‘A dirge for the down-grade?’

I recently had a meeting in London at the Oasis Waterloo centre; arriving slightly early, I stayed on the tube for one more stop and went to the Metropolitan Tabernacle bookshop, which I frequent fairly regularly, mostly for its republications of older Puritan and Baptist material that is not easily available elsewhere. I picked up, amongst other things, a slim paperback promising Spurgeon’s original source materials on the ‘Down Grade’ controversy, the event that led to his withdrawal from the Baptist Union, and to several strained relationships. The volume is not complete (most obviously to my eyes, MTP2085, ‘A Dirge for the Down-Grade’, is missing; that said, I had the privilege of discovering and cataloging Spurgeon’s own...

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Why I don’t want to win many arguments

I have had a couple of conversations with (good, close, affirming, valued) friends recently in which I have been challenged to be less generous in argument: ‘truth matters, and we need to contend for it!’ – that sort of line. I confess that this makes me uncomfortable. Truth does matter, yes; that said, my present opinions are, I am certain, not truth. I hope that, in many cases, they approximate to it; in certain core cases I fervently hope that they approximate closely. I do not, however, want to confuse myself with the One who could say ‘I am the Truth’. Because of this, there is a proper humility and a proper provisionality in the way I hold my opinions; in all things, I acknowledge that I might be wrong. As to needing to contend...

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Abolishing the secular life

In our beginnings, Baptists did away with various traditional distinctions of Christian life. Although practising ordination, we denied it established any set-apart hierarchy within the life of the church; we also rejected the traditional Roman Catholic practice of recognising a particular consecration of certain people, clerical or lay, to ‘religious life’, characterised by the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience (in popular parlance, this is the way of life of monks and nuns, although that is to elide a number of important distinctions between (e.g.) sisters and nuns, or monks and friars). This was all narrated as a rejection of priesthood, and of the religious life, and, historically, we generally accepted those...

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Again, on conferences and statistics

Ian Paul, who I have never had the pleasure of meeting, but with whom I interact regularly online, posted some reflections occasioned by my blog post on his blog (I think it is better to describe it like that than as a ‘response’). I’m sorry to move back over here rather than responding directly there (not least because his blog is much more professional, much nicer-looking, and (I assume) much more widely read than mine), but this essay just got too long. Before I start, I should say that I respect Ian greatly, that we agree on most subjects (although he belongs to one of those strange sects that sprinkle infants…), and have made common cause together before now. Specifically, given the topic under discussion, Ian has been a committed and...

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On the reception of the 2014 gender stats for Christian conferences

In reviewing last year, I looked at a list of everything I had ‘delivered’: writing sent off for publication; teaching done; students submitted; talks given; … I find it helpful: it is too easy to remember the stuff I didn’t manage to do, of which there is always much, and focus on that. (For the first time I also had a heading for things I had intentionally stopped doing, which wasn’t a long list, but is something at which I intend to work harder.) One of the things that gave me most satisfaction to note was the public launch of Project 3:28, a small collective of people working towards gender justice in the church, who have come together to do some specific things. It came out of Natalie Collins‘s collation of statistics on...

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‘Manhood and Deity’: Two sonnets for Christmas

A pair – and they are a pair – of Christmas poems:   1. Manhood: Joseph You paint me in the shadows, left of scene. His shining light there blocked by ox. Or third King. Or by ass like me. My face is blurred Lest I distract from Jesus and Mary.   Oh, ‘I’m not Hamlet, nor was meant to be’ ‘Attendant lord’ am I, attendant on my Lord— My son (or so I say: obedient word, That masks the uselessness I feel in me.)   This all my calling, all my sanctity To stand detached and silent, unpreferred. My voice? A butler’s, asking concierge On their account, not mine, ‘Pray, room have ye?’   Care? No! I know as well as know my fate: ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’     2. ‘These are the generations’: Deity God’s being,...

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Two new books on sexuality

I try to keep up with books addressing human sexuality from a theological/Christian perspective. The general flow of publications reminds me of an exchange from an old BBC Radio 4 drama: ‘He made pork pies the way Wagner wrote semiquavers.’ ‘You mean they were good?’ ‘Not often. But there were an awful lot of them…’ A minority of the books published simply repeat already well-rehearsed arguments and so contribute nothing to the debate; most of the rest could not be described anything like so positively. This is true on every side of the debate: much heat, little light, and less understanding tend to characterise contributions, which are nonetheless routinely praised to the skies around social media by the partisans of...

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