Eco-songs? A good idea?

From Resound Worship

COP26 has passed, but ecological concerns continue to affect us. Christian teaching has a significant contribution to make, but how does that translate into congregational singing?

Step forward the songwriting collective at Resound Worship, the younger offshoot of Jubilate Hymns, with Doxecology. The project includes an album, songbook and study guide. There’s no need to try and find the title in a dictionary – it’s a made-up combination of doxology and ecology. As one of the authors says, it’s better than the original title of Eco-Songs!

Here is something genuinely different in the world of contemporary Christian music. It’s a well-thought-through attempt to write ‘Songs of Creation, Ecology and Christian Hope’, as the strapline says. The songs have come out of theological study, guided by the A Rocha Team and including John Stott’s writings on creation care, and Richard Bauckham’s insightful Bible and Ecology.

The songs are conveniently divided into three. The first, The Beauty of Creation brings us ‘Heaven’s Voice’. Then The Cry of Creation includes the poignant ‘Hear the song of our lament’ by US-based Keiko Ying. The Hope of Creation focuses on Christ, the key to a new, renewed humanity and creation – ‘Great Day’ stands out here.

The Resound team have done us a great service – they have avoided songs of exhortation (we must try harder), and clearly understand the misuse of dominion in Genesis 1:26 that has led humanity to act like mini-gods over the non-human creation. My Calvinist heart would like more songs on sovereignty and the cross, but I find myself deeply moved by the laments and tapping my toes to the Motown-style ‘Tenants of the King’. Use them, and cover all four stages of the Bible story – Creation, Fall, Redemption and New Creation.

Praying for a new generation of prophetic preachers

‘Is there any word from the Lord?’ (Jer.37:17). When King Zedekiah made a private plea to an imprisoned Jeremiah, I suspect he was not looking for the answer he got: ‘Yes, you will be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon.’ It takes courage to be a prophet.

Is there a prophetic ministry today? Whilst I accept that the church’s foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph.2:20) does not need to be relaid and that we do not have prophets delivering to us the new New Testament, is there no place for the prophetic within the church and to the society? The application of Biblical principles by such as ‘the men of Issachar who understood the times and knew what Israel should do’ (1 Chron.12:32) is surely something that is directly relevant and needed today.

Men like Francis Schaeffer and C. S. Lewis had a prophetic ministry, as does Os Guinness. C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength was prescient in seeing how the regression of modern society would go. Melvin Tinker, who has recently gone to glory, used the title and message of Lewis’s book to issue a clarion call to the church. Tinker’s That Hideous Strength: a deeper look at how the West was lost is one of the few books that I believe should be on every church bookstall and in every Christian’s home. Those of us who don’t have the time or ability to read Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self will benefit enormously from reading Tinker’s short work.

Today we have church leaders who are more political than prophetic. They either reflect the political concerns of the day (on every side), or they just engage in a culture war which uses, but is not founded upon, Biblical Christianity.

The ‘prophets’ seem to be non-Christian. At least in terms of bold analysis. People like Doug Murray, Jordan Peterson (pictured), Lionel Shriver and Neil Oliver are not afraid to call out where society is going wrong. Although they do not really have the answer – because they do not (yet) have Christ. But where is the word from the Lord?

I was sent a couple of old pastoral letters by the Revd James Phillip (late of Holyrood Abbey Church of Scotland in Edinburgh). They are Schaefferesque in the brilliance of their analysis, and prophetic in their preparing the Lord’s people for what was to, and has now, come. Was anyone listening? One dated 4 April 1971* is especially brilliant in looking at the influence of the media and where it was going: ‘It is one of the huge and pathetic ironies of our time that, in an age which prides itself on its tolerance, permissiveness and freedom, men have hardly ever been less free than they are now, and certainly never less tolerant of any challenge to their way of life and never more bitterly resentful of any who resist them in the name of honesty and integrity.’

