Monthly Archives: March 2018

No Condemnation

One of my favourite blogs is ‘Getting Back to My Future‘, by Mike Douglas. Mike’s writing is always upbeat and encouraging, and I have quoted his work on my blog before.

So, here’s another great piece from Mike, entitled ‘No condemnation’, and concentrating on Paul’s three ‘Therefore’ statements in his letter to the Romans. It’s brilliant:

Becoming a Christ follower is simple. Why do we make it so hard for people! While people try to make it hard, God doesn’t want to keep anybody out of Heaven. It’s not an exclusive club. He loves all of us and wants to be a part of our lives. 

He made it so simple that you can find everything necessary in three verses in Romans. Each verse is the first verse in three different chapters. And each start with the word, ‘therefore’. Let’s look. 


Romans starts out bleak. It draws a picture of people who have messed up. See Romans 3:10-18. It describes a hopeless situation until chapter four when the solution is given. We can be made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. Imagine! All forgiven, a fresh start by believing in Jesus. That’s it! No hoops! No rituals! No not being good enough. Nothing other than faith in Christ. 

Our first ‘therefore’ is verse one in chapter 5: 

‘THEREFORE, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith,
we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us’. 

We have been made right in God’s eyes because we believe what Jesus did for us. Do you see any other hoops, rituals, corrections or exclusions? Me neither. You see, He made it simple because He wants you to come home. He is much more interested in finding ways to include you than He is in trying to exclude you. 


So far, it’s all good. The writer is excited that he can receive a second chance through simple faith in Jesus. He revels in this and describes it like dying, being buried and then rising again to a new life, second chance. It’s so awesome. He praises God and is so thankful. 

But there’s a problem. The writer soon discovers that he wants to please God for all He has done for him. But he falls flat on his face. He cries out saying the things he does not want to do he keeps doing and the things he wants to do he finds it impossible to do. 

His joy is replaced with despair. He realizes that despite wanting to please God there is another force at work preventing him from doing so. In despair, he cries out for someone to help him. He then realizes, or remembers, it’s not about him, his strength, his determination. He remembers he was ‘made right’ through faith in Jesus. It wasn’t his effort that got him there and it won’t be through his effort he will make himself acceptable. He already is acceptable to God through Jesus. 

Did you hear, see, read that? Let me say it again. You DO NOT have to make yourself acceptable to God. YOU ALREADY ARE, thanks to Jesus! 

And because of that he can proclaim in chapter 8, verse one: 

‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’. 

Fully accepted! Past forgiven and forgotten! Present sins forgiven! Future sins forgiven! No condemnation! 

‘No condemnation’ has many sides. 

First vertically: There will never be any condemnation from God! You are already accepted. You are back home. A fresh start. All is right between you and God no matter how well or how poorly you do today. 

There is also a horizontal side. Because there is no condemnation vertically, there is no room for condemnation from others. We are all in the same boat. None of us are in any position to be pointing fingers at anyone else. No one. Don’t accept the condemnation of others. 

There is also an internal side and this often is the most difficult. Because there is no condemnation coming from Heaven we should not be directing any condemnation towards ourselves. See the trouble that caused for the writer earlier – nothing but despair. God has forgiven you. Forgive yourself. Move on. 


Then what is our response to this wonderful news of being right with God through Jesus and our past having no bearing on that relationship? We have already found that clenching our fists and gritting our teeth trying to do better on our own only leads to despair.

Enter chapter 12, verse one: 

‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Godʼs mercy,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—
this is your true and proper worship’. 

In biblical times, when sacrificing an animal to God, a priest would kill the animal and place it on the altar. Sacrifice was important, but God makes it clear that love from the heart is much more important. 

God wants us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices — setting aside our own desires to follow Him, putting ourselves at His disposal and trusting him to guide us. We do this out of gratitude. 

God has a good plan for you. He wants to change you with a renewed way of thinking, living to honor Him. He wants only what is best for You. 

That’s it! 

  1. Simply believe in your heart that Jesus is God and He died and rose again to reunite you with God the Father.

  2. Because Jesus paid for it all, you can start a new life free from the past and all the condemnation that went with it.

  3. All He asks in return is that give your life to Him so He can turn you into someone more than you ever thought possible.

Don’t let anyone tell you there is more you must do or be. Jesus stands before you with a wonderful gift. All you must do is receive it and open it. I hope you will. 

Mike, Is It Really That Simple? 



The link to the original piece is here.

The Litmus Test

I feel that a good question to ask of a church one is thinking of attending (I’m not thinking of switching churches, by the way!) is this: “What are your attitudes towards LGBTQI+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and Intersex, and others) people?” Or some variation on that.

This question will reveal, all in one go, their attitudes on Biblical inerrancy and infallibility; Bible as Rulebook; their attitude to legalism; their ability to love others they may not agree with; their attitude towards judging others [they would naturally call it something more palatable]; their attitude towards ‘mercy not sacrifice’ (Hosea 6:6); and – in short – to be Jesus to the people they meet.

To me, this is a real litmus test of a church’s sincerity when they say ‘all are welcome’. Is it really ‘All are welcome’, or is it ‘All are welcome, but…’?

I have, in the past, asked such questions of various Christian organisations. I have to say that those people have achieved the pathetic result of not one answer in reply. Not even one. No acknowledgement; nothing.

So, if you are interested in joining a new church, here’s an idea of the sort of question you might ask:

“Hi there

Just been looking at your pages on [churchname].com

I have a question, and it’s this: How do you cope with people of ‘different’ sexualities? (Like Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual etc.) I have contacted churches with this question in the past, and have not once received a reply! What I mean by my question is, how much do you integrate people of ‘alternative’ sexualities into your church? I’d really love to hear from you on this subject!

Thanks for your time


[Edit: I have just heard back from one church today. Well done, those people!]

Arms of Love

This entry is part 25 of 38 in the series Fiona

This piece is being published on what would have been Fiona’s 54th birthday.

Over the seventeen months since I lost my wonderful wife Fiona to cancer, I have been comforted in my grief and sadness by many different people and activities. I have always found writing my blog to be a great therapy, as it allows me to crystallise my ideas, thoughts, feelings and discoveries on to ‘paper’ so that I can make sense of them, and also help others cope with their grief too in their own way. I have friends who are always there for me. I have flying, which is simply out of this world. I have my family, who have been a tremendous support. I have had my work, who have been really supportive too, and I love to lose myself in my work and go to deep concentration levels where everything else fades away and I don’t even hear people speaking to me. I have had the help of an amazing lady who was, until a few weeks ago, my grief counsellor from the local hospice. And most of all, overarching all of this, working through these channels, yes, but also comforting me directly, has been my friend Jesus.

Most of the time, particularly during that first year after losing Fiona, I felt a constant closeness to Jesus that I had never felt before. Sure, I have always been close to Him, but not like that. I felt as if He was wrapping me up in His Arms of Love. Much of the time, it literally felt like a soft, heavy, warm cloak being held around my shoulders. It’s because He knew exactly what I needed, and He met me at that point of need, as He always does.

Today I would like to share a song that expresses this particularly well, and it says everything I want to say to Him in gratitude for the way He looks after me. Here it is: Craig Musseau’s ‘Arms of Love‘, Vineyard (1991), sung here by Brian Doerksen. Fiona loved this song, and when we lived in Leeds, I used to play it in worship meetings a lot and it reminds me of those times. She’d have been so glad to know how much this song means to me now, being able to sing these grateful words from a place of total reality.


I sing a simple song of love
To my Saviour, to my Jesus
I’m grateful for the things You’ve done
My Loving Saviour
My Precious Jesus

My heart is glad that You’ve called me Your own
And there’s no place I’d rather be
Than in Your Arms of Love
In Your Arms of Love
Holding me still, holding me near
In Your Arms of Love


Understanding the Gospel

One of my favourite blogs is that of Mike Douglas, and it’s called Getting Back to my Future‘. Here’s his title:

I’ve posted quite a lot of Mike’s content recently, including the post before this present one. And recently, he posted a superbly simple presentation of the Gospel: a presentation that clearly shows the Gospel as being simple, uncomplicated, and just Good News, which is actually what the word ‘Gospel’ means. So many people try to add more tasks, principles and Rules to the simple fact of Jesus’s death and Resurrection, reconciling humanity to God – and it’s really not that complex! Jesus has done everything necessary to bring us into right relationship with God. He has given us everything we need for life and Godliness (2Pet1:3). What part of ‘It is finished!’ (Jn19:30) do these people not agree with?

