Book Review, Theology

Nick Page, ‘A Nearly Infallible History of Christianity’ (Review)


When I first thumbed through my Christmas-gifted copy of Nick Page’s book (2013, available here), I wondered what perspective the writer was coming from. It wasn’t immediately obvious whether he was a skeptic aiming to debunk Christianity based on the sins of the church, or whether it was a tongue-in-cheek, in-house reckoning of Christian history with the goal of bringing it a bit more down to earth. It turns out, I think, to be somewhat of a mix, as indeed the subtitle indicates: “a history of 2000 years of Saints, Sinners, Idiots and Divinely-inspired Troublemakers.” In an engaging and often hilarious style, Page writes from within the church, but certainly attempts to pen a sobering exposé of the church’s failures, bringing figures to light that have enjoyed too little recognition for their contributions to “true Christianity.” He also aims to form a picture of a simple faith that endures in the unsung, heroic masses despite the frequent moral corruption of the upper echelons of Church leadership.

Covering the period from the Resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem to the events of September 11th 2001 in New York City, Page undertakes what would be a mammoth task for any historian in trying to cover the incredibly long and diverse history of an incredibly varied and global movement. However, in order to focus somewhat, Page limits himself to the history of Christianity in the Mediterranean world and, largely, the Western European church. Spanning 429 pages, there is an impressive amount of material, offering a broad sketch that aims to deal with each period relatively equally rather than zooming in on typically emphasised issues and figures.

Page’s humorous style is the most attractive facet of the work. It’s not often I physically laugh out loud while reading works of history. The muted, dry tone of delivery leads to innumerable quote-worthy passages, such as this one about attitudes to sex:

“By the Middle Ages, there was hardly any legitimate opportunity for a bit of ‘it’. Around 585 the church rules that there should be neither rumpy nor pumpy for the forty day before Christmas. Nor for forty days before Easter. Nor the eight days after Pentecost. Nor on the nights before the great feast days of the church. Nor on Sundays. Or Wednesdays. Or Fridays. And not for thirty days after your wife gave birth to a boy, or forty days if she gave birth to a girl. Nor five days before Communion. By my calculations that means Christians of this period were allowed sex on second Thursdays in October.”

But although Page makes you laugh, the history he presents is coherent and brings to life the interconnectedness of traditions, events and beliefs. It is a fascinating read, making entertaining and enlightening work out of a genre that is often too dense except for serious study. By adopting a no-nonsense approach that refuses to explain away former evils, the author deftly straddles two audiences. Skeptics will learn that though the saints are indeed sinful, their faith and contributions to modern values highlight a robust underlying bedrock of truth at the core of Christianity. Committed Christians, on the other hand, will see that those same saints are more human and sinful than often portrayed and certainly unworthy as objects of hagiographic worship. But for either reader, what stands out is the simplicity and strength of Christ-centred faith that shines through the shortcomings. For Page, the Church was deeply corrupted by gaining its “official” status and joining hands with power. But Christ stands against the wiles of earthly power politics and rules a kingdom of the heart. The Church has often coerced the weak and excluded the undesirable. But Christ stands with the poor, downtrodden and oppressed. The Church has too often trusted in dead rituals and decaying relics. But Christ is the living presence behind the charade.

I sympathise with Page’s outlook and goals in this book. When I was thrown into a crisis of faith studying colonial history at UCL and learning of the many horrors committed in Christ’s name, it was only the purity and centrality of Jesus Christ that drew me back. If a person’s faith is in anything but Christ, whether the Church, or leaders, or virtue, it is to be pitied. So hopefully, for many readers, this work can help knock down the whitewashed edifices that often vie for our worship, and expose the true rock that faith must be founded on.

But I do think there are some shortcomings here that deserve attention. Firstly, it is tantalising to have absolutely no indication of sources or biographical information on the author. It left me as a reader not knowing how much stock to place in some of the conclusions that were put forward on topics that I know to be controversial. What qualifies Page to make the strong statements that he does? What does he base them on? It’s hard to know and there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to glean such information. This is a main gripe for me on this book.

