Notes to growing Christians from David Jackman: ‘One thing’ Christians

Every true Christian believer would love to be a ‘better’ Christian.

In our best moments we echo the apostle Paul’s words: ‘I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Philippians 3.8). We know that the greatest possible value is given to our lives through the personal relationship we have with our Lord Jesus Christ and we long for that to deepen and strengthen, so that we become ‘partakers of the diving nature’ (2 Peter 1.4), reshaped and moulded increasingly into the likeness of Christ. But what does that look like, and how does the desire for progress translate into the reality of everyday life, in a pressured and frenetic world like ours?

God’s priorities

First, we need to be convinced that this is God’s primary concern and desire for us, so that when we are attending to our spiritual growth, we are entirely justified in devoting time and energy to God’s priorities. Not many of us live that way. We have vague and somewhat general desires to be making progress in our discipleship, but we are not always very intentional about it, or very consistent in our experience. We are told that we need to read our Bibles more and pray more regularly, to learn to trust and love Jesus more, but there is often a disconnect between these noble pious resolves and the facts of ‘real life’. We are so adept at balancing many different parts of our experience — work, home, family and friends, leisure, church, blogging and tweeting and all manner of calls on our time that we lack a unifying vision and integrating centre to all that we do and are.

Paul was a ‘one thing’ man. ‘One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3.13-14). You could never say that Paul was an introverted recluse, or that his life was not full of adventures and incredible achievement. To be a ‘one thing’ Christian is not a recipe for boredom, or narrowness, or irrelevance. It is, in fact, the secret of everything Paul experienced of God and accomplished for him. He had an objective view of himself and his earthly life from God’s perspective and, like him, it is only when we see ourselves as God sees us, that we can begin to deepen our relationship with him.

Leaving the past behind

For Paul, that meant leaving the past behind him. Much of the past included his Jewish heritage and his record of moral and spiritual achievement according to the Law of Moses. He told the Galatians that he ‘was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I’ (Galatians 1.14). Some of it was desperately wrong, as he became a persecutor of the church. But all of it was now left behind, since Paul’s right standing with God no longer depended on his efforts, but on the gift of God’s grace, as Christ’s perfect righteousness was put to Paul’s (and our) account, received through the objective fact of his atoning death on the cross and the subjective appropriation of his benefits, through faith. The past is totally covered by ‘this righteousness from God that depends on faith’ (Philippians 3.9). When we realise this, deep down in our guilt- ridden souls, the transformation begins.

No longer am I trying to live up to some external standards set by the Christians around me, by a combination of effort and duty. No longer do I imagine that God’s assessment and acceptance of me is dependent on my recent record of Christian achievement. No longer am I attempting to ingratiate myself with God, since I now know that he expects nothing of me but failure and rebellion. Now I am free to be a ‘one thing’ Christian — to set my spiritual vision and my earthly priorities on the values of God’s eternal kingdom, and so to press on towards this goal. Now I become aware that the Christ who died for me has come to live within me, through the gift of his Holy Spirit, and that the way to become a ‘better’ Christian is to let the Spirit keep filling me with all the fullness of Christ, so that the fruit of godliness is the most (super)natural product of my life-dependence on him.

David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.

This article was first published in the February 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Crossing the culture from Rachel Thorpe: Itsy bitsy teeny weeny

‘I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety’ (1 Timothy 2.9).

A hot summer saw many of us dashing to the shops in search of new swimwear.

But who says it has to be itsy bitsy? That’s the question Jessica Rey is asking. The Catholic actress-turned-author launched a swimwear company in 2008 and simultaneously started a personal campaign to promote modesty. One of her YouTube videos on the evolution of the female swimsuit — posted in mid-June — has already been viewed over 800,000 times.

She’s obviously touched a nerve. How have bikinis become so popular and what does it say about our society’s approach to the issue of modesty?

A brief history

The bikini arrived with a bang in 1946 when it was unveiled by its creator, the French engineer Louis Réard. Its name was a reference to ‘The Bomb’, a recent design of Réard’s rival Jacques Heim. It also paid tribute to the atomic bomb testing site ‘Bikini Atoll’: Réard was sure that people’s reaction to it would be more drastic than their shock after America bombed Japan.

He was right. Made from four triangles of fabric totalling a mere 30 square inches, his bikini was so scandalous that no model would wear it. Réard was undeterred and hired a 19-year-old nude dancer called Micheline Bernardini to preview his itsy bitsy newspaper-print-patterned two-piece. It was a hit with the media and the men: Bernardini had soon received fan mail from over 50,000 of them.

