Christians in a PC world (book review)


CHRISTIANS IN A PC WORLD Christians in a PC world
Facing the challenge of political correctness
By John Benton
EP Books. 192 pages. £8.99
ISBN 978 0 852 349 120

Christians today are in desperate need of being able to understand the times in which we live. We need to do that for a number of reasons.

First, we need to be able to biblically evaluate what we see around us and understand what we can and should endorse and what should be appropriately rejected. Second, we need to be able to engage with the world to present to it a gospel which is the only means of salvation. Third, we need to be active — as good citizens — to be arguing for a prevailing culture which is both fair and compassionate.

John’s timely book helps us in all of these areas. It’s a multi-faceted look at the particular issue of political correctness. However, the reader is drawn in to think about culture and society with respect to a number of different issues such as multiculturalism, sexuality and so on.

Big ticket items

It’s a relatively easy read, and sound in its biblical exegesis — a good combination. On the ‘big ticket’ items, I’m pleased to report that this is an orthodox and wise analysis. Although many of the topics (an overview of postmodernism, atheism and its impact on culture, and so on) are covered in greater detail in other books, here they are usefully brought together in digestible chunks.

The author admits, however, that political correctness is difficult to define and I wonder whether — at the margins — one person’s political correctness may be the next man’s grounded compassion. In other words, the slipperiness of the term means that we need to be careful being black and white about everything. There are some issues which are clear cut (and these are ably demonstrated). There may be others where we would genuinely differ on whether legislation would be appropriate or not (for example, the presence of a Christian blasphemy law). Perhaps, though, that is beyond the remit of an introductory volume such as this.

Notwithstanding these complications, this is an excellent introduction to some of the issues of our day presented with clarity and biblical faithfulness.

Adrian Reynolds,
Director of Ministry, The Proclamation Trust, and part of the leadership team at East London Tabernacle Baptist Church

 

 

This article was first published in the October 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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Can this prophet be saved? (book extract) True word for tough times


Can this prophet be savedJeremiah had to preach judgment relentlessly.

It began to wear him down and he speaks to God in his discouragement. Verses 10-14 set the stage for Jeremiah’s complaint. The prophet is feeling so low he wishes he had never been born, v.10. Then v.11 begins with ‘Yahweh said’ and so we have the Lord’s words all the way through to v.14.

There follows a re-emphasis of Jeremiah’s message in v.12: ‘Can one break iron, iron from the north, and bronze?’ The message of judgment cannot be changed. It is like iron. In vv.13,14, Yahweh seems to be speaking to Judah’s people: ‘Your wealth…I will give as plunder; I will make you serve your enemies in a land you do not know’. Judah is going into captivity in Babylon. That is the preface.

I want to take you through Jeremiah’s experience recorded in vv.15-21. We are not prophets like Jeremiah, but there are aspects of his experience that overlap with that of any Christian disciple facing opposition.

Balancing on a paradox, vv.15-17

‘You know, Yahweh. Remember me and care for me and take vengeance for me on my pursuers and do not — due to your longsuffering — take me away. It’s for your sake I have borne abuse. Your words were found and I ate them and your words became to me the joy and delight of my heart, for your name is called over me, O Yahweh, God of Hosts.’

You have two elements here. In v.16 you have Jeremiah’s joy. As he assimilates God’s word Jeremiah finds his highest pleasure. But then notice how this is wrapped around by v.15 and v.17 in the costliness of Yahweh’s call.

He is facing, v.15, both danger from pursuers and ridicule. In 11.18-23 the Lord tells Jeremiah that there is danger from the men of his home town who are plotting against his life. The ridicule is reflected in 20.7-8. Jeremiah had to proclaim destruction, but people ridiculed him because it had not yet happened. ‘Maybe you’re a false prophet, Jeremiah.’ Pashhur placed Jeremiah in the stocks overnight; and when he was freed Jeremiah said: ‘Your name is not Pashhur but Magor-missabib (terror on every side)’. But later, 20.10, the people threw this back at Jeremiah. Whenever the prophet appeared they sneered: ‘Look there. There’s terror on every side!’