Secondly, while I appreciate that a work of this kind cannot be as detailed as might be desired at points, I wonder whether an excessive zeal for debunking the myth of “Great Men” has at times led Page into some questionable portrayals of key figures. While it is true that all giants have clay feet, and we should beware of glossing over our heroes’ humanity, I can’t help but feel that Page takes relish in knocking influential leaders down a peg or three, thus leading him at times to verge on misinterpretation and blithe dismissal of their ideas. While notable throughout the book, this is particularly true of Reformation figures. John Calvin, for instance, he characterises as a “fundamentally…unlikeable and cold human being” (p. 321).  Luther was a “foul-mouthed, anti-Semitic bigot who would dissemble for the cause and who fell out with virtually all his friends” (p.323).

As a corollary to this, it seems Page falls somewhat into the post-modern trap of assuming that all orthodox theology, like history, is just the beliefs of the ‘winners.’ Heretics, therefore, seem to be portrayed simply as just misunderstood, left-field thinkers. While there is much to be said for the sincerity and good intentions of many that came to be known as heretics, and it was evil that some of these went to the stake (McGrath’s Heresy is good on this), Page does not sufficiently deal with why their beliefs were condemned. While some disputes were trivial and needlessly divisive, many others that Page glides over were fundamental to the nature of the gospel and do not deserve to be portrayed as unimportant or subjective. The way that ancient polemicist wrote about those condemned is undoubtedly harsh, especially to modern ears. But it is important to highlight that the early Church only condemned such beliefs after realising that their implications ended up denying the core of the gospel, most often the divinity and humanity of Christ.

Lastly, although Page’s praise of the simple faith of the unnamed masses is commendable, to some extent his decision to focus, quite traditionally, on European ecclesiastical history threatens to undermine his point. It is a nice notion, and the only one left when all the heroes have been torn down, but there is not much information about such people in this work. I would love to read a follow-up work from Page on a history of non-European Christianity, which could perhaps provide a better picture of this using a more social history approach.

In conclusion, I laughed and learned a lot from this “nearly infallible” work. Page’s history follows the example of the Bible in that it certainly does not gloss over the flaws in any of its central figures. God in Jesus Christ is the only true hero of the Bible and calls for our undivided trust and devotion. But the balance sometimes lacking here is that heroes of the faith do in fact exist (Hebrews 11) and the Bible is unabashed in reminding us to follow them. But only as they follow Christ. Despite the flaws and failures, from Abraham to Peter, the Bible shows that it is God’s grace in these lives that causes them to be exemplary. It is God’s ability to “draw straight lines with crooked sticks” that brings him greatest glory. This is the value of Christian history.

Reflection, Theology

The Saturday Experience: Your Greatest Weakness as His Greatest Strength (Part III)


“Come and have breakfast.”
John 21: 4-12

Picture Peter in particular the day after that Friday. Three moments were unbearably tormenting him, swirling round and round in his head. In one instant his mind was flashing to Thursday night when he had boldly declared to his friend and master, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” In the next he felt a stab in his heart, picturing himself just hours later by the charcoal fire, cow-heartedly answering the slave girl, “I am not his disciple…I am not his disciple…I am not his disciple.” And then, immediately after in the early hours of the next morning, the moment when his friend and hero had caught his glance and the caustic tears had begun to flow irrepressibly. Peter knew then that he was a failure.

On Saturday, the day when it seemed all had failed and all that was left were the questions, the disciples needed to wrestle and trust God based on his promises and his proven character.

But the most beautiful thing about this story is that Jesus stays with us even when we fail to do this. Think again on Peter and his story. He and the rest of the disciples really did fail. It wasn’t imagined. They really had betrayed Jesus and let him down. But on Sunday morning when Jesus returns, he isn’t out to get Peter. You would think he would be. No, Jesus knew his frailty and he had prayed for him just as he had promised (Luke 22:31-32). He said that somehow this would work for good, somehow Peter would be able to come out of this experience and encourage others. Jesus was going to take that moment of utmost failure and turn it into the moment of His utmost victory.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore… When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea… When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them…“Come and have breakfast.” (John 21: 4-12)

Jesus comes once again as a friend, right back to the place where they had first met–at the shore. Peter’s response is to dive into the water. Not proud, not hiding, but running to his Master. At this point, Jesus had already appeared to the disciples twice, but there was still a deeper work to be done in Peter’s heart. Jesus needed to go back to that moment of deepest betrayal, to the very same charcoal fire where he had denied their intimacy. Jesus is specific–in fact this type of fire is only mentioned twice in the entire scriptures: Peter’s betrayal and Peter’s restoration.

