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Is the Christian faith tolerant?

A couple of years ago, I gave a short talk to the Nottingham Theology Network, part of UCCF’s work with students, on the question of tolerance. Having wondered how much I knew about the subject, I came to realise that it touches on some central issues of faith and mission. It is fascinating to see how, even in the last couple of years since I spoke on this, it continues to be a pressing cultural and theological issue.

First, it is interesting to note that the subject of tolerance—in particular, how tolerant can we be of people with different views—has concerned people from the very beginning of Christian faith. This is perhaps best captured in the two, apparently contradictory, sayings of Jesus:

Whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9.40)

Whoever is not with me is against me. (Matt 12.30)

In fact, these two statements are in different contexts and address different issues—the first on how wide we should see the scope of Jesus’ ministry, the second on how we respond to those who explicitly oppose the purposes of Jesus. But together they suggest that different levels of tolerance are appropriate in different situations. In the writings of Paul, we continue to see the issue of tolerance reappearing, often in the context of the relation between Jewish and Gentile believers (for example in 1 Cor 8 and Romans 14). But alongside some wide latitude in variations in practice, Paul has some very clear boundaries on both belief and behaviour. Clearly, for Paul, there are things we should tolerate and other things we should not. But it interesting that questions of tolerance arise both in relation to ethical questions but also in relation to questions of knowledge, understanding and certainty—what we might call epistemic questions.

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Violence in Christianity and Islam

Following the atrocities in London and Manchester in recent weeks, many commentators have been quick to say ‘This violence has nothing to do with Islam.’ When that is claimed by a leader within the Muslim community, then it appears to mean something particular: ‘This violence is nothing to do with Islamic beliefs as I understand […]

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Preaching on Trinity Sunday

Here it comes again: that Sunday in the lectionary which most preachers dread or (to disguise this) suddenly think of guest preachers who need an opportunity to contribute their ministry. Yes, it is Trinity Sunday! Rather than offer you a sermon as a resource, I thought it would be helpful to point out three things […]

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The dynamism of Pentecost

Coming once again to the New Testament texts about Pentecost, I have been struck by the extraordinary dynamism which seems to be present in every aspect. In the gospels, Jesus is the dynamic focus of action—constantly on the move physically as a way of expressing the dynamic presence and movement of God in his ministry—and […]

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Why is Ascension Day so important?

What would you identify as the climax and completion of Jesus’ life and ministry? Surprisingly, this is not a trivial question. One of the key differences between John and the synoptic gospels is that, where the synoptics portray the crucifixion as a necessary but incomplete act on the way to the resurrection, John portrays it […]

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What does Rev 4–5 tell us about the Trinity?

I am writing a commentary on the Book of Revelation, and also doing work on the contribution of Revelation to our understanding of the Trinity. I post hereby summary comments on Revelation 4 and 5, since these are the most important contributions in Revelation to our understanding of the relation between Jesus and the Father, […]

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