Bible study preconceptions

What preconceptions do you come with to Bible study? These will have a big effect on your interpretations.

Perhaps this is best seen in the way you view miracles.

Do you believe that the miracles in the bible are actual events that are pretty faithfully recorded by the witnesses of the events? This would be the traditional approach (and I suppose mine). I certainly believe God to be capable of miracles and have no problem believing they happened.

If, however, you believe that miracles are impossible and then you read the bible miracles and think they must be misunderstandings of natural events. This will bring you to a particular way of viewing the bible miracles.

Or maybe you think that they are not even events but just myths designed to teach a lesson.

These are preconceptions, you may have others about language, inspiration, the Holy Spirit, revelation, etc. It is important you know what your preconceptions are so that it is possible to tell others where you are with this.

When Christians get together for bible study if they have very different preconceptions then it can lead to a great deal of confusion and maybe some heated disagreement. Perhaps in these circumstances it is better to take a step back and talk about your preconceptions and why they matter to you before trying to study together.

I suppose one important question that I am not sure I know the answer to is: are there preconceptions that are so far apart that they stop us from studying the bible together? At one time I would have said no but I am starting to wonder if this is in fact true.

What is truth?

When Jesus faced Pilate being tried for his life, Jesus explained that he was the truth and in response Pilate asks the questions what is truth? It is a question at the heart of us all. It includes, I believe, the quest for meaning both in ourselves and in the Universe. Is there such a thing as truth and if there is where do we find it?

I think the answer to the first part of that question is easy, we understand the answer in a very intuitive way. Maybe this is the only way we can understand this question – yes there is such a thing as truth. We see it in the world of Mathematics of course – who would want to doubt that 1 + 1 = 2. I know some will say, ah yes but what is 1. We could debate it but I would want to maintain that everyone who can think knows intuitively what one is – no one really needs to explain it we know it. If someone takes away our 1 we know about it. If we manage to double our 1 we understand what that means. Anyway, I’m not writing a book here. Truth does exist, we know it deep down and we are desperate to find it.

So where do we find this truth? I’ve already claimed that part of it is just known to us, but this does not satisfy does it. What we know intuitively is suspect and we are searching for truth here.

At one time people sought truth in Philosophy. A noble cause and maybe a good place to look – everything we know (including maths) has some Philosophical root – you can’t do science for instance without having a Philosophical set of rules to enable you to do it. But Philosophy leaves us feeling confused. People disagree on the simplest of things and can’t work it out. If we want truth then Philosophy leaves us cold – hence Pilate’s question to Jesus.

We then turned to religion but we found religion wanting. Not only was there contradiction in religion but it seemed to multiply superstition – which ultimately leads us away from truth.

We then turned to science. Surely a dedicated examination of the world using the Scientific method (that bit is Philosophical by the way) and trusting only to verifiable facts will show us what truth is. At first the quest was exciting and promised so much. But then we discovered that scientists can’t agree on a whole host of things and sometimes they agree only to later tell us they were in fact all wrong. The idea of what is right or wrong was left open and it seemed we could believe almost anything – all from science. It’s apostles will tell you otherwise – that one day they will indeed discover the truth and they are willing to die for the truth they believe they have already found but ultimately we face up to the fact that is fails us in the search for truth – indeed it leads down so many dark paths that it demonstrates on its own it cannot guide us.

So we turned to academics – perhaps the Universities can help. They explored the problem and read what others said and concluded – there is no such thing as truth, it is all subjective. Wait, what? You can’t be serious. Intellectually they make the argument and teach this nonsense to our children and they end up more confused that all the rest of us. What an easy answer though – there is no truth. When we look for an answer they tell us stop looking and just accept the inevitable – ‘live, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’. Presumably they would add study to that list. But as the Bible tells us (where that quote comes from) that people’s search for truth using human reason will always take us to this fatalistic response. Rubbish – there is such a thing as truth and existence is defined by our search for it.

When Pilate searched for truth he did not understand that truth stood in from of him. Truth is found in God and more particularly in God’s revelation of himself to us. The answer to the search for truth is Jesus and not anything else.

We must step beyond human reason to find it – our minds fail us, they are just not big enough to find the answers and it is clear – in case you are a science fiction buff – that no super computer will find the answers for us, the truth is that artificial intelligence is actually developed in the human mind and the human mind is not clever enough to find such answers.

To find truth we must learn to trust our only source of truth. Jesus.

The Church said this and oppressed everyone

I keep hearing people – including people in the church – tell me that the church is responsible for pretty much every evil that exists in the world. It is the churches fault that the environment is a mess, the church defended apartheid, the church oppressed women, covered up child abuse and supported slavery.