For the next 20 years the bikini remained the preserve of the few, who were considered to be both tactless and licentious. Then came the sexual revolution of the 60s, which made the bikini a symbol of women’s emancipation and power. Now it is, perhaps, a new power symbol in the world of fashion; according to the New York Times, the bikini is ‘the millennial equivalent of the power suit’.

The tide is turning

However, new voices, like that of Jessica Rey, are promoting a different view. Rey says: ‘My goal is to disprove the age old notion that when it comes to swimsuits, less is more’. Writer Joan Jacobs Brumberg agrees that it is imperative for us to move away from the bikini and the way it promotes bodily exposure, which can ‘exert a noose-like grip on the psyche and physical health of girls and women’.

These are strong claims, but will they be enough to discourage the shoppers who spent $8 billion on bikinis last year? According to Rey, there is hope that the tide may turn.

She believes that women have a natural, God-given ‘sense of modesty […] that has been stripped away by today’s culture’. Indeed, the woman in Brian Hyland’s 1960 novelty song ‘Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ is the original proof. Wearing her bikini, she is ‘as nervous as she could be’ and constantly ‘afraid that somebody would see’. Why is she so concerned? Not just because the bikini is a controversial item of clothing, but because she has an innate sense of dignity and modesty which make her feel uncomfortable exposing so much of her body in public.

Revealing our dignity

Modern society has anesthetised many to this kind of concern. But, in Rey’s definition, this sense of modesty is what we need to recapture. As those made in God’s image and likeness, women need to reclaim their true source of beauty: ‘Your beauty should not come from outward adornment […] Instead, it should be that of your inner self […] For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful’ ( 1 Peter 3.2-5, NIV).

It is not about hiding our bodies because they are bad, but about revealing our dignity. It is not about dressing frumpily and rejecting fashion, but about reclaiming our images as daughters of God. It may not be a popular view, but it is essential that we continue to live by it and promote it. Who knows, it may be that such a view could become as explosive as the bikini itself. Jessica Rey’s book on modesty, entitled Decent Exposure, is due to be released soon.

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

This article was first published in the September 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Notes to growing Christians from David Jackman: After the carol service

We are approaching Christmas. It’s the time of each year which provides us with some of our greatest opportunities to talk about our faith with our friends who do not yet share it.

A Christmas carol service is not a difficult ask. Indeed, it can be a very popular one, for all sorts of reasons. But what about after that? It is worth underlining how important it is to get an interested friend into reading one of the Gospels and, if at all possible, to do it together on a regular basis, so as to deal with all the questions they may have. The New Year provides a natural point at which to start doing that, but to get there you may need to be prepared to deal with some current misconceptions about the Bible.

Obviously surprised

I was preaching evangelistically on Isaiah 53 recently, when a thoughtful, professional man came up afterwards to ask: ‘Where do you get all this Isaiah stuff from?’ As I explained the historical provenance of Isaiah’s life and prophecy, he was obviously surprised, since he had the impression that the Bible had been written by the church, centuries later, perhaps in the Middle Ages. That would explain why Isaiah 53 could provide such an amazing portrait of Christ crucified.

It set me thinking about how widespread such misunderstandings may be. Apparently, over 50% of several hundred teenagers surveyed a couple of years ago, thought that Jesus was a figure of fiction, that he had never lived. But then they thought the same was true of Winston Churchill as well! So, there is quite a quantity of brushwood to be cleared away before the Bible door can be opened.

Historical foundations

The historical foundations of our faith are particularly under threat at Christmas, with the fantasising, Disneyfication of the story. The appearance of Santa Claus is often contributory to a childish, mental image of God, the old man with the long, white beard, which mitigates any serious consideration of his nature. But even ‘jolly old St. Nicholas’ peddles a works theology, of rewards for those who have been good and no goodies for bad children, which is the polar opposite of the gospel of God’s free grace which broke into our world at Bethlehem. What a confusion and muddle it has all become; but what an opportunity to challenge the nostalgic sentimentality with the hard facts of history!

For the Christian faith is nothing if it is not historic. It was Rousseau who said that if Jesus Christ had not existed, then the mind that made him up must have been just as great as his mind was, and whose mind was it? The detailed historical documentation of Jesus’s birth, in terms of time, place and genealogy, by Matthew and Luke, are not incidental, or of minor importance. Yet we may need to help our friends to understand why these ancient documents are worth their consideration. They can be assured that in reading a quality modern translation they are being put in touch with an authentic first-century document.

