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…)

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…)

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…)

Two lessons from the life of Joseph

Adapted from a talk given at Glenwood Church on 30 August 2015.

I was talking about Joseph’s story with my wife, Cathy, and she said ‘What kind of person must Joseph have been? That all his brothers were willing to pretend he was dead? You’d think one of them would have said “Come on, he’s not that bad.” But no, they all went along with it.’

Joseph had eleven brothers. His father, Jacob, had two wives, Leah and Rachel – who were actually sisters. That’s a story in itself. But of the two sisters, Rachel only had two children – the eldest one being Joseph.

It does make you think. How annoying was Joseph. Ten older brothers and none of them could bear him? (more…)

Lessons from Abraham and decisions he made in times of weakness

This is a talk by Jon the freelance theologian, given at Glenwood Church, Cardiff on 2 August 2015

Coupland quote


Philippians 4 – what we can learn from Euodia and Syntyche

This is based on a Sunday talk given at Glenwood Church in Cardiff in June 2015. (Listen to it here.)

Chapter 4 of the Letter to the Philippians opens with the Apostle Paul addressing a situation in the church in Philippi.

 “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

Euodia and Syntyche are mentioned once in the New Testament. This is it. (more…)

Lessons from the lives of Timothy and Epaphroditus (Philippians chapter 2, verses 19-30)

This article is based on a talk at Glenwood Church on 10 May 2015. Listen to the full talk here.

In the early part of Philippians chapter 2, Paul tells the Philippian Christians that they should strive to be the people that God wants them to be. He tells them the following things:

  • “In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus.” (verse 5)
  • To obey God and “Keep on working to complete your salvation with fear and trembling” (verse 12)
  • “Do everything without complaining or arguing.” (verse 14)
  • “Offer your lives as a sacrifice in serving God.” (verse 17)
  • “Be happy and full of joy” (verse 18)

He then talks about these Timothy and Epaphroditus immediately afterwards, referencing these key ideas. Paul is holding them up as examples of the kind of people the Christians living in Philippi should try to become. (more…)