How can we encourage deeper learning in the local church?

Whenever I have visited the US, many of the churches I have been to have had a very different pattern of meeting on Sunday mornings. Instead of having two services of worship, they have often had a range of teaching classes first, with perhaps three or four options for people to choose from, followed by a coffee break, and then the more formal worship service following.

I have often wondered why churches in England don’t do something like this—regular teaching sessions on a Sunday which can deepen faith and understanding. And then I heard of  ‘Sunday School for Grown Ups’, a relatively new and exciting project at Christ Church, New Malden led by Stephen Kuhrt. So I asked him a few question about this, with a view to how it might work in other contexts.

IP: What does Sunday School for Grown Ups involve? 

SK: ‘Sunday School for Grown Ups’ (SSGU) takes place on the second and fourth Sundays of each month from 6.00 to 8.00 pm. People arrive at 6.00 pm for easily prepared food and drinks followed by the session itself from 6.30 pm. The content involves a series of different courses on biblical or theological subjects and we are currently twelve sessions into a course called ‘Making Sense of Paul’. The sessions take the form of input on the relevant material, with an emphasis on making the scholarship on this accessible, and several breaks for discussion in groups. SSGU takes place in our church lounge and is very visual with PowerPoint used to display headings, biblical texts, maps and pictures. A ‘rerun session’ of the same material takes place on the first and third Mondays of the month for those who can’t make the Sunday evenings.

After an introductory session on ‘Paul and his World’, there were three sessions outlining the significant developments within Pauline scholarship before we turned to looking at Paul’s letters in what I consider to be their most likely chronological order. Setting the context for each letter has involved looking at sections of the Acts of the Apostles and we will eventually return to Acts to examine the portrayal of Paul within it. 

IP: Where did the idea come from and why did you feel the need to start it?

SK: I’m aware that the title sounds rather American but the idea grew completely out of our local context and my previous experience. Christ Church has always had a strong tradition of taking the Bible seriously with a heavy emphasis upon sermons and study of it in Home Groups. This has brought many strengths but, throughout nearly twenty years in the parish, I have tried various ways of making the fruits of biblical scholarship more accessible. This has included attempts to incorporate appropriate levels of scholarship within sermons, as well as projects like ‘Beer and Theology’ where a group gathered at the local pub for discussion around a theological topic.

None of these approaches, however, quite achieved the outcome I was looking for. I was aware that Christ Church was full of many wonderful Christians who were devout, prayerful and committed to working hard but who, through no fault of their own, were not being stretched enough theologically. Responding to this was where my previous experience then helped. Before ordination, I was a Secondary School teacher of History and Religious Studies at Archbishop Tenison’s School in Croydon which I had previously attended as a pupil. Many of the large number of students who took ‘A Level’ Religious Studies were keen Christians and rather than simply getting these 16-18 year olds through the exam, I saw it as an important part of my role to nurture their faith. This frequently involved getting them to ask searching questions about the Bible and Christianity within a totally positive environment.

I especially wanted to help these young people to engage with biblical criticism and integrate their response to its issues within their Christian faith before, in most cases, going to University and facing this challenge in a potentially less constructive atmosphere. Reflecting on my ministry at Christ Church, I came to realise that, without exalting it above prayerfulness, service or other aspects of following Jesus, everyone capable of being at ‘A Level standard’ or above in terms of an intellectual approach to their faith should be given the opportunity to achieve this.   

IP: What other factors were involved?

SK: One of the crucial factors was a certain ‘clearing of the decks’ that happened within our church after the Covid-19 pandemic. Like many churches, we faced a major task of rebuilding. A major advantage was that older aspects of church life were able to be replaced much more easily than would otherwise have been the case. One of these was our 6.30 service which, chiefly through a shortage of musicians, was not able to restart when we recommenced our morning services. This presented an opportunity to start something different, leading to the advent of Sunday School for Grown Ups.

Another factor that could have been seen as simply negative played an equally important role. In February 2020, the Bishop of Southwark suspended me, first unofficially and then officially, from my role as Vicar of the Parish of New Malden and Coombe. This lasted for five and a half months. The story of this episode and the issues that it involved is found elsewhere. Rather than using this period to fret or get depressed, I realised that a healthier attitude was to regard it as a gift and opportunity from God. I have always enjoyed theological and biblical study, squeezing what time I could to do this alongside the other responsibilities of parish ministry.

From the start of my suspension, I realised that I now had ample time and so decided to work full time on this with the result that reading and study that would have usually taken me around five to six years was covered in a much shorter period. This particularly included lots of study of Pauline biblical scholarship and, without fully realising it, I was preparing most of the material that has gone on to be used in the course. When we got to studying Philippians 1.12-14, I was able to share with the attendees at SSGU that Paul wasn’t the last person who had Joseph’s words to his brothers in Genesis 50.20 in mind as he reflected on God’s ability to bring good events out of bad!     

