Archive for May, 2007

Is there Power in the PowerPoint?

May 30, 2007

At times is seems to take on the proportions of the great christological debates of the early church. What am I referring to? Whether or not we use PowerPoint whilst preaching. One writer has called its use ‘arrogant’ likening it to dressing down in the pulpit! Another asks rhetorically whether or not Spurgeon would have used it. And for him that seems to settle it.

I for one am not a fan of preaching with PowerPoint. I find it restrictive in terms of presentation and in terms of preparation- I don’t want to spend my preparation time looking for suitable images. I also am resistant to the idea in some quarters that any good presentation requires PowerPoint. I am opposed to having preaching with PowerPoint de rigeur.

But I am also opposed to the idea of no PowerPoint in preaching de rigeur. Is that not a little legalistic? There are I find times when PowerPoint in preaching can be a useful tool. Also others have told me that they have on occasions found it useful i.e. to provide a map. I don’t particularly like using it. I don’t really see the point in sticking a few headings up on a screen while preaching. But that doesn’t mean we should completely get rid of it. It does occasionally have its uses.

What is becoming clear however in a number of recent studies that I have read is that PowerPoint may not communicate as effectively as people have supposed. That rather than engaging people it causes people to disengage with material on the screen. Preaching is about engagement. Not just the presentation of information. And we need to think about whether or not the promiscuous use of PowerPoint may inhibit us in that task.


May 27, 2007

The latest trend in some churches it seems is to have a service arranged around the music of U2. One Anglican church has called it U2-charist. I like the music of U2 and find them a significant musical voice in a world of pap music. But I do have a problems with church services arranged around their music.

1. Whilst their music may have a moral, indeed ‘spiritual’ quality, it is not designed for worship. Bono may argue that the psalms are the blues of the OT but the Psalms are designed for worship- ‘Still haven’t found what I’m Looking for’ isn’t.

2. Why arrange a service around the music of U2? It seems another feeble attempt in the contemporary church’s search for relevance. Scripture is God’s living word- it doesn’t need U2 to make it relevant.

3. Part of the reason that U2’s music is chosen is because of Bono’s work on behalf of issues of poverty. Whilst his work is to be commended especially when we see the behaviour of other stars I do question it. Is Bono really going to make poverty history? Or was Jesus right when He said the poor will always be with you? Churches that are buying into Bono’s vision are not earthing themselves in the Bible’s vision of our world.

Bono is a commendable man. He appears to be doing a lot of good. But we have missed the mark if we let his music and agenda shape our worship and mission as churches.

Is the New Atheism the New Fundamentalism?

May 26, 2007

I thought the following article from the Washington Post was an interesting critique of the new atheism. Chiefly because it comes at the issue form a humanist perspective. It points out how humanists find the new atheism aggressive and destructive without offering any real alternative. It identifies the old issues that it easier to say what we are against that what we are for. Whist the new atheism suggests that it operates in the spirit of free inquiry in reality all it does in shackle us with doctrinaire atheism.Read the article at-

Evangelicals at the Crossroads- and Losing their Way?(Part 2)

May 25, 2007

Following up on an earlier post (Evangelicals at the Crossroads- and Losing their Way?) I raised a concern that Evangelicals were being defined in terms of their political causes rather than the gospel they proclaim. I wonder how far this has occurred because western Evangelicals have lost their eternal focus? Have Evangelicals in the western world become more interested in making a mark in this life than in making preparations for the next?

When Paul addressed the issue of homosexuality his concerns were directed not towards the wider culture but towards the church. The Bible’s condemnation of infanticide in the OT is directed towards the people of God. Nor is there a developed ecological perspective in the NT since this world is passing. These issues were not related to the wider culture but addressed in terms of God’s people preparing for God’s reward.

The fact that such issues are now identified in the wider culture as as key issues defining evangelicalism raises a big question in my mind. Have western Evangelicals taken their eyes off the eternal prize?Evangelicals ought to have a voice in the public square. But if that voice offers nothing distinctive. If its agenda does not take us beyond the common agenda of public affairs. Then the question is raised as to exactly what perspective Evangelicals are offering.

In the contemporary obsession with relevance are Evangelicals doing nothing more than baptising the popular cultural agenda without offering a distinctive perspective? One which is rooted not in this passing world but in heaven where Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father and from where He will return to deliver His people?

Rowan, Reparations and Real Repentance

May 24, 2007

‘While it sounds simple to say alright we should pass on the reparation[for the losses incurred by the Church of England due to the abolition of slavery] that was received exactly to whom?’ says Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. Such are the dilemmas of being an Archbishop. Here once again is the church being driven by a politically correct agenda. If we are going to go around apologising to people who have repressed us and who our ancestors have repressed we are going to find ourselves as Christians in almost infinite regress. The slavery endured by African people was unspeakably horrific. But let us not get involved in the blame game or indeed the pitiful simplicity of rewriting history.

Surely the great need of today is not to apologise for the sins of our fathers. But to repent of our own sins. But that I suppose would be a bit too close to home. For we would have to face up to the evils of the present day. We would have to call sin for what it is (an offence against God) in a blame free culture.
Furthermore true repentance involves not hand wringing over the past but to change by addressing the issues of the present.

