Editors commentary: Preparing preachers


Mid-September witnessed the exposure of the police cover-up concerning the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool football fans died 23 years ago.

At the same time it emerged that the deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg thinks that all who have any qualms of conscience over the legitimacy of gay marriage are ‘bigots’.

Then in Manchester, two women Police officers were murdered. This is simply more evidence of the corruption and lack of moral sensitivity at all levels of our secularised country. It makes us want to weep.

However, in the light of such things, once again we must see how much we need God to raise up powerful preachers today who can be used in the context of revival to change the spiritual and moral tone of our benighted nation. But I wonder if we are hitting the right notes in preparing men for the ministry. There is much emphasis on training people to have good ‘Bible handling skills’, to excel in exegesis and be accurate preachers. This is all very necessary and we genuinely thank God for the many excellent Bible training courses which are now available.

But accurate preaching is one thing, powerful preaching is another. Who is teaching the candidates how to become powerful preachers? In particular, I wonder, as a new academic year begins, are our Bible colleges and training courses teaching preachers to pray?

Teach us to pray

The disciples of Jesus never asked him to teach them to preach, but they did ask him to teach them to pray (Luke 11.1). Having had the best possible insight into Scripture through being taught by the Lord Jesus for three years and having personally witnessed the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, the disciples were told they still needed to be clothed with power from on high, the power of the Holy Spirit, before they went out with the gospel. For this power, they prayed (Acts 1.14). When the leaders of the early church described what they were to focus on in their work, they explained: ‘We … will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word’ (Acts 6.4). And notice that it is prayer that comes first.

Spiritual power comes through spiritual encounter. This lesson is plain from Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3.5,6), Joshua meeting the commander of the army of the Lord (Joshua 5.14), right through to the apostle John’s vision of Christ while exiled on the isle of Patmos (Revelation 1.17,18). But without prayer we never truly encounter God.

Brilliant but useless?

Spurgeon has a telling anecdote involving the great English surgeon and anatomist, Sir Astley Cooper (1768-1841). Once, on visiting Paris, Sir Astley was asked by the surgeon en chef of the French empire how many times he had performed a certain intricate medical operation. He replied that he had performed the surgery 13 times. ‘Ah, but monsieur, I have done it 160 times’, declared the Frenchman, who then went on to ask: ‘And how many times did your operation save the person’s life?’ ‘I saved 11 out of the 13’, said the Englishman. ‘How many did you save of the 160?’ ‘Ah’, came the answer, ‘I lose them all; but the operation was very brilliant.’

Spurgeon comments: ‘Of how many popular ministries might the same verdict be given! Souls are not saved, but the preaching is very brilliant. Thousands are attracted and operated on by the rhetorician’s art, but what if he should have to say to his admirers, “I lose them all, but the sermons were very brilliant”’.

John Benton

This article was first published in the October 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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Have you ever heard of a ‘Court Chaplain’?


Most people have heard of prison chaplains and hospital chaplains, and some might have met airport chaplains, but there are very few people who are aware that there are chaplains in over 30 courts and tribunals in the UK.

A work that started in September 2002 in Leeds Combined Court, in response to the needs of the families, victims and witnesses of the Selby rail crash, has continued to grow organically since that time.

The courts have been described by His Honour Judge Clifford Bellamy, the Designated Family Judge at Coventry County Court, as ‘a sea of misery’. He recognised that all who enter our buildings, whether it be for civil, family or criminal proceedings, are under enormous stress. There is no one who is immune from it — the defendants, the litigants, the witnesses, the jurors, the lawyers, the staff and the judges themselves.

Invited to enter

It is this environment that court chaplains are invited to enter. There are a number of local arrangements between court managers and people from the local community who are the chaplains. They are normally in attendance on a part-time basis, although this can vary from situation to situation.

The chaplains are not financed by the Court Service but released from local parishes, or are members of an organisation like Workplace Ministry or, in the case of the work in Bradford, part of an independent charity set up for the purpose of supplying chaplains to the local courts.

