Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Stop Dating the Church by Joshua Harris (Review)

February 18, 2009

Stop Dating the Church - Joshua HarrisRecently I read Joshua Harris’ book Stop Dating the Church (Multnomah, 2004). It’s a small book, pocket sized, and only 129 pages; you could easily read it in a day. In the book Harris argues that an unfortunate culture has risen in church circles where people casually “date” the church rather than commit to a serious relationship. Welsh language denominational churches are an obvious example of the phenomenon Harris talks about because church attendance at most churches are at best half it’s registered members. Members don’t even turn up to worship without mentioning further commitment. Harris argues that the Church is important because God himself sees the Church as important; so important in-fact that God the Father gave God the Son, Jesus Christ, the Church as his bride. Harris goes on to explain that Christianity is a faith that is meant to be lived communally in relationship with other Christians. The book also contains challenging chapters on how we should choose a church and how to spend our Sunday; one should treat it special he argues, but not in a legalistic way.

Although Harris has plenty of good things to say in his book there are a few weaknesses, especially reading it from a Welsh perspective. While you read the book you must keep in mind that Harris leads what would be classified by our standards here in Wales as a ‘mega-church’, he is the Pastor of Covenant Life Church, the founding church of Sovereign Grace Ministries, in Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA. It is obvious that Harris has never come face to face with some of the main problems we face here in Wales. This is no criticism on Harris, it’s just a warning to those who would be tempted to apply his words exactly as they read in the book to our situation in Wales. One must contextualize. He comes to the subject with a blank page and therefore gives no advice to those of us who’s got a page blotted already with nonconformist scribbles; i.e. the legacy of Welsh Chapelism.

Despite the weaknesses and the US culture-specific aspects of his narrative I would strongly recommend this book especially if your interested in Church renewal.

Stop Dating the Church by Joshua Harris (Amazon, £6.99)

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Darwin, Creation and Miracles

February 17, 2009

DarwinWith all the fuss about Darwin these days i found it funny to read that the top book in the Amazon (US) charts over the past few weeks in the category of ‘Atheism’ was not any of Richard Dawkins books but rather a book written by a Christian offering some sort of critique of Atheism. The book was You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence but You Can’t Make Him Think (WND Books) by TV personality Ray Comfort. I know nothing of Ray Comfort and have not read his book so I can’t commend and neither will I condemn it but it’s popularity at least goes to show that atheism is not the self-proclaimed victor it’s adherents over the past few weeks claim it is.

I’d better give a word about my stance towards Darwinism, Creationism and all that stuff since it’s deemed to be newsworthy these days. On the whole I tend to avoid the issue, not because I’m afraid of it but rather because I don’t think it’s of eternal importance. I tend to agree with the emphasis Rob Bell put forward in his book Velvet Elvis. Here’s a quote for you:

Somebody recently gave me a videotape of a lecture given by a man who travels around speaking about the creation of the world. At one point in his lecture, he said if you deny that God created the world in six literal twenty-four-hour days, then you are denying that Jesus ever died on the cross. It’s a bizarre leap of logic to make, I would say… no six-day creation equals no cross. Remove one, and the whole wall wobbles… if the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring, then it wasn’t that strong in the first place, was it?

John Houghton speaking at a recent Tearfund conference on Climate Change

John Houghton speaking at a recent Tearfund conference on Climate Change

What Atheists fail to understand is that Darwin only challenged the literal belief of the story of Genesis, Darwin didn’t put forward any convincing theory to disprove the divine completely. This is the reason why leading scientist Sir John Houghton, who is an evangelical man of integrity, could say: ‘Creationism is an incredible pain in the neck, neither honest nor useful, and the people who advocate it have no idea how much damage they are doing to the credibility of belief.’

Personally I have no problem in believing in miracles. If God created the world in six literal twenty-four-hour days then it was a miracle. The problem with creationists like Ken Ham and the people over at Answers in Genesis is that they try and use the laws of science to “prove” the literal story of Genesis. But if they ever succeed (which they won’t) the only thing they’ll accomplish is not prove God but rather to disprove God’s miracle!

Nationalism as Protest and Fulfilment

January 2, 2009

The simplest theory to explain the rise of Nationalism is that which understands it as an anti-colonial struggle. Nationalism emerged, in consequence, as a form of protest amongst the intelligentsia and before long was disseminated among the masses generally. Hans Kohn, for example, may serve as one spokesman of this approach. Nationalism, he maintains, first emerged in the Puritan England of Milton and Cromwell and was deeply associated with the emphasis on individual rights and humanitarianism of the subsequent Age of Enlightenment. Prof. Elie Kedouries asserts that the birth of Nationalism can be precisely dated in 1807-8, the winter when Fichte delivered his epoch-making Addresses to the German Nation and called his compatriots to resist the Napoleonic invader, the roots of Fichte’s teaching are to be found in the philosophy of Kant.