They need to know that the best extant manuscripts of the classical literature of the Greco-Roman world are several centuries later than those of the New Testament and that the many biblical manuscripts, both in Greek and in translations, from the early centuries of the Christian era mean that, by cross-checking and comparison, scholars have been able to establish an accurate and highly reliable text. Of course, this does not automatically make the Gospels true, but it validates both their authenticity as original witnesses and the worthwhileness of reading them, for a critical, modern mind.

More detail than other faiths

They describe historical events in more detail and quantity than the founding documents of other faiths, because they are rooted in the great event which makes Christmas such a powerful witness.

In John Betjeman’s words:

The Maker of the stars and sea
became a child on earth for me.

That is the heart of the message. Christmas celebrates the great intervention, which, in God’s time, culminates in the great exchange, as, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5.21). We must never allow the critics and sceptics to erode the historical foundations of biblical faith. It matters that the Christmas story is told in its factual historical simplicity, for these are immutable facts, which are not open to some sort of ‘development’ or distortion, like a TV soap opera. So, whatever people around us may like or dislike about the additions to Christmas, let’s bring them back to the reality of a real birth, a real child, a real human identity with its haunting question, ‘What child is this?’ and the glorious angelic response, ‘A Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’. Wouldn’t it be good to pray that this Christmas we shall each have an opportunity or two for a natural but meaningful explanation of the gospel? For, ‘where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in’.

David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.

This article was first published in the December 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Notes to growing Christians from David Jackman: Working at the Bible

Last time we looked at starting a regular pattern of Bible study.

It’s a great discipline to cultivate, so that we constantly have input from the Lord into our thinking. Paul talked about the value of Scripture in terms of teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness in 2 Timothy 3.16 and we all need all these ministries as we seek to grow in our knowledge and love of God. But no Scripture exists independently of the whole.

Context is important

So, whether we are dealing with one verse or a whole book, we do have to set each text in its context if we are going to understand it properly.

I remember a missionary to the Arab world telling me that before he began that work he had several times been arrested by the command, ‘You shall not go down into the land of Egypt’. Was this a word from the Lord to him? Ought he to ditch his plans? He concluded that the original context of the words in Jeremiah 42 was very particular to the hearers of Jeremiah’s day and did not match his own circumstances in the same way at all. It was teaching Jeremiah’s hearers that they could not escape the judgment God was bringing on Jerusalem by fleeing south, back to the land of their earlier captivity.

It is rightly said that a text out of context is merely a pretext and that you can make the Bible mean almost anything if you ignore its original purpose and context.

Why here?

First, we have to look at the immediate context of what we are studying, in its own particular place in the book of which it is a part. I find the ‘why’ questions especially helpful here. Why does the writer say these particular things at this point in his book? Why does he say it here and why does he say it in this way? The more we can train ourselves to listen carefully to the detail of Scripture, the deeper will be our understanding and the richer our enjoyment of God’s life-giving words. ‘They are more precious than much pure gold and sweeter than honey from the comb’ (Psalm 19.10).

This means we have to ask ourselves exactly who is being addressed in our passage and what the surrounding verses tell us about their situation and need. If we can understand why these words were written for the first readers and what it meant to them, then it will start to become much clearer how the same unchanging message is vitally relevant to us, now.

That won’t always be obvious on the surface and we will often need to re-read and think hard, asking the Lord to open our eyes to see ‘wonderful things in your law’ (Psalm 11.18). Do you remember how Paul combined hard work with divine illumination when he wrote to Timothy, ‘Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this’ (2 Timothy 2.7)? Both are equally vital — reflection is our job, insight is the Spirit’s gift.

Theme tune

So if I’m doing my own notes on a book of the Bible, as suggested last month, I shall want to be working on what is the big idea, or theme tune, of the whole book. Why is it in the Bible? What would we not know if this book were not there? What is its distinctive contribution to the whole 66 books? This is sometimes called the ‘melodic line’ of the book — the major theme, which replays with different variations and applications, all the way through. If you think you know your Bible well, ask yourself how many books of the Bible you could write a theme-tune sentence summing up its essential contribution to the whole. You will probably find, like me, that you have quite a long way to go. But it’s an exciting journey!

