St. Helen’s Preaching Matters: Charlie Skrine on celebrity preachers


We’re following a new video series from St. Helen’s Bishopsgate designed specifically to ‘equip, encourage and inspire those who teach God’s word.’

Today we take a look at what Charlie Skrine has to say about celebrity preachers

How has this helped you as you teach God’s word?

Sex and sexuality – background on the move to redefine marriage (part 1)


Marriage is under attack in the UK. It has been humanity’s default mode of handling sexuality since the dawn of time. Whether or not it was accompanied by public ceremonies or religious rites, heterosexual marriage has been normative. Polygamy, by far the commonest alternative arrangement, has been the habit of only a few.

Such bonding is quite remarkable. Imagine what life would be like without it. If we treated sexual partners like holiday vacations, rarely returning to the same place twice, men would never know how many children they have or who they are. Women would be given the entire responsibility of bringing them up and providing for them. A moment’s thought shows how logical and inevitable heterosexual marriage is.

So the family unit has always been the basic building block of society. Alternative community arrangements have occurred, but few are enduring and have rarely found wide appeal.

Illicit sexual momentum

Jesus talked about the dynamic process that occurs in extra-marital sex. The moment desire is inflamed by lustful looking, adultery is already taking place in the imagination. Using robust imagery, he warns that it is better to be blind than to allow your eyes to lead you to hell.

Our eyes then lead on to flirting to establish a relationship. The process inevitably leads to touching… holding hands, but later holding glands. Jesus therefore warns that if your hand causes you to sin, you would do better to chop it off! These dramatic metaphors highlight the significance of limiting what we see and controlling what we touch, if we are not to get caught up in a dynamic process that leads first to adultery and then to divorce (Matthew 5.27-31).

This process gains momentum. It might be painful to refuse the smile of a pretty girl who gives you a welcoming look, but it is a lot less painful than to end a relationship that has progressed to fondling. Sexual ‘chemistry’ between two people is very subtle and difficult to analyse. Looking at a previous sexual partner triggers memories — and exciting ones at that. Familiar mannerisms are almost certainly communicated. There may well be a pleasant aroma, a subtle scent that we may not even be conscious of. Once sexual bonding, in all its subtle complexity, has already been established, it is very quickly reactivated.

The same mechanisms make it so difficult for people in an adulterous relationship to break free from it. If they still meet the same person in their community, for instance, forgotten desires are quickly re-awakened.

Jesus anyway implies that it is far better to control our behaviour at the level of desire, than to allow our eyes and our hands to draw us further into iniquity.

Homosexuality

Homosexuality highlights the differences between male and female arousal patterns. Men are easily aroused. The sight or even suggestion of bare flesh sets the male pulse racing. Women also can be aroused visually, but nothing like as rapidly. Generally speaking, women need ‘wooing’. They tend to want a relationship rather than an orgasm. They are aroused when a potential partner takes an interest in them, asks them questions and listens sympathetically to their answers. Sexual arousal builds gradually as intimacy increases.

It follows that sexual relationships between two men or two women are very different things from heterosexual relationships. Women are looking for trusting and exclusive relationships. Many women turn to lesbian relationships because of former traumatic and abusive relationships with men. They are looking for loving tenderness and have given up on thinking that a man can provide it for them.

Men on the other hand are often looking for orgasms rather than relationships. Homosexual men have an enormous capacity for promiscuity. Visits to a ‘gay’ club or a weekend away at a ‘gay’ house-party may include multiple sexual encounters, with people whose names they do not know and whose faces they would never recognise. I have had male patients admitting to 50-100 such encounters over a weekend. Women never seem to do that.

Women are far more likely to establish stable and lasting relationships. Some men also achieve this, but the relationship is rarely exclusive. Two men living together for years might share a mortgage and enjoy good companionship with mutual care and affection, but on Saturday nights they may go to two different gay clubs and experience numerous sexual partnerships. Generally, their relationships are much less stable and they suffer many emotional disappointments. Ironically, the majority of male homosexuals are not looking for exclusive, same-sex marriage for themselves.

Clearly there are very different health outcomes between these two groups, related to their different risks of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. These in turn given them significantly different life expectancies.

Those calling for homosexual marriage usually justify the change in definition on the basis of equal rights. Politicians may feel there are votes to be won, but more often they will be concerned to bring stability to unstable relationships.

However, to redefine marriage would raise enormous problems for Christians. It would mean that society presents young people with two apparently equally valid and satisfactory types of marriage. This would leave them to sort out which they would choose to go for!

