Go to those who want you most

by Roger Walton.

‘Go always, not only to those that want you, but to those that want you most.’

I laboured for several years under the belief that John Wesley’s 12 Rules for a Helper contained the words ‘Go always, not only to those that need you, but to those that need you most’. [1] I don’t know who first quoted this in my hearing but the word ‘need’ was definitely there and it stuck.  It was a bit of surprise, to discover that the word Wesley used is ‘want’ rather than ‘need’. I had always interpreted the instruction to be about attending to the most extreme needs first, where the needy might mean the disadvantaged, the marginalised, the voiceless, the dying.  In the light of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it also carried the idea that one attends to the most basic needs first – food, shelter, warmth, safety and only later to the ‘higher order’ needs such as meaning and ethical living.

The word ‘want’ gives it a different feel.  Rather than a way of prioritising competing needs, is it really about discerning where the desire for help is most ardent, most open, most eager?

On the surface ‘need’ is a more acceptable word.  If we attend to what people want, are we not just pandering to human whims and desires, which in our consumerist society are relentlessly tickled and stimulated by slick advertising and draw on our base desires to own things, to keep up with Joneses and to be better than others?  What human beings want and what they need, we regularly tell ourselves, are very different things.

On the other hand, deciding what others need and how to help them is a very tricky business, as the history of the poor laws and other ways people have tried to help those ‘in need’ demonstrate.  Well-intentioned interventions have often exacerbated rather than eased conditions.  The mantra that Rachel Lampard drew to our attention last year, ‘nothing about us, without us, is for us’ should, she suggested, guide our approach.  People in need are not objects or problems to be solved but subjects, people made in the image of God, to be respected and able to contribute to finding solutions.   That is why the work of Poverty Truth Commissions always includes the voices of those in need, so that their wants as well as their needs become part of the conversation.  This has been a significant dynamic in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.  Those most affected (most in need) want certain things to be addressed and rightly campaign for their desires.

Wants and needs may not be as easy to separate in human experience as we imagine.  That does not mean that every want must be met, nor every attempt to discern need abandoned but the way forward is surely through dialogue, engagement and genuine encounter.   Rather than a technique for ministerial efficiency, Rule 11 may be an invitation to deeper human relationships.

But there is something more to be said.  The purpose of the 12 Rules is to give instruction to the growing number of itinerants, helping Mr Wesley to spread the good news and to order the societies for the disciplined pursuit of holiness.  The Rules are concerned with character, conduct and responsibility, so that the helpers may be both effective in their work and carry something of the message in their personality. The full text of Rule 11 is somewhat longer. The words above are prefaced with this solemn reminder: ‘You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work.’ They are followed by the reminder that it is not about how many sermons you preach or about the number of societies you take care of but rather about calling people to repentance and holiness of life.  In this context, the meaning of those in want (or need) is squarely in the arena of evangelism and discipleship.  Preachers are urged to awaken desire for, and work with those who seek the life of faith.  Within an Arminian framework for evangelism, the instruction ‘to go to those who want you most’ may well mean going to where there are signs of openness and deep yearning for spiritual life. This is a timely word for us as we prioritise evangelism in our Connexion. But Wesley’s instruction also reminds us that we are to form relationships with those to whom we go and discover together with them God’s amazing salvation.

 

[1] This rule was not in the original 1744 version but was added at 1745 Conference and appears as Rule 11 in 1753 version.

Christmas Poetry

by George Bailey.

Christmas Day is a Monday – will we be thinking about theology everywhere? One would hope so… whether or not by reading this blog post. I have been thinking about this for the last few weeks, and finished the final draft on Christmas Eve – but by the time it is posted at 08.30 on Christmas Day, I will be having festive breakfast ahead of the rush to get off to a celebration service.

