Sunday, January 29, 2006

St Saviour's, Great Moor (C of E)

Here's a picture, taken this very morning:

When visited:

10:45am, 29th January, 2006


On the A6 heading out of Stockport towards Hazel Grove, just after the Co-op in Great Moor, a bit set back from the road.


I arrived a few mins too late for the start, but people greeted me quietly at the door and quite a few came to speak to me at the end. I was even volunteered for the choir! (but turned them down...)

First Impressions:

Around 70 people there, average age probably 55 or so, large majority female including the vicar and assistant. There were 20 people or so in the (blue robed) choir, who were very good.

Type of Service:

High-church eucharist, with quite a few bits sung. Lots of processions, but no smells or bells.


Traditional stuff, well sung with a good choir.


The vicar spoke on "the devil in the church", which was connected to but not directly from the gospel reading. Pretty good actually - certainly challenging.


yes - helpful but not updated that often


Definitely interesting. They seem properly catholic (in the C of E sense - the vicar was at one point singing to the consecrated wafers) but at the same time very accepting of women and it was great to hear a challenging sermon. I might go back.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Marx on Books

In honour of the Blog Dog, here's a quote from Marx (Groucho rather than Karl):

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend.
Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


I've been trying for a few days to trace a bug in my blog. What happens is that, in Internet Explorer, if the top entry on a page has a photo before the text, then the title of that entry vanishes (though can be put back by highlighting then unhighlighting).

I'm now pretty sure I've tracked it to Internet Exploder being incapable of handling the innocuous "display:block;" style element under such circumstances. I can't see any sensible way round it as it's in a bit of code which appears automatically when I insert an image and I'd have to edit it out manually every time.

So sorry, and I blame IE. Use Firefox - it's much better!


... for Irenaeus there is no interest or value in "saving information" divorced from the human experience of the Saviour. To make salvation a matter of "saving truths" is to yield the pass to the gnostic, sidestepping entirely the process of healing and integrating the whole of the human person.
Rowan Williams, The Wound of Knowledge

Sunday, January 22, 2006

St Michael's, Bramhall (C of E)

When visited:

9am, 22nd January, 2006


Robbins Lane / St Michael's Road, Bramhall


Several people said "hello" as if they knew me, though they didn't. No-one got beyond that and there didn't seem to be tea or coffee afterwards.

Type of Service:

The more modern of their two morning services - I think the other one was a sung eucharist or something. The order of service wasn't really announced, but there was a booklet in the pews with it in. It was a modern CW communion.

First Impressions:

Very much modern catholic. There were probably about 100 there once the children came in, average age beforehand was 50ish, but with some in each age range. Far more women than men. No Bibles in pews, nor were they provided at the door.

How was it Catholic?

The front of the church was fairly old, with quite a few candles, a lady chapel, robed servers, chunks of the service done east-facing (though not the communion). The (female) leader wore a chasuble, the lay reader robed, there was a gospel procession, the choir processed in and out, etc.

How was it modern?

The tower looks like unfinished concrete on the inside, and has a lot of glass. The choir weren't robed, and hymns and quite a bit of the liturgy were on an OHP. Music was done by a music group - piano and a couple of woodwind instruments, mostly played by middle-aged men. After the eucharistic prayer, they mainly did 70s/80s devotional stuff, before that it had been more older easy-listening.


As it was the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the speaker was the minister of Bramhall Christian Fellowship. It wasn't expository, but was a brief talk about how the gospel was simple - that God wanted to live in us. Definitely OK, but gave the impression there wasn't a lot of intellectual depth there (too many minor factual errors in his examples didn't help). Rumour has it that it was better than the usual sermons there...





Sunday, January 15, 2006

Infallibility, Inerrancy and Perfection of Scripture

When I was involved in the Christian Union at university, leaders in the CU had to sign a statement of belief known as the Doctrinal Basis. I happily signed it quite a few times, but I'm not sure I could any more, even though my views haven't changed...

The UCCF Doctrinal Basis includes this point:

c. The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour.