In v.17 we note that the costliness also involves isolation. Jeremiah says: ‘I have not sat in the circle of those who party; nor did I celebrate. Because of your hand I sat alone, for you have filled me with indignation’. This isolation is fleshed out in chapter 16. Jeremiah is not to have a wife or children, 16.1-4. In addition the Lord says: ‘No going to funerals, you might be tempted to comfort somebody… and there is no comfort for this people’. Then he says: ‘Do not go to weddings either’. Utter isolation, terrible loneliness. He’s not even allowed to pray for this people, 15.1. It’s too late for prayer.

So you have the joy of Yahweh’s word and the costliness of Yahweh’s call. You are balancing on a paradox.

The composer Haydn was a musical genius with a naturally buoyant spirit. Yet he was married to a woman with whom he was utterly incompatible. She had so little regard for his music that she cut up his manuscripts to use as hair-curler papers! How do you pull that together? That is what you have with Jeremiah and in the normal Christian life. What does knowing Jesus mean? It means to know the power of his resurrection and at the same time the fellowship of his sufferings Philippians 3.10. This is normal Christianity.

Stepping over a line, v.18

Basically I think v.18 goes like this: v.18a is permissible but v.18b is not.

Scripture encourages us to ask questions. You can anguish over God’s timing. For example: ‘How much longer, Yahweh, will you forget me — for ever?’, Psalm 13 (cf. Psalm 10, Psalm 88.9). But you can go too far, as Jeremiah did at the end of v.18. I do not think the text reads as a question here, but rather as a statement: ‘You really are like a deceitful brook to me’. In Israel some brooks might be full of water in the rainy season, but in summer as dry as a bone. You may be there at a transitional time hoping for water but finding none. You are a deceitful brook. Jeremiah is assaulting God’s character. He has stepped over a line.

I think we need to understand that this is possible. In our psycho-slanted age, with its ‘let it all hang out’ attitude, you can step over the line in your complaining to God. In a previous age we may have been overly cautioned about this; in our day we may not be cautioned enough. So bemoan his mysteries. You have that freedom. But do not assault his character. Do not step over the line.

Coming under an ultimatum, v.19

Jeremiah records Yahweh’s response: ‘Therefore, if you return I will restore you. You can stand before me and if you bring forth what is precious rather than what is worthless, you can be as my mouth. They may turn to you, but you must not turn to them’.

The reply hinges on a verb ‘to return’ or ‘to turn’ used four times here. The Lord is saying that Jeremiah can come back. ‘If you return, if you repent, I will restore you. You can go on prophesying again. But it all depends on your response.’

But notice the use of the verb in v.19. ‘They may turn to you, but you must not turn to them.’ They can accept your message if they will, but you must not turn to them. You must not cave in and preach a positive message that I have not given you. You may want to. But you must not do it. The Lord is putting Jeremiah under an ultimatum.

Jeremiah pours out his despair and Yahweh says ‘Repent’. Sometimes the Lord deals directly like that. A.W. Tozer tells of a time in his pastorate in Toronto when an attractive young woman made an appointment to see him. She was troubled about a homosexual relationship with her room mate. She was looking for some kind of reassurance. Instead Tozer faced her squarely and said: ‘Young woman, you are guilty of sodomy and God is not going to give you any approval or comfort until you turn from your known sin and seek his forgiveness’. What was her response? ‘I guess I needed to hear that’, she admitted. Sometimes we need an ultimatum.

Resting in fresh assurance, vv.20-21

But Yahweh does not merely rebuke. He encourages. ‘And I shall make you to this people a fortified bronze wall, and they shall fight against you but they will not get the best of you, for I am with you to save you…’ There is that assurance.

If you go back to Jeremiah’s call in 1.18,19, you get the same bronze wall imagery. That’s important. Yahweh is not telling Jeremiah anything new. He does not have a new secret for the Christian life. This fresh assurance is the old assurance stated once more in a new situation. That is important because that is the way Scripture operates in our lives as well.

