Dr Denis says "Irish thoughts from inside America
Jacob, An Honorable Name

The LORD places reverence due to the Mother before that due to the Father. ["You shall each revere his Mother and his Father, and keep MY Sabbaths; I the LORD am your GOD." Leviticus/Vayikra 19. 3 Tanakh, Torah]


"Then his brother emerged holding on to Esau's heel, so they named him Jacob." [Genesis (Berepooh) 25. 26 Tanakh, Torah]


Few in number were the godly remnant of Abraham's household.  It was their heritage of faith, though they had only a few cherished chapters of Genesis; eagerly, the promises weighed in their hearts.


Though she came from a strange land, Rivkah (Rebekkah) was heir of that faith, when she became the wife of Itshak (Isaac).  She was the mother of the twins, Jacob and Esau, and was mindful of the promise the ALMIGHTY HOLY ONE had given to her forefathers when sin entered into the world and attempted to put out the LIGHT OF HOPE among men.  The promise was for "THE SEED" of woman WHO would battle Satan, the evil serpent, the Evil Adversary, the Arch-Deceiver and enemy of man.  In that conflict the "heel" would play an important role.  With the heel, the woman's "SEED" would crush the serpent's head; in turn, HIS heel would be bruised.  Therefore Rivkah (Rebekkah) called her son Jacob — a name which literally means he shall fight with the heel or heel grabber! The name, "Jacob" is a play on the Hebrew word "aqeb" that means "heel" — which can also be correctly translated, supplanter.


Often the first seeds of anti-Semitism are planted by the habit of calling Jewish people names. . . "a Jacob, a Heb, a kike, a supplanter." One should not condone the crooked deed of Jacob, when he deceived his father to get the blessing, which was rightfully his according to GOD’S OWN WORD before they were born. [Genesis/Bereshith 25. 23]  Jacob's heart yearned for holiness, purity, and for the likeness of the IMAGE OF GOD.  In HIS grace and mercy, the LORD GOD MOST HIGH covered Jacob with perfection and righteousness. Even Isaac acknowledged that Jacob was the one he should have blessed, and trembled exceedingly when he realized he almost disobeyed the LORD GOD. [Genesis/Bereshith 27. 33]  Correctly translated, Genesis/Bereshith 25:27 should read, "Jacob was a perfect (Hebrew: tam) man (Hebrew: 'ish) who stayed in camp." Most English versions of the BIBLE read: Jacob was a plain, quiet, peaceful or mild man, dwelling in tents.


Nevertheless, in naming her son Jacob, we see and understand what was in his mother, Rivkah's heart — it was the hope that through this son of hers, "THE PROMISE" regarding the "heel" might be fulfilled...that Jacob might be that "PROMISED SEED" — and that through him the SALVATION OF GOD might be ushered in.


Then why was Jacob's name changed to Israel (prince of GOD, GOD prevails, he will rule as GOD) by the SOVEREIGN One?  Was it because "Jacob" is a name of dishonor?  No! for GOD continued to call HIMSELF "the GOD of Jacob" even after HE changed the name from "Jacob" to "Israel" — this was GOD'S doing! In the event of the burning bush, about 400 years after that incident, speaking to Moses, the LORD GOD said:  "I am the GOD of your fathers, the GOD of Abraham, the GOD of Isaac, and the GOD of Jacob." [Exodus (Shemot) 3. 6 Tanakh, Torah]  These are the exact words spoken by the LORD JESUS to prove to the astonished Pharisees and Sadducees that the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was found in the Law. [Matthew 22. 31 - 32]   Even the last prophet, Malachi, writes of the LORD declaring: "Esau is Jacob's brother, yet I have loved and accepted Jacob; but Esau, I have hated and rejected." [Malachi (Malakhi) 1. 2 Tanakh, Nevi'im]


The name "Jacob" is not only honored, it is used to denote "THE ANOINTED ONE" WHO is equal with the HEAVENLY FATHER, the very SON OF GOD, YESHUA ha'MASHIACH.  "This is the generation of them that see HIM, that seek YOUR face, O JACOB! Selah." [Psalms (Tehillym) 24. 6 Tanakh, Kethuvim]   Here in these words, Jacob is brought right into the holy of holies of the PRESENCE OF OMNIPOTENT, OMNIPRESENT GOD.  MESSIAH YESHUA JACOB is made equal to YEHOWAH GOD HIMSELF.  Jacob, in this occurrence, is another name for the SON OF GOD WHO is in the presence of GOD THE FATHER.  Indeed, Jacob prefigured the ANOINTED MESSIAH WHO is the true JACOB, WHO crushed the Serpent's head.   And, by HIS victory, liberated captive humanity from the dominion of the Devil and death, and opened up the gates of liberty and eternal life!


There are two stages in the life of Jacob characteristic of MESSIAH YESHUA:
 1. The stage of conflict and suffering — the Jacob stage.
 2. The stage of triumph and glory prefigured by Israel.
The life of Jacob is also typical of the Church of the LORD JESUS:
 1. The Jacob Stage — that of the Church on earth, the Church militant.
 2. The Israel Stage — that of the Church triumphant in glory.