Infallibility, and it's slightly stronger cousin inerrancy is basically the language people use to assert that the Bible means what it says - that it doesn't make mistakes in what it is trying to assert (infallible) and that it doesn't contain any errors (inerrant). You don't need to worry too much about the difference - I'll just write about "infallibility" for short, but I'm really talking about "infallibility and/or inerrancy".

Why Infallibility?

As far as I'm aware, the term "inerrancy of Scripture" started to be used around the time of the theological liberal movement of the 1800s. People within the church started publically denying that things mentioned in the Bible had happened, or that facts stated in the Bible were true. As a reaction to this, people who still believed the Bible needed a way of saying that it was true. And infallibility was what they came up with.

Where I'm coming from

Since my time involved with Christian Unions, I don't think my actual views on underlying doctrine have changed, but I think that my understanding of them has deepened and this has often led to changes in how I'd express them.

I don't know whether or not I'd be happy signing the UCCF DB now. I guess I'd want clarification as to how the person who was asking me to sign it understood it themselves. I know that as I am now, I'd be able to satisfy me as I used to be that I believe it.

Problem 1 - Infallibility uses the Wrong Categories

The Bible is not just one type of literature. If the Bible was just telling a story, for example, or just Paul writing down facts about God, then I can see what it would mean for the Bible to be infallible. It would mean that everything the story said really happened, or that all the facts about God were true facts.

But what does it mean for poetry to be infallible?

In the heavens he [God] has pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.
Psalm 19:4b-6, NIV

I can recognise that there is poetic language here, that it doesn't literally mean that God has put a load of canvas held up with poles in the sky for the sun to live in. But what does it mean for the poem to be infallible? "Infallible" is a word used for things that assert facts. But what about things that don't? Infallibility is the wrong category to be using when we talk about poetry.

It's not just poetry though - it's also parables. Jesus illustrated his teaching by telling a lot of stories, many of which weren't actually true. Sometimes he pointed out it was a story to illustrate a point, sometimes he didn't. What does it mean for those stories to be infallible?

People tend to argue for infallibility because the Bible is essentially said to be written by God, using people to do so. But if that means that everything it says is true, what about the very words spoken by God as a man, Jesus Christ? If we try applying the category of inerrancy to the whole Bible, we end up saying that many of Jesus' parables must have really happened.

The only way out of this I have come across is to say that Scripture is infallible in what it is trying to assert. But who is to say what it is trying to assert? By that argument, why could the whole Old Testament not be a kind of long parable to tell us something? I don't think that the term "infallible" does the job it is meant to do.

Problem 2 - Nothing is Infallible

No, I don't mean it like that.

"Nothing is infallible" in the sense that if I got a blank piece of paper, and didn't write anything on it, then that would still be infallible. This suggests that the idea of infallibility is too weak - it doesn't cover the idea that the Bible contains everything we need. This is the doctrine of the Sufficiency of Scripture.

Infallibility is not a sufficient description of an evangelical understanding of Scripture.

Note that this isn't actually an argument against infallibility per se, it's simply saying that it can be improved on as way of explaining what we mean about the Bible.

Problem 3 - Infallibility is a Reaction to Liberalism

In my experience, if we need to say something clearly and well, the best way to do it is not to react against what other people say. The problem is that people are rarely entirely wrong; they get some things right. So if we take up our position in opposition to theirs, we might get some things right, but we'll also get some things wrong when we throw away what they are saying. For example, some people within the infallibility camp have essentially been forced into judgementalism and a simplistic, literalistic reading of Scripture as a result of their total rejection of liberalism.

Because of seeing this in action, I have come to be distrusting of any theology that is defined primarily in reaction to what is going on around it. It is far better simply to say, for example, what the Bible teaches about itself, and then apply that to the current situation.

It also means that it is far too easy to attack infallibility. It can look as if there is a choice to make between some kind of infallibility and some kind of "liberalism", with people who seem to be committed Christians on both sides. That means that a new Christian coming into this situation may well reject infallibility because we set ourselves up in opposition to people they trust.

