The wacky and daring Philip Pullman

November 24, 2009

Meanwhile, my attention was draw to this superb article by George Pitcher today. George is an Anglican priest and the Telegraphs Religion Editor. He utterly destroys Dawkins and his atheist brigade using a dynamic mix of wit, humor and plain knowledge.

Here are my favorite passages. In this one he points out that Pullman isn’t the radical he claims to be:

Yesterday, it was the turn of the millionaire author Philip Pullman, who’s writing an alternative ending to the story of Jesus Christ. Well, how wacky and daring. “A friend” is quoted as saying: “He knows it will be controversial, but he has some serious points to make.” Perhaps as serious as the scholars and theologians who have wrestled with the doctrine of the atonement since the time of Augustine, or the late, great Oxford don John Macquarrie, who posited a viable alternative ending to the Christian story at the Cross, with no resurrection. C S Lewis was imagining alternative Christian narratives when Pullman – who reportedly claimed in 2001 that his aim was “to undermine the basis of Christian belief” – was just an idea in the mind of God. Do these people actually read any theology before presuming that they’re being envelope-pushingly radical?

In this he points out the hilarity of Dawkins blindness to his own religious prejudices:

But I suppose it’s easier to decide that all Christians are brainwashed, wall-eyed literalists, that there is no catholic tradition of mystery, that the Reformation never happened and that we are driven by the imperative to force our religion on the next generation – a charge I would take a little more seriously if Prof Dawkins hadn’t recently endorsed atheist summer camps for children.

George brings his article to a close by calling on the atheists to “relax, fellas” because “we’re not forcing our faith on you or our children. We’re just trying, like you, to make sense of the world.”

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Is this blog a hindrance or a contribution?

November 23, 2009

Recently I have been thinking more about the purpose of this blog, and the fact that I have obviously, but totally unintentionally, offended a brother in Christ in my previous post has got me thinking even harder. Originally I hoped my blog would contribute something to the discussion about the future of Christian witness in Wales. This is what I said at the outset:

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.

It seems that I have offended a lot of Christians in the process and that saddens me deeply. One option of course is to keep the blog going but avoid all contentious issues; but I have deep reservations about that. The unwillingness to tackle tough and decisive issues within Christian circles was what sort of made me loose interest in Christianity toowords my late teens. So I know that unwillingness to discuss tough stuff produces victims too. God leading me to meet, mix and share fellowship with Christians in University who were willing to engage in critical discussion about faith and church and it’s implications on culture and politics was what brought me back.

Anyway, here is a pole to my readers to help me decide the way forward with the blog. You vote totally anonymously so I won’t know who voted for what.

Thanks for your help – Rhys x

The problems of Evangelism-Driven mission

November 21, 2009

I came across this article on The Resurgence website this week. It discusses wrong and ineffective attitudes towards mission. The thrust of the post hits on what I have felt over the years about how a lot o reformed evangelicals in Wales see mission. An over emphasis on events and programmes – be they ‘mission week’, ‘tea and tost’ or a ‘quizz night’. This is how The Resurgence describes this mindset:

Their view of the gospel leads them to see social action as optional. For them, mission is synonymous with evangelism, and evangelism is highly programmatic. They focus on training individuals through evangelism training programs, apologetics, and use of evangelistic tracts.

The post on The Resurgence goes on to note some problematic issues with this attitude towards mission. Evangelism-driven mission, it argues, is often answer-based and heaven-centered. For example, this attitude usually leads the Christian to ask the non-believer “If you died tonight and stood before God and he said: ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ What would you say?” The questions are answer-driven. The aim is to get someone to say the right answer and to believe the right facts, like “Jesus died for my sins.” The problem here is an over emphasis on belief and hardly any on faith. The post on the Resurgence goes further and argues that this wrong attitude is not only effecting the Church’s mission but it’s started a rot in the Church itself. This is how it’s put:

Many Americans believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, but it makes very little difference in their lives. They possess mere belief. This mere belief undermines the gospel. What we need is faith. Moreover, mere belief in the right answer baits people, not with Christ, but with heaven. It is heaven-centered, not Christ-centered. In evangelism-driven mission, Christ is subordinated to the treasure of heaven, instead of heaven being subordinated to the treasure of Christ. The goal is heaven, not Jesus. Answer-driven and heaven-centered evangelism leads to nominalism and distorts the gospel. Evangelism-driven mission can undermine, not advance the gospel.