Anyway, over to Mike. This is a really great piece:

“Often, the way the ‘Gospel’ has been presented today is, ‘Jesus paid the price, but it’s not the full price. And until you repent of everything you have ever done and then live up to some standard, God can’t work in your life and you are not really saved.’

We are adding our own goodness, holiness, and effort to what Jesus has already done. That’s the message most churches are preaching today. And it’s wrong.

 No doubt everyone of us have been exposed to this and are left with the feeling that we must do ‘things’ to earn God’s favour. Or worse, made to feel that we would never be able to measure up.

 That’s also wrong.

 Before I continue, in case anyone is wondering, the ‘Gospel’ is simply a term we use to explain the way to become right with God by accepting the gift provided by Jesus. Literally, the word is translated, ‘Good News’. And it is… when offered truthfully and without added conditions.

 Please hear me.

 You are accepted by God because of what Jesus did… plus NOTHING. All you must do is receive it by faith. If you are thinking, ‘Well, I know Jesus died for me and He did all that stuff for me, but I also must be holy’, you are undoing what Jesus has done. Although probably unintentionally, you are saying it wasn’t enough.

 Please don’t believe this lie that you have been subjected to. It’s Jesus… plus NOTHING.

 What the Bible Says

“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.
But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”

(Romans 11:6 KJV)

 That’s just old English for, ‘you are either saved by grace [Jesus paying for all your stuff because He loves you] or by earning it based on our own merit’. It’s one or the other, but never by a combination of the two. That is very important.

Either you are saved by the grace of God and all you must do is received it by believing it is true OR you must be saved by your own goodness and merit [which cannot be done because then the standard is perfection]. It’s not a combination of the two.

It’s not Jesus providing the minimum payment and then you adding to it to earn the rest. Jesus paid it all! It is simply a matter of you believing and receiving or doubting and doing without. That’s how it works. The Bible could not be clearer.

The Problem

 Even after everything I have just said, most of us have fallen for this idea that there is more we must due to gain God’s favour. There are a few reasons for this.

 First, we know ourselves. We know how we can be. We know how often we have messed up and how we will continue to mess up. Add to that we never get to see, in our world, the unconditional love that Father offers. In our world we always must give something to receive love. We have been taught if something sounds too good to be true it probably isn’t.

 Second, because we have never seen it, we can’t imagine what it is like, so we change it to make it make sense to us. By doing so, our understanding becomes our god. The Bible calls that idolatry. We are not saying, ‘God’s not like that’. We are saying, ‘if I were God I would not be like that.’ ‘I would not forgive, I would make them pay’. I am very thankful I’m not God!

 Third, you have been taught wrong. When Jesus came to the earth He presented His father [God] as someone totally different than people understood up to that time. Instead of a vengeful, fire-throwing God, that required total perfection, Jesus presented Him as a loving Father who welcomed His children home, offering forgiveness, reconciliation and peace.

 Unfortunately, too many churches and Christians want to hang onto that old picture and insist that newcomers live up to sets of rules that they themselves could never attain. They want forgiveness for themselves but justice for others.

The Good News

The night before He died, Jesus met with His disciples. At that dinner, He introduced a new deal. He told them that the old way of ritual, sacrifices and being perfect was over. He said from here on there is a new way to be right with God. The new way was Him giving up His life for ours and by doing so paid for all our mistakes, wrongdoing and evil thoughts.

 To those churches and Christians who tell you are not welcome, not good enough or beyond God’s forgiveness or there is more you must do I want to say this, ‘YOU’RE NOT GOD’.

 Please don’t tie God’s goodness to your performance. It’s not how it works. He loves you, because you are you and you are His child. Period. Accept what Jesus did for you. And come home.

 It’s not, ‘too good to be true’. It’s ‘nearly too good to be true’!

And… it’s too good to pass up.

Should We Worship the Bible?

In blog posts in the past, I have written about how some believers seem to put the Bible on a pedestal, above God. I’m sure they would deny that, but that’s what it amounts to. God is constrained by what the Bible says (or appears to say) about Him.

But consider very carefully: if in any way the Bible is given superiority over God, then that can be thought of as Bible worship; a kind of idolatry (setting something up in the place of God), or, more specifically, what’s known as ‘Bibliolatry’.

It’s worth considering personally and individually how you place the Bible. If it’s above God; if what God is and is not allowed to say is dictated by the Bible, then that is Bibliolatry. And it’s serious – serious in that if you persist in this idolatry, you will be missing out on most of the joy of the proper Relationship with God that is yours as a birthright.

So, think about it carefully.

But don’t dwell on it too long, because focusing on ‘sin’ is one of the easiest ways to take your gaze away from the One to Whom it should always be directed, namely Jesus.

Anyhow, less of my goings on. I wanted to share with you another great piece by Mike Douglas, which covers this very subject. Over to Mike:

“The Bible shouldn’t be worshiped. It should help us seek the One worthy of worship. Much of this post is inspired by a similar blog by John Pavlovitz in March 2015 combined with my thoughts in my words. I am indebted to him for it.

The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.

“You’ve heard that phrase before. You’ve read it on bumper stickers. It’s an odd mantra that often describes the odd relationship some Christians have with our Bible. Many of us have made The Bible the single pillar of our faith, but not all of us have a complete grasp on what it says.

“We’ll agree without question that it is filled with words from the mouth of God, and yet we can’t really be bothered to crack it open all that often. We so crave a Bible that we can use quickly and neatly to support our various arguments and discussion points, but that Bible doesn’t exist.

“That doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t true, or divinely inspired, or “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” It just means that it is not a simple book and should not be treated like one.

A Problem

“Rather than admit the problems we face in understanding the Bible, too many Christians simply hide behind some reactionary, line-drawing, black and white, all-or-nothing rhetoric. The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it. But we often come to our positions without ever taking the time to truly understand what the Bible says. To name a few: same sex attraction, politics, war, racism.

“That’s because the Bible has become for many, something to be worshiped, rather than something to help us seek the One worthy of worship. The Trinity is now Father, Son and Holy Scripture. We’ve come to see the Bible as the destination of our spiritual journey, rather than essential reading on the way to the Promised Land.

“You can see this everywhere; Facebook, and on talk shows, and from pulpits. Many use the Bible like an oversized power tool that we couldn’t be bothered to consult the manual for.

Ouch! I know. But show me I’m wrong.

And we can’t disagree. If we do, the other is obviously wrong and must be criticized vehemently. And the rest of the world looks on shaking its head.

For Jesus followers, we must accept that those who have come to a different conclusion about the Bible, often have done so through the same study, reflection, and sincere desire to know the very heart of God that we have.

THE Problem

“The real problem, is putting the Bible on the same level as God; something the Bible itself never asks us to do. It is not, as we so often say, “The Word of God” from John 1:1, JESUS IS. Look it up!

“Additionally, we’ve decided that The Bible speaks everything that God ever has or ever will say, and that He’s said it exactly as we’ve determined, translated, and believe it to be. In other words, by elevating the Bible to the same level as God, and by leaning on our own understanding of its 66 books, we’ve crafted a God that seems to think a lot like we do, vote like we vote, hate who we hate and bless what we bless.

“Ouch? Sorry. But then again…

“The question we need to ask ourselves as modern believers, is whether we really trust God to speak clearly and directly to someone, independent of the Bible. Sometimes it seems we believe that the words of the Bible are, as it says, “living and active “, but believe that God is not. The inevitable outcome of thinking the Bible is the last and only word, is a God who is no longer living.

“If we read the Scriptures like the will of a dead relative who is never coming back, then yes, we will cling to them as the sole voice through which He speaks. However, if we trust in a Jesus who is alive, and in a God, who is present through His Holy Spirit, we can be confident that His voice is not confined to 66 books.

