Is your ethical judgement actually based on taste?

In his recent magisterial and book, The Rise Triumph of the Modern Self, Carl Trueman makes the point that in the absence of an agreed ‘sacred order’ ethics become simply a matter of taste. This explains the difficulties evangelical Christians face understanding and responding to the changed attitudes of contemporary society, for example in respect of human sexuality or assisted suicide.

The supremacy of ‘taste’ in contemporary ethics was made evident to me last month when there was extensive coverage of the annual dolphin hunt in the Faroe Islands. Some 1,400 dolphins were corralled into a bay and then speared to death. My initial reaction was one of distaste. I like dolphins, know that they are sentient and intelligent creatures, and have a deep-rooted opposition to whaling as a result of the Save the Whale campaigns of my childhood. The reports led to strong calls for this annual hunt to be banned.

Ephemeral taste

I realised that my initial ‘taste’ reaction needed to be interrogated by Scripture. These dolphins were not members of an endangered species. In creation, God gave mankind dominion over the earth. After the flood, he gave us the right to take animals for food. Although the Old Testament law declared whales and dolphins unclean, because of their symbolic association with the chaotic sea monster, the gospel declares all food clean. The slaughter of the dolphins was no worse than that of millions of animals in British abattoirs every week. Unlike many of these, they had certainly enjoyed a ‘free range’ life. In an episode of ‘Clarkson’s Farm’, three ewes that had not conceived were sent to slaughter. As they were taken away Jeremy was moist-eyed. However, the programme ended with him enjoying a shepherd’s pie. God has given us meat to enjoy, and it is hypocritical to condemn the hunting of dolphins, but not the slaughter of sheep.

Taking our lead from Scripture

If, as Christians, we are to understand and address the many ethical issues that we face in our post-Christian culture we need to take our lead from Scripture not just from taste. We need the truth of God’s word to correct our tastes. As Bible-believing Christians our understanding of the demands of the truths will often be out of line with the taste of the unbelieving world around us.

This is especially true at this cultural moment regarding human sexuality. Little more than 50 years ago public opinion found same-sex relationships distasteful. Today affirming a gay lifestyle is a matter of good taste, and those who refuse to do so will be characterised as phobic. Relentless positive media presentation makes it hard to resist this pressure. Both ITV’s Granchester and BBC’s Vigil recently depicted gay relationships with such sympathy as to imply that only the most hard-hearted would question their right to find love.

If we are to stand against the cultural tidal wave that threatens to overwhelm us, with many denominations affirming same-sex relationships, it is vital that we help each other to base our convictions on truth and not taste. In our fallenness we inevitably find some Biblical teaching personally distasteful. Where this is the case we need to pray that God would reform our tastes to accord with His word, which reflects His holy and perfect character.

Several years ago a member of my church was from the Faroe Islands. He showed me his holiday photographs, which included the annual whale hunt. I couldn’t help expressing my distaste. He rightly corrected me. If we are to stand firm we need to be willing to correct one another when our ethical judgments are based on nothing more than ephemeral taste.

John Stevens

John Stevens is National Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC)

Photograph: Both dolphins and whales are hunted for food in the Faroe Islands.

Ministering from the pits of despair

Edited by 
Stephen Kneale
Grace publications. 144 pages. £7.99
ISBN 978 1 912 154 319

It’s not always easy for pastors to open their hearts to the spiritual battles that they have to face in the Christian ministry. Stephen Kneale has persuaded seven of them to open their hearts to the battles they have had in overcoming depression. Most of us will recognise some of the issues that we have had or may have to cope with as we preach the gospel.

Normally, we would start reading at the beginning of a book, but I found it more helpful to start at the chapter titled ‘Conclusion’ at the end of the book. The reason being that we are given six reasons for reading the book in the first place! This will give you an overview of the ground that he is going to cover before you get down to the individual issues detailed.

He points out that mental health issues – particularly those associated with depression and anxiety – are incredibly common and that one in four people in England will experience some form of these health problems in a year. Pastors are not excluded, as the seven short biographies will show us.

In most of the cases dealt with, medical help was needed in both the short term and long term. The book seeks not only to analyse the various problems pastors face but also give practical advice on how a church can, and should, look after its spiritual leaders; both what they should do, and should not do, to help in the process of healing.

Oh, I nearly forgot to say that Stephen Kneale, the author of the book, is the first of the pastors to share his first-hand experience, so he knows what he is talking about! This is a book which, when you have read it for the first time, you will want to keep handy for the next time you have to battle with depression.

John Hall

John Hall is a retired church minister

Unholy Halloween: what’s the history?

By Gary Clayton

The road to hell, in a quote generally attributed to Samuel Johnson or St Bernard of Clairvaux, is paved with good intentions.

Whether you’re a UK believer organising a ‘Light Party’, an evangelical Christian running a ‘hell house’1 in America, an avid trick-or-treater pounding the streets, or one of the 11,766 people in England and Wales identifying as Wiccans in the 2011 Census, Halloween is an issue that’s hard to avoid.