What such men are beginning to fear – and it is a fear that Christians should be particularly aware of – is that the minds of men are becoming manipulated and indoctrinated by powers that are alien to religion and morality, that hold truth and honour at a discount, and ruthlessly and unscrupulously devalue human dignity and human values in their bid to undermine and destroy the traditional standards of our country.

Phillip cites Lord Hailsham: ‘Our country is being destroyed before our eyes by a conspiracy of intellectuals without faith, delinquents without honour, muckrakers without charity or compassion, young men who are incapable of dreaming dreams and old men who have never known what it is to see visions’.

He goes on to point out that the all-pervasiveness of media (he was speaking before the age of the Internet) means that we get so used to swimming in the muck that there comes a point where we no longer notice.

‘This is the danger we are facing today. It will not grow less, but greater, as the days go by, unless the corruption of the media is challenged and set at nought. It is as well that we should see what is happening to us.’

He was right. But we don’t need prophets who look back – or who were right in the past. We need bold, courageous, compassionate men and women who understand the Bible, grasp the culture and know how to connect the dots. Thankfully there are some – but they are few and far between and rarely to be found in the upper echelons of the denominations, or on the platforms of the major Christian media (can’t upset the sponsors!). My prayer is that the Lord will not be silent, that he will not leave us to our own devices and that he will raise up a new generation of prophetic preachers like Melvin Tinker.

David Robertson is the Director of the ASK project in Sydney and blogs at

* read the full text here:

Of criminalisation and the civilising mission

A few months ago, a group of Ghanaian MPs tabled a draft bill aimed at criminalising the ‘public show of amorous relations between or among persons of the same sex’ and ‘intentional cross-dressing … with intent to engage in an act prohibited under the act.’

That country’s Anglican archbishop, Cyril Kobina Ben Smith, joined several other prominent Ghanaian Christian leaders in endorsing the bill. He wrote: ‘The church does not condemn persons of homosexual tendencies, but absolutely condemns the sinful acts and activities they perform.’

As expected, Western reaction to the news of this draft legislation was swift and largely negative. For example, the Archbishop of Canterbury stated that he was ‘gravely concerned’, while prominent LGBT advocacy groups described the bill as the ‘worst homophobic document ever’.

Thus far, on the Revd Ian Paul’s blog, 205 people (including several prominent evangelicals) have co-signed the Statement* on the criminalisation of LGBTQI+ which opposes the Ghanaian bill and which, among other things, stated:

‘Scripture teaches both that marriage is the lifelong union between one man and one woman and the proper place for sexual union, and that all people are made in the image of God, and so should be treated with dignity, respect and care by every individual and by the law … We are grieved when we see Christians, especially church leaders, failing to uphold either of them whether in the life of the church or in the church’s witness to its culture.’

I didn’t sign that statement because, in the absence of a consistent objective rationale for determining why certain types of sexual behaviour should be decriminalised (but not others), I don’t assume that support for criminalisation of certain kinds of sexual behaviour is an unbiblical failure ‘to uphold that all people are made in the image of God, and so should be treated with dignity, respect and care by every individual and by the law’.

In fact, the drive to decriminalise certain kinds of sexual behaviour/relationships owes more to Western liberal tradition than to Scripture. In 1957, the Wolfenden Report, which advocated decriminalisation of private homosexual acts, was heavily influenced by liberal philosophers, J. Bentham and J. S. Mill. Mill argued that the harm principle should decide the issue of criminalisation:‘If anyone does an act hurtful to others, there is a prima facie case for punishing him by law or, where legal penalties are not safely applicable, by general disapprobation.’

At that time, (Law) Lord Devlin’s key counterargument to Wolfenden’s recommendations was that: ‘It is not possible to settle in advance exceptions to the general rule or to define inflexibly areas of morality into which the law is in no circumstance to be allowed to enter.’

Since states have the sovereign right to decide the areas of morality into which the law can enter, why should Western states be allowed to do this, while readily imposing sanctions aimed at discouraging non-Western nations from exercising that self-same sovereign right?

