Spurgeon rebooted

http://www.youtube.com/spurgeonsermonseries and

The Spurgeon Sermon Series hosts a growing number of sermons by C.H. Spurgeon, recorded in a British accent by Pastor Gavin Childress for free streaming.

Childress, a former social worker, has been pastor at Grace Baptist Chapel, Tottenham, North London, since 1987.

Unique concept?

I have not previously come across a podcast or YouTube channel that has recorded the transcript of sermons preached by heroes of the faith.

Childress’ voice is fitting for Spurgeon’s wordy and lofty speech and delivers the sermons in a way that captures what I imagine would have been Spurgeon’s original tone.

There are over 70 recorded sermons to date and I’m sure more are coming! Each upload/episode includes the passage and links to other platforms the sermons are available on. It is also made clear that the downloading and distribution of the sermons are welcomed and encouraged!

I am a proud Spurgeon fan, and although also an avid reader, I find older sermons can sometimes be difficult to get through on paper. However, this resource brings the sermons to life and allows the listener to better appreciate the wise words of the beloved 19th-century preacher.

Jordan Brown

Jordan Brown is learning on the job by helping to pastor a church in South Africa.

Why has evangelical culture been so bad at detecting unhealthy leadership patterns?

The following extracts give a flavour of Marcus Honeysett’s new book Powerful Leaders which Glen Scrivener reviews here.

The author has chosen not to name the many high-profile leaders accused in the past year of damaging leadership styles. This is not motivated by a desire to deflect from the severity of these actions, nor is it intended to minimise the suffering of the victims. It is rather an attempt at exploring why our evangelical culture has been ill-prepared to detect unhealthy leadership patterns and has not done enough to promote healthy ones. The first two extracts show how the author engages with this theme.

The final extract deals with the decision not to use the term spiritual abuse in the main body of this book. Marcus Honeysett makes it plain that this book is not the definitive last word on this issue.

1. What next for cultures and tribes? 

Everyone in a culture knows how the narratives and codes work, and how they shape what is expected, said, done and thought. Everyone knows who is at the top table, even though they may have no formal position or title. Adherence to the narrative is the price of entry; promoting the narrative is the membership fee for continuing to belong. Hence those who identify with a culture define it according to features they appreciate and relate to, while dismissing those aspects that don’t sit quite right as an aberration or not foundational to what the culture is like. Shared values and narratives create a high degree of social cohesiveness, but these can turn into groupthink that results in a deterioration in critical examination. Of course, this doesn’t have to be the case. A main difference between healthy, shared cultural values and groupthink is the ability to listen and a desire for reformability, which internally embeds self-examination and externally welcomes outside critical friends…

2. Group mentality

The central conforming feature is not some grand structure that can be held to account, regularly evaluated and reviewed, but rather the narrative, group mentality and not wanting to forsake its benefits or longstanding friendship with those who hold to it unquestioningly. This explains why cultures can be incredibly powerful and intangible at one and the same time. If a culture also becomes inseparable from unaccountable main leaders, such that they promote it and it provides cover for them, it is next to impossible to correct, for that would require insight from outside the culture, which is deemed inadmissible by the very fact that it is external. In ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, the reason the townspeople self-censored and refused to call time on the fraud was that the wilfully blind, self-evidently naked and foolish person was the emperor. You don’t question or embarrass the emperor! He doesn’t have to force individuals to comply – they will do so anyway, because everyone does.

