What They Didn’t Teach Me At Cambridge


I was discussing the concept of self sacrifice with a class on Thursday, and I inquired, “Who has given something up for Lent?” I was immediately asked, “What’s Lent?” I have commented on the increasing lack of religious and biblical literacy of our society before, but some of the gaps in knowledge are now even encroaching on “British” cultural knowledge itself.

Yes, a year ago I wrote about the skewing of understanding of Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) and how the original intention of removing luxury ingredients from the home by making pancakes on the eve of Lent had morphed into “let’s run out and but some eggs and butter” to make pancakes. But now, to find several students who didn’t have a concept of Lent itself.

This led to a re-examination of the central question “Why self-denial?” One student reflected that giving up chocolate or assorted other niceties was “Stupid to do for no reason.”

This in turn led to an examination of Jesus’ self-denial in the passion week.  Scourging, and crucifixion seem far more extreme than giving up some Dairy Milk. Was this for “no reason.” Eventually a few flickering ten-Watt bulbs stared to appear, and as time went on a few good 100 Watt understandings came to life.

But, 20 minutes of a lesson is now needed to introduce foundational concepts, that only a few years ago we could take for granted in the knowledge base of our learners.  This is what Cambridge (and my undergraduate training as well) failed to prepare me for.  I read Biblical Studies, Theology, and Ecclesiastical History – not “how to harness of fire.”  Well with these little flames of understanding beginning to be kindled, maybe next lesson I can start inventing the wheel.



Cod with Capers, Garlic, and Spinach

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This is a super tasty fish dish which has some strong but wonderful flavours. It is a little time consuming but not outside what many home cooked meals are. It makes yet another Friday Fish option.


  • Cod 1 large fillet, about 250 to 300 g
  • Tomato Paste 2 Tbs
  • Garlic 2 cloves
  • Capers 1 Tbs
  • Baby Leaf Spinach 1 heaped cup raw
  • Olive Oil 1 Tbs
  • Ground Black Pepper large pinch
  • Tomato 1 (optional)


Line an oven dish with foil leaving enough excess to make a “tent.” Spread oil onto the foil, and place the fish skin side down. In a food processor blitz the spinach, garlic, capers, and pepper then stir in the tomato paste. Spread the mixture evenly over the fish and seal foil.  Place into a pre-heated 200 C/ 395 F oven for 20 minutes. Then open foil to expose fish (placing 1/2 a cut tomato on each half – if used) and raise heat to 220 C/ 425 F for an additional 5 to 7 minutes.  Cut fish into two even portions, and dish up with a scapula. Serve with peas, and potatoes.



Publish and Perish


Pastor Matthew Winters recently asked Why Do People Dismiss the Parables of Jesus? He challenged theologians to discuss why ” people cut and paste the parables of Jesus in order to teach their theological system such as dismiss the thought of a literal hell or relating the conditional love of God the Father to the father of the prodigal son because it is a parable.”

I have had many Biblical Studies and Theology professors in my day.  Some were traditional, evangelical, and on fire for God.  Others were Philosophers in “sheep’s clothing.” I had one Rabbi professor who took an entirely literary approach to scripture. Others have had the “publish or perish” maxim so ingrained in them that they were quick in the name of theology, and to “make their unique contribution to the field of study” that they forgot that those who profess the Gospel are accountable for those teachings – “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).”

As a theologian, I take the approach that the parables are divinely given.  They should be first and foremost read in context of Jesus’ following explanations, or by the questions of others which prompted them [“who is my neighbour,” etc.].  These are not mere fictions (many hold them to be fabrications of Jesus as a rabbi), but as accounts given not only as familiar life events of His hearers, but as actual “true life” accounts.  While the “Rich man and Lazarus” is a great teaching tool for a call to social justice, concern for the welfare of others, and of the folly of greed – it also is a “true” account of the gulf between heaven and hell – of the “Bosom of Abraham,” and the place of torment.

Those who presume to alter the teachings of Jesus for their own doctrinal advantage, or intellectual and academic advancement may well “publish and perish.”

It is worth thinking about.


“Who is My Neighbour?”

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Photo credit: Nottingham City

A study which came out on Tuesday found that most people in the UK would not be able to pick their own neighbours out of a police line-up. More people saw their associations to be greater with work colleagues, than with those with whom they lived near.