While some Christians have nothing to do with Halloween and others seek to provide wholesome alternatives to trick-or-treating, bobbing for apples or wearing demonically inappropriate costumes, others claim it’s a bit of ‘harmless fun’ or try to reclaim it as a supposedly Christian festival.

Although Phil Wyman – author of The Reformation of Halloween: rethinking Christianity’s relationship to Halloween – describes Halloween as ‘the most Christian holiday on our calendar’, it isn’t!

The festival, with its macabre dressing up and ‘money-with-menaces’ trick-or-treating, has its roots in ancient Roman festivals such as Feralia and Lemuria and the Celtic festival Samhain. All three focused on appeasing the spirits of the dead in order to prevent them from troubling the living.

All the Roman Catholic Church did was to create a variety of festivals with a supposedly Christian veneer as an attempt at replacing the original pagan ones. Since the earlier festivities were entirely unbiblical, it wasn’t so much a case of finally seeing the light as a frantic attempt at whistling in the dark.

The process officially began on 13 May 609 when Pope Boniface IV established the Feast of All Holy Martyrs, consecrating the Pantheon at Rome to honour the Virgin Mary and the many Christians martyred by the Roman empire.

Later, in 837, Pope Gregory IV ordered its general observance – the feast having already been expanded to honour everyone who had died in the faith, including martyrs. (According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it was during Gregory III’s reign that a chapel was dedicated in St Peter’s, Rome, and the festival – now held in honour of all saints – moved from 13 May to 1 November.)

In medieval England, the Feast of All Saints – also known as All Saints’ Day – eventually became known as All Hallows. (The word ‘hallow’, which means ‘holy’, also referred to Christian ‘saints’.)

The night before All Hallows – 31 October – became known as All Hallows’ Eve or Halloween, and was originally the date of the pagan festival Samhain. This Celtic festival was a time when the spirit world was said to make contact with the physical world. A time when, because people were frightened of encountering ghosts when they left their homes, fearsome masks were worn so that the ghosts would mistake those in disguise for fellow evil spirits.

Later still, another feast was founded, this time on 2 November. It was called All Souls’ Day and was said to have originally been established by Odilo, Abbot of Cluny from 994 to 1049. It was a day to not only commemorate Christians who had died but to pray them out of purgatory!

Eventually, the commemoration of Christians who had died for the faith led to prayers for those who had died in the faith, prayers to the dead and – ultimately – the canonisation of dead ‘saints’, of whom Cardinal John Henry Newman is a fairly recent example.

Rather than following a faith that took Scripture as its guide and the Lord Jesus as its head, Roman Catholicism – despite Scripture’s many warnings – created what many evangelical Christians regard as another gospel.

Chickens, Dickens, eggs and red herrings 

As with the past, so with the present. Today, gender, sexuality and the role of men and women have all become a casualty to the dangerous worldly currents that threaten to engulf us.

Christmas’ commemoration of the birth of the prophesied Christ is, for many, a mere celebration of materialism, gifts, Father Christmas and Charles Dickens. Easter’s empty tomb appears to have been supplanted by eggs, chicks, rabbits and hares, whilst Halloween – a time when the restless spirits of the dead supposedly need placating – has become something misguided Christians encourage us to celebrate.

The festival, with its unhealthy focus on the ‘undead’, was seen as a time when the spirits, fairies or souls of the dead returned to earth. To prevent unquiet spirits from causing mischief, those taking part attempted to appease them by putting out offerings of food and drink – not unlike the ancient practices carried out in Rome during Feralia and Lemuria.

But it isn’t just the dead who supposedly cause mischief. The 3rd-century writer Athenaeus of Naucratis referred to children on the Greek island of Rhodes going from door to door, carrying a live swallow or the wooden effigy of a bird. They sang songs, demanded that the home owner give them food, and threatened to cause trouble if he didn’t!

In Scotland, accounts of ‘guising’ (the wearing of costumes at Hallowmas) involved youths going from house to house with masked, painted or blackened faces. They recited rhymes and threatened homeowners if they weren’t welcomed. In parts of Wales, peasant men visited houses dressed as fearsome beings called gwrachod (hags or witches) or presented themselves as the cenhadon y meirw (representatives of the dead). In southern Ireland, men who were dressed as a Láir Bhán (white mare) led youths from home to home, reciting verses in exchange for food. The houses that provided succour were told to expect good fortune. Those that refused expected trouble.

Today’s trick-or-treaters do more or less the same thing. A friend recalls how, some years ago, ‘Wearing costumes you wouldn’t normally be seen dead in, some expensively clad vampires and zombies threw eggs at my home because I wouldn’t answer the door or give them anything!’

