Saturday, 25 September 2010


Living in England has its definite benefits.  It has spared us from the tyranny of continental dictators such as Napoleon and Hitler yet it is near enough for us to visit France or Belgium or Holland with ease.  This has become especially so since the channel tunnel was opened in 1994.  This was an incredible feat of modern engineering.
Europe has everything - beautiful cities soaked in history and culture, mountainous regions such as the Alps or the Pyrennees, where the young and energetic can enjoy hiking and skiing, and the sandy beaches that stretch along the coast of the Mediterranean.  Also it has been the source and inspiration for all that is technically wonderful in the modern world  Think of anything, from the latest mobile phone to the latest high-speed train, and you will find that the basic knowledge behind these wonders were discovered in Europe.  Other countries have produced many wonderful things, but they have invariably built of the scientific knowledge amassed in Europe during the past four hundred years.
In the past few years my wife and I have visited a lot of these attractive cities.  These short breaks as they are called are very popular in the UK and are relatively cheap.
The pictures below are from the Belgian city of Bruges.  It has many attractive canals and is known as the Venice of the north.   It grew very rich by exploiting the wool-producing areas of Scotland and England.  This wool was made into garments that were eagerly sought throughout Europe
The first picture shows one of the fine bridges that can be seen and the second  shows one of the many street cafes where one relax and enjoy a coffee.  The third shows the novel and attractive means that are used to see the sights of the town

I have several more cities to put on my blog - such as Paris, Florence, Krakov and Budapest- which I shall do when I have a few spare moments.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Pope's visit to Britain

The Pope, Benedict XVI , made an official visit to the UK last week.  It was a visit surrounded by controversy and tight security.  The secularists and the agnostic/ atheist left were strong in their condemnation of the whole event.  True to their fears he spoke out strongly against secularism and the almost universal marginalisation of the Christian faith in Europe. 

Secularism can be summed in a couplet from the poet Swinburne, a poet who wrote in the latter half of the Nineteenth century.

Glory to Man in the highest!  
For Man is the master of things

The Pope spoke eloquently about the need for Christians to bear witness to the glorious truths of the Christian faith.  Even hardened protestants were impressed by his words.

"How much contemporary society needs this witness! How much we need, in the church and in society, witnesses of the beauty of holiness, witnesses of the splendour of truth, witnesses of the joy and freedom born of a living relationship with Christ!
One of the greatest challenges facing us today is how to speak convincingly of the wisdom and liberating power of God's word to a world which all too often sees the gospel as a constriction of human freedom, instead of the truth which liberates our minds and enlightens our efforts to live wisely and well, both as individuals and as members of society.

Let us begin with the sacrifice of the cross. The outpouring of Christ's blood is the source of the church's life. St John, as we know, sees in the water and blood which flowed from our Lord's body the wellspring of that divine life which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit and communicated to us in the sacraments (Jn 19:34; cf Jn 1:7; 5:6-7)."
We rarely hear such sentiments from a senior ecclesiastic in Britain these days.
The visit coincided with seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain,  when the nation fought for its very existence in the face of the onslaught from Nazi Germany,  We stood alone in Europe.  Our natural ally, the United States, had not entered the war.  The Nazis had conquered Poland in less than a fortnight and had scythed through northern France in less than ten days.   Their armies were strongly encamped on the coast of France, just over twenty miles from the English coast.  All that stood between us and ignominious defeat was this stretch of water, the timeless eloquence of Churchill and the immense bravery of the pilots of the Royal Airforce.  For weeks a protracted battle raged in the skies above Kent and London.  Sometimes the September sky was filled with more than 400 enemy bombers surrounded by hundreds of spitfires and hurricanes.  In the end the Luftwaffe realised they had bitten off more than they could chew, having lost over one and a half thousand aircraft, and Hitler postponed indefinitely the invasion of these shores. The cost was great: hundreds of young pilots were killed and over 40,000 civilians had perished in and around London,   
I think God spared us.  Not many people realise that King George VI and Churchill had called the nation to prayer and humiliation in May, just before the battle began.
As I finish I would like to pay tribute to the American journalist and broadcaster, Ed. Murrow.  As the bombs were falling, and with great personal courage, Murrow would stand in a doorway or under an arch during the Blitz, and begin with his famous opening phrase This Is London,  and then go on to describe the devastation and death all around him.  His words were eagerly listened to by millions in America.  President Roosevelt honoured him later in these words,
You burned the city of London in our houses and we felt the flames. You laid the dead of London at our doors and we knew that the dead were our dead ... were mankind's dead without rhetoric, without dramatics, without more emotion than needed be. You have destroyed the superstition that what is done beyond 3000 miles of water is not really done at all.
I think he did much to influence American public opinion in Britain's favour.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Israel and Christian Zionism