The breakdown of civil society has been bemoaned for years, but the 21st Century increasingly is an age of isolation, in which extended families are replaced by nuclear units, and increasingly by single-parent homes. Families do not interact as communities, and even “neighbourhood watch” schemes seem to function as personal “insurance policies” rather than as community concerns. Our children increasingly are “indoor beings” as we have pushed our mistrust of all those outside our inner circles to a “realism” of every adult being a pedophile or at least an axe-murderer. No wonder we can’t recognise our neighbours.

While the message of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan has far broader implications, it nonetheless calls for us to address the question, “Who is our neighbour?”

“But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10: 29-37, NIV).”

The essential unity and brotherhood of all humanity is the key theme of Jesus’ parable.  We are not to focus on what divides us, but what unifies us. It was the humanitarian actions of the Samaritan that made him “good.”

It has been written that “no man is an island.” This is equally true that no family is an island as well.  We live within communities, and literal neighbourhoods. All too often, though we, as noted above, shut ourselves off. We are so caught up in our worlds of “us” and “them,” that we miss out on the positives of our shared humanity.

Can you identify your neighbour in a line-up? Do you know your neighbours’ needs? Do we pass by those who are in distress, homeless, or just lonely? Are we Samaritans or “priests and Levites?”





The Anabaptists: Quotes and Reflections


The Anabaptist Movement of Central Europe began in the shadow of the Protestant Reformation, yet was at odds with both the Lutheran and Calvinist reformers.  The movement gave birth to the current Mennonite, Amish, German Baptist, and Hutterite churches, and greatly influenced the fledgling English Baptists of the 17th Century.

The most obvious characteristic of the movement was the use of believer’s baptism and the shunning of pedeobaptism. Less well known is the movement’s rejection of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination.

On this latter point the Calvinist John Knox commented, “Ye [Anabaptists] be proud contemners of the free grace of God offered to man in Christ Jesus. For with the Pelagians and Papists ye are become teachers of free will, and defenders of your own righteousness.”

While the belief of free will and the “universal” offer of grace by God were Anabaptist tenets, Knox’s assertion seems to stand at odds with Anabaptist, Balthasar Hubmaier’s  (1480 – 1528 ) statement, “Grace comes to us, not out of us, so that no one can boast in himself but in the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This grace leads to spiritual enlightenment, as a gift of God, or as Ludwig Haetzer (1500-1529) phrased it, “No man, no matter how learned he may be, can understand the holy writings until he comes to know them and learns them in the most inward part of his soul.” 

This understanding leads to the mirroring of the example of Jesus. “No one can truly know Christ unless they follow him in life.”Hans Denck (1495 – 1527).

This following of Jesus’ example was not seen to be salvation by works, or an act of self righteousness. “True Christians are those who carry out Christ’s doctrine in their lives,” said Michael Sattler (1490 –  1527). This carrying out of God’s doctrines was an imperative, not to be saved, but because one is saved.  As Conrad Grebel (1498–1526) put it, “The teaching of the Lord has been given for the purpose of being put into practice.” In fact, Menno Simons (1496 – 1561) said, “True evangelical faith is of such a nature it cannot lie dormant, but spreads itself out in all kinds of righteousness and fruits of love . . .” 

This vibrant nature of evangelical faith was a call to spread the gospel.  This was no mere “knowing about God,” but actually coming to know Him. See Haetzer’s statement again, “No man, no matter how learned he may be, can understand the holy writings until he comes to know them and learns them in the most inward part of his soul.” And once learned in our own souls, “What we need to do is teach one another to know God.” Hans Denck (1495 – 1527).

There is much to learn from the devoted lives, and teaching of these early reformers.  While not all will agree with all of their doctrines, they do nonetheless give us a perspective on faith.  And in examining their thoughts, we may well need to examine our own more closely.








Meeting Waterloo

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Lion Mount

The name of this village in Belgium has become a watchword for failure and defeat. Meeting one’s Waterloo is an allusion to Napoleon who was the envy of Europe, had been exiled, but made a return in 1815. He was staging his ultimate comeback, but faced the combined armies of Britain, The Netherlands, Prussia, and Belgium on the farmland near this small Belgian village.

We had the opportunity to visit this famous place of conflict. For those accustomed to American Civil War battlefields, or even some of the better preserved World Wars Sites in Europe, Waterloo has little to offer except “a sense of place.”