We need as Christians to recover the faith that fired Wilberforce and his co-workers. We need also to recover some of the backbone that enabled them to stand up and be counted for an unpopular cause, for no personal gain, simply because it was right and glorifying to God.

Evangelicals at the Crossroads- and losing their way?

May 23, 2007

According to the Washington Post Evangelicals now find themselves at a crossroads with the death of Jerry Falwell who was a unifying figure in Evangelicalism. Falwell represented the now aged generation of Evangelical leaders who dominated in movement in the 80’s and 90’s. In the place of this generation of leaders a new generation of leaders are emerging with a new agenda such as global warming and AIDS in Africa. Classic homegrown issues such as abortion and homosexuality (a third of American evangelicals under 30 support same-sex marriage!) are now slipping down the agenda.

There are I think at least two concerns regarding this portrait of evangelicalism. First of all it is of concern that Evangelicalism is being defined both by itself and those outside the movement by the political causes it espouses rather than the gospel it preaches. Secondly, whilst AIDS in Africa and global warming are important issues the shift of the agenda raises the question of who is setting Evangelicalism’s agenda. It sounds as if it is now the world that is setting the church’s agenda. Furthermore the Evangelical movement’s distancing of itself from its traditional cultural agenda suggests that Evangelicals are now afraid of giving offence. Again it looks like they are giving in to an agenda set by the culture.

It was DL Moody an American Evangelical of another generation who once remarked, ‘The place for the boat is in the water, God help the boat when the water gets into it.’

Assurance- Then and Now

May 23, 2007

Just finished Joel Beeke’s The Quest for Full Assurance. It’s a great study in Puritan theology and it is an excellent place to begin looking at the Puritans. Beeke has a great feel for what the Puritans were all about. Also there is an excellent bibliography for anyone interested in Puritanism of Puritan studies. The book at once shows the great strengths of Puritan theology- their serious-minded theological enquiry- and their weakness- an attention to detail that at times leads them into exegetical problems.

The book ends with a section on the contemporary relevance of the Puritan debate on assurance. Beeke suggests that our lack of interest in assurance today is not a sign of spiritual health but of spiritual lethargy. The Puritans are often accused of keeping people in a state of permanent suspense over assurance. But Beeke points out that what has replaced it today has been something glib and presumptuous. That where people are concerned about assurance is a very good thing, as it shows a concern for spiritual well-being and the spiritual vitality that flows from and assured faith.

It seems to me that Beeke has raised important issues about the current spiritual climate.

Tears of a Clown

May 22, 2007

It’s hard to believe perhaps that Woody Allen is in his 72nd year. I read this quote by him recently about his – ‘I have gained no wisdom, no insight, no mellowing.’ It’s a sad comment from a man who has made so many people laugh. But like many comedians who have amused others by highlighting the absurdities of life the funny facade hides an inner emptiness. They have found humour in the absurd because like Allen they have gained no wisdom or insight and consequently no mellowing. How sad that at 70+ and after 30 years of therapy Woody Allen still finds himself at odds with an absurd world.

Sadly Allen has not discovered what the Teacher did in Ecclesiastes when he considered the meaninglessness of life. That the great purpose in life is found in this, ‘Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man.'(Ecclesiastes 12:13)

Whatever happened to…?

May 21, 2007

Whatever happened to the ‘The Lost Tomb of Jesus'( or as it was more affectionately known Jesus in a Box). Or what happened to the ‘Da Vinci Code’? Or going back further into the mists of time ‘The Last Temptation of the Christ.’ We were told at the time that these various media events would rock Christianity to the core. Sadly it was the Christians who were telling us this. There is a timely warning here about the church being driven by the world’s agenda. CH Spurgeon once remarked we should not take our sermons from the newspaper. It’s a lesson that we need to learn in this age when the media is so powerful- but whose message is also so very transient.

We also need to be careful that we are not suckered by Christian industries to buying into their products which are utterly essential to refute these faith shattering attacks!

As Christians we are assured by Jesus promise, ‘I will build my church.’ We rest in that and therefore should realise that these great media driven events do nothing to drive the King’s agenda off course.

Why do we look for God?

May 21, 2007

A recent article in the New York Times considered the current state of the scientific debate on how evolutionary theory can explain religious consciousness. Like all scientific theories where one enters the debate largely determines one’s findings. Those with Christian faith read the evidence that we are hard wired for religion because God made us that way. Sceptics however read the evidence as some kind of residual from a bye-gone era. The great problem that all have of course is defining religion. That religion means so many different things to so many different people.
I rather lean towards CS Lewis notion that our hunger for God is an appetite like any other appetite. That is that where we have an appetite it suggests that it has a capacity to be filled. It echoes Augustine’s great line, ‘O Lord you have made us for yourself; and so our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.’
The current scientific debate reminds us of the failure of modernity- that not everything can be explained by scientific data. Human knowing is not at the centre God is.
Scott Atran’s youthful outburst quoted in the article rather sums up the whole situation, ‘God exists, or if he doesn’t we’re in trouble.’
You can read the whole article at