Welcome to freelance theology

This website exists for everyone who has questions about the Christian religion, whether they have a personal faith or not. In January 2014, freelance theology celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Please ask your question using the comment form on this post – your comment will not be published, but it’s the easiest way for you to submit a question.

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New answers to questions will appear below – just scroll down the page.

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A ‘missional’ viewpoint on the EU Referendum

The UK is holding a referendum to decide whether to remain part of the European Union. There are claims and counter-claims about what is best for Britain, and it can be confusing to know who to believe. In this one-off article, Jon the freelance theologian, explores a good reason for the UK to stay as part of the EU.

In Acts chapter 16 there is a fascinating insight into the Apostle Paul’s missionary activities. It is one of the few places where it seems Paul has explicit divine guidance over where to go to preach the gospel. In verses 6 and 7 it says that Paul is prevented by the Spirit from entering the provinces of Asia and Bithynia, both in modern-day Turkey. He had already visited many of the key cities in Asia and it would have been natural for him to return to the churches there. However, he has a vision of a ‘man from Macedonia’, part of Greece. He realises this is a sign that he should leave Asia behind.

It’s interesting when considering the future of the UK in Europe to think about this incident in the life of the Apostle Paul as told in Acts. (more…)


Talk excerpt: “They tried to bury us but they didn’t know that we were seeds”

This is part of a recent talk at Glenwood Church, Cardiff. 

They tried to bury usI don’t really do inspirational books. Things like Chicken Soup for the Soul and feel-good stories and things like that leave me cold. I’m not a fan. So I surprised myself recently when I was in a shop and I picked up a book of ‘little inspirations’. I don’t know why I picked it up. But I opened it completely at random and I read this:

“They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know that we were seeds.”

In the book it said it was a Mexican proverb, and it has been used among activists in Mexico who are campaigning for greater social justice, and the Zapatista movement who have taken that campaign into armed struggle against the government. But it wasn’t a Mexican proverb first (more…)


Four questions about the Stations of the Cross

Questions 217 – 220, from Simon, United Kingdom

I want you to do a Q&A on the stations of the cross.

Sure, no problem.

Question 217 – What are they and what is their significance?

The stations of the cross, also known as the ‘Way of the Cross’, are found in some Christian traditions as a way of communicating the events leading up to the death of Jesus. Through art or statues they represent stages of the story of the last hours of Jesus’ life. Traditionally, worshippers would (more…)


The timing of the division between Israel and Judah

Question 216, from Mike

References to Israel and Judah in the Old Testament are made prior to the division into the northern and southern kingdoms after David. When did the distinction first come to be recognised either geographically or as a polity in the history of the Hebrew people? i.e. When did the Jews first started to identify themselves by the two names?

Generally, in the textual study of the Old Testament, there seem to be recognisable attempts to edit and explain much earlier documents, from certain points of view. The strands are referred to as JEDP, the Jahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist and Priestly viewpoints. (more…)


Singing theology: changing lyrics and the meanings of songs

An opinion piece by Jon the freelance theologian

A few Sundays ago I tweeted a comment about how changing song (or hymn, if you prefer) lyrics annoys me, particularly if the change makes no sense.

The song in question was ‘In Christ Alone’, by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, which usually features the line ‘And on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied’.  This refers to a particular doctrine of the atonement called ‘penal substitution’, which can be summarised as Jesus dying as a substitute for others to pay the penalty for sin that God demands. (The doctrine is a bit more complicated than that, to be fair, but we could be here all day if we go too deep into it.) (more…)


The nativity stories lack historical evidence but should be read as theology

This article is based on a recent interview with UCB Radio, where Jon the freelance theologian was asked about the historicity of the nativity stories recorded in the gospels.

Generally the consensus among New Testament scholars is that Mark was the first gospel to be written and Matthew and Luke were then written drawing heavily on Mark as source material. But Mark does not have any stories about Jesus’ birth. Instead it opens with John the Baptist announcing the imminent arrival of the Messiah.

If Matthew and Luke were written later, where did the ‘infancy narratives’ come from, and, more crucially, why do they differ on key details. (more…)


The Christmas Story: a round-up of answers to questions


Risking belief in Jesus by encouraging belief in Santa

This article is based on a recent interview with UCB Radio, where Jon the freelance theologian was asked whether Christian parents should encourage their children to believe in Father Christmas / Santa Claus.

A recent news story about a child’s letters to Santa being discovered 80 years later offers a great glimpse into childhood in the 1930s. The 5 year-old girl who wrote the letters asked for “nice toys and a hymn book”. How many kids would ask for a hymn book now? (In fact, who uses hymn books now that we have PowerPoint?)

But should Christian parents encourage their children to believe in Santa Claus? I think it’s a dangerous game to play. I recently read an atheist blogpost describing Santa as “the ultimate dry run” and encouraging their child to dismiss belief in God. It’s a thought-provoking read. (more…)


Creativity: theology meets anthropology

This post is based on a talk requested by a Christian creative group.

There are two key words I want to begin with – theology: the study of God, and anthropology: the study of humans (from the Greek word anthropos, meaning ‘Man’ as in humans).

I believe everybody is a theologian. We all have an idea of what God is like and would all explain God in different ways. We might use analogies or complicated technical terms or whatever. I think this applies to everyone, whether you are a Christian or not. Richard Dawkins described ‘God’ as a ‘Delusion’ – that’s a theological statement.

And likewise I think we are all anthropologists. We all have opinions about human beings. We might think people are basically good. Or we might think people are generally selfish. We might see humans as social animals, or individuals preoccupied with their own survival.

But we are all theologians and we are all anthropologists. (more…)


The ‘missing’ verse in Acts chapter 8

Question 215, from Mark, United Kingdom

Hey freelance theology. I just spotted there’s no Acts 8:37 in the New Living Translation, any thoughts?

Acts chapter 8 verse 37 is part of the conversation between the apostle Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch who is identified as a ‘God-fearer’, that is a non-Jew who believed in the Jewish God. When the eunuch asks if there is anything that would prevent him from being baptised, verse 37 says:

‘Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”’

Eunuchs were excluded from the Jewish religion of the time, so this verse shows that those people who were previously considered unable to fully be part of the chosen people were included in the fledgling church. However, this verse only appears in some manuscripts, (more…)