Thursday, 19 May 2016

A Varied Life



I've been homeless, in prison, at Cambridge university, worked at a London startup, been an atheist, lived in Christian community, travelled, written a book.

I've taken an extraordinary amount of drugs to the point of madness.

I've learned Tai Chi and meditation from a Buddhist community. Spent nearly a year in Romania living with Romanians.

I taught myself to program. I've spoken to an audience of thousands at conferences and been a keynote speaker in India and New Zealand. I've written code used by millions of software developers.

A varied life and I'm not done yet. And I'm still (more and more) convinced that the only thing worth a damn, the only thing to live for (more important than believing the right things) is to love.

But love fiercely.

Friday, 13 May 2016

A Biblical Worldview



The substance of Christianity has to be knowing God, otherwise our faith is nothing more than dead religion. As the bible is our only record of the life and teaching of Jesus it is rightly seen as the foundation of Christianity. Exactly what role to give to the bible, and how to understand it, can however be contentious topics, not least because views on this topic are very personal and deeply held.

For many Christians their faith requires a "bibilical worldview", seeing and understanding the world through the lens of scriptural teaching. A friend of mine recently posted a link to an article by Pastor Rick Warren on this very topic to facebook:
Here's a quote from the article:
Everyone thinks about the world through a particular lens, or filter. We refer to this filter as someone’s “worldview.” And in our post-Christian culture, most Christians have a non-Christian worldview. In other words, a big part of our preaching assignment is helping our listeners to see the world through the lens of a biblical worldview.
There are some useful things that stand as a foundation on the topic of what we mean by "scriptural truth" and a "biblical worldview". What is understood by the term "biblical worldview" has changed drastically over the generations.

For many centuries owning slaves was seen as part of a biblical worldview, supported by both old testament and new testament. Similarly forbidding women from speaking (or playing any role) in church was seen as part of a biblical worldview (again supported by the new testament). Neither of these are part of what most people nowadays mean by "a biblical worldview" now. Forbidding interracial marriage was also espoused by the church in many places, as part of a biblical worldview, not so long ago too! The remarrying of divorcees was grounds for expulsion from the church, as part of a biblical worldview, in most churches until recently.

For a long time a biblical worldview also meant believing that the earth was the centre of the universe and that the sun went round the earth.

This leads us to several important conclusions:
  1. The general understanding amongst Christians of what a biblical worldview means is not a fixed immutable truth but a fluid set of views that have changed and are changing.
  2. What "a biblical worldview" actually means is generally "a specific set of interpretations of the bible" (and any two people rarely agree fully on all the details). 
  3. The fundamentals of what would currently be called "a biblical worldview" has been shaped by several major cultural shifts over the last few centuries, including scientific progress.
  4. What we currently understand as a "biblical worldview" is unlikely to be the same set of views held by the next generation or the ones that follow. In fact elements of our current views may well be seen as abhorrent by later generations, as we see those who supported slavery.
  5. So opposing any cultural shift because it disagrees with what you see as your "biblical world view" may well be a mistake! We can't get away from having to know the heart of God (lean not on your own understanding).
Instead of striving for a "biblical worldview" I'd like to see us work to drop "worldviews" altogether and honestly search for reality as it really is instead of looking to confirm what we've already decided. That is much harder and takes real courage as we are likely to find that God isn't confined to the boxes we assign him to.

Confirmation bias, the tendency of humans to only see the parts of reality that confirm what they already believe and ignore things that contradict it, is so strong and pernicious that seeing beyond our own fallibility and really finding truth has to be a real struggle. If we're not willing to undertake this struggle the chances are we will find an idea of God, rather than the reality of God. We can't find the depths of the substance of knowing God that we long for unless we're willing to take this journey. If we want the new thing we must be willing to think and act in new ways.

This is partly the theme of my "Exploration of the Heart" article on the forward blog. Christianity only works when it's a search of the heart:
This is partly what I think Jesus meant by coming to him like a child. Children haven't built up all the filters and lens that we view the world through, but are much more open to seeing and expressing life as it really is, both for good and for bad.