“Regardless of how much we trust and revere it, the Bible can never be God

“And it doesn’t need to be.

“God is God, and the only one capable of being so. The Bible and God can never ever be the exact same thing, and if we can’t honestly admit that, we’ll never be able to have meaningful discussion about either.

“So, what do we do with the fact that the Bible is not God?

“The number one use for the Bible is to introduce us to Jesus. To see what He has done for us and see the model He left for us to follow. That model is Him. As Bill Johnson says, ‘Jesus is perfect theology’. That means, simply, for your theology to be correct, it must be reflected in the life, words, actions and love Jesus demonstrated while on earth.

“Then, and only then:

  1. We cherish it, as a photo album of the family of faith we come from.
  2. We dig deeply into it, finding the treasures to be found there.
  3. We study it, until we can clearly see the character of God.
  4. We strip away time, tradition, language, and culture, to find the truths that transcend time and apply to our lives. That’s often different than literal truth.
  5. We see the faith, the character, and the mistakes of those who’ve come before us, to help us as we walk this journey.

“As Christians, we should read, respect, and when convicted, obey the Bible, but we should never worship it.”

Original post can be seen here.

Wide Asleep

We’ve all seen and heard street evangelists. I have some very good friends who were very active on the streets and whom I actually met when one of them offered to pray for Fiona*. They are now missionaries in Uganda and I love them dearly. We don’t see eye to eye on all our beliefs or doctrines, but still we recognise each other’s faith and love for Jesus. And that’s the way it should be.

But it can be embarrassing when, as believers, we walk past people preaching a fire-and-brimstone, repent-or-perish message in the streets. Personally, this is because I feel that my God is being misrepresented; that’s just my point of view, but it still makes me squirm in embarrassment as I walk past.

And, I’m sorry to say that, sometimes, public evangelism can be carried out on a deceptive basis. I am sad to have to confess that I was once – and only once! – involved in such a thing, where we were doing ‘pub evangelism’. The tactics used were quite blatantly deceptive, and after seeing it in action just once, I decided then and there that I’d never do it again. I met some of the most wonderful, lovely people in that pub, and I was deceiving them. Nothing else has ever made me feel as disgusted with myself as I did that evening – but I am free from the guilt now, if not the lessons learned!

I recently read a wonderful article by a chap who just happens to live fairly near me in Devon. His blog is called RedPillRev, doubtless referring to the Red Pill/Blue Pill concept from the movie ‘The Matrix‘. I’m planning on meeting up with him for coffee sometime soon. And the article he has written, which I share here, is about a recent ‘form’ of street evangelism which has been used in the UK and probably elsewhere too. It’s nothing new, really, but it’s the way it’s presented that got me thinking about how this sort of thing works, and what sorts of things it can lead to.

Anyhow, I have reproduced his article in its entirety, graphics and all, below. Copy and Paste is a wonderful thing; I wish I’d invented it. And I will comment on the article afterwards, too.

Wide Asleep

'Consumer Jesus', by 'Banksy'

A couple of years ago Church leaders in Reading reported an ‘unprecedented’ openness to the gospel with some 1200 people reportedly making commitments to Christ.

Whilst these church leaders did not call it a revival, they are calling it a ‘gospel awakening’.

American evangelist Tommie Zito was in Reading holding meetings when this ‘awakening’ first appeared.

I noticed that on Zito’s website was the catchy quote,

“If we don’t burn they will…”


Since then a ‘movement’ has been launched called “The Turning” where places within the UK and Europe are invited to be trained, to “soak in God’s presence” and then take to the streets with a script, the aim to get people to pray a sinner’s prayer.

Here are what the local Christians are using on the streets,

The problem with calling this a ‘gospel awakening’ is that the gospel has not been announced here! This is not the gospel. This is pseudo-spiritual sociological manipulation, preying on people’s fear and vulnerability, assuring them of eternal rewards in return of a short prayer.

We live in a culture saturated with fear, a desire for security and hope for reward. This whole methodology is simply an outworking of a cultural phenomenon, and example of how deeply saturated within consumerist ideology we are, convinced that our purpose is determined by the results we get.

So many churches in the UK are locked into this sacrificial deity who demands blood from us, a god of exchange who will bless us IF we say the right prayer, give money, sacrifice our lives. This god is to be feared for what might happen to us if we do not get in line. This god is both great and terrible, loving and full of wrath, merciful and vengeful. And it is this god being declared on the streets of Reading.

And it’s all bullshit.

Jesus called his followers to quietly and simply get on with loving others; no need to shout about it; God knows, that’s all that matters.

There are people everywhere, of faith and none, quietly getting on with loving others and serving their communities. No need for a ‘turning’, and Jesus makes it quite clear that it’s those who just get on a do it who regarded as his followers, even if they don’t see themselves as his followers.

And if your sole purpose to speak to someone is to manipulate them into a prayer, then you know nothing about unconditional love, grace, nor kindness in its truest sense.

“The Turning” and its endorsement by my own Baptist denomination is a prime example of the consumerist desire for quick fixes to deep and painful wounds.

Are people being awakened to the Abba of Jesus who is wholly Love, total forgiveness, eternal grace, Unconditionality?

Are people being awakened to the Trinitarian Life of nonviolent action who absorbs the totality of OUR violence and overcomes it with everlasting love and peace?

Are people being awakened to the One who says ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice’?

Are people being awakened to the One who is lifted up and will draw ALL to Life, none excluded, all welcomed in as children of the living God?

Are people being awakened to the One whose YES and AMEN is greater than our every NO?

I would argue that this is something of the Good News those involved in The Turning need to hear first before they make their way onto the streets.

Thanks, RedPillRev. The link to the original article is here and the article is reproduced by permission.

The photos of the ‘prompt sheet’ in the middle of the article are what I find really disturbing. It’s a prescribed, set-in-stone script that takes no account of where the victim is at in her/his spiritual walk; it’s a rubber-stamp ‘ticket to heaven’ which bears no resemblance to the real Gospel. It makes me mad. All you have to do is to read it to see why. And, as I commented on the blog post itself,

“Even then, the stuff they have on that script is not actually what they believe. Because this is just the beginning; you’re now ‘sure’ you’re going to heaven but before long you learn of all the other hoops you have to jump through to get there. You have to follow certain rules, abstain from certain things, agree to certain doctrines. It’s classic bait-and-switch: baiting people with a promise of freedom from worry about life after death and then switching to good old fashioned legalism again. And it’s sickening.”

Bait-and-switch. This is a common tactic, and, while I appreciate the there is nothing in the ‘script’ (that I can see, anyway) that encourages the victim to go to church, you can bet that there will be some sort of follow-on where that is encouraged. Of course, this bait-and-switch may not happen in all instances; when looking at The Turning’s website, I actually agree with some of what is on there. However, I am still concerned for the dangers of the legalistic approach. I am especially concerned with the nicey-nicey ‘contact us’ stuff which, depending on the church that is sending out the street evangelists, may well lead into indoctrination and legalism. Of course, it’s a conundrum: how do we get the Gospel out to the world and help people to realise the life they have in Christ, but without going into legalism and Rules? It’s a difficult one, to be sure. But this is not the way to do it, I feel.

Please let me stress that I am not saying that all churches and Christians are like this. We’re not. It’s not all deception. When the Spirit of God is working, there’s no need for deception – in fact, there is never any need for deception. I am not wanting to tar all street evangelists with the same brush. I’m not saying that any of them are intentionally deceiving. I’m just warning people to be on their guard against the Yeast of the Pharisees, as Jesus said to do (Mt 16:6). This is referring to legalism – following Rules – which the Pharisees were into, big-time. There’s a good article on this here.

