Have we been singing ourselves to death?

There have been many complaints about the government’s insistence that we should not sing in church.

My youngest daughter is in one of the Cambridge college choirs, and it really isn’t the same hearing them do Evensong on Zoom. There’s nothing quite like choral harmony, or listening to the Gettys doing ‘O Church Arise’ at full volume on YouTube. But hearing my family screech and strain our way through a song with the online church service as the background on Sunday is not the most inspiring thing. I miss congregational singing with our church family.

Crowding out the word?

Yet, I do wonder sometimes if evangelicals today put too much emphasis on this. The fashion in many churches, both high and low, whether Anglican or not, seems to be to spend more time singing or listening to music than attending to God’s word read and preached. If the words of our songs and anthems are Scriptural, the damage may be mitigated, but not entirely avoided.

This was a problem identified during the Reformation by those who put together the English Prayer Book. Peter Martyr Vermigli, for example, one of the architects of the Prayer Book, was concerned that English choral traditions would undermine the ministry of the word and lead us back in a Roman direction: ‘Almost everywhere in the papal religion they think they have worshipped God sufficiently in the church when they have sung and shouted loud and long,’ he cautioned. ‘There are many priests and monks who think they deserve well of God because they have sung many psalms.’

Vermigli identified this vice as an issue to be addressed because ‘there should not be so much singing in church as to leave almost no time for preaching the word of God and holy doctrine’. And yet, he added: ‘We can see this happening everywhere in a way, for everything is so noisy with chanting and piping [or strumming and drumming?] that there is no time left for preaching. So it happens that people depart from church full of music

and harmony, yet they are fasting and starving for heavenly doctrine.’

I think there is a challenge for us today, as we think about the desire for singing. Vermigli was provocatively strong on this. In the early church, he said, they ‘used either very little singing or almost none at all. They saw the people’s weakness to be such that they paid more attention to the harmony than to the words. So today if we see Christians running to church as to the theatre, where they can be amused with rhythm and singing, in such a case we should abstain from something not necessary, rather than feed their pleasures with the destruction of their souls’ (De Musica et Carminibus, 1561).

Singing ourselves to death?

This is perhaps sage advice for churches which find themselves in a culture of entertainment. If people literally are amusing themselves to spiritual death, pushing out preaching by a fixation on ‘good music’; if what they are really interested in deep down is a good morning or evening out for a ‘performance’ or singalong at church (or chapel or cathedral) – then, rather than pandering to it and trying to imitate the world’s musical idioms, maybe we should stop singing in church altogether?

Has coronavirus done us a favour then, forcing us to reconsider what is most essential? Of course, there’s also the clear injunction in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 for us to speak to one another and to our own hearts by means of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We mustn’t forget that. Music is a gift from God. But is there also a case for saying that we shouldn’t baptise the latest musical trends and hope to win a hearing for the gospel through good-quality Christian music in our meetings, but stop it altogether, to expose the sinfulness and deception at work in such desires, and point people to a better way? We need to be feeding our souls with the word, to the destruction of the flesh, rather than feeding our pleasures with music, to the destruction of our souls. Something to ponder while singing is banned!

Lee Gatiss

Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society and author of Light After Darkness: How the Reformers Regained, Retold, and Relied on the Gospel.

Photograph: iStock

Train your mind in Christ

iTunes, Spotify or your favourite podcast app

‘A Christian mind is not one that is trained to think only about Christian topics. It is a mind that has learned to think about everything from a Christian perspective.’

So begins every episode of the Black Berea podcast. It’s a great summary of what the very best Christian podcasts are all doing. Podcasts give us a chance to hear conversations between Christians bringing their faith to bear on a huge range of subjects, and as we listen, we also learn to think. Black Berea has tackled everything from relationships and friendships to evangelism in the workplace, Grenfell Tower, money, Kobe Bryant, mental health and knife crime in the last couple of years.

Black Berea is produced by a group of young black British Christians based in London who have a particular passion for speaking into their culture and demographic with the good news of Jesus – but don’t make the mistake of thinking that this podcast is only for that demographic. These Bereans who are committed to searching the Scriptures have plenty to teach the whole church. I’m white, middle-aged and live on a farm, but I’ve loved listening to their perspective on a whole range of issues.