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The Lion from the Village

Yes there is the Lion’s Mound built to commemorate the allied victory.  There are a few statues of Napoleon, and a museum.  For the bicentenary an addition British statue was commissioned at Hougoumont Farm.

That said, key locations of the battle are still identifiable, and there is some signage, but not like places such as Gettysburg where every movement and unit location is marked, to give a sense of the flow of events. That said, the site is not obscured by hundreds of monuments either.

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Again many “well preserved” battlefields around the world have period-style fencing and trench lines, etc., but two centuries of life and farming have left this area more “vague” as to how it would have been in that day in June 1815. For a better “feel” of the actual battle a visit to the panorama is a must.

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Hougoumont Farm

This is a worthwhile place to visit for anyone interested in the Napoleonic Wars, or history more generally.


Visitor Centre link

Risen 2016 (A Review)

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Risen Sony Pictures

I don’t remember having done a film review previously on this site. That said, I do find “Jesus Flicks” an interesting genre, and I generally have a mixed reaction to them, both as a Christian, and as one who enjoys cinema. So here is my attempt as a reviewer.

The 2016 movie, Risen, is one of these mixed reaction pieces.  First of all, this is a film of two halves. In the first section, which is very engaging it is a “Cop Drama.” Set in Judea at the close of Jesus’ ministry, a Roman Tribune, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) returns from dealing with an insurgency to be immediately tasked by Pontius Pilate to go finish dealing with the crucifixion of Yeshua.  All done and dusted, Clavius’ rest is again disrupted by an urgent need to pacify the religious hierarchy, by sealing the grave of this Yeshua.

As we need no spoiler alert, the tomb is found to be empty and the tribune begins an investigation to locate the missing corpse. A great deal of standard police work follows, with interviews with witnesses (including Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, and Bartholomew). Snitches are hired, and stake outs set up.  All to no avail. UNTIL  . . .

We enter into the film’s second theme – spiritual awakening. Fiennes follows Magdalene to an upper room where he encounters the same man he had crucified, and had sealed into a tomb. Much of what follows stays on the periphery of the biblical account, with the Roman shadowing the disciples to the shores of Sea of Galilee.  All the references are clear to the biblically literate, up to and including the ascension.

While I found the police plot engaging and Fiennes character believable, there are many “religious” points which I find worthy of comment. The Romans are portrayed not as some post-modern atheistic robots, or as sadistic bullies, but as religious men true to their own beliefs and culture. Clavius is shown to be a devotee of Mars, and Pilate of Minerva.

There are some assumptions made on the Christianity front, however, that may well irritate some. Mary Magdalene is shown as a prostitute. While this does have roots in Christian tradition, it is not a clearly stated fact in scripture. Even as tradition it is problematic though, as the film has her still plying her trade even as a disciple.

Catholic iconography also features, with the police investigation gathering evidence including the burial clothes, which bear the marks of the Shroud of Turin.

As far as cinematography goes, the ascension scene has very poor CGI, and fails to capture the biblical glory.

All in all it is an okay use of 100 or so minutes.  It is respectful to Christianity, even if it runs into cliches; and the first half is a really clever twist on the jaded police drama.


Sage and Onion Sausage Wraps

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Here is another cabbage wrapped dish which makes for a pork based variation of the steamed parcels theme.  Allowing for the use of white cabbage, we have found that the “delivery method” does not interfere with the overall savoury sausage flavour.

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  • Pork Sausage Meat (approx 150 g) or 2 large sausages with skins removed
  • Cabbage Leaves 5
  • Red Onion 1/2
  • Dried Sage 1/4 – 1/2 tsp (depending on taste)
  • Salt 2 pinches
  • Water 1 Tbs
  • Oil 1 Tbs

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In a pot bring water to a boil and parboil four cabbage leaves till soft (30 seconds). Set leaves aside. Finely dice the remaining cabbage leaf, and the onion, and fry in oil and a pinch of salt until translucent to mildly carmalised. Add a tablespoon of water while frying if necessary. Set aside to cool for about 5 minutes.  Take sausage meat and add the sage and remaining salt.  Work the herb well into the meat.  Then add the slightly cooled onion and roll into 4 elongated meatballs. Place each meatball into the centre of a cabbage leaf and roll into a parcel staring at the thicker bottom end.  Place into a steamer and cook for 20-25 minutes, until cabbage is completely tender.