De Grazia asserts that there are two very sharp conflicts that have deeply affected people’s lives in the western world. One is the conflict between the co-operative directives of Christianity and the competitive directives of capitalism. The other is the conflict between the quietest directives of Catholicism, with their emphasis on the superior value of the contemplative life, and the Protestant directives, which emphasize the value of work. The traditional faith, as he [de Grazia] sees it, dies. God disappears. In their consternation people look around them for a new god and find him in the Nation. The Nation is the earthly replacement for the dead god.

So Nationalism is a form of atheism…? But that fails to explain why so many nationalist leaders are profoundly religious men and how in Wales Christian leaders and the Christian Churches have long been the back bone of the nationalist struggle. To be continued…

[An adapted summary of the fourth Chapter of R. Tudur Jones’s The Desire of Nations, 1974]

The Anatomy of Nationalism

December 28, 2008

There is no doubt that many people when they use the word ‘Nationalism’ think of it as a purely emotional state. On the other hand, Professor Elie Kedourie opens his book, Nationalism, with the words. “Nationalism is a doctrine…” Kedourie tends to make Nationalism a purely intellectual movement while on the other hand Boyd C Shafer stressed feelings far more than ideas.

Pluralism is closely connected with individuality. It stems from the conviction that every nation has something special to give to the world community. In nationalist philosophy, therefore, the world is seen as a community of nations, each having its own specific value. From this element in the ideology comes the concept of the ‘family of nations’. But there is another kind of nationalism, it is usually referred to as ‘imperialism’. The nationalistic element of imperialism is a strong one, but it is mono-centric nationalism in the sense that it believes that the fountain of wisdom and value is to be found in one nation.’ The end line of this type of nationalism was seen in such movements as Natzism. Life’s secret, Natzies held, lies in divining the laws which govern history, blood and landscape. Throughout the period of Natzi ascendancy in Germany the racialist philosophy was gaining ground and eventually displaced Nationalism. But our Christian nationalism in wales is a many-centered nationalism and it is diametrically opposed to Natzism.

Nationalism, then, is to be understood as a teaching, or a system of convictions which is dedicated to the preservation and exaltation of a nation’s life. Nationalism is concerned with the nation’s integrity. The characteristics of the nation are respected and not willfully destroyed. They are seen as badges of individuality. And they, too, enable a nation to “make its contribution” to international life. This strain in nationalist ideology makes for a more equitable democratic way of life in politics. The vision of the whole people participating in the forging of the nation’s future, unhampered by continuous alien surveillance, is a valuable one.

It is important to realize that for the nationalist the main object of his loyalty is the nation and not the State. For him the State is an instrument to serve the national community. A nationalist in a state-less nation is being subjected to the power of the State and that State cannot be brought into subservience to his nation. The nation on the consequence, is to erect a new sovereign State that will be the servant and not the destroyer of his nation. For Nationalism within nations who have no state concepts such as ‘deliverance’, ‘salvation’. ‘promised land’ and ‘future destiny’ are extremely important. The nationalist is concerned with the quality of the nation’s life. There is a profound spiritual dimension to his commitment to it.

[An adapted summary of the third Chapter of R. Tudur Jones’s The Desire of Nations, 1974]

The Heart-Beats of a Nation

December 27, 2008

Philosophers, historians and sociologists over a period of several generations has failed to agree on an acceptable definition of the word “nation”. One can accept Herman Dooyeweerd’s conclusion when he said once in his New Critique of Theoretical Thought (Amsterdam, 1957) that nobody has succeeded in describing the individuality of a national character in an adequate way. Miall Edwards, one of Wales’s foremost Liberal Theologians in the 20th Century, wrote: “Nationality is a psychological matter, – the consciousness in a large number of individuals that they are members of the one body… A nation may be considered a kind of super-personality.” All nationalists would agree that the nation is related somehow to its part history, although only a minority of them would subscribe to the German notion of history as a kind of Providence which drives the nation to an inescapable fate.

J.S. Mill was the first to make explicit mention of “political antecedents”. To be more explicit, what is the relationship of the State to nationhood? There are thinkers who assume that the relationship is such a close one that ‘nation’ and ‘state’ are but two alternative names for the same thing, they are assuming that the citizens ruled by the government in London all form one nation. For many professional politicians, that is the end matter. The State makes the nation. No movement that refuses to accept the arbitration of the State can possibly be ‘national’ although it may be dubbed ‘nationalist’, but invariably in a derogatory sense. But I hold and R. Tudur Jones held that the fact that Englishmen, Scots and Welsh occupy the same island and incorporated within the same State does not make them into a nation.