No doubt they would be encouraged to experiment to find out what their orientation really is. Many adolescents admit to experiencing an ambiguity, feeling, at least for a while, the pull in both directions.

When you do an experiment in the laboratory, you are — to a significant degree anyway — a detached observer. When you personally experiment sexually you are the major part of the experiment and can expect to be affected and changed by it.

Opening Pandora’s box

When people experiment sexually, they will awaken new desires. The Greek myth about Pandora’s box was that she was ordered not to open it. But curiosity got the better of her. When she eventually opened the box, all manner of evils were set loose. The only thing that would not come out of the box was hope. Similarly, sexual experiments can release destructive desires that stay with you. Once you have been sensitised to a particular lust, you may never be able to be desensitised to it. The desires and memories will live with you, be easily re-awakened and may always provoke you.

Most dramatically, this is demonstrated if sexual desires for children are aroused. Most of us, mercifully, have no insight at all as to why children might be sexually attractive. However, we would be well advised not to let our imaginations wander in order to find out. Once people have been aroused by children, they are destined to continue to look upon children sexually. Paedophiles are notoriously difficult to treat.

Other desires may be more socially acceptable, but if you allow yourself to journey down the line from thought to gaze, from gaze to touch and from touch to overt sexual activity, you may well plough a furrow that you keep entering. You cannot expunge it from your brain. The memory and the reflex responses stay with you. This is why the majority of homosexuals are actually bisexual. They are aroused by their own sex and by the opposite sex. It is a small minority of homosexuals who say they have never had heterosexual desires.

A patient told me that in his teenage years he never experienced any homosexual desires. He married early and had two children. Aged 23 years, his friendly barber asked why he seemed so fed up. He told him his marriage was on the rocks. The barber explained that he was going away for the weekend and invited him to join him.

He claimed that at this stage he had no idea the barber was gay or was inviting him on a gay weekend house-party. When he got there, it seems that he put up no resistance. He found homosexual acts were wonderful. He said, ‘It was like turning a switch’. He claimed that he had never had a heterosexual desire since.

I don’t know how typical this story is, but I have heard of others, who said that the awakening of new desires was like turning a switch, some of whom struggled in vain to turn it off again. Such experiments result anyway in indelible memories, which trigger desires. Even those who have brought their problems to Christ and experienced his forgiveness still have to live with the memories and temptations.

Furthermore, such experiments, by their very nature, imply that there are no boundaries. No ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’ apply. All choices are assumed to be equally valid. All you need to do is follow your fantasies and use your imagination.

Dr. Peter May served on the General Synod of the Church of England from 1985 to 2010 and was Chair of the UCCF Trust Board from 2003 to 2010. He is a retired GP. His full talk on this issue can be heard online at http://www.bethinking.org

A second article by Peter will appear, God willing, next month.

(This article was first published in the August 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

What’s coming up in the November issue of EN


A few highlights to look forward to in the November issue of EN! It’s scheduled to arrive from the printers on Friday (October 26). Of course you can always e-mail subs@e-n.org.uk as well if you’d like a complimentary copy or if you’d like to subscribe!

What do you think of me? Why do I care? (book review)


WHAT DO YOU THINK OF ME? WHY DO I CARE?
Answers to the big questions of life
By Edward T. Welch
New Growth Press. 160 pages. £8.31
ISBN 978 1 935 273 868

Other people control us far more than we think. Where there is constant pressure either to fit in with the crowd or to stand out from the crowd, we are controlled by the crowd and this is the heart of peer pressure. How does the gospel bring hope?

Ed Welch has developed the insights of his earlier book, When People are Big and God is Small, and shows us how our answers to three key questions will reveal the idol in our hearts — that which in fact controls our behaviour. When, as Christians, we ask, ‘Who am I?’ ‘Who is God?’ and ‘Who are you?’, we know what the ‘right’ answers should be.

In practice we replace trust in the goodness of God with something else, and this is what really guides our behaviour: it may be the desire to be liked or the need to be in control. ‘What would you say you love the most? Follow the track of your emotions — your happiness, sadness, hopelessness, despair, and anger — then you will find what you love’ (p.44).

The great news is that God knows this and still loves us. It is this gospel which can give us the strength to displace the idols and rightly worship the Lord. When we do this we find that ‘version 2.0’ of ourselves is secure enough in God’s love to give love to others. When we learn to walk humbly before the Lord we find that the skill transfers to our relationships with other people (p.135).

This is an excellent book, and deserves to be widely read by all ages, including the 18-25s for whom it is intended.

Ed Moll, 
senior minister, St. George’s Church Wembdon, Bridgwater, Somerset; no longer young; still Reformed; apparently contented

This article was first published in the July 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

How are we educating the next generation?


