Sunday, August 24, 2014



In a memorable Peanuts cartoon Lucy asks Charlie Brown ‘Did you ever know anyone who was really happy?’ Before she could finish the question Snoopy the dog comes dancing into the next frame. As only Snoopy can he dances his merry way across all frames while Lucy and Charlie watch in amazement. In the last frame Lucy finishes her question: ‘Did you ever know anyone who was really happy… and was still in their right mind?’

Happiness, says the Oxford Dictionary, is the feeling of pleasure or contentment.

How to be happy? It’s one of our most important-and-urgent questions. In the United States, one of their foundational documents, the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, states that ‘we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’

My life’s vocation is an exploration of the notion of happiness: its theory and practice. I’m writing a book about it; I have a little counseling practice where I talk to others about it; I preach about it. I ask myself all the time: ‘How do the happiest people get to be like that?’

One of them – Rita Backhouse - had a ‘rotten life’. Abused by an alcoholic husband, she never lost her joy. We visited her in Batehaven, NSW, and asked how she was getting on after her husband’s death a year or two beforehand. ‘Oh, when he died I lost my joy for a couple of weeks, but after that God gave me the gift of joy again!’

The most-admired people on the planet – Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Dom Helder Camara, Dietrich Bonhoeffer  – lived in close quarters with terrible suffering and evil. What was their secret?

† Dietrich Bonhoeffer was locked up for months in a dark Nazi prison and just before the second World War ended, he was led out by the guards to be executed. His face was shining with joy which surprised his executioners.

How do people get to be like that?

It has something to do with the distinction between happiness and serenity or joy.


I asked my Facebook friends to share their insights/secrets about the relationship between happiness and joy. Here’s some of this wisdom, together with snippets from my files:

† Westminster Shorter Catechism: ‘Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever!’

† Reality-check: as one pastor noted: ‘I look at the faces in the church; many of them are anything but joyful: some of them are set so grimly that to smile would cause permanent injury. The same careworn looks, the hard hostility, the dreadful anxieties crease their faces just as much when they leave worship as when they entered…As the Puritan Thomas Watson put it: “The two most difficult things to do: make the wicked sad and the godly joyful.” But in worship we are not mourning a defeat but celebrating a victory; the ‘eucharist’ is a thankful/joyful celebration.’

† Haydn the composer, when asked why his church music was so cheerful, said ‘I cannot make it otherwise. When I think of God my heart is so full of joy that the notes dance and leap from my pen!’

† ‘Happiness is what I feel when I’m close to my own soul, joy is what I feel when I’m close to God.’

† Temperament: some may be born with ‘nice genes’ [1]. Joy and pain can exist side by side (but those of us whose lives are relatively pain-free mustn’t judge those for whom their pain is intolerable).

† Be wary of cheap evangelism offers a trouble-free Christianity: ‘Come to Christ and all your problems will be solved’. Jesus rather offers constant trouble, and his gift of constant joy, because of his constant presence…

† Those who try hardest to be happy are often the most miserable. Real happiness is a by-product of doing worthwhile or enjoyable activities…

† Joy is a gift: surrender, and receive it!

† Think about who’s made his home in your life: ‘Joy is a flag flown high from the castle of my heart ‘cos the King is in residence there!’

† ‘Happiness happens but joy abides, in the heart that is stayed on Jesus’.

† Deep lasting joy is a by-product of a clean, selfless life; it’s not an end in itself. C S Lewis (Surprised by Joy) says a self-centred life which rotates around itself is evil at the core… The more you give yourself away the more you receive; only the one who dies will live. Joy is a corollary of devoting ourselves to others. Michel Quoist: ‘Your joy will begin at precisely the moment you abandon the search for your own personal happiness and seek the happiness of others’. Stop taking yourself so seriously! Get your ego out of the way and connect back to kindness. ‘Compassion is feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.’ ~ Frederick Buechner.

† George Bernard Shaw: ‘True joy in life is in being used for a purpose recognized as a mighty one… being a force for change instead of a feverish selfish little clod of grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.’

† Joyful people forgive everyone for everything: Anger and joy don’t mix.

† ‘The darkest night has stars in it; and the Christian is someone who sees the stars rather than the darkness.’  

† ‘Life is NOT “supposed to be fair” so accept life – all of it - with gratitude.’ George Matheson: ‘O joy that seekest me through pain’.  Joy is not simply ‘pleasure’ or ‘fun’ or the absence of pain.  

† In Byron Katie’s A Thousand Names for Joy, she shares this mantra: “I am a lover of what is.”

† Do you have someone who loves you, and listens both to you and to God at the same time?

† A wise psychiatrist-friend: ‘Don’t let what describes you define you’

† The sayings of joyful people? (Eg. ‘There are people worse off than I am’)

† God has forgiven you – let no one accuse you, not even  yourself!

† A ‘disabled/differently abled’ child often brings real joy to a family: why is that?

† Live serendipitously. Jesus encouraged us to ‘Look at the birds! God cares for them!’ (Matthew 6:26). Charles Hartshorne (a philosopher who offered 16 proofs for the existence of God, and was an ornithologist) reminds us that ‘Some birds, like some people, sing for the pure joy of it’. ‘God enjoys the happiness of all of his creatures!’ (Our little dog, Charlie, a ‘cavoodle’ - cavalier poodle - is a daily gift of joy to us. And this week, on a beautiful day while seated with a friend next to a forest trail near our home, a little three-year-old girl – Abbie - with her mum stopped to talk to us. Delightful!).