As we have seen in the case of individual leaders, the more power a culture acquires, and the more apparently successful it becomes, the harder it is for anyone to dissent, regardless of how obvious the faults and failings are. And the apparent successes may be considerable. A church or movement may experience many people being converted, baptised and discipled. This genuine spiritual fruit can continue for a time within a culture that is becoming toxic in other ways. However, we must never downplay, ignore or excuse coercive patterns of leadership by pointing to the good that particular leaders or ministries have done. It may be the case, but that is beside the point. Where too much is at stake to allow something to fail, cultural self-regulation, if it exists at all, is unlikely to be self-critical. Challenge the narrative, codes or doctrines of your tribe and you probably won’t be able to lead or remain in it anymore. Groupthink culture shuts dissenters down. Hence cultures become impervious to change and reform until something terrible becomes unavoidably public – for example, the exposure of the moral failing or coercive practice of a high-profile leader. By which point there may have been years of abuse and trauma behind the scenes, and other stories and victims that will never come to light because they don’t involve someone famous. Cultures can be tremendously effective refuges for denialists, because they transfer responsibility from specific issues and identifiable individuals on to the collective mass. When disaster strikes and obvious questions are asked about whether the culture or culture leaders have been an enabling factor, everyone can claim plausible deniability: maybe the culture has gone wrong, but in ways that could only be seen with hindsight; unless specific individual sins can be pointed out, for which specific leaders or groups may repent, there isn’t a case to answer. Nobody takes responsibility and no-one is specifically held responsible. However, neither is the culture or narrative, because to blame the collective would be to tarnish innocent people, and the good achieved by the culture, along with the guilty. This is to entirely miss the point. Cultural degeneracy isn’t just about specific sins or specific false teachings, but about attitudes, narratives and self-perpetuating hegemony, which are themselves corrupted and corrupting, but less easy to identify.

3. Appendix: A note on the termin-ology of ‘spiritual abuse’ 

However, keen-eyed readers will have spotted that I haven’t used this term (spiritual abuse) in the book. I remain personally cautious about it, without wanting to undermine the reality of the phenomena it is trying to describe. My concern centres around the danger of the term being used as a broad catch-all shorthand that conflates a wide range of possible issues. Some of these may constitute abuse, others might not, the only uniting factor being some claim about spiritual authority in a religious setting. I believe that where there are claims of abuse, the categories under which they are investigated need to be as clear as possible, especially in legal contexts. Respected bodies who are all deeply concerned about abuse find they cannot agree on definitions in this case. There is a risk that anything someone doesn’t like or strongly disagrees with in a Christian context can be labelled spiritual abuse – for example, teaching on sin, repentance, hell or the need for salvation, or demonstrably non-abusive use of leadership authority and pastoral practices. Moreover, it potentially becomes a tool for labelling such things in the very worst possible terms. For example, at the time of writing there are moves in the UK to criminalise orthodox teaching on sexuality, and even pastoral prayer, by calling it a safeguarding issue.

Selection curated by en’s Reviews Editor, John Woods and published with permission of IVP.

Christ-like, costly compassion

All those who seek to engage with the struggles and sufferings of others know the importance of emotional connection. And while feeling compassion or sympathy or empathy for another person certainly doesn’t mean we jettison Biblical standards, what it does mean is that we seek to enter into the emotional experience of another person.

We know that it matters. It is such a blessing when others feel our pain. But we also know that it costs. It is one thing to recognise and acknowledge the pain of others, quite another to enter into it so that we feel it with the other person. That asks much more of us. So why do it? Here are four quick reasons.

It’s Christ-like and expected

First, because to do so is Christ-like. The incarnation was the ultimate entering in. It is why ‘we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but … one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin’ (Heb. 4:15). Jesus’ ministry was full of compassion. In his famous essay, B.B. Warfield surveyed every gospel reference to the emotions of Jesus and found that by far the most common was compassion. He has entered into our sufferings.

Second, because such ‘entering in’ is expected. ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn’, Paul commands in Romans 12:15. Christian believers join at the level of felt experience – this verse doesn’t call for a particular behaviour or external activity, but for a shared emotion.

The nature of the local church

Third, because this entering in reflects the nature of the church. Even in a church full of disunity, Paul still expected shared emotional experience. ‘If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it’, Paul writes (1 Cor. 12:26). Why? Because, ‘You are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it’ (1 Cor. 12:27). When one part of the body feels something, the whole body experiences it. A painful finger is never isolated in the hand, it is experienced by the whole body.

The love of God leads to action

Fourth, because without these things the love of God is not in us. ‘If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?’ (1 John 4:17). In his famous parable, Jesus tells us that the Good Samaritan ‘took pity’ on the man who had been set upon by robbers. Feeling with another moves us to action.

If this empathic connection is so crucial how should it shape our pastoral ministry? First, it will mean listening. We can’t empathise with others without understanding what they are feeling. The danger of writing our own feelings onto another person is huge. We must not allow our efforts at empathy to end up being an imposition of the way we might respond to whatever situation someone else is facing. We must listen and we must not assume.

