Shades of Grey

Most of these short essays cover issues on which Christians tend to take a black-and-white stand but which, on closer examination, are better suited to the grey area between. Hence the group title. Keep checking back here as new ones are added from time to time. They are summarised below. Click the dot next to a title to read it.

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The latest items appear at the top of the list; old ones eventually drop off the bottom.


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A Meal of Vegetables

Should Christians be vegetarians?

Vegetarianism is in vogue and its supporters are frequently militant. Among them are some Christians who claim that there is a biblical basis for adopting the veggie lifestyle. They would advise that before you pop down to Macdonalds for your next quarter-pounder, you should ask yourself, 'Should I have a slice of nut-loaf instead?’

Apostolic Authority

Executive, advisory, or what?

The ministry of 'apostles' has been newly recognised in the last 30 years. After initial scepticism, large sections of the church at large now accept their validity. But there is argument about the nature of their authority. Is it executive (overruling local church leaders) or merely advisory?

Breaking Covenant

When our ways part...

We all deplore 'church-hopping' because some degree of commitment to a local church is essential if it is to be 'church' at all by biblical definition and if it is to make real progress. But some people who have moved on for what they regard as good reasons have been accused of 'breaking covenant'. Where do they stand? Is this a fair accusation?

Brown Shins

Scripture and phenomena

Are you supporting the latest alleged revival, with its goose-bumps, falling over and other exciting phenomena? Or are you a diehard biblicist with no time for such things? Too many Christians polarise on this issue. Does it have to be one or the other in every case?

Bungalow Living

Rejecting dualism

Why is that, when a Christian hits hard times—chronic sickness, family tragedy or financial ruin, for instance—some of their Christian friends find it hard to accept and, rather than face the situation, make excuses for keeping their distance? It’s all to do with two-storey living. They need to move to a bungalow.


Catching Men

And I don’t mean fishing

In charismatic churches, especially since the 'Toronto blessing’ of the mid-1990s, it is now common for people to fall over when prayed for and end up stretched out on the floor. To prevent them from hurting themselves, 'catchers' are commonly deployed to ease them to the floor. Surely this is not what Christianity is really about?

Charles’s Off-Day

‘Love divine, all loves excelling’

Charles Wesley was one of the most prolific hymnwriters ever. He lived at the height of the great 18th-century revival that produced the Methodist Church. We still sing many of his hymns, including Love divine, all loves excelling. It’s a hard one to understand, lacking the doctrinal solidity and precise use of words typical of this writer. Did he pen this one on an off-day?

Christian, Journeyman

The life of pilgrimage

Evangelicalism is polarising. At one side are dyed-in-the wool traditionalists, who hold that every standard evangelical doctrine is 100% correct and God’s final word on the subject. At the other are those who are opening up to new insights into such subjects as original sin, the nature of the atonement, the meaning of the Bible, and eschatology. Pity they don’t get together more!


Fatties and Flagellants

What place for self-discipline?

In medieval times serious Christians took a tough line with their own bodies. They fasted to extreme limits; they wore hair shirts; they embraced celibacy; they beat themselves till they bled. Today, many believers are, by contrast, self-indulgent—even libertarian. Where should we settle on the sliding scale between the two extremes?


Handles

Titles in Christian ministry

There’s a worrying trend in some parts of the church to use titles like ‘Apostle Fred Smith’ or ‘Prophet Simon Brown’. Is this something we should be concerned about, or is it simply a way of pointing to a person’s specialism in ministry?

Helicoptering

Seeing the bigger picture

Many Christians are small-minded. ‘Jesus and me’ is the limit of their perception. They are pessimistic about this world and its future; their hope is for Jesus to come and snatch them out of it. They would benefit from a helicopter-ride. From up there they could see the bigger picture of God’s plan to renew everything, and it would change them forever.


Holy Gobbledygook

Speaking in tongues

Speaking in tongues is a controversial subject. People are enthusiastically in favour or doggedly opposed to it. Some argue that the gift no longer exists. But millions of Christians practise it; are they deceived by a psychological or demonic substitute? And what about the notion that tongues plus interpretation equals prophecy? Here are a few thoughts to add to the mix.


Just A-Passin’ Through?

Getting heaven in perspective

‘Will you go to heaven when you die, my friend?’ Is that really the vital question to put to unbelievers, as evangelistic preachers have long asserted? I suspect not. When we look squarely at the New Testament data on ‘heaven’ we may find ourselves having to make some major adjustments—to our focus, our preaching and our practice.


Left Behind?
Yes Please!

Who’s taken and who stays?

When Jesus returns, some will be taken and others left behind. But who are taken, and who are left? Before we assume, as many do, that it’s the goodies who are taken, we would do well to look again at what the New Testament actually teaches. You’ve guessed it: it’s the goodies who are left behind!