Of course, in some simplistic way this is true. Christians have done all these things and worse in the past and said they did it in God’s name (they were wrong). And although I was not part of these things I beg the world’s forgiveness that this is true.

However, these statements are far too simplistic. The first thing is that this thing that people call “the church” does not exist and never did. There has never been a collective mind of the so many churches that exist through history. We have disagreed over various things since the first churches came into being. There is a central truth that holds us together (namely the gospel of Jesus Christ) – maybe we can say “the church” in this context but the rest of the time it is simply not true to refer to “the church” as if we are all responsible for these evil ways of thinking.

Within Christian thought is the idea of a remnant that remains faithful to God despite the pressure to conform or the threats of violence. Sometimes there is a smaller group within the larger that is in truth the remnant and that remains faithful to the teaching of Christ.

In every generation there have been those who have turned to the Bible and found that we should look after the environment, that women are equal to men, that abuse of anyone is wrong, that we all carry the image of God in equal measure regardless of a persons skin colour or ability or sexual expressions, etc. This remnant has kept the faith and over time influenced the world enough that we now live in an age where many of the wrongs of the past have been corrected. These things corrected because of the Bible and some of the Church – not despite it.

The suffragettes used the Bible to argue and inspire their cause. Those who opposed slavery used the Bible to show how we are all equal and worthy of dignity and respect. Those who opposed apartheid turned to the Bible to help them in their struggle. The Bible inspired so many of them in the early struggles but so many who struggle for a hearing in the world today forget so quickly where they came from that they accuse their revolutionary ancestors of crimes they are not guilty of. It is a shameful thing to abuse your ancestors. It is even more shameful when those accusations come from within the church itself.

Perhaps where we have failed is to stand up and be counted when we know something to be wrong – to be a sin.

Please stop twisting history and throwing mud instead of reasonable discussion and argument. If you really are searching for truth – and I hope you are – please be prepared to explore.

Should the Pope go vegan to save the planet

There is a pressure campaign at the moment trying to force the Pope to become Vegan for lent. It is a sign of our society that anyone with money can try and force others to bend to their will through public opinion.

As public opinion seems to often depend on mis-information I did my own research and this is what I found about the claim that giving up meat will save the planet – it is utter rubbish.

You can read about this very complex issue in this excellent article by someone who actually knows what they are talking about.  It is by Richard Young of the Sustainable Food trust.

However, putting that point aside I think it shameful for any organisation to try to use the general public as a pressure group. It is even worse that they are trying to force the Pope to do something like this. If he says yes – then they will claim it proves their point and will impress enough Catholics who have not necessarily thought through the issue to follow him. If he says no then the rest of the world will take it that the Pope doesn’t care about the planet. What is the poor pontiff supposed to do? My advice would be to say no – if they had requested in a thoughtful and caring way then it would have been considered but as they did it through a media campaign the answer has to be no – the media (and the Celebrities they worship) must not control the way we think.

What we believe

I came across this and enjoyed it so much I thought I would share it


We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin

We believe everything is OK

as long as you don’t hurt anyone

to the best of your definition of hurt,

and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before, during, and

after marriage.

We believe in the therapy of sin.

We believe that adultery is fun.

We believe that sodomy’s OK.

We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything’s getting better

despite evidence to the contrary.

The evidence must be investigated

And you can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there’s something in horoscopes

UFO’s and bent spoons.

Jesus was a good man just like Buddha,

Mohammed, and ourselves.

He was a good moral teacher though we think

His good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same-

at least the one that we read was.

They all believe in love and goodness.

They only differ on matters of creation,

sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that after death comes the Nothing

Because when you ask the dead what happens

they say nothing.

If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then its

compulsory heaven for all

excepting perhaps

Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Kahn

We believe in Masters and Johnson  (my note not part of poem – M & J were researchers into human sexual function)

What’s selected is average.

What’s average is normal.

What’s normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.

We believe there are direct links between warfare and


Americans should beat their guns into tractors .

And the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.

It’s only his behavior that lets him down.

This is the fault of society.

Society is the fault of conditions.

Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that

is right for him.

Reality will adapt accordingly.

The universe will readjust.

History will alter.

We believe that there is no absolute truth

excepting the truth

that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds,

And the flowering of individual thought.

If chance be

the Father of all flesh,

disaster is his rainbow in the sky

and when you hear

State of Emergency!

Sniper Kills Ten!

Troops on Rampage!

Whites go Looting!

Bomb Blasts School!

