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Is God a ruthless exploiter of our talents?

Last Sunday’s gospel reading in the Revised Common Lectionary was the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25.14-30. The most popular interpretation of this is that God’s gives us abilities and gifts (‘talents’) and leaves us to get on with using them in fruitful and enterprising ways as responsible stewards until he returns and asks us to give an account of what we have done. So the moral is: do not bury your talents in the ground. There is an important and central corrective to this reading, which we will come to—but there is also a more radical reading which rejects the whole shape of this approach. This was expressed by a friend on Facebook last week:

The parable of the talents in today’s Gospel, and everywhere people will be exhorted to shine with God-given light lest in hiding it away they find themselves cast into outer darkness to gnash their teeth to the gums and such like. There’s a different angle; to me it’s all about the consequences of the ruthless exploitation of the powerless. I’ve always felt for the poor guy who buries his talent (library pictures) in the ground so it groweth not, and when his unattractive master returns he cops it for failing in enterprise – fired, like a hapless contestant on The Apprentice. But the ruthless master is surely not to be identified with Jesus, as preachers of v1 assume. It’s totally un-Matthean, and totally at odds with the God of the Hebrew Scriptures.

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Teaching the Whole Story of Scripture

Peter Thomas writes: All ministers want to encourage our congregations in the habits of daily devotional reading and personal Bible Study. To this end each week we publish the Bible passages for the following Sunday’s sermons. From time to time we let everybody choose from the wide variety of styles of Bible reading notes to try […]

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Sermon series: Signs of Life

Many churches take time out from the rhythm of the lectionary in order to focus on particular issues of faith and discipleship by having a sermon series on a specific theme. Quite a lot of work goes into planning and preparing these—so wouldn’t it be a good idea to share them?! The first of these […]

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Are evangelicals (right to be) paranoid?

There’s an old saying: ‘Just because you are paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.’ (Think about it…) Evangelical Anglicans are often accused of being a little paranoid about their place in the Church of England—but do they have any grounds for being so? I sent this letter to the Church Times […]

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Did Paul have a pastoral strategy?

The apostle Paul is not generally viewed as a pastor. Teaching, fearless advocate for the faith, traveller, apologist, pioneering church planter, yes—but pastor? As we read Paul’s letters, in some part because of our cultural distance, it is easy not to sense that we are encountering Paul the pastor. But the latest Grove Biblical booklet […]

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Is there hope for unbelieving Britain?

The article that caught my eye this week in the Church Times (which I read every week) was a fascinating reflection by Philip North, the bishop of Burnley, on his visits over the summer to three different Christian ‘festivals’. He visited: the Keswick Convention, a bastion of conservative evangelical devotion, shaped by free church evangelicals […]

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How do we make sense of the Beatitudes?

The Beatitudes—the collection of sayings that introduce the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in Matt 5, with their parallel in Luke 6—are amongst some of the most memorable of the teachings of Jesus. They are often cited as favourite texts, and are referred to as a key element of Jesus’ (challenging and puzzling) radical social ethics. […]

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Preaching: script or no script?

In 2014, Ed Miliband created some serious problems for himself and his credibility as Labour Party leader by failing to mention two key issues from his speech to the Labour Party conference in Manchester—one on immigration and the other on the budget deficit—and he later  admitted that he had forgotten his notes on the two topics […]

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Preaching and creativity

In my nearly ten years teaching preaching, and my 37 years of speaking and preaching, I have come to the conclusion that the best way of summarising the task of preaching (in whatever context) is answering the question: What is God saying to these people at this time through this text? This roots preaching in […]

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(How) should we proclaim bad news?

A little while ago, I preached on Isaiah chapter 1, and it challenged me to think through how we proclaim bad news in our preaching. I have generally observed a striking divide between theological traditions in relation to whether the gospel is in fact ‘good news’ (as the word ‘gospel’ tells us—a ‘good spell’ or word), […]

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