And even this form of evangelism has its uses. Once someone starts to walk with Jesus, they are on the road that leads to Life – a better life here and now, and eternal Life when we die. But the true freedom of the Christian life can be snuffed out almost before it begins, by imposing legalism on the new convert right from square one. But still they are exposed to the influence of the Spirit, and become more conscious of His work in their lives. But the legalism can be hard to break free from once it is ingrained. Anyway enough of that 🙂

The other thing is this: the premise of that ‘script’ is that if you pray that prayer as prompted by the street evangelist, then you are on your way to Heaven. And I actually don’t argue with that; I believe that Jesus responds to a person’s heart. My beef with it is that this is likely not what the evangelist actually believes. I know I can’t speak for them all, but by and large the doctrines of these people are actually that not only must you say that prayer, but (as you find out later) you must also follow the Rules; and that right there is the ‘bait-and-switch’. You are, quite rightly, told that it is Jesus’s righteousness that ‘buys’ you your ticket to Heaven. I’ll go along with that for now. But then once you are ‘in’, you are told that there are certain behaviours, certain Rules, certain prohibitions, that you have to comply with or else you won’t actually get into Heaven after all. In short, then, this is the deception. You’re safe/you’re not safe.

You see, Christianity is not about following Rules at all. In fact, it’s the only one of the world’s great religions that, at its core, is dependent wholly on God’s Grace and what He’s done, rather than on what we either have done, have not done, or are ‘required’ to do. And of course these Rules vary from church to church, from denomination to denomination, and from religion to religion. They even vary from person to person within one single church!

But Jesus did not come to found yet another religion based on a set of Rules, albeit ones modified slightly from the Jewish faith He was raised in. No, He came to set us free from the Law of sin and death; the Law that brings death…in short, trying to follow the Rules always leads to failure, which is what Jesus came to address and to solve.

I’ve also noticed that if I get acosted by a street evangelist, on hearing that I am already following Christ, they then ask me certain questions which – and let’s make no bones about it – are designed to ascertain whether I believe in the ‘correct’ way; whether all my doctrinal ducks are lined up properly. And if I have one, yes even just one, doctrine even slightly out of whack, I get preached at anyway because I am obviously ‘wrong’.

Cheek of it!

So, if you are approached by a street evangelist, and they promise that if you listen to them and pray their ‘sinner’s prayer’, you will go to Heaven, ask them if that is really what they believe. They will say something like, ‘If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would go?’ The idea being that you would say ‘no’ and they would then try to ‘save’ you so that you can then say ‘Yes! I know where I’d be going!’. But actually a lot of the time they don’t actually believe that even of themselves. Ask them if they know where they’d be going if they died tonight. Ask them if it is possible that, having prayed that prayer, it is still possible for a person not to go to Heaven. Because if they are honest, chances are that they will say, “Actually, yes, it is possible for you to lose your salvation”, or something like that. Or, ‘No, I’m not sure where I’d go’. This is a sure sign of legalism and ‘bait-and-switch’. If they are selling an assurance of salvation that is based on you keeping to the ‘straight and narrow’, then it is no assurance at all. This is not sure and certain salvation. In fact this is not good news in any way!

No, I firmly believe in ‘once saved, always saved‘. What is ‘being saved’ (also known as ‘salvation’) anyway? I’m going to do a series on what salvation actually is, sometime in the future. But for now let’s just say it’s about gradually being made whole; being restored into being the person you were always intended to be. And you can’t lose that, because everything you do – or don’t do – becomes part of that process. And it doesn’t depend on you anyway. It depends on God.

And He doesn’t make mistakes.

*Actually, there’s a funny story here. My friend the street evangelist is called Mark, and we met him in Exeter as he and his wife Sabine were doing their street evangelism. I was wheeling Fiona in her wheelchair, as she was weak from the chemotherapy, and as we were trundling past Mark and Sabine, we encouraged them for their courage, and Mark offered to pray for Fiona’s healing. Once he’d prayed for Fiona, we asked Mark if they’d like a coffee as we were on our way to Costa Coffee, just 100 metres from where they were doing their evangelism. They would indeed like a coffee, so I trundled Fiona to the Costa cafe and left her sitting in the cafe while I took the coffees back along the street for Mark and Sabine. I had to take the (empty) wheelchair with me as there was insufficient room in the cafe for me to leave it there. Mark’s face, as he saw the empty wheelchair, was an absolute picture 😀 Naturally, he thought she’d got up and walked…which she had indeed done, as walking wasn’t a problem for her anyway; the wheelchair was more to conserve her energy levels because they were depleted by the chemotherapy. But Mark’s face… 😮

They came to our church the next morning, and I have kept in touch with them and watched their ministry; they are doing really well 🙂


This entry is part 19 of 22 in the series Beautiful Destroyers

This instalment of ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ is a little different, as I am not showcasing a particular aircraft. Instead, I’m looking at the origins of military aviation and also sharing a lovely piece of music. Enjoy!

As both a military historian and an aviator, I am of course passionately interested in the use of aircraft in military operations – or ‘military aviation’. The history of the military use of aircraft is in itself a fascinating tale of high-end technology (military aircraft have always been at the forefront of technological development), courage, technical skill, determination, tactical development, trial and error, mistakes and success. Of course, warfare is an unforgiving crucible, and because of this it is one of the major motivating factors in the development of technology of all kinds. Military aviation is a prime example of this, if not indeed the pinnacle of modern military technology. It was realised fairly early on in World War I (1914-1918)* that control of the skies was of paramount importance in tactical (and later strategic) warfare. This continues to be axiomatic in modern warfare; he who controls the skies, controls the battle.

But of course it had to start somewhere. The first recorded use of aircraft in military operations was (as far as I know) the use of manned observation kites by the Chinese in the late sixth century – about 594CE. Hot air balloons were first used decisively by the French in 1794; however, although balloons continued to be used for observation purposes for long after, these kites and balloons were of course tethered to the ground and couldn’t really go anywhere. Military aviation therefore really only came into its own during World War I, because with the advent of powered aircraft like aeroplanes and airships, people could actually go more or less where they wanted to go in the skies, rather than having to stay in the same place; this operational flexibility, of course, meant that virtually anything was possible from then onwards. But even then, fully-dirigible (that is, mobile and steerable) aircraft were still in their infancy; airships had been around for only two or three decades, and as for aeroplanes (or ‘flying machines’ as they were often called back then), the first powered aeroplane flight was only in 1903, so the technology was still very much experimental, and flying aeroplanes was very much a hit-and-miss affair (in other words, dangerous) because of this. So it was an historical period quite unlike any other as far as military aviation was concerned.

Having just finished an excellent book on British aerial combat operations in WWI, Fighter Heroes of WWI, by Joshua Levine, I bought the DVDs of the 1970s classic BBC series ‘Wings‘, which for some reason I was completely unaware of at the time (that is, in 1974-76 when it was being shown on TV) – which is a shame as it would have been right up my street. It’s an absolutely superb series with excellent characterisation, engrossing story writing, great acting, historical accuracy and (most importantly to me!) superb and authentic flying sequences. Anyone interested in the early development of military aviation will not fail to be captured by this series; it’s simply brilliant.

And the theme music is gorgeous. In fact, despite my lengthy preamble, this music was actually the main inspiration for this post today – it is simply lovely. It has a nostalgic ‘music-hall’ feel to it, with a beautiful chord structure and bass-line, and above all, a catchy and poignant melody. And I recommend you listen to it on headphones if possible, in order to catch all the lovely nuances.

So, here we are – the theme music from ‘Wings‘, composed by Alexander Faris:

Gorgeous. Hope you liked it!


The theme music for the series ‘Wings‘ was released as a 45rpm vinyl record in 1977, and since first writing this article, I have managed to buy one. You can pick up a copy of your own from Amazon if you like; click the cover graphic below to go to the sales page:

In case they have sold out, here is the title track as an orchestral arrangement, digitised from the A-side of the record:

During one of the early episodes in Series 1, some of the characters in the screenplay can be heard singing a military-style pub drinking song to the same tune. Since I like to have the lyrics for any songs I really like, I was delighted to find that the B-side of the record contained this vocal arrangement, entitled ‘A Sussex Lad’, which is the same song that the characters sang in the episode. The whole feel of the song is just so World War I; it’s a perfect song for the series:

And finally, here are the lyrics so you can sing along:

I’m a gentle lad from Sussex
With a heart that’s light and free
So a frown did pass across my brow
When my girl said to me
“They are fighting on the land, Jack,
And they’re fighting on the sea
Will you be a sailor-boy
Or will you join the New Army?”

