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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Communal discernment and the church meeting

As Baptists, we believe in communal discernment of the will of God, and we engage in such communal discernment through the church meeting. However, this raises a question: is the practice of church meeting just a convenient occasion for communal discernment, or is it of the essence of such work? Is there something special about communal discernment that takes place in the context of church meeting, or is that practice of gathering merely a way of facilitating a process that can happen equally as well in other contexts?

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Church as (non-nuclear) family

When the Bible talks of the church as ‘family’, what picture are we meant to see? Not, I am sure, our own instinctive picture of a nuclear family, parents and children alone, a tiny two-generational group separating from wider society. To speak of the church as a family, and of Christians as sisters and brothers is not to make demands about intimacy within a certain congregation, but to make demands about concern and availability across the whole world.

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Theology, ethics, and church growth: or, how to prove anything with statistics

It is an important part of the role of the academic, particularly the academic who chooses to comment in non-specialist arenas, to be very clear about precisely what is, and what is not, shown by a given piece of evidence. I picked up on a minor Twitter storm yesterday concerning claims and counter-claims about the linkage of church decline with a progressive/accepting stance on issues of sexuality.

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Thought Leaders: Coleridge, the Clerisy, and Catalyst Live

It was a privilege to be a part of the ‘Catalyst Live’ event organised and sponsored by BMS World Mission a few weeks back. The vision, the mix of speakers, and the organisation, were each simply excellent; I got asked to give a couple of talks, but also to engage personally with Jürgen Moltmann. Hearing him tell his own story, of discovering the hope that is in Christ as he read the Bible whilst a prisoner of war in a camp in Kilmarnock, was profoundly moving; talking to him at some length as we planned the interview sessions – well; I have disagreed with aspects of his theology in public, and I stand by those points; but his personal graciousness, gentleness, and humility were utterly captivating and disarming. (At one point, as we shared a...

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