Exhausted physically and somewhat depressed, Martyn Lloyd-Jones had the summer of 1949 in Wales hoping to recover. He returned to London in September, but had made little progress. He was to preach the next day at Westminster Chapel, but it was as if the fountain had dried up, there was nothing there and all his concerns were coming back. Lloyd-Jones said he was in his study that Saturday afternoon in near despair, and ‘there came into my mind from Titus 1.2 that phrase God who cannot lie. You remember: “Eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised us long ages ago”’. And he said he was utterly overwhelmed, he was in tears, and the sermon was given to him there and then. But you see it was not some new truth. It was the old truth and the same God, freshly revealed.

Now stand back from Jeremiah 15 and get perspective. Think about what a marvellous miracle it is that folks like Jeremiah, and other servants of Christ, can get the stuffing knocked out of them and yet they can be set to rights and say ‘I will still serve him’.

This article is an edited extract from True Word for Tough Times © 2013, by Dale Ralph Davis, recently published jointly by Bryntirion Press and EP Books (ISBN 978 0 852 349 342, £6.99), and is used with permission. To purchase the book email bridgend bookshop@emw.org.uk or phone 01656 665912 or visit http://www.epbooks.org

 

This article was first published in the October 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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The Music Exchange from Richard Simpkin: Pet sounds


Music ExchangeIt’s strange how some instruments go in and out of favour in church music groups.

Our ears seem to be drawn to the same kind of instrumentation that we are used to hearing in mainstream popular culture. For example, in the 80s and 90s we were used to lots of saxophone: Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty), Careless Whisper (George Michael),Poirot (I mean the signature tune to Poirot, not that Poirot played the saxophone onCareless Whisper). But the sax has now largely disappeared from the pop scene. I’m sure that this is the reason that the sax has also disappeared from featuring on today’s Christian music CDs, leading it to being side-lined in church bands too.

A few strings

At the moment, the only classical orchestral instruments we hear on Christian music CDs produced in the West are a few strings. Everything else is electric or closely tied to folk music. So if it’s out with the saxophones, flutes and trumpets, it’s in with the banjos, Uilleann pipes, Dobros, fiddles, accordions and penny whistles (don’t worry — I don’t know what all of them are either.)

This can leave us church musicians feeling a bit out of it, because the majority of those who volunteer to help with music in churches play orchestral instruments. This is naturally the case because these are the instruments that people learnt at school.

I’m just as guilty of side-lining instruments that ‘don’t fit’. Rumour has it that I’m not fond of the clarinet. Just for the record, I use a clarinet sometimes for a Sunday morning service, though I admit that using the clarinet doesn’t confirm that I like the clarinet!

Using the gifts God has given

The point is that following stylistic trends can make us slaves to a certain sound. It’s not particularly healthy if we never ask the servant-hearted saxophonist in the congregation to play because that’s not the kind of sound that is wanted. The saxophone may make a come-back in another ten years’ time, but that’s not the only reason to encourage them to keep playing in church. Being a church musician is about learning to serve God’s people by using gifts he’s graciously given. If we see a keenness to serve, and the musician is skilful enough to lead a congregation well, then we are doing them and the wider church a disservice by standing them down.

The Men’s Convention band I played in a couple of years ago was laughed at by one of the overseas speakers for using ‘horns’ (trumpets and sax). This was a pity because the players served us all with humility and added a colour and light that is sometimes needed to drive the singing of 4,000 men. At the Evangelical Ministry Assembly a few years ago I also remember arrogantly suggesting to a brother that there wasn’t much place for a bassoonist in a contemporary church music group. I was rightly rebuked. A bassoon may not fit with our world’s definition of a music group, but the Lord’s definition of any group (musicians or not) is that they serve him humbly and that they serve his church sacrificially.

That’s why I use a clarinet. Not my cup of tea (OK, I admit it), but the person behind the clarinet is someone who is keen to serve Jesus, and who plays well enough to bring colour to the words we sing as a congregation without drawing attention to himself. That’s the ‘style’ of musician that Jesus wants. So please don’t be scared of using instruments that aren’t ‘in’ at the moment. We need to be growing servants of Jesus, not slaves to style.

Bagpipes in the morning!