Eventually, as Christianity replaced paganism in the West, practices such as guising began to decline. But, thanks to the Roman Catholic Church’s syncretistic tendencies, they didn’t actually die out. During the Middle Ages a new church custom, that of sharing ‘soul cakes’ at Allhallowtide (31 October – 2 November), was introduced.

In a practice intended to replace that of leaving food and wine out for roaming spirits, or having strangely garbed people wandering around demanding food, people visited houses and, in return for praying for the souls of dead family members, they received cakes from members of the household.

It’s clear, therefore, that the origins of today’s supposedly harmless trick-or-treating go back centuries and that, whatever else one might say about Halloween, it is certainly not Christian!

This October, let’s pray that none of God’s children depart from the path of life made known to us by God (Ps. 16:11). While some celebrate Halloween and others avoid it, let’s remember that it was on 31 October 1572 that Martin Luther fired the first shots of what became the Protestant Reformation by nailing his colours to the mast, and his Ninety-five Theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral.

So let’s lighten our hearts with the life-giving truths of God’s word rather than taking an inappropriate interest in ‘ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night.’2

After all, as our study of Halloween shows, it’s a festival that leads, quite literally, to a dead end!

Gary Clayton

Gary Clayton is Copywriter and Editor at Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF),


1. Hell houses involve frightening presentations warn-ing people of the dangers of hell 2. A traditional Cornish or Scottish litany

Is deception the hallmark of our times?

As I write, the Dyson Report has just laid bare the deception used by Martin Bashir to obtain the interview with Diana.

But actually this is symptomatic of the whole realm of public and political life, where lies and deceit are commonplace. Truth has indeed stumbled in the public squares (Isa. 59:14), as Chris Wright reminded us in his article ‘The Modern War on Truth’ (en January 2020).

And it is no longer just in the public square! Deception now reaches down to every layer in society, as technology opens up all sorts of possibilities to counterfeit reality in a whole range of human experiences and activity. Our slightest acquaintance with social media makes us aware of its capacity to deceive, as people ignite rumours of one sort or another, or create false identities for themselves.

Meanwhile we endure a constant stream of scam phonecalls, emails and texts, as devious individuals scheme to separate us from our savings using every trick available to them in the digital book; everywhere we turn we are surrounded by a world of fake and deceit. In 2016, ‘post-truth’ was Oxford Dictionaries international word of the year; will ‘deepfake’ take its place in 2021?

But we must be careful not to throw stones in glass houses! We are galled, I expect, to discover that deception has infiltrated our own ranks, as we learn of Christian leaders who have been living double lives, fooling us, it seems, with their gospel rhetoric, while indulging their own sinful nature. They promise … freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity (2 Pet. 2: 2-3).

No surprise

None of this should surprise us. Deception actually forms the Bible’s ‘bookends’ – a pointer to its primary significance in the whole narrative: two chapters in, we read of Satan’s great deception practised against the man and woman in Eden; two chapters from the end, there is an account of Satan’s final great deception, when he is released to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth (Rev. 20:8). Although this final deception only takes up one verse on this occasion, it is developed elsewhere more fully – it features prominently in Jesus’s account of the end of the age (Matt. 24:4-5, 11, 23-26) and it is described in graphic detail by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. It is possible that this crescendo of deception is what we are witnessing today.

If we look back at the Old Testament, we see how deception has been a ruling characteristic in human affairs, even among God’s people, from the Fall onwards. It was a regular failing of the patriarchs – the very name Jacob, which often substitutes for Israel, is itself synonymous with deception (Gen. 25:26)! Despite the injunctions of the law (ninth commandment) and the rebuke of the prophets, the history of Israel as a nation continued to be one of a descent into ever greater duplicity and deceit.

This reaches its climax just before the exile, as we see in Jeremiah’s prophecy: ‘From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace’ (Jer. 6:13-14; 8:10-11).

Jeremiah’s conclusion is damning: ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’ (Jer. 17:9). It wasn’t just that the Jews in his time were practising deceit – they had fallen prey to self-deception, where they were no longer capable of recognising truth from error; they actually preferred to believe the lie (Jer. 28:15) – scarily reminiscent of 2 Thessalonians 2:11 – and were rendered ripe for judgment.

So what about us? What confidence can we have, especially in the light of the recent evidence of deception within the church, that our fate as God’s people of the New Testament will be any different from what happened to Jerusalem?

To be concluded in the next issue.

Lee N. Emerson

Lee N. Emerson is the Pastor of Scott Drive Church, Exmouth, and has recently published Deception! The Craft of Satan, the Folly of Man, the Wisdom of God.

Does art matter? If so, why?

A call for Christians to create
By Alastair Gordon
IVP. 118 pages. £8.99
ISBN 978 1 789 742 367

This book encourages every believer, indeed every human being, to recognise and use their creativity. We are made in the image of God, and creative is part of what he has made us to be.