The purpose of the chaplaincies is not for evangelism or philosophical debate, but for listening and caring — being listeners of stories and responding with the love of God. A typical day might include helping someone fill out forms that seem too complicated or to be the shoulder of a caring stranger for someone to cry on who has suffered a bereavement or is facing stress.

The chaplains are in special positions to relate to people where they are, recognise their needs, care when others will not or cannot care, bring wellbeing , and support those undergoing changes in their circumstances (whether fine or prison sentence, eviction from a home or a County Court judgment, a divorce or an adoption). The uniqueness of the role means that staff will often call upon the chaplains to sit with the court users who need someone independent of the court structure to listen.

Journey with Jesus

Although there is no overt evangelism, chaplains have had opportunities to tell something of their journey with Jesus and to share in carol services in the courts, even being asked to officiate at christenings!

The chaplains are predominantly from Christian denominations, although there is a part-time Muslim chaplain in Bradford and there are volunteer chaplains from other religions and beliefs. However, chaplaincy provides an opportunity for members to demonstrate the care of the church in the community, bringing the uniqueness of Christ into the situation.

Lord Falconer, a former Lord Chancellor, stated: ‘Chaplaincies provide “a light at the end of the tunnel” for those who feel that the light has gone out. It is about offering hope to people who may feel that they are in a hopeless situation’.

Andrew Drury was the former policy advisor on religion and belief at the Ministry of Justice, with responsibility for the work of the court chaplains. He is on the leadership team of West Ewell Evangelical Church, Surrey.

A battle I face – an interview about same-sex attraction


An interview with Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St. Ebbes Church, Oxford, by Julian Hardyman, Senior Pastor of Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge, about same-sex attraction

Julian: Vaughan, earlier this year your book Battles Christians Face was republished in a fifth anniversary edition. You added a new preface which included these words: This ‘is the most personal of my books, partly … because I wrote out of my own experience. We all face battles in the Christian life, some of which are common to each of us, while others are shared only by a few. Of the many battles I could have written about, I chose to focus on eight which, to a greater or lesser degree, I face myself’. What responses have you had?

Vaughan: The fact that a pastor struggles with image, lust, guilt, doubt, pride and keeping spiritually fresh is not exactly a revelation to anyone who knows their own heart and understands that Christian leaders are weak and sinful too; and the admission of an occasional struggle with depression causes no surprise these days. The fact that the other chapter is on homosexuality, however, has caused a small ripple of reaction and led some to ask why I wrote those words and what I meant by them.

Defining yourself?

Julian: Does the disclosure that same sex attraction is one of your personal battles mean you are defining yourself as a homosexual?

Vaughan: No, it doesn’t. It’s important to reiterate that I have acknowledged a struggle in all eight of the areas the book covers and not just in one. The brokenness of the fallen world afflicts us all in various ways. We will be conscious of different battles to varying degrees at different moments of a day and in different seasons of our lives. No one battle, of the many we face, however strongly, defines us, but our identity as Christians flows rather from our relationship with Christ.

All of us are sinners, and sexual sinners. But, if we have turned to Christ, we are new creations, redeemed from slavery to sin through our union with Christ in his death and raised with him by the Spirit to a new life of holiness, while we wait for a glorious future in his presence when he returns. These awesome realities define me and direct me to the kind of life I should live. In acknowledging that I know something of all eight battles covered in my book, therefore, I’m not making a revelation about my fundamental identity, other than that, like all Christians, I am a sinner saved by grace, called to live in the brokenness of a fallen world until Christ returns and brings all our battles to an end.

Gay clergy

Julian: Evangelical Anglicans are widely reported as saying there shouldn’t be gay clergy. What does that mean for you?

Vaughan: The press is often very misleading here. There is no objection to people being church leaders because of a homosexual orientation. The focus of the argument is over teaching and practice. Evangelicals say that clergy should uphold the Bible’s teaching that sex is only for heterosexual marriage in teaching and lifestyle, both of which I do.

