Category Archives: Belief

Exegesis or Eisegesis?

Reading the passage for a couple of weeks ago I was reminded of exegesis and eisegesis – if you look at who is invited to the wedding banquet you can reach several different conclusions:

sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come

So we are called, but we have to respond;

gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good


Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?

rejection of God (I have been told that the wedding garment would have been provided, so it was a rejection rather than any other reason);

For many are called, but few are chosen


I would however suggest that the small bits of scripture that I have chosen can only support a position based on eisegesis – I know what I think, here is something that supports it.  For exegesis you need to look at all texts which may be relevant and weigh them against each other.

I picked the image I did as for me the overarching narrative of the Bible is of God’s love for us all, so for me all texts have to be read in the light of that love.  If an individual text appears to contradict that love then I am less sure of it.  I’m still not sure whether that means that I read in or read out – but I do think that I am at least weighing conflicting texts in the balance.

What is hidden?

Last Sundays reading (Matthew 21.33-46) and next Sundays reading (Matthew 22.1-14) both reminded me of the Johari Window.  In both cases Jesus is telling a story against the chief priests and the Pharisees, and particularly in the first they do not recognise it.  They identify more with the landowner than with the tenants.

For all of us the things which are most likely to trip us up are the things of which we are unaware.  Sometimes others can help us to discover these things, if both they and we can build up the courage to talk about the things that they know about us which we don’t.  But there is still an unknown area where no one (apart from God) knows these things, where we have to work at this ourselves (perhaps in prayer).

One clue can be the times that we get really annoyed with someone else – very often it is because sub consciously we are angry that we too do whatever it was made us angry with them.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!


you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free

[I have been on holiday and retreat, and have had to prepare to be away and cope with getting back – “normal” service should now be resumed!]

Beyond Belief

We will be reading “The Orthodox Heretic“, by Peter Rollins as our next book at Beyond Belief.  We will be meeting on 11th October and 15th November and other dates to be arranged at 7:30pm at a location to be arranged!  If you are interested in joining us please contact Alan.

This is a book of modern parables, all with a twist!

Pete himself reads them here:, here: and here



Who is responsible?

I have been talking to a number of people recently about faith matters, and have realised that I think that their faith development is their responsibility.  That may or may not appear obvious to you, but it strikes me that many clergy think that it is their responsibility.

In one instance we were talking about a church where the pastor was fed up with people coming late to the service so he ordered that the doors be locked, and latecomers not admitted (don’t worry St Mark’s – we aren’t going to do it); in a number of cases, someone was excluded for their behaviour.

My take on this is that they are responsible for their own behaviour (as are the others in the congregation, just in case these things are done “to encourage the others“), although I have a responsibility to walk alongside them (fellow pilgrims on the way) offering help and guidance and sharing where I am.

I expressed this to someone and they challenged me with Paul’s discipline of wayward Christians in his letters.  However, at least some of these were issues to do with community, and the breaking of it, rather than individual behaviour.

Yes, the incumbent is responsible for the cure of souls, but how to do it?  If you exclude someone from the congregation your chances of influencing them in any way are surely gone!

Faith and Vulnerability

As I have referred to before, each day I read an excerpt from a commentary on the Rule of Benedict.  I have been doing this for around 15 years, and it cycles 3 times a year, so that is a lot!

This morning for the first time I noticed:

The end of Benedictine spirituality is to develop a transparent personality. Dissimulation, half answers, vindictive attitudes, a false presentation of self are all barbs in the soul of the monastic. (my emphasis).

And last night Lesley and I had been talking to some people who are going to help us run something like the new St Martin’s in the Fields course.  (If you are local, watch this space – we are planning to run it in Advent).

Lesley and I took part in a session at Greenbelt, and one of the things that I picked up from it there was that one of the aims was to get people to say what they really thought, rather than what they thought they should say!

Having been involved in a number of confirmation type groups over the years, one of the things that I have noticed is that the more churched people are, the more they want to know what the vicar thinks, whereas the less churched want an open discussion where they are quite happy to share what they think – whether it reflects orthodox thinking or not.  A long time ago I used to follow a blog where one of the posts was about the writers ideal church it had something like:

  1. You can believe what you want (you will anyway, you just won’t tell me).

If you want to grow spiritually you have to be honest about where you are.  Too many people belong to churches where there are right and wrong beliefs, and if you hold wrong ones you are not welcome.  How can you grow in the faith in those circumstances?  Sometimes we go down a dead end and have to turn around, but that dead end may well have been helpful, but if we can’t admit that that is where we are then it is difficult to do the U turn.

What is the Vicar’s Role?

Of course the answer to this will depend on which vicar you ask and the context in which they are ministering!

In the ordination service it is described thus:

Priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent. With their Bishop and fellow ministers, they are to proclaim the word of the Lord and to watch for the signs of God’s new creation. They are to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord; they are to teach and to admonish, to feed and provide for his family, to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations, and to guide them through its confusions, that they may be saved through Christ for ever. Formed by the word, they are to call their hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ’s name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins.

