Monthly Archives: January 2012

In His Image

Over the past week or so I’ve been reading a book called In His Image by Andy Matheson. The book reflects a theological foundation for Christian ministry amongst the poor and marginalised. It comes out of Andy’s years of ministry in India and then in many different parts of the world. In it he argues that the starting point should be original goodness rather than original sin. As I’ve read this book I have struggled to ask the question of how these principles apply to the rich as well as than the poor.

We have lived for the past eight years in an area of greater affluence than we have experienced before and one of my struggles is ministry amongst the rich rather than the poor. I sometimes look back and think how much easier ministry would be in Leigh Park where the needs of the community and of individuals was so clearer to see!

But Andy has touched a thread that has been running though my mind for the past few months and that I now have the time to examine in more detail. It can be summarised by this question:

What Is The Gospel?

Does the understanding of the Gospel that I was brought up with actually reflect the Gospel in the scriptures? Have I missed something, and if so how important is it? Have I shortchanged God and those amongst whom I have ministered by not proclaiming the whole Gospel?

These are big questions and ones that I intend to grapple with in the coming weeks.

So how does Andy’s book fit in with those questions? Andy proposes a starting point for understanding humanity and our relationship with God that is different to the one I was brought up with. “Many Christians have traditionally taken sin as their starting point … The crucial thing for people to understand (they have reasoned) is our alienation from God, who is perfect, and our need to confess and receive God’s forgiveness … I propose we begin by affirming their capacity for goodness, compassion, perseverance and love … Genesis 1 comes before Genesis 3. People are made in the image of God before sin comes into the world … Original goodness existed before original sin … Regardless of what we do or what others do God’s image remains in us.” Andy is not in any way denying the existence or effects of sin, or the need for repentance and forgiveness. Rather he is suggesting this is not the starting point for our ministry amongst others, and especially amongst the poor.

The Gospel I was brought up with is the one Andy is talking about. Traditionally, at least in the Evangelical tradition, the starting point is the fallenness and sinfulness of mankind and our need for a saviour. God is holy, we are sinful, we need a saviour, Jesus is the saviour, through repentance we receive forgiveness by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and have our sins forgiven, our relationship with God restored and we receive eternal salvation.

Whilst this is true (and I don’t want in any way to deny the truth of mankind’s fallenness and need for salvation), I would now ask is this the whole truth or are there important, even vital, facets of the Gospel that are missing? What difference does it make if we recognise that we are made in God’s image and that God’s creation was good, before we recognise sin and the fall?

Alongside this I wonder if we have created an environment in the Christian church where the focus has been on our ticket to eternity and we have missed, almost entirely at times, the focus on discipleship, the restoration of God’s image in us now and God’s Kingdom coming today as well as after we die.

This is for me a work in progress and I will post more reflections in the coming days and weeks. On a practical basis I’ve started to slow down and let go, which is easier said than done! One of the goals for this time is to get physically fitter and find a rhythm of life that will help me sustain that when I return to parish ministry. So I’ve joined a gym and will be going regularly (my body is already complaining!). I’ll post again in a week or so.

And so it begins …

Today marks a change for me as I enter three months of rest, reflection and renewal. It’s officially called Extended Ministerial Development Leave, commonly called a Sabbatical and definitely not a holiday! Those who ask Bella if she will enjoy her holiday over the next three months are likely to be (lovingly) clouted!

For me I start from a place where the gauges of my life are mostly at Empty. I am incredibly grateful to God for keeping me going over the past few months when I have been drawing on the depths at the bottom of the barrel. It’s very humbling to find that something that you’ve brought out of the cupboard from the past as an easy way of preaching or ministering is appreciated as something new and helpful by those who receive it. God is good!

My prayer, and I hope some will join me in this, is that over the next three months God will move the gauges from empty to full, Spiritually, Mentally, Emotionally and Physically (maybe at a cost to the financial but we have a great God who I know will provide).

I will be starting with the physical as I rest and reflect – and join a gym! Yes, for the first time in my life I’m joining a gym over the next few weeks (lots of encouragement needed please!). A number of years ago a senior minister in a large church said as a side comment that you’ve got to be fit to be involved in Christian ministry for the long term. I now know what he meant as I am aware how unfit I am and how this effects so many other parts of my life.

As I reflect I will also start to read and re-read a number of books. Some I’ve read before and others have been on my shelf for many months. The first is a book by my brother on the image of God in us as the foundation for faith and ministry. I’ve already made a start and will plan to post reflections as I read each book.

I’m really looking forward to my time in Redding at Bethel Church (something Bella’s not looking forward to!). This will be a time in a totally different culture and setting, a time of retreat away from all the normal routines and contacts and a time to be open to God and learn from a church community that has experience of God’s love and power at work in and through them.

After the end of my sabbatical (yes that’s right this happens in May after my sabbatical has officially finished), I am looking forward to a life changing two weeks on pilgrimage in the Holy Land. I am fortunate to be able to go with members of The Order of Mission as together we experience the footsteps of Jesus.

I’m sure the next few days will seem strange as I and those at St Paul’s make the adjustment, but I look forward in anticipation to all that God has in store. I will try to post here fairly regularly to let you know what I’m up to.