Religious liberty and the European Union

In a Facebook conversation a few weeks back Eddie Arthur asked me if I could see any religious liberty angle on the EU debate. At the time I said no, since religious liberty seemed fairly firmly enshrined both sides of the English Channel  and I didn’t see that changing however we voted. That claim stands, of course, but there is another religious liberty angle that I have only this week thought of, and it is (for me) a very strong argument to be pro-EU. Let me tell you about three friends, all missionaries. Call them Anna, Bridget, and Claire, because in one case I cannot put her real name on the web. Twenty five years ago, Anna was working across Eastern Europe, including Albania and ‘Another Eastern European Country’. The collapse of the Soviet...

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In memoriam John Webster

Readers of this blog will probably by now have heard that my senior colleague John Webster died suddenly yesterday morning. I had the privilege of writing a brief obituary for our School website, which reads as follows: The Revd Professor John Bainbridge Webster, DD, FRSE 1955-2016 It is with enormous sadness that the School announces the sudden death on Wednesday 25th May of our friend and colleague John Webster, Professor of Divinity. John was amongst the leading English-language theologians of his generation. Twelve monographs, four major edited volumes, and a host of shorter publications would have established his reputation on their own; when his extensive service to his discipline and the wider academy—founding the International Journal of Systematic...

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Our story begins in exile: ‘Baptist social theology’ and the EU referendum

One of the books I have recently been reading with interest and profit is Anglican Social Theology (ed. Malcolm Brown) (London: Church House Publishing, 2014). Apart from the intrinsic interest in tracing significant contributions to political theology that happened to come from within the Church of England, I was struck by the contributors’ awareness that the project, or projects, they were tracing were distinctively ‘Anglican’. As Brown puts it in an early prospectus: We have chosen to speak of an Anglican social theology with a deliberate intention of echoing the concept of Catholic social teaching because we recognise that the latter is much better known as a theological school or tradition that informs practice. Our contention … is that a distinctively...

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On sensory metaphors for revelation

An interesting, but inconclusive, dialogue is sporadically happening between two of America’s most interesting theologians, Robert W. Jenson and Katherine Sonderegger. As is well known, Jenson proposes that theology has been too focused on visual metaphors, which (he claims) allow a detachment from the object observed. He proposes instead that ‘faith comes by hearing’ and so we should describe our engagement with the divine in auditory, not visual, terms. Sonderegger, particularly in the recent first volume of her systematics, pushes back at this, arguing that visual metaphors are appropriate, and need not be about detachment, instead creating space for an appropriately affective knowledge. At root this debate is about the primary sensory...

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Stigmatic: a poem for Good Friday

[Years ago I read an account of someone—at this distance I don’t even remember who—receiving the stigmata. The detail that has stayed with me ever since was that the wounds did not come all at once, but gradually developed over several months.]   You pierced me slowly, Lord. An itch at first. Mere irritation. Then four sores. Blood seeping, Staining sock and shirt. Skin scraped away as if by Sandpaper. Why not the quick urgent thrust of a lover Breaking my virgin skin with rush of blood? Penetration completed in a moment. As swift as when nails impaled you. Your mining as ponderous and painstaking As an archeological dig. Pits Excavated in my extremities With excruciating exactness. Pressing imperceptibly deeper Precise, damaging no bones. At last you break...

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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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