IP: The name ‘Sunday School for Grown Ups’ is intriguing. What led to you using it?

SK: My team and I struggled for a while over an appropriate name. Reflecting its aim, we toyed with ‘Christ Church School of Theology’ before soon realising that, as well as sounding rather pompous, it was potentially off putting for those that we were wanting to come. It was our Children’s and Youth Minister, Nathan Larkin, who came up with the title ‘Sunday School for Grown Ups’ arguing that its slightly jokey style would be part of making the venture more attractive. As a former graphic designer, Nathan’s skills have also been invaluable in producing the art work used within the project.

A major emphasis of Christ Church is upon being completely child-friendly through our Sssh Free Church at 9.30 am. This has occasionally led to accusations that our children matter more than our adults. The project and especially its title has also helped to show both the adults and children of the church that they are equally valued and, just as equally, in need of working hard to grow towards greater maturity in our understanding and practice of our Christian faith.

IP: How did you promote the course and what response has it had? 

SK: When launching other aspects of church life I have found that writing to everyone being targeted has been very effective. This takes about two days together with the significant cost of postage but the result usually repays this. People appear to like receiving a letter from their vicar! The most recent example had been writing to all of our children to invite them back to restart of their groups after the pandemic. I did the same before the start of SSGU with a standard letter outlining the aim and nature of the course but personalised through the mail merging of their name and some extra handwritten comments just for them. Possibly due to a thirst for ‘more church’ after the pandemic or, perhaps, new forms of church, the response has taken me by surprise in both its numbers and enthusiasm. 73 people have come to SSGU at some point with around 55-60 coming regularly. This has included a number who belong to other churches and worship elsewhere on a Sunday morning.

Attendees have appreciated wrestling with questions new to them such as the authenticity or otherwise of 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles, the existence (or not) of a specific Colossian heresy and the issues surrounding a possible Ephesian imprisonment for Paul, unreported by Acts. Introducing the various schools of thought within Pauline theology starting with Martin Luther and then tracking the way that ‘the New Perspective’ followed by more recent Apocalyptic and Socio-Historical approaches have challenged the Lutheran paradigm, has been more demanding.

However, a number of those coming have reported its value in facilitating their ability to critique interpretations of Paul that they had previously assumed to be the only ones available.    

IP: How do you deal with a wide range of learning abilities and prior theological understanding? What adjustments have you needed to make as SSGU has gone on?

SK: A real surprise has been those who have shown the greatest enthusiasm for SSGU. I imagined that this would most obviously include those who had degrees who would welcome the opportunity to explore their faith in greater depth. There are a number of examples of this. Equal enthusiasm has been shown, however, by those for whom it appears to represent a belated chance to have a go at ‘further education’. The random nature of the discussion groups tends to ensure a certain ‘differentiation by outcome’ but I am also constantly adjusting the content and discussion questions in the light of how the course is being received.

I produced an attractive booklet (basically the notes of my talk, the discussion questions plus lots of pictures and maps) for attendees to take away after each session to revisit what we have studied. Giving this to those who haven’t been present is a good way of encouraging them to keep attending! Another important part of SSGU is the ‘homework’ set at the end of each session. As well as reading two translations of the biblical book that we are looking at next, attendees are given a choice of tasks on the material we have studied, differentiated for different abilities and personalities. For instance, at the end of the session on Philippians, the choice of tasks was as follows:  

  1. Learn Philippians 2.5–11 off by heart and try to build the regular recital of it into your prayer life.
  1. Imagine that your child or grandchild has heard the word ‘fellowship’ used in church and asked you what it meant. In the light of what you have learned from Philippians about koinonia, write a paragraph in child-friendly language trying to convey its meaning with suitable examples. 
  1. Imagine that you are a member of the church at Philippi, perhaps Euodia, Syntyche or Clement. Write a short reply to Paul covering what you have learned from his letter and what you now intend to do differently. 

When we finished our three evenings on 1 Corinthians, I was more ambitious including essays from the Finals Paper in Theology at Oxford University. At least two people attempted this with one handing in her essay (on the relationship between eschatology and ethics within 1 Corinthians) for my feedback. The response from most of the group, however, strongly suggested that at this point I had tried to go a bridge too far! Despite this, a number have expressed enthusiasm for us starting a New Testament Greek Class as a spin off from SSGU. Rather than lead this venture myself, I am hoping that one of our two members with Classical Greek ‘A Level’ will take the lead here, using Jeremy Duff’s revised edition of The Elements of New Testament Greek.

