Woman bearing a rucksack standing on crest of a hill overlooking a misty sea with hills in the distance, over the top are the words: Wait, what if Rizpah's one-woman protest against King David shaped the laws of Deuteronomy?

Wait, what if Rizpah’s protest against King David shaped the laws of Deuteronomy?

I was recently listening to a compelling sermon by Austin Channing Brown, that was all about Rizpah. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, she’s a woman in the Old Testament who undertook a months-long one-woman silent protest. Her actions eventually persuaded King David to bring an end to something which he had commanded. (If you want to hear the sermon, it’s on episode 2 of the Evolving Faith Podcast.)

Brown’s sermon focussed on speaking truth to power and she applied Rizpah’s story to racial justice today. But as I sat and thought through Rizpah’s actions, I realised they may have been much more far-reaching, even in her own time, than just changing David’s actions.

And while I’m yet to visit the library and validate my suspicions here, I’m now willing to bet that Rizpah’s protest changed the law.

Twice.

Allow me to explain.

And CONTENT WARNING this gets a bit gory. Continue reading Wait, what if Rizpah’s protest against King David shaped the laws of Deuteronomy?

Wooden slats with two red felt hearts pegged onto a string in the top right corning. Text over the top: Actually, sometimes it's right to say 'love your neighbour' more often than 'love God' (and it's always right to remember context) workthegreymatter.com

Actually, sometimes it’s right to say ‘love your neighbour’ more often than ‘love God’

OK, so I know that deconstructing bad tweets on Christian Twitter is often a soul-destroying sport, but hey – this one overlapped with the subject matter of a book I’ve just started reading, so…

The tweet was this:

“The most pervasive — and pernicious — false teaching of our day is that “love your neighbor” is the greatest commandment in the law.”

It was written by a Southern Baptist pastor in the US who later doubled-down with a looooonnnng thread about the law and what Jesus meant when he talked about the two greatest commandments. (For those less familiar: these two commandments are (1) to love God and (2) to love your neighbour.)

If you’re wondering why I’ve given no direct links, that’s because a couple of weeks later he followed up with another tweet (which I didn’t see but was screencapped) about the Old Testament law and slavery. When that thread blew up he deleted his entire timeline. He then said people should be able to ask questions and acknowledged that his thread had caused hurt, but did little more.

Sigh.

I’m not interested trolling a particular person, but I do care deeply about how Christians understand the Old Testament and apply it in their everyday lives. Because that application – for good or for bad – can have far-reaching consequences.

OK, let’s talk about this.

Continue reading Actually, sometimes it’s right to say ‘love your neighbour’ more often than ‘love God’
Monochrome picture of small wooden cross on white background with the words: I cannot believe the church's responsibility is so small, that we get to shrug and try better next time. On lament and overcoming helplessness. workthegreymatter.com

I cannot believe the church’s responsibility is so small that we get to shrug and try better next time.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen some pretty horrific things passing through my social media feed the last few weeks. And I am not OK.

I’m not going to re-share the relevant images or specifics, but I want to pause for a moment and talk about what to make these stories. Because their haunting horror isn’t easing and I need to find a way to get through my grief and sense of helplessness.

Content warning: Non-specific mentions of martyrdom, suffering and ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Continue reading I cannot believe the church’s responsibility is so small that we get to shrug and try better next time.

Vertical extract of the Hebrew text of the book of Ezekiel chapter 18, in a wider dark red background. Over the background are the words: White Christians: don't quote Ezekiel to duck out of past and present racism. workthegreymatter.com

White Christians: don’t quote Ezekiel to duck responsibility for past and present racism

So, I saw someone asking why white Christians were repenting of the sins their ancestors committed against people of colour.

And I want to write about this.

Caveats: I’m mainly going to talk to how I understand the Old Testament, because the Old Testament was being quoted and it’s something I’m familiar with as a Christian. But just because I’m taking this angle, that doesn’t mean it’s the most relevant or comprehensive angle; I just want to demonstrate how this particular argument doesn’t stack up.

In short, the argument was this: if we’re all responsible for what we do ourselves, not what other people do, then white people shouldn’t have to apologise for the racism of other white people. See, for example, the principle of individual responsibility promoted in Ezekiel 18:19-20.

However, I think this fails to appreciate the context of Ezekiel and the attitudes the book was responding to.

So let’s dive in.

Content warning, this gets political and I mention an Old Testament clobber passage. Also, I don’t have space here to get into why bad things happen and people suffer; Ezekiel clearly had a concept of divine retribution and I’m going to roll with that worldview for now, because it was also implicit in the Tweet I read. Continue reading White Christians: don’t quote Ezekiel to duck responsibility for past and present racism

Picture of bullet shell on the ground in a deserted place with the words: Are your thoughts and prayers with ... the system? Maybe they should be workthegreymatter.com

Are your thoughts and prayers with … the system? Maybe they should be.