Peter had gone back to fishing, his old job. Jesus encounters him right back at the same place where they had met, as if to say, “Peter, it hasn’t all been worthless.” He had seen his very worst moment, but now he invites him to a barbecue on the beach. Where three times Peter had denied their bond, Jesus three times extends his hand in love and draws the words from Peter’s heart, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus takes Peter back to his greatest failure, heals it, and says once again the first words he ever spoke to him, “Follow me.” All was made new.

Through the Saturday Experience, Jesus turned Peter’s greatest weakness into his greatest strength. When Peter ran to him again, Jesus redeemed him and strengthened him so that he could in turn strengthen his brothers. It was after this full restoration that Peter would follow and never again deny him. His previous words about being willing to die, which seemed so hollow on Saturday, were ultimately proven true when Peter himself was later crucified for his Lord.

We may live in the Saturday time, we feel like everything has failed, us, God, the plan, and all we are left with are the questions. But cherish the questions, they are the tool that God will use to deepen your relationship with him. On your Saturday, think deeply about the truth: who God is and what he has promised. Trust him–it’s the only thing that makes sense. Remember that Jesus is with you, he is praying for your by name. If you will run to him, he will turn even your moments of deepest failure into a victory, using you to encourage others and build his church.

On your Saturday, thank him for what he did on Friday and trust him for what he will do on Sunday.

Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

The Saturday Experience: Finding Peace in the In-Between (Part II)


On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment…
Luke 23:56

The day after the terror of ‘Good’ Friday, all we are told about the disciples is that they rested. But clearly their rest was far from peaceful. The truth is that Saturday, the day when it seems all has failed and God is absent, is the only pathway to Sunday. But how can we find peace in the midst of the questions?

It is here that the Christian faith differs from all relaxation techniques and methods of peace-finding. As Tim Keller points out, the standard mantra is that one finds peace in the midst of turmoil by thinking less, by escaping to your happy place and getting your mind off the troubling questions. Relaxation spas all over the world are filled with little Buddhas precisely because his system holds that suffering is but another illusion. But Christianity says that in order to find peace on Saturday, the disciples of Jesus shouldn’t have forced themselves to think less, they should have been intent on thinking more about what they believed.

On Saturday a Christian finds peace by fixing his whole mind on two unchanging truths: God’s promises and God’s character.

For the disciples to have peace they needed to think on the promises of God’s word, and especially what the Word in the flesh, Jesus, had told them. Not only had the prophets predicted everything about Jesus, but he himself had predicted what was going to happen. They knew he had prophesied that he would be raised on the third day. He had said it over and over again. This wasn’t something they could have missed. They certainly knew, because Matthew tells us even the Pharisees knew full well about this prophecy. It was mentioned at Jesus’ trial. This is why they put the guards at the tomb, because everyone knew about the prophecy. They just didn’t think it would actually happen. The disciples needed to remember Jesus’ words to them, even though the words didn’t seem to make sense at the time.

The first source of peace on Saturday comes through the promises of God spoken to us corporately through his Word and personally by his Spirit. I need to remember who God says I am, the promises he has made, his prophetic word. This is what God has said to us. We also have God’s written word with promises addressed to us, and we have God’s Spirit speaking to us personally.

On Saturday, we must fix our attention on who God is.

Secondly, not only are promises enough to sustain us, but if we would only think clearly about the truth of who God is we will have a tremendous resource for inner peace. Think about who God is: the all-powerful creator of heaven and earth, he holds time in his hands, he knows the beginning from the end, he is the same yesterday, today and forever, he knew you from your mother’s womb. God is all-powerful, eternal, all-knowing, and says he not only loves but is love. When you add these truths together, along with God’s promises that he works “all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to him purposes”, what possible reason could there be to fear?

On your Saturday, think more about what you believe. Lack of peace doesn’t come from thinking too much, it comes from not thinking enough about the truth.

But once we know these things, we have to actively trust him. This is faith: trusting God’s promises on the basis of who He is and what He has done. Faith is trusting God, not just blindly, for no reason, but on the basis of his character, proven by his actions. What he has done proves to us who he is–that what he has said is worth trusting. Absolute confidence is the only logical response. Not just the best response, but the only response which makes sense. This is what Jesus had and the disciples needed. Jesus knew the word and what needed to happen, then the promises strengthened him for the moment and allowed him to trust his father even when felt most abandoned.

On Saturday we must turn to the truth that will sustain us. We can trust God’s promises because of who he is, and who he is has been proven by what he has done for us.