Julian: You might not be meaning to say anything fundamental about your identity by acknowledging that homosexuality is a personal issue for you, but there are many who will hear you in that way and are likely to label you accordingly. Would it not have been better to have kept silent?

Vaughan: I have been very grateful for the friendship and wisdom of my Advisory Group (Peter Comont, Jonathan Lamb, Will Stileman and Pete Wilkinson), who keep me accountable and provide much needed counsel. They, along with close family and friends, have known for a considerable time that I experience same-sex attraction. We have thought through these issues together and, although the words in the preface are very low key, I didn’t take the decision to write them lightly.

In fact, I included some personal references when I first wrote the chapter on homosexuality six years ago, but I removed them before it was published because we were all conscious of the potential dangers of unhelpful labelling and of the pressure for me to engage increasingly in a single issue ministry — something I’m very keen to avoid. I felt it right to include the new preface, however, with their support, because of an increasing conviction that there does need to be more openness in this area among evangelical Christians, given the rapidly changing culture we live in — and the resulting increased pressure on believers who face this battle.

Pastoral concern

Julian: As a pastor, you must have had folk who have confided in you pastorally about their same-sex attractions — has that affected your decision to be more open?

Vaughan: Certainly. I pray for them every Monday from a list that is divided in two: those who continue to seek to be faithful to the Bible’s teaching that the only right context for sexual intercourse is in a marriage between a man and a woman and those who have moved away from that view. Sadly the second group is growing.

Julian: Why do you think that is?

Vaughan: I’ve often wondered whether more might have persevered if they had felt there was another way open to them other than the affirmation of a gay identity and lifestyle advocated by the world and the isolation they experienced in the evangelical church with their largely private battle.

The world stresses freedom and authenticity and says: ‘Everyone is born straight, gay or bi. You need to be true to yourself and accept who you are’. Same-sex attraction is seen as being entirely natural for some, who are therefore encouraged to embrace their identity as gay people and live it out in whatever way they choose. This message is supported by the individual stories of many whose openly gay lives offer a model of a particular way of living. By contrast, however, we in the church are too often heard to be presenting only a negative message which can leave them feeling deep shame and discourage them from emerging from the isolation of a lonely and private battle, which creates a fertile soil where temptation increases and compromise becomes more likely.

Julian: How do you think churches communicate that negative message?

Vaughan: The problem is largely caused by the fact that most of our comments on homosexuality are prompted, not primarily by a pastoral concern for struggling Christians, but by political debates in the world and the church. We do need to engage in these debates, but it’s vital that we’re alert to the messages that some of our brothers and sisters may be hearing.

Media reporting often doesn’t help and can give the impression that we think this particular sin is especially heinous. Also, in countering the simplistic binary model of the world that people are either born gay or straight (or, occasionally, bi), we are prone to make overly dogmatic comments ourselves about causation and cure. These can be heard to imply that homosexual attraction is just a matter of personal choice. This only increases the sense of shame already felt by those who experience unwanted same-sex attraction and can leave them with the impression that this is a battle that is not safe to share with others in the church. I have become convinced, therefore, that we need not only a greater openness in discussing issues of sexuality, but also a more positive vision and presentation of the nature of faithful discipleship for those who struggle in this area.

Biblical teaching

Julian: Let’s come back to the biblical teaching on homosexuality. What does the Bible say?

Vaughan: The Bible is very clear that God loves everyone, and welcomes all into his family, the church, through faith in Christ, whatever our gender, class or race and, we might add, sexuality. We do need to keep stressing that. But we also need to recognise the fact that the Bible is consistently negative about homosexual sex, and, indeed, about any sex outside heterosexual marriage.

Julian: Some people say, ‘That’s the ideal but Christians can’t always live up to ideals’. They argue that homosexual sex within loving, committed relationships may be a lesser evil than loneliness or promiscuity. Is what you are saying heading in that direction?