What are we doing with all this celebrating of Christmas? Why are we generating (manufacturing?) a festival? There’s no scriptural root for Christmas, and it’s not really Jesus’ birthday, but a day to suit the needs of a distant time when Christian relations to the Pagan calendar were of vital importance – and, of course, the incarnation which the Church proclaims at Christmas is the bedrock of our grasp of reality every day, not just on 25th December. I think that what we are about though is proclaiming this good news in a focused way, allowing ourselves to hear it afresh each year, and so, we pray, every day of the coming year, and most of all seeking ways to share it. This is the point of our carol services, midnight communions, nativity plays, dinners, cards, presents, tinsel… and so on. However, the way we use and re-use these means of proclamation which have been handed on to us gives them more than just a utilitarian function – they themselves also become part of the truth and reality they point to.

There is something here akin to the relationship between the language of poetry and the reality it describes.

I have been using the book, Haphazard by Starlight by Janet Morley[1] which gives a poem a day during advent; these poems, and others, have featured large in my Christmas. Why is poetry so special? There has been a welcome recovery of poetry in Christian theology as a way of understanding the revelation of truth. It uses language to full effect not only to point to reality, but also itself to become new meanings and depths in our experience. Poetic language delights in multiple meanings and interpretations, ambiguities and paradoxes – these become not a hindrance but the means by which a depth of truth is encountered in poetry that is closed off to attempts at objectivity, precision and unequivocal statements of truth. Bernadette Waterman Ward, writing about Hans Urs von Balthasar’s appreciation of Gerard Manley Hopkin’s poetry (both Catholic champions of poetic theology) writes, “Like every other reality, a poem is unified, but multitudinous. The joy of it is in the artistry – that it has been deliberately arranged by a human being to proclaim its own richness, which the poet recognizes.”[2] Poetry is both made by humans and a site of divine revelation; a poem can be particular to the writer, and differently particular to each reader. The poet and theologian, Malcolm Guite, points out: “Poetry may be especially fitted as a medium for helping us apprehend something of the mystery embodied in that phrase ‘the Word made flesh’.”[3]

Enough of my attempt to explain it, which without using poetry is set to fail anyway – this Christmas time, why not seek Christ in one of these:

BC:AD by U.A. Fanthorpe

At the Winter Solstice by Jane Kenyon

Many poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins and R. S. Thomas!

or for a contemporary performance poem – The Christmas C(h)ord by Dai Woolridge

These, and others, have led me to think that our celebration of Christmas is somehow like writing a poem – we have a language to work with in the words and practices of the tradition, and we form it into our own poem, which by the work of the Spirit intersects with the experience of Christ in the world, for ourselves and the people around us.

Last week, gathered by the doorway of a supermarket, as we sang,

“Yet, with the woes of sin and strife, the world has suffered long,”

…we watched a teenage girl being apprehended by security guards. As they led her by the arm back into the store, she looked anxious and defeated. Later, as we sang,

“Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns; Let us our songs employ;”

…we watched two police officers stride in from the car park on their way to arrest the girl. In what way was the Saviour reigning? How could we employ our songs to address the power of this consumer society that drives the need to possess more, beyond our means, yet also places production, distribution and profit in the hands of a few wealthy companies? At Christmas we want to help those in need; and do we also need to help those weighed down with wants? Our Christmas poem opened new depths of questioning and prayer.

Last Thursday in the nursing home, a woman, for whom conversation is made difficult by memory loss and confusion, listened to Luke 2:1-7, then was handed a small wood carving of the baby in the manger. She turned it over in her hands, her eyes lit up, and she began the story of how, aged 14, she first responded to Jesus at an evangelistic tent meeting. Our Christmas poem opened new depths of Christian experience and discipleship.

What poem have you been living this Christmas? How has it been heard and experienced by you and by others? How has the Spirit revealed Christ in the rhythms and rhymes of the festival?

 

 

[1] Janet Morley, Haphazard by Starlight: A poem a day from Advent to Epiphany, London: SPCK, 2013.