The author is an articulate evangelical believer and an award-winning painter, recognised in the mainstream art world. He brings his great enthusiasm to underline the vital role that creativity has in human life, beginning with the importance of beauty to human flourishing, observing that in God’s creation of trees in Genesis 2:9 aesthetics (‘pleasing to the eye’) comes before utility (‘good for food’). Art is also vital in memorialising events and people; finding expression for emotions that defy words; posing questions that some might prefer to dodge.

The book does not pretend to offer an explanation of how art ‘works’ or how to read a painting. But using examples from his own life and work, as well as from a range of artists from Caravaggio and Degas to Malevich and Norman Rockwell, he explores a series of justifications for the title. Art matters because we – made in God’s image – matter; because the world matters; because God has given us imaginations; because art provides glimpses of how life should be and one day will be. As Christians we need clear statements of faith; but our experience of daily life is often messy, and a painting, a story or a piece of music can on occasion help us deal with that messiness more effectively than can a propositional truth.

Gordon’s book is commendably short and clearly written, which inevitably results in some questionable generalisations. His assertion that ‘Art tells us what people really think’ probably doesn’t describe everyone’s experience of Tate Modern. The interrelationship of beauty, truth and goodness needs a lot more unpacking. And the author’s suggestion of a possible prophetic use of the arts raises a bunch of questions.

But what the book lacks in detail, it makes up for in passionate advocacy for Christians to engage actively with their own creativity, and to encourage the work of professional artists.

It is an important addition to earlier works such as Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible, Rookmaaker’s Art needs no justification and Steve Turner’s Imagine. These authors helped to gain the arts an accepted place in the evangelical world, but this has not yet been turned into active engagement. The recent failure of any church or Christian organisation to buy up Liviu Mocan’s extraordinary sculptural group Archetypes, made in celebration of the Reformation in 2017 (reviewed in en October 2018), is a sad example of how far we have yet to go in putting our money where our mouth is.

The book is illustrated with a number of the artist’s own works for which you would otherwise have to pay a lot of money.

Read this work, embrace the creativity God has given you, and encourage your church to explore actively the powerful role that the arts can play in your life and witness.

Nigel Halliday

Nigel Halliday, writer, Saltford, Somerset

A Passion For Life 2022 – how is it designed to work?

One of life’s most enjoyable experiences and one that spans the globe in its cultural relevance is the joy of sharing a meal amongst family, friends or even on occasions with complete strangers.

In the journey of life, I’ve known the simplicity of an apple given at great sacrifice in a poverty-stricken African village, the elaborate feasts of civil gatherings, the splendour of wedding celebrations, the countless choices of restaurant menus and, my favourite, the gathering round the family table for home-cooked fayre where the main ingredient is love.

Created for community

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to followers of Jesus, for we believe that we are created for community. The loneliness and isolation of the recent pandemic has served to illustrate that we’re not made to be alone, but made for relationships. The practice of hospitality, which does take time, energy and money, is everywhere in the Bible and I love the way Jesus was often in the company of people in a context where food was involved. A key ingredient in the resources being served up under the banner of A Passion for Life, a nationwide initiative to unite churches in mission in the run-up to Easter 2022, is their creative bespoke menu of personal evangelism training sessions designed to give local churches the flexibility to equip their people in the areas they most need it. This fascinating menu for mission training is freely available for local churches and like every good menu, as with every good book, it seeks to tell an amazing story that people will find engaging, satisfying and that leaves them longing for future visits where they can deepen their experience of what’s on offer.

Menu-driven design

In keeping with its menu-driven design, the offering consists of 21 stand-alone training sessions for personal evangelism, with each one providing:

• A high-quality 15–20-minute video with core teaching from a variety of experienced trainers

• A variety of brief testimonies from everyday believers from across the UK and Ireland sharing in encouraging and honest ways their experience of making Jesus known and how the principles outlined have been applied in their lives

• Session guides for all local church participants allowing them to explore the subject further, deepen their knowledge and sharpen their ability in the chosen area including questions, further Bible reflection, practical exercises, and prayer points

• An outline and full transcript of the training content to allow it to be adapted for the local context where required

This is not a one-size-fits-all course, but it does come with set menu options for those who are struggling to decide. These mini-series offerings start by asking a good question about what the local church is like:

• Is your church theologically confident but struggling to connect with its community? Then we would recommend the series titled ‘Connecting and Journeying’.

• Is your church active in the community but struggling to communicate the gospel? Then we recommend the series titled ‘Communicating the Good News’.

• Does your church need help to welcome and involve people in the life of the church? Then we recommend the series titled ‘Welcoming and Discipling’.

So whether you prefer a set menu or à la carte, the strength of this menu is that all the resources are accessible and can be adapted by the local church to train their people in the areas that would best serve the local church context.

The training sessions are divided into four categories with each category offering a variety of options for consideration. The categories are titled:

• Loving Connection

This part of the menu is designed to help local churches equip their members to take the first steps in journeying with others towards life in Jesus. It seeks to provide people with the practical skills of connecting, listening, and getting to know people as we gently share our hope in Christ. Sessions in this section are:

• Making meaningful connections  – Lizzy Smallwood helpfully explores the intentionality of good conversation, welcoming hospitality, friendships, and kindness.

