On the surprising origins of the advent wreath

Sunday night we had our church carol service, with considerably more candles than any Scottish Baptist of a previous generation would have approved of outside of a power cut. Front and centre was our advent wreath, four red candles now of differing heights burning, a central larger candle waiting until Christmas morning to be lit. It was a good service; later that evening, whilst certain other members of the family were watching The Apprentice final, I noticed some tweets about the origins of advent wreaths. The Anglican mission society US (once USPG) had tweeted a picture of a pink candle alight, and linked it with the theme of remembering Mary on the fourth Sunday of advent; others had responded querying the link and suggesting that the pink (sic, ‘rose’)...

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Irregular Hope: Seven Stanzas for Christmas

Irregular Hope: Seven Stanzas for Christmas   1. Epiphany Thrice fourteen men and Just three women named Between Ur and Nazareth. The men are rapists, murderers, Incestuous, adulterers, and the rest. We read and note the female lives To be irregular.   2. Benedictus Pretending to have Dreamt. Straining to Forget. Then the blood Fails to flow. Young enough Still to be irregular She tries to hope For two weeks more.   3. Annunciation His voice controlled. Effort Etched into his neck. He searches for civility. ‘But how? It all seems … Most irregular.’ She fails to hope Until he dreams her reality.   4. Quickening Her belly soon begins to Swell. Straining to contain the One who fills time, space. One day she prays. Between Her kidneys prayer is...

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On religious liberty: an open letter to Franklin Graham

Dear Mr Graham, This week someone who has put himself forward as a candidate for the presidency of your great nation made a number of hate-filled and inaccurate comments about Muslims, and proposed some extreme policies on the back of those comments. This came to our attention here in the UK because one of the things he claimed, entirely erroneously, was that parts of London were so radicalised that they had become no-go areas for our police and security services. Our national response was, as our national responses so often are, as mocking as it was derisive. The mayor of London led the way, but on social media many of us joined in with the humour. I know London well; I trained for ministry there, took my PhD there, pastored my first church there, made, with my...

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Sex, death and marriage

In case anyone is interested, this is the paper I gave at an ETS panel on theological methodology for discussing marriage; many of the arguments have or will appear in print elsewhere, but I’m not going to publish this, so it may as well be here.   And I say to you, that whoever puts away his wife  – except on account of porneia – and marries another woman commits adultery. [His] disciples said to him, ‘If that is the way it is for a man with his wife, it is not a good idea to get married!’ Mt. 19:9-10 (my tr.) This retort from the disciples fascinates me, as does its neglect in recent commentary and ethical reflection. Let me pose my question straightforwardly: can any of us here imagine Christian leaders in our own context responding to a...

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Amy Winehouse and breaking the Golden Rule

Maybe my mind is just less well ordered than most people’s, but for me some the moments of real intellectual breakthrough come when I find myself thinking something that surprises me, and so am forced to analyse that surprising thing to work out why I was thinking it. Whether the thing turns out to be right or wrong, or just complicated, I understand better my own instincts and assumptions as a result. One such happened last week, in an ETS panel session in Atlanta. One of the other panelists, David Gushee, closed an impressive impromptu peroration with an appeal to ‘the golden rule’ – ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you.’ I realised that I was thinking that this principle was wrong. Doubting the golden rule, of course, is one of those ethical...

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‘These are the days of Rebekah’

My friend Natalie Collins was on Twitter tonight bemoaning a youth resource that claimed to cover the whole Biblical story in 32 sessions (!…) but that managed to mention only one woman who appears in the Bible in that survey, that woman being Eve. I don’t know the resource, and Natalie didn’t elaborate, but I’m guessing that Eve was not given a positive write-up. I have three daughters who are in youth and children’s programmes at church; it would be nice to think that the people who write the material they will access were actually working to make sure they are aware of the many positive female role-models there are in Scripture, rather than erasing all women except Eve from the story of God. In this spirit, I offer a parody I...

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Ways to prove a point

One day last week we had two seminars here in St Andrews. Our weekly doctrine seminar is presently, under John Webster’s guidance, working through Katherine Sonderegger’s first volume of her Systematic Theology, entitled The Doctrine of God. It is a fascinating text, sometimes very reminiscent of (the English translation of) Barth’s Church Dogmatics in its cadences, and devoted to the bold claim that the unicity of God is the vital first word of Christian theology. That evening Oliver Crisp, who I have known, liked, and respected since we were both grad students at King’s College London, was in town and gave us an excellent paper on divine simplicity. It was a good day. Amongst many other significant scholarly achievements, Oliver is of...

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