Where to start?

There’s much more to the podcast than this, but I strongly recommend listening to the episodes about race, especially: Episode 1 ‘The Introduction’; Episode 3 ‘Race and the Gospel’; Episode 57 ‘Black Brit-ish?’; and Episode 62 ‘Racism and Riots’. It’s not always comfortable listening but it is important, perhaps especially if you’re not in a church with a diverse congregation.

Ros Clarke

Ros Clarke hosts the weekly Church Society podcast.

Benin: tech breakthrough in translation

A team of Wycliffe Bible Translators has developed a keyboard that will help people interact with the Bible in the Mbelime language.

The Mbelime language is a minority language spoken in West Africa by around 100,000 people. Mbelime speakers are largely monotheists, and interest in Christianity has been slowly rising over the last two decades. An estimated 10% of Mbelime speakers now attend a local church.

Johannes Merz, who together with his wife Sharon serves with Wycliffe in Benin, said: ‘In the past few years, smartphones have become an integral part of life for many people in Benin. Many people use them for the same purposes as others may use a computer. For Mbelime speakers, however, there has been a problem. How can you write in Mbelime on your smartphone when you don’t have all the letters and accents available? These people wanted to write messages to each other in their own language… but they were frustrated. Mbelime speakers kept asking: ‘When is there going to be a Mbelime keyboard for our phones?’ It was painful repeatedly saying we didn’t know. Imagine not being able to write your language on your phone!’

A new app

However, all that changed when Keyboard App Builder was released in May. Johannes downloaded the app and got to work. First came learning the software, then creating an Mbelime-specific keyboard and the Mbelime word list to add the predictive text feature. After that, the development tools packaged the keyboard into an app that installs it on Android smartphones. It is now available on Google Play and people can pass it on directly from phone to phone.

Thank you!

The feedback from Mbelime speakers has been really positive. One Mbelime translator wrote: ‘Thank you for all your efforts! I’m very happy with you. Together with you, I have faith that our Mbelime language will continue to advance.’ The President of the Association for the Promotion of the Bible in Mbelime (APBM) shared via a WhatsApp group: ‘Thank you, our partners the Merzes, for their total involvement in seeing our language progress.’

Sharon commented: ‘Mbelime speakers always feel they’re a step behind the rest of the country, and others tend to view them negatively, thinking they are backward and need to be civilised. Using Mbelime in relation to technological advances is thus key in promoting and valuing Mbelime. This, in turn, is crucial for motivating people to use translated Scripture.’

Johannes concluded: ‘As the translation team completes books of the Bible [in Mbelime], we’re preparing to publish them as Scripture apps. Such apps make it possible to listen to the Bible text and read it onscreen at the same time. They have proven popular in other languages. We’re looking forward to seeing the first Scripture app in the next year or two. The Mbelime keyboard will help people interact with these apps, such as doing text searches.’

The project to translate the Bible into Mbelime began in 2012. A number of books are being made ready for publication, including Mark, Luke, Acts and James.

James is scheduled to be published as an app later this year. The translation team are also currently working on John’s Gospel, which should be released in 2021.


Why you must speak up

Abuse of power is a hot topic these days. And church leaders are able to misuse their authority just as much as anyone else. We believe ‘all have sinned and fall short…’.

In the congregational form of church government (see Matthew 18.15-20), the church meeting acts as the final court of appeal. The elders, or leaders, have a certain authority in the church (Heb. 13.17), but it is an authority subject to the word of God and to the church. Hence it is the gathered church which appoints elders and to whom they must answer if they go astray (1 Tim. 5.19, 20). So the church meeting provides a mechanism for checking and balancing the leadership’s power. It is, I suppose, similar to the House of Lords, which can return Parliamentary Bills to the Commons with the message to ‘think again’.