My eldest daughter  is doing a bold thing.  She is flying out to Israel and meeting some Arab Christians, staying at a hostel run by some nuns in Haifa,  before driving over to the sea of Galilee to meet some friends. She is doing this solo.
Strangely enough very few visitors to Israel ever meet a Palestinian Christian
The words Israel and Zion evoke very strong emotions at the  moment.  There is a very strong movement in the Church called Christian Zionism, which has been deeply impressed by the creation of the state of Israel and which feels that this event will be the trigger that precipitates the end of this age and the coming of Jesus as the promised Messiah.  They feel that the restoration of Israel to its ancient land in 1947 is a remarkable fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.  They interpret the ancient prophecies of the books of Daniel and Revelation as  providing us with exciting insights into the End Times.
Others think very differently.  They feel that the church has replaced Israel in the purposes of God (replacement theology), and they feel that the current support for Israel by the evangelical Church, especially in America, is a recipe for future disaster.
Others feel that the preterist position regarding Daniel and Revelation is the only true one to take.  They say that the force of evil in Revelation is undoubtedly Rome as represented by the monstrous emperor Nero, and that the book has nothing to do with the End Times.  They quote Rev 1:1. which   states that all these events will take place "soon" or "shortly" (translations vary).  These adverbs can hardly be used to refer to events two thousand years later.  They mention that Neron Caesar, when the letters are used as numbers in both Greek and Hebrew,  can be represented by 666.
For those with sufficient leisure and curiosity, all the various details of this often acrimoniousness debate can be accessed  by reading the relevant books by the chief protagonists: David Pawson and Stephen Sizer.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Havering atte Bower Fayre

Last Saturday the nearby village of Havering had its village fair.  The village goes back centuries: it is even mentioned in the Domesday Book.  Kings and Queens of England once lived in the palace which was situated behind the present Church, but all traces of this palace have long since disappeared.  There is a story that Edward the Confessor used to wander through the woods saying his prayers, but one day the nightingales disturbed his devotions and he cursed them!

A local butcher roasted a whole hog to feed the many visitors

The chief musician of the Morris Dancers tunes up

The Morris Dancers

This is a view from the church tower, looking west.  You can see the skyline of the city of London on the horizon.  To the left you can see the roof of the famous Dome.

Monday, 6 September 2010


Last week my wife and I decided to do some touring of the villages in the north of Essex on our bikes.   Unfortunately, Essex has poor image in the popular press and media.  It is looked upon as a rather boring county inhabited by less than intelligent people.  An Essex girl is often portrayed as a mindless bimbo, especially if she comes from Romford or Dagenham.  These are unjust slurs.  The countryside in Essex contains many fine villages and areas of great attractiveness.  Our young people are on the whole as smart and educated as more affluent counties.
We decided to put our bikes on the back of our car and to drive out to the very historic and culturally renowned town of Thaxted.   Probable the finest building to be seen is the ancient parish church,  built over six hundred years ago.  It is an enormous church for such a small town.  The shot below shows the tower as it is seen from the splendid medieval Guild Hall.

We cycled for a few miles NE to the villages of Great Samford and Little Samford, then on to the picturesque village of Finchingfield.  It is justly famous for its attractive green, a pond that attracts an assortment of bustling bird-life, and one or two fine inns, all of which are dominated by the  medieval parish church.  We had cycled a few miles and our legs were ready for a rest and our bodies were  ready for some sustenance.  Just nearby was an inn, The Fox, which had a good selection of meals cooked on the premises

He is the Fox inn, with the diners sitting out in the sunshine, enjoying their food and surrounded by the splendid local scenery.