I have also said that if fifty people commit to coming, I will organise a Saturday session of SSGU led by a certain Dr Ian Paul on ‘Making Sense of Revelation’. We are planning a SSGU’s ‘fieldtrip’ to Greece and through visiting Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens and Corinth follow in the footsteps of Paul’s Second Missionary Journey. Rather than replacing or forming an alternative to Home Groups, SSGU is presented as complementing their work with its attendees strongly encouraged to join one of these groups for continued study, prayer and support. Themes from the course have also flowed across to our sermons in church services facilitating its further profile to members.  

IP: What is the future for SSGU?

SK: If the current level of enthusiasm continues, it does seem that the sky is the limit. Once the ‘Making Sense of Paul Course’ is completed, I plan to do further biblical courses such ‘Making Sense of the Pentateuch’, ‘Making Sense of the Synoptic Gospels’, ‘Making Sense of the Prophets’ etc. I will also expand the format at some point to include courses like ‘Making Sense of the Reformation’, ‘Making Sense of Baptism’ and ‘Making Sense of Holy Communion’. All of this will keep me busy studying and preparing material but the response has made me realise that this is as good a use of my time as any other aspect of my ministry.

The format at Christ Church is inevitably built around my particular interests and I would encourage those thinking of doing something similar to base both the format and content around their own strengths, experience and insights. The particular emphasis in our location is upon seeking to make biblical scholarship accessible but in other contexts, the needs and approach of similar projects will be very different.  

IP: What are the most important things that you have learned from this project? 

SK: The most significant thing had been the thirst of lay people for the fruits of biblical scholarship and appreciation of the attempt to provide them with access to this. One member commented on the impression given to her in the past that such an approach to the Bible was ‘just for clergy’ with ‘ordinary Christians’ not being up to it. One of my greatest passions is trying to make a strong connection between biblical and theological scholarship and the practicalities of church life on the ground and most of things that I have written have sought to do this.

Sunday School for Grown Ups represents the most satisfying practical form of this integration that I have been involved in. Its aim is completely practical: to make biblical and theological scholarship more available and accessible so that followers of Jesus Christ can feel more equipped to live their lives for him in our twenty-first century context. And through preparing the material and being part of the discussion, questions and general momentum within our church that it has created, I am learning as much as anyone.  

IP: That is all fascinating—thanks very much! I do hope others will be able to adapt this to their own context.

Stephen Kuhrt is Vicar of the Parish of New Malden and Coombe in Southwark Diocese.

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80 thoughts on “How can we encourage deeper learning in the local church?”

      • Dr Ian Paul – we need to include everyone in church, turn no one away, accept everyone for who they are, on a journey, regardless of opinion, disability, or difference, that is a good start and exclude no one.

        Any church who says people are not welcome, should repent, and, change their behaviour and not be stalked by Diocese Safeguarding Advisors for issues that are not safeguarding.

        Learn how to be more inclusive, and, learn what is and is not safeguarding.

  1. Adult learning courses at St George’s Leeds ran on a Sunday morning, with a coffee break and then the main service, from the late 1970s certainly until 1987. We offered a range of topics, and had over 150 people attending weekly. I don’t know how long it continued after I left in 1987, by which time David Hawkins was the vicar, and it was a massive amount of work preparing and co-ordinating the programme (senior curate’s job ), but very valuable overall. Well done Stephen!

  2. This is an excellent idea and I too have seen it in the States. It seems to be normal practice there in The Episcopal Church and their buildings are also designed for the approach with smaller and larger rooms and good catering facilities.
    We used to try a similar thing after the Eucharist with discussion group based on the sermon that had been delivered and that also could work well.
    My neighbouring parish in London had a rolling programme on a Sunday morning. Starting at 8 with Holy Communion followed by breakfast and then at 9 the teaching sessions for a whole variety of ages which flowed into the Eucharist at 1030 followed by coffee, sherry etc- or some pattern like that. And people could just come along for any parts they wanted to or mix and match etc across the morning, or come and go as they wished. I thought that was a very fresh and imaginative way to use the Sunday morning.

  3. I think Exeter Cathedral did an adult Sunday School. Great idea, though one of the participants found it too clerical!

  4. In my rural parish with 3 Saxon/mediaeval buildings there was no “Church Lounge”, and two of the buildings were certainly not warm enough (except in high summer!) or comfortable enough (pews made for 5′ adults) for such an event.
    However, newer members of the congregation were eager to learn, and so a group met with me around kitchen tables or members’ sitting rooms, which led to 3yrs in which adult (conditional) and family baptisms and confirmation well outnumbered infant baptisms.
    It was all but impossible to get established members of the congregation to take part.