[2] Bernadette Ward, “Hopkins, Scotus and von Balthasar: Philosophical Theology in Poetry,” in James Fodor (ed.), Theological Aesthetics After Von Balthasar, London: Routledge, 2016, p.74.

[3] Malcom Guite, Faith, Hope and Poetry, London: Routledge, 2016 (first published 2008), p2.

A people prepared

by Jill Baker.

In Luke 1 (v 17), the elderly priest, Zechariah, is told by an angel that he is to become a father and that his son, John the Baptist, will ‘make ready a people prepared for the Lord’. With just one week to go before Christmas Day, I wonder what that phrase might mean to us today? The fact that you are finding time to read this may mean that you are indeed ‘prepared’ for Christmas – or it may mean you have given up!

The season of Advent – only 22 days this year as Christmas Day falls on a Monday – is a season of penitence and preparation in the church year. To many this can feel as though we are out of sync with the world around us; far from a season of fasting, Christmas parties are held throughout Advent then, just as the legitimate feasting season of the Twelve Days of Christmas is getting into its stride we hit 1st January, New Year Resolutions kick in and people commit to a “dry January”!  Does it matter?  The liturgical calendar is not something for which I would go to the stake, but the rhythm of feasting and fasting, preparation and celebration, penitence and jubilation is, to me, a helpful and life-giving rhythm.

Nonetheless, despite our best intentions, for many of us Advent preparations may become largely practical preparations; making a cake, buying gifts and cards, decorating the house, stocking up on food and drink.  It is strangely ironic that a consumerist world which has lost sight of the origins of Christmas can become a harsh taskmaster at this time of year, adding more and more requirements to what is deemed essential for a perfect Christmas.

We may be aided in our struggle to ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ by the plethora of Advent resources now available.  The first book of Advent readings I came across, back in 1983, was Delia Smith’s ‘A Feast for Advent’.  In the introduction she raises precisely this dilemma, comparing our situation to Exodus 5 where, as Moses requests leave for the people to go into the wilderness and ‘celebrate a festival’ (v1), Pharaoh’s response is to force the slaves to collect their own straw for brick-making, to make their burdens heavier so they will forget about God; ‘How significant it is that at Christmas we find ourselves so easily caught up in twice our normal workload, so that we too have no time to listen to the message of freedom.’1

In a similar vein, Walter Brueggemann in ‘Sabbath as Resistance’ talks about the ‘contemporary context of the rat race of anxiety’2 – in which our observance of Sabbath (or we might say, Advent) is an important counter cultural stand.  There is a real danger that even when we do deliberately opt out of ‘being productive’ for a time, we remain almost overwhelmed by the anxiety of the ‘to do’ list.

All this is very far from the experience of the key players in the drama of Incarnation.  Elizabeth and Zechariah would not have Christmas cards, cakes or crackers in mind as they pondered what the angel might mean by ‘A people prepared for the Lord’.   The earlier verses of the chapter give us some pointers; almost the first fact we learn about John the Baptist is that he must drink no wine or strong drink. That might prove rather a surprise to Cosmopolitan magazine whose December editorial begins with the words, ‘As the year reaches its alcohol-saturated finale…’.

Instead John will be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ and in this power, will have three key tasks, all concerned with turning hearts and minds. He will ‘turn many people… to the Lord their God’, he will ‘turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous’ and he will ‘turn the hearts of parents to their children’. In this, perhaps, Luke’s record comes closer to the hopes of Cosmopolitan, whose editor continues; ‘…our thoughts turn to loved ones, lack of sleep and things we really want to find at the end  of our beds come 25th December’. Even in the sophisticated world of glossy magazines, it is something of a relief to see that human relationship comes first.   For John the Baptist too, ‘a people prepared’ is about our human relationships above all.