Look for surprises

Another great tool for doing this work is to look especially for the things that surprise you as you read. Whenever I am pulled up by the Bible text and find myself saying, ‘I’ve never noticed that before’ or ‘Well, I wouldn’t have written that’, or, when I start to consider how this text questions my assumptions or rattles my cage, I rejoice because I know I’m going to be on a learning curve. It stops me thinking I already know it all and just applying my framework to every passage, like a mincing machine, reducing the Bible to a string of sausages, all much the same. Setting the text in its context will bring the truth alive and help enormously with its application. More about that next month!

David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.

This article was first published in the March 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Crossing the culture from Rachel Thorpe: Call the midwife?

A young woman becomes pregnant. The details of the baby’s conception are local gossip. She goes into labour when she is far from home and her baby boy is born surrounded by poverty and filth. At first, it seems that his life could be under threat. But the simple joy of childbirth means that all of this darkness melts away. Just a glance at the newborn stirs such hope that, for a moment, the true glory of humanity is visible. This is how the Gospels describe the birth of Jesus, but it could equally well be a plot summary for many of the episodes of Call the Midwife.

The very stuff of life

One Born Every Minute meets Eastenders in Call the Midwife, which had been hailed as the most popular BBC drama in ten years. The show is based on a best-selling trilogy of memoirs by Jennifer Worth describing the experience of delivering babies in the 1950s, before readily-available pain-relief or the pill.

The series follows young nurse Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) as she moves to East London to begin work as a midwife. She is exposed to the hardships of life in Poplar as it recovers from the war, living and working at Nonnatus House alongside an order of nuns who provide a good deal of comedy. Jenny also meets another group of feisty women — the pregnant ‘heroines’ of the community — who impress her with their unconquerable spirit, determination and sense of humour.

We are not all mothers, but we are all children, and, as writer Heidi Thomas said: ‘Childbirth […] lies at the very heart of human experience, and it unleashes every emotion we possess. [It] is terrifying and beautiful, and funny and completely undignified’. In the first episode, Jenny Lee calls it, ‘the very stuff of life’, saying, ‘Every child is conceived in love or lust, and born in pain, followed by joy, or by tragedy and anguish’.

The secret of life is love

Handyman Joe Collett tells Jenny: ‘You’ll know the secret of life, my dear, when you know how to love’. The bottom line, it seems, is that if love is strong enough, it can overcome any barriers in its way. There are multiple examples: love that overcomes language, race, age, parental expectations, social conventions and the law. For a show primarily about birth, there’s a fair amount of death, something else that humans all share. Yet, finally, love is shown to triumph even over the grave: ‘Just as a swan’s song is the sweetest of its life, so loss is made endurable by love; and it is love that will echo through eternity’.

Jenny herself finally finds a love for her patients which allows her to overcome her revulsion at their squalid living conditions. In the closing moments of the final episode, an older Jenny says: ‘In the East End I found grace and faith and hope hidden in the darkest corners. I found tenderness in squalor and laughter among filth. I found a purpose and a path and I worked with a passion for the best reason of all — I did it for love.’ Such statements are sentimental and even nostalgic, but they add a beautiful poignancy and personality to the programme. Besides, it’s hard not to get goosebumps when listening to anything read by Vanessa Redgrave.

These moments may tempt us to take the message a little too seriously, for while love is indeed the most powerful force in the universe, human love can never be enough to overcome every barrier and hide every wrong. Jenny’s own secretive romantic storyline is proof that there are moral absolutes and social taboos which exist despite the power of love, and that are better observed.


Indeed, the nuns provide a necessary counterpoint to all the talk of human love. At one point Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) even scolds Jenny for allowing her affections to dictate her actions too strongly: ‘Don’t you dare say you love her […] love is no excuse’. There is a constant tension: the very people with the best knowledge of childbirth are those who will never experience it for themselves. Some of the sequences of the nuns singing — peaceful, ordered, calm — do appear somehow out of step with the chaotic, noisy, gritty scenes of mothers giving birth in squats and fishmongers.

They are sometimes trivialised, but it is the nuns’ faith that allows them to work as they do, tirelessly, for the good of the community. They treat belief in a higher power not as a barrier to be overcome, but a part of their shared humanity. As Sister Julienne tells Jenny early on: ‘The way you worship is your own affair […] We wear the habits and you wear your uniform. But we are all nurses first and midwives foremost’. The midwives succeed in delivering babies, and drawing a weekly audience of 8.7 million viewers, by valuing what they have in common above their differences.