Herman Dooyeweerd said: “A real nation never lacks a political organization, but it may be that the latter has not yet attained to the position of an independent state, or that it has lost this position.” R. Tudur Jones believes that we must take the words “political organization” in a broad sense. Wales didn’t have a Parliament but it had it’s Churches which were, de facto, in a sovereign-less state it’s national institutions. Wales had the Eisteddfod. We had our Theological Seminaries. We had Libraries. There can be no doubt whatsoever that when all these institutions and activities are taken together they give the Welsh nation a real and objective solidarity.

The kind of material televised in Britain is heavily charged with English nationalism. And it is no less true that many Welshmen are gradually being transformed by it into English nationalists. The relationships that a nation has with other nations are extremely important, nations tend to define themselves by opposition from some nations and in terms of similarity to other nations. Without a sovereign state of its own, a nation is bereft of the only body that can officially and formally act and speak in the name of the whole nation. Anthony D. Smith agreed that a group may be a nation without possessing a sovereign State. We can add that, the modern State being what it is, it will not last long as a nation without one. On the other hand, to possess a sovereign State is a to put at the disposal of the nation a powerful instrument for ensuring its own fuller development as a nation.

The State cannot perform miracles. How it is used depends upon the moral, cultural and spiritual vitality of the nation. The nationalist always distinguishes clearly between nation and State. His allegiance is to the former.

[An adapted summary of the second Chapter of R. Tudur Jones’s The Desire of Nations, 1974]

All Nationalists Now

December 23, 2008
exploited and miss-used

Nationalism not subject to the Kingdom of God: exploited and miss-used

It is assumed that man possesses an attribute called ‘nationality’ just as he has black hair or white skin or blue eyes. Instead of being a transistory expression of human sentimentality, nationalism has revealed itself as a remarkably tough and persistent ideology. In contemporary world politics it has proved so powerful that other ideologies have had to yield to it, Democratic liberalism, Communism, Socialism, Fascism and Capitalism have all in their turn found it expedient to come to terms with it.

 

I believe, and so do most Welsh speaking Christians, that Wales must be constituted into a nation-State. Not to possess one is not to exist in the modern world.

English Nationalism has shown itself to be both immensely destructive and, at the same time, deeply seductive. If Wales can produce a Nationalism as inspiring and as vigorous as that which has dominated the English spirit for so many generations, Wales will be able not only to survive but to do greater things in the future than it has done in the past.

[An adapted summary of the first Chapter of R. Tudur Jones’s The Desire of Nations, 1974]

Power and Poverty and Bala

December 7, 2008
Dewi Hughes conviction is that the suffering through poverty of such a vast number of people in our day is overwhelmingly the result of the misuse of power by others. Hence, the underlying theme of this wide-ranging, challenging study is that poverty has to do with the way in which we human beings use and abuse the power God gave us when he created us.

Dewi Hughes with Tearfund Wales Manager Hywel Meredydd

I was very much blessed on Friday at the Wales launch of Dewi Arwel Hughes’s new book ‘Power and Poverty’ (IVP); I was also very honored to be invited by Tearfund Wales to lead the worship at the event. it was a modest but a deeply profound meeting. Many people will know Dewi from his current role as theological advisor for Tearfund; previously he was Wales’s first Tearfund co-ordinator and before joining Tearfund he was a lecturer in Religious Studies at Wales Polytechnic College, now know as the University of Glamorgan.

Thomas Charles of Bala

Thomas Charles of Bala

Tearfund Wales decided to hold the launch back in Dewi’s native Bala; a small town in the heart of the very Welsh old county of Meirionydd. Despite being a small town today, historically Bala is of great significance. Many great Welsh Christian leaders come from or have been based in Bala. Thomas Charles, having been refused Ordination by The Church of England in 1784 joined the Methodist, and gathered the poor children of Bala into his house for instruction, and soon there were so many that he had to use the chapel. This was the origin of the Welsh Circulating Schools – first one man was trained for the work by Charles himself, then he was sent to a district for six months, where he taught the children and young people reading and Christian principles. Writing was added later. William Wilberforce was among the philanthropists who contributed to Charles’s funds. But the scarcity of Welsh bibles was Charles’s greatest difficulty in his work. it was in 1800 that a 16-year-old girl, Mari Jones, walked 26 miles from her home to obtain one of his Bibles, and she was seen as a shining example of Christian devotion, an inspiration to Charles and his colleagues. Thomas Charles gave her his personal Bible. To this day some Christians celebrate the remembrance of Thomas Charles and Mari Jones by retracing her 26 mile walk every year.