Looking again at the story around which all our preparations (or lack of them) are centred at this time of year, I am heartened to see wide diversity. The magi have been preparing for years, observing celestial movements and patterns on a huge map of time and space and selecting symbolic gifts of great value to take to the Christ Child.  For the shepherds, however, it is definitely a ‘come as you are’ party – an ordinary night becomes extraordinary and they rush into Bethlehem  – maybe snatching up a lamb to keep it safe and then offering it to the Holy Family… but maybe not!

Whether we feel ‘prepared’ or not this year we will be welcome at the manger next Monday. Perhaps too, like John, we are called to be heart-turners in these final days of Advent.

 

1 Delia Smith, A Feast for Advent (1985, Bible Reading Fellowship)

2 Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance (2014, Westminster John Knox Press)

Eating More Peacably

by David Clough.

If you go to church in Advent, you hear lots of Bible passages from the prophets who look forward to a time when the Messiah will come. For Isaiah, the first sign of the new reign of the Messiah is peace. Perhaps that’s not a surprise to you. But had you realized that the first kind of peace he describes is between humans and animals? Isaiah 11 tells us that ‘a shoot will come out from the stump of Jesse’, that the ‘spirit of the lord shall rest upon him’, and that he will just the poor and meek with righteousness (vv. 1–5). And then what?

The wolf shall live with the lamb,

the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,

and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy

on all my holy mountain;

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD

as the waters cover the sea. (Is. 11.6–9)

This beautiful prophecy suggests that the first sign of the in-breaking reign of God will be peace between humans and other animals, and an end to hurt and destruction of life. For centuries, Christians have been inspired by this vision. Christmas nativity scenes portray the birth of Jesus as bringing this peace, represented in the animals around the manger.

These theological visions of how things will be when God reigns aren’t just about the future. Jesus told his disciples that the kingdom of God had come near, and that they needed to respond to it in the way they lived. One way of understanding Christian discipleship is as a witness to what life in this kingdom looks like.

So how could we witness to the peace that the Messiah brings between humans and animals? It’s not complicated. We could choose to eat foods that mean fewer of them need to suffer and be killed for our sake. We could eat more peaceably, as a practical daily act connected to our Christian beliefs about God’s care for all creatures, and the peace that the reign of God will bring for them and us. It’s striking that this small act of witness is also good for global human food and water security, good for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, good for reducing cruelty towards animals, and good for reducing a range of human disease risks. Methodists have particular reasons for recognizing the link between their faith and animals.

Many Christians I talk to warm to this idea that their faith could make a difference for what they eat, but get stuck in imagining how they could make a change. One good way is to do it together. Why not make a New Year’s resolution to run the CreatureKind course as a Lent group at your church next year? If you can’t wait that long, think about some first steps, such as substituting soy or almond milk for breakfast (there are now lots of choices in the supermarket), choosing plant-based options for lunch, or having one plant-based dinner each week. If you decide that you’d like to explore ways of eating that don’t depend on killing animals at all, there’s lots of advice around.

Most Christians have lost touch with traditions of eating that reminded us that what we eat connects us to a wider world. Paying attention to the links between what’s on our plate with the world of God’s creatures around us is not just an ethical practice, it’s a spiritual practice, too.

Give us a rest

by Peter Hancock.

Over the years I’ve increasingly fought shy of the bland condemnation of the way society celebrates Christmas – materialism etc. This may be because I’m only too aware that I am very much part of that society and I do enjoy many aspects of the Christmas celebrations which could not easily be labelled “spiritual”. It may also be because I have a suspicion that many people in our society aren’t as far away from some “spiritual” desires in their approach to the festive season as we might like lazily to think.

It hit me last December whilst shopping in a crowded city centre – everyone is running around trying to finish the shopping by the deadline, many are affording themselves a little patisserie treat during a brief pit-stop from the merry-go-round, bags and bags are being carried off over rain-bespattered streets to dimly-lit car parks and nerves are often at a stretch. But there’s something else going on, something which we all share whether we profess faith or not, something that is communicated through the not-so-cheery-as- the-adverts-would-wish-us-to-believe looks on people’s faces, something in the almost formulaic, metronomic doing of the shopping, the very joylessness of participants in the supposed season of good cheer……..WE ALL JUST WANT A REST.

