those were difficult: if you do something 'with all your strength' you exert all effort currently available to achieve it, and that suggested that I should never relax for one moment, never enjoy myself, but 'burn myself out for God' as some of the great saints of the past had. But I didn't. And if I could bring myself to do that last of those, what chance had I of the first three? I simply fell so far short of this, not just a little short, but grossly short. Yet I was scared of facing up to that.
I suppose I had what seems a very common picture. Let us suppose that there is a scale of good to evil, stretching from -100 for pure Satanic evil to +100, pure Godlike goodness. Then humanity is somewhere around 0, on average, with the demon-possessed somewhere around -50 to -80 and the good unconverted person somewhere around +20-30. As I heard said many times, God's passmark was not 50, but +100%, so no human could ever achieve this on his own; hence the necessity for Christ's suffering and death for us; he was the only one who ever reached +100. When you are 'born again', and assuming that you take it seriously, then you jump to somewhere around +60-+80. As you become more 'sanctified', you start upwards of that, gradually getting nearer and nearer to 100. Good, decent, mature, spiritual, prayerful Christians who are 'winning souls', have reached somewhere in the nineties. With such people, the Holy Spirit had done most of the work of sanctification and there were only a few odds and ends to sort out. I suppose I placed myself somewhere in the +60-+80 range, hopefully towards the top end because I had never been a particularly 'bad' lad, and thus had only a few minor things to be sorted out in me.
This kind of thinking mitigates against honesty - with myself or with God. If I was 'almost' OK, then my love for God was almost OK too, and I just turned my attention away from challenges like the above.
However, I did feel that I was not as I should be. What I did was to cover it up to myself, others and God, and try to work up within me what I feared I lacked. Or I would do what was religiously expected of me. Or even - perhaps more subtly - I would engage in symbolisms for that which I felt I ought to experience.
I remember one friend gave me something to think about. The C.U. was putting on a mission 'My God is Real', and I told this friend whom I respected that I did not feel the reality of this. He told me that he himself did not feel it right to put effort into the mission. I was struck by his humble honesty.
But then Philippians 2:13 happened, as described above. Starting to really know that God loved me as I am, warts and all - because he died for me, taking my 'warts', my sin, my lack, upon himself - I started to believe that I could be more honest with God. I remember one event, around 1971, in my daily prayer. For years I had tried to include in my prayer not only worship and thanks and petition, but also confession, and would 'confess' various sins. But this day I looked over the day and was not aware of there being anything particularly wrong with me. So, instead of making up some suitable confessions, I said to God, "I don't seem to have anything to confess today" (or similar words). Of course, I was in fact deeply infected with 'sin', as I still am, but the point was: I was at last being honest with God. I was moving away from the tendency to do what was religiously expected of me, which in this case was confession.
Over the years I have been able to be more honest, with myself and about myself, with others and about others, and with God and about God. The solid foundation that enabled this is (a) the universal sinfulness of us all (b) that God knows it all before even we do, and knows perfectly, and (c) the great mercy of God, and therefore (d) I can be bold before God - though never proud. (On this latter, I can now understand how natural it was for Abraham and Moses to argue with God.)
A well known Scripture relevant to this is I John 1:9:
"If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
For years I, like many others, had interpreted this in its supposed reverse way, as though it were saying, "If we fail to confess our sins then he will refuse to forgive us." And I got myself into an 'obsession with confession' as Gillquist phrased it. But, first, it does not say the negative thing; it says only that if we do confess then God will forgive. Second, Gillquist pointed out that 'confess' is best understood not in terms of a religious action, but rather as 'agreeing with God concerning'. That is, "If we agree with God concerning our sin, then he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin ...".
Do you see what that is saying and implying!?
Even now, as I write this (1999), my being shouts 'Hallelujah!" Today the results of all this are still with me, as they affect my relationship with God, others and myself. It helps me ask questions, and not worry if people think I'm hopeless, and therefore I find I provide a service of asking the questions that others were too afraid to ask. One particular result that others notice is that I can act 'non politically' in political circles, and bring out the truth of a situation while others are defending their corners - because I am (often) no longer scared to admit flaws in my own views nor truths in the opposing views. Things seem to go well around me. This, I think, is what Paul meant by "the aroma of Christ"; it is soundly rooted in him.
"What is hidden will be shouted from the housetops"
said Jesus. And, I guess, that the most embarrassing time for my secrets to be 'shouted from the housetops' will be the Judgement Day, when all humans will hear everthing about everyone. So I try to have few secrets now. And to admit openly my faults and flaws. That forces courage into me, as I decide not run away from a situation but to face up to the truth of it.
I had always been a bit frightened of the opposite sex. I went to a high school that had only boys that was distant from my home, and I had very little social life that would involve girls, so had very little experience of these creatures when I went to university. So I didn't know quite how to relate to them - another species almost. Either I was scared of them, or developed crushes. All through university life I found this rather difficult, as I had neither the poise to make a real friendship with any of the girls, nor the confidence to make a special relationship. Not to worry: work was interesting, and my faith-commitment was important and absorbing.
During my research, however, I started to develop more confidence. This was in no mean part due to my 'baptism' in the Holy Spirit, my learning that God does really love me as I am and the change in my heart.
The first girl I was interested in during this new phase was named Viv. Sometimes I was OK with her, but I kept my distance out of a slight fear, and sometimes was rather fumbly when in her presence. I didn't know whether it was a 'crush' or anything else, and it was a real advance in honesty when one day, in my prayer, I admitted to my heavenly Father "I love Viv." Then I had no more crush, and could develop a friendship with her - nothing much more at first as I did not know what to do. But - and I cannot remember the details now (30 years later) - as I got to know and befriend her, I lost my 'interest' in her. That was an amazing lesson for me: it told me that if I could be honest with God about my lovelife and approach a lass that I was interested in, getting to know her, then if she was not right for me, my interest would wane.
A couple of years later - without a girlfriend of any kind - I became interested in two girls. Difficult that. Prayed about them, but remained interested in both, swinging back and forth between them, as it were. One I went climbing with in Skye, with a group. I was determined not to take an interest in her, but found I could not help it. So I started develop the friendship with her, though at a distance since she was up in London for a year continuing her training. We corresponded. But I had no idea what to do, and was always on tenterhooks as to what she thought of me, desparately wishing she would feel for me as I did for her, but scared to find out that she might not do so. I once invited her to a concert, again as part of a group, and anyone knowledgeable in the craft of befriending one of the opposite sex would have made arrangements to see her home, perhaps after a meal, etc. But not me; I had no idea what to do, did not want to appear too pushy, and so just let her disappear into the night from the concert! I have no idea what she thought about this.