• Loving our neighbours – Nay Dawson helps us to identify the communities we inhabit and how our engagement with these communities presents us with the opportunity to love dearly and speak clearly.

• Loving through listening and asking questions – Lee McMunn demonstrates how a genuine interest in people joined to the art of good listening and the ability to ask well-crafted questions can lead to all manner of gospel opportunities.

• Sharing hope in today’s world – Jeremy Marshall, an author living with terminal cancer, poignantly shares from his own experience of suffering how our humility and vulnerability in everyday life allow us to sensitively share in a natural way the reason for our hope in Jesus.

• Answering tough questions with Jesus – Jeremy Marshall, no stranger to many tough questions, cites many examples of the way in which the stories of the Bible are the best answers that we have and how this approach, modelled by Jesus, is so liberating.

• Intentionally Bible-driven

In this category we are given the opportunity to get clear on what the gospel is, the theological foundation for journeying with others towards life in Jesus, including our role, God’s role, and how to depend on God in evangelism.

• Why the journey is needed – seasoned evangelist Rico Tice rejoices in the sovereign God’s strategic plan to put every individual believer right where they are in order that they might be used by Him to help others encounter Jesus.

• God’s heart for the lost – Ray Brown opens our eyes to see everyone as made in God’s image, under His wrath but not beyond His grace.

• God’s role and ours – Rico Tice presents the foundational truth of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. Understanding this leads to confidence and creativity in making Jesus known.

• What is the gospel – to make Jesus known we need to be clear about what is the gospel and Ray Brown provides the explanation of God the creator, our rebellion, Christ the redeemer, and what genuine repentance looks like. in • Prayer evangelism – John MacKinnon offers us insight into the importance of prayer in our evangelism and some creative and helpful ways in which we can be faithful.

• Depending on the Holy Spirit – it is only in the power of the Holy Spirit that we can be a witness to Jesus and, in this session, John MacKinnon exhorts us to keep in step with the Spirit who will magnify Jesus through us.

• God’s word in evangelism – Ray Brown rounds off these sessions with the priority of making Jesus known by using God’s word and how, in doing so, people hear His voice for themselves.

• Faithful Witness

Every follower of the Lord Jesus Christ wants to be an effective and faithful witness for Him, and this category helps us with the practicalities of doing just that. It considers some of the challenges and provides applicable tools to aid faithfulness in sharing the gospel and in helping people encounter God’s word and respond.

• Right expectations and crossing the pain line – Jesus told His followers that they would face hostility when they took a stand for Him, and in this session Rico Tice encourages us from Scripture with the motivation to cross the pain line – and to keep crossing it.

• Sharing God’s word one-to-one – Carl Porter firmly believes that more people are open to finding out about Jesus than we might think. He demonstrates how any Christian can be a Bible sharer by using resources like The Word: One to One.

• Making the most of courses and events – Lee McMunn shares ways in which we can maximise the effectiveness of events we organise and courses we run by doing them well and trusting Jesus with the results.

• Seasoning conversation with the gospel – Marcus Nodder illustrates practically and powerfully how using a gospel outline or being clear about our own testimony can have a significant impact upon others.

• Being a witness at work – sometimes viewed as the daily grind, Marcus Nodder shows Biblically how our work is a wonderful gift from God and potentially a gospel opportunity.

• Helping people become Christians – Lizzy Smallwood delights in practically preparing us for the opportunity to help someone as they move from darkness to light in Jesus Christ.

• Engaging with different cultures – Felix Aremo equips us to connect with different cultures and how to display the humility, patience, and courage it requires.

• Encouraging Discipleship

As God moves in people’s lives drawing them to Himself, they come to faith and live out their Christian life in the context of the local church. Encouraging Discipleship helps us to think about the way in which we welcome people into our churches and how we support new Christians as they grow in their discipleship. There are two options on the menu titled:

• Welcoming people into church – Felix Aremo helps us think through what our churches look like to new believers, how we welcome them, and the various ways our availability can be a blessing.

• Helping new Christians grow – it’s always a privilege to play a part in the nurture and development of new believers and Felix Aremo, drawing on the example of Paul, outlines the beliefs and behaviours that cultivate and encourage growth.

These resources have been shaped by the churches for the churches. Whilst they are initially there to help Christians get ready to play their part in a month of mission leading up to Easter 2022, they will remain available on for any Christian and church to benefit from.

God’s word and the rich experience of our presenters provide a menu of wholesome fayre. Our prayer is that for many churches it will be a recipe for success, with that success being measured by an increased confidence in the gospel and inspired believers engaging in all-year-round evangelism.

