Tuesday, 2 January 2018

The Goldfish Bowl Trap: Part 2-Intellectualism

The nature of being a goldfish is that you can swim round and round thinking you’re making progress when actually you’re in a very contained environment that you can’t spot. My concern is that you see parts of the UK church, including those who have previously been great pioneers, increasingly falling into goldfish bowl traps-one that, although they think they are still pioneering, I suggest are ones they will ultimately result in them being inward looking and declining whilst they go round in ever less productive circles.

I started yesterday with discussing Trap 1-the misuse of the very biblical concept of the church being a community together. Now I want to move onto the second trap.

Trap 2: Intellectualism

Let me be honest. I’d like to think I’m not stupid. For what it’s worth, I’ve got a Master’s degree. Yet I see in some churches an increasingly intellectualised approach to the faith that is of concern-and in some cases in churches who previously had a very different approach to what they did.

Again, it’s important not to hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying every aspect of becoming mature in the faith involves a simplistic approach to theology or life. Books like the letter to the Romans contain some complex arguments that take thought and time to understand, together with the need for great teaching to help people understand and apply it. Yet ultimately most of Paul’s letters were intended to be read out in churches, to be understood and applied by all those in the church. They were not intended as a bonus for only the clever people to understand, nor were they an evangelistic tool to attract the ‘clever’ people and give the church some intellectual credibility with them.

It is important that Christians engage intelligently with their faith and be prepared to seek to answer the genuine questions that people have. However, there is a big difference between an intelligent approach and an intellectual approach. Great intelligent teaching can help people understand complex concepts from the use of just a few sentences. Equipping the saints to walk way from a meeting understanding something crucial but complex from just a few minutes teaching involves really gifted, intelligent approaches. However, intellectual approaches instead delight in stirring up complexity for its own sake and see a virtue in leaving people bamboozled.

What we see in some churches is an approach to teaching that, rather than being aimed at equipping a wide cross-section of believers, instead doesn’t regard teaching as being credible unless it has explored a wide range of philosophical, sociological and theological concepts, expressed these in complex ways, and preferably concludes with a good deal of ambiguity, so the hearer is left ‘with ‘x’ says this, ‘y’ says that, you figure it out’-a key problem being that the concepts haven’t been explained in a way that the majority of people can understand in the first place. (I could also add that this approach also often lets the preacher off the hook of doing the work of having to think and come to a conclusion themselves.)

In some churches, this intellectualised approach is seen as an evangelistic tool in arguing that it helps them attract students. This view has several problems with it including:
  a) It involves a rather curious, intellectualised, arts-centred approach to who students are. When you see other issues that are on students’ hearts, be it the environment or Corbyn’s Labour Party, it isn’t intellectualised speeches or writings that have generally produced this. Instead it’s big concepts and passions that have spoken to their heart. Moreover, particularly since the large expansion of higher education in recent years, a number of students are not from strong academic backgrounds. The idea that an intellectualised approach is needed to reach students owes more to a middle-class, Oxbridge view of the world than it does to the reality of student life today. The arts domination in this approach is also noticeable. The approach often involves seeking to apply philosophical and sociological concepts. It rarely involves deep consideration of scientific concepts.

b) The assumption that students are the key group to reach evangelistically is theologically questionable. It’s often said that the focus on students is because they are of an age that is most receptive to new ideas. If we really believe that salvation comes from the choice and initiative of God, and that therefore in the bible we see people from a wide range of ages from young to old coming to know Him, why the focus on students? Moreover, if you want to focus on young people, what about the non-academic young people who go straight into employment or other routes? Statistics show that 32% of young people attend university. That means 68%-2 out of every 3 young people don’t go to university. Yet you see few churches focussing on that other 68%. Can I suggest that the reason some churches focus on students is that they haven’t got much of a clue how to focus and reach any other group?

Let’s be intelligent in our faith, but use that in a way that expands people’s understanding and ability to follow Christ faithfully, not to delight in spreading uncertainty and confusion, and definitely let’s not leave people thinking you need a Master’s degree to understand the teaching

Monday, 1 January 2018

The Goldfish Bowl Trap

The nature of being a goldfish is that you can swim round and round thinking you’re making progress when actually you’re in a very contained environment that you can’t spot. My concern is that you see parts of the UK church, including those who have previously been great pioneers, increasingly falling into goldfish bowl traps-one that, although they think they are still pioneering, I suggest are ones they will ultimately result in them being inward looking and declining whilst they go round in ever less productive circles.

