I’m reading an intriguing book at the moment written by a V.M.Straka, called ‘The Ship of Theseus’. It is the story of a man known simply as ‘S’ who finds himself shanghaied upon a strange ship with a sinister crew. The catch is he has no idea who he is or how he got there. His memories are all blank. The story is a fun read, but on its own is not dramatically original. There is, however, much more going on here than at first meets the eye.

The book appears to be an old library book. The pages are old, as is the cover. On the side is a library sticker, accompanied by stamps on the inside of the cover. This book has been well read. The foreward by an F. X. Caldiera tells of another mystery, that of the real identity of The Ship of Theseus’ author. Just who was Straka? Straka is described as a revolutionary character, political and dangerous, and a number of suggestions are made as to his identity. These are further explored by Caldiera in the footnotes. It also transpires that Caldiera was Straka’s translator, but never met him.

There is, however, yet another mystery afoot here. Scribbled all over the margins of the book are messages by two students, Jennifer, a college senior and Eric, a disgraced grad student. They haven’t met and have got caught in the mystery of the book and its author and in turn communicate their theories and ideas to each other. They suspect that Straka’s book is in fact trying to communicate something about who he is, and that Caldiera is trying to send a coded message to him through the footnotes. Are you managing to keep up? To make it even more entertaining still, there are various items slotted into the book – scraps of paper, old postcards, photographs, even a paper napkin upon which a message is written. As you read the book you go on a journey with them as they seek to elucidate what the book and its footnotes are really about and just who Straka is. As they do so, you begin to realise that they too are getting drawn into a dangerous situation, both politically and physically.

It’s an amazing book, and it’s reminded me once again how we as humans love a sense of mystery, and boy there’s a lot of that here in this multi-layered novel. I have found myself drawn in and totally captivated by it. This has reminded me that at the heart of our faith is mystery; God himself. He has revealed himself to us, but that doesn’t mean that we can explain everything about him, or know it all. Once we try to do that we lose him and his magnificence. There is a mystery in the Cross and resurrection too. We can explain it with doctrine and theory, but we reduce it to snappy phrases and easy ideas at our peril. Such mystery isn’t something to be scared of; it is in fact the very thing that people are drawn to and attracted by. The book has also reminded me of something else. To make sense of The Ship of Theseus, we also need to witness the lives of Eric and Jennifer. Could it also be that for those around us to make sense of God they need to witness not just him, but also his people, i.e. ourselves?

There is one more layer I should reveal to this book. In real life it has actually been written not by Straka or by Caldiera, but by an American author called Doug Dorst. The slipcase announces that the name of this novel, is in fact ‘S’. One more twist, we’re told the book was conceived by a certain J.J. Abrams, the famous film and TV producer, director and writer. Again, we’re left wondering who actually wrote what…

Church newsletter article, 02.02.14


Is There A God? Mitchell & Webb are on hand to help…

Just discovered this enjoyable clip about the existence of God through Peter Rollins‘ Twitter feed. Made me smile after some recent discussions at our Bible Study group at church about apologetics and sharing our faith with others.

Review: How (Not) to Speak of God: Marks of the Emerging Church

How (Not) to Speak of God: Marks of the Emerging ChurchHow (Not) to Speak of God: Marks of the Emerging Church by Peter Rollins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thought provoking book. I’ve quite taken to Peter Rollins recently. I appreciate his ability to tell a great story, to tell old parables in new ways that reveal the original meaning freshly, or even to construct new parables to go away and mull over. He has made me think deeply about what I believe and how I believe.

This book comes in two parts. The opening section explores the (un)knowability of God (can’t recall if he used that exact phrase). We can know God in that he has revealed himself to us, but at the same we cannot truly comprehend or understand him as our knowledge is bounded and coloured by our finiteness, our prejudices, the restrictions of language and our experiences. Alongside this challenge to our habitual thinking that we’ve got God wrapped up, Rollins also challenges us to rethink belief. He says it is less important to believe the right things (because of the above) but more important to believe in the right way; such a way that is transformational.

The second section of the book explores services that the church community Ikon have explored these concepts. Although I wouldn’t want to simply lift these for my own setting, I found the reading of them to be stimulating, and I suspect will spur me on in the pursuit of creativity in worship.

This was a great read. A bit wordy perhaps at times – but this is inevitable with the subject matter that he is dealing with. Recommended.

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Love Wins

There’s an irony in the fact that a new book by the American preacher and church leader Rob Bell called ‘Love Wins’ should have stirred up such a bitter debate amongst evangelicals over the last month or so in America. In many ways, this has been their equivalent of the debate sparked off in the UK a couple of years ago by Steve Chalke’s book ‘The Lost Message of Jesus’.

Why the debate? Steve Chalke’s book looks at the nature of the church’s mission and challenges us to rediscover our central focus of being a loving body. Rob Bell’s book explores the nature of God, his salvation and the nature of heaven and hell with the conclusion that in the end ‘Love Wins’. I suspect most, if not all, of us with agree with those sentiments. However, in making their case, both have challenged traditional ways of understanding the nature of the Cross and salvation. This is not the place to assess their two books– for starters I have only just received my copy of Rob Bell’s book and haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I think, however, that these debates have highlighted something very important.

I have often heard the gospel described along these lines: ‘we are all sinners and Jesus died on the Cross to take God’s punishment that we deserve so that we can be forgiven and receive eternal life’. The trouble is that if we’re not careful this makes God sound like he’s angry and unloving, and fosters a selfish gospel based on the question ‘what can I do so that I can be saved’; just what the rich young ruler in Mark 10 asked Jesus. Then a conversation about the 10 commandments ensued, with the young man claiming that he’d kept the Law. In response Jesus made a searching request – go sell up everything, give it to the poor and then come follow me. The young ruler went away dejected. I wonder, was Jesus challenging this man’s view of salvation, moving him from a ME focus to an OTHERS focus?

Increasingly I’m seeing the Bible as portraying God as being the one who is striving to renew and restore the world. This doesn’t cut across the importance of personal forgiveness but changes the purpose of it. What is the Gospel message that we share?  That God is angry with our sinfulness and only his Son’s death could deflect us from that and that believing in this is what you must do to be saved, or that God so loves us and his creation that he longs to redeem us and it through Christ’s Cross and calls his restored people to play their part in this through their relationships with those around them? Whatever we may think about their books, Rob Bell and Steve Chalk are right, what we believe about the Cross matters; what we believe directly affects our picture of God and our dealings with the world around us.

Church newsletter article for Sunday 03.04.11