I’m grateful to say that gun violence is something quite remote from my experience and everyday life. The UK has tight gun controls and most of our police don’t carry firearms. I don’t think I’ve seen a gun fired, ever, let alone at anyone.

So, as I write this post, I’m going to do my best not to claim knowledge and understanding that I don’t have. However, how we pray and what we pray for is in my blogging lane, and I think it’s time I say something on this. Continue reading Are your thoughts and prayers with … the system? Maybe they should be.

Book of Good Omens, brown cover, hardback, by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, on black background with the text "Does Good Omens promote the gospel? Not quite, but it comes close..." workthegreymatter.com

Does Good Omens promote the Gospel? Not quite, but it comes close

This is the second of a pair of posts about Good Omens. I’ll start with a quick recap of where I got to in the previous one, and don’t worry, this post is half the length of its predecessor.

There was this bit:

We should appreciate then that the story is about misfits trying to change the establishment, far more than any modern concepts of witchcraft. In fact, all the heroes, by their very nature and identity, transgress the bounds of acceptability in one way or another.

And this bit:

The question for critics, if they can concede that Good Omens is a good piece of storytelling, is whether its transgressive core is against Christian belief. Because let’s face it: disobedience, mischief and rebellion aren’t exactly renowned Christian virtues.

OK, let’s get stuck in. Continue reading Does Good Omens promote the Gospel? Not quite, but it comes close

Hardback book, "The Quite Nice and Fairly Accurate Good Omens script book" adapted from the novel, by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, on black background with the text "Does Good Omens promote Satanism? Wow, OK, let's talk about this" workthegreymatter.com

Does Good Omens promote Satanism? Wow, OK, let’s talk about this.

It’s easy to guffaw when a bunch of anxious conservative Christians launch a petition calling for Netflix to cancel a popular show. Especially when that show, the recent adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s and Neil Gaiman’s book Good Omens, was actually a joint work from Amazon and the BBC.

But if we can reasonably assume that these concerns will persist even in the face of Netflix’s promise not to make any more, let’s ask the question in all seriousness: does the show make Satanism ‘appear normal, light and acceptable’? Does it mock God’s wisdom?

In my habit of writing long posts, I’ve split this one into two parts. Part 1 digs into the genre of Good Omens and what that does and (more to the point) doesn’t say about Satanism. In Part 2, I focus more on the faith angle, looking at the theology of challenging norms and asking how closely Good Omens fits with this. Continue reading Does Good Omens promote Satanism? Wow, OK, let’s talk about this.

Ancient Hebrew manuscript showing extract from Exodus with the words superimposed: To my egalitarian friends: please don't hate on the Old Testament law (or at least, not on my blog)

To my egalitarian friends: please don’t hate on the Old Testament law (or at least, not on my blog)

Photo credit: Tanner Mardis via Unsplash

In fairness, no one has actually come to my blog and ranted about the Old Testament laws. So, this post probably isn’t aimed directly at you.

That said, I want to get more and more into writing about them and I could easily imagine many egalitarian Christians looking at me baffled and asking why I would bother at all. That in itself is not so much a problem; it’s great when people ask genuine questions. The difficulty I want to avoid is people saying things up front like, “Yeah, but we’re under grace now,” or “Moses was a misogynist.”

I have no problem sharing a high-five with anyone who believes women are equally as capable of leading as men are; I have no problem sitting with someone who believes that Jesus was the fulfilment of the Old Testament law. But I don’t think egalitarians need to disregard the Old Testament, or the Torah (or those deeply uncomfortable Deuteronomy laws) in order to make their case.

Instead, I think the egalitarian standpoint (that’s the idea men and women might be different but are still equally capable of leadership) is stronger when it has an integrated understanding of the Old Testament, its stories and its laws. This is why I want to write about them.

So my ask is this: if you’re one of my allies, and you agree with what I have to say about consent etc, please don’t pile on with how the Old Testament is irrelevant or perverse. Continue reading To my egalitarian friends: please don’t hate on the Old Testament law (or at least, not on my blog)

Picture of wooden crucifix on a table, with the words "I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; here’s what happened when I complained"

I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; here’s what happened when I complained

You’ll get the most out of this post if you first read the previous one. Basically, I went to a talk where a man preached that Jesus took humanity’s punishment when Jesus suffered on the cross. At the end I said I didn’t think was supported by the bible, but rather Jesus took humanity’s sin.

In the previous post, I talked about what the theology of penal substitutionary atonement is, why I have such issue with it, what this man actually said, and what I said by way of challenge.

This post charts my experiencing of going into that talk, coming away from it, and how people responded to me.