Parents should train their children in accordance with God’s word.

In particular it places the responsibility on fathers: ‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord’ (Ephesians 6.4). This training is to be ongoing: ‘These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up’ (Deuteronomy 6.4-7).

A vital question

In response to these biblical commands some Christian parents have chosen to home educate their children. Today there is an increasing amount of Christian curricular material available to support them. Home educating families meet together sometimes to participate in activities and events.

However, the majority of Christian parents in the UK choose to send their children to school. The question for them is: How is my children’s school helping me to fulfil my God-given responsibility to train them in the ways of the Lord?

It is a vital question since most children will spend a total of around 18,000 hours in school (30 hours per week, 40 weeks per year for up to 15 years).

Influences on children

Let’s consider three important influences on children who are brought up in Christian families: home, school and church.

Christian parents should be teaching their children the same biblical truths at home as they hear at church. Imagine a two-stranded cord to represent this.

But what are your children being taught at school? Imagine the red cord representing the influence of your children’s school. Does your children’s school pull against your home and church?

Secular schools promote the mind of man as supreme and man’s good and development as the goal of education. Christian parents must work hard to remedy this secular teaching their children are receiving. Otherwise there is a danger of everything unravelling.

A different type of school

Consider a school where God is supreme and his word is central to all areas of curriculum and practice, where the goal of education is the glory of God. A Christian school supports Christian parents in teaching about God and the world from a biblical perspective. For children from a Christian family the school’s teaching strengthens that of the home and church: ‘A cord of three strands is not quickly broken’ (Ecclesiastes 4.12).

Most Christian schools also welcome children from non-Christian families so these pupils also have the wonderful privilege of a ChristÐcentred education.

So what does a Christian school look like?

* It teaches children God’s word and depends on the work of the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in their lives.
* It teaches a curriculum based on God’s work in his world: his perfect creation, the effects of man’s fall into sin, the results of Christ’s redemption and the future return of Christ as saviour and judge.
* It employs Christian teachers, in the same way as a church would only have Christians teaching in Sunday school.
* It trains children to think and question, it challenges them to compare secular thinking with biblical principles: ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will’ (Romans 12.2).
* It welcomes children from both Christian and non-Christian families.
* It encourages parents to participate fully in the life of the school.

Opportunity and opposition

We should be grateful to God that in the past Christians have been at the forefront of education in the UK; churches set up schools and some of these remain faithful to biblical truth today. However, in the last century the majority of schools have fallen into secular control. Thankfully there are still some opportunities today to develop schools with a Christian ethos, such as through the ‘Free Schools’ movement.

During the last 40 years churches and groups of parents have set up independent Christian schools. There are now about 100 such schools around the UK. To maintain their freedom to teach a curriculum based on biblical truth, these schools do not accept government funding.

Consequently they usually charge fees which are generally kept as low as possible to ensure that any parent who wants their children to attend can afford them. Sacrifices are made by parents and teachers, who often work for much lower wages than they could earn in a secular school.

Research has shown that the great majority of teenage pupils in Christian schools profess a personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Boys express the same kind of faith and level of faith as girls and the older teenagers are as clearly Christian as those who are younger. These results contrast starkly with other studies which have all shown a sharp decline in religious belief through teenage years and that boys are less ‘religious’ than girls. Early results from ongoing research projects indicate that many, possibly almost all, of the former pupils from these new Christian schools retain their Christian faith as they move on in life.1

The battle is fierce and schools which proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord of all are often under attack. It is not surprising that humanists and secularists are opposed to these schools, since their agenda is to secure a totally secular education system. Much prayer is needed for the preservation and growth of Christian schools.

Personal experience

I taught for 20 years in secular schools and was involved with running Christian Unions, taking assemblies and setting up a prayer group for parents and teachers. However, I began to question myself: ‘How does my Christian faith affect the way I teach?’ I started to use some of the Charis materials2 which opened my eyes to the opportunity to bring biblical truth into my maths lessons.

Once my appetite was whetted, I wanted more freedom to proclaim the whole truth of God. This led me to Emmanuel Christian School in Oxford where I worked for ten years, the last six of which I was the Head Teacher. What a wonderful privilege it was to declare the wonders of our Lord Jesus Christ to children from both Christian and non-Christian homes and to see them responding to these truths.

For the last two years I have taught in secular schools while I have been working to set up Trinity Christian School in Reading.3 Initially, this school will cater for children aged 5-7, but will aim in the future to develop into a full primary and secondary school. We are praying that the Lord will take us successfully through the registration process and provide a teacher and enough pupils and finance so that we can open this September.