† And many more… 

These concepts or ideas might be beautifully descriptive, but they don’t quite get to the basic explanation of the difference between happiness and joy.

Here’s where the Christian saints and mystics, beginning with Jesus and Paul, help us:

†  Our notions of happiness are about collecting ‘stuff’ (money, accolades/ respect, experiences, power, health, answers to tough questions – you make up your own list for a talk with your spiritual advisor). It’s about ‘addition’ of ‘goodies’… Happiness is something we obtain for a price (holiday, what advertisers sell you, something in a bottle – liquid or pills, whatever’s in your bank account…)

†  But joy is what a true Christ-follower has when all the stuff is taken away… It’s about ‘subtraction’.

† Jesus’ Beatitudes: Blessed (or as William Barclay translates it,  ‘Oh the sheer joy of those who’) are the poor in spirit, those who mourn (really?), the meek… Can Jesus be serious? In the Upper Room (John 16:22) Jesus says to his friends: ‘These things have I spoken to you that my joy might be in you, and that your joy might be full. No one can take your joy from you’.

The backdrop to this joy? In Job 38:7 the Creator speaks to Job about a time when ‘the morning stars sang together, and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy!’. The New Testament is one of the most joyous collections of writings in the world. It opens with joy at the birth of Jesus and ends with angels singing ‘Hallelujah!’ The notes of joy are everywhere - eg. in the jail at Philippi Paul is singing hymns! And later to the Christians in that city, he writes a letter about joy. Even though Paul had a serious temperament, sometimes didn’t enjoy good health, and endured beatings/stoning/ shipwrecks etc. he encourages his friends to ‘Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!’.

In Philippians Paul bares his soul to his friends and offers the secret of his life and ministry, what motivated him. [2]


Could you put your hand on your heart - without crossing your fingers - and say the same thing? 'For me to live is... ' What? Football? Bird-watching (!) ???

Paul mentions Christ by name more than 50 times in this short letter.

In this opening chapter he tells us about three severe tests he's been subjected to - but not one of them destroyed his faith in Christ.

[1] IMPRISONMENT: THE LOSS OF HIS FREEDOM. It's probably in Rome, if you check Luke's story at the end of Acts. He's under house arrest this time, handcuffed - 'in chains' - to a Roman soldier on each side of him. He actually welcomed this imprisonment: it turned out to benefit his mission, to 'advance the gospel'. 'My imprisonment is for Christ' he says. In 1:12-14 he notes that successive shifts of the Imperial Guard are audiences for his evangelism! It's OK to lose his freedom if the Gospel - the Good News - is preached. 

Now most people incarcerated in prisons are preoccupied with the possibility of escape. Not Paul.

[2] SLANDER: THE LOSS OF HIS REPUTATION.  1:15-18: Some fellow-preachers out there are motivated by goodwill; but others seek to humiliate Paul. These are not 'false teachers' - Paul mentions elsewhere his problem with them - but some who are preaching the true Christ, but from bad motives. They are jealous of Paul's apostolic authority and success, and wanted to recruit Paul's followers to follow them.​​

Slander is a painful experience... How does Paul respond? He 'rejoiced'! 'Whether Christ is preached out of false motives or true, in that I rejoice!' (1:18). The most important factor here for Paul is that the Good News is still being proclaimed. He's willing to suffer the various humiliations that come his way if that's happening!

[3] EXECUTION/DEATH: THE LOSS OF HIS LIFE. Paul was waiting in Rome for Nero to hear his case. Eventually he did stand before this cruel Emperor, who had no commitment to true justice. In 1:23 he says he's in a quandary: 'I have a desire to depart - to die - and be with Christ: that is far better; but on the other hand I want to live, to serve you all' [1:24]. How does one arrive at that amazing position? The secret is back in verse 20: 'I want Christ to be exalted/magnified/ honoured... whether I live or die'. Most people throughout history would do anything to get a reprieve from death.

So: Freedom, Reputation, Life itself - Paul is in danger of losing all three. How do we cope with these possibilities? We who are basically self-centred enjoy our freedom; we cherish the praise of others; we want to live a long life... Perhaps our motto is: 'For me to live is ME!' But for this great saint, WHAT REALLY MATTERS is that for him to live is Christ. He's willing to suffer any deprivation, any humiliation, even a threat to life itself - even execution...

What is your aim in life? 'To get to the top?' Why? How do you plan to do that? 

In silent prayer, let us ask ourselves 'What am I living for?' 

May we ask for the commitment/grace to say every day 'For me to live is Christ!'  

​[2] Notes adapted from a sermon preached at All Souls Langham Place, London, by Rev. John Stott, 29/07/1990 (audio 904

Rowland Croucher
August 2014

Thursday, August 21, 2014



Some people claim to see fern seeds yet fail to see the Elephant standing right in front of them – C S Lewis.

Bishop Tom Frame, in his provocative book A House Divided? The Quest for Unity Within Anglicanism wrote:

* ‘Synods, like all committees, are wary of radicals, mavericks, prophets and reformers. They tend to prefer those… who will never challenge the prevailing orthodoxy or suggest institutional risk-taking’.

* ‘In my view, the Australian Church has too few creative individuals and too many critical observers… The Church seems to produce more renegades than revolutionaries, and more would-be iconoclasts than

I mark important bits in the books I read: I double-marked those.

From teenage years onwards I’ve been something of an iconoclastic radical, asking provocative questions of traditionalists whose 'status is the quo'. If people take seriously something which is manifestly ridiculous, I can’t ignore it. So it’s not surprising that I have rarely been invited to occupy positions of leadership or speak at annual conferences in conservative organizations (unless I’ve been given a highly circumscribed subject to speak on… and yes, on those occasions, I have been respectful, and only mildly provocative!). 