Second, we must resist the temptation to move too quickly to solutions. Our desire to offer solutions is often driven by our own discomfort. The pain another is feeling – and the pain we are having to share – is too much for us and so we try to shut it down. But in wanting it to go away too quickly, we end up driving it underground. We can easily make others feel like a spiritual failure when they continue to feel pain or shame or fear after we have offered what we are convinced is our most excellent solution.

But thirdly, and most crucially, we need to foster our own connection with Christ. Knowing all that Jesus has already entered into for us will provide the resources we need to truly and lovingly enter into the experiences of others.

Steve Midgley

More about Biblical Counselling UK is available at www.biblicalcounselling.org.uk or you can contact them at info@biblicalcounselling.org.ukinfo@biblicalcounselling.org.uk or c/o Christ Church, Christchurch Street, Cambridge CB1 1HT

Silence and addiction: deadly

Addiction is a word we use without really thinking. Coffee, chocolate, online Scrabble – but it is a lot more sinister than that. Especially today’s visual addiction to pornography.

The British Board of Film Classification warns that the majority of kids are exposed to porn by age 13, with some exposed as young as seven.

Other Christian websites give the average age of first exposure as eight years old. You may be inclined to think ‘not my kids’ – however, the authors that I am going to introduce you to here will disagree.

Two titles tackle the issues of privacy and pornography for very young children.

God Made All of Me by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, and published by New Growth Press, introduces the concept of privacy. Body parts covered by a swimsuit are private and not to be touched without your permission. It is aimed at 2–8-year-olds to help them distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate touch.

Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr. is written for a similar age and published by Protect Young Minds. It has no direct Biblical message, so this is a book that I would choose to read alongside God Made All of Me.

The same publishing company has produced a book that tackles pornography for older children: Good Pictures Bad Pictures – Porn-proofing Today’s Young Kids. This has more scientific detail in it, dealing with why pornography is bad for our brains.

Although neither of the Good Pictures Bad Pictures titles refers to any Biblical reasons for avoiding pornography, there is nothing in either that is anti-Christian. However, neither refers to the fact that God has made us in his image, yet God Made All of Me is rich in those references.

Christian Focus Publications has produced a book for 7–11-year-olds entitled Not If, But When, by John Perritt. It has a story aimed at girls and then one at boys and has a strong Biblical emphasis.

We want our children to be exposed to the truth of God’s word about sex before they are exposed to the world’s lies. Perritt’s book will help you introduce your child to God’s wonderful gift of sex as well as warn them about the evil of pornography.

The enemy’s greatest tool for spreading the evil of pornography has been our silence. Too many parents are embarrassed to deal with the subject, so don’t talk about it at all.

All these books will give you an arsenal to fight an evil that your child will at some point be exposed to.

Read them alongside your child and start the conversation.

Catherine MacKenzie

Catherine MacKenzie, Children’s Editor for Christian Focus Publications

Crosses, cakes and challah bread in the courtroom

Two recent court judgements have shown that, although the tide has not completely turned for hard-line LGBT advocacy groups, it may well have reached its high-water mark. Job 38:11 comes to mind: ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt?’

A little while ago, an employment tribunal ruled that a London NHS Trust had ‘directly discriminated against and harassed’ a Catholic nurse, Mary Onuoha, who was forced to resign after refusing to remove her necklace bearing a small cross.

In another fairly recent judgement, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) dismissed Gareth Lee’s complaint against Ashers Bakery, in which he claimed they were discriminating against him by not producing a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage.

In the aftermath of Nurse Onuoha’s case, Tim Dieppe, Head of Public Policy for Christian Concern, appeared on the James Whale radio show to participate in an analysis of the verdict.

Although Whale is a well-known atheist, I still found it staggering that he openly declared: ‘I don’t understand this need that, if you have faith in a God, then you have to go showing off about it.’

Well, religion (and the right to manifest it) is as much a protected characteristic as sexual orientation, age or race. As a comparison, it doesn’t take a prophet to predict the public outcry and widespread calls for resignation that would ensue, if a Christian radio host had denounced gay people ‘coming out’ by saying, in a similar vein: ‘I don’t understand this need that, if you are LGBT, then you have to go showing off about it.’

