Category Archives: From Under the Selly Oak

The Bible (Letter 7)

Sir Tom,


I think your 3 points are really the formation of, in terms of a backbone, the episode.

I’m not sure how we tackle point 1 without tackling society’s philosophy. A greater issue as postmodernism/subjectivism is not a philosophy that is overt. Our generation(s?) and younger would not admit (or ever think about) that they hold to a philosophy of any kind. Ergo, it’s tough to get them to change it. The other issue there is that people don’t like being told what to do, or, more so, what to do and how to do it.

I think that’s it! Not reliability, but relevance. As we talk through what the Bible is we need to show that it’s still relevant. A subjective generation will still take on things they feel are relevant to them.

Point 3 is very interesting, isn’t it. As with point 1 it’s hard to get Christians to understand this because they don’t see it. If you told them they worshiped the Bible, they would simply disagree and say they use the Bible to worship God. This is something I hope to discuss on this month’s Stuff Podcast (also on the Bible!).

Point 2 is linked into the question of how we read the Bible. Can we really take it all as words from God or does it make more sense as a handbook? As you say it’s complex and sometimes baffling. Again this is more the realms of the Stuff podcast, but it is good to have in our minds. I think for us the question is of purpose. What do we (or perhaps should we) use the Bible for?

If someone is listening to the podcast to grasp the fundamentals of the faith, then what part does the Bible play? How can it help us in our faith and in our life? Is it still relevant or outdated?

It vexes me because to question inerrancy is basically to question Christianity in it’s present form. To reshape theology as we know it. That’s a big call. Are we up to it? Should we be doing it?

Just a note on whether we question parts of the Bible that do not gel with God’s character. I think this is dangerous as it relies on our understanding of God’s character which is very limited. We must remember that we have no place to cry unjust or unfair; God can do what He likes with His creations in the same way we can build and destroy anything we want when we play with Lego. It is not for the bricks to decide.




The Bible (Letter 6)


Given our remit (to tackle the fundamentals of Christianity afresh, for the benefit of outsiders to the faith) this is one of the most vital discussions we need to have. I say this because ‘The Bible,’ itself often constitutes a stumbling block to would-be Christians. I have had at least three discussions with unbelieving friends over the years, in which they have effectively told me: “I would be a Christian if it wasn’t for the Bible.” Why is this? I would suggest three underlying reasons:

1.) In our Post-truth culture, people are extremely wary of absolutists and especially absolutists who hold to ancient Scriptures. I think the fear many people have is that Christians, Muslims or others hold to outdated teachings in an unthinking way, holding their emotions and intellects at arm’s length. In response, our reading of the Bible needs to engage emotions and intellect.

2.) Let’s be honest, the Bible is complex and at face value, its moral lessons are baffling. Examples include the perplexing Levitical code and the Apostle Paul’s apparent disdain for women. I say ‘at face value,’ because I think one of the lessons we need to learn is that it’s OK to read the Bible carefully and intelligently, rather than from a confrontational, simplistic, “this I know ‘cos the Bible tells me so,” stance. But nevertheless, I think people are interested in God, but sometimes put off by the Bible.

3.) Some Christians give the (misguiding) impression that the Bible ITSELF is God, rather than Jesus. You can’t put the cart before the horse: I only grew to love the Bible after my Christian conversion. Beforehand, I remember telling my Dad, “the Bible is dead to me,” because it was. You can only love God’s word when you first love God. So I think unbelievers are frankly baffled by Christians’ devotion for the good book. We need to push Jesus first, Bible second.

With all this in mind and turning to your two questions, I think we need to be upfront with believers that although the Bible is ‘reliable,’ and ‘trustworthy,’ it is also troublesome and you can still be a Christian while living and walking with uncertainty about the Scriptures. If you give people an ultimatum – it’s either completely perfect, easy and infallible or it’s not – you’ll likely put people off. In other words, as you have said, ‘the Bible is true, separate from inerrancy.’