I should make two things clear, to those today who would expect a bloke to have sex with any lass he took out for an evening. First, we were both Christians, and that meant sex was reserved for marriage, in God's plan. I still believe that is the right thing; and not just for 'moral' reasons; as I have written elsewhere, there are good reasons for believing that marriage helps society and is more than 'just another option'. Second, in those days, the culture was still partly influenced by Christian attitudes to sexuality (both the good and the bad attitudes), and so it was not unusual for people to remain virgins till they married.
That was the summer of 1972. Term started back at Southampton and, with it, my 6 month extension to my PhD. I corresponded with J. (her initial; I don't know whether she would wish to be identified). But back at Southampton another girl, Ruth, attracted my attention. She had been converted to a personal relationship with Christ a year before, and had received the gift of tongues. She was small, vivacious, lively - and she grinned. We were both attending the training sessions on evangelism at Campus Crusade, which ended with fun singing, fellowship and cake at Lawrence's house. I often enjoyed Ruth's company.
It was during the autumn and winter of 1972 that I swung between J and Ruth. If I saw J or got a letter from her, my interest would swing to her. If I saw Ruth, my interest would swing to her. I started seeking advice from 'wiser' Christians about what to do, especially some friends within Campus Crusade. These people were positive about how our faith related to secular things, taking 'real life' seriously as something from God to be enjoyed and related to him. Including lovelife. I was encouraged to make actual steps towards one or the other, prayerfully, to see if God would open the door with one.
I had also started getting up at 6.30 am for an hour or more of prayer, usually walking slowly along a riverbank and streets near where I lived. This was botable since some years before, when I had been challenged to get up early for prayer (by Martin Luther's example of getting up at 4 am, saying "I've so much to do today that I'll spend the first three hours in prayer") and had tried it, it had not worked. This time it worked. I kept it up for months, even though I am not an early riser. I suspect that God was sorting out something in me, or giving me time to sort things out.
Around March 1973 I asked Ruth round for coffee at my digs. We enjoyed an evening together, and - if I can remember the details - either that evening or another soon afterwards I asked her if she'd like to 'go out' with me. Yes. Just like that. (Actually, Ruth says she had started noticing that whenever I was absent from e.g. Campus Crusade: something seemed missing for her. And, just before that I went away for a weekend to see my brother Martin in Salford, and Ruth said she missed me, even though another person she was also vaguely interested in was still there; that made the choice for her.) I still didn't know the 'eitquette' of a relationship, and after that evening, I just let her go back to her digs on her own, saying something like "Come round any time you like." How dumb of me!
Nevertheless, Ruth and I started 'going out' as, what would in today's jargon in the U.K. be called an 'item'. For example, we found we were both into bird watching, and so cycled round to Hythe. On the ferry back, I remember putting my arm round her. Thrilling, to me. On one of these outings, in the middle of the bamboo bushes at Chilworth Manor I asked Ruth to marry me, and she said Yes. That was May 1973. We were married on 22nd September 1973.
Not bad going for someone who had never had a girlfriend in his life - from starting to 'go out' to marriage in about 6 months. But around the time of starting, I read the prophecy which reads:
"I will restore," says the Lord, "the years which the locusts have eaten."
and I felt inside that it applied even to me and my lovelife. We were both virgins when we married, and kept sex within our marriage. Marriage has had its ups and downs, but the last ten years especially have seen us coming together more and more. But the story of our marriage itself is for another time.
First, as I started married life I had no real job, except a contract job cleaning tools and sweeping floors at the Technical College Woodwork Department. That lasted from October to after Christmas. I started to become miserable, wondering if I had missed God's plan for my life. Should I have gone and done something else with my PhD? Was I too precipitate in getting married? I had felt God's guidance, but maybe I had misinterpreted it? God no longer seemed to speak to me, and my early morning prayer times had stopped (Ruth suggested I might start them again, but they no longer seemed appropriate). Though I quite enjoyed learning to work with wood and tools, I worried that I was so far away from God's will that he was no longer bothering even to warn me. Deep inside, I was miserable - and that compounded the normal problems every newly married couple has of adjusting to living together.
At Christmas there was a two week break. No wages. No money. What were we to do? Suddenly, a cheque arrived from the Inland Revenue for almost exactly two weeks' wages. This was a repayment of tax from my summer job (in London before we married) during which time I had been on the high 'emergency' tax code. I know the timing is just a coincidence, but I believe God is in charge of coincidences. It told me something: that God, my heavenly Father, had known during the summer that I would be needing this two weeks money at Christmas, and had arranged for me to get into a situation where it would occur. That meant he was providing for me in my situation at December 1973, which meant that I was not outside his will after all. I couldn't feel him, but he was nevertheless looking after us.
I cheered up somewhat after that. With newfound confidence I started applying for computer jobs. In March 1974 or thereabouts, I started work at Warner Lambert at Eastleigh. I stayed there nine months, learning COBOL and some of the joys and frustrations of working in an 'ordinary' business, then took a job with the Aldermoor Health Centre as a Research Assistant to write a computer suite that would process medical records for a General Practice. The purpose of this was to gather data to research quality of medical care in general practice - for example, if someone doesn't get cured, that does not mean poor quality of care by itself. I learned the reality of 'dirty data' and that data always had to be interpreted.
I quite enjoyed that work. But, spiritually, I was going nowhere much. Ruth and I had joined the local church, Central Baptist, and I found this much less fulfilling than University Christian Union and Campus Crusade life. I tried to lead Bible studies, but was not really successful. We tried to be involved with church life, and work on missions and visiting. We enjoyed and valued the preaching and pastorship of Kenneth Furlong, who had been greatly affected by Roy Hession's Calvary Road, and several of us attended Roy's summer camps. We became editors of the church magazine. We gained some great friends, some of whom we still see. And I daresay we helped and encouraged others.
The church grew, and Ken took a sabbatical during which he visited and studied church growth. Towards the end of the 1970s, Vic Jackopson joined Ken Furlong. Vic was to be partly for the church, and partly funded by Evangelism Explosion.
At that time, many of us received training in Evangelism Explosion (EE) evangelism (which was an interesting comparison with that of Campus Crusade, and one that I use in discussing a new 'green' packaging of the gospel). I learned quite a lot in those years of the 1970s. But I never felt I was growing in my relationship with God. All that had levelled off, and become static. Life was not really fulfilling in the way it had been. Maybe I should not have expected it to be so. After all, I was one for the open moors and the north, and felt trapped in the brick-and-concrete town of Southampton.