Reflection, Theology

The Saturday Experience: Cherish the Questions (Part I)


On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment…
Luke 23:56

What must the disciples have felt like on Saturday?

They were a failure. The probably blamed themselves personally, wondering what they could have done, regretting haven fallen asleep at such a key moment. They locked themselves away, huddled together in fear. They were so dejected they didn’t even stay for Jesus’ burial. Only the women did. The men must have felt so unmanly and worthless they didn’t even feel worthy to watch the burial. It felt like everything had been lost. Everything they had placed their trust in, worked for, and staked their lives and reputations on was lost. Their fearless leader had been killed, their friend, and in his moment of greatest need they had all abandoned him.

Not only was the cause lost, but all that they thought they had achieved in their own characters was lost. Peter, along with all of Jesus’ closest friends and students, had completely turned his back on him when he needed him most. Betrayal. Imagine your best friend, the one you’ve gone through thick and thin with, had hundreds of meals with, travelled with, lived with, who swore he always had your back and would even die for you if it came to it, at the moment you need him most, denies that he even knows you. He completely stabs you in the back. Peter must have been absolutely inconsolable. Judas’ was a sin of commission, but Peter’s was a sin of omission: failing to do what he should have done. And sins of omission are the ones that people often regret most after someone dies: “I wish I had told her I loved more often”, “I wish I had spent more time with him.”

But come Saturday, it wasn’t only the disciples that had failed, but it seemed God himself had failed also. How could Jesus die? How could the Messiah, the Son of God, the chosen one die? The disciples are in a very unsure place. They are in the ‘in-between time’. The time where they have no idea what God is doing. They are put in the position where they are forced either to trust him, or abandon hope altogether.

This is the Saturday experience. The time in between the horror of the Crucifixion and the joy of the Resurrection where God’s plan is a complete mystery.

It was a Sabbath, the day when they were commanded to rest and acknowledge their lack of control. They are forced to not try to make things right, but just rest. They are powerless.They are in the place where they have to wrestle, and what they are wrestling with are the tough questions. Both their own questions and the questions the accuser is throwing at them. Who was this man? Was he the one, or were they duped? Were they wrong? What do they do now? The disciples seem to be left alone with these haunting questions.

But they were used to questions. Jesus had been a man of deep questions. This was his usual way of teaching, not by spoon-feeding easy, understandable answers, but cutting to the heart with difficult, uncomfortable questions. Sitting and reading the questions of Jesus is a penetrating exercise. On the other hand, of the 183 questions that others ask Jesus in the Gospels, he only directly answers three. Clearly his job is not to give us neat little answers that will satisfy and put all our queries to rest. On the contrary, he wants us to cherish the questions, to wrestle with them and learn their value. This has been God’s way since he struggled with Jacob in the process of making him Israel. By asking he makes us search our own hearts and realise the answers for ourselves. We have to fight for it, but the effect is a change in our character. This is excellent teaching. As good teachers know, by coming to the realisation yourself the lesson sticks with you more profoundly, changing not only your knowledge but your being.

Cherish the questions.

God puts us in the Saturday experience so that we are forced to turn to him. To know him. To have relationship with him. To really rely on him. This is part of the essence of relationship. If every conversation were simply Q and A, there would be no back and forth, no personal communication and fellowship. We would get our answer and say, “OK thanks, bye.” Information could be shared, of course, but not intimacy.

Ultimately, Jesus leaves us to wrestle with the questions so that we can learn that he is the answer.

To get to Sunday we must go through Saturday. On the Saturday in between, the extent to which we will become like him is measured by our willingness to wrestle with the questions and yet still decide to trust him.


Book Review, Theology

Steven Pressfield, ‘The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles’ (Review)


Many of the books I’ve found most helpful on the topic of writing and creativity have a no-nonsense, let’s-get-down-to-brass-tacks style. They aim to demystify the creative process and focus on the practicalities of actually producing work. Of these, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles is one of the most direct treatments I have found. Its author, Steven Pressfield, best known for his novel The Legend of Bagger Vance, intends to diagnose and counteract the powerful internal force which impedes creative work–an enemy he labels Resistance. He writes in an entertainingly punchy style, formatting the book into (largely) page-length thoughts. The result is encouraging, practical, empowering, and–surprisingly–leaves me questioning the theological implications of his argument, which I will expand on below.