If the nativity account reminds us of the miracle of Emmanuel — God sharing our humanity — then Call the Midwife reminds us of something which can come as just as much of a revelation in the modern world: it is something that we share with each other, irrespective of anything that divides us.

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

This article was first published in the April 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Notes to growing Christians from David Jackman: Bible in a busy life

Many Christians find regular Bible reading difficult and the idea of study quite intimidating.

Alongside prayer and evangelism, Bible reading is one of those areas of our Christian lives which we think we ought to be ‘better at’ than we are and so we tend to feel guilty for our failures. It is a sure-fire winner for the preacher to launch those guilt-inducing rhetorical questions from the pulpit: ‘Are your reading your Bible (or praying, or witnessing) enough?’ To which the answer can only be, ‘No, probably not’, accompanied by a quietly despairing sigh. It’s another load I can’t shoulder very well.

But it really doesn’t have to be like that. If you receive a letter or a newsy email, from a loved one or a close friend who is currently away, it isn’t a chore to read it. It’s all to do with appetite. You want to find out how they are, what they are doing and thinking, because your relationship with them matters so much to you both. It’s a delight to refresh it, especially if you can’t make verbal contact.

Relationship with God

The Bible serves precisely that function. It is through its witness that we come into relationship with God in the first place, for we could know nothing about him if he had not chosen to reveal himself to us. He speaks in Scripture, because he is the only true and living God, utterly unlike all the man-made idols, which are merely projections of human imagination. Having created us in his image, he endowed the human race with language, the ability to express our thoughts in words and so engage with one another (and with him) at the deepest level of our being. The 66 books of the Bible are God’s word to mankind, culminating with supreme clarity in the word made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom all of the Scriptures find their focus and fulfilment.

Book of a lifetime

There is enough to occupy us for a whole lifetime in the Bible’s revelation of who God is and what he has done for us. But we need a way of accessing these riches to benefit from them. If you never actually read your emails, however important their message might be, you would never develop any relationship with their senders. And in our busy world today it is very easy for the Bible to remain a closed book, even to believers. We expect it to be remote, or difficult, or just perplexing in its size and variety and, when we dip into it at random, or always turn to a few favourite passages, our suspicions tend to be confirmed.

Here is a better way. Buy yourself a small hard-backed note book and decide to read progressively through a book of the Bible which you don’t know very well. If you can do this for a few minutes every day, that would be best, but you may find it easier to set aside on hour once a week at the weekend, and use what you discover as a set of daily messages to take with you into the coming week. Don’t go for an obscure or especially difficult book — Leviticus or Lamentations may have to wait a while! And don’t feel you must work non-stop all the way through a longer book. It can be sub-divided into manageable units and tackled in blocks, at different periods. The Bible is like the ocean. A child can paddle in its shallows and a whale can revel in its depths. The important thing is to be in it!

Ask the questions

So, try to arrange for a few minutes of undisturbed time daily. Sit at a table, with your Bible, notebook and pen (or laptop). Pray that God will reveal himself to you, so as to encourage your faith, as you read, and start on your chosen Bible book. Take just a few verses; it’s not a race to get to the finish. Quality matters more than quantity.

Here are four questions you can ask of any passage — most of which it will answer. (1) What is God teaching me about God here? Remember it is his book about himself, before it is mine. (2) What do I learn here about myself? This will usually lead me to repent, but also to rejoice. (3) What good examples are there here for me to follow, in the Lord’s strength? (4) Are there promises here, which I can claim for today, as I respond in trust and obedience? Write down whatever strikes you most and then pray it in to your own life circumstances. Next time, we’ll look at how to proceed from here.

David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.

This article was first published in the February 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Notes to growing Christians from David Jackman: sticking with the church

Let’s continue our thinking about the local church, in God’s great purposes.

It is very easy to give up on enthusiastic involvement, because it isn’t what we would like it to be. Some Christians become disappointed because, in spite of all their input, in service, prayer, money and time, the results they have hoped for just don’t come. So, they quietly withdraw, concluding that church isn’t worth the hassle. Others see only faults in the organisation, the preaching, the music — especially the music! — and 100 other variables. If I can’t remake the church in my image, the way I want it to be, I’m not playing — I’ll take my bat home.

Church hopper?