A Way Forwards - Perfection of Scripture

My suggested way forwards is through recognising that Scripture is perfect.

As for God, his way is perfect;
the word of the LORD is flawless.
2 Samuel 22:31 and Psalm 18:30, NIV

The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure
and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb.
Psalm 19:7-10, NIV

To all perfection I see a limit;
but your commands are boundless.
Psalm 119:96, NIV

This position clearly has the benefit of being much more frequently asserted in Scripture. It is also better linked to other doctrines. For example, we can see that Scripture is perfect because it is inspired by a perfect God, and that "men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21).

Understanding the Bible to be perfect has several important implications. We need to be careful when doing this, however, as our notions of what perfection means may be wrong.

Implication 1 - Perfection as Optimality

If the Bible is perfect, that means it is also optimal - we can't make it better. If we take something away from the Bible, that makes it worse. If we add something, that makes it worse. If we change how something is worded, that makes it worse.

That means that we can legitimately ask questions such as "Why did Paul write the passage like this?" and "Why is this section here?" and get answers which increase our understanding of the passage. Good students of the Bible ask those questions anyway, and assume there will be good answers. Perfection of Scripture tells us that there are good answers; infallibility doesn't, as a random list of facts is infallible.

Implication 2 - Completeness of Scripture

If Scripture is perfect, then we cannot add anything to it to make it more useful in general. Adding the Highway Code might make it more useful for motorists in the UK, but would make it less useful for everyone else. Hence it must be sufficient - it must contain everything that everyone needs to know in common in order to follow God, and it may contain much that some people need to know.

This means that it contains everything that people need to know in order to be saved. To add anything to Scripture would ultimately be to take away from Scripture.

Implication 3 - Perspicuity of Scripture

As Scripture is perfect, it must be sufficiently clear on the most important issues that people are not hindered from following God by worrying about lack of clarity.

That does not mean that it has to be clear on anything - it could certainly be argued that perfection means that it has to be perfect at many levels and to reward study, which would require it not to be perfectly clear.

Implication 4 - Perfection and Inerrancy

But does perfection do the job that infallibility and / or inerrancy were meant to do?

If a statement about God is perfect, that means it is not only true, but also the best way of putting it. If a statement about a historical event is perfect, that means it reliably tells us about that event, focusing on what it is important to know.

If, for example, the accounts of the Resurrection are perfect, then it would take a vast (and probably impossible) amount of explaining to even begin to claim that they were perfect and not true. It certainly implies that we should live as if they are true.

Perfection and Literalism

Does perfection require a literalistic approach to, for example, Genesis 1-2?

I'm not going to go into whether or not I think Genesis 1-2 are literally true and why - that's a long discussion for another time. But I think we have to be clear that they are perfect. They (along with the other passages in the Bible about creation) are the best account of creation that there could possibly be for the people who have read and will read the Bible.

Does that mean they are exhaustive - that they cover everything it is possible to cover? No, of course not. Whatever happened then, it certainly had some complex subatomic physics involved, which could be explained. But to go into the detail of the physics might well confuse too many readers, and distract from the main point - that God did it. So the passage won't say everything there is to say; it will say only what it is best to say in that context.

So perfection does not mean that the Bible has said everything - there might have been intermediate stages between, for example "God said 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.'" and such lights appearing. The point is that they appeared in response to God's command.

Perfection and Purpose

This highlights a very important issue - the idea of purpose. Scripture is perfect, but perfect for what? It is perfect for at least the following:

So the accounts in the Bible of past events are perfect accounts for those purposes. They are the details that we need to know in order that we might come to Jesus and follow him with our whole lives.


I think that we would be much better to speak about the perfection of Scripture that the infallibility or inerrancy of Scripture. It is better attested Scripturally, it is better linked to other doctrines, it is much harder to argue against, it promotes unity rather than controversy within the Church and it works better. The only argument I can see against it is inertia.

(slightly edited 16/1/2006)

Cheadle Hulme Methodist Church (again)

When visited:

15th January, 2006, 6:30pm


Station Road, Cheadle Hulme, about 200m Bramhall side of the station.