Vaughan: No, I’m certainly not saying that. The Bible presents only two alternatives: heterosexual marriage or celibacy. Celibacy, whether deliberately chosen as a vocation or reluctantly accepted as a circumstance, is hard. But when tempted to self-pity, I remind myself that that’s true, not just for those attracted to the same sex, but for all who remain single despite longing to be married or those who, for whatever reason, are denied sex in their marriages.

Sin and circumstances

Julian: So the message to Christians with same-sex attraction sounds pretty tough: ‘stay single, stay pure’.

Vaughan: That’s not all there is to say. It’s important to distinguish between sin, which can only be seen as negative, and circumstances, which, even when hard, may still be viewed positively.

While homosexual sin must always be resisted, the circumstances which often accompany same-sex attraction should be accepted as a context in which God can work. There is, without doubt, a difficult aspect to those circumstances, such as, for example, the frustration of not being able to experience the intimacy of a sexual relationship or a feeling of isolation because of the sense of being different. They can nonetheless be viewed in some senses positively, because of a recognition that God is sovereign over them and can work in and through them for his glory, the good of others and our own growth into the likeness of Christ.

This perspective should transform how we view all the difficult circumstances in our lives. We’re not called to a super-spiritual positivity which denies the frustration and pain; nor are we to embrace a passivity which spurns any opportunity to change our situation. But we are to recognise the loving hand of God in all we experience and see it as an opportunity for service, growth and fruitfulness.

Julian: That’s a very different perspective from just ‘grimace and stay pure’: how does it work out in practice?

Vaughan: I have found that those I’ve learnt most from have invariably been believers who have grown in Christian maturity by persevering through significant difficulties. The experience of blindness, depression, alcoholism, a difficult marriage, or whatever the struggle may have been, is certainly not good in and of itself and yet God has worked good through it, both in the gold he has refined in their lives and the blessings he has ministered through them. I have seen the same dynamic at work in some godly believers who have experienced a seemingly intractable attraction to the same sex. By learning, no doubt through many difficult times, to look to Christ for the ultimate fulfilment of their relational longings, they have grown into a deep and joyful relationship with him. Their own experience of suffering has also made them sensitive and equipped to help others who struggle in various ways. Those who have not married have embraced the Bible’s very positive teaching about singleness as a gift (see 1 Corinthians 7.32-35), whether chosen or not, which, I imagine, alongside loneliness and sexual frustration, has afforded them wonderful opportunities for the loving service of God and others. I know that I myself would not have had nearly as much time for writing and speaking at missions or conferences if I had been married. I’ve also had more time for friendships, which have been a huge blessing to me and, I trust, to others as well.

Death and resurrection

Julian: That’s encouraging. But what about the pain, surely that’s very real? What do you do with that?

Vaughan: Yes, the pain is real — I can’t deny that. The world, the flesh and the devil all conspire to make sin appear very attractive, so it will be hard for believers to remain godly in this area for the sake of the kingdom of God. To do that you need a clear understanding of the call to self denial in the kingdom — and the dynamic of resurrection life proceeding out of sacrificial death. Christ does call us all to a life of costly suffering as we take up our crosses for him, but, just as it was in his experience, that way of the cross is the path to life: ‘Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it’ (Mark 8.35).

Julian: Surely that promise is fulfilled in the new creation?

Vaughan: Ultimately, yes. But, we should recognise that the blessings that flow from costly service of Christ are not only received in the future, but are also promised in the present. Jesus taught that those who lost out relationally or materially because of their commitment to him and the gospel could not only look forward to eternal life in the future, but would also receive ‘a hundred times as much’ as they had lost ‘in this present age’: ‘homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields — and with them, persecutions’ (Mark 10.29-30).

Julian: What does that look like in practice? And what does it mean for churches?

Vaughan: Those words of Jesus bring both great encouragement and profound challenge. Are our churches providing a spiritual family for those who are missing out on other contexts of relational satisfaction and support for the sake of the kingdom? Undoubtedly many, like myself, do experience a profound sense of loving community within the church, but there will always be room for improvement. We must face the uncomfortable fact that a significant reason why some Christians leave evangelical churches and choose to enter the gay community instead is because they perceive the alternative to be one of unsustainable isolation and loneliness.