This is the interior of The Fox.  It is typical of many English country inns.  When I was here several years ago we brought an American who was working in France.  He said, "I'd like to see the inside of an English pub while I'm here."   So this is where I took him.

On the way back to Thaxted we passed through the tiny village of Little Bardfield and saw a thatcher putting a new straw-thatched roof on a cottage.  I got chatting to him and was told that the thatch lasts about twenty-five years before it needs renewing.  There are many thatched-roofed cottages in this part of Essex these days.  This is an excellent thing because this ancient craft was beginning to die out.

These are some very attractive alms-houses near the big church in Thaxted. They go back about three hundred and fifty years.  In the background there is an old windmill.

I hope my friend David will enjoy these photos of his native Essex as he settles into his new life in Redding, California 

Friday, 3 September 2010

"A New Kind of Christianity"

The above heading is the title of a new book by Brian Mclaren, outlining his revolutionary ideas concerning a radically new type of Christianity.
The first few chapters are an attempt to completely rewrite the essential narrative that has always undergirded the message of Christianity.  Gone are the doctrines of Creation and the Fall.  There was no primeval falling away from God.  The usual narrative of the temptation and the fall into sin is interpreted in a totally different manner.  Rather, it is  mankind's stumbling and often rebellious coming-of- age, the gradual transition of the hunter gatherer to a pastoral society.  All the previous ideas are alien importations from the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle.  All the ideas that have been around for two thousand years must go, all the doctrines of the fall, redemption and the notions of heaven and hell .  They are the constructs of the the Greek God Theos, as opposed to the more natural narrative of the Hebrew God Elohim.  This is rather strange: the Greek term Theos is the word for God used hundreds of times in the New Testament.
When asked to define what exactly is the Gospel, Mclaren avoids any text in the epistles and goes back to the words of Jesus in Mark chapter one, "The kingdom of God is at hand". P. 184.  (Note his omission of the the verb repent in the imperative voice) .  The Gospel is defined on the next page in the following terms. "God's new benevolent society is among us" (British readers beware - think not of the Prudential!)  While it is very true that Christianity involves benevolence to all men, I think that it is a one-sided definition. It is too humanistic. He goes on to say that Christian benevolence will bring in peace and justice and the final abolition of poverty and oppression.
I have two criticisms to make.  I think his whole approach is basically  horizontal.  There is very little of the vertical aspects - the divine forgiveness as a result of repentance and faith and the freeing of humans from the power of sin and bondage to demonic forces are omitted.  It is too humanistically optimistic.
There is little in the New Testament about the Gospel bringing peace on earth.  This is usually based on a mistranslation of the verse in Luke where the angels say, "Peace on earth and goodwill to all men."  Luke2:14. All modern translations, based on better manuscripts, read as follows,  "Peace to men on whom his favour rests"  
Peace is not simply and universally dolled out: it is a gift based on grace for those in a right covenant relationship with God.  In fact Jesus said little about societal peace.  Jesus said these disturbing words in Matt 10:34, " I am not come to bring peace but a sword"  He then goes to describe how the gospel will divide families and the closest relationships. This has been true whenever or wherever the gospel is truly preached.  It always divides, it always provokes fierce antagonism   There is something in the Gospel that is profoundly threatening to the human heart. Voltaire was wrong when he said that if there was no god it would be necessary to invent him.  No one in his right mind would invent the Christian God.  He is too disturbing to our selfish independent existence.
The essential problem, one that is glossed over in these new theologies, is the problem of human sin and rebellion.
This a very unpopular topic at present.  The New Testament presents us with a not very optimistic picture.  This is illustrated by a verse in one of the prophets that seems to me to sum up the matter.  "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure" or desperately sick or wicked.  (Jer. 17:9 _NIV)  The only cure is a radical presentation of the Gospel; all other remedies are spiritual elastoplasts.

Note: I feel sorry for poor old Plato, that brilliant but dreamy philosopher who believed that the world was an illusion and that the only realities were the eternal 'forms' existing in heaven and who believed that knowledge was a recapitulation of previous existences.  He is often derided by people who have never read a word of the Republic or any of his dialogues.