In a climate which is now extremely sensitive to the misuse of power, the church meeting needs to be healthy and strong – not simply an exercise in ‘rubber stamping’. Other forms of church government do have checks and balances, but congregationalism enables a church to self-correct and to do so speedily – which is a blessing. For good church

government therefore, members must be people who feel able to speak up and express their thoughts. This requires a loving atmosphere. We need churches in which people can voice different points of view (on non-essentials) and yet agree to disagree without recriminations.

What goes wrong?

Healthy discussion in the church meeting is often absent these days. Why is that?

First, it can arise from a good motive. Perhaps the church has known a period of blessing under the leadership – praise God – and there is a genuine desire on the part of members not to disturb that. But the trouble is that it can easily spill over into keeping quiet even when members know that things aren’t right.

Second, it can arise when members are simply a group of shy people and the leadership has never, gently but persistently, encouraged them to take responsibility and contribute to a church meeting. Maybe the leadership simply feel that if they don’t drive the meeting nothing will ever get done.

Third, silence reigns when members are too busy elsewhere, and just want to get meetings over with and get home.

Fourth, silence can arise through a mistaken view of spirituality which brings fear. To raise a question is not the same as being a grumbler. To raise a question is not to threaten the unity of the church. To raise a question is not to be disloyal to the leadership – it may actually come from a desire to help them.

Fifth, silence can prevail because of unhelpful church members who just love the opportunity to sound off belligerently at the leadership (much to everyone’s unhappiness). And so, sadly, anyone with questions fears being tarred with the same brush – troublemaker.

Sixth, of course, and most importantly, it can arise from the pride and ‘micro-management mindset’ of an eldership which feels they must control the church rather than nurture it. They are a leadership which needs to be seen to be ‘right’ all the time or else they think their authority is undermined. They find means to censor or manipulate what can and can’t be said at the meeting.

In all these ways we really have the church being silenced and that can turn into a low-level form of spiritual abuse. In such a situation ostracism is often the result of challenging anything.

The red box

Actually, the deafening silence robs a church. We learn through having our ideas or the way we do things challenged. Even secular companies have the sense to see this.

The Toyota car company in Japan, being concerned for continual improvement, painted a red box on the assembly line floor. It was a safe zone, where you were free to say what you felt needed saying without any comeback. Employees, especially new ones, were encouraged to stand in the box and make criticisms of what happened in the factory. This was a key part of Toyota’s success.

Is there any mechanism like that for your church? The members’ meeting ought to be something of a red box.

John Benton

John Benton is Director of Pastoral Support at The Pastor’s Academy, www.pastorsacademy.org

Photo: iStock

J.I Packer 1926 – 2020

A man who influenced Christendom.

This obituary was first published in Christianity Today

James Innell Packer, better known to many as J.I. Packer, was one of the most famous and influential evangelical leaders of our time. He died on Friday 17 July, at age 93.

J.I. Packer was born in a village near Gloucester, England, on 22 July 1926. He came from humble stock, being born into a family that he called lower middle class. The religious climate at home and church was that of nominal Anglicanism rather than evangelical belief in Christ as Saviour (something that Packer was not taught in his home church).

Packer’s life-changing childhood experience came at the age of seven: he was chased out of the schoolyard by a bully onto the busy London Road in Gloucester, where he was struck by a bread van and sustained a serious head injury. He carried a visible dent in the side of his head for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, Packer was uncomplaining and accepting of what providence brought into his life from childhood on.


Much more important than Packer’s accident was his conversion to Christ, which happened within two weeks of his matriculation as an undergraduate at Oxford University. Packer committed his life to Christ on 22 October 1944, while attending an evangelistic service sponsored by the campus InterVarsity chapter.

Although Packer was a serious student pursuing a classics degree, the heartbeat of his life at Oxford was spiritual. It was at Oxford that he first heard lectures from C.S. Lewis, and though they were never personally acquainted, Lewis would exert a powerful influence on Packer’s life and work. When Packer left Oxford with his doctorate on Richard Baxter in 1952, he did not immediately begin his academic career, but spent a three-year term as a parish minister in suburban Birmingham.