Sadly I can see and identify a lot of that in Welsh evangelicalism today. It’s primary leaders put all the emphasis on believing the right doctrines and through that demoting the importance of simple faith and Holy Spirit experience. That fact that I’ve just said that now will get the alarms bell ringing in the minds of some and they will be thinking that I have ‘taken my eye off the Cross and the atonment.’ No I havent, I’m just living and discussing experiences in light of the atonment.

The flip side to the problems of Evangelism-based mission is the problems of Social action-based mission which is discussed in a further post on The Resurgence here. I suppose the problem we have in the Welsh language scene is that most Churches fall to one of the two categories and no churches get mission right. Evangelical churches fall away towards Evangelism-based while most denominational churches fall towards Social Action-based. As I have felt for a number of years now both are missing the point and need to rediscover the Christ and Cross centric fusion of the spiritual+social mission which we read of in the Bible if we are to see effective mission again in Welsh speaking Wales.

Osian jailed as part of the struggle for equal rights for Welsh speakers

November 5, 2009

Tomorrow, Friday November 6th at 9.30 am my friend, Osian Jones, North Wales organiser for Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) will be sentenced to a month in prison by Pwllheli Magistrates. The magistrates have already warned him that he faces imprisonment because of his refusal to pay fines for his part in non-violent direct action on High Street stores as part of a Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg’s campaign for a comprehensive Welsh Language Measure that would give Welsh speakers equal rights in all spheres of society.

Osian will be the second member of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg to go to prison this year. Ffred Ffransis was imprisoned back in June for refusing to pay fines also imposed for his part in the campaign for a comprehensive Welsh Language Measure.

Osian Jones said:

It’s interesting that both Ffred and I faced prison this year for our part in this particular campaign. What is more significant is that Ffred the ‘offences’ for which Ffred was imprisoned go back to January 2001 which proves that this particular campaign has been long and hard. The sad thing is, that the Welsh Language LCO which is now on offer, and which is the product of all this campaigning is utterly inadequate since it does not give the Welsh people their legitimate linguistic rights which enables them to live their lives fully through the medium of Welsh, nor does it’s powers extend to the private sector.”

“Even though we argued our case with conviction before committees in both the National Assembly and at Westminster it became obvious to us that the legislative process in Wales is both wearisome and defective, and that we have no choice but to continue with our direct action campaign. I hope that my imprisonment will give other people the inspiration to campaign for the language and that we will see the responsibility for legislating on the Welsh language transferred in it’s entirety to the National Assembly in the near future. The Welsh people have had to wait a long time to see their linguistic rights realised. They deserve a great deal more than the LCO which is now on offer.

Please pray that God will grant Osian courage as he faces the next month behind bars in the name of a just cause.

My first English sermon

October 28, 2009

Last Sunday I preached at Penrallt, the English Baptist church in Bangor. I must admit that I was nervous wreck beforehand because my whole spiritual life, except for my regular does of State side MP3’s, is lived entirely through the Welsh language. But I think that the Holy Spirit carried the sermon through in the end. It’s in the reading at the start and the prayer at the end that it’s most obvious that I’m communicating in my second language.

After conquering my nerves the sermon went well. It was nice to preach in-front of a large and young audience and it was great seeing people laughing at my jokes – jokes that just fall flat on their face when I try them out in Welsh churches! But the most encouraging thing was to see people coming to me at the end thanking me and telling me that God spoke to them through the sermon.

Here is the sermon:

I hope I’ll get more opportunity to preach in English in the future but I’m still sure that God has called me to whiteness through the Welsh Churches.

Start Something Tour Video Diary

October 8, 2009

Back in July my band, Society Profiad, went on the Start Something Tour with The Repercussion, Tom Whitman and Steff Elis. Most of the video is in Welsh but the most interesting part of the video is in English – if you skip to 2.30 you can see what we got up to in Casllwchwr the birthplace of the 1904 Revival.

NOOMA Soundtrack, Vol. 001

September 24, 2009

Most Christian music i listen too are not really my kind of music. In other words if it weren’t Christian I wouldn’t listen to it! Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin and Tim Hughes write brilliant worship music but if it were not worship music their musical genre wouldn’t even come on my radar. They’r good at what they do, very good, and I have been blessed through their music but you get my point right? If Tim Hughes was not a Christian he’d probably be James Blunt, and to be blunt about it I wouldn’t buy that album.