  5. Christians should naturally have a deep interest in the Word of God.

    Ideally what we need to do is give them access to the resources to objectively study the Word of God for themselves. Our Churches should contain libraries, and be places of quite study and reflection, as well as places of worship.

  6. This is great. Two potential problems:

    1. The teaching has to be good. Too much isn’t.

    2. The teaching has to go in.

    The first problem is solved by using pre-recorded good teaching, of which there is now a huge amount on the internet either free or at low cost; happily the problem now is one of choice. The second problem is dealt with by asking people to take notes so they have to engage with the material in real time, instead of tuning out. Frankly I’d make this a requirement, having explained why it is important. You can even go a step further by setting and marking homework, although it takes time.

    • Anton – Christianity is a moral issue (coming to terms with the fact that I need to repent, that I cannot do this on my own and that I need a redeemer, etc ….) – it isn’t an intellectual issue. I’m not at all sure that what you describe fits into that framework.

      • Jock: I think the proposal is about teaching believers, not preaching to the unconverted. Scripture works in the believer in a way deeper than words. But you have to know it well, and grasp examples of how it can come alive. That’s what good Bible teaching is about.

        No-holds-barred discussions of scripture help too, but they aren’t for everybody (someone was once described as having a ‘black belt in scripture’!). Hence my suggestions to overcome problem (2).

    • The first problem is solved by using pre-recorded good teaching, […] The second problem is dealt with by asking people to take notes so they have to engage with the material in real time, instead of tuning out.

      Seems to me you’ve created the first problem with your ‘solution’ to the first! I would say that the solution to people tuning out is more interaction, which is exactly what you don’t get with pre-recorded lectures; and indeed frankly what’s the point of people meeting up to watch pre-recorded lectures that they could watch in their own home?

      Whatever the solution to poor teaching, it mustn’t be to turn what should be an interactive seminar-format into non-interactive communal video-watching.

      Executive summary: pre-recorded lectures: Just Say No!

  7. Interesting demograpics and the underlying supporting objectives include:
    1 keen Christians
    2 taking the Bible seriously
    3 nurture faith
    4 engage with Biblical criticism and integrate their response to it within their Christian faith
    5 Followers of Jesus Christ can feel more equipped to live their lives for him in our twenty-first century.

    6 A proviso – without exalting it above prayfulness.
    Is there not a risk the Bible studies replace or relegate pray, particularly any idea of corporate prayer?
    How has that worked out?
    7 Where does the OT fit in with the emphases that have been decided upon?

    • A Question for all serious Bible Students :

      Is there not a risk that Bible studies may encourage people to think about very seriously about the words of Jesus, in John 17:1-3, and ask themselves, ” Is Jesus telling the Truth here, or is He not” ; And if not, then why not ?

      Should the Bible be our sole, infallible authority for Christian doctrine ?

  8. Anton –

    ” The teaching has to be good”.

    Ideally, the teaching has to be as objective as possible, and fair.

    Compare : ” Truth in Translation : Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament”, by Jason BeDuhn, (2003).

    • Pellegrino – the one thing that shines through all the translations, no matter how ‘dodgy’, is that we all need to repent – and for this we need a redeemer – and that the redeemer is Jesus Christ. I’m not at all sure what else is needed. I mean, John 3:16 seems to be pretty much the same in any translation.

      • Amen, Jock.

        Keep theology, soteriology, and ecclesiology simple. That’s why I especially like Doctor Luke.

    • 1 And where did you get your teaching from?
      Which bible college? Or teaching institution?

      2 Where, in which denomination do you have fellowship, is your faith nurtured?

  9. Adult Sunday School of the variety you are describing Stateside was more common among free church especially Reformed background churches in the UK up until quite recently, often with the expectation that children having been to their age related class before the service stayed in for the full service.

    I grew up in an independent Methodist mission hall in Bradford and the practice was Sunday Afternoon Sunday School with adults groups as well as kids. They followed the Methodist Class system and one of the classes was Bible School which aimed to go in at a deeper level.

    At Bearwood, we ran a Sunday evening “cafe style” with a Digging Deeper Bible study, interactive style which provided something of that as well as a different time option for people who didn’t attend a morning service. We also ran summer seminar series on doctrine and church history as well as quarterly “Faithroots Live” -breakfast on a Saturday morning before a theology stream.

    My Faithroots Live stuff got moved onto podcasting/youtube in the pandemic and I’m continuing to run something weekly

    Steve Kneale at Oldham Bethel has introduced a “Theology Breakfast” on a Sunday morning.

  10. One reason this is important is that a lot of new adult or young adult converts don’t know what to do next after logging on with a congregation, and today they haven’t been taught anything about the Bible in either Sunday school or State school. Without decent teaching they are stranded at the shallow end.

