God is inclusive: in Deuteronomy, in Isaiah and in Acts (reflecting on the meaning of priesthood)

Picture of lots of small candles aflame against a dark background. Text over the top: God is inclusive: in Deuteronomy, in Isaiah, and in Acts (reflecting on the meaning of priesthood)

So, this is the season of Pentecost. In the Christian calendar, it’s when the church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit and the full inclusion of Gentiles as children and heirs of the promise God made to Abraham, way way back when. (See Galatians 3:29 or, like, the book of Romans.)

Although the story of Acts chapters 1 and 2 was familiar to me growing up, I don’t think I quite appreciated how radical the idea of Gentile inclusion was for the early church. Instead, the narrative was gutted to a simplistic “law bad, faith good.” This anti Old Testament law sentiment never sat right with me but, more to the point, this version of the gospel meant that the story of Acts never challenged me to be inclusive in my theology.

Instead, that lightbulb moment came when I better understood Isaiah 56. So, in this post I’m going to talk about how I think priesthood relates to inclusion, and how I reconcile the apparent contrasts between Deuteronomy 23:1 and Isaiah 56:4-5.

Content warning: This post mentions bodily harm because, well, these verses are about eunuchs. Continue reading God is inclusive: in Deuteronomy, in Isaiah and in Acts (reflecting on the meaning of priesthood)

Currency for closure? On vulnerability and storycraft in a #metoo world

Picture inside a garden with paving stones and flowers and plants arranged alongside a small wooden fence, with the words on top: Currency for closure? On vulnerability and storycraft in a metoo world workthegreymatter.com

I want to talk about something that’s been on my mind, particularly since the #metoo hashtag started trending back in 2017.

The sharing of stories is undoubtedly one of the most important things in breaking open and exposing systemic abuse. Grooming frequently brings survivors to believe that they’re the only one it’s happened to, or that what happened was their fault. When stories are shared, that lie is shown for what it is.

And yet, telling one’s story doesn’t guarantee that a person will be heard and supported in the way that they need; nor does it guarantee that justice will happen as a result of them speaking up. Meanwhile, testifying can turn a witness into a harassment target, as happened with Christine Blasey Ford when she spoke about Brett Kavanaugh.

So we have this dilemma: sharing our stories can be powerful and important, yet it can also come with huge risk, especially when trying to shine a light on systemic abuse.

I have no doubt that survivors are aware of this risk. For many, it’s why they don’t disclose or only do so after a long delay. And yet, what does a survivor do when they witness the great outpouring of story-sharing that took place in 2017? What do they make of the high profiles of women like Christine Blasey Ford, Miriam Haley and Jessica Mann? Is it now possible to hope to be believed if a survivor does share their story?

I grant you, the odds of being believed are probably far better than they’ve ever been historically; but high profile cases, even those considered to be successes, don’t guarantee comfort or closure for any survivor in the event that they share their story. Now some survivors have already written about why they didn’t share their metoo stories, but it still troubles me that survivors might underestimate the risk and the cost of disclosure.  Continue reading Currency for closure? On vulnerability and storycraft in a #metoo world

1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 4: transforming the perishable so as to inherit the imperishable (1 Cor 15:44-58)

Picture of a Bible open at 1 Corinthians 15 with hand highlighted sections, with the words on top: 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 4: Transforming the perishable so as to inherit the imperishable(1 Cor 15:44-58) workthegreymatter.com
Thanks to @M_rags_ for making this photo available freely on @unsplash

 

Welcome to the final part of my four-part series sweeping through 1 Corinthians 15 on the subject of resurrection. You can read part one here, part two here and part three here.

In verses 1-11 Paul established that Jesus rose from the dead — an event in the historical past. In verses 12-23 Paul explained that Jesus resurrected before everyone else because he was a ‘first-fruit’ and that everyone else will follow, collectively, in the future. In verses 30-34 Paul acknowledged that his ministry looked like a failure if you just considered success in present terms, but still he works to anticipate future resurrection in the here and now. Then, in verses 35-43 Paul turned his attention to how the glory of the future resurrection body is better than the glory of our current bodies.

My last post ended with a series of contrasts that Paul drew between our current and future bodies, likening the former to a seed in the ground and the latter to a plant. We’ll pick up things up there. Continue reading 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 4: transforming the perishable so as to inherit the imperishable (1 Cor 15:44-58)

1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 3: resurrection is about the body – but what does that actually mean? (1 Cor 15:35-43)

Picture of a Bible open at 1 Corinthians 15 with hand highlighted sections, with the words on top: 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 3: Resurrection is about the body - but what does that mean? (1 Cor 15:35-43) workthegreymatter.com
Thanks to @M_rags_ for making this photo available freely on @unsplash

 

Welcome to part three of my four-part series sweeping through 1 Corinthians 15 on the subject of resurrection. You can read part one here and part two here.