In the case of Ashers Bakery, the ECHR ruling closes a long and difficult chapter in their history. Over seven years, they unfairly bore the stigma of being branded homophobic for doing no more than to refuse to publish a slogan with which they, as owners, didn’t agree.

Gareth Lee lost the ECHR case because, unlike other plaintiffs before that court (e.g. Schalke and Kopf who took the Austrian Government to court), his lawyers had never previously suggested in any British court that current UK law itself was in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights

It was only after years of insisting that Ashers Bakery had violated his convention rights as implemented in UK law and losing at our Supreme Court that his lawyers reverted to an insistence that UK law itself was in violation of his convention rights.

So, his case was effectively calling upon the European Court to saw off the self-same branch of UK human rights legislation upon which he had been sitting in litigation for seven years. They rightly refused.

For those who are still unconvinced of the validity of Ashers Bakery position, here’s a comparison.

There is a well-known Jewish bakery in London that produces a wonderful array of great food. Their challah bread is especially good.

For my next birthday, I’m thinking of buying a hamper of pastries from them. I’m sure they are completely okay with supplying their baked goods to Christians.

But, guess what? If, at Easter, that bakery refuses my order for a ‘Jesus is the risen Messiah’ cake, I can’t take them to court.

They are not discriminating against my religious belief. They are simply exercising freedom of speech. Or, perhaps more accurately, freedom from compelled speech.

The complaint against Ashers Bakery was rejected on the same basis. We all have the right to freedom from compelled speech.

To exercise that freedom doesn’t make you a religious bigot and it doesn’t make you homophobic.

In conclusion, both cases underscore the legal reality that religion is no less protected in law than race and sexual orientation.

Despite this, if those who disagree with this settled position are adamant enough to continue to discriminate against Christians and lose more and more cases like these, then so be it.

David Shepherd

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

Meeting Frank Schaeffer – atheist son of Francis

Frank Schaeffer (not to be confused with his father Francis) titled his memoir Crazy for God with the helpful subtitle How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back.

His writing is engaging and thought-provoking, especially for myself as a Christian father and pastor. His father, Francis Schaeffer, was a much-beloved Christian thinker who utilised contemporary music, art history, and philosophy to answer the questions of his day. He was truly countercultural in the way he wrote and lived.

I began studying Francis Schaeffer for my Masters dissertation with Moorlands College. As a former atheist discovering Christianity, I found Francis’ early writings so helpful, but was surprised by his later work. It was jarring to see the person-centred preacher become a figure in the culture wars and a member of the Religious Right. Through my studies, I wanted to discover the reasons for this change and what lessons I could learn for myself and my church context today. I hoped his son Frank could help me understand and so I requested an interview and he kindly responded.

Taking the blame

Frank told me the change was largely his fault. Frank’s perceived influence on his father’s life and work has since motivated him to pen multiple books seeking to undo the damage he did in his youth. He believes he is partly responsible for the weight ascribed to the abortion issue today which lies at the heart of the white American evangelical voter base, and so he takes responsibility, in small part, for the election of Donald Trump. I wanted to know how Frank believed he influenced his father, and so he told me his timeline of events.

Francis had originally chosen the abortion issue to illustrate his conclusion in his film and book How Should We Then Live? but was pressured to make the issue more prevalent in the last episode. The initial aim was to wake up evangelical America to the issue, many of whom were pro-choice at the time. But Frank, supported by C. Everett Koop (future Surgeon General), pressured his father to record a second series pushing the issue further. This became Whatever Happened to the Human Race. According to Frank, his father never wanted to record the series, but three things persuaded him. Firstly, Frank knew his father genuinely believed in the issue. Secondly, Frank was an aspiring filmmaker who wanted a steady income and more directing experience. Thirdly, and most crucially, Frank and his wife Genie had been teen parents themselves. Frank believed that if they had lived in America, and hadn’t received the support that they had, they may well have chosen abortion as an option for themselves. It was a deeply personal issue for the Schaeffers and so Francis, despite his ill health, was persuaded into committing to the project. The rest is history, as Francis Schaeffer became a figure within the Christian sub-culture he had spent most of his life fighting against.