Over the next few days I want to highlight several of these traps.

Trap 1: All we need to be is community
There is no doubt. The church is the body of Christ, and being a body together has practical implications. We see in the book of Acts how the early church met from house to house, although they also regularly had big meetings together. The bible sets out that Christians should be known for how they love one another. In the Trinity itself we see a God who is in relationship.

However, what is being seen across a number of churches is that being a community together is the main thing, a desire to get away from having regular meetings focussed on worship and teaching, and instead working on the basis that it is seeing community that will draw people to God and that worship and mutual teaching will happen in the course of being a community.

Can I suggest that opposite tends to happen? That, without an intentionality to focus on worshipping God regularly, the passion to worship Him tends to decline (and that the opposite is also true-that focussing on worshipping Him and encountering His presence draws people to seeking Him further). That, without an intentionality to focus on teaching, the regularity of it decreases and that people do not grow in the faith and so their ability to apply what it means in practice to lead a godly life also decreases.

The early church was indeed a community, but it was a community that grew out of a desire to spend time together worshipping God, and the love and care that is part of being a community flowed from that.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

ABC-Austerity, Brexit and Charlie Gard

If there's a key word of the last 12 months, it's been 'populism'. A word that, depending upon your view of the issue at hand, is said either with a cheer of triumph or through gritted teeth.

The odd thing is, the ones who are most likely to be saying it through gritted teeth, are often the ones who talk most about the need for the empowerment of ordinary people against the establishment-the need for the working class to stop being dominated by the needs of the rich elites. Yet, in issues like Brexit in the UK and Trump in the US, the response to ordinary people feeling empowered, participating in the voting system and expressing their views in large numbers is 'wrong answer you uneducated people Go back to the starting square whilst we explain the right way to you'.

The fundamental contradiction in such responses is that they say they want ordinary people to be empowered, but only if they come up with the correct answer. For example, contrast the response to the unexpected success of the Brexit campaign to the unexpected relative success of Jeremy Corbyn in the election. The latter, also based on a part of the population that do not normally vote-young people-coming out in large numbers is seen as a triumph of empowering a disenfranchised group rather than an uninformed gaggle who have disrupted the predicted outcome.

Populism is seen as being an unintelligent, casual disregard for knowledge and evidence. See for example, the comments of Professor David Rothkopf-'Donald Trump has won power because his supporters are threatened by what they don't understand, and what they don't understand is almost everything'. Populism is seen as some kind of mindless disregard for the 'expert', a lack of care for evidence and knowledge.

Yet is that the case? Could it be that what people are really tired of is people saying 'trust us, we're the experts', without them bothering to engage in debate, explain in ordinary people's language why they believe something to be the right way forward, and be seen to have the humility to listen and adjust their positions when ordinary people make a valid point.

This unwillingness to explain was seen during the referendum when the EU and the government basically ran their campaign on the basis of 'trust us. Leaving will be a disaster', without engaging with the real concerns expressed by people and seeking to address them. It has been seen all the more so in the EU's response since the referendum when they could have stood back, looked at the result and said 'we have failed to engage and make our case to ordinary people. We have failed to address their concerns. How can we learn from this and make adjustments to rescue this situation?' Instead they just continue to adopt the approach of 'any right-thinking person would support the EU' and look haughtily down at those with a different view.

If I'm honest, I think we saw a politer, more toned-down example of 'trust us. we're the experts' in the Conservatives’ approach to the last election. Theresa May's stance was 'trust me. You need a steady pair of hands at this time. We need to continue with austerity' and made no attempt to explain or win hearts and minds beyond that. Small wonder we saw a different form of populism emerge in response and vote for Corbyn.

Right at this moment, we see another example of the ‘trust us. We're the experts' approach in the Charlie Gard case. I'm not pretending there are any easy answers on this tragic case, but what does concern me is the approach reported taken by medical staff in this and too many other cases (and I'm not at all pretending the issue is easy for them). which is 'trust us. We're the experts' when the best interests process is far more meant to be about all those who know a person well engaging together and reaching a common view. Clearly that will not always be possible, but neither does that mean in such situations that the 'experts' view prevails.