In 2014, both the UK and US imposed aid sanctions on African nations that opposed LGBT advocacy. In a Huffington Post interview, Sir Alan Duncan, a Cabinet member of the government, described non-Western countries that adamantly rejected LGBT identities as ‘more primitive cultures’.

This unfortunate phrasing was a ‘red rag’ to Africans because it echoed the ‘civilising mission’: the centuries-old impetus for European and American colonial expansion, which developed from medieval notions of Western moral and political superiority.

The irony is that African anti-LGBT legislation is more shaped by English legal tradition than by anything in Africa that Western minds might deem to be primitive. The draft bill refers to ‘unnatural carnal knowledge’ and ‘gross indecency’. These terms come from the Offences against the Person Act (1861) and the Labouchere Amendment which, with other laws, the British imposed throughout its Empire.

Among UK evangelicals, what has been sadly lacking is any understanding that the toughening of anti-LGBT laws expresses African reaction to perpetual Western attempts to ‘civilise’ (read, ‘coerce’) them through foreign-aid (and other) sanctions.

There is nothing Scriptural or insightful about just denouncing such hardened reaction but not addressing the coercive imposition of sanctions and the notions of Western superiority that provoke and exacerbate African reaction.

It’s our duty to do both: ‘You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone’ (Luke 11:42).

David Shepherd is an active member of Beacon Community Church in Camberley and was formerly a Deanery Synod Representative in the Diocese of Guildford.

The Secret of England`s Greatness’ by Thomas Jones Barker – see the picture footnote below

Picture footnote: ‘The Secret of England`s Greatness’ is a portrait by Thomas Jones Barker of Queen Victoria meeting an African envoy and presenting him with a copy of  the Bible. Painted in around 1863, it has become an icon of British imperialism in this period and of the justification of colonial expansion in terms of the transmission of the values of the Bible. David Shepherd says: ‘It perfectly captures the essence of the “civilising mission” that I mention in the article’.


Understanding Authority and Abuse in the
By Diane Langberg
Brazos Press. 200 pages. £13.99
ISBN 978 1 587 434 389

‘Many of us have confused Christendom, or our little corner of it, with Christ. They are not the same.’

How would you react if every nook and cranny of your heart and mind was exposed? Or what would you do if a searchlight fell on the abuse lurking within your church or organisation? Squirm? Deny its existence? Cover it up? Or, in God’s great mercy, repent and learn? That such a book as this should need to be written is a terrible indictment of our times. Readers must prepare to be examined. And then to examine.

Unlike the proverbial ostrich, Diane Langberg does not bury her head in the sand. Drawing on a deep understanding of God’s word and 40 years of wide experience in counselling, she lays bare the darkness of sin in human relationships.

She carefully defines power, showing its source and purpose, and exposes the role of deception in the exercise of power. She traces all forms of abuse of power in human systems, between genders and between races; and then with crystal clarity focuses on abuse of power within the church of Christ.

Langberg shines an inescapable spotlight on the difference between Christ and the culture of Christendom. It is time, she says, for those who name the name of Christ to stop and listen to the true Shepherd. She shows the need for us to see as Jesus sees, feel as Jesus feels, listen as Jesus listens and care as Jesus cares, and not to unite to ‘protect’ God’s name by committing and concealing actions that look nothing like God.

How many tragic disasters could be avoided if this book was compulsory reading for every church leader, every person involved in ministry, every Bible College student; and, yes, every churchgoer.

I highly recommend it to any who are involved in churches. Not only will it comfort the broken and crushed and unveil to them the Lord of all holiness and tenderness, it will help churches avoid the dangers of groupthink and the complicity of silence. It will preserve us from using God’s word to sanction deception, abuse and the cover-up of evils, and instead make the church a safe place for the vulnerable. It will steer us towards transparent integrity and the honourable use of our God-given power for blessing and healing.

