Thinking Faith blogs

Raised in Leeds

Leeds-based illustrator Si Smith presents 19 'stations of the resurrection' all relocated to present-day Leeds. Full of beautifully observed detail, the pictures reflect the Leeds we know and love (particularly north Leeds, where Si lives, and the city centre) and pose that eternal 'What if…?' question that comes from relocating one of our culture's greatest narratives into a 21st century city.

The pictures will be presented along with other simple artifacts that enhance the story, and a prayer guide will be available for those that wish to see further into the work.

Raised in Leeds is a remarkable meditation on the secret life of Leeds, teaching us to see wonderful things down any street.

Left Bank Leeds • April 2-6, 2012

Girl sells baby. Should we be surprised?

The following story is appearing in newspapers.

Police in northern Greece say a 12-year-old girl has been arrested along with three of her relatives after selling her 10-week-old baby son for 12,500 euros to undercover officers posing as adoptive parents. Police said the girl, her 44-year-old aunt and her aunt's parents, aged 65 and 71, were all arrested on illegal adoption charges.

The 12-year-old was expected to be released from custody after being interviewed by a public prosecutor. The incident took place in Xrysoupoli, a town about 700km northeast of Athens, after police acted on a tip and used marked banknotes for the transaction. The baby was taken to hospital for observation.

Again, we need to use such stories in our discipleship programmes. The issues are not complex. If we believe deep down that Singer is right then we will live accordingly. Babies are 'morally irrelevant' and so selling them makes complete sense. Hobbes put this most clearly when he argued the following: Humans are machines. Humans have no free will. Humans are only valuable if someone is willing to stump up cash.

This leads of course to people selling and killing babies. Some humans are worth £4.99. Fernando Torres is worth £50 million. Some are worthless.

Why is it that churches never spend time helping people to understand this pernicious, pagan religion (materialism)?

Why the endless talks about Daniel and the tigers?

Infanticide and Peter Singer

Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say. Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are "morally irrelevant" and ending their lives is no different to abortion, a group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued.

This is the beginning of a recent article in the Daily Telegraph.

Arthur Jones and I have repeatedly argued that Christian discipleship must include 'worldview awareness'. This story can help us to see why this is the case.

Let's probe behind the story.

Peter Singer is a famous and influential Australian philosopher. He is a committed atheist. Perhaps he is most famous for his book Animal Liberation.

Singer completely dismisses the biblical teaching that we are made in the image and likeness of God. He asserts that this view is guilty of 'species bigotry'. For a secular thinker like Singer it is arrogant and false to assert that humans are better than 'other animals'. In the light of Darwinian evolution we must embrace species egalitarianism. At the end of the day there is nothing special about human beings. We are just one of many species thrown up by the evolutionary process.

Singer distinguishes human beings in the biological sense from persons who are rational and self conscious beings. In his secular worldview he has no basis for seeing human beings in a different category from other animals. In general, humans have more intelligence and greater self-awareness but some humans lack these faculties.

In the newborn they are undeveloped; in the severely brain damaged they are lost; and in the dementing they are fading day by day. They are humans but not persons. Some adult animals, however, are remarkably intelligent. They are persons, though not human.

For Singer any creature that is not sentient, capable of experiencing pleasure and pain, has no ethical value: it has no interests to consider.

So what follows from this? In simple terms some humans are not persons and some animals are persons. For example an adult pig is a person for Singer but a newborn baby is not. The pig, according to Singer, has many preferences; the baby has hardly any! Monkeys are persons but some senile and dementing humans are not persons!

So Singer is happy for us to kill off both babies and old people because their lives are worthless. And now his views are becoming very fashionable.

Why don't more churches disciple their congregations to think Christianly about such issues?

Mafia nicknames

Some Mafia names are very entertaining! What is your favourite?