Ruth and I first lived with a member of the church, a Mabel Tutte, in Archers Road, then moved to rent rooms in Portswood Road, then bought a house in Morris Road, in which we remained until 1981. Alastair was born 1st January 1979. (It was Vic who encouraged us to start thinking about having a family.)
My work at Aldermoor Health Centre came to an end, and I thought I would move into psychology (someone had told me there was a great need for Christians in psychology). How to do this, starting from computing? Answer: via the stepping stone of Artificial Intelligence. I wrote to Donald Michie at Edinburgh (I would love to have returned to my home city, disliking Southampton since I first set foot there in 1996) asking if he had a post. It turned out he did, but not at Edinburgh. He was undertaking a joint project with the ICI Production Systems Group at Runcorn, a place I had never heard of, and I was offered the ICI job. I started that job in October 1980, and Ruth and toddler Alastair came up to the house I had bought in Frodsham in February 1981.
From that time, things started to become interesting again, and in the mid 1980s I returned to academic life.
First, I recount my entry into green politics and activism, which forced onto me experiences with which I had to try to get to grips with as a disciple of Jesus Christ. So when I encountered a book called 'The Transforming Vision', I was ready for what it said: it gave me a new way of understanding things. With this, I gained a new understanding of the relationship between God and his creation, a new understanding of the relationship between 'sacred and secular' (everyday life, my academic work, information technology, my political activity and my faith), an entry into philosophy, a new way to interpret Scripture, a new way of praying, and a what I have called 'A New View in Theology'. And, during part of this time, I had a spell in church leadership. This development is still going on.
About 1980, just before we moved from Southampton to Cheshire, I joined a Friends of the Earth march about some issue that I cannot remember, and someone told me of a new political party, the Ecology Party. To me politics had always missed the important things in life: caring the nature, the spiritual element, etc., and so I had had little interest in it (except for a bit of Scottish Nationalism and a desire to remain out of the Common Market). I had always, maybe from my father, had a deep scepticism about putting money as the measure of all things; money cannot buy happiness and love. But here was a party that seemed to take seriously God's creation and the spiritual element, and moreover, sought to integrate them with economics etc. I reckoned that I could best evaluate it from the inside than outside, so I joined - and found it was better than I'd hoped in a number for ways. But I did not do much in the Ecology Party (which later renamed itself to be the Green Party) except attend conferences. I treated my involvement almost as a pastime: God would be happy with it as long as it did not interfere with or detract from more 'important' things like church activity or family life.
radah) means political management.
But he went further, seeking to devise the shape of politics from the Bible; he did not like the situation that prevailed at the time, in which politically active Christians simply 'christened' their own political persuasions, left or right. Marshall was convinced that the Bible could actually inform us of the content of politics, not just how to carry it out.
He based that content on the Hebrew word
tsedeq, which he defined as
"maintaining right relationships among all things in the created order".
In his book he showed in some detail how this can be worked out in the areas of economics and defence, to obtain real policy. He argued that Biblical policy is found, not by seeking specific phrases in Scripture but be discerning the
tsedeq principles, and applying them in the cultural situation in which we find ourselves - and that God is pleased when we struggle to do do. Finally, what sealed the book's importance in my mind, was that he dealt head-on with a number of thorny questions such as "If all this world of politics etc. is to be burned up and destroyed when Christ comes again, why should we bother?" (His answer to this one was that the mandate of Genesis 1 has never been rescinded, and we should obey even when human logic cannot understand.)
(For those who want a discussion of
tsedeq, see tsedeq.html.
I desperately wanted to avoid being distracted away from God's will, which seemed to me a danger of political involvement, so I asked a number of local Christians agreed to pray for me. I started issuing prayer letters. Then I started to think about the national election, and became scared because it would cost money that I did not have. I prayed about this - and immediately one of my Aunts told me she would donate £300 towards my campaign. That confirmed for me that I was in the centre of God's will, and from that time onwards, right through the election, I had a peace and joy about being in God's will. The result was a relatively good Green vote, though of course I did not get elected. I had wished merely to get a good, sensible Green message across.
I have stood once or twice more for office since that time, but my political involvement has been in a different direction: influencing local land-use and transport plans. I was impressed with the work of the Stroud Green Party, who had written a well argued critique of Gloucestershire's structure plan. I sought to do a similar thing for my district, Vale Royal. Instead of merely commenting on individual policy proposals, I wrote it in two parts: part A expounded Green principles that were relevant to Vale Royal, such as environmentally sensitive integration, sustainable communities, and global responsibility, and part B made comments on individual policies that referred back to the principles. Many planners liked this approach, and to date I have been involved in a number of such activities. I find it is a way in which God's
tsedeq can be worked out in the local politics.
On the basis of this I now see a Biblical notion of politics as a combination of
tsedeq, the former giving the mandate and the latter giving the content and principles. Much Christian attitude to politics, however, is informed by Augustine's view that politics is of no eternal value, being merely a mechanism to curb evil. I have argued that
radah-tsedeq politics is better than Augustine's view in a recent Briefing Paper, Towards a Biblical View on Politics, of the Whitefield Institute (Frewin Court, Oxford, OX1 3HZ, UK).
It is still the same today (2008), though now we know that climate change is happening, and that we have responsibility before God for the planet. The stuggle continues.
One difficulty, I realised, was that we did not have a compelling theological, Bible-based reason for Christians to change their thinking. We could add "Thou shalt not damage the environment" as a kind of Eleventh Commandment, but doing that would not wash, because God gave Moses only ten. We could argue that our 'neighbour' to whom we should "go and do likewise" includes the non-human creation, but only those who are already disposed to a green view find that convincing. We could argue that we ought to look after the world because it belongs to God and not us, but that seemed so weak compared with the imperative of 'The Great Commission', to 'make disciples'.
Most seemed to assume that 'make disciples' meant 'save souls'. A church leader once asked me "Would you rather save a soul or save a rainforest!?" He did not accept my answer "God loves both", and he did not like it when I challenged him about track record). After all, will not all the environment burn up when Jesus comes back again? (No! See below.)
Though we could cite verses of Scripture in support of the green imperative, it did not seem central in Scripture. Not only were people not convinced, but if indeed in is not central, then perhaps I should not be devoting my God-given time and life to it?
Actually, I have now discovered that the green imperative is actually central in Scripture, and what I call 'a new view in theology' explains this. But that was not to arrive for a decade. To arrive there a number of other things had to happen. The first was to understand that all three of the persons of the Trinity are linked to the green imperative, and the second was to tackle our response to the New Age.