This has practical consequences for my relationship with God. Coming to God, in prayer or worship, usually starts with me acknowledging that I know nothing. As I come to God I drop everything I think I know or understand, because in the presence of God it's nothing. I reach out for the reality of God, of love, determined to face reality whatever it might be mind be and however it might (or might not) conflict with what I already think I know. And yes that means I might be wrong, about anything or everything, but my understanding is growing - and generally by evolution rather than revolution. But it's a heart led search for meaning, what am I actually finding in God, in me and in life.

On how to understand the bible, alongside what we've found of God and how we see the world, I really like the work of Steve Chalke. In his work "Restoring Confidence in the Bible" he argues that the bible is the record of the revelation of the nature of God to humanity. A process of revelation that didn't just stop 2000 years ago. This means letting go of the idea that the bible is infallible (something the bible itself never claims), and having to wrestle for meaning and truth. Along the way we can still revere the incredible truths within the bible without having to do mental gymnastics to explain away the parts that we don't really follow.

Whatever path you take, enjoy the exploration and plunge heart first into the living word of God!

See also my (short) article Biblical Truth and Doctrine for related musings on this topic.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Forward Blog: Childlike Faith

The Jesus Army "Forward Blog" published an article of mine on finding childlike faith:
It’s been said that the longest journey is the distance from head to heart. Actually I think this is wrong, it’s quite a short distance; but the road only goes one way and it’s in the other direction. Christianity, our faith, is an exploration of the heart not the head. God is love, so how could it be anything else. The head can understand what the heart finds, and it can guide the search, but you just can’t make your heart believe what the mind thinks unless you really find it.

If our faith is based mainly on what we know, God can seem small and distant. No matter how powerful and amazing God is in our minds, when we pray it’s to the God of our heart. If what we’ve found of God is small, if our faith is small, then God seems far away.

It's been said that the longest journey is the distance from head to heart. Actually I think this is wrong, it’s quite a short distance; but the road only goes one way and it’s in the other direction. Christianity, our faith, is an exploration of the heart not the head. God is love, so how could it be anything else. The head can understand what the heart finds, and it can guide the search, but you just can’t make your heart believe what the mind thinks unless you really find it.
If our faith is based mainly on what we know, God can seem small and distant. No matter how powerful and amazing God is in our minds, when we pray it’s to the God of our heart. If what we’ve found of God is small, if our faith is small, then God seems far away.
That’s perhaps very depressing, if merely stuffing more knowledge into our heads doesn’t work then what does? If trying to work up an enthusiasm for what we think we know, what we say we believe, isn’t going to get us there, then what can?
Thankfully, Jesus gave us the answer. Jesus said that the hungry will be filled, the thirsty will find satisfaction. That wasn’t meant as consolation, it was Him showing us the way! As we dare to be hungry we’ll find that God doesn’t disappoint us, God isn’t disappointed in us and longs to pour out his life and spirit among us. God loves us. Really loves us. You and me. God wants us to be filled with His love to overflowing and the hungrier we get for His love the more it will happen. Jesus also said seek and you will find. As we reach out with our hearts, longing for God, we can be sure we will find Him.
I’ve long known that my faith is too complicated, I wanted that childlike faith that Jesus spoke of. In fact I would say I was working towards a childlike faith, something that amused my Christian friends. I often saw around me people with a blind faith in a very complicated God, who had lots of rules, and it didn’t seem to work. They weren’t overflowing with life.
My favourite passage of the bible, the one that for me sums up the reason and substance of my faith, is 1 John 4:7-12:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
I’ve spoken of this often recently, but I guess I’m slow on the uptake because the full impact of this scripture is still only gradually seeping in. Whilst meditating last week it suddenly struck me: I believe in love. I believe in love absolutely. I believe love heals, I believe love is worth living for, I believe there’s nothing else worth living for. I have faith in love, and God is love. And there it was, my childlike faith.
All of a sudden, I could see God in people. I hadn’t even really known what that meant before. Now I can see God at work all around me. Love is strong, love is everywhere, love is at work, and love wins.