I’m a loyal lad from Sussex
With a heart that’s brave and free
But the Sergeant-Major’s language, Lord!
It simply horrified me!
And I would not join the Navy
For I’ve never liked the sea
So I put my brave heart to the test
And joined the RFC

I go skimming the tops of the mountains
And soaring all over the sea
I think of my girl as I’m flying
And I know she is thinking of me

I’m an airborne lad from Sussex
With a heart that’s flying free
I’ve a pair of wings upon my chest
My girl’s so proud of me
They can keep the Royal Navy
They can […] the infantry
For the sky is now my pasture
It’s an airman’s wings for me!

I’m a daring aviator
And I fly so skilfully
But my aeroplane lacked common sense
And crashed into a tree
Now my wings are lying broken
And my girl she weeps for me
For I’ve left this world and God’s unfurled
These angels’ wings for me

The inclusion of this blog post in my series ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ was apt, I thought, because it describes the very early origins of military aviation. Without the tireless efforts of those pioneers of the past, our ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ would never have existed.

The aeroplane in the header picture is a flying replica of a Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c, the mainstay of the Royal Flying Corps in 1915, when the series ‘Wings’ is set. A very stable aeroplane, and ideal for its designed purpose of reconnaissance (being a stable camera platform), it was not really designed to fight other aircraft; the idea of aeroplanes fighting each other hadn’t really been thought of when this aeroplane was designed! The image is a direct screenshot from the opening titles of Series 1 of ‘Wings’. I’m not sure there are any replicas still flying nowadays; remember this series was made in the mid-1970s 🙂

*Hostilities in World War I, known at the time as the ‘Great War’, ceased when the Armistice was signed on the 11th November, 1918. The War was formally ended in June, 1919, with the Treaty of Versailles. This explains why the dates on some war memorials say 1914-1919.

For My Inerrantist Friends…

“For My Inerrantist Friends: Why Appeals to Inerrancy are Totally Ineffective in Discussion”

One of the most refreshing Christian blogs ‘out there’ in the blogsphere is Jesus Without Baggage. I know the author will be reading this – hi Tim! – but it’s true. Tim writes with a perfect blend of incisiveness, perception and gentleness, without judging and without condemning even those whose ideas he has issue with.

Anyway, less of the hero-worship 😉

The doctrine of Biblical inerrancy claims that the Bible (at least in its original form, whatever that means) is completely without error or fault.

In this blog post, Tim writes on the problems with using inerrancy as a valid argument, and he raises an excellent set of points, which are well made and well explained. The article also dovetails nicely with his article on ‘Proof-Texting’, which I shared some months ago.


For My Inerrantist Friends: Why Appeals to Inerrancy are Totally Ineffective in Discussion

Frequently, I receive comments from those who disagree with me—and this is as it should be! I enjoy dialog with those who disagree with me because I never learn anything if I only talk with people who already agree!

However, it is often impossible to have real dialog with some inerrantists because their main arguments are based on inerrancy, and no response contrary to inerrancy is satisfactory to them. If we cannot discuss an issue without appealing to inerrancy then it is no discussion at all for those of us who do not accept inerrancy.

I, myself, used to be a committed inerrantist. But I no longer am so appeals to inerrancy have no persuasive value to me—at all. And it seems that inerrancy is the only argument some inerrantists have. I think the only place where appeal to inerrancy works well is when both discussion partners share the same presupposition of inerrancy.

Now, I do enjoy dialog with inerrantists, just as I do with anyone else, as long as they can argue from other points; but if they cannot defend their positions without appealing to (or assuming) inerrancy the discussion just can’t go forward. The issue at hand is no longer the stated topic but, instead, becomes inerrancy itself. Of course we can talk about inerrancy–but it is its own topic.

Unless we get beyond appeals (or assumptions) of inerrancy we cannot deal with the issue at hand, as I recently discussed in a previous article.

I’m not being stubborn, I am just saying that appeals to inerrancy are ineffective arguments to me. So argue from a different direction.

blog Bible Inerrancy

The Inadequacy of Proof-texting

Proof-texting forms a lot of the argument for inerrantists. I love discussing biblical passages, but simply presenting a biblical passage as an argument, as though it is sufficient proof within itself, gets us nowhere.

And sharing a biblical passage without comment is of little value. Do you think I haven’t already read that passage—usually times without number? Do you expect me to be surprised by it? If you are going to use a biblical passage for support, then explain what you think the passage means and how it is pertinent to the conversation—without reference to inerrancy. Otherwise the proof-text is just hanging out there taking up space.

Context is very important, and stand-alone phrases and verses lifted out and offered without context do damage to the context.

Even less useful is making a statement followed by chapter and verse references alone without including the text or indicating what it says. If a dialoger doesn’t provide the text, or a link to the text, then I am not likely to look it up.

Accusations Inerrantists make as Arguments against Progressive Believers

Progressive believers encounter a number of common accusations from inerrantists. These accusations often come when proof-texting doesn’t work but are sometimes used a first response.

1. A very common accusation is that progressive believers are cherry pickers—choosing what they like and neglecting what they don’t like. This is simply not true—not for me anyway. As I have questioned beliefs I had been taught (which were all based on inerrancy), I worked hard examining each belief to determine if the proof-texts used for it were solid and to consider alternative perspectives.

Now, I think some people ARE cherry-pickers, there are cherry-pickers on both sides, but I don’t think this is the norm. Nor do I think most believers conveniently choose what they like and ignore what they don’t like. Rather, I think for the most part believers on both sides sincerely believe what they say.

2. A similar accusation is that progressives make the Bible into whatever we want it to be. I can say that reading the Bible without assumptions of inerrancy is not such a shallow exercise as this; it is a lot more work! An inerrantist can simply read a passage without regard to context or genre and decide what it means. Progressive believers must dig deeper.

3. If you can’t trust the whole Bible how can you trust any of it? I approach the Old Testament as Jewish national literature which forms a big part of the cultural background of Jesus and his audience. It is much like reading an American Literature book. We will likely find the Declaration of Independence, a Martin Luther King piece, a story from Huckleberry Finn, Jonathan Edward’s Sinner’s in the Hands of an Angry God, and perhaps Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe. All of these are important to the American heritage, but if we find inconsistencies do we throw out the entire collection?

The New Testament is the story of Jesus and his impact on his earliest followers. I look at each part of of the Bible individually, analyze it according to what it is, and use the results of scholarship.

4. You need to read the Bible! I guess the assumption is that if I read the Bible I must come to the same conclusions they do. I was ‘saved’ in a fundamentalist church when I was 7, and by the time I was 9 or 10 I began reading the Bible voraciously. I am now 63 and I pretty much still do that–along with commentaries and other biblical tools. So that’s over 50 years of fairly intense Bible-reading.

5. You didn’t answer my question. What inerrantists usually mean is that I didn’t answer their question to their satisfaction, so they often pose the same challenge over and over even after it has been addressed. Because, to an inerrantist, everything eventually boils down to inerrancy; and any answer inconsistent with inerrancy is unsatisfactory.
These are not arguments; they are only accusations.

Let’s Dialogue!

I like talking respectfully with inerrantists. So, if you are an inerrantist and want to talk about issues—let’s talk! But be aware that appeals to inerrancy will not be effective.

Click here to go to the original article

Stage 3 – ‘Synthetic – Conventional’

This entry is part 5 of 11 in the series The Stages of Spiritual Growth

In this fifth part of my series, ‘The Stages of Spiritual Growth’, we come to Stage 3 – the ‘Synthetic, Conventional Stage’.

I may as well tell you now, this Stage will be familiar to most of my readers – probably all – because you will either be conscious of having passed through this Stage, or you may recognise that you are still in it. Many people don’t even realise they are in this Stage – for reasons that we will see – until after they have passed through it. I’d say that this is the Stage that many Christians in the Western world are in. And that’s fine, because as I said before, God has His own timing for all of us for our spiritual growth, and this is not something to be rushed.