Teenage sample (to an elder in the Brethren ‘Assembly’ our family attended):

‘So you take the Isaiah text (58:13) about not doing anything pleasurable on the Lord’s Day literally. What do you do between church services, on Sunday afternoons?’

Elder: ‘I take a nap.’

Moi: ‘Do you find that pleasurable?’

Elder (a little confused): ‘Well, yes, I suppose I do…’

Moi: (some months later): ‘What do you do these days on Sunday afternoons?’

Elder: ‘I go for a walk.’

Moi: ‘Do you enjoy your walk?’

Elder (again confused): ‘Yes, I do, actually.’

Moi: ‘But you don’t go to Cronulla (the nearest surfing beach) for a swim?’

Elder: ‘Certainly not!’

Moi: ‘So it’s OK to enjoy yourself on terra firma but not in the H2O on the Lord’s Day?’

Elder was silent (and still confused)…


I’ve experienced at least one paradigm shift in my thinking in each decade of an interesting existence…. including these ‘Aha’ experiences:

Late teens: No particular Christian group has a monopoly on the truth

Twenties: The KJV will not be used widely in 20 years because God wants his Word-in-Scripture to be understood – especially by young people, new Christians, and those for whom English is a second or third language…

Fundamentalism has some strengths, but militant Christian fundamentalism (of the John R Rice variety) doesn’t have much to commend it’. Biblical Inerrancy is not a doctrine the Bible posits for itself, so it must be heretical…

In the first church I pastored (Narwee Baptist in Sydney) we added a staff member (Dave Kendall) when we couldn’t afford to. We simply found enough people who wanted to strengthen the youth ministry in our church to increase their offerings for a year to support this move. In the 1970s we did the same at Blackburn Baptist Church when Robert Colman was added as the fourth pastor – again, when the ‘bean-counters’ would have advised against it. The corporate just shall live by faith eh? The result: momentum was generated in those two churches, which grew substantially over four and eight years respectively.

Thirties: ‘All institutions are inherently degenerative’  (Robert Merton). They tend to accrue power instead of giving it away and exist at the mercy of petty bureaucrats. Thus clericalism in churches (all of them) is evil: leaders are supposed to empower others for ministry but hardly ever do that well’. When institutionalism infects a denomination, the churches get the idea that they exist for HQ rather than the other way around.

Also institutions tend toward exclusiveness. For example, the ‘closed membership’ stance of most Baptist churches in Australia (until recently) made a judgment that an ‘immersed’ teenager was more competent to be a member than a godly ex-Methodist who’d been baptized by sprinkling! When I broached this subject to the deacons at Blackburn Baptist Church in the early 1970s, one of them kyboshed discussion with an ‘over my dead body’ response… See the talk I’ve given to Baptists around Australia on this topic. The tide is turning on this one.

Social Justice and Love for God/others are the key Kingdom values for Jesus but they don’t get a mention in the historic Christian creeds or evangelical Doctrinal Statements. Why is that? Inherent Pharisaism in conservative Christian culture… See my article ‘Pharisees Ancient and Modern’ for more…

The truth embraces many dimensions: the temptation of tired minds is to focus on just one aspect and thus imbibe a very restricted spiritual diet. For example, ‘Worship’ has seven meanings in Biblical and subsequent Christian history, but most churches embrace just one mode, and are thus impoverished. Mission has three dimensions (justice, works of mercy, evangelism) but most churches major on one, or at most two of these. Traditionalists, conservatives, progressives and radicals all have a special insight into a particular phenomenon’s worth because each group’s asking different questions. A mature mind will not be locked into a bigoted ‘left or right-wing’ position on this or that, but will strive to be ‘above the fray’, wingless.

Forties: Paradox, ambiguity, is a beautiful thing. Men who spend more than 50 hours a week pursuing their vocation will not make good fathers. Sons and daughters especially between 11-14 need their dads. In our sick culture males especially ‘are what they do’: their worth is measured by how well they perform compared to other males. The mid-life crisis is all about realizing that this competitive instinct is sick and destructive.

Fifties: Clergy are a wounded lot. The number of ex-pastors equates with the number of serving pastors in the Western world. Before commencing John Mark Ministries we could find no cross-denominational ministry to burned-out pastors anywhere. There are plenty of them now. Each of us should identify our strengths and give ourselves away to individuals and groups who are powerless (in my case Dawn Rowan – look her up in Google – and ex-pastors and their spouses).

Sixties: Since the Old and New Testaments have nothing to say about homosexuality as an orientation, nor about the possibility of a faithful committed relationship between two Gay/Lesbian people, who am I who happened to be born with a heterosexual orientation to deny my sisters and brothers the rich benefits I’ve enjoyed in 51+ years of marriage? This is the major paradigm shift the Church worldwide is wrestling with at present. Like all other paradigm shifts (eg the emancipation of slaves and women) we’ll look back in twenty years’ time and wonder what all the fuss was about…

Seventies: The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word (who first said that?). Looking back, I’m grateful for these insights which have moved from ‘ridiculous’ to ‘the norm’ within a decade or two, when the tribes have caught up with them… The major one where the tribes are still dragging their feet is the institutional/empowerment one…

Today’s Facebook quote: ‘Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized: First, it is ridiculed, second, it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-evident’ (Schopenhauer).

But. in all this, there is a price to pay. ‘A prophet has no honor in the prophet’s own country’ (John 4:44).