Caring churches

Julian: What sort of things can churches do?

Vaughan: While being careful not to put any pressure on those who don’t want to be more open, we could be looking for appropriate ways of enabling greater openness from some. I heard recently about a church where a young believer spoke honestly in a public testimony about his ongoing experience of same sex attraction. That was a real encouragement to some in the church who struggled in the same way and made it easier for them to speak with others. Another church has begun an occasional meeting for members in this situation. It has been a spur to some to speak about their struggles for the first time, knowing that they are not alone and that there is support available. Other Christians have found Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting really helpful. His refreshing honesty about his own experience and his godly approach have provided an excellent model to many, as well as giving supportive church members a deeper insight into the similar struggles of others. Alex Tylee’s Walking with Gay Friends, written from a woman’s perspective, has similar strengths.

Julian: What advice would you give to those who have not felt able to share their experience of same-sex attraction with other Christians?

Vaughan: I would strongly urge them to take a first step and think of at least one mature believer they could trust and be open with. We haven’t been called to live as isolated Christians, but rather as members of God’s family in local churches. Churches are imperfect, just as we all are as individuals, but they are the context in which God means us to grow together as disciples. Many of us have found that honesty about our struggles with trusted brothers and sisters has not only been an encouragement to us, but has also made it easier for others to open up to us about their own battles. Parachurch organisations can also be a useful resource. The True Freedom Trust (http://www.truefreedomtrust.co.uk), for example, has been a great help to many.

Looking for change

Julian: And is change possible? Can these attractions be redirected or altered?

Vaughan: The development of sexuality is complex and is, I think, best understood as being on a spectrum, along which individuals can move, especially in the years soon after puberty, but also later. A small proportion of people, including Christians, find that they remain exclusively attracted to the same sex as they grow into mature adulthood. God has the power to change their orientation, but he hasn’t promised to and that has not been my experience. Research suggests that complete change from exclusively homosexual desires to exclusively heterosexual ones is very rare. While supporting the right of anyone to seek help to change if they wish, our emphasis needs to be on encouragement to be godly and content in current circumstances.

Julian: So how does that happen?

Vaughan: It’s important to recognise that very often God’s power is seen, not by him removing our temptations and difficult circumstances, but by giving us the strength to persevere and live for him in the midst of them. Understanding this profound principle of God’s power being seen in weakness will transform our attitude towards all our battles as believers. We will then be able to see our struggles, including the experience of living with same-sex attraction, not just negatively, but also positively.

Julian: Thank you, Vaughan, for your openness and wisdom.

Julian Hardyman

This article was first published in the October 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more information about EN you can contact us in these ways:
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Joined-up life (book review)


JOINED-UP LIFE
A Christian account of how ethics works
By Andrew J.B. Cameron
IVP. 336 pages. £16.99
ISBN 978 1 844 745 159

Andrew Cameron lectures in ethics at Moore College, Sydney. Like all human beings, Christians face a whole range of ethical decisions and dilemmas. We feel instinctively that we have important things to say in this morally complex world. The problem with most Christian treatments of the subject is that they give us ready-made answers without any underlying rationale. An even greater danger is that ethics becomes divorced from the gospel, leading to a form of legalism and moralism.

Cameron’s book is a brilliant effort to avoid these two tendencies while locating ethics within the context of biblical theology, Christian truth and the wisdom of Jesus. He is determined to demonstrate that ethics flow from and are intimately connected to the gospel of grace. He aims to give us a framework in which we can think about ethical questions, coming to wise decisions consistent with the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The book is in seven parts. Part 1 deals with the way we talk about right and wrong, while Part 2 explores some of the forces that determine the way we act — our passions and our need to belong. Part 3 is the crucial section — how can we live good lives? We find our true identity in Christ and it is the power of his gospel which enables us to please God. ‘This book is about finding our best humanity in Jesus Christ. It’s about how to understand ethics as springing from Jesus. It seek to show how identifying with Jesus Christ brings order and clarity to human life.’ We live in a ‘Christ-empowered universe’ and he provides all we need to live good lives.