But whether in conflict or victory, whether militant or triumphant, the person and the name "Jacob" are dear to the heart of the LORD GOD.  Therefore, do not treat that name lightly.  Like Jacob of old, our cry should be, "I wait for YOUR DELIVERANCE, O LORD!" [Genesis (Bereshith) 49. 18 Tanakh, Torah]


We, like Jacob, must yield to the GOD/MAN (MESSIAH YESHUA).  We are called to give up our striving for autonomy, for self-determination, self-realization, actualization, and all the other self-stuff, and submit by a life-long yielding to the LORD YESHUA ha’MASHIACH.  In so doing, we are transformed (regenerated) and become princes and princesses of ALMIGHTY GOD.  As KING JESUS promised, "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with ME on MY Throne, just as I overcame and sat down with MY FATHER on HIS Throne." [Revelation 3. 21]


Sha’alu (Pray) for the shalom (Peace) of Jerusalem and all of Israel!
Redeem Israel, O ELOHIYM, out of all their troubles!
 The 6th Candle of Chanukkah represents the Light of Love. "You shall love the LORD your GOD will all your heart and all your soul and with all your might!"  May YESHUA bless you with HIS great love that all may see it and know the ONE from WHOM it came.  
 May ALMIGHTY GOD’S love and peace shine out of each of us...as we bow in adoration before the KING OF GLORY.
  . . . bright enough for all to see
    . . . clear enough for all to follow  


Praying for the peace of Jerusalem, is praying for the return of our Messiah and Lord and for the Kingdom of God He is bringing when He comes.  Then God's Will shall be done on earth as it is in Heaven and the world will experience true godly universal peace which is the fruit of Righteousness.


Email:   delrifkah.kralman@comcast.net

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Please visit our web page for teachings on Bible texts and subjects.

Also notice the section showing the disparity between the Holy Bible and the Muslim Koran (Quran).

The newest section is our thought by thought study through the Bible.  Having completed the Torah (books of Moses), and the New Testament, we are now going through the book of; [PSALMS]. 

Parents who loved their Children

A few passages from the canonical Gospels depict parents pleading with Jesus to heal a child (Mark 5:21-43 par; 7:24-30 par; John 4:46-54).

Years ago I read somewhere (cf. Heb 4:4) that when we interpret passages like these we should be on guard against importing modern western values about parent-child relationships into our interpretations. The author claimed that in the ancient world there was not much of an emotional bond between children and parents. Instead, for most people, children were usually little more than providers of cheap labor and safety nets against the hardships of later life.

In recent years the closest thing I’ve been able to find along similar lines is this much more responsible quotation from G. Aldrete (Daily Life in the Roman City: 56): “It is difficult to discern from the primary sources the emotional bonds that existed within Roman families. In the idealized portraits presented in literature, the mother and father appear as rather stern and remote figures, but sometimes glimpses emerge of warmer, more intimate relationships...”

Aldrete may be right regarding literary sources, but archaeological artifacts from the Greco-Roman world frequently testify to the “warmer, more intimate relationships” between parents and children. This is especially true of tomb inscriptions. Here are some of my favorites:

RGM 496: “Heartless death carried you off, tender child, with sad funeral rites, and robbed you of the early joys of sweet life. Your fond parents were not allowed to delight in you for long. Our boy Lupassius lived three years.”

CIL 3.1899: An 11-year old boy, the “delight” of his father, was killed in a shipwreck. “How often an inscription bears a name and is responsible for bringing grief to a family.”

Martial 11, 91: “Canace, a little child of Aeolis, lies entombed here, whose seventh winter was her last. O crime! O wickedness! You who hasten to weep, O traveler, lament not here the shortness of life. Sadder than death itself is the form it takes: A fearful infection ravaged her face and settled on her slender mouth. Her very kisses were devoured by cruel illnesses, and her lips were not given to the black funeral pyre in their normal state. If the fates were going to come in such a rapid flight, they should have come another way! But death hastened to close the passage of her pleasant voice, lest her tongue dissuade the harsh goddesses.”

CIL 8.8567: “Fortune, which has bestowed happiness upon his parents, swiftly turned their hopes into sharp cries of lamentation. For their little boy was carried off from the very threshold of life. Ginga lies in this tomb, a wound to his father who did not deserve such a blow. Ah, sorrow and mourning and your parents’ hopes reduced to a mockery! But not to the shades of the departed but rather to the stars of heaven you are journeying.”

For a piece of funerary art, see the tomb painting in which the deceased person is depicting holding hands with a child, immortalizing their relationship as that which the deceased most cherished in life (E18913 and E40791 at http://www.ostia-antica.org/vmuseum/decor_3.htm).

But my all-time favorite is one that I have lost track of. Back in the late 60's I was in the Classics library at Cambridge reading through a book about Anatolian inscriptions (for a book I was writing on Galatians), and I came across one tomb inscription that was profoundly moving. I’ve forgotten the precise wording of the inscription and cannot come close to doing it justice, but the gist was that the parents had lost their twelve-year old son (whose cheeks were only just beginning to develop peach-fuzz) and their emptied spirits could do nothing else than encircle his gravesite forever, like swans mourning.