Sometimes, there is more than a little justification for all this. Leadership and management structures can be crass and ultimately alienating. Church leaders can become dominant overlords, empire builders who expect everyone to dance to their latest enthusiasm. People can be abused by their churches. If that is so, then the time may be ripe for a change. It is not a sin to change churches, though it can be a toxic habit to become a ‘church hopper’, always looking for the perfect (non-existent) church. But if leadership is dictatorial, even brutal, like the shepherds of Ezekiel 34, it will be right to look for another church.

No opt out

What we cannot do is to opt out. ‘Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching’ (Hebrews 10.25). An unchurched Christian is a contradiction in terms — unless he is on a spiritual desert island! What we need to realise is that each individual’s participation and contribution is vital to God’s plans and purposes for each local church. There seem to be two major ingredients to this.

Firstly, we need the fellowship of other Christians, to strengthen us for our daily lives in the world. We gather in order to scatter, but to do so from a position of strength and vitality. Each of us impacts every other part of the local body far more than we usually recognise. A critical spirit of negativism will quickly spread, like yeast through dough, whereas a cheerful positive spirit can encourage others to be thankful, to count their many blessings and to trust God’s unchanging faithfulness, day by day. Even our attitude has an impact on others, for good or ill, before we consider the effect of our words and actions.

Every church should compile an inventory of the gifts, talents and skills of its members, so that we can use whatever time and energy we have for building up the body of Christ, in the most effective ways. If you are operating in an area for which you are gifted, you will enjoy your Christian service and you will find that the energy flows in. Sadly, the opposite is equally true. But the more involved you are, the more you will be fulfilled, through loving service, which is Christ’s pattern for his people. And the more you will feel that your contribution is worthwhile in bringing your local expression of Christ’s body a little bit nearer what a local church should be.

New society

So, what should it be? This is the second aspect of God’s plans. The church should be a demonstration on earth of the transforming power of the gospel, taking people from the widest variety possible of backgrounds, ethnicity and experience, and fashioning them into a united body of loving servants, who express the gospel of Calvary sacrifice, in everyday reality. It is the alternative society; the greatest evidence in this world of the power of the gospel to transform and renew. It is a declaration to all the hostile forces of evil that Christ is the victor, that evil will finally be extinguished and that God’s Kingdom rules, now and for ever. ‘God’s intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished [already!] in Christ Jesus, our Lord’ (Ephesians 3.10-11).

That is why the local church matters so much. It is the greatest evangelistic tool that we have, because it is the fleshing-out in transformed lives of the realities which the gospel message proclaims. No wonder the enemy will do all he can to fragment and destroy it, or to persuade us that it really isn’t worth investing in! Yet, the city of God remains. That is our eternal destination, so let’s get involved here, in time.

David Jackman writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.

This article was first published in the November 2011 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Crossing the culture from Rachel Thorpe: Brontes’ ‘eternal powers’

Brontes’ ‘eternal powers’

The most recent strain of Brontemania, at large throughout 2011, included major film versions of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and the sale of a Charlotte Bront‘ manuscript for almost £700,000.

Enthusiasm for the Bronte sisters and their work is nothing new. Their novels have spawned numerous interpretations: Charlotte’s Jane Eyre alone has been adapted for the screen almost 2,000 times1. Each re-telling is selective, emphasising certain aspects and ignoring others in order to re-image the characters for a contemporary audience. The controversial casting of the 2011 Wuthering Heights, along with the decision to truncate the ending, is an example of the desire to both affirm and alter the message of the novels.

How is it possible?

When I first read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre I became fascinated by a single question: ‘How is it possible that three Victorian spinsters living in isolation on the Yorkshire moors could have written some of the most powerful and passionate fiction of all time?’2

There are no straightforward answers to such a question, but we may begin by looking to Patrick Bronte. The father of the famous trio, Patrick, was an evangelical minister, providing the Bronte sisters with a traditional Christian upbringing. Early critics, who were shocked by the supposed amorality of the books, struggled to accept that they had been written by the daughters of a clergyman. However, Patrick instilled in Anne, Emily and Charlotte an awareness of the spiritual aspect of life, something that became crucial to their thinking. Each of them grappled with religion — and, in particular, heaven and hell — in their souls and their writing.