Part 4 deals with the ‘sources’ that will determine our moral choices — creation, community, God’s character, the future and biblical commands. These sources determine the way we act. This applies to the way we approach everyday life (Part 5) and to our ‘life-package’ or vocation (Part 6).The last section (Part 7) deals with some of the ‘hotspots’ — such as homosexuality and bioethics — where painful and disturbing questions must be addressed. There are 47 short chapters making it easy to dip into.

The book is stimulating, original and accessible to the intelligent reader. It is not intended to be a primer in ethics but to challenge us to joined up thinking. Cameron encourages us to look at ethical questions through ‘a different lens’ — the gospel of Jesus. He is not into giving us easy ready-made answers — his purpose is to make us think in a wise biblical way. The gospel sets us free from attempting to justify ourselves and gives us liberty to follow the wisdom and example of Jesus. This new perspective enables us to ‘join up’ the fragments of our lives and thus give cohesion to the way we live.

The book is delightfully Christ-centred — ‘He gives us a better angle on life. We find an understanding of created good, a glimpse of God’s character, a place to belong, the hope of a better future, and some changes to our desires by his Spirit. We don’t live it very well- after all, we’re Just fumbling extras in the game he pioneered. But he forgives and accepts us, and we’re finding the Jesus-shaped version of ourselves. We’ve begun to find, in him, a joined-up life’.

You will not agree with everything you read, but you will be stimulated to think in new ways about complex and unavoidable issues. I highly recommend this book.

Paul Mallard,
a pastor at Monyhull Church, Birmingham

Ministry growing out of family tragedy – Paul’s Place


In 2007, Paul Morton from Bristol, aged just 17, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. David and Pippa, his parents, tell his story and theirs.

It was on Valentine’s Day that our comfortable world was turned upside down. Our son Paul was in his last year at St. Mary Redcliffe and Temple School in Bristol studying for his A levels. He had started getting headaches in January and when he complained of double vision, his quick-thinking GP immediately referred him to a specialist. The next day we were at the hospital having tests and a scan. The news was broken to us almost immediately — he had a tumour on the brain. The shock was overwhelming, yet within a week he had undergone surgery and was back home. It all happened so quickly and Paul didn’t miss a single Sunday at our church, Pip ’n Jay.

Legendary smile

Until then we had been the most ordinary and happy of families. Rebekah, his sister, was in her second year at university. They had both attended the same schools, and we all went to church together. Paul was a guitarist and trumpeter and played in the church youth band. He was popular with students and staff at school, even being voted ‘nicest boy’ at the annual ball, and his smile was legendary. He was very active and loved biking, skiing, kayaking, photography and much else. Paul and David enjoyed hill walking together and heading down to Croyde for a day’s surfing, always ending with chips at Squires in Braunton.

After the operation, his surgeon told us to forget the tumour and carry on with life, as it could be years before it made any sort of reappearance. So life returned to something like ‘normal’. Despite having a course of radiotherapy, he was able to continue with his studies and got in to Leeds University to read biochemistry. Had we known what lay ahead, we wonder if he would have taken up his place, but it really was the best thing he could have done.

He quickly settled in and was soon someone others turned to for support and friendship. He joined the Christian Union and the kayaking club and entered fully in to university life. The following March, all seemed well. He was symptom free and we awaited the results of a routine scan with little anxiety, so that it came as a fresh and devastating blow to be told that the tumour had already returned and the only option was chemotherapy.

Peaceful

In June we headed off for a family holiday by the Italian lakes. It was a lovely week, although Paul was very tired and beginning to develop a limp. Then, on the final night, out of the blue, he had a fit. Rebekah may have saved his life by raising the alarm. He was rushed into hospital and thankfully made a steady recovery, so that a week later we were able to fly home with considerable anxiety. From then on his condition declined, slowly at first, then more rapidly towards the end. With the amazing support of a team of friends as well as professionals, we were able to nurse him at home until he died peacefully in his sleep at the end of November 2008.