The likelihood is that some will not see their need for this book. Nevertheless, it would be well worth passing on your well-thumbed and tear-stained copy.

Across the British Isles: Christians gear up for mission in 2022

Across England, Scotland, Wales and in Northern Ireland, thousands of Christians from hundreds of churches are gathering and preparing for focused month of mission called ‘Life’ in March 2022. Operations leader Le Fras Strydom writes:

Under the banner of A Passion for Life, over 650 churches are now involved – and more are joining each week. From Brighton to Belfast and Edinburgh to Eastbourne, hundreds of churches up and down the UK and Ireland are already using A Passion For Life’s personal evangelism training resources to get equipped, enthused and excited in preparation for the month of mission and a lifetime of evangelism beyond.

Confidence is growing

It has been wonderful to see how everyday believers are already growing in their confidence in making Jesus known, as they think intentionally about how they can reach those around them with the gospel. Meanwhile, churches are beginning to plan what a month of mission might look like in their context – from pub quizzes to testimony talks, to games nights, the possibilities are endless!

We asked Christians and church leaders about their preparations so far and what they’re most excited for as we approach next year’s mission – read what they said below.

What is Life?

Life 2022 will invite people to explore the lasting life that is found only in Jesus. It will encourage people to pause and contemplate how short and fragile our lives are, and welcome them to discover eternal life in Christ.

The campaign has been purposefully designed to draw people into a place of contemplation and reflection – encouraging them to stop and think about their lives, and revealing that the lasting life of Jesus is closer than they might think.


From January 2022, churches will be able to order evangelistic resources and promotional materials to support their mission. These resources will point to a new website which will link enquirers by postcode search to participating churches.

So, will you join us in reaching every community across the UK and Ireland with the gospel next year?

Pray: the first and most urgent priority is that we cry out to God together – so please join us in praying!

Prepare: equip and encourage your church family in making Jesus known by picking a couple of sessions from the 21 free, interactive and accessible training sessions

Plan: get mission ready with resources and ideas gathered from around the UK and Ireland.

In order to find out more about the upcoming March mission, register your church and get mission ready with us at

And in Ireland, evangelicals are coming together under the banner ‘What’s the Story?’. Here, Donald Coulter, chair of the steering committee, tells us more:

Who are we?

What’s the Story? is a Christian evangelistic initiative organised by a collaboration of evangelical believers in Ireland. Our committee is made up of church leaders and representatives of several major Christian organisations on the island: Evangelical Alliance Ireland (EIA), Aontas (formerly the Association of Independent Evangelical Churches) One Mission Society (OMS), and Operation Mobilisation (OM). We are thankful for the unity we’ve found in Christ to work together in the Republic of Ireland to make Him known.

The need

Statistics tell us that evangelical numbers have grown in the Republic of Ireland over the past ten years and now stand at around 0.75 percent of the population though, according to Operation World, this is still the lowest percentage of any country in the English-speaking world.

What are we about?

‘What’s the story?’ is a sentence often used among people in Ireland. It’s a sentence that represents connecting together and hearing from one another. Stories are a powerful element of the Irish culture and people love to hear life stories which inspire and challenge. This brings together our goal with What’s the Story? We want to help Irish believers to connect with the people in their community, share their stories on how Jesus has changed their life, and inspire and challenge people with the ultimate story: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We do this because we want to see many more people in Ireland added to the Kingdom for the glory of God. In order to do this we are organising a six week mass-marketing campaign, starting on 1 March 2022. During these six weeks we aim to get people’s attention and stir their hearts to think about six major life questions that run like red threads through many life stories. This will be done through as many different media as possible: social media, radio, local newspapers, billboards, etc. People are then directed to our website, where they’ll find an interactive map of Ireland full of participating churches who are ready to engage with them on these questions through different events. Churches can participate and are free to organise whatever is suitable for their congregation and community around the theme of the six questions. You can think about a series of Bible studies, coffee mornings, movie nights, street evangelism, etc. We are developing different resources that can be used for answering these six questions.