Future for Christian schools

There are Christian schools all across the UK which aim to bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.4 Many of these schools are thriving and need more space, whereas others struggle to keep going. All of these schools depend on the Lord for his provision.

However, compared with many countries around the world the UK lags behind in Christian schooling, we need more such schools! As we see Christian freedoms being eroded in our country, we wonder how much longer we will be able to run Christian schools which teach the whole counsel of God.

Whether you agree with my approach or not, please pray that the Lord will protect and prosper these schools which aim to ‘Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it’ (Proverbs 22.7).

Footnotes

1. Sylvia G. Baker (2010), ‘An Investigation of the new Independent Christian Schools: what kind of citizens are they producing?’, unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Warwick.
2. See http://www.johnshortt.org/Pages/Charis.aspx
3. See http://www.trinitychristianschool.org.uk
4. See http://www.christianschoolstrust.co.uk and http://www.christianeducationeurope.org

Jean Dandy

This article was first published in the September 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Crossing the culture from Rachel Thorpe: A vogue for Vincent


Vincent Van Gogh is now a solid fixture in our cultural vocabulary.

I need only mention sunflowers or a bandaged ear to conjure up his life and legacy. Shunned during his lifetime, by the 20th century he had been declared one of the greatest painters to have lived. The publication of his complete illustrated letters in late 2009 thrust him back into vogue and this summer there have been novels, exhibitions, news stories and even a special episode of Dr. Who dedicated to the master painter.

The most substantial tribute was the BBC docudrama entitled Vincent Van Gogh: Painted with Words. Taking its inspiration directly from the letters, it merged biography, art history and drama to create a sympathetic portrait of a genius. Vincent, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, appeared to be overwhelmed by mental problems that both invigorated and hindered his artistic vision.

The programme considered Vincent’s preoccupations with faith and suffering, subjects that were intertwined in his imagination. He wrote to his brother Theo in 1878: ‘It always strikes me as very peculiar, that whenever we see the image of indescribable and unutterable desolation […] the thought of God comes into our minds’.

Vincent’s father was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, and soon Vincent was keen to follow in his footsteps. He began fanatically studying the Bible and, in 1876, he preached his first sermon. It was entitled ‘I am a stranger on earth’ (Psalm 119.19, NIV) and its theme was evidence of his growing disillusionment with middle class culture.

Vincent felt his isolation from society keenly. Fearing himself unsuitable for inclusion in a civilised community, Vincent found solace in the Scriptures. They seemed to tell him that his supposed vulgarity could be an integral part of his calling. However, he was not to become a simple clergyman. After a stint as a missionary it became clear that he needed another way to communicate and it was painting that proved to be the vital outlet.

The power to create

When painting natural landscapes, Vincent claimed to experience a transcendent spiritual power. In 1882, he wrote: ‘I cannot understand why everybody does not see it and feel it; nature or God does it for everyone who has eyes and ears and a heart to understand’. Here we see the beginning of a slippage between love of the creator and love of the creation. As nature began to operate as replacement religion for Vincent, he retreated from institutionalised Christianity. Taking an interest in Eastern art and spirituality he began to urgently connect himself and his work with the natural world.

In September 1888, he finally declared: ‘I can very well do without God both in my life and in my painting, but I cannot, suffering as I am, do without something which is greater than I am, which is my life, the power to create’. Imbuing his own artistic endeavours with divine importance, Vincent seemed to be cutting himself free of Christianity altogether. However, later in the same month he conceded: ‘That does not prevent me from having terrible need of — shall I say the word? — religion. Then I go out at night and paint the stars’.

The results of these nocturnal outbursts were images like ‘The Starry Night’, which is perhaps one of Van Gogh’s most recognisable paintings: the glowing moon and stars, the gloomy but peaceful stability of the church steeple, the dark foreboding of the trees, the tumbling sky. The interplay between institutionalised religion and a transcendent experience of nature also has its corollary in the painting: the overall effect is balanced and controlled rather than chaotic, but the brush strokes are jagged, wild and forceful, the colours intense and vivid.

Centuries after it was painted it still captivates the crowds. Recently, I was jostling my way through the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and people were swarming in front of ‘The Starry Night’, eagerly snapping photos. The camera flashes illuminated the sea of darkened faces with bursts of light, and the group became, for a moment, a mirror of the work that they were contemplating.

Rachel Thorpe writes the ‘Crossing the culture’ column for EN. More of her articles can be found at www.rachelthorpe.com

This article was first published in the October 2011 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057