Brie+StonerBut two Christian albums I bought recently are albums I would definitely have bought even if they were’t Christian. The first is the NOOMA Soundtrack, Vol. 001, the second is Mars Hill’s Rain City LP which I’ll talk about in another post some time soon. With Rob Bell’s NOOMA video’s one of the things that first struck me on the production side was the amazing music and the producer/editor’s subtle and effective use of it. The soundtrack, like most soundtracks, is a compilations with a handfull of tracks by two artist; five tracks by Brie Stoner and eight by David Vandervelde.

dvBrie’s vocals, especially in the opening track Rain Down, are totally mesmerizing. She sounds a bit like Gwen Stefani which you’ll all be familiar with after she sang Don’t Speak with her band No Doubt some twelve years now! Stylistically it’s sort of melodic indy-rock which is cool. The second artist David Vandervelde is a cool guy also. Once again what we have here is indy-rock with slightly less melody than Brie which is satisfyingly replaced with psychedelia. Where Brie is down in LA unsigned looking for the big brake David is based up in Grand Rapids, Michigan home of Rob Bell’s church; but David can be found, according to his wikipedia entry, at Bethel Reformed Church every Sunday – a reality I find hard to conjure in my head but then again who would of thought the U2 rockers would be big mass goers. Hold on… no, he’s based in Nashville according to his MySpace. Anyway, it’s not important!

Here are their MySpaces:
Brie Stoner
David Vandervelde

And the NOOMA soundtrack can be found on iTunes for £7.99 which is worth every penny.

The BBC tolerating injustice

September 22, 2009

George Alagiah
The other week through Tearfund’s Superdager application in Facebook i sent the following message to the BBC’s Director General Mark Thompson in relation to the BBC decision i force George Alagiah to resign as Patron of the Fairtrade Foundation:

Dear Mr. Thompson,

Regarding the forced resignation of George Alagiah as Patron of the Fairtrade Foundation, the BBC is concerned that Fairtrade causes a ‘potential conflict of interest’ and ‘could undermine [his] impartiality’.

But Fairtrade is not controversial. The Fairtrade mark has become mainstream – more than 70 per cent of the UK population recognise it, and Fairtrade goods are on every high street. Worldwide, consumers spent over £1.6 billion on Fairtrade products in 2007 – that’s over 1.5 million producers and workers in 58 developing countries now benefiting. Who can say this is controversial?

Surely criteria could be agreed that will serve to ensure that both the integrity of the BBC and Mr Alagiah’s enduring service to the Fairtrade Foundation are effectively safeguarded.

Please reconsider Mr Alagiah’s forced resignation from the Fairtrade Foundation and allow him to continue acting as Patron.

Rhys Llwyd

This week i received the following response from the BBC:

I understand that you are disappointed that George Alagiah had to step down from his role with the Fairtrade Foundation.

On its website http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/get_involved/donate/ the Fairtrade Foundation asks its supporters to help fund its “lobbying and influencing key players across society in commerce, government and campaigning groups” and that the organisation will “continue to push the Government to ensure that all aspects of the global trade system are fair and supportive of development”. Other leading charities have said that The Fairtrade Foundation seeks to “transform trading in favour of the poor and disadvantaged”. Such an ambition is the prerogative of the charities. Many may find it admirable though others may take a different view of global economic priorities.

It is not the business of BBC journalism to take a view on this or to be perceived to take a view. We are committed to due impartiality which means we don’t take sides on issues of controversy. Our job is to represent all sides in an argument accurately and fairly and test them as rigorously as we can to allow our audiences to reach their own judgements. And it’s not enough for our journalism to be impartial. We must also be seen to be impartial. That’s why it’s inappropriate for a BBC journalist to take a high profile, public role representing an organisation which, as the charity makes clear, takes a very particular view of the controversial issue of global trade.

Thank you once again for taking the trouble to share your views with us.

Regards

Craig Wilson
BBC Complaints

This response from the BBC is shocking because it legitimizes the argument for un-fair trade! Proverbs 28:5 springs into mind: ‘Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.’ In the name of impartiality the BBC have in reality made their stand by tolerating injustice.