• Bible study material using different stories in the Gospel of John

• High-quality video portraits from people sharing their life story

• Apologetics material

What have we done so far?

We’ve surveyed almost 1,000 people across Ireland about their views on faith, religion and life. With the help of a statistician we uncovered through these surveys the six questions which now form the content of the campaign:

1. Is there anybody out there?

2. Is there any hope in the face of death?

3. Christianity: the problem?

4. Guilt and shame: will I ever be good enough?

5. Does my life really have purpose?

6. Can we make sense of our suffering?

We launched the What’s the Story? initiative in May 2021 and worked hard to spread the news far and wide in Christian Ireland. We’ve been very encouraged to see many church leaders interested, as well as individuals and organisations keen to help out or partner with us somehow. Some examples of these collaborations are with A Passion for Life (APFL), CEF (Child Evangelism Fellowship) and Apologetics Network Ireland. Through monthly Zoom meetings and newsletters we’ve connected with many believers across Ireland to keep them updated on the progress in the project and pray together as well as equip them to engage well with the campaign. We believe these connections and this training will be valuable far beyond Spring 2022 and give churches a renewed sense of purpose and unity after the difficult season we’ve been in due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

You can find out additional information about the initiative at: www.

We are praying that a new chapter will be written in the history of Ireland.

Will you be a part of this story?

There is hope

How are you feeling this Advent? What’s going through your mind?

Top of the list for many of us is ‘there is exhaustion’ – the last two years have been extraordinary and, while things are more normal than they have been in a while, the cumulative effect of the pandemic-induced changes and challenges lives on. We’re looking forward to Christmas but, if we’re honest, we’d rather have a nice long nap.

Fear and darkness

For others of us, ‘there is fear’ might be up there too. It’s not just the world as a whole that is facing challenges, but our evangelical constituency is facing unprecedented pressure from the outside and a humbling awareness of some things that are very wrong on the inside. Whirring in the background of many a mind is a sense of insecurity – an awareness that there is likely to be further challenge and change ahead.

Of course, those things are linked to the enduring effects of the Fall. ‘There is darkness’ is a reality that all of us have to wrestle with as we live our lives. Whether that’s the horrors of abuse, the pain of illness, the grief of loss or the constant drain of being surrounded by hearts that are hardened to Christ, this life hurts. And we really would like it to hurt less.

The list could go on. Every reader will be in a different place, have a different set of struggles with which to wrestle this Advent time. A different list of hardships and burdens that weigh us down.

Looking back

Those emotions are not new. Rewind time to the weeks before Jesus’ birth and we see echoes of the same responses in people’s lives. It was a dark world. A silent world. 400 years since God had spoken through His prophets and the need for a Messiah was clear for all to see. Joseph and the heavily pregnant Mary had to make their way to Bethlehem for the census, finding no place to stay but a room with the animals – dirty, smelly, not the place you want to give birth. The darkness, the fear, the exhaustion is palpable as the narrative goes on.

Light of the world

What joy then, that a few days later, angels could announce good news and the suffering, tired and scared could gaze in wonder at the new baby laid in a manger.

He had come to be the light of the world. To be the one who welcomes the heavily laden and gives them rest. To be the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep – so they, we, could know the security of salvation – both now and forever. The family, the shepherds, the men from the East may have known the pressures of life in abundance but that week they could gaze on God and know something more: ‘there is hope’.

Looking forward with hope

The message of Advent is no different for us. The pain of sin and suffering may be all too real but our gaze can go forward to Christmas and there, in the incarnation, is pure and eternal hope. Hope that the pain we are experiencing is not forever; hope that the challenges we are facing are all under the sovereign hand of the one who loves and leads the best; hope that our sins – hideous though they may be – can be forgiven and our hearts changed if we truly repent; hope that God’s Kingdom will keep moving forward until that day He returns, even if we can’t see the signs where we are.