Spiritual crises

Their faith was never a simple affair. The sisters struggled to relate the Christian doctrines which they knew to the world around them, which was full of suffering and pain. Charlotte and Anne both suffered serious spiritual crises during their teenage years, and Emily increasingly withdrew from conventional Christianity, eventually pledging allegiance to a fiercely personal ‘God within her breast’.3

For three sisters searching for emotional and spiritual fulfilment, the world of stories and dreams seemed to offer an alternative spiritual ideology. They frequently escaped from the harsh realities of their lives into the wild and free terrain of the imagination. In their novels they could dramatise their inner battles: duty meets freedom, temperance meets passion, restraint meets wildness.

Virginia Woolf described Emily’s ambition for Wuthering Heights as a desperate yearning to create coherence from the chaotic outer — and inner — world which she experienced. However, Emily is never able to move beyond the appealing but frustrating linguistic void: ‘[Wuthering Heights is] a struggle, half thwarted but of superb conviction, to say […] “we, the whole human race” and “you, the eternal powers…”; the sentence remains unfinished’.4

Different approach

Emily’s approach is very different to the autobiographical and systematic analysis of religion that we find in Jane Eyre. Instead, Wuthering Heights is a subtle and shadowy exploration of the doctrine of salvation through suffering. By widening the net of her sympathy beyond the individual characters’ emotions, Emily succeeds in writing a universal novel which speaks directly to the heart of our culture. As Philip Hensher wrote in his recent film review: ‘Wuthering Heights […] seems exactly right for societies contemplating the abyss’.5

The novel hints that there may be something on the other side of the void: an eternal and unchanging force ‘underlying the apparitions of human nature’.6 Critics have struggled to identify the force implied by the ellipsis. Surely it stems from Patrick Bronte’s convictions about the reality that exists beyond the physical world. It is this Eternal Power, which he shared with his daughters, that gives the novels their life force and draws readers to return to them again and again.

No Coward Soul is Mine, Emily Bronte
4 Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader, Chapter 14 ‘Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights
5 Philip Hensher, ‘The Bronte sisters are always our contemporaries’, Telegraph(November 12 2011)
6 Ibid

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

This article was first published in the February 2011 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Notes to growing Christians from David Jackman: Christ, the focus of unity

The visiting preacher was asked by the minister’s precocious offspring, over lunch: ‘And what abomination do you belong to?’

The wry smile produced by such an enquiry indicates how much we all struggle with the cultural expressions of ‘church’ in our society. Archbishop William Temple once suggested that the biggest hindrance to the spread of the Christian church is the Christian church, and one can see why, when the record of the past and the mistakes of the present are examined.

Of course, the Bible does not deal with the category of denominations. They did not exist in New Testament times, though the seeds may have been visible in Corinth, where the Christians seem to have been lining up behind their favourite leaders and forming separatist groups, or parties. ‘I follow Paul; I follow Apollos; I follow Cephas; I follow Christ.’ But Paul will have none of it. ‘Is Christ divided?’ (1 Corinthians 1.12-13). Then how can his followers be?

However much their ministry may be blessed and valued, no earthly leader can serve as Christ serves the church, by giving himself up for her. His person and work are the only ground of Christian unity, because they are the very heart of the gospel, which brings us to new life. ‘So then’, Paul concludes, ‘no more boasting about men!’ (1 Corinthians 3.21).


The Bible knows only two expressions of the body of Christ, the church of which he is the head. The first is the church universal, which is the total number of the redeemed both here on earth and already in heaven. The picture in Revelation 7.9 of an innumerable multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language is the Bible’s destination-point for the saving purposes of God through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’ (Revelation 7.10). When we gather together as believers in corporate worship, here on earth, we are an outcrop of the greater heavenly reality of the worshipping church, already in the presence of Christ, so that our ascriptions of praise join with theirs, since we are one body.

But this universal reality is expressed in the local church, here in this world. This is why active involvement in a local gathering of Christians, however imperfect it may be, can never be regarded as an optional extra. When first we believe the good news of Jesus and receive his salvation, we are born again, made spiritually alive, as the Holy Spirit comes to live within our now redeemed personalities. So, we are all different, unique even; but we are all one in Christ Jesus, because the very life of God has been implanted in our souls. That is why the Bible talks about Christians as members of one body, each with differing gifts and tasks to fulfil (Romans 12.3-8, 1 Corinthians 12), but the same life energising us all. We belong together, because we each separately belong to Christ — and Christ is not divided.