And we’re looking to Christmas to provide us with the one big moment of permission to have it.

Of course, this won’t be possible for some in the emergency services, health service, hospitality industry etc. and there will only be a brief respite for those in the retail sector but that doesn’t take away from the fact that all crave it and will look forward to getting it at some time during the season.

The writer to the Hebrews reassures his readers that there still remains “a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4 v 9). They need not think that their faithless forebears had forfeited it for every succeeding generation but, on the other hand, they did need to listen to and obey the voice of the Lord “today” in order to enter in to it. The Sabbath rest is conceived of as a thing of the future. For Israel it may have been thought to be arrival in Canaan, dropping the baggage and dangling the feet in cooling streams. Massively welcome but only earthly and temporary. For the Jesus people of the new age, for whom the promise is blended with faith, it is more appropriately seen as the heavenly home-coming, eternal and final. The writer knows they crave this. He sees the Christian life of committed discipleship as a struggle of a pilgrimage which needs the promise of heaven as a spur to the continued making of the necessary sacrifices to which we are called. Life as a Christian is not easy and we all yearn for rest. But, for one reason or another, so do those with whom we share space in shopping malls at this time of year.

The Sabbath rest is also, of course, a thing of the past, from when the foundations of life were laid. A thing which God did and gave us to do, not on a whim but as a matter of necessity. This is how life is and if Sabbath is not part of it, life will not be life as it can be. When paradise is lost, the humans are sent outside the garden to earn their living by the sweat of their brow and that state of affairs has continued until now. We may have swapped the tilling of the soil for the computer screen, the steering wheel, the incessant telephone or the building site but we still sweat and we want a rest.

That craving for a Sabbath is hard-wired in to every human being despite, or maybe because of, the fact that we over-play our hands in working too many hours and crossing the natural rhythms of life. That’s what we have in our shopping centres at this time of year – people just like us who are wanting just what we want. And whilst some may be steadfastly non-Christ-recognising, the majority do have a bit of room in the inn of their lives. There will be those around us for whom this Christmas will be a “today” and who might respond very well to the invitation to come and have a rest courtesy of the one who invented rest in the first place.

Is it Church? Is it a means of grace?

by George Bailey.

“Is it really Church?” As one of the leaders of a Messy Church, I hear this question now and again. It often leads into important reflection for the enquirer as they describe what it is they find helpful about other particular ways for relating as a community to faith in Jesus.

This question is more though than just casual conversation in car parks by Messy Church banners. It is also ever present in the current ecclesial and theological conversations about “fresh expressions.” I am increasingly concerned that for many Messy Church leaders it is an unhelpful question. Why do we need to decide in a binary way whether an event or group is formally church or not? There are some important positive responses to that question – ensuring responsible pastoral oversight, providing appropriate legal frameworks, taking open decisions about the use of resources – but there is also a strange division being created between groups and events which are given a formal ecclesial badge of “church” and others which are not. Even if something is not considered to be a church in itself, all these responsible positive factors do need to be in place. I am not denying that Messy Church gatherings can develop into churches – they clearly can – but that is not the only healthy way forward for Messy Church. Are confusions at play here between fresh ways that we gather and express Christian faith, and what constitutes church ecclesiologically? “Messy Church” has a particularly unhelpful name. For the purpose of simple communication, I do love it, but it can obscure the fact that whilst the group of people who do “Messy Church” might in time form a church, they could continue being the same church even if they collectively decided to change their meeting style to, say, “cafe church” or to a hymn sandwich.