It is but the sound of man

worshipping his maker.

Steve Turner, (English journalist), “Creed,” his satirical poem on the modern mind. Taken from Ravi Zacharias’ book Can Man live Without God? Pages 42-44

Walking and Suffering

It seems to me that there is a degree of suffering in taking a long hike. It hurts to carry a heavy pack on your shoulders; steep hills that tax your lungs and make your heart beat faster can be distressing; feet will start to hurt just from walking on them all day; sweat gets in your eyes making them sting; etc. Yet, for me at least, going on a long hike is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding thing I do. At the end I am exhausted and it will leave me feeling sleepy but in a fulfilled, relaxed, happy way. It is strange but all that suffering has led to happiness.

Of course, I have also learned that with careful planning and thoughtful walking it is possible to greatly reduce the suffering. Getting the right equipment reduces the pain; walking in such a way as to reduce the steep climbs or difficult terrain; being properly trained in navigation and using the best navigation aids reduces getting lost or taking unnecessary deviations; even wearing a hat to reduce the amount of sweat that makes it to my eyes. Reducing the suffering as much as possible during a walk is an essential task and yet you can’t have a good walk without the suffering. The best walks  – certainly the most remembered and talked about – are usually the ones that cause the most suffering. It is a strange thing.

Is this also telling me something about life?

Is suffering actually an important part of enjoying a good and fulfilling life? Maybe we can’t really enjoy the good bits without having some of the bad bits. It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all – or perhaps we can’t truly understand how wonderful love is without having the times of loss? I remember as a youngster having to save my pennies so I could buy something I really wanted and then asking for money for Christmas so I could make it – what I remember most about that experience is the satisfaction of getting there and buying what I wanted. It was never the best or even something that was essential but having to suffer the wait was an important part of the pleasure. Perhaps then struggle in life is important. Is this why Jesus said it was so difficult for a rich person to get in to heaven? I note that most of us are now richer than those rich people Jesus was talking about. Riches remove the struggle and this actually ends up reducing the pleasure and fulfilments of a good life.

What a strange paradox. Of course, a wise person will do all they can to remove the suffering – both for themselves and for others. The more suffering and pain we can remove the better, especially when pain and suffering can be so acute. Yet, maybe some pain and suffering (or perhaps struggle would be a better word here) is an important part of life.

Some people sometimes challenge those of us with faith to explain why there is suffering if God is good. I won’t deny the power of the challenge because sometimes the suffering is so acute that it seems like God doesn’t care (‘seems like’ only though). Perhaps, though, it would have been impossible for God to create a world – a place where life is worth living and is fulfilling and enjoyable – without there being suffering. Perhaps suffering is necessary if we are to have free will and the ability to love. I also note that God did make it that one of the most fulfilling things anyone can do is to relieve the suffering of someone else. A responsibility that God has put on all our shoulders. Yet isn’t it a loving act to realise the importance of suffering and then to create a world where we all must to our best to reduce it? It seems so to me.

Then after putting us in this world where we have to endure suffering God enters it personally and fully. As Jesus God then experiences the suffering right alongside us. He even takes on our suffering by going to the cross – in many peoples minds the worst kind of execution ever produced by mankind. Is there anything more God could do other than suffering alongside us, when it turns out that suffering is an important part of life?

Why is Easter so bloomin early!!

Phew! What a mad few months this has been since Christmas. I hadn’t realised just how long ago I last posted.

Lots going on in that time (including loads of meetings). I’ve been on some Supervisor training. Officially I’m delighted with the scheme and it is high time we ministers were in some kind of supervision. Unofficially, I’m not yet sure of the benefits and am still scratching my head about how I find the time to do it. Time seems to be something we Methodist Ministers have loads off – apparently – in fact I’m beginning the think that officially we must have some kind of time machine that enables us to turn one week into the equivalent of one month. However, I seem to have missed the memo that explained where I get my hands on that time machine.

Anyway, Easter is early because we base the date on Passover which is (or at least was) based on a moon cycle that doesn’t really exist (known as the Pascal moon). There are some fun calculations you can do to get the date if you want to.

Personally I would rather we fixed the date to correspond with the date of the first easter and left it there. Perhaps this is something that can be done with the time machine that I don’t have access to.

Merry Winter Festival – you what?? Where’s Christmas?

I often complain about the way that Christ is being dropped out of Christmas. He alone is the reason we celebrate on 25th December and if you don’t want to celebrate that then don’t celebrate Christmas. I thought I should nail my colours to the mast in case anyone reads my title and thinks I’ve gone pagan.