A career of two halves

Packer had a varied professional life. He spent the first half of his career in England before moving to Canada for the second half. In England, Packer held various teaching posts at theological colleges in Bristol, during which he had a decade-long interlude as Warden (director) of Latimer House in Oxford, a clearinghouse for evangelical interests in the Church of England. In that role, Packer was one of the three most influential evangelical leaders in England (along with John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones). Packer’s move to Regent College in Vancouver in 1979 shocked the evangelical world, but enlarged Packer’s influence for the rest of his life.

Although Packer was a humble man who repudiated the success ethic, his life nonetheless reads like a success story. His first book, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (published in 1958) sold 20,000 copies in its first year and has consistently been in print since. In 2005, Time magazine named Packer one of the 25 most influential evangelicals.

When Christianity Today conducted a survey to determine the top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals, Packer’s book Knowing God came in fifth. His fame and influence were not something that he set out to accomplish. He steadfastly refused to cultivate a following. Instead, he made his mark with his typewriter (which he used to compose his articles and books throughout his life).

J.I. Packer filled so many roles that we can accurately think of him as having had multiple careers. He earned his livelihood by teaching and was known to his students as a professor. But the world at large knows Packer as an author and speaker.

Packer’s fame as a speaker rivalled his stature as an author. In both spheres, his generosity was unsurpassed. No audience or venue was too small to elicit Packer’s best effort. His publishing career was a case study in accepting virtually every request that was made of him. His signature book, Knowing God (which has sold a million and a half copies), began as a series of bi-monthly articles requested by the editor of a small evangelical magazine. His first the Word of book, Fundamentalism and God, began as a talk to a group of students (the publisher requested a pamphlet, but Packer wrote a book). Perhaps no one in history has written more endorsements and prefaces to the books of others than Packer did.

In both his publishing and speaking, Packer was famous as a Puritan scholar, but he was also a dedicated churchman who said that his teaching was primarily aimed at the education of future ministers, and he spent countless hours serving on church committees. For a quarter of a century, Packer’s involvement with Christianity Today gave him a platform as an essayist who frequently turned to topics of cultural critique. Packer had a career as a controversialist (by necessity rather than choice, he confided to me). Despite this range, Packer consistently self-identified as a theologian, which we can therefore regard as his primary vocation.

Primary legacy

When we speak of the legacy left by a deceased person, we think misleadingly in terms of a speculative posthumous legacy that is impossible to predict. J.I. Packer’s primary legacy is the influence he held over events in Christendom and over people’s lives during his lifetime. That is his indisputable legacy, and I will highlight what I believe to be the most important ways in which Packer affected the direction of Christianity during his life.

Packer’s first book was a defence of the authority of the Bible, and this became both a lifelong passion and one of Packer’s most significant contributions to the evangelical church. Packer had an extraordinarily strong commitment to the view that the words of the Bible are the very words of God. He championed the out-of-vogue doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. He published books on the reliability of the Bible. He served as general editor of the English Standard Version of the Bible, calling that project the greatest achievement of his life.

J. I. Packer gave evangelicals a place to stand in regard to the authority of the Bible. Personally, no Packer legacy has been more important to me than this one, starting from the moment I pulled a paperback copy of Fundamentalism and the Word of God off a bookshelf in a Christian bookstore in my hometown as a college student.

The way in which Packer became a spokesman for conservative evangelicals in the face of liberalising trends and assaults is another important contribution that Packer made during his lifetime. When Packer looked back with satisfaction on his decade of leadership with the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, he spoke of ‘holding the line’ for inerrancy. That metaphor applies to multiple causes to which Packer devoted his best efforts. Packer helped to hold the conservative evangelical line on numerous theological issues such as the nature of Scripture and its interpretation, women’s roles in the church, and the church’s position regarding homosexuality. He was a traditionalist who looked to the past for truth. In Knowing God, he quoted Jeremiah 6:16, with its image of the ‘ancient paths … where the good way is,’ claiming that his book was a call to follow those old paths.

Another unifying theme in Packer’s life was his elevation of the common person and this, too, is part of his legacy. Packer never lost the common touch that he absorbed in his upbringing, and the same spirit was fostered by his identity as a latter-day Puritan. Although Packer could write specialised scholarship with the best, his calling was to write mid-level scholarship for the layperson. He was utterly devoid of careerism. The title of a Festschrift published in his honour got it exactly right: Doing Theology for the People of God.