They’re profound truths. Sure truths. Ones deeply embedded in love. So, this Advent, however you are feeling, whatever is going through your mind, remind yourself of one unending truth: in the darkness, in the fear, in the exhaustion – there is hope. And it is good.

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

More Moore

Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google

This brand-new podcast from Christianity Today by Russell Moore talks about the latest books, cultural conversations and pressing ethical questions that point us toward the kingdom of Christ.

Russell D. Moore is an American theologian, ethicist, and preacher. In June 2021, he became the director of the Public Theology Project at Christianity Today. Moore previously served as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and, at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as dean of the School of Theology, senior vice-president for academic administration, and as professor of theology and ethics.

In this first episode, Moore is joined by Beth Moore (no relation). Beth Moore is the founder of Living Proof Ministries, a Bible-based organisation for women.

Both Russell and Beth have recently left the SBC. Russell Moore in a 4,000-word letter to the executive committee of the SBC quoting his reasons for leaving as sexual abuse cover-ups, bullying and avoidance of racial reconciliation. Beth Moore cited her leaving due to the SBC’s stance on women’s roles in church i.e. preaching.

Whatever side you may sit on, this first episode of this new podcast will make for interesting listening!

Both Russell and Beth speak fondly of happy childhoods and the support growing up in the SBC; the fond memories only ceasing recently. They are both vocal critics of Donald Trump’s presidency and the political support given to Trump by the SBC. Furthermore, Beth Moore has been very vocal in the media and similarly in this podcast about the sexual abuse within the SBC.

I am wary not to include too much content of the podcast in this review as to not create conjecture. This first episode of the Russell Moore podcast always had the potential to be accusatory and reflective. There is evidently a lot of hurt and heartache in both Russell and Beth. I am certain, based on the titles of the following two episodes that this podcast will be edifying, fruitful, and certainly more balanced.

Jordan Brown

Jordan Brown is part of New Life Church in Biggin Hill and is training to be a pastor.

Gender and The Matrix

One of this year’s big Christmas films will be The Matrix Resurrections

The original trilogy released between 1999 and 2003 generated a cult following with many fan theories. What came as news to me was the idea that The Matrix was a metaphor exploring the trans experience and transcending the physical form. Since the original releases, the writers have come out as trans. There is now a whole body of interpretation that views the films through that lens. Lily Wachowski joyfully embraces this, saying that the idea was always present, but the corporate world wasn’t ready for it before.

Twenty years on, the question of whether biological sex matters is being publicly fought over. Previous allies are pitted against one another. Stonewall talks about sex assigned at birth, whilst the LGB group believes that sex is binary and determined at conception. The importance of the physical-biological body over the concept of gender identity is played out in fierce battles.

This year has seen many skirmishes. Labour MP Rosie Duffield received death threats following her stance that ‘only women have a cervix’. Keir Starmer declared it was wrong to say that only women have a cervix. Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary who also holds the equalities brief, agreed with Rosie Duffield.

Sport has been a battleground. The Olympic Games allowed a trans athlete to compete, but Sports England has produced guidance acknowledging differences in strength, stamina and physique between biological men and women. PinkNews reacted with horror at those guidelines. This fight is not over.

As we look on, it is hard to keep up in the whirlwind of it all. Those advocating the new gender ideology have created a new language that is constantly changing. A helpful resource is the BBC podcast series, Nolan Investigates: Stonewall. We need to navigate this world because it is in the air our children and teenagers breathe. Nancy R. Pearcey, in her excellent book Love Thy Body, identifies this rejection of our physical bodies as ancient Gnosticism in a new garb. The Bible teaches that we are physical beings, but not divided beings. We are embodied as an integrated psychosexual unity, body and soul.