In verses 1-11 Paul established that Jesus rose from the dead — an event in the historical past. In verses 12-23 Paul explained that Jesus resurrected before everyone else because he was a ‘first-fruit’ and that everyone else will follow, collectively, in the future. Then in verses 30-34 Paul acknowledged that his ministry looked like a failure if you just considered success in present terms, but still he works to anticipate future resurrection in the here and now.

Now Paul turns his attention to the nature of the future resurrection body. Continue reading 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 3: resurrection is about the body – but what does that actually mean? (1 Cor 15:35-43)

1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 2: resurrection as both a present and future event (1 Cor 15:12-34)

Picture of a Bible open at 1 Corinthians 15 with hand highlighted sections, with the words on top: 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 2: resurrection as both a present and future event (1 Cor 15:12-34) workthegreymatter.com
Thanks to @M_rags_ for making this photo available freely on @unsplash

 

Welcome to part two of my four-part series sweeping through 1 Corinthians 15 on the subject of resurrection. You can read part one here.

In verses 1-11 Paul established that Jesus rose from the dead — an event in the historical past. In the next few verses he shifts his focus to consider the future.

Someone in Corinth had been saying that there is no ‘resurrection of the dead.’

We have to appreciate that resurrection is not a Christian idea, but was already established in Jewish thought before the time of Jesus and roundly dismissed and mocked by ancient Greek culture. ‘The resurrection of the dead’ was understood to be a collective future event when everyone will be raised up. First century Jews weren’t expecting any one person to be raised in advance of the rest so, perhaps unsurprisingly, the idea that Jesus rose from the dead threw a bit of a spanner in the works: it was a past event concerning one person. Maybe that was why some people at the church in Corinth were beginning to pour cold water on the idea of future resurrection.

In any case, Paul wanted to explain how everything fitted together. Continue reading 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 2: resurrection as both a present and future event (1 Cor 15:12-34)

1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 1: the legal case for Jesus’s resurrection from the dead (1 Cor 15:1-11)

Picture of a Bible open at 1 Corinthians 15 with hand highlighted sections, with the words on top: 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 1: the legal case for Jesus's resurrection from the dead (1 Cor 15:1-11) workthegreymatter.com
Thanks to @M_rags_ for making this photo available freely on @unsplash

 

1 Corinthians 15 is one of those chapters you literally have to read verse by verse. Then you read each verse again about 4 times to get it.
– Sierra White

Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, chapter 15, is one of the greatest chapters of the New Testament and it’s all about resurrection. At 58 verses, it is, in itself, a modestly sized sermon when you hear it preached on today, it is often tackled in very small chunks. And you can see why — there’s a lot to unpack.

But what I’m going to do in this post and the next three, is sweep through the entire chapter. Albeit, without reading every verse four times! The aim here isn’t to say everything that’s worth saying or to deconstruct every warped interpretation you might have heard. Rather, it’s to give a light touch explanation of how this how symphony fits together.

Much of what I’ll be sharing comes from three particular books that I’ve read over the last few years:

  • Living Hope, by Russell Hebert, published by Epworth and then by Kevin Mayhew. The book discusses the theology of Jürgen Moltmann in the context of palliative care.
  • The second book is Surprised by Hope, by Tom Wright, published by SPCK.
  • The third book is Body: Biblical Spirituality for the Whole Person, by Paula Gooder, published by SPCK.

So there is going to be a lot in this series on hope, resurrection and the body. That said, I’m not doing this because I want to give you an academic lecture. I’m doing this because I believe hope is for everyone, resurrection is for everyone and, having a body and being part of the body of Christ is for everyone. I learnt about those three things, from these books. It is my hope and prayer that the understanding I received will dwell richly within you and work transformation in your lives, as much as it has done in mine over the last few years – if not more so.

So, let’s start by looking at verses 1-8. Continue reading 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 1: the legal case for Jesus’s resurrection from the dead (1 Cor 15:1-11)

Resurrection is the vindication of the body – and the only complete answer to rape culture

Picture from inside a dark cave, facing the entrance where light streams in. Superimposed are some words in Hindi and the following words in English: Resurrection is the vindication of the body -- and the only complete answer to rape culture. workthegreymatter.com

Content note: I debated whether I should categorise this post as ‘sunlight’ or ‘moonlight’. On the one hand, its message is unashamedly positive and it speaks about the core of Christian hope — resurrection. On the other hand, it also talks about an extremely violent event that resulted in a woman’s death. I’ve decided to go with ‘sunlight’ on the grounds because this is ‘hope worth sharing’ and, to the extent that I talk about suffering, I do in the same way as I would talk about Jesus’s passion on the cross.