Hypocrisy and materialism

What began as an illustration became the fight for a Christian America and Frank became the heir-apparent to the Schaeffer ministry. Frank would eventually leave his father’s path, and Christianity, behind and I was fascinated to hear why. Tragically, he recalled that it was the hypocrisy and materialism in the church, the same issues his father attacked in his youth, which led to his disillusionment. The Christian money-making machine had taken the Schaeffers in and put them to work. Unlike his original writings, such as The God Who is There, which came after careful consideration, Francis’ books were churned out in response to the fast-moving current of the culture wars. Sadly, the evangelical sub-culture remains as dangerous as ever and continues to put people off Christianity today.

God gives meaning

When speaking to Frank I found great love and respect for his father and mother, but also a sadness as he recalls their service to what Frank describes as the Christian propaganda machine. He lamented being born into evangelicalism and especially growing up with the constant pressure to make everything useful to the Christian message. In his new book, Fall in Love, Have Children, Stay Put, Save the Planet, Be Happy, Frank tries to simplify life by removing any need for an agenda. For Frank, life is beautiful enough without the need to smuggle in Jesus. I found myself agreeing that sometimes Christians forget that everything has intrinsic value to God, and not everything needs to be overtly missional. But I was saddened to hear that Frank seems to have lost the abiding value of his Father’s work; God is the one who gives life meaning.

Luke Barrs

Luke Barrs is a Moorlands graduate and Baptist Minister and Assistant Pastor at Church Crookham Baptist Church.

A distinguished Christian psychiatrist’s reflections

Journey of a Psychiatrist’
By Dr David Enoch
Y Lolfa Publication. 352 pages. £14.99
ISBN 978 1 800 990 760

At the age of 95, world-renowned psychiatrist Dr David Enoch has finally published his inspiring autobiography Enoch’s Walk – 95, Not Out: Journey of a Psychiatrist

Enoch’s Walk tells the fascinating life story of a man who has been a doctor, psychiatrist, preacher, broadcaster and author. Starting from humble beginnings in Penygroes, South Wales, David Enoch has been at the forefront of societal, religious and medical changes, making this account a valuable first-hand account of 20th-century history as well as an honest story of one man’s journey of faith.

Throughout his career David Enoch has been determined to bridge the gap between faith and medicine. His original intention was to become a member of the clergy, but the four years he spent in India serving in the armed forces changed all that. On his return, two mentors suggested to him that he should consider medicine as a career because that would enable him to help others physically and mentally, as well as allowing him to preach to more extended congregations.

As a result he trained as a doctor at St Thomas’ Hospital, London before enjoying a very distinguished career in psychiatry where he was at the forefront of humanising this field of medicine. He has been consistently prominent in the battle for the mentally ill to be acknowledged and treated appropriately. He has also championed a positive relationship between psychiatry and faith.

Dr Enoch also shares openly the highs and lows in both his private life and his career, but clearly states: ‘In spite of all the changes and ramifications of this period, my faith was preserved and enriched.’

Every day is important, but some can prove life changing. The day I met David Enoch was that significant. I have always sought to reconcile the challenging insights of contemporary science with the profound insights of the Bible. It seems to me that we should never be afraid of the truth whatever its source, and so I was particularly delighted to learn that the ‘distinguished’ Professor Enoch had agreed to speak at a Baptist Ministers’ Conference I was scheduled to attend in 1985. Little did I realise at the time just how important that conference was to prove in my life as a pastor.

As always, David spoke with clarity, authority and great personal insight, and what he said that day prompted me to purchase copies of his marvellous textbooks Healing the Hurt Mind and Uncommon Psychiatric Syndromes, books that have proved hugely helpful and influential in my ministry.

But David Enoch is far more than an academic and a teacher. He is also a great preacher who communicates his faith with clarity, passion and credibility. He is powerful evangelist too. Like many others, I will never forget the large ‘congregation’ of (some) believers and (many) non-believers who packed into a local hotel to eat a hearty meal and to listen to him wax lyrical about ‘A Psychiatrist’s Faith’. It was a memorable night indeed.

I am delighted to commend this book because it reflects the life and passion of a man I feel privileged to call a friend and who has contributed so much to a world that will only find ‘life in all its fulness’ when people acknowledge the same Lord that David Enoch has served so faithfully. Like the Biblical Enoch, David has walked with God and as a result has much to teach us. This is an unforgettable book, and it has the potential to change lives.

Rob James

Rob James, Baptist Pastor and Executive Chair Evangelical Alliance Wales