Of course, those who want to celebrate without honouring Christ claim that it is really a pagan festival and so they don’t have to celebrate Jesus’ birth if they don’t want to. They always seem to miss the hole in their argument, though, that if they want to celebrate as a pagan then they must adopt pagan beliefs and honour pagan gods to do so (presumably this ought to include a human sacrifice or two). As most who seem to make this claim are atheists or at best agnostics I suspect they might be very reluctant to adopt the superstitious nature of most pagan beliefs.

Then they will tell me that Christians banned Christmas anyway for a while, but fail to note that actually this was done to try and overcome the problem of those who were celebrating at Christmas time but not honouring Christ. It was the superstitions and over indulgence that was the problem  – not the going to church and singing carols. I often find it amusing that today people accuse Christians of being superstitious when we are the very ones who fought to stop people being superstitious in the first place.

But what of all this claim of pagan origins? In our modern world do these claims hold up to scrutiny? It is another irony that science, history, etc. all now accept that claims made about their discipline of study at the start of the enlightenment were mistaken  – and sometimes downright embarrassing – and yet are very happy to believe any statement made about religion at that time without question – this is where the claims about paganism come from (claims based on conjecture and not evidence).

So let’s quickly examine this question of pagan origins.

To prove this – rather than it just being conjecture – we would have to demonstrate a direct link. We need some statement somewhere by a Christian describing how they had adopted a pagan practice – for instance. We don’t have this evidence. There are Christians  – centuries after the events – who speculate that this is so but no direct evidence. There is a pope who recommends doing it but there is no evidence that his recommendation was ever adopted. I am, of course, aware that Constantine banned pagan practice and converted many temples to churches. This is some evidence of Christians becoming the main religion but not of Christians adopting pagan practice.

Another way to prove it would be to demonstrate that their is no gap in practice and that the belief could not emerge on its own from Christianity. Let’s take the Christmas tree. The Christian Christmas tree can be traced to Martin Luther (16th century). It is claimed that Druids decorated trees and so this must be where the Christmas tree originates from. But Druidism died out in Europe in about the 2nd century and it was their practice not to record any of their beliefs or practices (the only thing we know about them is what others said about them). This is a major gap during which time most of Europe became Christian. The natural superstitious religion of many rural peoples during this period was not pagan but Christian in its basis – there is evidence for this but I’m not writing a phd theses here. So there is a major gap before Martin Luther uses his Christmas tree. Then we have to ask if an evergreen tree could have come to represent everlasting life in a Christians mind independent to paganism. There answer to me is an obvious yes. Similarly holly, etc. This is just common sense and creativity not paganism.

What about the date of Christmas then? Well it is far from clear who first celebrated on the 25th December but it seems it might well have been Christians. Early Christians (2nd century) had worked out a date for Easter as March 25th. There was another belief that this was the same day that Jesus was conceived on (stems from Jewish belief about prophets dying and being conceived on the same day). Nine months from March 25th is December 25th. This predates any reference to a pagan celebration on that day (Sol Invictus is moved to 25th Dec in 274AD – possibly as a result of Christians celebrating Jesus’ birth on that day, although this part is just conjecture). There are other midwinter festivals but none on 25th December.

Of course, we will never know how much paganism influenced the Christmas celebrations. I believe the answer is far less than is often made out but I can’t deny that some practices may have come from paganism. However, even if they did, they were adopted by Christians and used to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th. This does not give anyone the right to claim that Christmas is a pagan festival. It is about time serious minded people got beyond this nonsense.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Sad news about Peter Bolt

Received the news that Rev Peter Bolt died yesterday at the age of 92.

I’m sure many people are adding their tributes but I wanted to add something to my blog.

Peter was important to me at an important stage of my life. He advised me on what to do during my canditating for ministry and saw me through local preaching. Of course, it will be his leadership of Plymouth Praisemakers that left the greatest impression on myself and many others. Those were great days even though I usually ended up with a soar throat and hardly slept for many days on end. The tours to America are great memories for me but perhaps the bits I liked the most were the concerts at Christmas. It was always a great way to celebrate the season – especially at an age when the present giving was not so important and my secular friends were all off down the pub.

However, the greatest thing that P Praisemakers gave me was a wife and subsequent family – how can you measure such a contribution to someone’s life?

Thanks Peter for being such a shining example of what it means to live a Christian life – you have been an inspiration to me in my own life and in my ministry. I’m sure when you met Jesus he simply said “well done, good and faithful servant.” Rest in peace Peter and save me a place near you in the heavenly choir.

Thoughts about anything