Perhaps, then, parents pleaded that Jesus heal their children not simply because children were essential cheap labor and long-term insurance but, instead, because the parents loved their children

December 21, 2021

 I listened and listened and heard them say,

The end of the world was coming today.
California traffic made me miss the Malay.
So I thought of why I thought this way.
What was it that ended and what is still here?
Got home about four and my wife I could hear...
"The Mayan calendar said there is something to fear.
About the end of the world as we know it my dear..."
I replied nothing has changed as far as I know.
So I'll pay all the bills, taking care of what I owe.  
Get all prettied up and I'll tie your dress bow.
We'll go out to your favorite on restaurant row.
Why Hun, this certainly is a beautiful thing.
Taking me out on the town for a fling.
Yup. Honey Bun its like the song we used to sing.
"What a Wonder Day our Lord will Bring." 
Don't think of bad things and what might go wrong.
Since this day is passing let's sing our old song. 
It is full of love, God's grace and sins are all gone.
It's not the end.  It's continuing life in God's dear Son.
You ask me why I'm happy so I will tell you why...
I know, my sins are gone.
And when I meet the scoffers who ask me where they are. 
I just say, My sins are gone.
They're underneath the blood of the cross of Calvary
As far removed as darkness is from dawn.
In the sea of God's forgetfulness, that's good enough for me
I just say, My sins are gone.
Postcards from uncertain journeys

A “post-evangelical” apologetic set in a Northern Ireland context…

The best roads of all Are the
ones that aren’t certain” © Bruce Cockburn, Child of the wind[1]

A personal perspective

Into the world of virtual shopping, stress related illness, ethnic cleansing, and “Men Behaving Badly”[2], a voice has been called to prophesy redemption. But the voice may go too gentle into that good night[3]. The voice may be parroting anachronistic dogma to which no-one is listening.

All my life I have been exposed to Northern Ireland evangelical
christianity[4]. It has provided for many of my generation the backcloth to our biographies, and continues to cast its long grey shadow over the socio-political and psychological landscape that is the future of our province. But certain observations need, in all honesty, to be made.

When the U2 album Joshua Tree was released, many evangelicals felt an almost censorious pity for Bono who seemed to have deserted the world of certainty embraced in his early evangelical experiences, to declare
“You broke the bonds… loosed the

chains… carried the cross and my shame… you know I believe it… but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”. Or, worse,
on Rattle & Hum, “I’ve come to hate your rod and staff, they no longer comfort me”[5].

However the winds of change are blowing and causing a growing number of us to discover that we are becoming displaced refugees in the black and white world of N. Ireland evangelicalism. We, the erstwhile preachers of certainty and peddlers of the absolute, are beginning to sense deep down inside that perhaps this very absolutism was somehow a denial of our aspirations to spiritual adulthood. We have sensed that this is the time to (in the words of Don Cupitt)
“look steadily at the
Abyss”[6] of uncertainty and in some way start a new “faith journey”. And in doing so these refugees, who for many years had accepted the received wisdom that the opposite of “faith” was “unbelief”, have come to see that true “faith” may, in fact, consist in a potent cocktail of total confusion, nagging doubt, fleeting confidence, momentary glimpsing of what appears to be “truth”, and a dogged refusal to allow the conclusion (much as sometimes the converse appears to be the case) that
“There’s nothing out there, or in here, and we should be truly beliefless”[7].

And so for many of us “faith” has indeed become a journey, rather than a destination. Its true antithesis appears, indeed, to be “certainty” itself, and now our search is for a christian lifestyle, language and community that can securely reflect this. Sadly, however, most don’t, for here in N. Ireland evangelicalism, perhaps more than anywhere else, is illustrated Cupitt’s postulation that:

Fundamentalist[8] religion is religion that has glimpsed but repressed as intolerable and unacceptable the knowledge of its own
humanness…. its brief glimpse into the Abyss has given it a sense of urgency. It clutches at authority, charisma, tradition and
certainty…. It goes to great lengths to exclude unwelcome questioning. Life is controlled, members must speak in stock phrases and have stock experiences, religious meanings are insistently assumed to be univocal, critical reflection is implicitly (and therefore doesn’t need to be explicitly) ruled out, and individual deviance is sensed and dealt with instantly[9].

The above depicts my own experiences, and the experiences of others as we have tried firstly to fit into existing structures, and, failing that, to create new structures. Somehow we have found that the new wineskins we have created have contained only modifications of the same old wine, and, despite our best intentions, we find our creation to be as inaccessible to the outsider and as prone to dogmatic belief, utterance & lifestyle as were the structures we had tried to leave behind.

Into this bleak landscape there has recently appeared a new phenomenon. Whilst understandably wary of “flavours of the month”, and reluctant at this point to propagate a new “ism”, those of us who are travelling this uncertain journey have been intrigued by what is coming to be known as
“post-evangelicalism”[10]. Perhaps hope springs from an observation of the personal faith story of Dave Tomlinson (author of the seminal
The post-evangelical[11]) even more than from an ingestion of the content of his book. His journey seems to reflect our own. His questions are our questions.The “post-evangelical” alternative

Plainly there seems to be a “new kid on the religious block”, and seminars, magazines, and books seem to be looking (with some regularity, though frequently dismissively) at this emerging phenomenon of “post-evangelicalism”.