So to your second question. I would be open to more radical voices in the Evangelical fold who are moving towards an altogether fresh approach to the question of ‘how we read the Bible.’ For example, if the Bible attributes an action to God which really seems to jar with the character of God as revealed in Christ, could we consider that the writers of the Bible falsely attributed that action. The best example are the so-called ‘genocide,’ passages where God apparently commands the Israelites to slaughter whole nations, ‘women and children,’ included. If you want to read more, Steve Chalke’s paper on the Scriptures (‘Restoring Confidence in the Bible’) is helpful and can be found on the ‘Oasis’ website. The drawback of this idea is clearly that it is subsequently difficult to define which accounts are reliable and which are not. But whatever the case, I agree that this is, as you say,’the big one.’ One approach as we move forward might be for you and I to target these so-called ‘difficult’ passages in our discussions.

Anyway, let me know what you think, great mate. SMASHY.

Sir Tom

The Bible (Letter 5)

Sir Tom,

So here we are again and as we focus this month on the Bible I think there are 2 things to keep in mind.

  1. Biblical reliability. This was why I wanted to do the Bible before Jesus, because when one talks about Jesus one uses the Bible; we talk about prophecies of His life and death, but they only work if we can believe that they are true.
  2. How do we read the Bible? This is the big one, isn’t it? What’s the purpose of the Bible? And that depends on our views of inerrancy, infallibility and Sola Scriptura.

So let’s unpack number 1, get on the same page (or at least know which pages we’re both on). My first big deal is Old Testament dating. I don’t see any issue with taking scholarly dating of the Bible (even though that disqualifies inerrancy) because scholars agree that the books of the OT are based on earlier writings. I don’t want to go too far down this road, but it does lead to 2 interesting points. Firstly, there’s no need. If they’re made up then you only need to date them to their earliest manuscript. Secondly, where is the REAL Israelite history?

So we know that the Bible is reliable because the claims against the Bible don’t stack up. That being said a lot of the issues with the Bible in terms of contradictions are solved by taking the Document Hypothesis of multiple sources being used to construct the first books of the Bible.

So the problem is really not with the historicity of the Bible, but really with a rejection of magic. Magical stuff happens in the Bible, therefore it must be made up. That being said, I think anyone would be hard pressed to point to anything in history or science that says magic can’t happen.

I think we need to talk about this somewhat explicitly in the podcast, but I also think it needs to run through everything we say. The idea that at each point this is reliable, this is true. And true separate from inerrancy. I don’t think it is good enough just to say ‘yeah it’s all true and reliable because the Bible can’t be wrong’.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts,




What is Christianity? (Letter 4)

Hello Great Mate,

Thanks for your reply. I liked your own re-formulation of the Gospel, especially the idea of being ‘reunited with God and fitted back into his excellent plan’ (although I thought it might have read, ‘most excellent plan,’ a la Bill and Ted)! In fact that one word, ‘reunited,’ reminded me what was missing from my own definition in Letter 2. I haven’t incorporated our sin and the need for our relationship with God to be restored. Although Christians in the past may have been guilty of over-emphasising sin in their Gospel presentations, it is still an important part of the picture; it was for Jesus and it was for Paul. A good example is when Jesus heals the paralysed man and then tells him his sins are forgiven; not an obvious link, but Jesus was meeting both his physical and his eternal needs at once. When explaining the message to non-churched people in the West (some of whom may not have any idea of the concept of ‘sin’ at all), I think the most helpful atonement picture is ‘Reconciliation.’ You might tell them: ‘We were made to love God and be loved by him, but we have turned our backs and walked off. Through Jesus, God has now done everything needed for reconciliation to happen – everything is now ready!’ We need to retain sin in our Gospel preaching, because otherwise criminals and those with a bad conscience might consider themselves unworthy or disqualified.

I think you touched on a very important element when you wrote: ‘God expects us to live now like we will then (in the future, fully realised kingdom).’ Although I am the biggest advocate for a Christian message based around grace (undeserved love and blessing from God), I do think we too often present Christianity as a free ticket to heaven, with the implication that the life we live thereafter on earth is irrelevant. We need to teach: you receive God’s blessings (and entry into the kingdom) completely for free and then you are to live a life worthy of where God has placed you. There is one place in Scripture (1 Corinthians 3), where Paul does seem to teach that Christians will still be ‘saved,’ in the end, even if they haven’t pulled their weight, but otherwise the NT definitely advocates that we live the life too. Interestingly, I heard the Gospel the ‘other way around.’ As a younger, zealous Christian teenager and GAP-year-er (as you first knew me), I really did believe that I was earning my way…if I could only live up to Jesus’ standards then I could enjoy his blessings. This led to spiritual depression, and as a University student, God brought me to my knees so that I could hear the good news that ‘our faith is founded on what God has (freely) done for us, not on what we can do for him.’ Both grace and works are equally important.