When Alister McGrath labelled Packer a theologiser rather than a theologian, Packer experienced it as ‘quite a discovery’ that led him to conclude that he was ‘an adult catechist’, dedicated to the systematic teaching of doctrine for the ordinary Christian. Packer was not as pained as some scholars have been by never having completed or published his systematic theology, because he regarded his informal theological writings for the layperson to be his calling.

Leland Ryken

Misogyny, rights & Rowling

It might have seemed as if the isolation of lockdown was making people mad last month when the stars of the Harry Potter films turned on J.K. Rowling. They denounced the woman who had kick-started their careers, because on social media she had objected to the phrase ‘people who menstruate’.

It wasn’t celebrities going stir-crazy, however, but a public display of an ugly and strange change in our culture. From the time of Rowling’s tweet pushing back against the insistence of many that ‘trans women are women’, and expressing the need to retain some women-only spaces in an eloquent and personal essay, she has faced much worse than negative press statements. Deeply offensive language has been spewed at her online, trans women have posted pictures of their very male anatomy, pornography has been uploaded to the account in which she interacts with her young readers. Then there are the news outlets which will only say that Rowling has written ‘offensive’ tweets but will not expose the horrendous backlash she has faced. Perhaps worst of all have been the ordinary young women I’ve heard lament that they won’t ever be able to read another Potter book again. These young women would call themselves feminists, but have unwittingly absorbed a self-destructive misogyny.

There’s so much that could be said here about intolerance and fear and the very savvy use of media, but I want to focus on the ironic but inevitable resurgence of male dominance that has been exposed.

The feminist story goes that sexist anti-women attitudes result from the belief that men and women are different from each other. Accept that, and you chain women to the sink and take away their careers. Their lives go, literally, down the plughole. To say that women are different, we’re told, will mean that they are seen as inferior, just as people did in the bad old days. The impulse of feminism has (often, though not always) been to challenge ideas of difference and to strive for sameness, to reconstruct social expectations of what a woman can be and do. So, for the last 30 years in schools and in stories girls have been instructed that they can be anything they want and do anything they want. The results of this have been great in many ways; we have lots of female doctors and lawyers and an increasing number of engineers. We have equal pay and maternity rights. Girls receive better exam results than boys and more young women than men go on to university each year. You’d think that misogyny was a thing of the past.

The problem is that, as the J.K. Rowling story illustrates, it isn’t. Society may tell us that men and women are the same and have increased women’s representation in places of power, but violent threats on the internet and normalisation of violence in sex suggests that, whilst women in the West have more freedom than ever before, a visceral hatred of women has been growing like a weed.

The feminist answer will be that this comes from a masculine fear of the power of women. There may be some truth in that. But I have another idea. What if feminists’ great emphasis on sexual difference as socially constructed (and the right, or indeed the obligation, of women to behave just as they want, with no constraints) has led us into a savage place? What if, by telling boys and girls they are no different from each other, we have left them not knowing what to make of their instincts and bodies?

Perhaps society has created a gap into which pornographers – who will shamelessly distort images of masculinity and femininity – and cynical marketers – who will package pink and blue bikes, or Lego, or even Bibles – have stepped?

The truth is that when difference is reduced to atomised individual expression rather than being tied to physical reality, we cannot stop men saying that they are women and demanding to walk into women’s toilets. And we cannot call upon men to use their greater strength to respect and protect women, or even suggest to girls that they might consider respecting men and their own bodies.

It’s easy to criticise the ‘out there’ of the internet and politics and think that the conservative church is fine. But it’s not. The tangled knot of woman’s desire and man’s domination described in Genesis 3.16 affects us all. Unpicking it is our task, by the Spirit’s power. So here are some questions to start with:

As we talk about the problem of pornography, are we addressing not only the impure habit but also the sexism it breeds?

As we speak, are we checking our language and our jokes, avoiding stereotypes and sneering?

As we teach children in our churches and families, are we talking about both women and men of faith, their interdependence and service?