I discovered that the reason the Duke of Edinburgh had convened these consultations was that when the WWF had brought five major religions together at Assissi to compare attitudes to Nature, the Christian one was very disappointing, being little different from a Jewish attitude of "God created and owns this world, so we have a responsibility to take care of it." This is, of course, what motivated me into political activity, but I had questions.
In comparison to Judaism, which has God the Creator and Law-Giver, it also has Jesus as God the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as God the Indweller and Empowerer. So, if Nature is important to God, then one would expect not only God the Father to be linked with it, but also Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I had recently discovered at least some link with Jesus, in Romans 8, Colossians 1 and Ephesians 1: Jesus' death and resurrection will redeem not only humankind but also the whole of creation. But where does the Holy Spirit come in?
I knelt down by my bed one night and prayed this question, "Where does the Holy Spirit fit in?" Immediately into my mind came Galatians 5:22,23:
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."
In an instant, far quicker than it takes to explain this, I saw two things: that these characteristics apply not only to inter-human and human-God relationships but also to our relationships with the natural world, and that just as the Holy Spirit is sole enabler of these characteristics in human beings in inter-human and human-God relationships so he is sole enabler of them in human-nature relationships. That is, this list of characteristics not only shows the attitude we should have towards Nature, but it is also the solution, the means of achievement. The difference between Christianity and Judaism lies not only in redemption, but also in God dwelling in us to make his will possible - in our caring for creation as well as in our inter-human relationships. This is the Christian Attitude to Nature.
I reported this to my group the next day, which reported it to the Duke, who very much liked it, and made it the climax of the book he wrote as a result of the Consultation. I also wrote in a pamphlet for the Industrial Christian Fellowship which found its way to Tony Campolo, who likewise made it the climax of his book How to Save the Earth Without Worshiping Nature. In a very short time, and without effort on my part, what to me was a new idea entered and germinated. I am sure it was of God, rather than one of my own ideas.
To help me do this, in 1991 I compiled a document Response to the New Age, in which part 1 argued that Green is not New Age, but rather a recognition of the limitations of the Modern (materialistic, individualistic, rationalistic, nature-spoiling) world view, and part 2 sought to set out the various degrees and types of New Age activity, and what our response should be to each.
Matthew Fox had written Original Blessing: A Primer on Creation Spirituality in the mid-1980s, which gained enormous popularity, but was treated with great suspicion by evangelicals. I wanted to understand his views, so that I could respond, not just react. His reference to 'original blessing' was an obvious counter to the doctrine of 'original sin', a doctrine that I find not only true to life, but also helpful and surprisingly beautiful when taken with the doctrine of God's proactive redemption. So I wrote a long letter to him (which did not receive so much as a reply, sadly), which was a critique of his ideas, and a support of the doctrine of original sin. I believe that Fox misunderstands the Fall and Redemption, that he is responding to what is a distorted theology found especially in mediaeval Roman Catholicism, and that he reacts against, rather than corrects, this distortion and lands himself in other distortions. I made this long letter available as The Beauty of Original Sin (available from Christian Studies Unit, 65 Prior Park Road, Bath, BA2 4NL, UK). A short version can be found in the pages orig.blessing.html and orig.sin.html.
My strategy in preaching, under those constraints, came from some training I had received, especially from Campus Crusade, and also from my own common sense:
As a university lecturer I was used to speaking to groups of listeners, and trying to get useful information across in the process. So most of my sermons would tend to be a light form of lecture. Suitable for some people not for others (surprisingly, the least seemingly academic people liked them best), so a church should have a mix of people giving sermons.
We met every Saturday morning for prayer. (How I hated that! My Saturdays were precious to me - but I gave priority to the meeting.) After a few years, at a church weekend, two of the leaders stepped down, with the third suggesting he would too - facing me with the possibility of being sole leader. I was non-plussed. In fact, he and I got together and prayed what to do. We thought we would ask three members to come onto the leadership team temporarily to help us decide the way ahead. To me (and I think Andrew Faraday, my co-elder) a church leader is someone who has a wide wise perspective:
"A leader is someone who has a heart for the whole life of the church, not just one area. Heart not mind. Whole not just one area."
We both felt that the number of leaders should be about five, an odd number to prevent stalemate and three is too few to get a cross section of views and also if one is away. We chose three, and continued meeting weekly. After a year, we went round the fellowship, talking with everyone we could, to see if there was anyone they thought should be a leader. The three gained most 'votes' by far, and so were formally recognised as leaders. One stood down after 18 months (having said he would) and was replaced, one after five years (having said she would) and was replaced but by a succession of people. At one time we tried bringing people onto the team for a month at a time to gain from their perspective.
'She'?!? Oh, yes, I believe in women in church leadership. But we had trouble for some years with a Trustee who was a fundamentalist and very dominant in personality. To avoid trouble (I fear) we did not make the other three leaders into 'elders'. (In fact, Andrew and I felt the office of 'elder' should lapse and there should be no difference. Later, it transpired, one of the leaders always felt a distinction, and I think carried a hurt around with him.)
Eventually, in 1998, I stepped aside from leadership, but stayed as member of the church. Seeing leadership as a role rather than status or power, and believing that others have potential for leadership roles that should be developed, I believe in a rolling leadership, so I stepped aside when circumstances suggested I should. (My co-elder, Andrew Faraday, had fallen ill and had stepped aside, and he and I to some extent had a very close relationship, probably one of only a few real friendships I have had in my life.)
We led a church composed of very able people, so I felt strongly that our function as leaders was to enable, encourage, equip and exercise the people. Coupled with that, we believed that the work of God was more outside the church than inside it. So I always wahted to avoid unnecessary demands the church made on people in terms of their time, so that they would do more in the world for the Lord. What I wanted to demand from them was commitment to their Lord and Saviour, not the church. A more complete outline of my notions of church and church leadership can be found in leadership.
But it seems I might have been wrong. The people we left behind in leadership were of a very different mould, theology, perspective and - here are the words of someone who is still hurt, and should not be - a number of us believe, have undermined some of the foundations God set up through us and the leaders before us (at least IMHO). But who am I to say? Maybe they are right. I am still working through the hurt, and trying to separate personal hurt and interest from those of God, so I would value your prayers, reader, if you pray.
One consolation is that I am now released for other, and maybe better, things. The spiritual journey goes on. May the Living God's wishes materialize, may his will be done, may people and his creation be blessed.
(That was written 1998, and more follows.)