I think we can undermine this truth ourselves. Rather than helping our young people live with the physical reality of their biological sex, we too can fall into the gender trap. We reinforce stereotypes of femininity and masculinity. I remember one book (which shall remain nameless) that said girls want to be loved, and boys want adventure. My daughter retorted that she wanted adventure, and my son said he wanted to be loved. We have allowed nonsense to be taught, and we must stop it. I read another highly regarded book published this year that advocated something similar: women, I was told, were made for beauty and men for strength. Men and women were described as being different in the way they think, feel and imagine. Really? Does the Bible teach this? This over-reading will not help the next generation navigate our gender-confused world.

We are embodied beings who experience the world through our different biological sexes. Men and women are different. Our bodies are a part of our authentic selves and have a profound impact on us. We live as male and female, but the Bible doesn’t define femininity or masculinity, or describe gender identity.

This Christmas we will be reminded that we have an embodied Saviour who came in the flesh, died in the flesh, and rose again bodily. The body does matter, and how we live in our bodies matters. If we are not careful, we will be heard prescribing a stereotyped gender identity rather than Christlikeness. That is the identity that matters.

Karen Soole is the women’s worker at Trinity Church, Lancaster and the Women’s Ministry Director for Anglican Mission in England.

Why your church needs Advent this year more than ever

‘Do you feel the world is broken?’ ‘We do.’

So begins Andrew Peterson’s 2018 song, Is He Worthy?, which seems to have became a much-loved classic in Christian homes around the world – and ours is no exception.

Whether it’s the mundane and frustrating or the harrowing and horrific, often now when my wife or I encounter something that confronts us with the brokenness of the world, one of us is likely to pipe up: ‘Do you feel the world is broken? …’

And given the last 18 months especially, no one can escape that reality. Then add to the grief and disorientation of the pandemic the reality of racial tensions, church scandals and a seeming climate crisis. We have all been through collective trauma.

If you’re anything like me, that means Christmas is something of a gear shift. Adverts with sleigh-bell soundtracks blare out from the TV and radio. Coffee chains start to push overpriced sugar-laced drinks in supposedly festive cups. The Most Wonderful Time Of Year? Or just a corporate consumeristic coping strategy built around self-distraction?!

In other words, Mr Peterson, yes, we do feel the world is broken, but our human default is to downplay those feelings pretty quickly. And this is precisely why I think the season of Advent is such a gift to us.

Looking back, looking forward

Taking its name from the Latin, adventus, literally meaning ‘coming’ (itself derived from the Greek, parousia), it seems that fourth-century Christians developed Advent as a season of baptism preparation to help new converts look back to the long-foretold first coming of the Messiah and look forward to His coming again.

Of course, the concept of marking a ‘Christian year’ isn’t commanded in the Bible. Yet many churches and denominations have found it a helpful way to engage richly in the various theological emphases of those historical events – and to see them as part of one narrative that shapes our collective lives.

So why bother with Advent? That’s like asking why we need to learn to long for the return of Christ! The author Tish Harrison Warren expresses it perfectly:

‘To practice Advent is to lean into an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless desire for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime.’

By focusing our hearts on the first and second appearances of Jesus Christ, Advent is an opportunity to face up to the darkness in order to appreciate the light. The world might try and dull the pain of our suffering, but the refreshing news is that Scripture never does.

Ruth and the kindness of God

So where might we go this Advent? Well, a few years ago we opted to journey slowly through a seemingly surprising portion of Scripture: the book of Ruth.

Beginning with death, grief and a famine, it’s a story that doesn’t hold back from the reality of suffering. Shockingly, the cupboards are bare in Bethlehem, tragic for a town whose very name meant ‘house of bread’. God’s people were on a downward spiral of disobedience and idolatry (Ruth 1:1; Judges 21:25).

Embodied in the dazzling yet surprising characters of Ruth and Boaz, we discover afresh the steadfast kindness of God. I became convinced that Ruth’s message was a precious and refreshing balm for Advent. We all know the Christmas story, but Ruth gives us the story behind the Christmas story.