  11. Andrew Godsall
    June 7, 2023 at 10:19 am
    “This is an excellent idea…..”
    I just point out that Andrew has repeatedly stated his view that the 39 Articles are what the Church of England believed at the Reformation and that she no longer believes those doctrines now.
    Who will decide what are the true doctrines to be set out in this enterprise?

    Phil Almond

    • Phil: let’s try not to introduce controversy here shall we? It’s not my view – it’s the CofE that has repeatedly said that clergy are not obliged to subscribe all of the articles.
      Let’s take the catholic creeds as the basis of doctrine and belief that unites us shall we?

      • Andrew
        “At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire”
        At the end of the Creed of St Athanasius
        I don’t think we would agree on what those words mean.

        Phil Almond

          • Pellegrino
            I am presuming that it is included in what Andrew referred to as “the catholic Creeds” whose doctrine ‘unites us all’ – I was pointing out that we would differ on what the quote I gave means.

            Phil Almond

          • Thanks, Phil.

            By the way :

            If we all don’t agree on what a fifth century ancient ‘Creed X’ may say, would you, in principle, say that it is morally allowable to modify ‘Creed X’ in order to expand, and/or, clarify it ?

      • Both the Christian Oral traditions and the epistles now contained within the New Testament, are what united the First century Christians. We need to get back to basics.

          • To Philip :

            ‘ Every Christian denomination and sect believes it is firmly established by the Word of God, and calls it’s creeds, “certain”. ‘

            Sebastian Castellio (1515-1563); Paraphrased quotation.

            We ideally, need to build a general Christian atmosphere where the Bible can be discussed in a Christ-like spirit, and with a genuine desire that ‘Truth’, and truth alone, should prevail.

    • To Philip Almond :

      The New Testament, and an impartial study of it, should decide true doctrines. i.e. A proper application of the principle of Sol Scriptura.

      • Sola scriptura is not quite so black and white as it sounds. We need a Greek and a Hebrew grammar too, and we pick up the meaning of words from their usage in other situations. But I agree absolutely that we need no other writings about salvation for salvation.

        • Thanks, Anton.

          That’s why I love the ‘Acts of the Apostles’, because it essentially tells us how the original Apostolic Gospel was preached, and what it’s essential contents were.

          Philosophically, we should strive towards a core position of Sola Scriptura , because a lot of so called ‘Bible Study’ is not really ‘Bible Study’, but rather ‘Denominational indoctrination’.

  12. Interesting. I seem to encounter a “scripture-light”, together with a “simple gospel” from churches these days. My wife and I do not experience high quality teaching in local churches, and have to look elsewhere. I would make three points, although doubtless there are others :-
    1. I value understanding scripture in its original context as a starting point, from which I can then, but only then, understand and apply it in today’s situations.
    2. I believe we should look at the “bigger picture”; how the Bible reveals God’s will and purpose as well as what individual books, rather than short passages of the Bible, are about.
    3. I notice that the church concerned is Christ Church, New Malden, which is not far from where I lived many years ago. I wonder what the response to such a course would be in an area other than SW London or NE Surrey – I am thinking of Christ Church and also Holy Trinity, Claygate?

    • To Michael :

      Understanding Scripture in its original historical and cultural contexts is a great place to start, and perhaps continue. That’s where we may also have to some objective, historical research.

  13. I’ve seen a variety of churches in East London and Essex – including one with very few graduates – enable most of the congregation to do the Course in Christian Studies over two years. It has a transformative effect on the ministry of the church (in my experience, a fair proportion of participants end up as authorised ministers of some kind) and on the tenor of discipleship. If other Dioceses would like to run CCS, they’re welcome to get in touch with us!

    • To Simon :

      ‘Deeper Learning’ ? Attempting to understand Christianity within it’s First century historical contexts ??

    • simon – deep learning is learning that you are saved; the contents of John 3:16, understanding that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (this includes me), that the wages of sin is death – and that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.

      I for one am extremely sceptical of much that goes over and above this in the context of Sunday worship and church activities.

      • Amen, Jock.

        Theology shouldn’t be turned into ‘rocket science’.

        That’s why I love Doctor Luke. He must have been a clever guy, but he seems to keep
        nice and simple (in his Gospel and Acts), so that even common folk could easily be saved.

          • To Philip Almond :

            The ‘Acts of the Apostles’ is particularly and uniquely interesting because it informs us what the simple, original Gospel message was, and how it was preached – before Christianity in the post-New Testament period, gradually became intertwined with Greek philosophies.

            The rest of the Bible is great, but particularly the New Testament.

        • Theology shouldn’t be turned into ‘rocket science’.

          What’s simple shouldn’t be unnecessarily complicated, but what’s complicated shouldn’t be feared but faced.