This took many steps, of which the Green activity and church leadership above was useful preparation. The Transforming Vision showed me there is such a thing as world-views, and why they are important. It explained what I was perplexed about: why is it that God's people so often do the most damaging things, especially in the environmental arena? Why do so many (American?) Christians care so little about the damage they are doing? Why do so many of them assiduously resist the green imperative and even actively work against it? Is it just their selfishness? (No, because so many of them are such good and lovely and unselfish people.) The Transforming Vision showed me there is a level deeper than our actions and beliefs, that of world-views and presuppositions. The Transforming Vision gave me an explanation of what I already felt with my intuition, that while 'Christians' might believe and even do 'right' things, they can be wrong in the underlying orientation of their lives.
Almost, Christians today seem like the people Old Testament Israel, who go to worship Yahweh, and yet orientate their everyday lives around Baal. Christians today, while keeping their beliefs pure, and devoting Sunday to the worship of God, orientate their lives towards the idols of convenience, pleasure (of 'Christian' kinds, of course!), reputation, scientific and technological living, cars, electronic devices, and so on. We seem to put God in one compartment, and everyday life in another. As Middleton and Walsh say [p.115] "To this day Christians are still not free, in either their world-view or lifestyle, from the debilitating effects of this unbiblical dualism."
The Transforming Vision also showed me there was a new way to interpret the Bible that is true to the Bible itself, and why many of the deep assumptions we make about what to believe actually come from the cultural expectations with which we approach the Bible, rather than what the Bible itself says. One stands out in my memory [p.103-5]
"Even our reading of the Bible is influenced by our world view. ... So if our world view is unbiblical, it will inevitably distort our understanding of the biblical text. The text at hand is Matthew 24:36-41:
No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill, one will be taken and the other left.
You might now be expecting a defense of a particular eschatological theory (amillennial, postmillennial or premillennial), but our question is more simple. The punch line of Jesus' teaching comes at the end. When the Son of Man returns, two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be working with a hand kill; one will be taken, one left. The question is, Who is taken and who is left? ...
Most Christians would probably answer, 'The Christian is taken and the non-Christian is left, of course." But look again at the text. Why should we believe the Christian is taken? Does the text justify such an interpretation?
Let's look closely at what Jesus is saying here. The Son of Man will come in a day like the days of Noah. People didn't believe Noah when he was building the ark. They just went along on their merry way, and they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. Who got taken away? The people who ignored Noah! So also when the Son of Man comes, some will be taken away. Who? The same kind of people as in Noah's day - the ones who ignore the gospel of salvation and persist in disobedience.
In other words, a close look at the text reveals that it isn't Christians who are taken away, but non-Christians. Rather than addressing the issue of the rapture of the saints, Jesus is here speaking of judgment on unbelievers. ..."
This interpretation of Scripture is surprising to us - and yet it is more in line with the text than our usual interpretation. So Middleton and Walsh ask why this is:
"If the text is actually saying the non-Christian is taken, why then have we so consistently misread Jesus' words here? ...
Rather than seeing that the biblical vision of the future is a restoration of creation and of our creaturely life before the Lord, we seem to have substituted a dualistic eschatology which removes us from creation and places us in heaven. Our dualism leads us to a world-flight mentality. It has closed our eyes to the biblical vision of heaven coming to us. So we consistently misread passages such as Matthew 24:37-41.
Our world view affects how we see everything, even how we read the Bible. A world view that lacks the comprehensiveness of the biblical world view will necessarily cause us to misinterpret the Scriptures. It will always miss the full scope of their redemptive message."
The Transforming Vision also showed me why what I had also intuitively felt is true, namely that neither liberation nor liberal theology are the answer. Liberal theology is, to me, almost completely bankrupt. By contrast, The Transforming Vision showed me that taking the Bible at face value might give the answers.
Actually, The Transforming Vision does not give me all the answers, but it shows me in which direction to look for answers to my questions, some of which are recounted in what follows. Thank you, Richard Middleton and Brian Walsh.
Consider the Lord's prayer.
Our Father in heaven,
May your holy name be honoured
May your kingdom come
May your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven ...
Perhaps 'on earth as in heaven' refers not only to God's will being done, but also to his kingdom coming and his Name being honoured? In my work, in my political activity and in my walking, and in anything else, perhaps I can live in such a way that people come to think more highly of God, that they will let him have more of a say in their lives (his kingdom coming) and will come to delight to do his will. That is part of the answer I have found to how my secular life can be meaningful in God's eyes.
Another part is that I now see that we human beings are called to represent God to the rest of the creation, for its joy rather than our convenience or pleasure. This is part of what I have called a new view in theology. But in relation to the sacred-secular question, it helps me see that it is not just 'OK' to undertake secular things, but it is actually God's express will. In so doing, I am helping to manage the creation in such a way as to disclose in it its destination in God.
A third part is that, through my interest in Dooyeweerdian philosophy, I have come to see that the elevating of the sacred over the secular, instead of being Scriptural, might be a leftover from the Nature-Grace ground-motive of the mediaeval Roman Catholic church and Scholasticism. It was once suggested to me that the Jewish religion is the most materialistic there is. If the Hebrew ground-motive of creation, fall and redemption leads to that, then perhaps secularity is as valued by God as sacred, religious stuff? I detect a strong residual nature-grace split in the evangelical and charismatic churches today, especially the stuff coming out of USA. Though the religious aspect of life is important, so are all the other aspects. This includes politics, information technology, environmental sustainability, and the like. It also includes philosophy.
Those views came into clarity only since around 2000.
The proviso is, with these as with religious activity, that we "love mercy, do justly, and walk humbly with our God" (approx Micah 6:8). Anything can be held up as an excuse against God. But let me say something about my interest in philosophy.
As I now see it (though it took some time to become clear) the problem with philosophy down through the ages is that philosophers of all kinds have presupposed that God need not be taken into account in philosophy, or if he is, then he is only one entity in a whole panoply of entities that we can think about. It is not philosophy as such that is at fault, but the presupposition that we have made. If we could find a philosophy that does not make this presupposition then perhaps that would be a valid philosophy.
The philosophy of the late Herman Dooyeweerd is one such philosophy. Dooyeweerd was a Dutch Christian (1894-1977) who, like me, was concerned to find (or rather develop) a philosophy that did not make this anti-Biblical presupposition. He not only did this, but he also showed that, in philosophical terms, the rest of philosophy - those of Plato and Aristotle, those of Augustine and Aquinas, those of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, those of Kant, Hegel, Husserl, and others - have failed to tackle crucial questions or be critical enough.