Of course, it’s a good thing to be culturally sensitive — it’s not a great idea to pull out the bagpipes at an 8.30 am Book of Common Prayer service — but, if music is done well and sensitively, there’s no reason why any instrument can’t be played in a way that will bring honour and praise to God — even the clarinet!

 

Richard Simpkin is Director of Music at St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, London.

This article was first published in the October 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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Young people trashed by sex


Young People Trashed By Sex

You may well find this article unpleasant to read.

The following scenario is created from observing kids over the years, and illustrates the kinds of challenges which need to be addressed in the church.

Mid-teen Tessa tells her parents that her friend Clare is going off the rails. From an intact family and active in a lively evangelical youth programme, Clare starts to become sexually active. Neither Tessa nor her parents know what to say. They share their concern with me. I approach Clare’s youth leaders, not mentioning her by name but highlighting the fact that at least some youngsters in their care are being ‘got at’. They deny it — they know better! Clare slowly drifts away, yet one more evangelical casualty.

This illustrates at least three crucial points which keep getting overlooked.

What is missing?

Teenagers in our church youth groups are capitulating to the lure of sex and abandoning their faith. ‘The world, the flesh and the devil’, plus inadequate input or traumatic personal or family problems, leave them vulnerable. Of course, it is never too late, but kids like Clare have been hardened and now react against the teaching they received in the past. The situation has been aggravated by the fact that she believes she ‘tried God’ but that ‘it didn’t work’.

Tessa, her parents and the church youth leaders may have used the wrong methods to engage most effectively with Clare. They may have played the ‘God’, the ‘Morality’ and the ‘You May Regret It’ cards, but to no avail. These arguments on their own do not penetrate her defences. It’s all very well to say ‘no sex before marriage’, but young people need help in understanding how and why. And where are Clare’s parents? Did they have any inkling that she was being defeated on the moral/sexual battleground? Probably not.

Most seriously, many churches are simply not addressing the sex issue at all — often because of naivetŽ, ignorance, embarrassment and denial, demonstrated by Clare’s youth leaders. Some youth leaders’ understanding of youth culture was formed years ago, so their mentality and awareness levels (both of what was going on and how best to respond) is a good decade out of date. Of course, there is no magic bullet, but certain approaches are far more effective than others and address the pressing issues (for some) of youth sex culture in 2013.

In my view, too many good evangelical youngsters are being damaged, body, mind and soul, by either being given unhelpful guidance or no guidance. There are excellent non-religious as well as faith-based reasons for kids to steer clear of all kinds of sexual activity, which takes their virginity but more importantly sabotages their moral compass and destroys their faith. But because they stop coming and, because youth leaders tend not to follow-up ‘the dropouts’, they remain clueless as to what went wrong.

Because the culture has changed so perniciously, because adults often see their youngsters’ present through their own past (and kids do not disabuse them), they fail to realise the current state of play. A little bit of ‘naughty fun’ or ‘Oh well, kids will be kids…’ can prove to be a serious, or even life-shattering, business. While the church continues to think that ‘prayer and preaching the gospel’ will sort things while ducking these issues, the truth is that they won’t. It is time to engage with 2013’s challenges.

Subtle routes into bad sex

There are various routes into sex being sold to youngsters these days. One of them is the sexual ‘health’ sites which the NHS and other mainstream organisations endorse; some groups are present in schools now.1 Do you even know what kind of ‘advice’ your youngsters or those in your church’s youth group are being given by the so-called sexual ‘health’ authorities or in school SRE lessons? If kids attend to the tacit encouragement to ‘when you’re ready, explore your sexuality!’ such advice drives a coach and horses through a traditional Christian sexual ethic. Has anyone even noticed? And, if so, why is there no outcry?

I appreciate that some aspects of this ‘advice’ are accurate, wise and thoroughly commendable; however, in my view, this actually compounds the problem. It gives a false impression of reliability and soundness across the board, for youngsters think: ‘Any group which nags me about Eating 5 A Day and not smoking would surely warn me against behaviours which are potentially even more risky’. But such is not the case.

The pornography gateway

Here again we find that many of us have an outdated understanding of pornography, conjuring up a Page Three image with the word. Sadly, Page Three is benign by comparison.

