Sermon: Hell, Milton and More

Today’s sermon is available here:

It’s Not Persecution

When Preston Manning used to introduce new Reform Party MPs to the House of Commons, among the bits of wisdom he shared with them was one that went like this. “When you give your first speech, you are going to want to blister the paint on the ceiling with your words. If you do, you’ll set the cause back fifty years.” His point was simple. Inflammatory rhetoric may indeed send an endorphin rush to one’s brain causing momentary euphoria. It will not, however, produce consideration among honorable members on the other side. It may well, in fact, alienate sympathizers.

Manning’s advice has been on my mind as I consider Trinity Western’s proposed law school and the new sex education curriculum in Ontario. I don’t want to rehash the controversies here—they have been well reported in the mainstream and Christian media. I do want to reflect on how some of us in the evangelical community have chosen to talk about them.

But first, a little context. Being an Anglican priest means, among other things, I belong to a worldwide communion of churches. Because of that, I have been able to forge friendships with people not only in the UK, Australia, and the United States, but also Egypt, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Malawi, India, Pakistan and Mauritius. Through them, I have heard close-to-first-hand accounts of anti-Christian persecution. The accounts are brutal, violent, and, sadly, true. Persecution is common in many parts of the world and seriously underreported in the mainstream media.

Frankly, I am shocked at the rhetoric being loosely bandied about regarding religious freedom in Canada. Christians in Canada are not being persecuted. Our faith is not under attack. “The government” is not trying to take away religious freedom. Though this kind of rhetoric provides some sort of emotional release it is both false and finally unhelpful.

Its falsehood is clear when Canadian accounts of “persecution” are set aside stories of the real thing. Our churches are not being burned, our clergy are not being kidnapped, our laypeople are not being raped or beheaded, and communities are not being expunged. That is persecution. Some Canadian Christians are experiencing what is better termed soft discrimination. It may well be that over the next few years, such soft discrimination will become harder. Then again, given increasing immigration patterns and the accompanying growth of evangelical and Roman Catholic communities (and those of other religions) in Canada,[1] such discrimination may turn out to be short-lived. If for no other reason than religious people vote, too. Either way, though, we are not persecuted. We minimize the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world when we say otherwise.

This rhetoric is also unhelpful. Because it draws a false identification between us and groups of people who are really being persecuted, it drives otherwise sympathetic people away. The TWU case raises all kinds of interesting questions regarding the shape of religious freedom in Canada, the purpose of the Charter of Rights, and the relation of so-called “public” and “private” commitments. These questions need to be thoughtfully debated, not reduced to sound bites. The new sex education curriculum in Ontario also needs careful consideration, and as both a parent and a Christian, I would say thoughtful opposition at specific points. To do so, however, takes time, care, and deliberately chosen, accurate words. Too many people have “blistered the paint,” making the work of others more difficult than it needed to be.

Jesus called his followers to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Much of our language on these and other issues, however, reflects neither wisdom nor innocence.In our context, the language of persecution is untrue, unhelpful and, frankly, does not reflect the love of neighbour and enemy to which disciples are called.

[1] See “Religion isn’t dying. It may well be rising from the grave.” By Aaron Hutchins in the March 26 edition of Maclean’s available here:

Sermon: Mean Tweets and Godwin’s Law

Today’s sermon on Wrath and Envy (Sins 5 and 6) is now up here: Mean Tweets and Godwin’s Law If you listen, leave a comment!

C.S. Lewis Logos Library: Why Logos is Different from Kindle

Hey folks:

A couple of you have asked why they should invest in the Logos C. S. Lewis Library instead of buying Kindle editions. Here’s my attempt at an answer.

The first thing to be said is that Kindle and Logos aren’t really competitors. They serve different needs and even different audiences. It comes down to you and your needs as a reader. So if your intention is simply to build an electronic library or to replace your paper copies as they wear out, Kindle (or another e-reader) might be a good way for you to go. It is fast. It is reliable. It is portable. And most of all, it is cheaper. One of the hurdles that I faced when I first started investigating Logos was cost. And you may balk at it, too. I have come to believe that its benefits far outweigh the price. I think you will, too.

If your intention, however, is not simply to read Lewis for enjoyment, but to actually research themes as they develop through his literary corpus, then Kindle (or another e-reader) is of no use use to you. In fact, it’s even less use than having multiple paper copies of books at hand. For research purposes (this is my opinion), Kindle (or another e-reader) isn’t a helpful tool. You have to close one book before you can open another one (you can’t have multiple windows open). Nor can you search words or themes across texts. (For instance, you can’t move from The Four Loves to The Allegory of Love to compare what Lewis writes about  “eros” in each).

Here is where the Logos library really shines. Yes, you will pay more than buying the individual titles for an e-reader. But for the extra money, you will be able to open multiple books; the texts are fully indexed and you will search easily through the whole corpus. In my next Lewis blog, I’ll take you through such a study. I have to confess that the Logos software takes some time to learn, but the investment of both time and money pays off!

I need to be clear, finally, that you don’t need to be a Lewis scholar or a professional academic to make good use of the Logos platform. Because I teach a fair bit of Lewis in a university setting, it’s a superb tool. But I can see it being used by Sunday School teachers, lay leaders, or just interested readers.

Sermon: Stealing Life: Greed and Sloth

This morning’s sermon is now up here: Stealing Life

Authorship, Words, and Reader Response. . . .