The front door was locked, but there were people who directed me around the back. Pretty welcoming, people spoke to me, asked me how I was, let me know what I was in for, etc and offered me free food and a cup of tea!

First Impressions:

I had stumbled upon the monthly "Café Church" meeting in the evening. We sat, with our free buffet food, round tables in the church hall. The whole thing was very informal and quite pleasant. There were just over 30 people there, good range of ages, with a dozen or so under 20.

What happened:

After a little time chatting with others on the same table as me, David the vicar introduced the theme of "Honesty" and pointed us to our "menus", which gave some questions and Bible verses on the theme. We then discussed these for probably around 30 mins, then David did an informal summing up (with questions) and we spent another 10-15 minutes in prayer, with candles and oil for those who wanted it. The "service" ended probably around 8pm, but obviously didn't have a sharp ending as we continued chatting round tables.

As there were several visitors on my table, we discussed the idea of "Café Church" a bit, and agreed that while the style was helpful, especially for making things very accessible, churches couldn't really survive without Bible teaching, and so it was good that there was variety in what went on in the evenings, sometimes with much more teaching emphasis to the service.





Very interesting, good way to think about how to apply an idea personally, and I'd be happy to go back or to try and run something like this in the future.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Film Reviews

I've had some people ask me for film reviews on here. I don't have much time to write them at the moment, but here's a really good review (by Makoto Fujimura) of King Kong and Narnia. I pretty much agree with him on it, but wouldn't have been able to put it so well.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

St George's, Poynton (C of E)

When visited:

8th January 2005, 10am


At the junction in the middle of Poynton


People at the door shaking hands. I wasn't on my own, but no-one really spoke to me before the service. Several people did afterwards - there was a long queue to get out and to the church hall for coffee, and people chatted a lot in the queue.

Type of Service:

Modern language communion liturgy, some bits of which were missed out. Robes and choir procession. A few bits were sung, but the music was printed in the service book, which is nice to see.

First Impressions:

About 200 people there, very good mix of ages. The administration was excellently done from a logistical point of view, though there were people (older members of the congregation) at the back chatting all through the administration, which I found very distracting.


Organ and music group. Good mix of older and newer stuff, singing wasn't especially good.


The vicar apologised that there wasn't Bible teaching. Instead he said a bit about a trip he was planning to do to India. To my mind, skipping the sermon is not on.

As you can see from the comments, I'm assured that usually there's good teaching, and that this was the exception. I'm happy to believe that - shame I hit the exception...


yes, though it appears to be somewhat oddly maintained. Some information on there is for last month, some for next month, very little for this month.


Gives the impression of being a growing church, but the lack of a sermon would give me second thoughts before coming back.

Friday, January 06, 2006

McGrath and Dawkins

I was recently pointed to this link, which gives the transcript and audio of a lecture that Alistair McGrath did about Richard Dawkins' work. Seems pretty interesting, and it's humbling in a way that McGrath is so nice about him...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


I came across an interesting situation the other day. A young married couple, living in an expensive area of the country, were quite strapped for cash. One of them had parents who were quite openly very well off.

The young couple usually found Christmas very helpful, as the rich parents usually gave them some money. Imagine their reaction then when they found that the parents had bought them some of Oxfam's latest range. Basically, they gave the money to Oxfam to get something for people in poor countries. They then gave the young couple a card, saying that they'd done this and what they'd bought.

Now, to my mind, this doesn't seem very good. If you want to give money to Oxfam, that's fine (though I'd think Tear Fund would be better). But why should that detract from gifts to others, especially when they were relying on those gifts, and especially especially when you hadn't asked the couple first?

This got my sympathy, of course. But it also started ringing bells in my head.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat." He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' But you say, 'If anyone tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.' So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.
Matthew 15:1-6, ESV

Seems like there's nothing new under the sun...

To avoid hypocrisy though, it is worth thinking about how I sometimes think of pious excuses for not supporting my family and friends.