However, please be advised that I describe in broad terms what happened, and I allude to some of the horrific details, though more specific discussion has warnings telling the reader when they may want to skip ahead.

***

A few years ago I watched a documentary called India’s Daughter (now available to rent or buy on YouTube). It was about Jyoti Singh, a 23 year-old Indian medical student who said that to be a doctor was the highest calling you could have in life.

If you’ve heard of her, you may know her as ‘Nirbhaya’, which means ‘fearless’. Or you may only know of her as the victim of the 2012 Delhi bus rape and murder.

The documentary I saw was powerful and hard-hitting, laying out the horror of both the assault and the ideologies that made it possible.

But when I came away there was one thing I was convinced of more than anything else: hers is a story that will end in resurrection.

Today I want to explain a little about why I believe that, and why the vindication of the body is such an important message for rape survivors everywhere. Continue reading Resurrection is the vindication of the body – and the only complete answer to rape culture

Potatoes and scandalzzz: what to make of Rachel Jankovic’s relentless book promotion?

Picture of raw potatoes on a chopping board with the words: Potatoes and scandalzzz: what to make of Rachel Jankovic’s relentless book promotion? Workthegreymatter.com

Making a financial success of a new book is not an easy business in the age of the internet, especially if you’re writing for a niche market through a small publisher. So I can understand the desire to market your work wherever and whenever you can, milking the social media machine for all its promotional worth.

That being the case, I’m not really against Canon Press making short videos of Rachel Jankovic espousing her gospel of obedience whilst she peels potatoes and answers her scandalizzzed critics. Hey, if I had a new book to promote, I’d love that kind of support from my publisher.

But what should we be making of these videos? How should we react when she derides Beth Moore and the “encroaching feminism” that dares to suggest women can and should preach in the pulpit? Should we be angry, frustrated? Should we watch or boycott? Should we analyse or parody?

Ultimately it’s for each of us to answer those questions for ourselves. In this post though, I’ll tell you what my answers are, and why in the hope that they’ll help stimulate you in your analytical thinking. Continue reading Potatoes and scandalzzz: what to make of Rachel Jankovic’s relentless book promotion?

sometimes I wonder… if Rachel Jankovic understands scandal (a response to her criticism of Kaitlin Shetler’s viral poem)

Over the last week or so, a #poemfortheresistance by Kaitlin Hardy Shetler has been making waves on the internet. Both stark and poignant, it contemplates whether Mary’s experience of breast-feeing Jesus was anything like the author’s earthy experience. (Its text is at the bottom of this post.)

The poem has many layers but it lands the author’s view that the coarse image of a teenage girl, with cracked nipples maybe, breast-feeding Jesus, says far more about the truth and relevance of the Christmas story than the many sermons you might hear from privileged male preachers who gate-keep women from the pulpit.

At the time I write, the poem has garnered over 40,000 reactions on Facebook and 29,000 shares (not counting the ones where people copied the text into their own posts). It’s clearly resonated with a lot of people, however it’s also been deemed silly or irrelevant by some, offensive to others.

In particular, Rachel Jankovic criticises the poem for misstating the scandal of Christmas as “some kind of woman power thing” when the real scandal (in her view) is obedience to God.

I want to talk about this. Continue reading sometimes I wonder… if Rachel Jankovic understands scandal (a response to her criticism of Kaitlin Shetler’s viral poem)

What exactly is this ‘preaching’ MacArthur speaks of, that he says it’s categorically beyond all women?

Picture of a closed black Bible resting on an ornate lectern, with the words: What exactly is this 'preaching' MacArthur speaks of, that he says it's categorically beyond all women? workthegreymatter.com

John MacArthur was recently asked what he thought of Beth Moore. In addition to telling her to ‘go home’, he said: “There’s no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher – period – paragraph – end of discussion.” (Video here.)

[For those less familiar: if you want a flavour of the more recent controversy around Beth Moore, try reading this Church Leaders article from May 2019: Beth Moore Has Had Enough of ‘Sinful’ Evangelical Misogyny. John MacArthur is on Wikipedia here.]

This ‘no case that can be made biblically’ statement has got me scratching my head a little. I mean…

Before Zelophehad’s daughters, there was no scriptural case for daughters inheriting. (Numbers 27:7-11) Continue reading What exactly is this ‘preaching’ MacArthur speaks of, that he says it’s categorically beyond all women?