  1. Jimmy 'The Weasel' Fratianno
  2. Anthony 'Fat Tony' Salerno
  3. Vincent 'The Chin' Gigante
  4. Leo 'Lips' Moceri
  5. Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano
  6. Salvatore 'Fat Sally' Scala
  7. Vincenzo 'The Egg' Cotroni
  8. Johnny 'Big Lips' Pescatori
  9. Jimmy 'The Chop' Marini
  10. Ants 'Ice Man' Zamboni
  11. Joey 'Kneecap' Santorielli
  12. Roberto 'Wrinkle Free' Capelli

God’s kingdom in Sicily?

In May 1992 mafiosi Giovanni Brusca set off a huge bomb in the small Sicilian village of Capaci that killed antimafia investigating magistrate Giovanni Falcone, several police officers and his wife.

At the state funeral of Falcone and the other murdered government officials, Rosario Schifani, the widow of one of the dead police officers said the following in a very public way:

To the men of the mafia – who are here in this church too – I want to say something. Become Christians again. I ask you, for Palermo, a city you've turned into a city of blood. Men of the mafia, I will forgive you, but you will have to get down on your knees.

Her brave speech had a huge impact for the good. Many Mafiosi stopped their killing and extorting etc. People began to notice and fight against the mafia.

Does Rosario sound just like one of the OT prophets? Study Micah 7:1-7.

Mafia version of the ten commandments

In 2007 when mafia boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo was arrested they found the Mafia's equivalent of the ten commandments in his house! Here they are.

  1. No one can present himself directly to another of our friends. There must be a third person to do it.
  2. Never look at the wives of friends.
  3. Never be seen with cops.
  4. Don't go to pubs and clubs.
  5. Always be available for Cosa Nostra, even if your wife's about to give birth.
  6. Appointments must be respected.
  7. Wives must be treated with respect.
  8. When asked for any information, the answer must be the truth.
  9. Money cannot be appropriated if it belongs to others or to other families.
  10. People who can't be part of Cosa Nostra are anyone with a close relative in the police, with a two-timing relative in the family, anyone who behaves badly and doesn't hold to moral values.

Why were these ten commandments written down? The answer would appear to be that Sicilian mafiosi (the more conservative wing) were very worried that American Mafiosi (the more liberal wing) were getting too flash and corrupted by Hollywood consumerism. In other words the yanks were breaking the sacred code of the Sicilian code of conduct!

Mafia and Christian Faith

In 1973 Leonardo Vitale a Sicilian man of honour/mafiosi had a profound spiritual crisis. He began to seek God for forgiveness. As a young boy his uncle asked him to demonstrate his 'valour', first by killing a horse, and then at the age of nineteen, by killing a man. He was driven past the victim in a tiny Fiat 500 and stood up on the back seat to fire at him with a shotgun. Later after his spiritual wrestling and repentance he said "do you see my hands? – they are stained with blood". He clearly had some kind of conversion to the Christian faith. In 1984 as he was coming home from Mass he was shot in the head two times. His crime was to break the vow of omerta (keep silent/stumm). He had sinned against the mafia!

Isn't this a great story to get people thinking about repentance and conversion?

The Redemptive Power of Dance

Here follows a great story about the redemptive power of dance in a wonderful book by David Day entitled A Preaching Workbook.

A woman describes a hospital ward for chronically ill elderly patients and how God's kingdom can break in.

They were all sitting half dead in their wheelchairs, mostly paralysed and just existing. They watched some television, but if you had asked them what they had watched they probably would not have been able to tell you.

We brought in a young woman who was a dancer and she put on records of Tchaikovsky's music and started to dance among these old people, all in their wheelchairs, which had been set in a circle. In no time the old people started to move. A lady aged 104 said, "This reminds me of when I danced for the Tsar of Russia". An elderly man stared at his hand and said, "Until now I haven't moved this hand in 10 years".

Idle loafing and Consumerism

The year is 2008 and we are in Accra the capital of Ghana. In their large family home, Tina and Vivian Appiah are dancing to Jamaican music. Behind them is a huge portrait of their elder brother, Stephen Appiah, a professional footballer, who is now a millionaire five times over and Ghana's national captain.