Am I arguing against the importance of expertise? Absolutely not. But I am saying that part of the responsibility of being an expert is that you engage with the public, explain your positions in ordinary language as much as possible, be seen to adjust your position in response to valid argument (even if it isn't put in the kind of technical language you might be used to) and, perhaps most importantly, be seen to act with grace when you lose an argument. Do not, like Hillary Clinton, dismiss those with different views as 'a bunch of deplorables'. (Any surprise that those deplorables, once you'd insulted them, then decided not to change their mind and vote for you Hillary?)

We need experts, but we need them in order to bring wisdom to debates that engage large numbers of ordinary people, not who use ordinary people as cannon fodder until they reach the right decision.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

No room at the inn, but the living room was available

One of the biggest traps in reading the bible is to do so with the twin filters of our 21st century western mindset and the wrong interpretations  we've inherited from history-and the story of the birth of Jesus is one of the biggest examples of such a trap.

We've all grown up with the story-Joseph with Mary, heavily pregnant and about to give birth, arriving in Bethlehem on a donkey, to be told that the inn was full and so she had to give birth in a stable, a birth that soon had visits from shepherds and wise men. No doubt many parents, and church members generally, will see this scene acted out this week. It's so familiar, but is it the story the bible teaches?

Before I go further, I must acknowledge the debt I owe to Kenneth Bailey's book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, which first highlighted to me a number of the points which follow.

Firstly a minor point, there is no mention of a donkey in any of the gospels. Mary and Joseph may or may not have travelled on a donkey. We just don't know.

The more important point is in what happened to Mary and Joseph when they arrived in Bethlehem, Our usual understanding is that there was no room at the inn. However, consider this:

1. Would people from the Middle East be likely to leave a heavily pregnant woman without anywhere to stay? Even today, the sense of community that still exists in much of the Middle East would mean it would be regarded as a matter of shame to leave such a woman without anywhere to sleep and for her to end up giving birth in a stable. Even in our western culture, a woman about to give birth would be a matter of concern for many people if she had nowhere to go, and many would offer to help.

2. Both Joseph and Mary had family connections in the area. Joseph was returning to the town where his family originated. It would have been regarded as a matter of duty to house even a distant relative if he turned up in a town. Mary too had relatives in the broad vicinity. We know that she had previously been to visit Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea. Bethlehem is in the centre of Judea. In an emergency, Elizabeth's home would have been somewhere to divert to.

3. Joseph and Mary are likely to have had time to make arrangements for the birth. The bible does not suggest that Mary arrived in Bethlehem already about to give birth. Luke 2:6 states that, whilst they were in Bethlehem, 'the time came for her to give birth'. This could have been several days or more after their arrival.

So what did it mean when the bible states there was no room at the inn? To understand this, we have to understand the housing of the time, including the housing of animals. Simple family homes often had only two rooms. One was effectively a guest room. The other, larger room was a family room where the family ate, slept and lived. Only rich people had separate stables to keep animals in at night. Most people had a part of their living room that was lower by several feet, and it was into here where animals were driven at night. At the edge of the raised section  where the family lived, there would be several managers, at the right height for animals to be able to eat from at night.

The other aspect we need to understand is what is meant by 'inn'. The Greek word used in the story is katalyma.  This is not the word used for a commercial inn. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the injured man is taken to a  panndocheion, which is a commercial inn. Katalyma simply means 'a place to stay'. Luke 22 uses katalyma when, at the time of the Last Supper Jesus asked 'where is the guest room where I am to eat the passover?' If Luke used katalyma to mean 'guest room' in Luke 22, it seems reasonable to assume he also used it with this meaning in Luke 2:7, where we are told that Jesus was placed in a manger because the guest room was full.

What looks likely to have been the case was that, when Joseph and Mary arrived, the guest rooms in all houses were full because people were already staying in it (probably due to the census) and so a family, recognising their duty to care for both a relative and a heavily pregnant woman, invited Joseph and Mary to join them in the family room. When Jesus was born. Mary, away from anything she had prepared at her own home, used the manger to put the baby in as it was next to where she was.