          And theology is the study of God, and God is not simple.

          So theology, if properly studied, I’d necessarily going to be complicated — as complicated as rocket science, indeed, perhaps even more.

          Of course one doesn’t need to understand theology to be saved.

          • Thanks for your comments ‘S’.

            Who is to decide when Theology is becoming unnecessarily complicated , or conversely, necessarily complicated ?

          • Who is to decide when Theology is becoming unnecessarily complicated , or conversely, necessarily complicated ?

            I don’t understand the question. Nobody ‘decides’. That’s like asking who is to decide whether quantum mechanics is unnecessarily complicated. Nobody decides, it just is complicated.

          • Exactly, ‘S’.

            Who decides, ultimately, has to be oneself – and hopefully via informed opinions. I like your implied point that we don’t have to understand too much theology in order to be saved. I agree with that, enthusiastically.

        • Philip – the ‘rest of the bible’ establishes that Jesus is who he says he is, points to the depravity within every one of us – showing us that we are so lost in our sin that we need a redeemer – and that Jesus saves. The message of the ‘rest of the bible’ is – come to Jesus; the rest of the bible is summarised nicely in John 3:16.

          • Jock
            Once we have repented and come to Jesus and been justified there remains for us all a lifelong struggle with the world the flesh and the devil, a struggle to walk in the Spirit and not fulfil the lusts of the flesh, a lifelong walk in obedience to Christ, armed with all
            the armour of God. We all need “the rest of the Bible” for guidance in detail for that.

            Phil Almond

  14. Our A/G church in North Little Rock, Arkansas still has a vibrant adult SS program, both after the Saturday 5:00 pm service and and during each of the three Sunday services. The class I attend, Soul Cafe, has both a Saturday 6:30 and Sunday 8:30 session, with50-60 people in each one. It is led by a staff pastor with a DMin, and we’ve done passage by passage studies of entire books of the Bible (we spent like 2 years on the Gospal of Mark), with cultural/historical backgrounds in lecture style mixed with table group discussions of what we see in the text and how it applies to our lives.

    I’ve been kicking around the idea of a “Simple Seminary” series of 3-month classes on Wednesday nights as a midweek elective offering, doing OT survey, NT survey, history and development of Christian thought (using Gonzalez, Olson, etc.), and other such courses. I need to find the time to outline 2-3 complete course proposals and present to the pastoral staff for consideration. The church is large enough, with a sufficient number of folks interested in deeper study, that I think it could take off.

    • That all sounds fascinating. But I am curious at the cultural reasons why you seem to do this much better in the US than here. It seems more natural to church culture, where here it is distinctly unusual.

  15. Very interesting, so many useful ideas to follow afterwards
    Christ Church, New Malden seems to be quite a unique Church with a] a gifted, hard working leader
    b] a fairly well-educated congregation with a desire for further education.
    c] a variety of options for teaching and perhaps having several able associates
    d] national speakers to call on to preach or take a series of studies on occasions,
    a] and b] alone are the minimum requirement for any thriving [growing] Church in my experience.
    It probably would need a similar Church setting for the modal to be translatable.
    Well done Christ Church, New Malden.
    In my earlier years in a methodist circuit the few dynamic gifted preachers started inter denominational
    Bible classes. of which I attended three on three nights of the week
    Plus a Saturday night squash attended by folks from many churches, with a notable speaker from other areas of the county.
    Note these gifted people were outward looking and not church based. They were Glory days.
    They would teach for an hour and a half or more and one would still want more.
    Sadly today a Prayer meeting or Bible study [ if they even exist] or Sermon longer than 20 minute’s is considered over long. Little wonder that so many look emaciated.
    Be that as it may; the Lord knows those who are His and is well able to keep their souls’ alive in famine.
    I have found that like Elijah, God sends the ravens to give nourishing bread.

  16. God from time to time magnifies someone with large abilities and great energy and deep commitment,paople with a singe eye. The Old Prophets and the Modern day Prophets
    I am reminded of a phrase by Oswald Chambers. Years ago, I read all his books several times. This one phrase stuck in my mind to this day.
    “Every biblical dispensation ends in failure” Like Boyles Law you can test it ad infinitum and it still holds true.
    “Every biblical dispensation ends in failure”
    Take one. say Jesus, for 3 years the most perfect man who did wonderful good works, He preached and taught and explained the Holy Scriptures , the best man who ever lived, and they killed Him
    His desciples were scattered in great confusion and apparent defeat. Or take Paul for all the drama and continual preaching left alone and forsaken by the churches even Ephasus was castigated by the risen Lord.
    But Paul had learned not to trust in himself but “In God who raises the dead”
    Even if the church is as Jerusalem a smoking pile of rubble because if sin.
    He still has his faithful praying people whom He has magnified to accomplish His great design and display the Power of His Ressurection.