Miserable Sinners?

Our status as God’s redeemed

Is it true that, even though we are God's redeemed people, we are still (in the words of the Prayer Book) 'miserable sinners'? How do we square that with the Bible's teaching that we are the children of God, already seated with Christ on his heavenly throne?

Mother of Jesus

Honesty over Mary

Poor old Mary! She would be upset if she knew how much controversy she had stirred up among Christians. Catholics elevate her to such a high position that she comes close to divinity, while Protestants react to this so strongly that they neglect her altogether. How should we view her?

No Revival,
So What Now?

Options for frustrated churches

For many years it was the prospect of imminent revival that kept  many of the 'new churches' going. Revival, however, hasn't come and many disillusioned believers are now looking for something else to inspire them. What church-trends are apparent as they search? More important, what kind of church should we be aspiring to be?

Organs and Harps

Music in worship

In traditional churches, the organ still reigns supreme. In others it has been replaced by a 'worship band'. In both cases the music tends to dominate, rather than accompany, the singing. What is the ideal role of music in praise and worship? Should we, as some insist, have no music at all, just voices?

Ought For My Comfort?

The right to a comfortable life

The 'health and wealth' teaching so popular today reflects the lifestyle of the rich western nations. What are we to make of the fact that the majority of God's people live in desperate poverty? And how true is it that authentic Christianity is a guarantee of material comforts?

Red Herring in Galilee

Israel and prophetic promise

Israel is one of the world's trouble-spots, with violence and political conflict never far away. Should this be more significant for Christians worldwide than, say, conflict in Burma or the Balkans? And was the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 a fulfilment of Bible prophecy? Does the answer even matter?

Sailcloth and Stones

Moving the church forward

Word-based churches emphasise the steady exposition of the Bible. Many newer churches, by contrast, tend to focus on the prophetic—what the Holy Spirit is saying to the church at any given time. But surely the two aren't mutually exclusive? How can we best draw from both?

Shifting Ground

Changing one’s views

Someone has warned, 'It is dangerous to loosen foundation stones'—meaning we should not tinker with fundamental Christian doctrines. But there are secondary issues where a change of views may well prove desirable. Here I list some of the areas of doctrinal understanding where I myself have shifted ground over the years—without loosening foundation stones.

Struggling With God

The Christian life isn’t always easy

It’s a fallacy that the Christian life is a life of ease. Christ’s call was not to a bed of roses but to a life of warfare and self-denial. All of God’s people who have sought to live authentically have at times struggled with God, frustrated at his failure to turn up when they needed him, and baffled by his dealings with them.


Tail Wags Dog

Which Testament governs which?

The doctrinal and practical peculiarities in churches can usually be traced to faulty hermeneutics. Something somewhere is out of balance. Nowhere is this more important than in getting the relationship right between Old Testament and New. Which governs which? Which—we might say—is the dog and which the tail?


The Oil Business

Understanding anointing

There's much talk these days about 'anointing'. We have anointed music, anointed preaching and anointed testimonies. But we use the word too loosely. Often it denotes little more than a contribution that is loud and enthusiastic. So what exactly does 'anointed' really mean?

The Pastor The Problem

One man at the top

It has come to be taken for granted that a local church will have one man at the top: the pastor (minister, vicar or priest). But in New Testament times there was a very different arrangement. Is there a case for reviewing the current situation and reverting to the original pattern? Or does it simply not really matter?

The Right Coins

...for the faith machine

Some popular preachers would have us believe that physical healing is consistently available to believers, provided they have the requisite faith and quote the right scriptures. It's just a case of having the right coins for the slot machine that is God. Insert them, and that chocolate bar is yours!

The Rod That Thudded

Christian fads

Christianity has its fads and fashions. Today it may be miraculously-provided gold dental fillings; yesterday it was 'prayer sticks', gold dust falling from the ceiling, or angels singing. How are we to view these changing fashions?

The Same But Different

How God changes old to new

God has his own unique way of changing 'old' to 'new': he doesn't zap the old into non-existence and replace it from scratch; instead, he remodels the old into the new. See how this applies to the old and new earth, your old and new body, the old and new covenants—and more.

Wart Treatment

The blight of ‘isms’

The history of Christianity shows it to be strong on 'isms': Calvinism, Arminianism, Dispensationalism, Amillennialism, Reconstructionism and a host of others. By definition, every 'ism' is something less than full-blooded Christianity.

Shades of Grey Home. Quotes Piquantes. Personal. Shorter Writings. My Books. Holy Gobbledygook Christian, Journeyman Struggling With God Bungalow Living Tail Wags Dog Just A-Passin' Through? Helicoptering Fatties and Flagellants