Rowland Croucher



The three books reviewed here are excellent examples of how one branch of the Christian church reads its sacred book – the Bible – and may be ignorant of  other ways of approaching the Scriptures.

The Evangelical/Holiness method is practised during one’s daily ‘Quiet Time’ (in what Catholics have traditionally termed the ‘oratory’) where one asks ‘What is the word of the Lord here for me today?’ The great Evangelical missionary Hudson Taylor used to read the Bible right through regularly to spot any command he was not obeying.

The ‘Signs and Wonders’ approach asks ‘How can a Word from the Lord bring deliverance/ healing/insight to this ministry situation here/now?’

In the Academy/Seminary one of the key questions about the biblical material has to do with ‘provenance’ (a term the other two groups never use). They ask: how did the Bible get to be like it is?


1. Oratory (locus: my life as an obedient servant of Christ: a good NT example might be the author of the Epistle of James);

2. Ministry (within the Body of Christ and elsewhere – eg. Agabus and the itinerant prophets, Acts 11:27ff.);

3. Academy/Seminary (focusses on the mind – eg. Apollos?).

Each has its own culture/language/cliches/ideas.

There is hardly any overlap between these approaches in many/most churches. For example, if Agabus rocked up to an Evangelical or Progressive/Mainline church and announced he had a ‘word from the Lord’ for that congregation today, they generally wouldn’t know what to do with him. If a theological teacher asked the Evangelicals or Pentecostals about understanding the Torah in terms of the Documentary Hypothesis, they’d respond ‘Please explain!’.

(My own view, for what it’s worth, is that each of these broad approaches has value, and in fact describes the church’s historical transition from a first/second generation charismatic era, through a ‘routinization of charisma’ phase – where creeds and laws replace fervour and ‘life’ – to the mostly intellectual stance of the Academy, and the predictability of mainline churches’ worship rituals).

(Of course there are other ways to read the Bible, one of the best being the Lectio Divina approach).


1. Australian Baptist pastor Rex Hayward’s Daily Readings (2010) are pure ‘Evangelical’. There’s a Bible reading for each day of the year, a page of questions, brief paragraphs with challenging ideas for prayerful thought, and everywhere a call to holiness and serious commitment.  There are no quotes (that I could find) from biblical scholars, but quite a few from hymns and sacred choruses. The readings are mostly from the Gospels and epistles  (we journey right through Mark and James), with a few Old Testament prophets tossed in, and, I think only a couple of Psalms, and nothing that I recall from the Torah. The flavour is hortatory: and the target for Rex’s homilies is an ‘open heart and a teachable spirit’. Good for anyone, of any theological persuasion, who is willing to humbly submit to the Word of God in Scripture and be challenged to live a life of obedience to the will of Christ. You can order it from Wycliffe Bible Translators (Kangaroo Ground, Victoria) or from Rex himself (rexhayward [at] ).


2. Rachel Hickson’s Eat the Word Speak the Word: Exercising a Bible-based prophetic ministry (Monarch Books, Oxford UK, 2010) ‘takes us on a journey that will train you to respect and handle the word of God correctly, and then equip the prophetic gift within you’ (says the author on the back cover). Rachel Hickson and her husband Gordon run a ministry called Heartcry, training local churches ‘in the area of prayer and the prophetic’. They serve also as associate ministers at the respected St. Aldate’s Church Oxford (where Canon Michael Green was rector for a decade 1975-86).

When one hears that phrase ‘the prophetic’ you can be sure the flavour is Pentecostal – not ever, or hardly ever ‘liberationist’: though, remarkably, there is actually one paragraph in this book about the great biblical/ prophetic emphasis on social justice.

These chapters comprise the essence of Rachel’s teaching – which she gives to churches and conferences around the world. She expects miracles, and we have a couple of examples here which ‘blow your mind’: (1) In New York she had a ‘word’ for someone in her conference about ‘two zebras’ which she hesitated to deliver because it seemed so crazy. But the Spirit’s pressure persisted: and lo, a mixed-race couple came up to her very excited about their desire to have children, and they’d used this term to describe their future offspring. (You guessed it: the mother conceived about that time and nine months later twins were born). (2) A crippled beggar-man in Malawi, paralyzed from the hips downwards,  was prayed for, then anointed regularly to remove the dead skin from his legs. Ten years later she met him again: ‘He told me how after being massaged with warm oil, his legs had begun to move more and more until all the dead, hardened skin was removed, and now he could walk perfectly’.
Have any of my rationalist readers got a decent explanation for these?

Two of her mentor/heroes are the great Pentecostal giants-of-faith Smith Wigglesworth and Reinhard Bonnke: two people I’d encourage anyone to get to know. (I remember being a fellow-speaker at an Australian charismatic conference in Adelaide with Bonnke: and I’ve never witnessed, before or since. an auditorium filling up from the front backwards as early and as quickly as in Bonnke’s healing meetings!).
This is a balanced book, so Evangelicals and ‘Mainliners’  won’t be confronted with too much Pentecostal craziness (!). Sample: ‘Never accuse people of not having enough faith if they are not healed. We may not understand why people are not always instantly healed, but it is OK to admit we don’t know why’ (p. 183). I like that.

Highly recommended (with the couple of caveats mentioned earlier).


Linda M. MacCammon, Liberating the Bible: A Guide for the Curious and Perplexed (Orbis, 2008).

Professor MacCammon teaches theology and ethics to College students, and these chapters read like her lecture notes (and at the outset I want to record my envy of her students!).