Finally, consider the wise men, It is firstly interesting to note that Matthew tells us that, when they arrived, they entered  the house where they saw Mary and the baby, underlying that Mary and Joseph had somewhere to stay, but the other key question is when did they arrive? We're told in Luke 2 that the shepherds arrived the same day as Jesus was born, but for the wise men no such date is given. What we do know in Luke 2:16 that Herod, when he realised that he had been tricked by the wise men, ordered that all of the boys aged under 2 were to be killed. If the wise men had arrived the night of the birth, even allowing a few weeks/months for Herod to realise that the wise men were not returning, why did he order boys under 2 to be killed? Why not boys under 1? The most likely explanation would seem to be that the wise men visited Jesus some months after his birth.

So, rather than a pregnant woman arriving on a donkey being left out in the cold by a heartless inn keeper and an equally heartless community, we instead have the community, very likely to be poor, and full of people visiting for the census, doing their best to do their duty, and a family placing their own small home under greater pressure by finding a place for the woman and her husband to stay and also where she could give birth.

An often overlooked message of the incarnation is how it reinforces that the church is to be a community, and one that especially cares for the poor, even when it is inconvenient.

Many churches care deeply about being biblically accurate, even when it involves putting to one side cherished traditions and misconceptions. It would be great to see that principle applied to how nativity stories are told and acted out.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

The Global Radio of worship

Global Radio is a UK media group that owns stations such as Capital, Heart, and Smooth Radio. It is known for running very tightly formatted stations that play a relatively small number of songs regularly throughout the day and encourage their presenters to only give short links between the music. BBC national stations in contrast, whilst they do have their own formats, tend to play a much more diverse range of music and encourage their presenters to be creative. For example, in the last 30 days, Smooth Radio played 797 different tracks whilst its main rival BBC Radio Two played 4222 different tracks. All this information can be found at http://comparemyradio.com/compare where much fun can be had comparing all kinds of different stations. (Pause whilst my wife says I'm sad for finding such sites fascinating.) 
I would argue that the biblical approach to worship* involves something far closer to the BBC approach, but too many churches have worship that is closer to Global Radio. The bible sets out that worship when the church comes together is meant to be a creative experience with everyone having different gifts they can contribute. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says 'when you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation'. That suggests that each time a church worships together, there should be different elements in the mix, as different people bring different contributions as the Spirit leads. The same should be true with songs with the Bible again showing a huge range of diversity as a model. Psalms alone has 150 different expressions of it, with others scattered throughout the bible. On that basis, we should seek to be diverse and creative in the songs we sing. 
 However, I would have to say that the experience I come across in many churches is different. Like many people who have been Christians for any length of time I have upwards of several hundred worship songs in my memory. I might need the words projected on a screen to jog my memory to the lyrics of some, but I would recognise them in an instant. However, go to many churches for three or four weeks and you will hear the same 15-20 songs being used week after week. This isn't just a concern over lack of creativity. I think it also affects how the congregation engages with worship. Am I the only one who finds it incredibly difficult to keep my concentration, or for lyrics to speak meaningfully to me, when I am singing a song for the eighth time in the last ten weeks? 
 A similar concern exists over to what degree the principle of every having a contribution to bring is reflected in many churches, and there is a responsibility both on those leading worship and those in the congregation in this regard.  
 For those leading worship, it is so important to leave space between songs to allow contributions to come out. It is so frustrating during worship times when the aspect in relation to the songs is great, but songs are all it consists of. As soon as one songs finishes, the next starts, with no room for anyone to participate (or a variation, even more frustrating, is when there is a pause between songs for the worship leader to pray aloud themselves, but to then immediately launch into another song without waiting to see if anyone else wants to contribute). 
 A key plea to worship leaders in this regard is, please don't be afraid of silence-and from the times I've led worship myself I know how difficult it can be to judge how long to leave a silence, but those silences fulfil two important purposes: 
a) even for those of us who are used to bringing contributions, it can take a few seconds to open our mouths whilst we try and figure out 'is this the right moment to bring this? Does it fit with the flow and themes of the worship at this point? Have I got this right?' It can be really frustrating to have taken a moment to ask these questions, only to find that before you can open your mouth, the worship leader has decided that, as there has been more than five seconds of silence, they had better start another song. This is all the more important in encouraging those unused to bringing contributions to step out, as they may well need more time to pluck up their boldness and speak. 
b) it is in silence that new phases of how the Holy Spirit is moving in a meeting can sometimes develop. People starting to sing out in tongues, or a more general sense of the Holy Spirit at work develops. These sometimes take moments of silence for them to emerge and grow. 
 However I did say that there was also a responsibility on those in the congregation, and that is in believing that God really meant what He said in saying that when we come together, every one of us has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation, and that bringing these contributions is so that the church may be built up. If you are someone who does not regularly contribute during your church's worship times, can I encourage you to believe with confidence that God really does equip you during worship to have something to bring, and that what God is giving you to bring is something that the church needs to hear in order to be built up. 
 We have an endlessly creative God and we should reflect that in our worship (even if you like Global Radio). 
 * In raising the subject of worship, I'm aware that some will argue that worship is a seven days a week, whole life issue and not just about a church meeting-and I agree with them. However, the Bible does set out the particular benefits, and importance of, worshipping together, and the expectation that God will give us all gifts to use during such times. Some have adopted the term 'sung worship' to differentiate this from 'whole life seven days a week worship'. I've avoided using 'sung worship' in this article, for the reason that it falls into the trap of suggesting that worship together is all about songs whereas, as discussed above, it is about bringing many more gifts than just song.   