It is a mark of the new birth to join together with my fellow Christians (now brothers and sisters), to strengthen and encourage one another, in fellowship, by the participation in corporate praise and thanksgiving, intercessory prayer and sound biblical teaching, as a local gathering (congregation) of the one universal church. The local church is the fundamental unit by which the locus of God’s presence and the glory of Christ are to be revealed to the world. This point is clearly made in the opening of Revelation, where John receives an overwhelming vision of the risen Christ (1.12-18), whose location is ‘among the lampstands’. Later, we are told that the seven lampstands are the seven churches (1.20), which are then delineated as seven local congregations from Ephesus to Laodicea, in chapters 2 and 3. You find the risen Christ among the local congregations of his people, where his rule is exercised. They are the contemporary expression of the gospel.


Most probably, the total congregation in a city would be made up of several house churches, and sometimes different city groups had links with other cities, as when Paul’s letters were passed around, or they received apostolic messengers. What did not exist were denominations, as we now have them, though they were not necessarily forbidden. What they must not become is the focus of unity or of our ultimate loyalty. That must be Christ alone at the centre of his faithful people, everywhere. But more about that next month…

David Jackman writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.

This article was first published in the October 2011 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Crossing the culture from Rachel Thorpe: Midnight in Paris – nostalgia in the age of amnesia

‘In the good old days, everyone was nostalgic.’

Few cities have been as idolised and idealised as Paris. I’m sure that I’m not alone in having covered the walls of my room with black and white memorials to the iconic Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees and Moulin Rouge. These images travel with me, ‘a moveable feast’.

Ernest Hemingway gave the city this epigram during the years that the flamboyant, feverish transition from wartime to modernity took place. The everlasting was gradually being knocked aside by the fashionable, under Baudelaire’s rallying cry, ‘Modernity is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; it is one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immovable’.1 With ‘modernism’ as the artistic watchword, the Western world seemed to be departing from its Christian roots, replacing traditional devotion with nostalgia for church paraphernalia.

The streets of the Left Bank housed the likes of Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Picasso, and Stravinsky. Coco Chanel became a popular name in fashion, Henri Cartier-Bresson began taking photographs, and the first complete edition of Joyce’s Ulysses was published. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how different the recent history of European art might have been had Paris not provided a space of convergence.

Paris during the ‘roaring 20s’ has now gained an almost mystical aura as the site of extravagance, sophistication and style. Hollywood continues to pay tribute with films likeParisJe T’Aime (2006) and An Education (2009). The latest example is Woody Allen’sMidnight in Paris, which multiple reviewers have called a love letter to the city.

Due for UK release in October [2011], the film allows viewers a glimpse of the city in its cultural heyday. Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) are a young couple who travel to Paris. Gil strolls through the streets to soak in the magic of the City of Lights and gain inspiration for his novel. Mysteriously, as the clock strikes midnight each evening, he is transported back in time to meet members of the Lost Generation.

Enamoured by the magic of what he considers to be Paris’s Golden Age, Gil is drawn further into this past world and away from his own. He begins to fall in love with Adriana, a fictional mistress of Picasso, and eventually discovers that she, in turn, wishes that she had been alive during the Belle Epoque.

False lustre of the past

This is a hint at the film’s final conclusion: while the lure of nostalgia is appealing, we must ultimately disbelieve the false lustre of the past and learn to accept the present moment. The film itself is guilty of encouraging an attractive wistfulness while telling us that it is futile. Nostalgia leads us to forget that the past is also full of terror and triviality, the present with beauty and excitement.

Christians are terrible culprits when it comes to the ‘good old days’ syndrome. From within the confines of the Church, the world around can seem to be racing ahead and leaving us behind. Our gut reaction is to hark back elegiacally to the days of higher church attendance and greater Bible literacy. This comes from an honourable intent: in the mile-a-minute culture that is developing, there is little time for tradition or even memory, and so it’s important for us to safeguard the Christian heritage of our nation.

World to right

However, we also have the difficult duty of living faithfully in the present moment, having been called ‘for such a time as this’.2 We are responsible for shifting a nostalgia which places Christianity as a nice reminiscence in the nation’s fading memory.

Instead, we must recognise that our own tendency towards nostalgia is a longing within us to see the world made right.

It’s a natural desire for a day when ‘there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain’.3 Nostalgia is an inverted desire for a future ‘golden age’ that we will spend in a new city.

1. The Painter of Modern Life
2. Esther 4.14 (NIV)
3. Revelation 21.4 (NIV)

Rachel Thorpe writes the ‘Crossing the culture’ column for EN. More of her articles can be found at

This article was first published in the November 2011 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057