Ἡ φιλαδελφία μενέτω


Let’s face it, families can be difficult. I have in my time been disappointed by and with siblings, and other near relatives.  And I am sure that I have been more than a bit of a let down to them as well, at least from time to time.  I may not always like what my nearest and dearest do, and some times maybe not even like them much. But, I do always love them.

Our spiritual family is no different.  I have over the years been let down by brethren and I have felt alienated over minor perceived slights, or trivial doctrinal points. But they remain my brothers and sisters in Christ. I continue to love them.

The Hebrews writer saw this. He reminded the church to “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters (Hebrews 13:1).” This unending compassion and concern for our spiritual family is at the heart of our fellowship. While it is our relationship with our older brother, the First Born -Jesus, that is central, He prayed that we His followers, and siblings be united as He and the Father are united. In fact in John 13 He states, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another (vs 34).”

The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is an excellent tool.  We often get caught up with the lost son who squandered his inheritance. What isn’t always so apparent is that his elder brother is lost too.  Yes, he remained at home, he was hard working, and loyal to his father.  What he lacked was that “brotherly love” of Hebrews 13.

In verses 25f we read;

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28 The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours [not “my brother”] who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

The message is clear, we should be as happy with the return of our “disappointing” brothers as much as the Father is. Further, they need not even have strayed in any spiritual way.  If we find fault we should seek to be reconciled especially when the cause of estrangement may be down to us.  Remember none of us is perfect.

As I close this, I pray that I am open and loving to all my brothers and sisters. I ask that I be ever mindful of their feelings and needs.  I ask that, I never be the cause of division.  And that we all  strive to “Let brotherly love continue.”




Boethius (Some Reflections)


When I was doing my MA in history, my research focus was on social and especially religious history.  My original course supervisor suggested that I direct my thesis research on Boethius.  [To be fair this did not go far, as my professor died in the next term, and my study moved from late antiquity to early modern as I had to fit in with the research interests of my new advisor]. I found in my brief encounter with this late Roman/Early Italian philosopher and statesman some great theological insights that would help me as my career has progressed.

“A man content to go to heaven alone will never go to heaven.” This wonderful quote is one of my favourites, as it clearly shows the heart and spirit of evangelism, the great commission, and of Christian service.  Our salvation, is not greedy.  Our relationship with God, and His people is at the forefront of our Christian lives.  Salvation (despite what many Puritan-age evangelists stressed) is not the do all and end all of our walk with Christ. It in the end is about love.  Paul writes:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthiand 13: 4-7).”

Another useful aspect of Boethius’ thought was is handling of foreknowledge and free will. To Boethius, God’s foreknowledge is not the cause of future events happening. His awareness of them does not dictate them. A human pulls a trigger. God knows that he will do so.  God from the beginning of time knew.  But that is not the same as God wanting him to, or making him do it.  The cause is human free will.

Let’s look at it this way, you see two cars travelling in opposite directions at high speed on a narrow road.  It is obvious to you as the observer that the crash must necessarily occur.  Does your knowledge of the inevitable make you the author of the crash?  Of course not.  Nor does God’s foreknowledge make you agree with this statement, or reject it. That choice is yours.

So it must be, according to Boethius, the free will of people that causes human evil (war, murder, pollution). Boethius believed that God observes the entirety of time in “an eternal present.”  Boethius explained “eternal” to mean a perpetual “now” for God, rather than everlasting process.  As such, God is eternal, and in that state not subject to time. He is the observer from this vantage point of present, past and future. But in this all knowing, all seeing perspective, He leaves the choices to His creation.

This does not diminish God’s other attributes of omnipotence, and omnibenevolence.  Herein lies the Epicurean Dilemma, but that is outside the scope of this present posting.  Let me close then with the assertion of Boethius, that we are free moral agents.  As such, we have a God-given opportunity to choose right over wrong.  Boethius held on to this as the only sensible way to account for the Biblical warnings of judgement.  How can one be judged for doing what they were meant to do?  The answer is, that would be unjust.  God is, however, the author not of sin, but of justice.  As such the failings are ours not His.

I hope to return to this at a later date, and to attempt to tackle Epicurus as well.