  17. Synagogue is often called shul (school).
    The problem with the present model is it gives the message (which does not lie) of:
    This is the most important thing in your life but you don’t actually have to do anything or progress.

    • well said Christopher
      I have read that whilst the OT offers 613 laws, the NT offers over 1000 imperatives
      – lots to do

      • Well said, Simon –

        Lots to do, and lots not to do – with the help of God’s holy Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:16; Romans 8:12-13).

      • simon – you can’t be serious. If the synagogues were a force for good, then why did they go and crucify Jesus (John 11:49-53 – Caiaphas was very supportive of the crucifixion)? If this ‘teaching’ reduces to explaining 1000 imperatives, then it’s guaranteed not to work – since this would mitigate against the basic Christian message (we *know* that we are sinners – the imperatives are usually statements of the obvious – which we know we can’t live up to).

        Furthermore, it isn’t clear to me that those advocating this ‘deeper learning’ would profess that they are saved (and by ‘saved’ I mean that they *know* that they *have* passed from death to life, because they have come to believe in Him; entry to the kingdom of heaven when they pass from this life to the next *guaranteed* and that nothing can alter this – and that this is all due to the mediating and atoning work of Jesus in the crucifixion and resurrection).

        Indeed, some proponents of this ‘deeper learning’ have expressed their admiration for JAT Robinson’s ‘Honest to God’.

        So – I’m afraid I don’t see this profession from many of those who are advocating this ‘deeper learning’ – and without it, the bible is reduced to ’empty philosophies of men’.

        • Actually I am serious Jock
          I was affirming Christopher’s offering that church should be (in part) a school.
          Jesus said “go and make disciples and teach them to do everything I commanded you” – and that is where we singularly fail today – disciple making through learning and following Christ’s instructions. That in no way undermines the emphasis on salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone – but the glorious crisis of salvation initiates a process of learning and growth

          • simon – well, I suppose I have benefitted from some very good teaching. This was in the context of the sermons I heard given by James Philip (Sunday mornings and evenings) when I was at university (1984 – 88) attending Holyrood Abbey. His sermons were usually 45 minutes long. Length isn’t really an indicator of anything, but the teaching in these sermons was very good.

            But as far as the imperatives go, what about 1 John 2:27, especially with the statement that, as a result of the anointing that we have as Christians, we do not need anyone to teach us? In some sense we do need some additional teaching, but the moral issues really are all written on our hearts and minds. The sermon on the mount (for example) is very clear on what it is telling us to do – you don’t need someone from the Spiritual A-team to explain it to you, it’s certainly not the case that without a church teacher to explain it to us we would never have known.

            I do have one question where I am genuinely bamboozled – and if anyone can give me some sort of an answer I’d be grateful. How do you explain the central gospel message, which necessarily includes the crucifixion, the crown of thorns and everything else, to an autistic 7 year old who still basically lives in a world where bad things don’t happen – and where he would be utterly traumatised to discover that events such as the crucifixion actually did happen?

            You can make this more general; what should we be doing to bring the gospel message to others? This may be off-topic for this thread, since we’re basically talking about teaching for those who are already ‘in Him’, but I think that those of us who are already saved could probably make good use of sound advice on how to communicate the gospel to others.

        • The ‘synagogues’ didn’t crucify Jesus. The Roman authorities (who were alwways afreaid of insurrection, especially at Festival times) did. With the support of the Saducees, who didn’t want to upset the status quo and were probably very keen to get rid of him too.

          The untruth that it was ‘the Jews’ responsible for Christ’s death has provoked 2000 years of anti semitic violence.

          • Penelope – you can’t get round John 11:49-53 – stating that, at the very least, Caiaphas (the high priest) was very supportive ‘So from that day on they plotted to take his life.’ Unless, of course, you’re trying to tell us that Caiaphas was a Roman.

            And anyone who tries to hold ‘the Jews’ – in general, as a people – responsible is – frankly – not saved, because they haven’t even begun to come to terms with their own sinful nature and the radical evil that is lurking in the heart and mind of every one of us.

            The last 2000 years have demonstrated that ‘The Church’ (i.e. the church instituted by God Himself) is just as Pharisaical and sanctimonious now (i.e. AD) as it was back then (BC) – so if Jesus were to come in the flesh today in the same way as he did 2000 years ago, you could confidently expect the same result (i.e church people leading the way to take his life and get rid of him).

            I’d recommend Barth on Romans 9 – he explains the nature of ‘The Church’ very well. You can’t get round the fact that it was leading church people who were plotting to take the life of Jesus.