Dear Christians: non-conformity is not the path to transformation

St Paul's Cathedral between two modern buildings with the text: Dear Christians: non-conformity is not the path to transformation

The book of Daniel often gets cited as the model for Christians to follow because he doesn’t acculturate, famously refusing the king’s food. The thing is, there are people other than Daniel in the Bible who did acculturate and brought God’s salvation and transformation into the world by doing so. (Esther and Joseph being the two leading examples.)

In my last post, I wrote about how the UK and US churches’ use of Daniel to promote non-conformity is problematic; in this post I want to dig deeper into assumptions that underpin our ‘Daniel-only’ models of church.

Because I reckon the overuse of non-conformity comes down to a flawed theology of hope. Continue reading Dear Christians: non-conformity is not the path to transformation

Dear Christians: Daniel is not the distinctive role model you think he is

Picture of St Paul's Cathedral in London between two modern buildings; caption: Dear Christians: Daniel is not the distinctive role model you think he is

One of my bugbears about the church in the UK and US, is the strong emphasis of non-conformity.

We’re told to be like Daniel and show our distinctiveness. We have to be bold like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who would face the fiery furnace sooner than bow down to the Babylonian king. As Paul put it in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.”

I have no complaint about these Bible passages, but I’m tired of this narrative. I think it’s being overused and misused. Not only that, but its counterpart is being missed altogether. Continue reading Dear Christians: Daniel is not the distinctive role model you think he is

Always reforming: 95 statements on hope, sexuality and consent

It is 500 years to the day (well, sort of, if we don’t worry about the shift to the Gregorian calendar) since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses onto the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, on 31 October 1517. His actions kicked off the reformation – a movement during which the protestant denominations split away from the Roman Catholic church.

Coming from a protestant background, this seems a fitting time for me to write 95 short statements on the themes of this blog. Of course, they don’t cover everything! But you’ll find in them thoughts and theologies that either have been, or will be, very much an integral part of my writing. (And when I’m cribbing someone else’s work, I’ve put their name in brackets.) I’ve split them into ten categories:

  • personhood
  • abuse
  • God
  • sex
  • consent
  • Christian witness
  • the Bible
  • hope
  • purity
  • and me.

Continue reading Always reforming: 95 statements on hope, sexuality and consent

Who breaks in and does the washing up? Strange stories and Easter

Yellow roses in garden

I got home tired. My temp job was uncomfortably far from where I lived, and I hated the travel. I was in my early twenties having moved away from home a few months previously; meanwhile, I was living on my own, trying to land myself a permanent job, and manage the sky-high rent I was paying.

And you have to understand, the rent really was sky-high for a single person. Because the original plan was that I’d share the property with my best friend. Except, her efforts to land a job had been met with even less success than mine. So it didn’t happen. Later, once the minimum time was up on the tenancy, I moved into something more affordable. (Also met two fabulous friends in the process, so not complaining there.)

So yes, I got home tired. I put the light on. I put my stuff down. I went through to the living room. I came back into the kitchen. And then… I noticed something had moved. I can’t remember what exactly what it was, but a cold feeling came over me as I realised someone had been in the house. What had they done? What had they taken? What if they’d taken the landlord’s stuff?

Then I noticed all the dirty washing up was now clean and stacked neatly on the draining board.

Whoever broke in had done the washing up.

Who breaks in and does the washing up? Continue reading Who breaks in and does the washing up? Strange stories and Easter

Is the One True Love biblical? On hope, choice and responsibility

I was recently asked if the idea of ‘the One’ was biblical and I decided to blog about it as I think it’s essentially a question about how romance relates to hope.

The very boring short answer is No, for the simple reason that many modern romance narratives (including the idea of ‘soul-mates’ and the ‘One True Love’) have literary origins which are much later than the Bible.

But that doesn’t answer much more interesting questions like whether God intends everyone to experience romantic affection or whether a Christian can expect to meet their ‘One’ miraculously.

So, I’ve put a few thoughts on the boring short question in an appendix, and have written a post that tries to address those questions instead. Also, because the original question asked about the Bible, I’ve framed most of my answers using examples from it.

So: is the idea of ‘the One’ consistent with the Bible?

I’m going to say more no than yes.

It’s not that God never does bring ‘the One’ into a Christian’s life (he does), but specifically expecting that God will do this makes too many assumptions about life and how God works. And it encourages too many unhelpful behaviours.

Continue reading Is the One True Love biblical? On hope, choice and responsibility