A recent Daily Mail article2 is a must-read for those who think: ‘But our kids would never do such things!’ Three aspects to note:

First, youngsters from solid stable families, and both sexes, are involved, and at a young age (13-14 years old). Secondly, their parents were oblivious of their involvement. Thirdly, interest in more ‘alternative’ kinds of sex was on the rise through this modelling, tutoring and permission-giving; so, anal sex, violence, Sado Masochism, horror and even bestiality, are now on the increase.

Because of the immaturity of the teen brain, youngsters are even more disadvantaged than adults. As the Daily Mail article notes: ‘The brain’s reward centre is fully developed by the time we’re teenagers, but the part of the brain that regulates our urges — the pre-frontal cortex — isn’t fully developed until our mid-20s. The brains of teenagers are not wired to say “stop”, they are wired to want more’. This helps to explain how porn can become so addictive.

Porn’s virtual reality is being acted out in real life and in real relationships, and girls especially are paying for it. ‘When you interview young women about their experiences of sex, you see an increased level of rough, violent sex. That is directly because of porn, as young boys are getting their sexual cues from men in porn films who are acting as if they’re sexual psychopaths.’ It is touching the youngsters in your life and mine. And even if they are able to remain immune, can they explain to their mates why they do not do ‘that kind of stuff’?

What can we do?

* Update yourself on what is happening in your kids’ lives. A useful way of getting them to open up is to ask them what ‘their friends’ are up to; and when they tell you, keep calm. If you blow up, they will shut down.

* Update yourself on reasons why youngsters and sex of all types is toxic. Some good websites are:
http://www.miriamgrossmanmd.com
http://www.cblpi.org/senseandsexuality/activism/SNSbooklet.pdf (download)http://www.medinstitute.org

* Update yourself on why porn is pernicious. See, for example:http://www.yourbrainonporn.com
http://www.fightthenewdrug.org /Resources/

* Bring groups in to speak to your youth group, such as Lovewise, Evaluate or Challenge Team. I also do a ‘Sex-Proofing your Kids’ seminar, which covers mainstream sexual matters.

Something I once read stuck with me and points to where I believe the church has got things wrongs: ‘Everything interesting in life is illegal, immoral or fattening’. Though we know this is not true, there are strands within our culture, and especially youth culture, which affirm and live by it. Indeed, who wants to be seen as boringly good? Not many, and not our youngsters! So we must show them a better way.

You can contact Dr. Lisa Nolland on Ls.n@talktalk.net

1. http://www.rainbowbournemouth.co.uk/pdf/sexy_stuff_guys.pdf andhttp://www.respectyourself.info & http://www.4ypbristol.co.uk/
2. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2432591/ Experiment-convinced-online-porn-pernicious-threat-facing-children-today-By-ex-lads-mag-editor-MARTIN-DAUBNEY.html

This article was first published in the November 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Crossing the culture from Rachel Thorpe: Gluttons for the Bake Off


Crossing the CultureThe UK is in the grip of ‘food psychosis’.

Chefs are the new class of celebrity; food fairs and ‘feastivals’ are springing up across the country; cookery TV shows and culinary films abound; recipe books and food memoirs are experiencing an unrivalled sales boom.

We’ve all become foodies: obsessed with cupcakes, in love with Jamie Oliver and addicted to The Great British Bake Off, where home-bakers are asked to bring their creations ‘to the sacrificial altar of gingham’. This is religious rhetoric: Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess is not the only book to invoke a deity and sumptuous mouthfuls often elicit the exclamations ‘heavenly’ or ‘divine’.

Too much of a good thing

In times gone by, food was an issue that the church took very seriously. Instead of gorging on bodily delights, Christians were to look to Jesus, the ‘bread of life’ (John 6.35). Historic Christian writings, including those of St. Gregory the Great, define gluttony as a sin. Thomas Aquinas even categorised the ways in which eating could become sinful: if you ate too much, too quickly, too lavishly, and so on. Gluttony was the opposite of the self-controlled life to which the Christian should aspire.