What is strange is that I did not start to explore Dooyeweerd's philosophy primarily because it was a Christian one, but because it actually helped me understand two secular fields: environmental sustainability and information systems. It is, par excellence, able to help us tackle interdisciplinary fields. The fact that it is a Christian philosophy is a bonus. But maybe it is no coincidence that it happens to be better at handling the diversity of what we find (see why: philosophical implications of there being a creator).
I now find Dooyeweerd's philosophy provides one way in which me understand the relationship between God and his creation and why it is that secular and sacred are both of value in God's eyes (specifically, the sacred may be seen as just one aspect of life, the pistic aspect) - though this affects all other aspects, which in turn affect this aspect. This intimate inter-effecting among the aspects, which Dooyeweerd called "coherence of meaning" and treated as of utmost philosophical importance, is precisely what one might expect from a loving Creator.
"At the conference I attended," one of them once told me in the mid 1990s, "I heard a paper on these aspects you are talking about." So I wrote to the author of the paper in a Swedish university (now Anita Mirijiamdotter), and her professor, Donald de Raadt, wrote back and soon afterwards I went to visit them for discussions, and met others, including Birgitta Bergvall-Kåreborn and, later, Darek Eriksson. Donald introduced me to Sytse Strijbos in the Free University of Amsterdam, who had just started a joint work aimed at investigating how Dooyeweerd's philosophy might engage with systems thinking, and they asked me to join them as a founder member of what later became known as the Center for Philosophy, Technology and Social Systems (CPTS).
Over the years years I worked with Donald, Anita, Sytse and Birgitta and Darek and others, and through them gained the important idea that 'Christian' thinking, at least in the form of Dooyeweerd's philosophy, could engage on equal footing with mainstream thinking - neither ignoring nor trying to dominate it, but, as I now put it, being able to listen, affirm, critique and enrich mainstream thinking. Sytse and Donald were particularly good at involving leading mainstream thinkers like Gerald Midgley and Carl Mitcham. The CPTS organised working conferences for over 20 years and resulted in many published papers. I am, deeply grateful to God for it.
What interested me was that it was non-Christians who valued Dooyeweerd's thought, more than Christians did. Anita and Gerald Midgley would not, as far as I know, consider themselves Christians. Yet they valued the incisiveness of Dooyeweerd's ideas and the kind of thinking they encouraged. This gave me confidence in the academic arena, to engage rather than either acquiesce or be antagonistic, of which more below.
Since before 2000 I have found a need to rethink my theology. If the creation (secular, environmental sustainability, etc.) is important to God in its own right, what is its relationship to us? Traditionally, we have interpreted the mandate in Genesis 1:26-28 as giving us both the privilege and the duty to make use of the rest of creation as a resource, using it for our pleasure and convenience so that we end up more grateful to God and enjoying and worshipping him more. But that seems wrong.
I discovered that the Hebrew word
radah, mentioned earlier, though it does indeed mean 'have dominion over', in this context refers to a particular type of dominion. Are sheep there for the sake of the shepherds? Or are shepherds there for the sake of the sheep? Though shepherds 'have dominion' over sheep, they are there for the sake of the sheep, not for their own sake. This is made clear in Ezekiel 34, as explained on the radah page. We are shepherds of the rest of the creation.
This led me to a new view in theology, in which the importance of creation is central, not just peripheral to God's plan of creation and redemption in Christ. It is a new answer to the question, "Why did God create us, and why does he save us?" What was God's Cosmic Plan in doing this? Was it just to 'populate heaven'? Was it just to create a 'special people', with the rest going to the scrapheap? Was it just to create some replicas of Christ? None of these, or the various others usual answers I would get given, satisfied me. Was it just 'for his glory'? They leave so many questions not only unanswered but unanswerable, such as how God can be just if he is loving and vice versa, and the green questions above. What does 'glory' actually mean?
I tried a new answer to this question, and a simple version of it is: God created and saves in order that all in creation can mediate his character and love to each other, so that all will enjoy him and he (Trinity) will also enjoy it. Briefly, it works like this:
This is worked out in more detail in the website on New View in Theology. The above core is expanded as Five 'Rs'. Also see the page on Why Am I Saved?a.
In 2005, at a weekend with the John Ray Initiative, the idea that perhaps the burgeoning Christians in China might be interested in discussing this approach - because they will soon have an impact on the way China develops: whether destructive, greedy (idolatrous) industrialism and moneytarism and pride at being a Number 1 World Power, or dignified responsibility for God's Earth. What impact the Christians will have will depend on what theology develops among them as the emerge from an era of persecution. We in the West cannot impose any theology on them, but, because we have experience of such development and are culpable before God, we might have a responsibility, nay a duty even, to relay that to them lest they make the same mistake and become condemned in the same way. This means that perhaps we should suggest theological approaches that offer a different way of Biblical thinking. I am pursuing this.
"Would you rather save a soul or save a rainforest?"
The question the church leader put to me, mentioned earlier, "Would you rather save a soul or save a rainforest?" has haunted me ever since. If, as I replied to him, God loves both, how does this work out? And is it indeed true? This tension was always present when pursuing the 'new view'. [==== more to be written]
In 2005, at a weekend with the John Ray Initiative, the idea that perhaps the burgeoning Christians in China might be interested in discussing this approach - because they will soon have an impact on the way China develops: whether destructive, greedy (idolatrous) industrialism and moneytarism and pride at being a Number 1 World Power, or dignified responsibility for God's Earth. What impact the Christians will have will depend on what theology develops among them as the emerge from an era of persecution. We in the West cannot impose any theology on them, but, because we have experience of such development and are culpable before God, we might have a responsibility, nay a duty even, to relay that to them lest they make the same mistake and become condemned in the same way. This means that perhaps we should suggest theological approaches that offer a different way of Biblical thinking. I am pursuing this.
See the irony of this, below!
But during the past few years I have had to unlearn some things and learn others.
I had to un-learn:
I came to learn:
I've found such praying seems more effective, and I've been able to get rid of the chaff. It has freed me from being exercised with whether God answers prayer, to what God is doing. Somehow the above allows me to bring together the idea that God will grant whatever we ask that is his will with the idea that I can initiate a request and God will actually react to that (Open theism?). It sort of makes sense of John 14-16, so that the statements about prayer that Jesus made are no longer recipes for getting God to hear me, but rather encouragements to undergird my relationship with God. I John 5:14 is no longer a tautology but an encouragement. These statements take on a new meaning.
With this view of prayer, I can engage with God as his active representative rather than his passive servant (waiting to be told what to do). It links nicely with my earlier discovery that God aligns our wills freely with his own. What I find myself passionate about (after first asking myself whether it is merely my selfishness or pride) I can take to be aligned with God's will too. So I can ask specifically and boldly and yet humbly for it. And I find it occurs, and rejoice, no longer because 'my prayer was answered', but because it furthers God's kingdom. That is my real joy, my hope, my vision today (2008) - that I work with God for the world he loves.