No, not a reflection on biblical hermeneutics. Just a quick “get it out of your head and onto the blog” moment. I ran across a quote last night. Here it is: “Death is something empires worry about. Not something resurrection people worry about.” Given the original author, my immediate thought was, “Please, get over yourself already. Prophets are not feted by CNN.”

Had the speaker been someone like Canon Andrew White or Bishop Mouneer Anis, who know both death and resurrection hope first hand, I would have taken notice and offered a quick prayer for them, the people they love, and for myself. For them, that they would be protected; for me, that I would be grateful for the peace in which I live and that I would not presume upon God’s goodness.

Funny, eh?

Sanctifying Desires (Or, Lust, Gluttony and Russell Brand)

Today’s sermon is now available above. Have a listen.

A C. S. Lewis Electronic Library

Friends, a while back, I was asked to help advertise a great new resource for C. S. Lewis scholars, namely The C. S. Lewis Collection. Consisting of twenty-six primary works and four more edited collections, all the major works are included including Mere ChristianityMiraclesThe Screwtape Letters and The Space Trilogy. They even have three volumes of collected correspondence. That’s over 11000 pages of searchable text, 3000 of which is personal correspondence.

Not only does this product free up a significant amount of shelf space (and save some trees), it also helps those of us who research Lewis as much as we read him for enjoyment. Logos has taken the tagging technology that made them a major player in Bible software and applied it to the collection, enabling users to trace topics across the corpus wihtout having to manage multiple volumes (whether electronic or paper) to do so. This is not their first go round either. They have done the same with the works of Jonathan Edwards and have had great results.

The folks at Logos have been very gracious in permitting me an opportunity to “test run” the product and share my thoughts with you. It looks really exciting.

If you want to pre-order, click on the link above and receive a 30% discount off the full price! Check back here in a few days, after I’ve had a chance to work with the product and I’ll tell you more about it.


Virtue and the Virtues

Today’s sermon, the second in the “7: Deadly Sins and Lively Virtues” series is now up here: Virtue and the Virtues

Steve Bell: An Appreciation

Two nights back, Rachel and I watched Burning Ember, a documentary from Refuge 31 Films. It is, in short, wonderful and I want to thank Steve and his assistant (and my former student), Amy for sending it to us with this long overdue blogpost, an appreciation for perhaps the most underrated Canadian artist alive.

I first was introduced to Steve’s music around Valentine’s Day, 1999. It was (I think) my 3rd or 4th date with Rachel. Steve was in concert at Canadian Mennonite Bible College (now part of Canadian Mennonite University) and this was her gift to me. A gift still freely and freshly given now for 16 years and many CDs later. Since that time, I have seen Steve in concert solo, with a band, and with other artists (notably, Mike Janzen, Carolyn Arends, and Bob Bennet) six more times. I have also crossed paths with him at Providence University College, where he would sometimes guest lecture. All this to say, I been fortunate to have experienced Steve (calling him Bell doesn’t feel right) and his music in different ways and arrangements and have had opportunity to match the music to the man in more informal settings. As a result, I have formed the following opinions.

(1) I wish this man was my friend. Corny, I know. It makes me sound like Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney–completely star struck. But there is (I hope anyway) a deeper point. I have seen Steve in enough and varied settings to know that his “onstage persona” is his offstage person. And that person is wise, thoughtful, theologically rich (a rare gift for a Christian musician) and committed to his art. He is a person whose qualities, demeanour, and integrity simply calls forth the desire of friendship in all kinds of people. I imagine that they leave his friends better for having known him. A cliché, of course, and used in far too many situations where it simply isn’t true. But I can’t think of another way to say it.

(2) I can’t believe he’s not Michael W. Smith, Bruce Cockburn, or even James Taylor huge. Steve’s musical talent is simply amazing. Burning Ember takes us through Steve’s journey to expand his brand and market, taking his whole career into view, but also focusing on his latest project, Pilgrimage, a collection of classic and new music, performed by Steve and other musicians, including Malcolm Guite, Carolyn Arends, The Bros. Landreth, and Bob Bennet. I love this collection. My favorite track is “Theotokos” (a demo version is here). A hymn of praise to the most beautiful woman God ever created, thanking her for bearing the Son of God. Anyway, the irony and injustice embedded in the documentary is that while Pilgrimage celebrates a wonderful 25 year career, Steve is still touring in rented vans, playing for dozens far more often than hundreds. A legacy project that should be filling major concert halls across North America is the platform from which Steve again is looking to “break” into a larger audience. Steve is one of the best guitarists currently performing and a poet and songwriter of the first order. He easily stands shoulder to shoulder with the singer/songwriter greats of this and earlier generations: Bruce Cockburn and James Taylor. He deserves to be as celebrated an artist in the Christian music scene as MWS. It’s wrong that he’s not.

(3) His fans are blessed by the fact that he isn’t as huge as his talent merits. It is to our benefit that Steve is not as big as he deserves to be, for it means that more often than not, his concerts are intimate and inviting and he remains accessible. If you write him, odds are he’ll write you back and not just the “signed-by-a-computer 8X10″ write you back, either. This is Burning Ember’s double irony. Steve should be a more celebrated, better known artist than he is; that he isn’t has forged deep connections to his music among his fans, connections that sometimes can become personal.

So, Steve, thanks for enriching my life with your songs over the last 16 years. I am grateful. And, “Remember that time when you did that show with Carolyn and Bob at Steinbach Mennonite? That was so awesome!”