The book’s central thesis is that the difficult part of writing is not the writing itself, but the sitting down to write. If we can beat the forces which prevent us from actually getting to our work, we can be set free to produce the art which is our gift to the world. The name of the enemy is Resistance, that pernicious inner tug which takes on any form necessary to keep us from achieving the things we know we should. Split into three sections, the book first defines this enemy, then looks at ways in which to combat it, and finally points towards the elements which sustain creativity once Resistance has been overcome.

Anyone who has attempted to follow a higher calling knows Resistance intimately. It manifests itself any time we try to transcend our path-of-least-resistance, lower-nature mentality to do something of moral and spiritual value. It stops at nothing to prevent this. The difficulty is that it is an extremely subtle, invisible, internal, and often very rational force. Rather than showing its face clearly, it is most often expressed in procrastination, coping mechanisms, addictions, victim mentalities, criticism of others, and rationalisations. Essentially, Pressfield argues, it is fuelled by fear. But in betraying itself by fear, we can know that the more fearful we are, the more significant the task before us.

However, we know that Resistance can certainly be defeated, otherwise there would be no Macbeth, or Don Quijote, or Michelangelo’s Pieta. The way to overcome, as Pressfield puts it, is to “turn pro.” Primarily, the professional possesses a mentality which the amateur lacks. While the common view is that the amateur works for the love and the professional works for money, the author asserts that in reality the amateur does not love the game enough, otherwise he would dedicate his life to it like the professional. A professional stakes it all on his calling, plays for keeps, turns up to work and commits full-time. The basic attributes of what this looks like are to work daily, no matter what, over the long-haul, taking risks, accepting remuneration, mastering one’s craft, having a sense of humour and receiving blame or praise without over-identification with one’s work. Pressfield’s argument is that there is no luck or magic involved, but simply a wilful decision to turn pro and approach one’s work with this relentless perseverance.

The final question pertains to the source of creativity once Resistance has been put in its place. Pressfield opens the book with a prayer from the Odyssey, invoking the Muses, the mythical daughters of the gods, to inspire the poet in his work. The author takes the Muse as representative of that common feeling among artists that the work is not their own, but rather handed to them to ‘enflesh’. Amateurs only work when inspiration happens to hit. Professionals create a regular space where this can happen. Rather than waiting inactively for the Muse to descend, which turns out to continually be ‘mañana’, simply turning up to work daily creates a space into which the Muse can speak. This voice, the author explains, is what the ancients called our “inner genius,” the unique gift of our individual soul. Thus, he exhorts us, “Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

The practical aspects of this book have been revealing and uplifting, causing me to take my calling more seriously, recognising Resistance when it attacks and resolving to “turn up” to work so that inspiration has a ready vessel to fill. Beyond this, however, the work raises some interesting theological questions in its discussion of the creative Muse. Pressfield, on his part, seems to take this spiritual aspect with absolute seriousness. He states that his daily ritual begins with a prayer to invoke the Muses. But, at least for him, this is not only a method, but a real act of worship. He bows his pride to the Muse and offers his gift back to it. Although he encourages the reader to follow him even if he doesn’t believe in such things as angels or Muses, there is a clear indication that every artist implicitly recognises that there are real, powerful, immaterial forces at work in the act of creation. Although Pressfield takes pains to thoroughly demystify the process of writing, and I think he is successful, in the end he reinforces a spiritual notion of the source of creative inspiration. Ultimately, for the author, the artist’s journey is that of discovering ‘self’, because the Muse is his authentic self, talking to him from a higher plane of existence where “God is all there is.”

What is interesting to me, therefore, is that the book points to sources outside of ourselves as the source of creativity, but on the other hand ends up identifying those external forces with ourselves. What Pressfield espouses, therefore, is a form of Monism or Pantheism. With this in view, the book can almost be seen as a theological treatise, with Resistance playing the role of sin, and invocation of the Muse the salvific act which, through artistic expression, connects us to our estranged inner god. In this framework, both the thing that we are striving for and the thing which holds us back are within us. Thus, Resistance is an illusion caused by fear of our inner divine potential.

But why is it more plausible to think that the Muse is simply our authentic, divine self, than that it is the eternal, immaterial, creator God at work? When taken as a whole, the author seems driven to this conclusion by being unable to deny the spiritual forces at work in his craft, but being unwilling for some reason to admit that this could be God, separate and distinct from his creation. Perhaps there is Resistance to this idea because of its possible moral implications on the artist’s life. Of course, it would also, unfortunately, imply that we ourselves are not God.