Sadly many seem to have missed the point[12] – seeking to discuss its very existence in religious language and terminology which has itself evolved from, and taken meaning from, the world of “authority, charisma, tradition and certainty” rather than to embrace the notion of a faith that is relevant to, and finding expression in, the deconstructed language of the deconstructed world in which we now live. It may, however, be that, in seeking to exist in and communicate through this new language, the post-evangelicals are fulfilling the age old mission of the christian church - to be incarnate in the world as Jesus was incarnate in the
world[13]. Redemption never came to broken humanity through our being coerced into God’s world. Redemption came through God entering our world, speaking our language, thinking our thoughts, enduring our temptations, feeling our pain, and gently leading us to a better place.
Meccano or flat packed?

Dave Tomlinson, in a key section of his argument[14], makes a distinction (based on some thoughts of Walter Brueggemann) between what he calls a “flat packed furniture” type of faith
structure and a “meccano set” alternative[15]. The distinction is obvious. Whilst the former consists of a finite number of components that fit together to create only one acceptable “end product”, the latter consists of a finite number of components that fit together to create an almost infinite number of acceptable “end products”. When applied to the world of faith we can see how apt the “flat packed” notion is to describe Cupitt’s depiction of a fundamentalist
style of religion (“stock phrases… stock experiences… univocal religious meaning…lack of individual deviance”). Many of us can also, if we approach the matter honestly, see how aptly this depiction describes our own religious experiences rooted as they are in our N. Ireland evangelical milieu.

There are on offer a limited number of flat packs. By and large these have adapted the same finite number of component
pieces[16] to produce an “end product” that is distinguishable only in external nuance from the various other local alternatives. In real terms, membership of a particular church or community is predicated on the individual’s willingness to conform to the particular group norm - to build the flat pack in the prescribed manner. “Belonging” requires acquiescence to the “instruction book” - often presented in ready made format as an “aid to church growth”, or as an initiation process.

Sadly in contemporary N. Ireland there appears to be an increasing similarity between the “flat packs” on offer.

But there are three related points I want to make here:

(i) In James 1:22 we are told to be “doers of the
word”[17]. This notion is echoed by Richard Middleton and Brian Walsh in their book
Truth is stranger than it used to be when they say: “Far from being a closed book about a story that has ended, the Bible authorises our faithful enactment of the Author’s purposes precisely in order to continue the story across the pages of history”[18]. Their development of the analogy of the church today as being a group of players, acting out with no script an incomplete drama, is both refreshing and challenging. Their postulation is that Acts
1-4[19] of the drama are contained in the writings of scripture, Act 5 is as yet unwritten, and Act 6 is the experience of the eschaton. Thus the life of the church is a spontaneous act.
Their thesis thus gives new insight into the notion of biblical authority, and the role of conscience, and is surely the epitome of “meccano set faith”. Despite the reservations of such as R Albert Mohler
Jr.[20] the notion is invigorating.

(ii) A major dictum of our largest Protestant denomination is the right and responsibility of each believer to come to a personal conclusion as to the meaning and implication of scriptural nuance, under the individual guidance of the Holy Spirit acting as that believer’s
conscience[21]. If we, as people of faith, are de facto living in this way, how can so many of us become so stereotyped? To satisfy our individuality we require an ever more sophisticated array of football teams, television channels, music styles, restaurants, etc. Our conclusions in so many other areas of our lives reflect clearly the fact that we are creations of a God who did not even make two identical snowflakes. Yet in what should be the quintessential expression of our uniqueness, we gravitate to flat packed furniture!

(iii) There is an incredible variety in the language of the secular world, which is sadly missing from that of its evangelical counterpart in N. Ireland. If we are to concur with the assumption that language is the interface between a particular human and the world in which that human
lives – to say in fact that language is the tool with which a person explores, defines, and in a sense experiences that
world – then we are struck by the paucity of alternatives created with the same 26 letters in the world of faith as compared to, for instance, the world of romantic poetry.

We are, in fact, struck by the realisation that those who seek to come to philosophical, political, and literary conclusions seem to live in a world of infinite linguistic variety, whilst there appears to be a drab uniformity of thought and dogma in evangelical faith. Historically, religion has produced a rich vein of language (albeit sometimes of a “semi-private” nature), and inspired much artistic creativity in other areas such as music
and painting, but this is absent from the evangelical world of N. Ireland.

Here the flat pack reigns supreme creating Cupitt’s scenario of “stock phrases
and stock experiences”. For these reasons, if for no other, it is apparent to me that Tomlinson’s notion of “meccano set faith” needs to be explored further. It is not enough
to applaud the post-evangelical questioning, as some have done, whilst decrying many of the conclusions
reached[22]. That is too predictable and simplistic a response, and one that may reflect the fact that the evangelical community in N. Ireland and beyond is uncomfortable with the notion of being incarnated into the rapidly changing “techno-world” of 2003, preferring to drag into its world those few who are equally uncomfortable.