"So be fearless Andrew. You have the blessing of an opportunity to speak out and express what God wants you to say. Isaiah 59:21 says that His Spirit is upon us and His words are in our mouth and they will not depart."Since Ruth is someone who does receive 'words' from God, I decided to act on it, and for the past 12 months (to 17 March 2012) it seems to have worked.
It seems that God has used me to save both 'souls' and 'rainforests'! As a result of these, I no longer fear that I am of no use to God, but enjoy working and living for and with him, for his world.
Around 2000 Agape (was CCC) and UCCF set up the Christian Academic Network, whose first motto was, "Resurrection of the Evangelical Mind". I was asked to join the leadership team. After teething troubles, during which time God had to say to us "I wanted you to be a project but you have made it an institution", and our repentance of this, we have developed a vision for Christians to make a genuine input into academic thinking.
As part of this, I suggested some small steps to 'shaping our disciplines for Christ'. Being always suspicious of such simple steps, I was surprised how popular it began to be. My recent academic papers in the sociological and informatics fields have tended to be along these lines. I use the philosophy of Dooyeweerd to help me, but always conscious that I am here to do my Father's will - which is to bless the rest of Creation. This rest of Creation includes the edifice of human knowledge that has been constructed over the centuries by academic study.
Since the year 2000 I have been trying to work out what my role is as an academic with the spiritual journey I have had. This has had three parts to research (the generation of theories about how the world works):
That summarises what I have found myself doing in research and teaching for the last decade of my academic work, as I approach retirement.
God has given me some wonderful research students to supervise, coming from all over the world!
Being in academic life is not always easy. I have to work within an institution with others, often those who have no interest in that kind of vision. I used to love my work, but in the past couple of years this has all changed.
==== a bit removed from here.
How do I work with others? Not well. I often clash with my colleagues, especially with middle management, In committee meetings and examination boards I quite often blow up in anger. This hurts my colleagues. Does it dishonour Christ? I usually apologise (genuinely: it is sometimes hard to work out exactly what to apologise for) and my colleagues seem to accept that.
Sometimes some good comes out of it, such as the time we had an influx of students from India. Most of the teams had copied work for their assignment - but I realised they were not trying to cheat (in some Eastern cultures, copying is seen to honour the source). So I explained what was needed and asked them to do it again. For that, I was wrapped over the knuckles by those in charge, because I had upset their nice smooth system.
The funny thing was: just a few days before that happened I had prayed to the Father something like: "Father, should I be a nuisance for you, or should I keep my head down? If the former, please make me do it." It seems that my nuisance action was of God! I seem to have a sense of justice that makes it difficult for me to toe the line.
I used to love my work, but over the past two years I have come to hate it. Only the vision above keeps me going, and I do that for the Lord Jesus and His world (including students), not for the University. I used to be proud of my university, as one that had a unique mission: to understand the link between theory and practice (rather than merely develop theories or apply them), and that is what kept me there for 25 years. But in the past few years I have seen my university be destroyed (as I see it) by 'unwisdom' at the top and in the centre. I have made some attempts to warn the Vice Chancellor and others but these have been useless, partly because I did them in clumsy or inappropriate ways. I have often have an attitude that is dishonouring to the Lord Jesus Christ.
As I move towards retirement I feel depressed about my university - though not about my academic work as such, which is undergirded by the above vision.
Part of my problem is that I have mild Asperger's Syndrome. See my page on it. Because of this: I find it difficult to recognise non-verbal cues, I cannot understand what people expect of me, I tend to focus, I tend to take a lot into account, I see things differently, I tend to see and speak about 'elephants in the room', I raise awkward questions that others would prefer to remain silent about, but I often do not express myself well, and often say things in ways that others do not find helpful, perhaps because I cannot separate the key issues from the detail or peripheral ones, without a lot of extra thinking, and what others deem unimportant seems important to me, and I find it difficult to see the need to fit in with their arbitrary rules. I have a persecution complex, assuming that the others are all against me, whereas in fact some are probably not.
So, my working with others has not yet been successful. There are times when what I say has been just right and very useful, bringing new insight. This is mainly appreciated by those at the very top (e.g. Vice Chancellor) and the very bottom (e.g. students and fellow workers); the middle managers don't like it (I suppose because they feel they have a job to do, and I am outwith their parameters). This has happened not only in my university but also in my church, where some people in charge have found me difficult - though most of those people have been able to forgive or accept me, unlike some at university. Maybe God's people have something that others don't?? :-)
It has not yet been successful - which probably means that it never will be, because I am about to take partial retirement.
I fear that this dishonours Christ. Is it a blot on the landscape of my spiritual journey? Is it an area where, despite all the good stuff above, I have defeat in my life? Should I "seek victory"? Or am I just as God wants me to be. Remember: Sampson was not exactly a roaring success either.
Very briefly, I have come to the belief that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, and the Bible is unique as God's communication to humankind, but also that there is considerable insight in other religions, and that most major religions do not worship 'other gods' as in pagan religions, but are seeking after the One True God. What is unique about the Bible? Not just its theology, but its style: The Qur'an and the Bhagavad Gita seem to be theoretical treatises or rule books, whereas the Bible is an everyday account of how God has interacted with His world and with humans in particular.
Also, my concern for the 'mundane' side of life, and for environmental responsibility, and for academic activity, together with my espousal of Dooyeweerd's philosophy, have made what I say quite attractive to thinking people of all faiths. I see Jesus as not just for Christians but for all people, regardless of religion.
As a result, a couple of my students and another person have accepted Christ as Saviour and Master, and I have been mentoring them. I do not call them 'Christians', but rather 'followers of Jesus'. By 'follower' I do not mean following Jesus-and-something-else, but full, absolute following, as in Luke 9:24
"If anyone wants to save his life, he will lose it;
But if anyone loses his life for my sake and the gospel's
He will save it."
I leave it to the Holy Spirit of God to tell them what He wants from them. This is an ongoing project, and I am exploring new approaches: I try not to impart conventional 'Christian' interpretations, but what the Bible clearly says as 'big' things - I suppose influenced by the things I have learned, discussed above. I have a wonderful set of partners who support and pray for these two. That is what is taking much of my time at present, though I also spend time on environmental and academic matters. I am learning lots, (even at age 65!), especially how God Himself keeps people.