Most research into fresh expressions goes through some stage of establishing what counts as a “fresh expression of church,” so leaving in its wake a string of events, groups and leaders who have been told that what they are doing is “not church.” The excellent Church Army research published in 2016 was a study of 1109 fresh expressions of church across 21 Church of England dioceses, but along the way 1678 church groups/events/projects were rejected for a variety of reasons.[1] Whilst the report does state it values the creative contribution represented by these developments, it is still a process whereby they are valued differently from independent ecclesial entities. I have not seen figures specific to Messy Church exclusions for this research project, though Claire Dalpra, one of the research team, has described how over two of the dioceses only 25 out of 51 Messy churches in were adjudged to be fresh expressions of church.[2] My feeling, also based on anecdotal experience of numerous Messy Churches, is that more are not seeing themselves as separate churches than are. I await with interest the results of the similar Methodist research into fresh expressions of church which is currently underway. When asked by a Methodist researcher if the Messy Church I am involved with met the criteria for inclusion in the research, I looked at the list, simply answered “no,” and so excused us from being excluded.

Is there an alternative? How do Messy Churches which are not intending to become churches in their own right see themselves in relation to the church or churches which they are somehow part of? The experience of the eighteenth century Wesleyan revival can help here. This was a situation with new groups, events and gatherings in the life of the Church of England. Those leading these developments did not desire new churches, but instead talked about ways that the new forms could act as “means of grace” alongside other existing expressions of Christian faith.[3] The societies, small groups within them and various new or renewed gatherings, e.g. love feasts, watchnights and covenant services, were described as “prudential means of grace.” They were prudential because temporary, and suited to the age and context for helping people to meet Christ and experience salvation. They were not the whole of Christian worship and discipleship, but pointed people to other “instituted means of grace” (e.g. Eucharist) and those “general means of grace” (e.g. exercising the presence of God) which are to be accessed by all Christians of all times.[4] I am increasingly thinking of Messy Church as a prudential means of grace which is inherently limited, not seeking to be all the means of grace necessary for Christian life – indeed, if it did aspire to that, it would soon cease to be a creative worship event ideal for young families. Either Messy Church which is becoming a separate church develops a number of other means of grace at other times, or Messy Church which sits within another church’s ministry programme encourages people to engage with the whole range of means of grace available.

For Messy Church, the question, “How is it a means of grace?” opens a more useful conversation that the question, “Is it church?” and avoids some of the negative connotations for numerous Messy Church groups who do not aspire to be entirely self contained churches. I think there might be potential for wider use of this question for other kinds of fresh expression, but also for the whole Church to look at our ecclesiology and practice in a different way.

 

 

[1] Lings, George (2016), The Day of Small Things: An analysis of fresh expressions of Church in 21 dioceses of the Church of England, Church Army Research Unit, pp. 72-74 and pp.202-205

[2] Dalpra, Claire, “When is Messy Church ‘church’?” in George Lings (ed.), Messy Church Theology: Exploring the Significance of Messy Church for the Wider Church, (Abingdon: Bible Reading Fellowship; 2013), p.28

[3] For a good summary of John Wesley’s thought on this, see his sermon, “The Means of Grace” (1746), in The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, Volume I,( Nashville: Abingdon Press; 1984), pp.376-397.

[4] For the fullest description of this aspect of John Wesley’s theology see Knight, Henry, The Presence of God in the Christian Life: John Wesley and the Means of Grace (Metuchen N.J. and London: The Scarecrow Press; 1992)

Introducing the ‘Atonement Project’: A Work in Progress

by Ben Pugh.

At the age of nineteen as a new Christian I joined a lively charismatic church where the worship would lift the roof off and there was a strong sense of the presence of God. The teaching was inspiring but, for the first four years, I don’t recall ever hearing anything at all about the cross. As a student I was away most Easters so I may have missed out on some kind of annual dusting-off of the theme. The core membership was ex-Baptists, Anglicans and others who had come out of their denominations when the Spirit moved in their lives in the seventies, so the assumption seemed to be that everyone already had the basics.

