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My most recent publication is the Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the Book of Revelation. You can order it from Amazon and other online retailers (make sure you order mine, and not the previous edition by Leon Morris!), or directly from the publisher on the IVP website.

My other recent publications include:


Is there a spirituality of good disagreement?

Andrew Goddard writes: What follows is the text (lightly revised) of a lecture on spirituality I was asked to give to Ridley Hall in November 2020.  Given it was to be delivered a week after the appearance of Living in Love and Faith (LLF) which it was my privilege to be part of for over three years, I decided to reflect on my experience on that as well as my involvement over nearly two decades – as an evangelical and ethicist—in the often painful discussions around sexuality here in the CofE and the wider Anglican Communion.

I think it important to realise that these are only what the subtitle I came up with calls “pointers to a spirituality for theological disagreement”.  They are no more than pointers.  They are not focussed on theological discernment about the seriousness of our theological disagreements.  Nor are they addressing the possible ecclesial consequences of theological disagreement.  They are rather about how we approach those disagreements personally and spiritually.  My hope is that they may perhaps help us in speaking – and seeking – the truth in love both this year as we engage with the LLF resources and more widely.

In working out how to approach this there were various options.  One was to explore further the six pastoral principles that are an important element in LLF.  While I recommend those, and will refer to some of them in passing, I chose instead to offer a few reflections on six different areas.  Although I will largely relate them to my experience in LLF, I would hope they could be applied much more widely.

Speaking (and Seeking) The Truth in Love – Pointers to a Spirituality for Theological Disagreement

Firstly, the title speaks about “theological disagreement” and at one level it is important we recognise that, do not run away from that.  We are talking about disagreements.  Sometimes deep disagreements.  Disagreements concerning truth.  We are talking about specifically theological disagreements.  Disagreements relating to God and God’s Word and God’s good purposes for us as those made in God’s image, as those called to be God’s holy people.  These are therefore not trivial disagreements. Disagreements we can simply push to one side and forget about.  As theological disagreements, they are the most important disagreements possible.

But, having said that, we must not ever approach our theological disagreements simply as an intellectual exercise, an abstract argument, a doctrinal or ethical debate.  The disagreements are disagreements between people.  More specifically, in my focus here, disagreements between Christian people. We must therefore always approach them personally and relationally.  We can, of course, approach our theological disagreements simply in terms of ideas which we need to propagate or rebut, arguments – even battles – which we simply need to win.  But if we do that then we soon risk losing sight of the fact that our disagreement is always with another person. Whoever they are, whatever they have done, whatever their theological beliefs, they are a unique and precious bearer of the divine image.  Someone who is so much more than the holder and espouser of views with which we disagree.  They are our neighbour whom we are called by Christ to love.  In many cases, when it comes to theological disagreement, they are also our brother or sister in Christ with whom we are to seek the highest possible degree of communion in Christ.  The very worst anyone could be – whether as neighbour and fellow image-bearer or as fellow disciple of Jesus – is our enemy and even if we see those we disagree with in those terms then they are to be viewed and received as a gift through whom God can teach us what it means to love our enemies.

 

What does good preaching actually look like?

There is a general nervousness about assessment, evaluation and feedback amongst those in public ministry, particularly amongst those who are ordained, but also for anyone engaged in doing things ‘up front’ in a ministry context. This is natural and understandable; in many contexts, being involved in public ministry often requires that you (literally) stand apart from others and so few slightly separated from them. And doing this is a risky business, since you cannot always tell how people are responding. I think the issues here have been exacerbated by the shift to online activity during the pandemic, since you are then even more isolated from natural, human feedback. And when we ask for feedback (if we dare!) it is often not given well. (Here are my eight top tips for giving feedback well.)

But just because you are not asking for evaluation, it does not mean that people are not evaluating you! And I think we might be in for some surprises when we do start meeting again together, as I suspect a lot of people will have voted with their virtual feet, and we will find our congregations configured quite differently from where we were last February. 

In some ways, preaching has become more prominent in online services, since other parts of our gatherings are diminished in the medium on online services. Can we know what good (online) preaching looks like? Can we hope to offer useful evaluation to others, and receive it for ourselves? There are, of course, distinctive elements to online preaching, which I have explored previously. But I think the core of preaching, in person or online, remains largely unchanged. 

When I was teaching homiletics (preaching) in a theological college, I used to start by exploring the issue of what good and bad preaching look like. I did this indirectly—not by asking the question ‘What does a good sermon look like?’ since this could easily have led to theoretical answers. Instead, I asked in turn for the group to think of a sermon that, for whatever reason, they would consider a ‘good’ sermon, and then to describe what that sermon was like, before quite separately asking them to think of a ‘bad’ sermon, and then describing what that one was like. (They were allowed, in either category, to think of sermons of their own or of others!)

Several striking things always emerged. The first was that there was a remarkable and surprising unanimity around what both good and bad sermons look like—regardless of theological tradition, experience or temperament on the part of the listeners. This suggests that the characteristics of good preaching transcend the specific details of theological commitments on the part of both preachers and listeners.

The second was both mundane and equally striking. No-one had any hesitation in being able to identify what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ looked like. For some reason, we instinctively seem to know whether what we are listening to is worthwhile. Of course, this will vary from person to person in relation to any particular sermon; within a congregation, people will respond differently to the same sermon they have heard preached. But over time, consistent things seem to emerge. This raises a profound question: if we know what a good sermon looks like when we are listeners, why is it that (to put it bluntly) when we stand up to preach ourselves we don’t do a better job? This implies that self-awareness is a key attribute for good preachers; a key challenge is to translate what we know when we are hearers into what we do when we are speakers. We need to be able to imagine and understand how we sound to others—to see and hear ourselves as others see and hear us—if we are going to grow into being effective preachers.