John MacKinnon

John MacKinnon is Training Director – A Passion for Life

How to deal with anxiety

Six truths for when things feel overwhelming
By Helen Thorne
The Good Book Company. 112 pages. £4.99
ISBN 978 1 784 986 261

What a timely book and what a well-equipped person to write it! We are indeed in an incredibly anxious world and I am grateful to God for Helen Thorne’s many years of service, particularly towards those who are distressed, afraid and worried.

Her latest book consists of two parts which both deal with our daily lived struggles with anxiety – first outwardly (reality, the messages of the world around us) and then inwardly (mentally, the lies we believe). The first part looks at the origin of anxiety, a Biblical framework for thinking about it, as well as covering the real physical effects of anxiety and practical strategies for dealing with those effects – like basic breathing techniques. Part Two deals with our internal heart struggles by going through a range of possible scenarios, painting them vividly and taking them seriously.

At first, when I saw the contents, I thought it looked uneven – Part Two with more sections than Part One. However, I soon realised that Helen knows what she is doing. Our internal struggles are where the most fierce battle and serious damage is found. Throughout the book there is a twin pulse of realism – sharp case studies that bring awareness of the daily anxiety that everybody can face, showing that nobody is totally exempt from this battle, we cannot escape it completely in this sinful world – and deep Biblical encouragement – the great truth that almighty God is with us, we are not alone, He has plans which are located ahead of the problems, He cares for us.

Initially I wondered whether such important topics could really be dealt with adequately in a relatively short book, but I found, after reading over just the first few pages, there is a tremendous depth and detail. It is practical and Biblical whilst short and intense. Most wonderfully, Helen helps us plug ourselves into the reality of the power of Scripture which leads us to focus on Jesus who is our perfect peace and hope. Ultimately, it helps the reader to see how we could become more mentally and spiritually stable and free by journeying with Jesus through an anxious world.

I hope that it can be published in many countries.

David Kim

David Kim, Far East Asian Ministries, London City Mission

How are your eyes?

Blindness is taken very seriously in my family. As the daughter of someone who lost their sight, it’s been drilled into me to make sure nothing is going astray with my eyes. I get regular check-ups – it wouldn’t even occur to me to miss. But I suspect few of us, myself included, are that diligent when it comes to spiritual sight.

In the Bible, spiritual blindness is a term used mostly of those outside the church – people whose spiritual condition means they can’t see Christ for who He truly is. His Lordship, holiness, goodness, graciousness all completely miss their gaze and will continue to do so until God opens their eyes. But that’s not the only time we find the term ‘blind’.

Peter picks up on the theme of lack of sight in his second letter and applies it to the local church. He draws our attention to the call to be increasingly known for our faith, goodness, self-control, perseverance and mutual love. If Christians aren’t growing in these areas? Well, ‘…whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins’, he says. Maybe partially-sighted might be a helpful rendering of the original there. Believers may be in God’s kingdom, they’ve had their eyes opened to the wonders of the cross, but they’ve lost sight of who God has made them to be and how He has called them to treat those around (2 Peter 1:5-9).

We find it a lot in churches. Believers hurting others within the body and being utterly oblivious to their sin, despite being faithful in many regards – spouses convinced they are loving well even though their marriage and family lay in tatters; leaders confident they are leading well even though their teams are crushed and fearful; congregation members sure they are maintaining unity well despite the fact every other sentence strikes like a dagger in the pastor’s back. The Christian call is to love others with our eyes wide open. Blindness hurts those around.

Sadly, we rarely notice our own waning sight. We need someone to show us our problem and put it right. It’s the same with spiritual blindness, we need others’ assistance. But how do we help those in our churches who are spiritually blind?

Firstly, we can normalise the concept of blindness. Whether we’re preaching, leading a Bible study or having a chat over coffee, we can remind each other that the chances are our self-perception and our perception of God is off (hint – if other people’s sins jump to mind more quickly than our own when reading God’s word, that’s quite probably blindness at play). After all, the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer.17:9) – we want to see ourselves in certain ways, so objectivity is hard.

Secondly, we can encourage each other to adopt a posture of wanting to see ourselves more clearly. Echoing Psalm 139, we can say, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart!’ (v.23)– after all, He sees everything right.

Thirdly, we can gradually build relationships where we can speak to each other about our blindness. Not just relationships where we share what we want about ourselves (from our perspective), but relationships where others we trust (and trust is important) have an open invitation to speak into our lives about what they observe. Within those relationships we can take each other to Scripture and listen, humbly, to the uncomfortable truths and beautiful encouragements that are to be found.

Finally, we can be confident in the God who came to give sight. If we are in Christ, then the Holy Spirit is already at work in us and – as we lead lives of repentance and faith – our sight will grow little by little. Until that day when all things will come perfectly into view.

Helen Thorne

More about Biblical Counselling UK is available at or you can contact them at or c/o Christ Church, Christchurch Street, Cambridge CB1 1HT

From darkness and guns to God

Claud Jackson first held a gun in his hands at the age of six. Now, over 30 years later, he is working as a curate, studying for the ministry and preparing to return to the same London neighbourhoods – but this time with a Bible in his hands.