I very much needed grounding in these basics. I was not coping well with the fact that God was holy and I wasn’t. I felt led to read Romans 3-8 as much as possible, never deviating from that letter and those chapters. I also read a lot of the conservative evangelicals such as Stott, Packer and Morris, and some older authors such as James Denney and R.W. Dale. These helped me to understand, albeit from a limited perspective, what Romans 3-8 had to say about the cross. Within a couple of months of continuous attention to this one zone of New Testament a remarkable change came over me. For the first time in my life the enormity of what Christ had done for me hit me in wave upon wave. Just one example of many occasions was while singing Charles Gabriel’s How Marvellous, How Wonderful, which was one of only two old hymns we ever sang at that church. It was the final verse that got to me: ‘When with the ransomed in glory his face I at last shall see…’ Three things struck me all at once: the enormity of the price paid to ransom me, the sheer wonder of the glories that awaited me, and the fact that I was so ridiculously undeserving of any of it. I was bent double with emotion.

Twenty-five years on, a fascination with this central symbol of Christianity has not gone away. I am now most of the way through writing a trilogy of books on the atonement. I have been using the ‘Wesleyan’ quadrilateral, but have ended up using it in this order: tradition and reason first, then experience, then Scripture. The first volume came out in 2014, which was my Atonement Theories: A Way Through the Maze. I concluded this book with what I termed the Incarnation Criterion. By this I meant that the Christ of the cross is the prime criterion for judging all theories of the cross: his person defines his work. I named Irenaeus, Anselm, John McLeod Campbell and P.T. Forsyth as especially noteworthy examples of this incarnation-eye-view of atonement. To let the Father define the work, I pointed out, results in difficult moral problems which too easily impugn the Father as demanding and inflexible. To let our humanity define the work, results in theories, such as the Moral Influence theory, that are inadequate for explaining the extremity of the solution offered. To place the person of Christ himself at the centre compels us to attend to him who is the God-Man of Chalcedon, the bridge and mediator between the divine and the human.

My second volume came out in 2016 and was called: The Old Rugged Cross: A History of the Atonement in Popular Christian Devotion. In it my aim was to analyse what has been happening on the ground. How, if at all, have these atonement theories helped ordinary Christians to live more devoted lives? The key concept I came up with was the Participation Imperative. By this I meant that the one assumption which underlies the Church’s most formative engagements with the cross has been the assumption that Christ is the representative human. He suffers with our sufferings and dies our death yet raises us up to newness of life with him. The Church’s use of Eucharist, metaphor and art has been all about the attempt to re-present, and hence to participate all over again in, the events of Gethsemane, Calvary and the tomb. Even within the evangelicalism of the nineteenth century I discerned a shift away from the strictly forensic theories of atonement to which it remained ostensibly committed and in the direction of the ever-increasing use of the word ‘blood’ instead of ‘cross’ or ‘Calvary.’ The atonement thus became liquefied and applicable. The hymnody and preaching of the nineteenth century was famously filled with the invitation to wash and bathe in this blood – a subjective participation to counterbalance the objective penal substitution.

Work has now begun on my third volume: Pictures of Atonement. This will be a New Testament study. I will be examining the New Testament metaphors: sacrifice, redemption, victory and so on, seeking to recover their original spiritual immediacy. It seems to me that the first converts to the Way had stumbled upon a breath-taking new thing which was that the tragic execution of Jesus turned out to be a death-defeating, epoch-making event. Those who had never even been eye witnesses were certain that Jesus was raised and glorified, and this conviction could have had only one source: the indwelling Holy Spirit. The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead was living in them (Romans 8:11; Acts 2:33-36). Out of this experience came the thinking that gave us the New Testament metaphors of atonement. The metaphors helped the early Church express the shock of the new, giving new language for it. This third volume therefore will be an invitation to see again, from the Pentecost Standpoint, how the crucified Jesus became the atoning Christ.

So there we have it. Tradition and Reason have yielded the Incarnation Criterion, Experience has pointed me to the Participation Imperative and Scripture has brought me to the Pentecost Standpoint. Watch this space!