Mark and Books

September 17, 2009

booksOne of my main responsibilities in the Church where I’ve started as a Pastor in-training is to lead the weekly Bible Study. I think I’ve settled on the idea of going through Mark – partly because I want to sort of follow Christianity Explored – I think I’ll be using the course as a’n outline but I won’t be running the course as such. Yesterday I went along to my local Christian bookshop which now gives me a whopping 25% off on everything because I’m a full-time Christian worker. Nice. The books I bought yesterday to help me with preparation were Christianity Explored – Leader’s Edition and Mark for Everyone by Tom Wright. I also couldn’t resist the temptation of buying C.J. Mahaney’s Cross Centered Life because apparently I have to read it and I also bought Mark Driscoll’s Religion Saves + Nine other Misconceptions if only for the amazing artwork.

Please pray as I prepare the series of studies from Mark. In the past I have felt leading studies more of a struggle and hard work than just plain preaching so please pray that I may lead people and open up the Gospel.

(I have added a new category to the blog posts, “Penuel Bangor”, I’ll tag any posts which talk about my work at the Church under that, this being the first.)

Visiting Tearfund HQ

September 12, 2009

tearfundYesterday I travelled with Hywel Meredydd, Tearfund’s manager in Wales, to Tearfunds head office at Teddington, London. Hywel was taking part in a Poverty Prayer DVD they were filming but he took me along with him because he’s keen to get my input on different strategies to get more Welsh speakers and Welsh speaking churches a part of Tearfund’s work. Amongst other things we discussed was the need to develop more of a Welsh online presence.

Tearfund work to inspire the church to transform communities. They mobilise the local church to work with poor communities to bring material and spiritual transformation: to speak out in advocacy, and to prepare and respond to disasters. Tearfund are addressing a wide range of issues including HIV, water and sanitation, reducing the impact of disasters, economic injustice and climate change.

If Tearfund would just be a humanist charity it would still be an amazing organization; but what excites me about Tearfund is the fact that it’s not just any humanist charity it’s a radical movement of committed (or if you wish ‘evangelical’) Christians. That spiritual dimension to Tearfund means that the zeal and Koinoniaesq feel around the work is very special indeed. What this means in practice is that prayer is central to Tearfund’s work. At Tearfund they believe in doing everything they can. It’s a way of working that they call integral mission. It means that while they know people need material things to survive, they choose to work through church-based partners who won’t stop at just the material basics when it comes to helping their neighbours in need. They’ll do everything they can. Churches know and care about the people they live with. They see them as more than just mouths to feed – they know what they’ve been through and the kind of help they need.

Tearfund see people as more than just physical entities, we all have emotional and spiritual needs as well. The local church, operating at its best, has the power to change people’s lives, to give them a new perspective, to help heal emotional scars and offer the hope they need – to bring people together. Taking this approach has proved, in Tearfund’s experience, the best way to help people make lasting changes in their lives that free them from poverty. This is why working through local churches at the place of need is such a powerful way to help people.

Another great thing about Tearfund is the fact that 91% of money raised reaches the front line. Only 9% of the budget is spent on administration, staff, advocacy, education, further fund raising etc… This is significantly less than most major charities with Christian Aid coming in with 30% on administration! This is achieved by Tearfund through very careful spending reviews and a big emphasis on volunteers and action through local churches rather than an over emphasis on paid staff. Despite Tearfund only having two part time workers in Wales the money raised here is as much as other charities who have eight and more full time workers – that speaks volumes.

I don’t think you must be a Christian to be involved in charity work proper and I believe humanist charities like Oxfam and the more humanist elements withing Christian Aid do very important and brilliant work. But for me as a committed Christian and a young church leader in Wales I do feel that Tearfund shares’s the vision closest to mine – basically, believing and living the Gospel of Christ!

But what was great yesterday was meeting young Christians who were fired up to fight injustice and work to end poverty. Here in Welsh Wales we have hardly any young Christians full stop; and I can count those I know of which have a passion to fight injustice on one hand!

How to get involved with Tearfund?

  • You can visit the website to find out about the latest news so you can get praying about the work and give some money if you can.
  • And if your a Facebook user you can sing up to the Tearfund SuperBadger app through which you can lobby politicians about various issues Tearfund feel strongly about.

Please pray especially for Hywel and Miriam and all the volunteers Tearfund have in Wales and pray for Janet and the other brilliant people who I met at the head office. Pray that the Spirit will lead them in their work and that through them more and more Christians will live a more responding life to the Gospel and though that integral mission will happen and people all over the world through Tearfund’s work will see material and spiritual transformation in their life.