Marking Advent might not have been part of your personal or church tradition. But ultimately it’s not about us needing Advent. When faced with our brokenness and depravity, it’s all too easy to turn away. But the gift of the gospel is that God doesn’t turn away. What we all need is Christ.

Robin Ham

Robin Ham’s new book, Finding Hope Under Bethlehem Skies – An Advent Devotional, reflects on Ruth and is published by 10publishing. He serves as pastor of St Paul’s Church in Cumbria, UK.

Christmas present ideas? You’ll find something here…

Here at en Towers, we have been inundated with a fantastic array of festive offerings.

To help me sort through them all, I enlisted a number of friends at my church across the age range from 0-75!

Thank you to Lizzie, Andy, Olivia, Sophia, Ruth, Ethan, Hamish, Angus, Liz, Sam, Jonah, Jemima, Kath, Stu, Josh, Daniel, Matt, Suzy, Shasta, Cynthia and Harry for your time and thoughts.

Christmas resources for families

Love Came Down – board book, children’s book and activity book (Bethan Lycett: 10 of Those)
Good for: engaging different ages together with a challenge to trust Jesus for yourself

The Unexpected Gift – story and activity book (Annie Kratzsch and Tessa Janes: 10 of Those)
Good for: age 4+ – great for using both in tandem – creating ornaments with Bible verses could easily become a yearly tradition.

The First Christmas Song (Alison Brewis: 10 of Those)
Good for: keeping children’s attention throughout – can see us getting this out every year.

The King and the Shepherd Boy (Sam Brewster: 10 of Those)
Good for: a summary of the Christmas story with nice challenge questions and lovely illustrations.

The Promise and the Light (Katy Morgan: The Good Book Company)
Good for: older children. An exciting retelling of the gospel story in novel format. From 9+

Tracing Glory (Sarah Rice: 10 of Those)
Good for: reading as a family with teen and pre-teen children. Everyone enjoyed tracing the promises and foreshadowing of Christ through the whole of Scripture.

Advent devotionals for adults

Finding Hope Under Bethlehem Skies (Robin Ham: 10 of Those)
Good for: seeing God’s grace in Jesus’ very ordinary family line with a linked Advent Spotify playlist at the end of each chapter.

Fixated (Tim Chester: 10 of Those)
Good for: fixing our eyes back on Jesus after a tough 18 months.

The Dawn of Redeeming Grace (Sinclair Ferguson: The Good Book Company)
Good for: warming your heart with wonderful truths.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (Timothy Cross: Day One)
Good for: in-depth readings for Advent and beyond into the New Year. Every chapter has cross-references from Old and New Testament and a detailed focus on the gospel.

The One Who Came Before (Frank Sellar: Christian Focus)
Good for: an interesting and original take on Advent with short and achievable readings for busy people.

A Light Has Dawned (Contributors: Billy Graham, Elisabeth Elliot, Tim Keller: Christianity Today, Lexham Press)
Good for: a wide variety of authors and devotions. Something for everybody!

Short Evangelistic Books

A Very Messy Christmas (Jago Wynne: 10 of Those)
Good for: giving away at carol services. Six short chapters focusing on how Jesus joins us in our messy world to sort out the mess we have made.

Is Christmas Unbelievable? (Rebecca McLaughlin: The Good Book Company)
Good for: following up apologetics-type questions after an evangelistic event. An engagingly written but rigorous exploration of some of the objections to the Christmas accounts.

Evangelistic Tracts

The Christmas Census (David Earshaw & Roger Carswell: Day One)
Good for: tying into a talk or mention of the 2021 census – inviting a response to God’s offer of life.

The Best Christmas Ever! (William Taylor: 10 of Those)
Good for: a clear and warmly personal presentation of the gospel linked to key elements of Christmas.

Whatever Advent and Christmas resources you choose to go for, let us thank God that there are so many words helping us to focus on The Word made flesh this year.