Apologetics, Culture, Reflection, Theology

The Problem With ‘Using’ the Arts


The problem with treating the arts as a means to another end is that when that end is achieved the arts suddenly lose their value. Lewis Hyde showed this in The Gift by highlighting the decline of arts funding in America after the Cold War. During the propaganda war, the arts had been supported as a bastion of Western freedoms. This is the period when the National Endowment for the Arts was founded, when the CIA worked behind the scenes to exhibit American artists abroad. But when the West ‘won’, an era of unselfconscious market triumphalism was ushered in and the arts quickly began to seem superfluous. They had served their purpose.

Evangelical Christians, in the majority of cases that I have experienced, tend to justify the arts only as a means to an end. Most commonly this means the only respectable argument for investment in the arts is that it will lead to increased church attendance or greater relevance to contemporary society or engagement with the youth. I have been party to this too and I understand the tension.
These are certainly worthy and worthwhile goals. Of course we want more people to know God and reach every generation and culture effectively. But as Christians, treating the arts merely as a means to evangelism, or relevance, or engagement, assumes that art has no inherent and enduring value to be cultivated beyond these goals. The Bible, however, shows quite clearly that this is an impoverished logic, for artistic creativity will long outlast these temporal ends.

In the new Heavens and Earth, there will be no need for evangelists, neither will there be disparity between the people of God and their surroundings, nor will there be rifts between generations. All will see him, all will know him and all will worship him in solidarity. But one aspect of human existence that will continue to grow perpetually, eternally, for the people of God, is our reflection of his nature. We are being formed into the images of Christ, the image of God. We will reflect his glory by reflecting his nature, character and activity. We are to be made like him–not exhaustively, but truly.

Genesis 1:1 reveals God as the Creator, the great Artist wielding his brush out of the overflow of Trinitarian love. We thus meet him in scripture as Creator before he is Saviour, Father and Judge. Can we afford to neglect this aspect of our God, or of ourselves, his image-bearers?

There will come a time when evangelism will have served its purpose, but the gift of creativity will endure. When the cause of winning people of Christ has been fulfilled, we will continue to create in collaboration with our Creator God. While no one will then need to be convinced, the glory of the gospel will continue to be proclaimed in ever more wonderful and imaginative ways.

Evangelism, in one way then, is a means to creating more artists.

I’m not arguing merely to exalt the arts out of self-indulgence or special pleading, but to honour the Gift Giver by enjoying his precious gift. A gift used merely as a transaction, to gain a measured reciprocal response, leaves the realm of the gift and enters the market of commodities. But to use the gift as a gift, to consume it for the joy of it’s being a gift, transforms us with gratitude and compels us to pass the gift along because we know it is not our possession. And what could bring the giver more satisfaction and glory than to see his gift wholeheartedly enjoyed, like the contentment of a loving husband revelling in his bride’s disinterested pleasure?

Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

What Life Should Feel Like


Perhaps the most beautiful thing I’ve experienced is the sense of joy that comes from being who I truly am. It’s that feeling of knowing that you are not wearing a mask, that your guard is down and you are free to exist as the person you were made to be.

Our deepest relationships should bring that feeling out in us. Whether it is in friendship, marriage or family, there is a joy that comes in feeling that you can be yourself. It’s a sense of being completely vulnerable and yet loved and appreciated.

There is a freedom that only comes through this being fully exposed and in the light. All pretence fades away, all fear is banished, and the joy of truly being known emerges.

Its such a pure feeling, untainted by tension, hurt or anxiety. Those are the times when I’ve most truly felt alive. Alive not just in the vague sense of existence but in a glowing spark of joy in my deepest soul.

I’ve felt it in my relationship with God, a sense of nearness to Him that ignites inspiration, creativity and happiness. A sense that I can stand confidently as His son and be secure in my identity. It creates a flow of songs, words, and closeness to those around me. In those moments I know that I am somehow connected to a longing wedged in the core of my heart and that this is the way life is meant to feel. Like a favourite song, it seems to hit all the right notes.

We are supposed to feel that aliveness in every waking moment. But why don’t we? But why do I not live in this joy perpetually?

In a million little ways I continually betray that knowledge of the way things should be. I break my agreement with life and with my creator by momentarily chasing after transient feelings or objects. My hearts knows I’m missing the point and yet I compromise again and again. I trade the joy of purity in living for God’s truth and beauty for fleeting pleasures and fading glory.