These writers took their directive from non-compromising Bible verses like Proverbs 23.3, which advises anyone who is dining in fine company to take a good look at the food and ‘put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony’. This extreme approach to overeating has been somewhat diluted in the contemporary church. As Francine Prose writes in her book on Gluttony (OUP, 2003): ‘These days, few people seriously consider that eating too much or enjoying one’s food is a crime against God… It’s doubtful that even the most devoutly religious are likely to confess and seek absolution for looking forward to breakfast, or having taken pleasure in the delights of last night’s dinner’.

She continues: ‘Yet, as gluttony has (at least in the popular imagination) ceased to be a spiritual transgression, food, the regulating of eating, and the related subjects of dieting, obesity, nutrition, etc., have become major cultural preoccupations’. The two ideas seem to be inversely correlated: the more obsessed with food we become, the less we consider gluttony to be a problem. We allow ourselves to become more indulgent, more immoderate, more hungry. Oh, go on then, just one more biscuit.

New religion?

In fact, food is our new religion. According to Brian Myers of The Atlantic, referring to food with sacred slogans like ‘heavenly’ ‘used to be meant as [a] joke… even if the compulsive recourse to religious language always betrayed a certain guilt about the stomach-driven life. Now the equation of eating with worship is often made with a straight face’.

Other writers are also equating our love of food with spirituality. Steven Poole, writing forThe Guardian, notes that the only categories of books to experience a recent rise in sales are ‘food and drink’ and ‘religion’, claiming: ‘That food and religion alone should buck the negative trend is no coincidence, for modern food books are there to answer metaphysical or “lifestyle” rather than culinary aspirations, and celebrity chefs themselves are the gurus of the age… Everywhere in the ideology of foodism we see a yearning for food to be able to fill a spiritual void’.

This is perhaps why we insist on continually gorging ourselves: we have become a nation of comfort eaters. We look to food for both gratification and reassurance, for pleasure and for distraction.

Spiritual food

I’m torn: I love food. According to the chef Julia Child, all the best people do. But sometimes I need to be reminded that while a slice of cake or a dose of Mary Berry can cheer me up, it cannot fill any spiritual voids. And I should not expect it to.

After all, man does not live by cupcakes alone.

This article first appeared on the Evangelical Alliance blog Threads

Rachel Thorpe writes the ‘Crossing the culture’ column for EN and works as an events planner and freelance writer in Cambridge. More of her articles can be found at www.rachelthorpe.com

This article was first published in the November 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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The missing generation (book review)


THE MISSING GENERATION The Missing Generation
A practical guide to 20s-30s ministry
By Kay Mumford
10 Publishing. 150 pages. £5.99
ISBN 978 1 906 173 920

Have you been wondering why there seem to be fewer 20s-30s in your church? Have you spotted the gap of young adults, or are you too busy catering for all the children in Sunday school and parents in the congregation? Where has this generation disappeared to? If they’re not in your church any more, where are they? Kay Mumford offers us some answers.

Kay’s book is a very practical and thought provoking insight into the generation of 20-30-something young professionals who seem to be dwindling in numbers in our churches. The book is probably aimed more at church leaders in terms of its practical suggestions, and I do believe it is a must read for anyone involved in church ministry wondering where all the young people have gone. However, anyone who has a heart to care and minister to the whole church family must also read it, and hopefully that’s all of us.

What Kay does brilliantly is help us to understand what it feels like to be in the category of graduate/young adult — or, in other words, not yet married with children; and how little our churches actually cater for this age bracket. Not all of her suggestions are going to be possible in smaller congregations (she is from a large well-staffed church), yet there is something there for all of us to take away and think through about how we can be better at reaching out to young professionals.

She uses all sorts of real life examples, which I think make the book come alive a little bit, helping you to see that this isn’t just a to-do list or a recipe for change, but actually has had a real and lasting impact. Kay also offers us warnings of what a struggle life can be for this age group, and also how the church will be missing out if we don’t look after them well.

Read it and be challenged; I was!

 

Naomi Skull, 
involved with the London Women’s Convention and in students-30s ministry at Chertsey Street Baptist Church, Guildford

 

This article was first published in the November 2013 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