His story is one of poverty, abuse, drug dealing and violence – and of a life turned round by a loving God who refused to give up on him.

Born in Clapham, the youngest of six siblings, Claud grew up in the shadow of domestic violence, with a London-born mum and an abusive and controlling Jamaican dad. He spent his childhood treading on eggshells, keen not to provoke the anger which his dad would regularly take out on Claud, his mum, his siblings and their dog. ‘Terrible pain and darkness filled our lives on a daily basis’, Claud writes, with fear and anxiety being constant companions for him as a young boy.

Early sense of power

When Claud was six years old, he held a gun for the first time – a nine millimetre handgun belonging to his older brother. ‘The gun possessed power, and as young as I was, I could feel it. I could feel its darkness and I could feel its strength’, he recalls. Claud hero-worshipped his brother, who left home in his early teens to become a violent drug dealer and was in prison by the time Claud was seven.

When his brother came out of prison, he and Claud’s mum bought a shop, which his brother used as a base for shady dealings. Claud was struggling at school and, having been bullied, he learned to fight back, believing that ‘with fear comes respect’. Meanwhile the family were living in poverty and had to move house regularly – at one point, Claud slept on the floor under the stairs. At school, he became ‘a spiteful, screwed-up bully’ and an outcast.

Fleeting gospel contact

When Claud was 12, he joined a new school where he was one of only three black or mixed-race children in a school of 700 pupils, and experienced racism for the first time. Around this time, he started attending a Thursday night youth club with a friend, and heard Brian Greenaway speak and read his book, Hell’s Angel, which awoke a brief interest in Christianity and even led Claud to ask the youth leader for a Bible; however, when he wasn’t given one straightaway, he became resentful and stopped going to the club.

Claud’s passion for football and his natural talent led to him being invited for a trial at Wimbledon football club at the age of 13. But when his brother laughed at him for thinking he could make a success of football, his confidence was shattered and he didn’t attend the trial after all. Instead he started smoking, drinking and doing drugs with his brother and his friends, and selling cigarettes to his school friends.

Search for belonging

Underlying all of this was a huge desire to be accepted by other people – ‘I fully believe every person is responsible for their decisions,’ he writes, ‘but looking back, I was just a kid trying to belong.’ In the drugs world, ‘I felt accepted, that I belonged.’ But he also lived in a permanent state of anxiety with a sense that things were spiralling out of control.

His brother became increasingly violent and was arrested again, leading to the first of many searches of their home, often in the middle of the night. Claud’s own cannabis habit – taking, buying and selling – increased. Then, when Claud was 16, his dad died. As much as Claud had hated his dad at times, he also loved him too – ‘it was my father’s bravery and strength that sustained us and, ever since his death, our family has fallen apart’, he writes.

Full of anger, Claud felt ‘I wanted to somehow pay life back for all the hurt it had handed out to me, but against everything inside of me that told me not to trust others, I still wanted desperately to belong.’ He became entrapped in a life of drug dealing, credit-card fraud and greed, with frequent run-ins with the police. ‘I wanted what was owed to me and I wanted it immediately,’ he recalls.

Finally, the inevitable happened – Claud was arrested and, while being held in a urine-soaked cell, he was told by police that he was likely to be going to court and to prison. In desperation, he prayed to God to get him out of the situation – and was surprised to be released home the next day while his friend went to prison. Soon the buzz of drug dealing and the risks involved had sucked Claud in again. By the age of 19, he owned a convertible sports car and saw money as the key to power.

‘This whole lifestyle was about hiding,’ he reflects now. ‘Hiding from my hurts. Hiding from responsibility. Hiding from hope that could so easily disappoint.’ When Claud was involved in a car crash outside a church, he met a West Indian nurse in hospital who talked to him about her faith and the need for him to know Jesus – while this made an impression on him at the time, he quickly sank back into depression, drugs, panic attacks, self-pity and poverty after his release from hospital. Now 21 years old, Claud and his mum were forced to live off bread, milk, tea and potatoes – until his drug-dealing business started bringing in more money again. Yet this ‘success’ was tinged with darkness as a number of his clients died due to drug-related issues; he responded by becoming increasingly emotionally detached, dating multiple women, and suffering from a high level of paranoia.

Friendship, Alpha and Jesus

When Claud was approached about becoming a mentor for high-risk young offenders for the local council, it initially seemed like a handy ‘respectable’ cover for his drug-dealing activities. However, he found that he really enjoyed it and, one day, he heard a colleague (Pete) talk about his faith and knew that he had to know more. Pete recommended the Alpha course – as it happened, there was one starting locally the following evening, and Claud was bowled over by the warm welcome he received. He really looked forward to the sessions and, one evening, ‘my heart dared Jesus to come into my life and make a change’, giving him a sense of deep joy and peace. Shortly after, he confessed his life of crime to the vicar, who encouraged him to get a ‘proper, full-time, permanent job’. Leaving his old life behind, he started to read the Bible and pray daily, and surround himself with people who would point him in the right direction. By the time the Alpha course had finished, the desire to sell drugs had completely left him.