Her first sentence in Chapter 1: ‘The Bible is a dangerous book. It is without question one of the most misinterpreted, misunderstood and misapplied books on the planet. Over the centuries, it has been used as a rationale for economic and social exploitation, the oppression of women and minorities, slavery, war and genocide. It has fostered anti-Semitism, misogyny, racial animus, homophobia… and every sort of crackpot cult imaginable. Yet the Bible has also been the driving force behind numerous social and political reform movements…’

More… ‘There is often a mistaken assumption that Biblical teachings can be extracted and applied directly to contemporary situations… [People cite] biblical texts on questions of divorce, homosexuality, stem-cell research, the status of women… the validity of other religions, and other complex issues…’

The old adage that ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ comes to mind. As does this quote from Terry Eagleton: ‘If it is true that we need a degree of certainty to get by, it is also true that too much of the stuff can be lethal!’

So with a professional theologian and ethicist we proceed with humility and a teachable spirit! But don’t let me discourage you: she inhabits ‘simplicity the other side of complexity’. And her mentors are the best of the best – people like Paul Ricoeur, John Bright, E P Sanders, Leander Keck – and the evangelical F F Bruce.
And she applies the Bible to life. Like this: in the reflection questions at the end of the chapter on Genesis (and a discussion of the story of Cain and Abel) she asks us to ‘recall the last time you were really angry. Write down how you felt. Why were you angry? What did you want?’ Etc. Beautiful!

And this: How would each of the three Isaiahs assess some contemporary issues, such as global warming, the war in Iraq, HIV and AIDS, the growing gap between rich and poor…?’ (etc.)

(I hope I’m whetting the appetites of any reading this who’ve not yet had the privilege of studying theology with a good teacher! You can’t do better than to take a year or more off to do that – with no other distractions).

Three Isaiahs? Yes, and the validity of the documentary hypothesis for understanding the authorship and provenance of the Torah etc. Some stories in Genesis belonging to ‘sociology’ rather than ‘history’? Yes, maybe. But our good professor has a lively faith, and her purpose in raising these questions – which are everyday puzzles for professional biblical scholars – is to help us tread carefully through hermeneutical minefields, and come through on the other side with an ‘examined’ faith. In her Questions for Discussion and Reflection she guides us gently into some complex issues.

Like this one on p. 205: ‘Matthew’s anti-Judaism is not unique to the New Testament. How do you think anti-Jewish passages should be treated by contemporary interpreters? What does this phenomenon suggest about other biblical biases, such as sexism, homophobia, and intolerance of other faiths?’

The last paragraph is a comment by the Hindu sage Ramakrishna on the wisdom that our grasp of the Sacred is always partial and limited:
Mother, Mother, Mother! Everyone foolishly assumes that his clock alone tells correct time. Christians claim to possess exclusive truth… countless varieties of Hindus insist that their sect, no matter how small and insignificant, expresses the ultimate position. Devout Muslims maintain that Koranic revelation supersedes all others. The entire world is being driven insane by the single phrase: “My religion alone is true.” O Mother, you have shown me that no clock is entirely accurate. Only the transcendent sun of knowledge remains on time. Who can make a system from Divine Mystery?

If it’s not too late, order this one as a Christmas gift and spend a month dawdling through it on your annual holidays! It will open your eyes to the wonders of a biblical faith.