Paul remained remarkably well both mentally and physically for much of his illness and, as late as October, he was able to help at the Alpha course. He showed considerable courage and calmness and, while he clearly wanted to live, he was not afraid of dying. His faith remained firm throughout.

Turmoil

It was a time of great turmoil for us as a family, but we had terrific support from our church friends and Paul’s own close friends, who were wonderful. But being Christians, and in particular belonging to a church with a charismatic tradition, didn’t necessarily make the whole experience any easier. Going to church and experiencing the love and concern of people on Sundays was sometimes overwhelming. And there were other issues.

When you believe in God’s power to heal, and clearly he isn’t doing so, it inevitably raises questions about prayer and faith. This was not always helped by well-meaning people who encouraged us to go to this healing ministry or another, or who implied that if only you believe in the ‘right way’ it is ‘always’ God’s will that people are made physically well. This feeds a natural desire for a miracle, and a reluctance to face up to what is actually happening. The challenge was how to exercise faith, both ourselves and with Paul, in a way that genuinely believed God could (and would?) heal, while preparing for him not doing so.

And, when healing doesn’t happen, why not? Is someone to blame? It was hard sometimes to escape a sense that maybe it was down to our own unbelief and this added to the stress at a time when it was important to face the reality of what was happening and prepare accordingly. The fact was that, for all the prophecies and prayers (literally around the world), Paul did die. Some sections of the evangelical / charismatic church aren’t always very good at dealing with serious illness, especially terminal conditions and especially in the young. And yet, as Christians, surely we have less reason to try to cling on to life than non-believers? One of the low points we experienced was at a rally with a well-known healing evangelist. Everyone was excited and raising their hands to claim or receive some sort of healing, while Paul sat untouched and unmoved, with a deep sadness in his face. In contrast, however, we did attend some healing meetings at a lovely Pentecostal church in Solihull where the minister had a much more compassionate and realistic approach that left us feeling greatly loved and encouraged.

So, despite the inner turmoil, we set about simply caring and making the most of the precious time that we had together — a flight in a balloon, a walk in the Black Mountains, a gliding lesson — every outing a precious memory.

Paul’s Fund

When Paul died, we inherited some money and put it into a charitable trust which we called Paul’s Fund. At this time we had no idea how the money would be used. Then, in May 2010, David was made redundant and this has turned into a real blessing. We started to look into setting up somewhere where we could provide short breaks for young adults like Paul who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. We called our somewhere ‘Paul’s Place’ and Paul’s Fund would pay for young adults to stay for free if they faced particular challenging circumstances — not only a life-threatening illness, but also bereavement, or being a long-term carer for a family member.

So, after some research and with enthusiastic support from Paul’s close friends, we set out to find somewhere to buy. We wanted to be by the sea and our search centred on North Devon. In July, before our house was even on the market, we received details of an existing B&B in the centre of Georgeham just a mile inland from Croyde, but by the time we got around to asking for a viewing, the owners already had an offer. The Old Bakery seemed to tick virtually all our boxes and the family who were selling turned out to be Christians, with the husband headed for Trinity College that September. Reluctantly, however, with their move imminent they felt they had to accept the offer they already had. Then in October their sale fell through. By then our house was sold, so we immediately put in an offer and in January 2011 we became the proud owners. This had to be God’s provision.

Where our heart lies

And so we now find ourselves running a B&B cum retreat centre. As well as having regular holiday guests, we are aiming to attract small church groups for mini retreats. But more than that, our vision for Paul’s Place is becoming a reality. This is where our hearts lie and, after many months of contacting numerous charities, we are beginning to see an increasing number of applications, which is really exciting.