Whatever we wish to offer as an exegesis of the “world
texts”[23] we are still challenged by a theology of the community of God as being his current incarnation in a world that he deeply loves and understands. The
postmodern world that is our world is his world, and in the same way as our saviour, founder and example, “did not count equality with God something to be
grasped…”[24], choosing instead the kenotic experience of becoming one of us, so his followers, sent “in the same way that he was
sent”[25] are confronted with the call to forsake the familiar and be “unafraid to be
insecure”[26] – because God so loves the world. Trading “flat pack” for “meccano” may well be the starting point for this identification. Certainly it would be a major step towards the culture in which we are seeking to make faith accessible. The voice prophesying redemption would be speaking the language of love.
Evangelicalism’s four large “meccano pieces”

Mark A. Knoll in his excellent “Epistle from a wounded lover”[27], draws from historian David
Bebbington in order to provide a working definition of “evangelicalism”: “the key ingredients of evangelicalism
[are] conversionism (an emphasis on the “new birth” as a life changing religious experience), biblicism (a reliance on the bible as ultimate religious authority, activism (a concern for sharing the faith) and crucicentrism (a focus on Christ’s redeeming work on the cross)”

Whilst there is in N. Ireland a spectrum of evangelical options[29] which in their own distinctives have potential areas of conflict, broadly speaking all would subscribe to the four “key ingredients” outlined above. Allowing that the linguistic frameworks of various groupings differ, the basic evangelical “flat pack” used to define “soundness” or orthodoxy translates these four “pieces” in such
a way as to demand that “christians”:

a) Have a clear cut personal experience, enshrined in the “prayer of repentance & faith”, in which they knowingly passed “from one kingdom to another”:
“The act of embracing Christ… is an act that engages the entirety of man’s being…. Salvation entails a pleasurable vision of Christ
that… causes the sinner to desire to… come to his saviour… (requiring)
conviction… humiliation… conversion”[30].

b) Have an understanding of Scripture which, as far as possible, embraces historical, prophetic and theological
literalism[31]. This area is causing some debate amongst certain N. Ireland
evangelicals, spawning some “hot potatoes” such as the nature of hell or the nature of creation. However, with the paranoia engendered by its fear of liberalism to the fore, N. Ireland evangelicals are
most comfortable with a broadly literalistic interpretation of scripture.

c) Have a desire to be separated from “the world”, coupled with a proselytising zeal, leading to the adoption of a code of behaviour which defines itself in “must nots”.
This in turn creates an evangelical subculture in which church activity[32]
dominates the lives of its members and which in a perverse way can lead to further alienation from the very world in which an impact is sought to be

d) Have a clear understanding of the legal and substitutionary aspects of the atonement as applied to their own standing before God.

But outside the N. Ireland evangelical milieu, Christians are thinking! For instance, Brad Kallenberg offers a definition of “conversion” initially appearing to be describing a totally different circumstance to Hannah. “To become a christian (i.e. to convert) is to embrace the story of Christ in such a way that we join the story line”[33].
Kallenberg (a staff member of Campus Crusade) in his ground breaking article goes on to ask,
“Can the community (of faith) so shape one’s character as to instil faith into the unregenerate (preconversion)
heart?… the community, by merely recounting the story (in written, verbal, and embodied forms) breeds and nurtures faith”[34].
Or Middleton & Walsh (in a passage much berated in “The coming Evangelical crisis”) comment on the authority of
scripture: “There is a sense then in which genuine faithfulness to the authority of scripture means that we must not only go beyond the biblical text, but sometimes even against the text”[35].

This position, whilst totally unacceptable to J. Alfred Mohler Jr. (and perhaps also to the bulk of N. Ireland’s evangelical constituency), is one that demands much consideration. It is not my purpose here to develop these thoughts,
simply to propose both their validity as part of the christian mind set and their vital role in the process of “emptying ourselves” that I believe the church needs to undergo in order to fulfil our mission to the world in which we find ourselves.

As Kallenberg says, the problem appears in dogmatics as the primitive-developmentalist debate:
“How can a doctrine change yet remain orthodox?” and “How can a doctrine go unchanged and yet remain intelligible?”

The four main tenets of evangelicalism must remain intelligible for evangelicalism to have meaning. Perhaps the “meccano set notion” of post-evangelicals brings intelligibility to faith which is somewhat lacking in the language, theological distinctives and intellectual superstructure of their antecedents. Certainly the “knee jerk reaction” of so much of the evangelical world to the conclusions of Tomlinson et al. seems to spring from a reluctance to embrace with the same enthusiasm as do the post-evangelicals the linguistic and social frameworks in which faith must now be worked out.

In holding back from taking the uncertain journey the church may be engaging in brinkmanship with its calling. The inability to comprehend, think in, and communicate through the language of our deconstructed world must surely render almost inaudible the voice prophesying redemption to Gary &
Tentative steps forward

Something is happening”, says Tomlinson, “which is infinitely more significant than whether a bunch of evangelical “drop outs” can find a constructive way forward”[38]and many of us believe that this “something” desperately needs to happen in N. Ireland.
The indisputable fact is that our society is rapidly becoming more secularised, and the church has lost the ability to “tune in” to that society. To quote again from Tomlinson:
“Whenever I hear people saying ‘Christ is the answer’, I always want to say ‘Have you the remotest idea what the question is?’”[39]

In our culture, where “manic street preachers” are more than just another rock band, somebody needs to tell the church the questions. Evangelical church leaders in our province seem to be preoccupied with “formulae for
growth”[40], not with understanding the underlying philosophy of late twentieth century living. If, however, the people of God are to be incarnated into his current world in such a way as to become his ministers of redemption to its broken inhabitants, then much will need to change in Christendom.

It is not my intention here to seek to define or describe these changes, merely to throw out one or two ideas which can serve to act as talking points in a much needed debate.