I’m sharing this because one of the most pressing questions of the current time is how people can raise their voices and be heard and bring about positive change. I don’t have all the answers, but my reflections on this particular incident may give people helpful food for thought. Continue reading I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; here’s what happened when I complained

Picture of wooden crucifix on a table with the words "I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; it tainted the ‘good’ in Good Friday"

I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; it tainted the ‘good’ in Good Friday

So, last week I heard a man in paid ministry explain why Good Friday is good.

I took notes.

I knew in advance that he was an evangelical, so I guessed he’d be presenting a variant on penal substitutionary atonement (PSA). In this post I’ll lay out what PSA is, what he said, what I said to him by way of challenge and other reasons why I felt the theology was problematic. In the next post, I’ll discuss the fallout, how that affected me, and what I make of the situation as a whole. Continue reading I heard a talk on penal substitutionary atonement; it tainted the ‘good’ in Good Friday

Wedding shoes of different colours but similar ribbons and style

Why purity-as-separation undermines the church’s covenant calling

Last Christmas I realised something that made me so angry I wanted to pick up my laptop and smash it to pieces.

No, this was not an urge that I had felt before.

I was contemplating the second chapter of Hebrews which talks about Jesus being made like the people whom he helped. The book is one of my favourites in the New Testament because it has a wholesale take on Jesus as the Great High Priest. I’m a sucker for the Old Testament books of law (don’t judge me!) so I lap up the words of this letter with delight every time I read them. Assuming I understand them, of course. And there’s no guarantee of that because, good grief, this book is complex!

Anyway: I was contemplating how Jesus was both like and unlike the people that he acted on behalf of as a priest. The thought-process was in aid of a blog post I published in the new year about how “priest” was to be my word for 2017. You see, a priest identifies with someone who is both like and unlike them. That is an integral part of how a priest ministers reconciliation. It was that like-and-unlike idea I had in mind when picked the image for that post – which I’m reusing for this one. (It comes from a winter wedding, in case you hadn’t guessed.)

The thought I had as I was contemplating was this: when a group of people, called by God to be ministers of his covenant to the world, separate themselves from others on the grounds of “purity”, they subvert and frustrate God’s reconciling plan for everyone else.

And this is bad. Very bad.  Continue reading Why purity-as-separation undermines the church’s covenant calling

Green grapes on a vine in the sunlight. Text over the top: A brain-dump about purity (this time I think I really might change the world)

A brain-dump about purity: this time, I think I really might change the world

When I was a plucky secondary school pupil, I had an idea for a perpetual motion machine. I was beyond excited. I was going to solve the world’s energy problems. I was prepared to accept that maybe there was a glitch in my design that I hadn’t realised, so I prayed earnestly that if I was wrong then God will tell me that very same day.

That afternoon my older brother told me it wouldn’t work.

I didn’t believe him to begin with, but gradually reality sank in as he explained. As Scotty would say, “Ya canna change the laws of physics!” Unknowingly, I had been trying to break the first rule of thermodynamics – that energy cannot be created or destroyed.

Thing is, right now, I feel like a child again. I feel like I can change the world. Or maybe it’s not that I can but that I will – by the grace of God, in the wisdom of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the fellowship of the church – change the world.

Is that me or is that not me? I don’t care! The world is going to change – and that’s what really excites me.

So, what’s this big world-changing idea?

I’ve tried to blog about it before and I’m hoping I’ll blog about it in various forms over the coming months (years?): it’s all about purity.

Continue reading A brain-dump about purity: this time, I think I really might change the world

An open letter to Nate Sparks on leaving evangelicalism

Dear Nate,

I wondered what I should I do when I read your recent post about your sense of lament at leaving evangelicalism. Much of what you wrote resonated with me – and yet there were differences. I wondered whether we’re seeing a slightly different problem, or the same problem from different perspectives. Even now, I’m not sure. What I do know is that I wanted to write. And I hope that this letter will be a blessing to you and others who read it.

While the debate rages about whether social media helps or hinders real connectedness between people – you’re what I’d call a ‘social media success’. By which I mean, you’re someone I’ve been able to connect to, in a way that probably wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. Mainly because I live in the UK and you live in the US.

Continue reading An open letter to Nate Sparks on leaving evangelicalism
Picture of opening page of Chapter 1 from "Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought" by Aaron Koller

What? A study on Nehemiah? And The Gospel Coalition wrote it?

Nehemiah. The next DVD and discussion series held my Bible study group will be on… Nehemiah.

After reading a truly excellent book on Esther last year (from which the picture below is taken), I’ve been distinctly uncomfortable about Nehemiah. Or perhaps, it’s not that I feel uncomfortable about the book itself. Rather, it’s the fact that I have only ever heard Nehemiah preached about in positive terms.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Nehemiah is known for rebuilding the ruined walls of Jerusalem.

Continue reading What? A study on Nehemiah? And The Gospel Coalition wrote it?