With all God’s people, they are to tell the story of God’s love. They are to baptize new disciples in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and to walk with them in the way of Christ, nurturing them in the faith. They are to unfold the Scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season, and to declare the mighty acts of God. They are to preside at the Lord’s table and lead his people in worship, offering with them a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. They are to bless the people in God’s name. They are to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need. They are to minister to the sick and prepare the dying for their death. Guided by the Spirit, they are to discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people, that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith.

Not a lot there about running a small business (our parish has a turnover of c£100,000), and of course in some parishes the vicar doesn’t have to do this as there are people who can do it for them.  However, in others there aren’t.

Did you also notice the other two bits in there?

With all God’s people, they are to tell the story of God’s love.

they are to discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people, that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith

Which for me asks the question what is the balance – how much does the vicar do, and how much do “all God’s people” do?

Where I was curate there was a very capable congregation and they ran the organisation, leaving the vicar to focus on the spiritual.  BUT, as I left there were four clergy and someone in training, and this for 1 church with 3 services a week.  I felt that this encouraged the congregation to leave the “spiritual stuff” to the clergy.  I think this is wrong; unless “all God’s people” join in the spiritual they will find it harder to grow in their faith.  If we all don’t step out of our comfort zone we will struggle to grow, and this applies spiritually as much as to any other area of life.

Who do Christians Support?

This post was sparked by this article.  I summarise, but it would appear that American Evangelicals support Donald Trump on the basis that my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

This approach seems to me very pragmatic, and not at all idealistic – and yet surely faith has to be idealistic or it is nothing?

Of course Christians can support many different points of view, and of course no leader is going to be perfect, and perhaps Trump is just more open about his flaws than other presidents; but… isn’t the issue that, if as stated in the article, American Evangelicals

generally agree with his economic plan of deregulation, lowering taxes, and keeping undocumented immigrants out.

and yet when I read the Bible I find a Jesus who

watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.


As you may have seen on other posts on this site, we are currently investigating joining Inclusive Church.  At Greenbelt this year the Sunday Communion was based around the idea that:

If we allow anyone to be excluded, either by accident or thoughtlessness or prejudice, we will see God less clearly.

The reading was by someone with CFS so bad that they could not leave their home, and so they gave it over the web.  The sermon by a 14-year-old with cerebral palsy using her voice synthesiser (described as like Stephen Hawking, but sounding better!).

What kind of challenge does that give to us?  How do we include those who cannot get to church?  I have only a partial answer, many churches will visit (and take communion) to those who are housebound, and at St Michael’s in Amersham on the Hill (and others I am sure) services are recorded and taken to the housebound.  However, I fear that these initiatives serve mostly those who were churchgoers and have become infirm – not those who have not so far engaged with church.

As I said, no real answers, but a real challenge.

The Second Curve

At Greenbelt we heard Charles Handy talk about the “second curve”, which is his theory that everything follows the shape of the curve above – initial investment where things get worse, followed by growth, followed by eventual decline.  He talks about the “Second Curve” as being a second of these curves superimposed and offset on the first before it reaches its peak – however, he also acknowledges that in most circumstances people do not know that they need to start the second curve until after the peak.  He told a story:

Many years ago he had been travelling around Wicklow en route to Avoca when he got lost. He paused to ask a local man walking his dog for directions. ‘You go down this small hill here and all the way up that big hill over there and on the far side of the hill you can see Davy’s Pub in the valley’.

‘And is Avoca near Davy’s Pub?’

‘No. A mile the Pub take a turn to the right and that’ll bring you straight to Avoca.’

So he set off, but after he saw Davy’s Pub there was no turn to the right.

One mile before the pub was before the brow of the hill!

This is all very well, but it struck me that this applies to business, and to making a success of things, but I don’t think it applies to the spiritual life.  Most theories of spiritual development have some form of disaster in them; the dark night of the soul, perplexity, the second half of life, Stage 4.  These rely on failure, on going over the hill and letting ourselves do so, rather than hanging on grimly by our finger tips.

I think the second curve is great if you want to continue the same life/journey, but if you want to grow and develop a new life (or even if you don’t) failure is a non optional part.

Good Disagreement

I may have blogged on this before, but we have just spent the weekend at Greenbelt, and one of the talks which attended was about this, and what it might mean.  For me the most interesting comment was that it depends on context.  The example given was that in academia it is good to talk with people who disagree with you, because the aim is a deeper understanding; whereas in politics the aim is to “do” something.  If what we are aiming at is deeper understanding then listening to people with differing views to our own is helpful.  If, however, we are trying to “do” something, and there are differing views on what to do (and in churches these can be strongly held and vastly differing) then reaching good disagreement is much harder.

Lesley and I were talking about this, and she said that in the latter circumstance there is research (a quick Google couldn’t find it) that says that people have a greater desire to be heard than to “win”, and that to get good disagreement on issues like that requires a good process which allows everyone to be heard.  I don’t disagree with that, but I am not sure that it leads to good disagreement when both preferences are held very strongly.

For me, this shed some light on the problems that the church is currently having – are we trying to deepen our understanding, or are we trying to do something?  The fact that we have such strong disagreements suggests to me that we are trying to do something. Perhaps we should be aiming for deeper understanding – although as an organisation we have to do things.