(i) The need for meaningful communities of faith

David F Wells, in his book God in the
[41] has this to say about the state of the modern individual: “almost wholly rootless, bereft of any psychological connections to
place… those who belong everywhere can also be said to belong nowhere….
Where the self wanders the earth as a vagrant, belonging nowhere, something that is profoundly intrinsic to being human has been lost”[42]

For the postmodern individual this is even more the case. Remote multinational employers, corporate “down sizing”, multiple parent families, and enforced social migration due to spiralling property prices have combined to accentuate our rootlesness. Our churches are not addressing the issue as they focus on the pursuit of ever escalating membership numbers. Wells makes the further point:
“(Shopping) malls are monuments to consumption – but so are megachurches. Both places celebrate the coupling of the appetites of consumption with religion. The religion of the mall has been condensed into the secular creed that to have is to be; in the megachurch, the psychological need to consume is expressed as a form of spiritual hunger, a need to be connected with others. But in neither place are the tendrils very substantial”[43].

At a weekend retreat for church youth leaders I recently attended, every single participant, when asked to write down the greatest current need in their own christian experience, highlighted the need for meaningful community. For “connectedness”. The age of those present ranged from 21-44. All were active in church life. All were to some degree “evangelicals”.

There is in our time a “lostness” amongst all of us, which cannot be defined simply as an inadequate legal relationship with God. If the post-evangelical writers are correct, then what is missing is the intimacy of community. If
Kallenberg is correct, then because of the absence of community few of us are experiencing meaningful “openness to God”:
“The christian community… becomes an extension of the story. The story creates a community which corresponds to the form of Jesus’
life… the story cannot be fully told without the community… the community is the embodiment of the
narrative… the community… breeds and nurtures faith… naturalization into the community entails proximity to
God… in the set that constitutes the christian community God is a member… to open oneself up to the community is to open oneself up to God”[44].

The notion of utilising small groups as a means to attaining church growth is not the notion of community. Pre programmed multiple midweek meetings do not produce connectedness. The path to community involves the embracing of what Scott Peck calls
“chaos” and “emptiness”[45] – enormous, wild, frightening notions. It involves a commitment to shared faith journeys of uncertainty. It involves what Dave Tomlinson describes as being
“not afraid to be insecure”[46]
(ii) The move from monologue to dialogue

The definition of church[47] I wish to postulate is: the community, both general and local, consisting of those individuals who are in some way seeking to understand what it means to follow
. Some may claim personal relationship with Him, others may be searching for that relationship, yet others may be “drawn to a light” though not yet knowing what that light is[48]. N. Ireland evangelicals may well wish to challenge this definition. Anyone committed to the notion of the “gathered church” will certainly deny its validity. But for me it is a definition that best encapsulates the notion of the church as the current incarnation of the heart of God in a broken world. But will the traditional methods of communication prove adequate?

In a community such as I have described there is little place for unchallenged monologue. The structure of “church” may need to change. Perhaps even the location. As in Tomlinson’s “Holy
Joe’s”[49] the natural home for “church” may well become the local pub or cafe. Dialogue needs to become the main tool for communication. Questions that have lain dormant for years in the minds of many christians - often generating, by their very presence, guilt to an almost crippling level
– need to surface, be recognised as also being present in the minds of their brothers and sisters, and be discussed in the security of loving community.

But it is approaching time for our “preachers”, in the words of Bruce Cockburn, to “lay their insights
down”[50] and allow the questions to surface in dialogue between fellow travellers.
(iii) Postcards from uncertain journeys

If we postulate that post-fall history is the story of humankind’s groping
its collective way towards meaning, significance and community, then culture can be viewed as the communication of a deep seated hunger for redemption
– perhaps best articulated by Friedrich Heiler as “the expression of a primitive impulsion to a higher, richer, intenser life”[51].

An examination of the arts and grassroots political expression of a particular historical period may, therefore, demonstrate the spiritual journey of the people of that period. Certainly even a cursory examination of rock music over the last thirty
years[52] serves to document the spiritual aspirations and longings of modern society.

What is apparent in the popular culture of
our age is that society may not believe that meaning, significance and community can be discovered, as modern gives way to
postmodern ideology saying “everything is fiction; all truth is an illusion created by social conventions”[53].

Postmodernism could be interpreted as the final admission that in the end humanity is spiritually bankrupt, the final inarticulate speech of a collective heart crying out for redemption, whilst at the same time denying that there is anyone “out there” to redeem us. So we have Bono (of the band U2) reported in Melody Maker magazine as
‘The erstwhile Dublin urchin that stared God in the face and bawled “If you walk away/I will follow” is found muttering “I have no compass/And I have no map….And I have no religion”’[54] and in so saying speaking for a generation.

Politically, nationalism in its strictest sense reasserts itself, as at grassroots people say, “We want community of some description, we want to belong”. Socially we see what Veith calls the “New
tribalism”[55] emerging, and reflected in (e.g.) television programming in which
“broadcasting is giving way to narrowcasting…. aimed… at particular segments”[56].

Cultural history could be interpreted in Heiler’s terms as being “Like a prayer”[57]
whose miracle “does not lie in the accomplishment of the prayer, in the influence of man on God, but in the mysterious contact which comes to pass between the finite and the infinite Spirit”[58].