Principle Lewis Edwards

Principle Lewis Edwards

The second most distinguished Christian leader to be associated with Bala would be Principal Lewis Edwards who established and lead Coleg y Bala the Calvinistic Methodists North Wales Seminary. Edwards may fairly be called one of the makers of modern Wales. Through his hands there passed generation after generation of preachers, who carried his influence to every corner of Wales. By fostering competitive meetings and by his writings, especially in Y Traethodydd, a quarterly magazine which he founded in 1845 and edited for ten years, he did much to inform and educate the Welsh on literary and theological subjects. His chief publication was a noteworthy book on the doctrine of the Atonement, cast in the form of a dialogue between master and pupil. Today there is heated debate about Lewis Edwards influence with some Evangelical theologians like Prof. Bobi Jones arguing that the Liberal Theology tide of the Twentieth Century which did great damage to Christian witness in Wales can be directly blamed on Edwards because of his approach towards systematic theology and the place he gave to Hegelian and Kantian philosophy in the Traethodydd. Despite being the Calvinistic Methodists quarterly many would argue that it did nothing but erode the Calvinistic mind in Wales and to great detriment. Others such as the the Barthian Prof. D. Densil Morgan, one of my teachers here in Bangor, would argue that Bobi Jones’s theory is unfair. Personally I sit on the fence. Having read Edwards work on The Atonement there is no doubt that Lewis Edwards himself was very much a Calvinist; but I would have to agree that his naivety led him to give way or at least to give too much air time (or column width as it would have been then!) to Hegelian and Kantian thoughts in Wales and that, I would argue, was a bad thing that we today are left to pick up the pieces.

I’d better get back to Dewi Arwel Hughes then. It was at Coleg y Bala, Lewis Edwards old Seminary and now the Presbyterian Church of Wales’s children and youth work centre, that Tearfund held the book launch. Dewi recalled being allowed as a six former in Bala School in the late 1960s to come up to the College to read at the library; the college had just closed it’s doors for the last time and the library stock was about to be sold. It gave Dewi great joy to return to the very same building 40 years later to see the place full of song and praise to God once again. There was no hope to be found as the building closed its doors as a Seminary 40 years previous but now God had been faithful and had sent his Spirit to revive his work in that little corner of Wales again.

Coleg y Bala is one of the very few ministries in Welsh Wales seeing God blessing in a big profound way and seeing lives turn around to walk with Jesus. Dewi, of course, did eventually come around to talk about his book too. After i read it over Christmas I’ll return to say a word about the book itself.

What’s the big idea…?

December 3, 2008

Hello, and welcome to my new blog. I say new because I’ve been blogging in Welsh, my first language, since 2004. My Welsh blog will remain as my primary blog where I ramble on about life and faith as i will be doing here but also delve into other interests i have such as Apple Computers, Greek Food and Welsh politics. But on this blog i will try and keep to the given subject of Life and Faith from a special and often neglected perspective in the wider Church. I’ll be blogging from a Welsh Language Christian perspective rather than the main-stream English or Anglo-American Christian perspective.

If there ever will be a ‘text book’ to understand me and understand the background and the Churches i come from it would perhaps be a little but powerful book by Dewi Arwel Hughes called Castrating Culture. It’s been a few years since i read Dewi’s book now and perhaps i should revisit it and talk over it’s main points and themes on this blog some time… thats a good idea actually.

Some of the issues i hope to raise and discuss on the blog are as follows:

  • I will try and explain why we insist on keeping Welsh language churches going and why i believe we should be looking at planting new ones in the not so distant future. I will strive to explain that the notion that Christian witness would be best served in Wales all united together in English Churches as everyone these days speak English as ill-informed dated colonialist thought.
  • I will explain why I am, along with most Welsh speaking Christians, involved in some way or the other in the Welsh nationalist movement. I will try and explain why such an aim as Welsh freedom or independence is a Christian one.
  • I hope to explain to those on the outside some of the issues facing Welsh churches and Welsh language Christian witness and mission. I’ll praise and give a shout out to the good stuff that’s going on in Welsh circles; and I’ll try, gracefully, to point out the not so good aspects within the body of Welsh language Christianity.

Finally, I’d like to close this first blog explaining that I have started this blog so that the Church at large can get to appreciate the good stuff we’ve got going and to pray about the not so good stuff that’s going on. I have not “sold out” by ditching the Welsh language to write in English – as I explained my main blog will still be my Welsh one – but i do hope that through writing in English i will bring the Welsh language Christian voice to a larger audience and therefore be in the prayers of more and more Christians world-wide.