I therefore want to be very sensitive in writing this piece, and the next two pieces as well, because these three essays will certainly be the key instalments in this series. Indeed, this is one of the dangers of knowing about these Stages; that we may feel like we are not moving fast enough or something. But remember what I wrote in the Spoiler! piece: these Stages are generalisations and are actually representative of no one particular person’s position. This is not a competition, nor is it a race (despite various Scriptural usages of  a ‘race’ as an illustrative point)! This is the walk of discipleship with Jesus Christ. The only thing to realise is that this is simply a Stage, and you have not ‘arrived’. None of us will ‘arrive’ this side of the veil, if even then. Simply realise that there are others who have gone through this Stage; we will talk about those people more in the next piece. As I said in the closing statements in the ‘Spoiler!‘ piece, where I try to put the Stages of Spiritual Growth into perspective,

“I’m not saying that these ‘Stages’ are definitive, and (as I have already mentioned) they are to some extent a generalisation. But I must say that I can definitely identify with these Stages of growth in my own mind, and at the very least, these ideas should confirm for us that there are indeed spiritual growth stages of some sort out there, and that if we find ourselves changing under God’s guidance, we should not be surprised when we can indeed identify with some of the indicators of the Stages put forward by Fowler/Peck. So, when I am presenting and describing these Stages from both Fowler and Peck, I am not asking my readers to try to decide at any time which Stage they are in – although I realise this is a natural tendency – nor am I encouraging anyone to feel ‘superior’ or ‘inferior’ to other Christians because of the ‘stage we are at’. This isn’t about others; this is about realising that we are all on a journey, that these Stages do exist in some form or another in most people, and that this is perfectly normal and nothing to be afraid of. Indeed, I am not proposing that anyone be constantly mindful of the Stages and/or ‘trying to work out where we are on the scale’. While introspection can be useful, I would far rather we are simply aware of these Stages as a perfectly normal part of personal spiritual development, as information that is useful in working out what is happening to us, but all the while still majoring on keeping our eyes fixed on “…Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:2). He’s the important One!”

Furthermore, not everyone will identify with this concept of ‘Stages’. And that’s fine too; faith certainly is not a ‘one size fits all’ kind of thing!

I would suggest that two more Scriptures we need to keep in mind as we read, then, are these:

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6 KJV)

“Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy…” (Jude 24 KJV)

Remember, it is Jesus Who performs the work in us, and He will continue it to completion. God does not make mistakes.

Right then, here we go:

Stage 3

To quote from the Stage 3 part in the chart of Fowler’s Stages, “Most people move on to this stage as teenagers. At this point, their life has grown to include several different social circles and there is a need to pull it all together. When this happens, a person usually adopts some sort of all-encompassing belief system. However, at this stage, people tend to have a hard time seeing outside their box and don’t recognize that they are “inside” a belief system. At this stage, authority is usually placed in individuals or groups that represent one’s beliefs. [This is the stage in which many people remain.]”

A person will normally move into the third of James Fowler’s Stages, the Synthetic, Conventional stage around puberty (although it could happen at any time, even their late teens) but, apparently, many adults never move beyond it. Fowler estimated that 30% of adults remain at this stage.

People in this Stage most often hold to ‘…a set of tacitly held, strongly felt, but largely unexamined beliefs and values’. Here authority is located outside the self – in the church leaders, in the government, in the social group. When Fowler says that religious concepts are “tacitly” held, he means that the person is not fully conscious of having chosen to believe something. Thus the name “Synthetic” – beliefs are not the result of any type of analytical thought. This stage is also synthetic in the sense that it weaves together faith out of a variety of sources, in a synthesis:  Fowler describes part of the work as learning to ‘form a story of one’s stories’. People who ‘convert’ to a Stage 3 position, from a background of not having much education in the matters of a certain faith structure, will tend to ‘absorb’ the belief systems from their peers by attending meetings, listening to talks, teaching and testimony, and from reading their holy books.

The Stage is ‘Conventional’ in that faith is at this stage formed in a social or group context (e.g. family/gang/church), and the individual follows the norms of the group, rather than adopting particular views after thinking them through for themselves. “Conventional” therefore means that most people in this stage see themselves as believing what “everybody else” believes and would be reluctant to stop believing it because of the need they feel to stay connected with their group.

It turns out that most of the people in traditional churches are at this stage. And in fact, Fowler comes right out and states that religious institutions “work best” if the majority of their congregation is in Stage 3. And that could indeed explain a lot of the preaching we hear about that appears to be intended to discourage people from questioning. To properly assure their continuance, churches apparently need people to remain in Stage 3.

People in this stage place a large amount of trust in external authority figures and tend not to recognize that they are within a belief system “box” as their beliefs are internalized but have not been examined. We are immersed in the ‘thought system’ of our faith community in a similar way to a fish that does not perceive the water it which it swims. This is one of the main reasons why most people in this Stage do not realise that they are in it, until they have grown beyond it.

This is therefore a ‘conformist’ Stage in which the individual is acutely attuned to the expectations and judgements of significant others – leaders, ‘spiritual fathers’, and so on. It is also a ‘tribal’ stage, where being part of the tribe is powerfully significant to the person – and being in a community of like-minded believers. They usually hold deep convictions and are loyal and committed workers and servants. Beliefs are typically not examined critically and are therefore tacitly held to. That is, they know what they know but are generally unable to tell you how they know something is true, except by referring to an external authority outside of themselves – “The Bible says” or “My Pastor teaches this”. Any attempts to reason with a person in this stage about his beliefs, any suggestion of demythologizing his beliefs, is seen as a threat.

Often, people in this Stage predominantly have a vision of God as an external, transcendent being with little reference to God as an immanent, indwelling God. Among adults, this is the Stage most commonly found amongst church members. Most find enormous meaning in their faith, as they share in church activities – worship, prayer, mission, teaching etc. Many express a strong sense of belonging, “being at home” or having “arrived”. Emphasis is on the “family of believers”.

Dualistic thinking is very prevalent: Christian/non-Christian; saved/unsaved; heaven/hell; black-and-white thinking, along with being a part of, and being accepted by, the faith community.

In this way, most people in this Stage feel comfortable, safe and secure ‘in their faith’ on the surface, as long as they do not look too deeply at their questions, if indeed they have any. This is  because they have a set of lines drawn; a set of well-defined boundaries, maybe rules, expectations both written and unwritten, taboos, and tacit, shared beliefs, and a social structure based on those shared beliefs, within which they feel safe. It is a paradox that, whereas most religious belief systems encourage complete openness, honesty and trustworthiness, in fact many people have to hide their ‘doubts’ or questions and effectively have to lie about, or at least conceal, their true feelings. Therefore, if/when tricky questions arise, these have to be either pushed down or ignored, but the questions can’t be asked. This is because despite the claimed openness of the group, the person may be (and usually is) afraid of rejection by the group, maybe because such questions are frowned upon since a tacit belief is held that such questions are unhealthy and show a ‘lack of faith’. In fact, any rejection would usually occur because the questions threaten the belief systems – and therefore the security and cohesion – of the group, most of whom, remember, will likely also be people in Stage 3. In addition, the security found in the ‘knowledge’ that a person has in this Stage, is, quite rightly, tightly held, because at this point, letting go of those tightly-held beliefs is a terrifying prospect; this is true especially if the context is one where ‘eternal damnation’ is the perceived penalty for ‘going against the grain’ in the group. Most people who remain in their environment like this are therefore content to live with/ignore their questions, and just get on with their lives, including church activities.

Therefore, whereas, as we have already said, a person will normally move into this Stage sometime between puberty and their late teens, many adults never move beyond it. This will come as no surprise to people who have engaged in ‘discussion’ with people in the ‘Synthetic – Conventional’ Stage.

Either having no questions, or suppressing them if/when they do have them, is one of the main reasons why many people do not move any further forward from Stage 3. We feel safe there, and we don’t want to ‘rock the boat’. And actually that is admirable in some ways, because there is a concern there for the well-being of the others in the group. The transition to Stage 4 almost always involves facing into dissatisfaction, awkward questions, or other such disillusionment, and this is always uncomfortable at some stage, as we shall see.