The fact that the person uttering the prayer does not either know that they are praying, nor perhaps even believe in the possibility of prayer, or the existence of an infinite Spirit, does not to my mind detract from the basic premise that
“history of prayer is not merely the story of man’s quest for God, but evidence of God’s presence with man”[59], and culture could thus be seen, from the point of view of the church, as being in some way this inarticulate speech of the heart we call prayer.

Much current literature reflects this: e.g., “What I’m looking for is not something I can articulate. It’s non-verbal: I need love. I need the thing that happens when your brain shuts off and your heart turns on. And I know its around me somewhere, but I just can’t feel it”[60].

The church must come to a meaningful relationship with the culture of its day.and the evangelical “proof text” of John 3:16 is one that illuminates the issue. God did and does love the world, and all that is in it, and in giving His only Son has opened the door for the “search for redemption” to culminate in
“the blazing embrace between Saviour and son (that) goes on and on and on….”

As the first fruits of that
embrace[62], the masterpiece (or poem) of God[63] resident in the world that He so loved and still biologically, emotionally and culturally a part of that world, the church can become the communicating instrument of a communicating God in a communicating culture. The church can have a vital role in helping to articulate that cultural speech from the heart and in bringing in and to culture an understanding of the redemption for which it is searching.

And it can begin by sending “postcards” from its own uncertain journeying.
W.B. Yeats in his evocative poem The Stolen Child advocates a withdrawal “with the faeries hand in hand” from a world
“more full of weeping than you can understand”. Many N. Ireland evangelicals have substituted “Jesus” for “faeries”, and in doing so have done the weeping world a disservice.

Thankfully at a time when the world of art, music, drama and even politics has concluded that all it has to say can be contained in a thirty second sound byte; when personal and collective angst is simultaneously hyperbolised and trivialised; and at last the search for redemption appears to have realised that humankind cannot provide its own salvation, a listening and communicating church (above all an understanding church) can explain that this can become the doorway to true redemption, saying,
“You can now enter. This is where you will finally be the right size”[64].