Stephen has played for both Juventus and Fenerbahce and he recently bought his sisters a beauty parlour. Vivian and Tina have grown tired of working for a living and so they pay someone to run it for them. Their days are spent at leisure, watching television, dancing and ordering pizza.

"Everyone wants our life", Vivian says. "The local women want success for their sons or brothers so they can have this. Were we sad when Stephen left us for the West? Sad? No, we were happy. Our mother had prayed to God for his success. When Stephen was a young boy he was very good at football and we all wanted to help him. My mother sold our television to pay for his boots, and the other children didn’t complain because they wanted to help him too. We helped him – so now he can help us."

Consumerism is a popular and vibrant religion. It disciples people with breathtaking ease. Vivian and Tina are followers of the consumerist way of life. Notice how they spend their days. They dance, they watch television and they order in pizza. Notice that work is conspicuous by its absence. This is typical of many forms of consumerism. Work is perceived as a necessary evil. You do it if you have to. You don't do it if you are loaded. Idle loafing then becomes a way of life.

Tom Wright’s New Book

Here follows a great review of Tom Wright's new book.

I am just finishing reading Tom Wright's latest book: Simply Jesus: Who He Was, What He Did, Why It Matters (London, SPCK, 2011) It carries a glowing (back cover) commendation from Rowan Williams ('Tom Wright is, as always, brilliant at distilling immense scholarship into a vivid, clear and accessible form. This book is yet another of his great gifts to the worldwide Church').

What distinguishes his approach and makes the book quite different from any other on Jesus that I have ever read, is Wright's worldview approach (which, of course, is no guarantee that there aren't other books like it – if you know of any, do tell me!) Wright has applied this approach in his major academic series Christian Origins and the Question of God and the first book in that series The New Testament and the People of God (SPCK, 1992) is dedicated to Dr Brian Walsh from whom he gained the inspiration for this approach. Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat have applied it in their Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (Downers Grove, IL, IVP, 2004), but Wright has established himself as the major theologian and Biblical scholar using it.

Wright's worldview approach is as developed by Reformational scholars (Brian Walsh, Al Wolters, Michael Goheen et al.) rather than Evangelicals. For commentary on the distinction see, e.g. Bonzo, J. Matthew & Stevens, Michael eds After World View: Christian Higher Education in Postmodern Worlds (Sioux Center, Iowa, Dordt College Press, 2009), Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Academic, 2009), Smith, James K.A. "Worldview, Sphere Sovereignty and Desiring the Kingdom: A Guide for (Perplexed) Reformed Folk" (Pro Rege, 39 (4), June 2011, pages 15-24)

Simply Jesus is the first of Wright's popular books that really shows the power of this wholistic, big picture approach. Jesus, he contends, came to bring God's wise, healing rule to bear on the Earth. He did not come to teach people 'how to get to heaven', or to mount some kind of quasi-military revolution, or to do things that 'proved his divinity':

The gospels are not about 'how Jesus turned out to be God'. They are about how God became king on earth as in heaven. … It has been all too possible to use the doctrine of the incarnation or even the doctrine of the inspiration of scripture as a way of protecting oneself and one’s worldview and political agenda against having to face the far greater challenge of God taking charge, of God becoming king on earth as in heaven. But that is what the stories in the Bible are all about. That’s what the story of Jesus was, and is, all about. That is the real challenge, and sceptics aren't the only ones who find clever ways to avoid it (page 147).

One of the greatest challenges facing the church today is the evangelisation of young people. On average half of the children of Christian parents do not grow up to share their parents' faith, whereas nearly 100% of the children of non-religious parents grow up to share their parents' lack of religious commitment. Today many Christian young people find themselves in schools or colleges with few or no other identifiable Christians. My, and Mark Roques', experience is that stories incorporating that holistic, big picture approach engage young people effectively, whereas many traditional approaches no longer work. But after years of worldview-based mission I am still learning a lot from Wright's new book. I'll have to seriously revise my teaching notes on both 'Biblical Introduction' and 'Worldviews'!