There are many positives to this Stage. Most people in this stage are genuinely happy; happy with their lives, happy in their faith, happy knowing God in the way that they do. Churches are usually involved in some way with making the world a better place to live in; maybe they want to ‘make a better world’. They work with the poor, they work to better society by taking up political posts in order to perpetuate their beliefs into societal structures. They are sincere, they are honest, they are trustworthy, they are usually kind and generous to others – surprisingly, even sometimes when those they are being kind to are members of ‘forbidden’ groups, like gay people or other types of ‘sinners’ as they see them.

Personally, for example, when I was in this Stage, I found that although I was a die-hard Fundamentalist and stood very firmly against people with ‘alternative sexualities’, when I actually met such a person, I just loved that person as God loves them. The story is here. I do not deny that the love of God is present in most of the people at this Stage; I just don’t think they quite know how to express it because they are hindered by the taboos of their belief structure. Jesus had no such scruples. Jesus associated with those whom society – and remember it was a religious society – had rejected and had cast on to the rubbish heap. But still He loved them.

Now let’s have a look at how Peck describes this Stage. In his system, he refers to it as  Stage II:

Peck’s Stage II

Peck makes more valid points in his Stage II, which will enrich our understanding of Fowler’s Stage 3. Although it can be seen as reading quite harshly, this passage does make some excellent and perceptive, if possibly disconcerting, points:

“Formal, Institutional, Fundamental. Beginning the work of submitting themselves to principle – the law – but they do not yet understand the spirit of the law, consequently they are legalistic, parochial, and dogmatic. They are threatened by anyone who thinks differently from them, as they have the “truth,” and so regard it as their responsibility to convert or save the other 90 or 99 percent of humanity who are not “true believers.” They are religious for clear cut answers, with the security of a big daddy God and organization, to escape their fear of living in the mystery of life, the mystery of uncertainty in the ever moving and expanding unknown. Instead they choose the formulations, the stagnation of prescribed methods and doctrines that spell out life and attempt to escape fear. Yet these theological reasonings simply cover over fear, hide fear and do not transcend it in spite of with acceptance in expanding movement. All those outside of Stage II are perceived to be as Stage I, as they do not understand Stage III and Stage IV. Those who do fall, reverting from Stage II to Stage I are called “backsliders.”

“There is a [four famous Fundamentalist preacher names, removed because I don’t like to denigrate people – Ed] mentality (one-sided thinking – ignorance that produces hostility) in every religion, the one-sidedness, in every ideology. Christianity cannot be condemned as responsible for the fundamentalists who claim to represent such. One just has to look at Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King, Jr. to see the opposite of such thinking. You can find the [Fundamentalist preacher name] in Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism, Mohammedism and of course Christianity. That is the narrow one-sided exclusiveness that limits insight to one set of rules and one objective truth, under the literal logic or rationialism, that fails to apprehend the unseen intuitive essence of existence and ignorantly labels outsiders as misled sinners, while surrounding themselves with interior neurotic and finite walls of security and certainty. All is safe in this illusion, but all is not just, nor fair, and does not transcend prejudice that surpasses tribal identity, an identity that must be scrapped in order to bring higher consciousness of planetary cultural peace and love based on principle with intuitive insight.

“There is also a [name of a famous ‘terrorist’ leader] (evil intolerance) in every religious culture and teaching, in every social, political and cultural view. Islam cannot be condemned as responsible for the extreme fundamentalists who incorporate harm and war. One just has to look at the other side within Islam, to the Sufi of compassion and peace, that of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen or Hazrat Inayat Khan. Yet the evil of extreme fundamentalism resides in all facets of society, those who would kill and destroy, torture and humiliate, all in the name of their theological and ideological views. They are of course the extreme fundamentalists, yet all forms of fundamentalism, both moderate to extreme, Stage II mentality, fails integration with non-acceptance, that of one-dimensional perception.” (1)

While, as I said, this looks quite harsh, remember that these Stages are not intended to describe any particular set of people or any individuals. While we may recognise some or indeed many of these traits in people or churches we know, I am absolutely sure that most people do not hold any of these points of view with any sort of malice or ill feeling. They are simply acting out of what they believe. Remember that this is all perfectly normal when we are thinking about spiritual development.

Peck then expands on these ideas:

“…There are several things that characterize the behavior of men and women in Stage II of their spiritual development, which is the stage of the majority of churchgoers and believers (as well as that of most emotionally healthy “latency” period children). One is their attachment to the forms (as opposed to the essence) of their religion, which is why I call this stage “formal” as well as “institutional.” They are in fact sometimes so attached to the canons and the liturgy that they become very upset if changes are made in the words or the music or in the traditional order of things. It is for this reason that there has been so much turmoil concerning the adoption of the new Book of Common Prayer by the Episcopal Church or the changes brought about by the Vatican II in the Catholic Church. Similar turmoil occurs for similar reasons in the other denominations and religions. Since it is precisely these forms that are responsible of their liberation from chaos., it is no wonder that people at this stage of their spiritual development become so threatened when someone seems to be playing footloose and fancy-free with the rules.”

“Another thing characterizing the religious behavior of Stage II people is that their vision of God is almost entirely that of an external, transcendent Being. They have very little understanding of the immanent, indwelling God–the God of the Holy Spirit or what Quakers call the Inner Light. And although they often consider Him loving, they also generally feel He possesses–and will use–punitive power. But once again, it is no accident that their vision of God is that of a giant benevolent Cop in the Sky, because that is precisely the kind of God they need–just as they need a legalistic religion for their governance.” (1)


So, how do we use this knowledge?

For anyone reading this far, you will have noticed that these descriptions and discussions of Stage 3/II are quite revealing, and maybe it feels uncomfortable for you – either because you recognise traits that you yourself have, or you see traits that you used to have and it makes you feel uncomfortable, or maybe you don’t identify with any of it. All of these reactions are perfectly ok; I am not making any value judgement on where you are ‘at’ in your spiritual walk, and neither should you. The point is that we are aware of these different Stages, and how they sometimes manifest themselves, and to realise that this is to a great extent what makes people respond in the ways they do when talking about the things of faith. Everyone’s faith is different; even those who are in a ‘conformist’ stage will each believe something slightly different from his neighbour. And that’s fine. God causes His sun to shine on the righteous and unrighteous alike, and just because people in a certain denomination or faith tradition can feel the Presence of God in their meetings, in their lives, or whatever, it does not mean that they have everything taped as far as doctrine or belief goes. My own personal view – and you may or may not agree – is that God loves everyone, and He loves to make Himself known to them, and that He’s not particularly bothered what they believe as long as their hearts are turned towards Him. This may be seen by some as threatening to their belief system, but the thing to realise is that just because others’ belief systems ‘work’ for them, it doesn’t mean that yours is somehow ‘wrong’. It isn’t wrong; it’s what you believe. Now, granted, many of us believe many things about God which are incompatible with others’ beliefs, and some will indeed be correct and some will not, if indeed we can make such an assertion about knowledge of the infinite. But it is not for us to say that others’ belief systems are in any way invalid, because, for those others, they work.

For instance, Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no-one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). I believe that. But I also believe that those who come to the Father in other faiths also come through Jesus, it’s just that they don’t yet realise that this is the case. In Romans 3:23, St. Paul indeed says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – and many believers incorrectly stop short of the second part of the Hebrew poetry-style writing and omit the next crucial part of the verse: “…and [all] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”. That sounds like a Universalist perspective, I appreciate, but that’s what it says. Who are we, then, to tell others that their experience of God is not valid? To me, that’s the height of arrogance – but having seen how dogmatic people can be, it is unsurprising.

At Stage 3, we need the humility to realise that we have not yet ‘arrived’; indeed, if we feel we have, then we most certainly haven’t! God wants to take us further – but all in His own good time. This stuff can’t be contrived, nor can it be rushed.