Rowland Croucher
December 2010


Tuesday, August 19, 2014


My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways, declares Yahweh. For the heavens are as high above earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts.
We know only imperfectly... When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and see things as a child does, and think like a child; but now that I have become an adult, I have finished with childish ways. Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles... Now I can know only imperfectly.
So, then, where does that leave the wise? or the scholars? or the skilful debaters of this world? God has shown that this world's wisdom is foolishness!
How great are God's riches! How deep are his wisdom and knowledge! Who can explain his decisions?
Who can understand his ways? As the scripture says, 'Who knows the mind of the Lord? Who is able to give him advice? Who has ever given him anything, so that he had to pay it back?'
For all things were created by him, and all things exist through him and for him. To God be the glory for ever! Amen.
[Isaiah 55: 8-9, JB; 1 Corinthians 13: 11-12, JB; 1 Corinthians 1: 20, GNB; Romans 11: 33-36, GNB]
God is mystery. We can never encompass God in thoughts or words. When we talk about God we are trying to describe the divine from the point of view of the human, the eternal from the standpoint of the temporal, the infinite in finite terms, the absolute from the severely limited perspective of the relative.
Rudolf Otto describes the sacred as 'mysterium tremendum et fascinans', the awe-inspiring mystery which fascinates us. We are tempted to hide from the fearful majesty of God, but also to gaze in wonder at his loveliness.
We encounter mystery in the descriptions of the ways of God in the Bible, in the sacraments, liturgies and rites of the church, in nature, and in the events of history. Mystery pervades the whole of reality. Indeed, true knowledge and freedom are not possible without an experience of mystery.
In the languages of literature, art, music, we touch the hem of God's garment and feel a little tingle of power, but God will always remain incomprehensible.
Mystery also surrounds the human creatures who are both made in the image of a mysterious God and who have, by their sinning, marred that image. Pascal says this doctrine of the Fall offends us, but yet, without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incom prehensible to ourselves.
So Christianity, says Kierkegaard, is 'precisely the paradoxical'. (Paradox -- from the Greek para and doxa, 'against opinion'.) The idea of mystery invites us to think more deeply, not to abandon thinking; to reject the superficial, and the simplistic.
Prejudice is, in essence, idolatry: the worship of my - or my group's - ideas, even ideas of God. If I know all the answers I would be God, and 'playing God' is the essence of idolatry.
One of my greatest dangers is to relax my vigilance against the possibility of prejudice in my own life, or to suffer from the delusion that I can ever be really free from it. We human beings are more rationalising than rational. Thomas Merton said somewhere, 'No-one is so wrong as the one who knows all the answers.' Alfred North Whitehead: 'Religions commit suicide when they find their inspiration in their dogmas.' 'If you understand everything, you must be misinformed,' runs a Japanese proverb. People who are always right are always wrong. The dilemma is summed up by W.B. Yeats -- 'While the best lack conviction, the worst are full of certainty and passionate intensity.'
The key lies in distinguishing between faithless doubt and creative doubt. Faithless doubt, as Kahlil Gibran put it, 'is a pain too lonely to realise that faith is his twin brother'. Or it is a cop-out to save us being committed to anything. Its accomplice, neutrality, is also evil: the apathy of 'good' persons results in the triumph of evil. The worst evils in the world are not committed by evil people, but by good people who do not know they are not doing good. The authentic Christian is willing to listen, as well as to save.
Creative doubt, on the other hand, is 'believing with all your heart that your belief is true, so that it will work for you; but then facing the possibility that it is really false, so that you can accept the consequences of the belief.' (John Reseck).
So faith is not about certainty (certainty makes faith invalid and unnecessary). Its core is the mystery -- and the reality -- of the Eternal coming into time: 'Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man' (Wesley).
The essence of Christianity is not dogmatic systems of belief, but being apprehended by Christ. True faith holds onto Christ, and for all else is uncommitted. It is about a relationship with Christ (and all meaningful relationships involve risk). The true God does not give us an immutable belief-system, but himself. He became one of us to 'make his light shine in our hearts, to bring us the knowledge of God's glory shining in the face of Christ' (2 Corinthians 4: 6). Alleluia!
Here are some of the best quotes on this broad subject, from my files:
The essential difference between orthodox Christianity and the various heretical systems is that orthodoxy is rooted in paradox. Heretics, as Irenaeus saw, reject paradox in favour of a false clarity and precision. But true faith can only grow and mature if it includes the elements of orthodoxy that God cannot be known by the mind, but is known in the obscurity of faith, in the way of ignorance, in the darkness. Such doubt is not the enemy of faith, but an essential element within it. For faith in God does not bring the false peace of answered questions and resolved paradoxes. Rather, it can be seen as a process of 'unceasing interrogation'. [Kenneth Leech, True God]
'Stage 5' faith involves going beyond explicit ideological systems and clear boundaries of identity; accepting that truth is more multidimensional and organically independent than most theories or accounts of truth can grasp; symbols, stories, doctrines and liturgies are inevitably partial, limited to a particular experience of God and incomplete. This position (i.e. that an appreciation of mystery and ambiguity is the essence of maturity) implies no lack of commitment to one's own truth tradition. Nor does it mean a wishy-washy neutrality or mere fascination with the exotic features of alien cultures... Rather, each genuine perspective will augment and correct aspects of the other in a mutual movement toward the real and the true. [James Fowler, Stages of Faith]
I believe, because it is absurd... it is certain, because it is impossible. [Tertullian]
Nicolas of Cusa expressed what the human heart had always surmised: all opposites coincide in God. This insight has weighty implications for any attempt to speak about divine realities. The closer we come to saying something worthwhile, the more likely that paradox will be the only way to express it. 'When I am weak, then I am strong' (2 Corinthians 12: 10). 'In losing one's life one will find it' (Matthew 10: 39). 'In spite of that, we call this Friday good' (T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets). [David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer]
Most of us find it very easy to hurl an epithet or fashion a label. We like to smooth out wrinkles, sand down rough edges, simplify the mysteries that are threatening precisely because they defy categorisation. There is certainly enough confusion in our lives, we reason. Shouldn't it facilitate our day to day living if we are clear on what is good or bad, who is left or right, what is profound or drivel? The fact is that those who have attempted to nail down or write off mystery end up 'undone' by the very pride which leads them to play God in the first place... the Pharisees did not rest until they had nailed an upstart dissenter to a tree. [Donald J. Foran, Living with Ambiguity]
If you want to attempt to travel through life without trouble, believe everything (be gullible) or believe nothing (be cynical), and don't be committed to anything (be 'neutral'). [Source Unknown]
Whilst we might deplore a lack of openness to any new thing God is doing, nevertheless this is the psychology of the human creatures God has made. Those whose thinking is rooted in 'simplicity this side of complexity' must not be too harsh with others who enjoy 'complexity the other side of simplicity'. Ideally, we are all moving towards 'simplicity the other side of complexity', but we must be patient with one another on the way there. [Rowland Croucher, Recent Trends Among Evangelicals]
There's a wideness in God's mercy, /Like the wideness of the sea: There's a kindness in his justice, /Which is more than liberty. For the love of God is broader /Than the measures of man's mind: And the heart of the Eternal /Is most wonderfully kind. But we make his love too narrow /By false limits of our own; And we magnify his strictness /With a zeal he will not own. [EW. Faber]
The ultimate gift of conscious life is a sense of the mystery that encompasses it. [Lewis Mumford]
The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. [Albert Einstein]
If they [the ministers of the church] had no doubts, they would hardly be very good Christians, because the intellectual life is as ambiguous as the moral life... The element of doubt is an element of faith itself... What the church should do is to accept someone who says that the faith for which the church stands is a matter of one's ultimate concern... Dogma should not be abolished, but interpreted in such a way that it is no longer a suppressive power which produces dishonesty or flight. [Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought]