Bruce Cockburn, Child of the Wind, Nothing but a Burning Light, Columbia label, USA, 1991. [2]
Possibly the definitive sitcom of the late 1990s providing the springboard for the developing “lad & ladette culture” of the early 2000s. [3]
Dylan Thomas, in Do not go gentle into that good night speaks of “raging against the dying of the light”. Sadly, as the life of faith is, for many, dying as a viable option, few within the community of faith are raging.
[4] Broadly speaking this term describes a constituency instantly recognisable to those of us who live in N. Ireland, but is extended for my purposes to include “New Church” groupings. [5]
What at the time appeared to me to be at worst blasphemous, and at best the epitaph to a great tragedy, now seems to be a necessary phase in the route to an honest, adult relationship with God. [6]
Don Cupitt, “After Liberalism”, Readings in Modern Theology, ed. Robin Gill, S.P.C.K., London, 1995, p251. [7]
Don Cupitt, ibid., p251. [8] Some would argue that N Ireland evangelicalism, both in its charismatic and non charismatic forms is distinct from fundamentalism. In the strictest sense this may well be true, but in the experience of many of us, the only difference lies in what is perceived by respective practitioners to be of fundamental importance - the behavioural packaging, and prescriptive leadership styles are indistinguishable. [9]
Don Cupitt, op.cit., p250. [10] Since this article was first written several emerging church groups have taken root in N Ireland, amongst them IKON, Zero Two Eight and the embryonic Honest to God led by myself and David Brown which met for a while in 1996/7 before going into hibernation until September 2003! [11]
Dave Tomlinson, The post-evangelical, Triangle, London, 1995. [12] Two examples being (i) Review of “The post-evangelical” in Frontiers magazine, Vol. 1, Issue 1, Spring 1996, and (ii) Alastair E.McGrath, “Prophets of doubt”, Alpha magazine, July 1966. Thankfully many people and groupings in the time since 1996 have “taken the point” and theirfaith journeys are worth studying. [13]
John 20:21 “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (N.I.V.). [14] A section not dealt with in either of the two magazine critiques mentioned above. [15]
Dave Tomlinson, op.cit., p82-83. [16] There may be some small variations in “distinctives” - e.g. how or when baptised, whether to drink or abstain from alcohol, whether women should or should not wear hats and keep silent, whether to sing hymns or charismatic choruses, or to accept or reject the “Toronto Blessing”, but these are incidental. [17]
James 1:22 (K.J.V.). [18] J.Richard Middleton & Brian J Walsh, Truth is stranger than it used to be, S.P.C.K., London ed, 1995 p 182.
“If creation consists in Act 1…Act 2 would be the fall…Act 3 the story of Israel and Act 4 the story of Jesus” - Middleton & Walsh, ibid., p182. [20]
J.Albert Mohler Jnr, “‘Evangelical’ - What’s in a name?”, The coming Evangelical Crisis, Ed John H Armstrong, Moody Press, USA, 1996, p38…” Thus the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ is now firmly in this evangelical tent”. [21]
Surely an early precursor of Middleton’s argument! [22] Most evangelical/charismatic leaders with whom I have discussed the ideas of Tomlinson and others have adopted this stance. This also appears to be the conclusion of the review of The post-evangelical in the issues of Frontiers magazine and in the McGrath article mentioned above. [23]
E.g. John 15:18&19; Col 2:8&20; James 4:4. [24] Phil 2:6 (NIV). [25] John 20:21/Phil 2:5. [26]
Dave Tomlinson, op.cit., p145. [27] Mark A Knoll, The scandal of the Evangelical mind, IVP, Leicester, 1994, Preface p ix. [28]
Knoll, ibid., p8. [29] Currently churches as diverse as “Martyrs’ Memorial”, “Whitewell Church”, “Christian Fellowship Church”, “The Crescent”, along with all Baptist and Congregational churches would all, no doubt, lay claim to the “brand name” evangelical. In addition there are a host of other less well known congregations. There are even denominations - “Evangelical Presbyterian” etc. [30]
John D.Hannah, “Evangelicism, Conversion & the Gospel”, The Coming Evangelical Crisis ,p 162. [31]
Some of the mind games played with scripture in the last 24 months or so to justify and explain the various phenomena associated with the so-called “Toronto Blessing” have taken literalism to its most outrageous limits. [32]
The proliferation of both local church programmes, and additional “para church” conferences, holidays, special meetings, etc., mark out the N. Ireland scene. Truly we have measured out our lives in “times of praise”. [33]
Brad J.Kallenberg, “Conversion Converted: A Post-modern Doctrine of Conversion”, Evangelical Quarterly, Paternoster Periodicals, October 1995, p348. [34]
Kallenberg, ibid., p 349 & 350. [35] Middleton & Walsh, op.cit., p 184. [36]
Kallenberg, op.cit., p 345. [37] The central characters in Men Behaving Badly. [38]
Dave Tomlinson, op.cit, p139. [39] Dave Tomlinson, ibid., p140. [40] One reason for this may well be economic, another is the mistaken notion that size is imperative in defining relevance to society, and in creating a platform from which to speak and influence the nation. Sadly most of the growth comes from recruiting christians from other congregations, so the net impact on society remains minimal. [41]
David F.Wells, God in the Wasteland, IVP, Leicester, 1994. [42] David F.Wells ibid., p96. [43]
David F.Wells ibid., p61. [44] Brad Kallenberg, op cit., p348-350. [45]
M.Scott Peck, The Different Drum, Rider, London, Chapter V, pp 86-106. [46]
Dave Tomlinson, op cit, p145. [47] The distinction between “church” and “sect” (made by H.Richard Niebuhr Christ & Culture, Harper, Torchbooks, New York, 1956, p116 ) is one which I have bypassed at this point but it is to some degree determinative in drawing conclusions. [48]
This is a personal definition, which space precludes my presenting adequately, and which already begins to define my conclusions. [49]
Dave Tomlinson’s church meets weekly in a London Pub. [50] Bruce Cockburn, “Southlands of the Heart”, Dart to the Heart, Columbia label, U.S.A., 1994. [51]
From his book Prayer, quoted in John Maquarrie, 20th Century religious Thought, SCM, London, 1973 ed, p152. [52]
Steve Turner’s book Hungry for Heaven, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1994 ed. is much more than a cursory examination, and expands the thesis of “arts as a search for redemption” in great detail. [53]
GE Veith, Guide to contemporary culture, Crossway Books, Leicester, 1994, p95. [54]
Steve Turner, op cit, p188. [55] Veith, op cit., p143ff. [56] Veith, ibid., p145. [57]
Madonna, circa 1988. Madonna would possibly not identify herself with Heiler’s thesis, but her own is surprisingly close saying “I guess I’m trying to cast off those feelings of shame and sin through my work” Steve Turner, op cit., p197 “orgasm was a spiritual ecstasy that lifted her into the realms of mystery” p198
[58] Maquarrie, op cit, p152. [59] Maquarrie, ibid., p152. [60] Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation, Quartet books, London, 1995, p2. [61]
Stewart Henderson, For John, this day in Paradise, A Giants Scrapbook, Spire, London, 1989
[62] Rev 14:4 [63] Eph 2:10 poiema - workmanship [64] Stewart Henderson, First Steps, op cit., p14.

© First revision Aug 2003


For the New Year


May the lilt of Irish laughter lighten every load. May the mist of Irish magic shorten every road... And may all your friends remember all the favours you are owed! Here's to the land of the shamrock so green, Here's to each lad and his darlin colleen, Here's to the ones we love dearest and most. May God bless old Ireland, that's this Irishman's toast! May the luck of the Irish Lead to happiest heights And the highway you travel Be lined with green lights.

Prayer for the New Year

Grant me the strength from day to day to bear what burdens come my way. Grant me throughout this bright New Year more to endure and less to fear. Help me live that I may be from spite and petty malice free. Let me not bitterly complain when cherished hopes of mine prove vain, or spoil with deeds of hate and rage some fair tomorrow's spotless page.

 Lord, as the days shall come and go in courage let me stronger grow. Lord, as the New Year dawns today help me to put my faults away. Let me be big in little things; grant me the joy which friendship brings. Keep me from selfishness and spite; let me be wise in what is right.

 A happy New Year! Grant that I may bring no tear to any eye. When this New Year in time shall end let it be said I've played the friend, have lived and loved and labored here, and made of it a happy year.


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