That betrayal destroys the purity of life. I turn my back on what I know is the standard, on what I know is really real, and as I do it, that flame of inspiration begins to die. That incredible light that penetrates my being and allows me to be fully known and loved is gradually darkened. That spark that made me feel alive is dulled into a drudgery of mere existence.

It takes the courage to confess my shortcomings for that light to come back in. It is an honesty that takes away the mask and reveals my true face, that no longer hides behind a false image and allows itself to be known in the terrible light of truth. I walk in purity to the extent that I allow myself to be known for who I am inside.

I want to live and walk in that soul-piercing light. I’ve caught glimpses of what life should feel like and I know that purity is essential to achieving it. The joy of being fully exposed before God is so quickly disrupted and tainted by my betrayal. It’s so easy to let the darkness creep in and drown out the light. As it does, so does the feeling that what the darkness hides should stay hidden. The more that is hidden, the less we are truly known and the less of that spark of life we can feel.

I pray that our masks might be broken and we would allow ourselves to step into that all-penetrating light. The greater the amount of darkness we have allowed to intrude and separate us from the way life should be, the more difficult and frightening this may feel. But we can never know the true freedom of being ourselves and being connected with the way things were meant to be if we will not be exposed.

We were made to know and truly be known by our creator. If we do not feel that pure joy and sense of life then we are missing the point of existence.

Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

The End of Desire


This is a potentially life-changing truth: You desire God. You desire him more than any other thing, even when the desire you consciously feel is directed at something which he hates and forbids. We think we don’t desire God and that what we really desire is happiness in the things around us, because God is known for being the divine kill-joy. But the opposite is true underneath it all.

There is a clue to this within our desires themselves. We want the things we love to last forever. This is especially true of the thing that we want above all: love. Beyond money, success or power we feel incomplete without true, meaningful relationships with people who know us truly and yet truly accept us, value us and seek our good. But in each and every case, the good things we love come to an end. We want them to last. The reason we keep chasing after them is that they don’t. Nothing ever does. Nothing finite ever could.

Our constant pangs, then, are displaced longings for what we really want. We can’t really just want money and sex and control because when we get them, no matter how much, we still want more. Loving relationships offer us a glimpse of what we are truly here for, but even these must end. The party comes to a close and is tidied up. The night must draw its curtains and eventually we must say farewell to those we love. But what if we could reach the place, the person, where that fullness never ran dry? Where all of our deepest longings met their true and unending object. A love which knew no limits either of depth or time.

As experience testifies, and logic demands, this is not, and indeed could not, be found on this earth. It cannot be found either among material objects or finite beings, both of which are inherently limited. Instead,
deep down, our restless search for some bottomless joy can only be satisfied in an infinite relational being. And not any infinite being, but a being infinitely good and greater than all other goods. That good is God and can only ever truly be God. Therefore his greatest gift could only ever be the gift of himself, the only good thing which never comes to an end.

He is the end of our desire. To realise this is to be liberated once and for all from the endless goose-chase. To realise that our sense of alienation, of feeling like we’re on the outside looking in on the way life is supposed to feel, is really just a sign pointing to our true home, frees us from wasting our lives pursuing things that don’t satisfy, in order to focus on the only One who truly can. To deny this is to condemn oneself to an existence of constant desire without hope of satisfaction, a desert world where we constantly thirst, unwittingly seeking for the very One we say does not exist.

Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

Learning From the Master

Chariots of Fire4 (Large)-12732

Do you think Jesus knows anything about the life you actually lead? Or do his teachings seem nice and beautiful, but distant and unrealistic when it comes to your daily existence?

In other words is Jesus a really nice guy, but a bit naive when it comes down to it?

You can only learn from someone as long as you think they know more than you do. As soon as you think you know better you immediately stop listening. Have you ever gotten to the stage with someone who was training you where you realised, “I actually know more than this person,” or, “I’m actually smarter than this person”? Whether it’s true or not, rather than learning, you begin to patronise them and, if not simply annoyed at the waste of your time, pity their ignorance as well.

The teachings of Jesus are universally acknowledged to be among history’s highest moral ideals. But are they only that: ideals? Unattainable perfectionisms? Pretty words which hold little to no value in the tough reality of life?

Turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? Forgive the same person 490 times at minimum? Doesn’t he know the world out here? That kind of weak, pushover mentality will get you no where.