We are in complete agreement about the idea that we are to ‘serve now in the Shadowlands and enjoy the Kingdom when the work is finished.’ Your words reminded me of Paul’s teaching in Romans 5: we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ In other words, this life is about character development and that will mean trials and suffering to undergo before we rest in his everlasting arms.


Sir Tom


What is Christianity? (Letter 3)

Sir Tom,

I completely agree with everything you said. What makes me happy discussing this stuff with you is that you come at the topic from a different perspective than my own which helps to illuminate it.

Moving away from church and into the realms of new (or as yet) Christians I think your point about loving as we have loved etc is a good point. I cannot think of a verse in the Bible that tells us why we should be saved, rather it is taken as a given. You should have a relationship with God because you should. I think the reasons you gave are the closest to a eral reason. God has given should you too should give.

So here’s my thinking on what Christianity is (this comes straight from the script I was working on):

“So let’s refine the reason for becoming a Christian that puts God front and centre: it’s the belief that there is a God who created all things including us. He gave us free will and because of Satan’s influences we’ve used that free will to do our own thing and shun a relationship with God.

Think of life like a sport’s team, let’s say soccer. Everyone has their position and they work together to win. Then you have defenders deciding they want to be strikers and get the glory and midfielders who don’t trust the defenders and move up and down. Ultimately everyone is getting what they want, but they’re no longer working together to win the prize.

So, God came to Earth in the form of a man named Jesus and it was through His death and resurrection that we are reunited with God and fitted back into His excellent plan.”

See I think the point of Christianity comes back to purpose. God wanted something done so He created us with specific skills and talents to do that job. We’re only going to find true happiness and purpose in life when we get back into the machine, when we let go of our ego and accept we are a cog in a machine then we find purpose.

I disagree (slightly) with what you said about God having a plan to change the world, I think He knows it’s broken hence the New Heaven and New Earth. I think God has a good plan for them and wants us to get as many people into the Kingdom as possible. It’s not God’s intention that anyone should miss out, but by our own choice we deny the invitation. When we become Christians we accept entry into the Kingdom and God expects us to live like we will then. After all, if we can’t do it now (or at least try) how are we going to do it then?

A last thought: Verses like Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11 talk about God having a plan for us, but nowhere else does the Bible talk about plans in terms of something on the is Earth that is a blessing. Jesus constantly talks about being a servant and that the last will be first. I think that’s God’s plan, serve now in the Shadowlands and enjoy the Kingdom when the work is finished.



What is Christianity (Letter 2)


You have provided me with a truly epic brief – to answer the question: What is Christianity? But I think it is well worth our while thinking about how we should present God’s good news to people who have little experience of church or the Bible. My impression has always been that God himself spends most of his time roaming the fringes of established religion, reaching out to the desperate, the lonely, the messed-up and the criminals. It’s not that God is absent from our church life; it’s just that his heart is always reaching out, while our minds are too often focused in.

First I will offer some reflections on your issues with the modern day church and then I will take a stab at tackling the big question. I think you’re broadly right that many of us indulge in a very individualised, self-focused form of the faith. God has a big mission to fulfil and we sometimes miss his call because we are too busy navel-gazing. However, I do feel God intends the two to go together. Transformed individuals lead to transformed communities. It was arguably the mind-blowing conversion of the Apostle Paul that drove the growth of the Early Gentile Church for example. Paul wrote: ‘The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ I’ve said this to you before, but I’m always struck how the Bible links God’s love for us together with the call to go out: ‘Love as you’ve been loved, serve as you’ve been served, freely you have received, freely give,’ and so on. It is only when we experience the radical love and grace of God for ourselves that we have the courage and motivation to become ‘fishers of men,’ for the Kingdom. Note as well the tense of the verbs: loved, served, received. In other words, God’s love for us is grounded in something concrete, historical and immovable – the work of Jesus for us – and has nothing to do with our own morals or performance, so we can move out in courage and confidence, with a firm foundation, without worrying about the questions: ‘does he really love me?’ or ‘am I worthy?’ Second, I agree completely about this life being a preparation ground for the next. C.S. Lewis conjured up a beautiful image, teaching that this life is the ‘Shadowlands,’ a place of darkness, uncertainty and the occasional glimpse of the sun over the horizon, and we will only bathe in the full warmth and clarity of the sun’s rays when we pass on to the next life.