Coming to terms with Paul’s death has been deeply challenging. Questions about God persist, but we can look at the last three years and wonder at the way events have turned out, the grace and love we have experienced, and draw some comfort. Nothing can take away the pain of our loss, but we do have a new sense of purpose and direction, and for that we are truly grateful.

For more information about Paul’s Fund/Place, go to http://www.pauls-fund.co.uk and for The Old Bakery go to http://www.georgehambandb.co.uk — or contact David and Pippa (01271 891076, paulsfund11@virginmedia.com). The criteria for a grant are: young adults aged between approximately 18 and 30 who are experiencing bereavement, diagnosis of a life-threatening or terminal illness, or being a carer.

Unapologetic Christianity from Chris Sinkinson: John Hick – a cautionary tale


Professor John Hick died in February 2012 at the age of 90.

He leaves a legacy of over 30 books and countless articles. As a philosopher of religion, Hick has had great influence on many thinkers. He supervised evangelical PhD students William Lane Craig and Harold Netland along with those holding to his own more liberal ideas. Always clear and precise as a writer, his academic books are not difficult to read and his name will probably always be associated with what we call ‘religious pluralism’.

Do all the major world religions provide pathways to the same God and salvation? Hick thought so and sought to persuade others too.

Infinite boredom

But John Hick only gradually grew to hold these radical ideas and his story provides any apologist with a cautionary tale. In childhood he attended a local Anglican church which he described as ‘a matter of infinite boredom’ and did not consider himself a Christian. However, at the age of 18, he describes having an evangelical conversion, particularly through the influence of the Christian Union at Hull University. This conversion influenced his decision to join the Quaker Ambulance service as a pacifist during the Second World War and later be ordained in what would become the United Reformed Church.

However, he only briefly served in local church ministry before entering a lifetime of academic scholarship. This brought to light the first shift in his theological thought. There was opposition when Hick took up a teaching post at Princeton Theological Seminary in America during the 1960s. Technically, to be on the faculty one had to be in agreement with an orthodox confession of faith. Though Hick considered himself orthodox he was unable to assent to doctrines like the virgin birth or infallibility of the Bible. A drift away from evangelicalism was underway.

Myth of God incarnate

Hick returned to England to teach at Birmingham University where he became involved in various inter-faith groups with the laudable aim of promoting tolerance. He came to believe that Jesus was only one saviour figure among many and that Christianity had no unique standing as a path of salvation. This developing view culminated in a book he edited called The Myth of God Incarnate in 1977. Hick and his collaborators argued that Jesus was not to be considered literally unique, but only in some poetic or metaphorical sense. No longer was Christ a barrier or stumbling block to religious harmony. All religions might have their own myths, metaphors, poetry and saviours, but, behind them all, is the same God.

Further drift

At least, so Hick’s position stood in the 1970s, but his thinking was still drifting further from the shore of orthodoxy. An obvious objection to his position would be to point out that not all religions assent to the existence of God. Zen Buddhism is generally considered atheist. And even many religions that do speak of a God do not mean a personal being. This observation led Hick to abandon the word ‘God’ in favour of what he called the Real or Ultimate Reality. This ‘Real’ was neither personal nor non-personal. Finding no suitable pronoun, Hick referred to the Real as ‘He/She/It’.

Arguably, Hick’s final views were more agnostic than Christian. I met Hick a few times over the years and our last encounter was a debate on Premier Radio last year (you can listen to it as a podcast from February 19 2011 on http://www.premier.org.uk/unbelievable). Hick’s God had receded to a ‘Real’ beyond any understanding. Jesus Christ, the risen Saviour, had become only a poetic image to describe a man whose bones rotted in the earth long ago. Hick had sought to use philosophy as a tool to make Christianity credible. The rational ‘faith’ he ended up with was devoid of a personal God and empty of miracles. Instead of God-given revelation, Hick offered man-made speculation. Apologetics is the defence of the faith ‘once for all entrusted to the saints’ (Jude 3).

Chris Sinkinson is pastor of Alderholt Chapel, in the New Forest, and lectures at Moorlands College.