And as we review the activities of our churches post-lockdown, are we taking seriously the difference between men and women, as well as their sameness, and so addressing their needs, using their gifts and listening to their voices?

Difference needn’t be a dirty word, but understood in a framework of mutual sacrifice and respect, it can be a beautiful reality.

Sarah Allen

Sarah Allen lives in Huddersfield and is a member of Hope Church. She has degrees in English literature and Theology and combines teaching with church work. She is regional director of Flourish North, a training course for women in ministry.

‘Help Hong Kong Christians’ – Plea

Churches should prepare to welcome ‘a large number’ of Hong Kong Christians fleeing China’s increasingly hardline attitude to the former colony.

That’s the message from a church leader born in Hong Kong, but now working in the UK, who has spoken to en but asked to remain anonymous for his own safety.

About 12% of Hong Kong’s population of 7,500,000 are Christians, but the Christian proportion of those leaving the city is predicted to be higher as pressure on believers there increases.

The leader – who wishes to be known simply as ‘MH’ – says: ‘We must seek to welcome them in the name of Christ, and to do what we can to help them to settle into the UK and into our church, if applicable. A few of them would suffer from post-trauma stress, and so we must be extra kind and patient towards them.’

Fear of a complete takeover

MH declares: ‘With the Chinese Government gradually tightening their control over Hong Kong, the fear within the city of a complete Chinese takeover has been escalating for a while. For many, the passing of the National Security Law in late June, unilaterally by Beijing, is the final straw. It hastens the process of immigration to countries such as the UK, where some would have the right to apply for local citizenship.

‘The National Security Law that was passed criminalises acts of secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign and external forces. Although all nations have treason laws, the increasingly arbitrary law enforcement by the government authorities is a grave cause of concern for many Hong Kong residents. Many people are worried that they could be arrested. Moreover, stories about police brutality are also being circulated widely.

Offer of UK citizenship

‘As a result of its historical links with the city, the British Government stepped in at the beginning of July to offer some Hong Kong residents – those who are entitled to a British National (Overseas) passport – a route to British citizenship. Currently, there are 300,000 such passports which are still in use, but many more are eligible, and will apply so that they might use this opportunity to migrate to the UK. Given the poor record of the Chinese Government in upholding the freedom of religion, many of those who choose to migrate to the UK would be our brothers and sisters. About 12% of Hong Kong’s population are Christians, but the Christian proportion of the migrants away from the city is likely to be higher.’

How can we help?

So how should Christians in the UK respond to the ongoing crisis in Hong Kong then? MH suggests the following:

• Acknowledge the situation’s complexity. While I am grateful for British news outlets reporting the abuse of power, the legacy of historical imperialism upon the Chinese mindset is seldom acknowledged. As a nation, China feels the humiliation by ‘Western powers’ 100 years ago very acutely, even to today. To what extent is the Western support for the Hong Kong democratic movement an expression of genuine kindness, or is it another wave of imperialism? The line is sometimes not clear, and we would do well to exercise slower judgements.

• Pray. Although the situation is complex, our God still knows the situation perfectly! More than that, He is concerned about justice and mercy for the city, as well as the wellbeing of His people in that city. Elsewhere I have suggested some prayer points for Hong Kong, so please join me in praying.

• Look after your immediate Hong Kong friends. If you know someone from Hong Kong, do check on them and listen to what they want to say. Few Hong Kongers would be entirely unaffected by the events, and so your friend would probably appreciate a pair of sympathetic, listening ears. If you are a local church minister, do consider getting in touch with the pastor from your local Chinese churches or fellowships: they are probably overwhelmed too.

• Welcome Hong Kongers to your church. A large number of people will migrate to the UK in the next few years, and we would very likely bump into a Hong Kong immigrant soon. We must therefore seek to welcome them in the name of Christ, and to do what we can to help them to settle into the UK and into our church (if applicable). A few of them would suffer from post-trauma stress, and so we must be extra kind and patient towards them.

en staff

Pakistan: weighty evidence

An ancient marble cross, thought to be as much as 1,200 years old, was discovered in the foothills of the Karakoram mountain range in the heart of the Himalayas, providing evidence for Christianity’s early arrival in northern Pakistan from the Middle East.