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Think theology everybody!

Over the last few months I've become a member of several apologetics discussion boards. With a small number of exceptions, I've been shocked and depressed at the poor quality of debate. Too often it seems to consist of people trading the same lines-and, worse, insults-time and time again, and issues just go round in circles. There is little sense of people genuinely trying to get to grips with biblical truth and seeking to argue it in a persuasive way.

However, one discussion particularly caught my attention. Someone-who said they were a Christian-was arguing that what they labelled 'creationists' were not real Christians and were a fringe cult due to believing in 'creation' and this meant that they were delusional and brainwashed.

Creation and evolution is a whole other subject. What struck me was that the author had totally misunderstood what makes someone a Christian. A Christian is someone who knows that their only basis of salvation is by faith in God that, entirely through through His grace and kindness, we are made clean and holy by Jesus dying in our place. What we believe about creation is important, as are what we believe about many other things, but it has nothing to do with our salvation.

What struck me even more was that none of the Christians in the discussion picked up on this issue-that the author had fundamentally misunderstood what makes someone a Christian. Instead they launched in a debate about different creation vs evolution perspectives.

Would that this was the only example of missing the point, but it isn't. I remember some years ago a Christian magazine ran a letter from someone arguing that Christians should not use transport but should walk everywhere. In support of this they quoted Colossians 2:6 'As you have received Christ Jesus, so walk in Him'. As if that wasn't bizarre enough, the next issue ran letters in response from several Christians, all arguing along the lines of 'what about people who live in villages and need transport to travel? God would understand'. None of the letters said 'the writer of the original letter has misunderstood the verse. This is theological nonsense'. The next issue of the magazine ran a letter of response from the original contributor, saying that he had concerns over the poor level of theological understanding of many Christians and so deliberately written the letter, knowing it was a total misunderstanding of the verse, to test out what sort of responses would be sent-and was the fact that no one had picked up on the misuse of the verse only confirmed his concerns.

One of the reasons for this lack of being able to understand the truth and use it well is that in too many churches, even ones that passionately believe in biblical truth, having a real foundation of understanding is seen as something for leaders. What we see in the bible is very different. A letter like Romans which is one of the most key books in the bible in giving an understanding of salvation by grace not law, but which uses complex arguments to make its point, was not addressed to leaders. Instead it says in chapter one that the letter is 'to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints'. The same applies across most of the other letters. They are sent, not to leaders, but to the church as a whole in particular towns. Grasping hold of great truth was seen as the normal expectation of being a believer in Christ.

This fact was being addressed in some places in recent decades. In some families of churches, it looked like the issue of making sure Christians had a good theological understanding-a good basis of what they believed and why-was taken seriously. There was a new expectation that making sure people were taught well was a normal part of maturing as a Christian but I think there is a danger of the tide turning and it is something we need to pay attention to.