At ebb tide I wrote
A line upon the sand
And gave it all my heart
And all my soul.
At flood tide I returned
To read what I had inscribed
And found my ignorance upon the shore. [Kahlil Gibran]

And a prayer:
Lord God, the God of security and the enemy of security too; I come to you, confused, needing the reassurance of your gracious acceptance; broken, needing your healing -- or else the promise of your presence; thirsting for reality, to the fountain of life; desolate, yearning for a loving touch as from a parent.
Help me to love you above everything else; to trust your goodness when I do not understand your ways, to affirm your constancy in spite of my fickleness; my times are in your hands. Amen
Eternal God, the light of the minds that know you, the joy of the hearts that love you, and the strength of the wills that serve you; grant that I may know you, that I may truly love you, and so to love you that I may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [St Augustine of Hippo]
In this day, may my thoughts, words and deeds betray a little more of your image in me, less of the influence of the world, the flesh and the devil, so that all I meet I shall treat as Christ and be as Christ to them. Amen.

A Benediction:
Knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge, [may] you be filled with the utter fullness of God (Ephesians 3: 19, JB). [Rowland Croucher, High Mountains Deep Valleys, Albatross/Lion, chapter 51]


Those who depend on obeying the Law live under a curse… the Law has nothing to do with faith (Paul). If [faith] is alone and includes no actions, it is dead (James).
We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions. In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body.
Christ is like a single body, which has many parts; it is still one body, even though it is made up of different parts. God put every different part in the body just as he wanted it to be… There would not be a body if it were only one part! There are many parts, but one body.
What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror… What I know now is only partial… Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.
So, then, let us stop judging one another… aim at those things that bring peace and that help to strengthen one another.
And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.
Accept one another, then, for the glory of God, as Christ has accepted you.
Above all, keep your love for one another at full strength, because love cancels innumerable sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Whatever gift each of you may have received, use it in service to one another, like good stewards dispensing the grace of God in its varied forms.
(Galatians 3: 10, GNB; James 2: 17, GNB; Romans 12: 4-5, GNB; 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13, 18-20, GNB; 1 Corinthians 13: 12-13, GNB; Romans 14:13 and 19, GNB; John 13: 34-35, GNB; Romans 15: 7, GNB; 1 Peter 4: 8-10, NEB)
Snoopy was typing a manuscript, up on his kennel. Charlie Brown: ‘What are you doing, Snoopy?’ Snoopy: ‘Writing a book about theology.’ Charlie Brown: ‘Good grief. What’s its title?’ Snoopy (thoughtfully): ‘Have You Ever Considered You Might Be Wrong?’
This points up a central Christian dictum: God’s truth is very much bigger than our little systems.
Our Lord often made the point that God’s fathering extended to all people everywhere. He bluntly targeted the narrow nationalism of his own people, particularly in stories like the good Samaritan. Here the ‘baddie’ is a hero. It’s a wonderful parable underlining the necessity to love God through loving your neighbour — and one’s neighbour is the person who needs help, whoever he or she may be. But note that love of neighbour is more than seeking their conversion, then adding a few acts of mercy to others in ‘our group’. Jesus’ other summary statements about the meaning of religion and life in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 involve justice too: attempting to right the wrongs my neighbour suffers.
‘Ethnocentrism’ is the glorification of my group. What often happens in practice is a kind of spiritual apartheid: I’ll do my thing and you do yours — over there. Territoriality (‘my place — keep out!’) replaces hospitality (‘my place — you’re welcome!’). I like Paul’s commendation in Philippians 2:19-21 of Timothy ‘who really cares’ when everyone else was concerned with their own affairs.
Sometimes our non-acceptance of others’ uniqueness has jealousy or feelings of inferiority at their root. You have probably heard the little doggerel, ‘I hate the guys/that criticise/and minimise/the other guys/whose enterprise/has made them rise/above the guys/that criticise/and minimise…’
In our global village we cannot avoid relating to ‘different others’. Indeed, marriage is all about two different people forming a unity in spite of their differences. Those differences can of course be irritating — for example when a ‘lark’ marries an ‘owl’ (but the Creator made both to adorn his creation).
Even within yourself there are diverse personalities. If you are a ‘right brain’ person, why not develop an interest in ‘left brain’ thinking?
The Lord reveals different aspects of his truth to different branches of the church. What a pity, then, to make our part of the truth the whole truth. Martin Buber had the right idea when he said that the truth is not so much in human beings as between them. An author dedicated his book to ‘Stephen… who agrees with me in nothing, but is my friend in everything.’ Just as an orchestra needs every instrument, or a fruit salad is tastier with a great variety of fruits, so we are enriched through genuine fellowship with each other.
A Christian group matures when it recognises it may have something to learn from other groups. The essence of immaturity is not knowing that one doesn’t know, and therefore being unteachable. No one denomination or church or group has a monopoly on the truth. How was God able to get along for 1500, 1600 or 1900 years without this or that church? Differences between denominations or congregations — or even within them — reflect the rich diversity and variety of the social, cultural and temperamental backgrounds from which those people come. But they also reflect the character of God whose grace is ‘multi-coloured’.
If you belong to Christ and I belong to Christ, we belong to each other and we need each other. Nothing should divide us.
Some wisdom from others:
Diversity is a hallmark of life, an intrinsic feature of living systems in the natural world. The demonstration and celebration of this diversity is an endless rite. Look at the popularity of museums, zoos, aquariums and botanic gardens. The odder the exhibit, the more different it is from the common and familiar forms around us, the more successful it is likely to be. Nature does not tire of providing oddments for people who look for them. Biologists have already formally classified 1.7 million species. As many as 30 to 40 million more may remain to be classified. [David Ehrenfeld, ‘Thirty million cheers for diversity’]