Three researchers from the University of Baltistan found the 2.1m x 1.8m cross near their base camp in the predominantly Muslim region bordering with China, Afghanistan and India. It is estimated to weigh around four tonnes.

‘Praise the Lord, this makes me very joyful,’ was the reaction of one Pakistani Christian leader. ‘It will be a great encouragement to Christians in Pakistan to show that our faith was here many, many generations ago, before Islam came.’

The research team noted that the way the cross has been carved is similar to traditional Buddhist carving, suggesting that the Christians who made it may have been converts. According to Byzantine history expert, Béatrice Caseau, the cross is evidence that merchants from the Middle East brought Christianity to this mountainous region. The location was once on the Silk Road trade route that linked China and Pakistan in a region where Christians are now a marginalised and persecuted minority.

Longing for resurrection

One of the most popular TV programmes during lockdown has been the BBC’s The Repair Shop. It became regular viewing for many on those lonely Wednesday evenings when all the news seemed so gloomy.

People bring their old broken or damaged treasures to the Weald & Downland Living Museum, where a group of expert craftsmen and women led by Jay Blades work to restore them – astonishingly often making things like new. I think it has encouraged a lot of people with time on their hands in lockdown to take a mental break from the crisis and enjoy a few hours concentration and having a go at mending or making a few things themselves. It’s a gentle, fascinating watch.

Lost loved ones

Promoted as an antidote to throwaway culture, it is actually much more than that. What is interesting is that most often people bring things to be repaired because of memories of deceased relatives, because of that item’s connection to mum or dad – the binoculars dad used in the war, the radio a wife used to listen to music. Frequently when presented with the repaired object people well up or burst into tears, as happy times past with their loved one come flooding back. It is sometimes quite difficult to hold it together watching from the sofa as folk break down with the emotion of it all. Losing loved ones is not something we ever get used to.

We’ll meet again… ?

Actually, the spirit of the programme is not really about the restored rocking horse or the broken cake stand made new, but the people. Really these dear folk want their loved ones back! They can’t have that, so the best thing they can do is to rekindle memories through objects associated with them.

Theologically, it’s about a yearning for what secularists deny, deride and dismiss. It is a longing for resurrection. ‘O to see them again!’ Of course, the Bible understands this. According to Scripture, death was never part of God’s original creation. It is an evil intruder in our world to which human sin opened the door (Gen. 2:17). That’s why we can never get used to it. That’s why We’ll Meet Again, the great song of Dame Vera Lynn, who died in June, has a deep resonance way beyond its original wartime setting. Death leaves us with a yearning to somehow ‘meet again’ – though the ordinary person has to say ‘don’t know where, don’t know when’. This is how we are as human beings.

The gospel

But thankfully and gloriously the gospel promises us that God will not let that be the end of the story. Death will not have the last word. Not only has Jesus come to redeem us from sin, but God intends, on a future date unknown to us, to totally reclaim this world for Himself, for life, for light and for love. There will be a general resurrection of the dead and that will happen at the Second Coming of Jesus. The prophet Daniel tells us: ‘And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever’ (Dan.12:2,3). The righteousness that prepares us for that day is the gift of righteousness found through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.


The Repair Shop is also about technology. Ancient clocks, model electric trains and jukeboxes are carefully taken to pieces, their mechanisms exposed, cleaned and restored. It is intriguing to see the craftsmanship and contrivances of past times.

Vast strides forward have been made in the present digital era and the frontiers are forever being expanded. As we stand back and ask where all this is going we may find ourselves surprised. For good or ill we now have to contemplate the coming together of biology and computer science. The technology of the human body uses the vocabulary of posthumanism and transhumanism, with the body being augmented by other devices. It comes down to a striving for immortality through technology. The ‘holy grail’ is eternal life. It is another way of longing for resurrection. But what our technology will never achieve – eternal life (without God) – God has already achieved in the resurrection of Jesus. The future is actually His.

John Benton

John Benton is Director of Pastoral Support at The Pastor’s Academy, www.pastorsacademy.org