St. Paul also has some practical advice about how to cope with different stages of growth. Although the concept probably hadn’t been formally recognised at that point in history, it’s clearly something that was on Paul’s mind in Romans chapters 14 and 15. In there, people are passing judgement on one another because some were more free than others, and hurt was flowing both ways. There’s more on these ideas in my piece, ‘How Not to Cause Others To Stumble

And don’t let anyone judge you by anything that you find acceptable, when they do not, or vice versa (Col 2:16) – it’s not their place to do so and neither is it yours. It may be disguised as ‘loving concern’, but the vast majority of the time, people wanting to change something about what you believe is as a result of them judging you, and they will keep on doing so if they get the opening. But you can choose to respond gently and lovingly. This is the key – take Paul’s advice that he puts in so many of his letters – bear with one another in love and all that sort of thing.

And don’t worry – trust God to bring you through, and to bring your brother or sister through too. Part of trusting God is to let go of the things that you feel are so important that you have to sort them out yourself.

Maintain a sense of humour. Learn to laugh at yourself and not take yourself – or life – too seriously. This was one of the things that the humourless religious elite of Jesus’s time had a problem with. One of the first things to be lost in any legalistic setting, whether it’s a church or a totalitarian state, is the sense of humour. Legalists love to be sense of humour police, amongst other things. This is one reason why the attempted imposition of legalism on those who are free is so repulsive; they are trying to drag you back to where they are. Remember that, if you are being so dragged, and also remember – and stop it – if you are the one doing the dragging. Live and let live. Let people follow their own walk with Christ!

If you learn nothing else from this series, the thing I want you to hold above everything else is that you can trust God. If He is for us, who can be against us?


Let’s finish with Fowler’s formal description of this Stage:

In Stage 3 Synthetic-Conventional faith, a person’s experience of the world now extends beyond the family. A number of spheres demand attention: family, school or work, peers, street society and media, and perhaps religion. Faith must provide a coherent orientation in the midst of that more complex and diverse range of involvements. Faith must synthesize values and information; it must provide a basis for identity and outlook.

“Stage 3 typically has its rise and ascendancy in adolescence, but for many adults it becomes a permanent place of equilibrium. It structures the ultimate environment in interpersonal terms. Its images of unifying value and power derive from the extension of qualities experienced in personal relationships. It is a “conformist” stage in the sense that it is acutely tuned to the expectations and judgments of significant others and as yet does not have a sure enough grasp on its own identity and autonomous judgment to construct and maintain an independent perspective. While beliefs and values are deeply felt, they typically are tacitly held-the person “dwells” in them and in the meaning world they mediate. But there has not been occasion to step outside them to reflect on or examine them explicitly or systematically. At Stage 3 a person has an “ideology,” a more or less consistent clustering of values and beliefs, but he or she has not objectified it for examination and in a sense is unaware of having it. Differences of outlook with others are experienced as differences in “kind” of person. Authority is located in the incumbents of traditional authority roles (if perceived as personally worthy) or in the consensus of a valued, face-to-face group.

“The emergent capacity of this stage is the forming of a personal myth-the myth of one’s own becoming in identity and faith, incorporating one’s past and anticipated future in an image of the ultimate environment unified by characteristics of personality.

“The dangers or deficiencies in this stage are twofold. The expectations and evaluations of others can be so compellingly internalized (and sacralized) that later autonomy of judgment and action can be jeopardized; or interpersonal betrayals can give rise either to nihilistic despair about a personal principle of ultimate being or to a compensatory intimacy with God unrelated to mundane relations.

“Factors contributing to the breakdown of Stage 3 and to readiness for transition may include: serious clashes or contradictions between valued authority sources; marked changes, by officially sanctioned leaders, or policies or practices previously deemed sacred and unbreachable (for example, in the Catholic church changing the mass from Latin to the vernacular, or no longer requiring abstinence from meat on Friday); the encounter with experiences or perspectives that lead to critical reflection on how one’s beliefs and values have formed and changed, and on how “relative” they are to one’s particular group or background. Frequently the experience of “leaving home” – emotionally or physically, or both – precipitates the kind of examination of self, background, and lifeguiding values that gives rise to stage transition at this point.

“The movement from Stage 3 to Stage 4 Individuative-Reflective faith is particularly critical for it is in this transition that the late adolescent or adult must begin to take seriously the burden of responsibility for his or her own commitments, lifestyle, beliefs and attitudes. Where genuine movement toward stage 4 is underway the person must face certain unavoidable tensions: individuality versus being defined by a group or group membership; subjectivity and the power of one’s strongly felt but unexamined feelings versus objectivity and the requirement of critical reflection; self-fulfillment or self-actualization as a primary concern versus service to and being for others; the question of being committed to the relative versus struggle with the possibility of an absolute.” (2)


Wikipedia’s page on James W Fowler

Wikipedia’s page on M. Scott Peck

Website of Margaret Placentra Johnston

Richard Cooke – Stages of Faith: a Tool for Curing Souls

Bill Huxley’s blog page on Fowler’s Stages of Faith

1. The Stages Of Spiritual Growth, by M. Scott Peck, M.D. (The Different Drum by M. Scott Peck, pages 187-203) – Abridged by Richard Schwartz

2. James W. Fowler, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. Harper San Francisco, 1995, p.121


Quotes Again

I realise that modern media love their fixation with ‘sound bites’; small quotable lines from politicians and other celebs. And it can get quite samey and predictable.

But, you know, ordinary people come out with some really good wisdom in everyday life. All you need to do is to keep your ears and eyes open, and you will see them – in films, books, songs, even (dare I say it) poetry, although I tend to avoid that like roadkill.

Remember that there is wisdom hidden everywhere, even ‘out there’ in the world – despite what Fundamentalist types might tell you about the ‘wisdom of the world’ being twisted or sinful or some other such tripe. The truth is that the Spirit can speak to us and teach us through all kinds of things, from a song to a sunset. So, here’s yet another batch of gems from various sources, that have made me think, laugh, ponder, weep and feel very smug (the ones I wrote 😉 ). Enjoy:

“The golden rule is [to] treat people how you would want to be treated.
The platinum rule is treat people how they want to be treated.” – Steven Gilmore

“Y’know, if these are Britain’s brightest families…then I’m not sure we should leave Europe” – Giles, GoggleBox

“In reducing God to a state you can understand, you have effectively made him less than a human being. Humans are complex. The God you envision is a machine, and you have the hubris to imagine you’re working the levers.” – ‘Sam’

“Have you ever noticed that self appointed heresy hunters are far more ravenous than those they call wolves? The wolf in sheep’s clothing is not the one who believes wrong. It is the one who devours. Let love be your guide.” – Barry Smith

“There is irony here; the man you fell in love with was a Klingon… There is also Grace: For what greater source of peace exists than our ability to love our enemy?” – Sarek of Vulcan, Star Trek Discovery, Series1, Episode 14

“True justice is not unilateral” – Me

“You cannot stop Ragnarok. Why fight it?”
“Because that’s what heroes do.” – Thor, Ragnarok

“Before you ever speak into someone’s life about any issue, before you utter a single word, make absolutely certain that the person feels unconditional, complete love from you. If you have any doubt about that, if they have any doubt about that, love them more and just hold off on the issue.” – Susan Cottrell 

“Part of trusting God is to let go of the things that you feel are so important that you have to sort them out yourself.” – Me

“The problem is not an interpretation of the text. The problem is [actually, that of] not giving Jesus authority over the texts. The very nature of the fundamentalist’s view of scripture is that it is all inspired equally and that Jesus is just another added voice to the mix. Jesus didn’t add his voice to the prophets but made manifest the mystery they didn’t understand. Jesus, not the prophets, is the explication of scriptures.” – Scott Bennett

“Flying…is like good music. It elevates the senses, and the experience of being alive” – Harrison Ford

“The question we need to ask ourselves as modern believers, is whether we really trust God to speak clearly and directly to someone, independent of the Bible” – Mike Douglas

“If the church wants to be something more than the mirror image of the culture in which it is embedded, it should start by ditching the idea that someone with a differing view on this subject or that, equals someone being a malevolent enabler or purveyor of evil. It could just be that they see the world differently. There’s no need to infer diabolicalness when something as simple as diversity will do.”- Jeff Turner

“Prayer is God’s way of empowering the powerless” – Me