          • Hi Jock

            Yes Caiphas was a Saducee and thus complicit in Jesus’ death. As I said.
            There was no Church involved because there was no Church until after the Resurrection. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church.

          • Penelope – well, the Sadducees were Jewish. That aspect is irrelevant – and I strongly agree with you that anyone who is able to read an anti-Semitic message into these texts is vile – and that that is clearly not what Scripture is teaching us.

            I do strongly encourage you to read Barth on Romans 9, because I think you might like it. It presents an alternative view – where he sees The Church, instituted by God, as a single entity – both the Old Testament and the post-Pentecost arrangements. He does have some justification – so it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. After all, Paul’s first port of call was the synagogue, where he preached the gospel until he met with such hostility that he shook the blood from his robe and left.

            While Barth’s commentary on Romans 9 doesn’t seem very much related to Romans 9, I found it extremely incisive when it comes to The Church and I think you’ll like it, because he absolutely completely ignores and bypasses the racial aspects of it – thus there is absolutely nothing in his analysis that would give any quarter to the anti-Semitic reading that you’re concerned about – and indeed we’re all concerned about.

            Paul was the Pharisee par excellence, in solidarity with others of similar mind – and then he saw the error of his ways and was converted on the Road to Damascus. That is the aspect that Barth is concentrating on – Paul’s anguish is for those with whom he was in solidarity before – and who are still lost in their Pharisaism (a bit clunkey, but I can’t think of a better way of putting it).

            I’m sure that you have encountered Pharisaical elements in The Church today who, while paying lip-service to the gospel, would no doubt fail to recognise Jesus if he were to return today for the same reasons as the NT Pharisees – and who would react in the same way as the Pharisees of the New Testament.

    • Thank you Christopher. It certainly used to be the case that synagogues would offer Sunday school – on a Sunday – for their members. I was a curate in a predominantly Jewish area of London and found the interaction with members of that faith especially rewarding. One Good Friday evening we held an occasion when members of the synagogue choir and members of the church choir jointly sang passages from Handel’s Messiah and the rabbi and then I would explain how we each interpreted them to a full congregation. It was an outstanding occasion in mutual understanding and learning.

  18. Jock
    June 9, 2023 at 7:34 am
    Jock I am sure that all of us who are not in your situation with your son could realisticaly give you advice. However there is a Biblical precedent which might be helpful Jock
    Jam 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
    Also Proverbs ” I the Lord give understanding” Jesus throughout has a special interest in children and is keen that they should be blessed [happy and to be envied]

    • Alan – many thanks for this – yes – I have prayed for wisdom – and the answer seems to be not to introduce him to the gospel quite yet – he clearly isn’t ready for it and the whole concept of sin is absolutely beyond him. Just now, he is happy (and to be envied). I think it will become clear when it is time.

  19. Jock
    June 10, 2023 at 6:34 pm
    Amen Jock
    Several times I have seen severly mentally injured people who in their restricted bodies and limited expressions of concepts, full of love and joy and remarkable peace. Sometimes for whatever reason are born with limitations “that God may be glorified in and through them
    JOHN 11 V. 4 ……This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.
    Praying that God will be glorified in and through your dear son

    • Alan – thanks for yours. It’s not nearly as bad as it sounds, because they seem to be extremely trigger-happy with the ‘autism’ diagnosis these days. His pre-school teacher was concerned about certain things – and strongly advised us to get him assessed – and the psychologists / psychiatrists whom we saw all agreed with the teacher.

      To give you some idea of the stage he is at – they showed the 1938 Disney movie ‘Ferdinand the Bull’ at his pre-school

      (it’s only 8 minutes long) and even though this is a happy movie with a happy ending, it upset him a lot, because they were shouting at the bull. By the end of the movie, the pacifist bull returns to his field, spends all his time smelling the flowers and is very happy. The fact that this movie upset him so much should give you some idea of the level of ‘bad stuff’ that he can take. It’s actually a very nice movie – and should be suitable for children of that age.

      There were various things that gave his teacher cause for concern (for example – not playing with the other children, but playing with the toys himself) – and it turned out that she was right. He’s basically a very happy child, but we have to treat him with kid gloves.

      I’m sure that 50 years ago he probably wouldn’t have been diagnosed as autistic, but they’ve changed the definitions and they now seem to be quite trigger-happy with diagnosing children. It’s not as bad as it sounds, but I honestly don’t think he’s ready for the central gospel message yet.

  20. Thankyou Jock
    God has so many wonderful ways of revealing Himself and He knows our frame that we are but dust, As Spurgeon once said
    “He [God] tempers His wind to the shorn lamb.”such is His gentleness. For you and yours, May God guide your feet in the way of peace. Alan.


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