So – in light of this, what is Christianity? My impression is that many un-churched people have two fundamental questions about God – does he exist and if so, what is he like? Tearing myself away from the temptation to use religious jargon, I would answer as follows: God does indeed exist and the message of Christianity is that, rather from being like a ‘strict head master,’ an ‘unforgiving boss,’ or a ‘disgruntled tyrant,’ God is a loving father and like all good Dads, he has great love for you and ambitions and hopes for your life and destiny. These hopes include using you to transform the people and the structures around you so that his love pervades everything and everyone. God has a plan to change the world and he is calling you to be a part of that adventure. It is your choice whether you embrace the challenge or remain on the side-lines. Like all other attempts to define Christianity in two hundred words, this falls woefully short, but it’s a starting point. SMASHY my dear friend,

Sir Tom


What is Christianity? (Letter 1)

Sir Tom,

re: Episode 1: What is Christianity?

Why am I doing this? A couple of reasons, but the first and foremost (being the one that gave me the idea originally) is that the ‘Stuff We Don’t Talk about in Church’ podcast is reaching some decidedly non-Christian places. I considered that perhaps podcasts could escape censorship (being a fairly new medium) and wouldn’t it be great to teach the basics of Christianity to people who might not be able to ask or get their hands on a Bible etc.

But I’ve changed through researching and recording the ‘Stuff’ podcast and I can’t in good conscious just tell others that which I was taught. No, let me correct that, I am changing.

So what’s my theology? Well, I’m not going to answer that until I receive back from you a missive outlining your own answer to ‘What is Christianity?’ as I do not wish to colour that with my own thoughts.

But I have two major issues with Christianity as it stands today (at least in the West).

  1. Consumerism. I think it’s become insidious and inherent in Christianity. So far so that we don’t realise it. Consider this: “I love the opportunity to worship God through song in the service”. Now surely no one would ever say there was anything wrong with that, but actually it is focused on the worshiper not the worshiped. You might say I’m being somewhat extreme (and I am) and no, I don’t believe we shouldn’t enjoy worship, of course we should, but this is an example of how insidious comsumerism is in the church. It’s in “prayching” (where someone uses prayer to give a mini sermon) and in every instance of somebody getting up in church to pray or read the Bible and feel the need to say something. It’s even in Salvation, that we get a relationship with God and miss out on Hell. These things are true, but they are a byproduct.
  2. An equal relationship with God. This one’s linked to the above, but I think we see ourselves as on par with God in terms of relationship. The whole Father/Son/Daughter idea that, while true, when linked to our egos, makes God too small. There are two truths of the Bible that we don’t seem to link together: God created us and God has a plan for us. Put these together and you get: God has something He needs doing and so creates a person with all the skills and talents (and life experiences) to do that job. That is fundamentally the relationship we have with God.
  3. Ignoring Heaven. I’m not going to talk about Heaven as the afterlife because the Bible doesn’t. I’m going to talk about the Kingdom. We don’t think about the afterlife enough, we don’t base our current lives on it. In fact the consumerism mentioned above is an outcome of it. We’re too focused on this life and this church that we forget that all the good things are coming after this life. Jesus particularly stresses being a servant in this life to enjoy the good times in the Kingdom. We have to bring a focus on the Kingdom back into the Church, not as a reward, but as an inevitable. A sort of work/retirement scenario where we work hard in this life and enjoy the perfect version of the world later. I mean, why are we so fussed with this life knowing there is a perfect version later on? It’s like focusing on the trailers and not the movie.

So that’s where I’m coming from as I come to answer the question, what is Christianity? for the first episode.