Now, maybe you’ve never thought that. But this is only one way to disconnect Jesus’ words from having actual, real-life significance. Christians don’t tend to be that flippant. But there are plenty more ways to effectively invalidate the Master’s words.

For instance, maybe you believe his teachings are good, but that they are simply impossible to carry out. Isn’t this proven by experience? I mean, have you ever seriously tried, even for a single day, to live out his principles? And so we come to the conclusion that we are not able to obey, or at most that we can only obey in some vague, spiritual manner. We think we have tried and it hasn’t worked.

But have we tried it the correct way? What if Chesterton is right, that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, but rather it has been found difficult and left untried. What if we are completely misunderstanding the nature of Jesus’ teachings and how we are supposed to go about obeying them?

Imagine Jesus’ words were not simply commands to obey in the moment of the situation, but descriptions of a certain kind of life, a kind of character in which turning the other cheek, or loving one’s enemies is the most natural response.

Let’s take a real life example. Suppose I commanded you to run a four-minute mile. Suppose you are morally required to do it. So, taking the command seriously you go to the track and you try your absolute best. You give it everything you have. But you don’t make the cut. Not by far. Does that prove that my command was impossible? Or might it suggest your method was slightly off?

The ability to run a four-minute mile does not only come from the direct effort of the athlete in the moment, but from an entire life dedicated to training for that moment. The athlete has engaged in the right practices and lifestyle so that when the moment comes they can actually do what they want to do. In fact, when this kind of lifestyle is pursued at length, it becomes just as unnatural to run in any other way as it once was to run in the right way.

Of course, this analogy is very incomplete. There are many of us who could never run a four-minute mile, no matter how hard we trained. But could we learn to be the kind of people who obey Jesus naturally, simply because that’s the kind of person we are? Should we expect to be able to simply obey him when the moment arises, when our life disciplines have not prepared us for this?

God wants to bring us to the place where we obey him naturally because it’s part of who we are.

This can only come through instilling the character of Jesus in us so that we unthinkingly act in the same way he did. The central question therefore goes from “What Would Jesus Do?” to “What would lead me to being the kind of person Jesus was?”

He really is smart you know.

Think of what it’s like in the teacher’s shoes? Have you ever been in the position of trying to teach someone who thinks they already know everything? They say they know, yet you see what they do and immediately realise how mistaken their self-conception is. You, as the teacher, know in an instant how far the reality is from the imagination or pretension. You know that they need to go through a process of shaping in their skills and character before they will be able to complete the task correctly.

Have you ever seen this happen? It’s embarrassing. Everyone can see. The charade is pointless. It’s paper thin. I wonder if this is how we look much of the time, in our ignorance and pride, to our loving Master.

The only answer is to let go and learn to do the things he did which made him the person he was.

Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

The Person You Want to Be


What God cares about is not exactly our actions. What he cares about is that we should be creatures of a certain kind or quality–the kind of creatures he intended us to be.
C.S Lewis

When I call someone to be a Christian, what am I calling them to? To be like me? I hope not, even if God has done great things for me. To adopt a Christian lifestyle? This is not attractive to most people because they think it means the end of their fun. Of course, it will mean the end of some things they currently do, think and feel for pleasure. But part of the process of learning the depths of what we’re meant for is learning that those things are actually faint replicas of what they promise to be. The child plays with the toy cars and will not let them go only because she cannot imagine the joys of driving a real car and the places it can take her. 

Instead of this, what if we point to Jesus? The call and the end of being a disciple of Jesus is to become like him. To reflect his image, to bear his character. To become the kind of person that he is. Cut from the same cloth and sculpted from the same marble. To be called as a Christian is to become a new kind of person. The Christian life is then learning to live your life as He would if he were in your shoes. 

Is Jesus a good person? If you could, would you like to be a person like him? Free from addiction, worry, anxiety, vice, hatred, violence, envy, greed. Free to love, bless other people, enjoy the world and the people in it, heal the sick, comfort the sad, seek justice, be merciful, be kind and gentle. Free to be and live the way you were always meant to be. This is wellbeing. 

You can be. Come to him and he will help you. Learn from him. He will make you his child, and as you live as his disciple following him, you will be put on a path to becoming exactly like him. Your character will be completely changed. Your thoughts, actions and feelings will be transformed so that you naturally do the kinds of things he did. For you will gradually become the kind of person he was. This is the aim and goal of your existence.