I have been backed up by a group of around 30 people who pray for us, to whom I send regular prayer emails, some expressing my concern. Frequently I have received messages that amount to "Don't worry so much!" Are they merely writing to make me feel better? Are they merely spouting conventional ideas? Will the enemy gain a foothold if I 'don't worry'?
Then I realise I have been driven by fear, not trust. I realise that God is more concerned than I am, and He knows what to do. So, cautiously and step by little step, I have learned to hold back - and lo! I found that God has indeed sorted things out. And that the result is deeper than it would have been had I stepped in.
I recently (2015) read the recent biography of James O. Fraser, whom God sent to the Lisu people on the China-Burma border. He had a deep burden for these people, but few came to Christ in a deep way, despite his intensive efforts and praying. It turned out that God had to make changes in James Fraser before He could make changes among the Lisu people. Fraser has to learn the 'prayer of faith' that prays once and then trusts God for the answer, and he had to learn to hold his work for God with an open hand, open to how God wanted to work. Then hundreds of Lisu came to Christ in a deep way, many not through Fraser himself (he delighted; contrast my jealousy!). Then thousands, until today the Chinese Government records Christianity as the main religion of the Lisu people.
I am learning a similar lesson. God works in God's own time and in God's own way, and He seeks for those who will join Him in this wonderful work. And I have become more filled with joy than before. With my 'New View' (see above), this joy is not just at people being justified through Christ (Dimension 1), nor that they are learning to live with God in their lives today (Dimension 2), but that these are directed outward towards a whole creation (Dimension 3 of salvation). It seems that God works in ways that 'feel natural', without the destructive stress, even though there is hard work.
One other example: Late in 2014 I remarked to the Father than I had not led anyone to Christ for a long time, and thought nothing of it. Someone contacted me via this website, having found this very page fascinating, and I began an email correspondence. That person was very open, in a way that I (Aspie and disciple) value, and I felt that God had arranged our 'meeting', and thought that 'one day' I might explain how they could know God personally through Jesus. That day came sooner than I had thought, when I tentatively wrote "I don't know whether you are ready for this yet, but it is possible to know Jesus personally, ... In addition to Jesus being *the* Saviour, he is be *my* Saviour and can be *your* Saviour." It turned out it was indeed the right time. I was not expecting all this; it 'just came about'.
Again, I am learning that God works in ways that 'feel natural', and for which 'the time is right', without the kind of stress that is destructive. And that is the work that bears fruit that lasts. I knew this decades ago, but I had not learned it.
It seems that whereas the Spirit of God might occasionally use me, and my background experience, beliefs, intuititions, and my aspergic tendency to ask direct questions that others would not ask, to help people, it is not a 'role' I can adopt. I should just let the Spirit of God use these when it is right.
This does not disappoint me. Instead, it thrills me. And it gives me freedom. You see, if it is my role to do X or Y, then I feel duty-bound to fulfil this role "in season and out of season". When I do this 'because I ought to', then it does not go well. It may be that God can use my having done it later, but I come away with the feeling it were better that I had not done it. To know that the fruitful, effective action is when I am not trying to adopt a role, frees me from these failed attempts.
As I have discovered over the past 40 yaers: freedom in Christ!
As a result, I have always been somewhat 'ecumenical' in outlook (though I find the movement known since the 1960s as "Ecumenical" to place far too much emphasis on church organisations, and thus, to me, irrelevant).
To me, God the Father, the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit are all-important, so are God's world and God's word in Scripture. My life is not centred on church, worship nor eucharist, but on everyday walking "with God". No, I do not take the Nature-grace ground-motive, which says that the things of everyday life can only be important via church and religious activity; to me, everyday life links directly with God. Church seems to me socially and learningly important, but it is never of central necessity. What I value about church is not worship, but learning how to live with people of God. (Thanks to Steve McGibbon for implanting that idea in me: it answered what I have felt for decades.)
With Asperger Syndrome, I find it difficult to learn to live with people, and to like doing so. But I find it valuable and useful. I learn the truths of Scriptures that urge us to love each other, forgive each other as God in Christ has forgiven us, to "leave your gift at the altar and go first to mend things with your brother", and so on. (Marriage does this even more, but in different ways!)
I wonder whether the elevation of the importance of church is fuelled by the Sacred-secular divide, which has so long damaged Christian thought and action.
But what about that famous verse in Hebrews, "Do not forget to meet together"? Does not that require us to attend church regularly? Not really (and in any case I do attend regularly).
Over the past six decades I have pondered this. Today, I think I am beginning to understand better the role of church in our lives, which I am developing in the page, The Church - A New View. "The duty of the church," someone once wrote, "is to find out where God is working and go and join Him there." I like that.
This page is offered to God as on-going work. Comments, queries welcome.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden at all dates below. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.
Part of his www.abxn.org pages, that open up discussion and exploration from a Christian ('xn') perspective.
Written on the Amiga with Protext.
Page under continous construction 31 January 1999, and since. Last updated: 23 April 2000 added 'saying No to God', wrote the Green section. 13 May 2001 started church leadership. 20 May 2001 more on Church leadership section, moved 'saying no' back to better position. 27 May 2001 more on leadership. 30 June 2001 modified leadership. 2 September 2001 wrote Marriage and Doldrums. 10 February 2002 slight rewording of marriage. 28 March 2004 Phil 2:13 too, .nav, corrected small text. 1 August 2004 Crusaders: God at centre. 22 May 2005 Wrote secular-sacred, new section on philosophy, and new section on New View. 30 October 2005 China and inserted 1998 where I wrote temporally. 1 January 2006 prayer; removed counter. 28 January 2006 links to NV. 18 May 2008 wrote Transforming Vision, rewrote other parts, restructured parts. 29 May 2008 Intro: cultural assumptions. 18 April 2010 nv link corrected; Rom 3. 21 November 2010 rainforest start. 6 June 2011 link 'why.saved', new .end,.nav. 14 August 2011 slight changes, and adding references to New View dimensions. 17 March 2012 Campus Crusade and gillquist.paradox, blessing.others, academic, story continues. 2 September 2012 items added to list; more to Academic; Working with others. 26 March 2013 relationship with God at conversion. 25 April 2014 Jesus for all peoples, also rid ../. 14 June 2015 label 'predestination'. 27 September 2015 Learning how God works. 1 May 2016 tiny errors. 22 January 2017 Not adopting roles. 17 April 2017 CPTS and more on academic. 5 June 2017 brought intro log to here; created demon.co.uk version that points here. 16 September 2018 added section on Church, and previously had written 'Learning to not adopt roles'. 23 September 2018 slight mods.