In the last few years, I've been conscious of a growing assumption that it's really only leaders who can be expected to understand theology well. Websites and events have sprung up that, although not labelled as just being for leaders, have operated in different ways with the assumption that only leaders would want to participate and, in some cases, have only allowed leaders to contribute articles to sites, not leaving any space for others to debate or discuss what is said. I've also picked up a growing trend of comments along the lines of 'people in our churches wouldn't be aware of/be interested in the debate on issue x', which begs the question 'what does it say about the level of teaching/maturity in your church that you think that most people in it have no interest in sound theology?'

The bible takes the opposite view. Yes, it sets out that leaders have a core responsibility to lay foundations of biblical truth, but not with the aim of them being the only ones who can understand such truth. Rather, Ephesians 4:11-12 says that Christ gave key leadership gifts 'to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine'. The purpose of sound teaching from leaders is so that people become mature and learn to recognise truth from falsehood for themselves.

It is so important to promote a culture where understanding a sound foundation of biblical truth, and being able to apply it in life and explain it to others, is the normal expectation of all believers, not the preserve of leaders.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Hide and Sex

It was the footnote that made me sit up and take notice. I was reading Ezekiel 16 where God is pronouncing judgement on Israel, calling her his bride whom he had loved and cared for, but who had been unfaithful. In verse 25, he says 'at the head of every street you made your beauty an abomination, offering yourself to any passer-by'. However, 'offering yourself' had a footnote next to it which said that the actual phrase in Hebrew was 'spreading your legs' to every passer-by.

Now this was the English Standard Version of the Bible that I was reading, one that places a high value on accurate translation, and yet the translators had chosen to replace the accurate 'spreading your legs' with the more discreet 'offering yourself'-even though the actual words were entirely intended to have the shocking impact which they carry-which has to beg the question 'why?'. The only conclusion I can come to is that the translators were concerned that readers would find the phrase too shocking, which reflects a much wider problem the church has-that in a world that is on one level obsessed with sex, and yet on another level is messed up and confused about it, the church and Christians are all too often too embarrassed and confused themselves to boldly speak into society about it.

When the subject of sex comes up in church settings-and it comes up all too rarely-it is put into 'safe' boundaries. It is put into a separate seminar that people choose to attend if they wish, or put into a youth group discussion. If sex comes up at all in a Sunday morning preach, it is usually surrounded by cushions of 'I'm sorry if anyone is embarrassed by this but …' and is moved on from as quickly as possible. All this reinforces a notion that sex is somehow a shameful or embarrassing subject.

The Bible knows no such boundaries. It devotes a whole book, the Song of Songs, to a couple expressing sexual desire for one another. Large parts of Leviticus deal with the approach under old covenant law to all kinds of sexual issues-without any warning to the effect of 'we're going to talk about sex now. If you think you might be offended you can stop reading if you want to'. In Proverbs 5, warning of the dangers of adultery and exhorting men to rejoice in their wives, it says 'let her breasts at all times fill you with delight'. The only boundary the Bible sets is that sex is for a husband and wife within marriage, and indeed is a core part of the 'one flesh' that constitutes marriage, but within that boundary it sets out what a huge delight it is.

And lest anyone reading this think that the Bible in examples like the above just reflect men being obsessed with sex, one of the principles in the Bible that desperately needs to be taught clearly is that it presents sexual desire as something that is equally normal and good for both men and for women. One of the facts that is striking about the Song of Songs is that the man and the woman both equally express their desire and fantasies about one another. The apostle Paul in writing to the Corinthian church assumes that sexual pleasure is something a wife should expect from her husband every bit as much as a husband from a wife. In 1 Corinthians 7 he says: 'The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband', and then goes on to say 'do not deprive one another'.

This very issue, of sex being intended to be something of delight for both the husband and the wife, is one reason why Christians and the church need to ensure that sex is something that is discussed and taught on without embarrassment as part of normal day to day life. People come into the church with all kinds of history and perspectives on sex. Even for those who have grown up in a church background there can be all kinds of wrong teaching that has given false guilt about sex, and for some, tragically and appallingly, abuse in their past for which a godly perspective on sex is key to restoration and healing.

Couples can often struggle on, thinking that they are the only ones with difficulties on a particular sexual issue, when a church with a biblical attitude to sex can promote a culture of openness between friends and in the church community, where they can find others who've worked through the same issue and found solutions.

Sex was one of God's greatest gifts in creation. Part of the church's calling lies in restoring an understanding of just what that means.

(Thanks to my wife for her input and advice on this post.)