Sensing a call, Claud got a job as a barista and then in a supermarket, where he worked for over three years, rising to the post of assistant manager. He started to attend Holy Trinity Brompton, and successfully interviewed for a job at HTB’s homeless shelter, where he realised how quickly lives and fortunes can be turned around (for the worse). He was appointed as a church verger and started sensing a potential call to the ministry. As someone who had never done well at school, he was able to join the Peter Stream, a year-long course for those who ‘have sensed a call to ordained church leadership, but have felt themselves, for whatever reason, excluded from the process of discernment, selection or training’. During this time, he spent much time working with young offenders and other young people, mentoring young disengaged adults and visiting young offenders’ institutions, as well as holding weekly youth drop-ins at the church. In working with them, he recognised many of his own struggles as a young adult with issues of identity, self-worth, confidence the need to belong, and the urgent need for positive role models.

Claud has now passed his Bishops’ Advisory Panel (BAP) and is in the process of training for two years to become a Church of England minister. Once ordained, he would love to plant a church and to work with young people to decrease gang culture and knife crime. As he approaches 40, he is deeply grateful for ‘God’s truly amazing grace [which] took a once successful London drug-dealing street trader all the way from deliveries to deliverance, from guns to God’.

Rhoda Hardie

Claud Jackson’s book Guns to God has recently been published by SPCK

Controversy and anger

In the midst of her controversy with the London pastor William Huntington over the gospel and the law, the Particular Baptist authoress and hymn writer Maria de Fleury made a telling point.

She rightly noted: ‘Angry passions and bitter words ought never to be brought into the field of religious controversy; they can neither ornament nor discover truth, but they can grieve and quench that Holy Spirit, in whose light alone we can see light, and without whose divine illuminations, we shall walk in darkness.’

This consciousness of the danger of controversy – the way that it engendered ‘angry passions’ harmful to the soul and fed into ‘bitter words’ that made deep emotional wounds and gashes in the souls of others – was a consistent theme in the best evangelical writers of the 18th century. One only has to read the writings of men like Jonathan Edwards, the American Congregationalist divine who once rebuked the great evangelist George Whitefield for unwise public comments about those who disagreed with the Great Awakening, as well as the Anglican John Newton, and his protégé, the Particular Baptist John Ryland, to see this. It was a long-held maxim of Ryland, for instance, ‘never to dispute with the infallible’, a reference to men who prided themselves on never having changed their minds on non-essential issues and who were utterly resistant to persuasion.

These men, and a host of other godly men and women of that era, knew the dangers of theological controversy, though there were some people who, by their public speech, seemed to live for a theological brouhaha. But Edwards, Newton and Ryland insisted that such men by such delight revealed that they were not men of the Spirit. Some of those who gloried in controversy came to deeply regret what they had done (e.g. James Davenport, and Gilbert Tennent – ‘the son of thunder’, as he was known to some), while others never learnt that such delight is not the way of the Holy Spirit (e.g. William Huntington, and Andrew Croswell – a Congregationalist minister from Connecticut, who has been well described as ‘implacable and choleric’).

A ‘lamblike, dovelike spirit’

Here is Jonathan Edwards – by common consensus, one of the pre-eminent guides to evangelical piety – speaking about this danger in his classic work The Religious Affections, in which he delineates 12 marks, or signs, of true spirituality. This is his eighth sign: where there has been a genuine conversion, Edwards notes, it is accompanied by a Christ-like character, ‘the lamblike, dovelike spirit and temper of Jesus Christ’. This does not mean that boldness for Christ or Christian zeal are wrong per se, and that Christian spirituality must perforce be wimpish. Edwards, though, is concerned that sometimes a ‘boldness for Christ … arises from no better principle than pride’ and that zeal for Christ can be marked by ‘bitterness against the persons of men’. He had seen this failing first-hand in public comments that Davenport, Croswell, and even Whitefield, had made in their sermons about opponents of the Great Awakening. Christian boldness and zeal are ‘indeed a flame, but a sweet one’.

He instances Christ in His fiercest battle against the forces of darkness, namely at the cross and in the events leading up to it. What temper marked Him then, he asks. His holy boldness and valour were not shown in ‘fierce and violent speeches’, displaying ‘sharp and bitter passions’. On the contrary, there was an ‘all-conquering patience’, love and prayer for His enemies: ‘never did He appear so much a Lamb, and never did He show so much of the dovelike spirit, as at that time’.

A modern application

Are not these words of Edwards – and those of other 18th-century figures, like Maria de Fluery – an outworking of the vital advice of Paul to Timothy: ‘…the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.’ (2 Tim. 2:24– 25a)?

Michael Haykin

Michael Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.