We cannot easily forgive another for not being ourselves. [Emerson]
I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you. [Shylock, The Merchant of Venice]
Truth is what people kill each other for. [Herbert Read]
After three days of discussion at Marburg, the Reformers agreed on fourteen articles, but could not be reconciled on the fifteenth concerning the Eucharist. This led to a division between the Lutheran and Reformed churches which continues to this day. It is reported that when Luther refused to shake hands with Zwingli in farewell, the Swiss reformer left with tears in his eyes. His attitude throughout had been most brotherly. [Arthur Gum, Ulrich Zwingli, the unknown reformer]
If Jesus ever came down to earth again, the Spaniards would dance with joy, the Italians would start singing, the French would discuss whether his visit was timely and the Germans? Well, they would present him with a schedule. [Cardinal Sin, of Manila]
Different groups within the Christian church are at odds with one another because their models of the Christian life, its beginnings and its fullness, are so diverse. One group of genuine believers can never remember a conscious conversion to faith in Christ; another insists that a datable experience of being ‘born again’ is essential; a third says that a second distinct experience of ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ is necessary for Christian maturity. When we ‘test the spirits’ in the lives of representatives among these groups, we often find an equal level of spiritual vitality — or deadness! — in each sector. The Christian life is being offered in diverse packages, but what is inside is the same — newness of life in Christ. Nonetheless, the different groups enjoying this life are readily offended by another’s packages. One person’s piety is often another’s poison. [Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life]
Inevitably, law reduces things to a common denominator. Under grace, everything is completely different. Individual difference is encouraged.. Each Christian becomes an authentic witness, since each has their own experience of Christ, incommensurable with that of any other person, since all genuinely personal experiences are Individual and unique. Each has his or her own irreplaceable contribution to the life of the whole. Each has an instrument to play, a gift to offer to the harmony of the whole orchestra. [Stephen Neill, On the Ministry]
We can no longer doubt that there are many different expressions of Christianity within the New Testament. These patterns… did [not] always complement each other; on the contrary, they not infrequently clashed, sometimes fiercely… The language forms were different, often so different that the words of one believer could not serve as the vehicle of faith of another, or even for himself in different circumstances… So, if we have been convinced of the unity of first-century Christianity, we can hardly be less convinced of its diversity. [James D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament]
[The church of the next century must be] a church which allows considerable diversity of outlook and expression and does not insist on rigid uniformity. We should not be afraid of diversity within the church. The fact is that people have different temperaments, and these require a variety of expression of faith and worship. But there is another more profound reason for pluralism within the church. This is that no one of us and no one point of view can comprehend the fullness of the mystery of God. We know him only in part, and we can see him only from a perspective which is formed by our historical, cultural and sociological heritage as well as by our personal experience. The pluralism within the church is far from being a simply negative thing and need not be divisive. [Archbishop Keith Raynor]
‘The very idea of diversities compatible with communion. . . or of the sufficient minimum of doctrine to be held in common if unity is to be preserved… is the object of all my research.’ It should also be an object of vital interest to all Christians. The diversity which always has existed in the church is still, theoretically, valued and not merely tolerated. Where differences did not inhibit communication by leading to an isolated sectarianism, communion was not sundered; folk lived out, and died for, the one faith before it found uniform expression in creeds and conciliar definitions. If the same faith is being lived, varying formulations of it (which may have equally respectable apostolic origins) must be reconcilable. [Yves Congar, Diversity and Communion]
With regard to the question of a ‘minimal creed’, what might it affirm? Here’s a suggestion: We affirm: 1. One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; 2. Jesus Christ as my Saviour, my Lord and my God; 3. The Scriptures as authoritative for faith and conduct; 4. Love for, acceptance of and full fellowship with all who thus confess their allegiance to God through Christ; 5. Our commission to continue the holistic ministry of Christ in evangelism and social action to a lost world. [Rowland Croucher, Recent Trends Among Evangelicals]
Jacques Ellul, noting that in many of the conflicts of our time sincere Christians are to be found on both sides, welcomes this fact, for he claims that their Christianity can unite them across political and partisan divisions, so lessening the hostility of those divisions and preparing the way for eventual reconciliation. [John Macquarrie, The Humility of God]
Jesus brings together Jew and Gentile and from them both produces one new kind of person… It is not that Jesus makes all the Jews into Gentiles, or all the Gentiles into Jews; he produces a new kind of person out of both, although they remain Gentiles and Jews. Chrysostom, the famous preacher of the early church, says that it is as if one should melt down a statue of silver and a statue of lead, and the two should come out gold. The unity which Jesus achieves is not achieved by blotting out all racial and national characteristics; it is achieved by making all people of all nations into Christians… Christianity produces people who are friends with each other because they are friends with God.
William Barclay, Galatians and Ephesians
Lord God our Creator, when you made all creatures great and small in their rich diversity you were so delighted. And when you made human beings (in your image) to be so diverse, they must represent somehow the rich diversity of the Godhead itself. Lord, our Redeemer, when Jesus Christ died to draw all unto him, it was in prospect of heaven being populated by people from every tribe, language, nation and race.
Lord, help me to appreciate all this richness; may my theology not be too eccentric, peripheral to the central concern of the gospel which is to increase love for God and others. So teach me how to stay close to you, close to humankind, and make it the goal of my life to bring God and humankind together. Help me to move from law (with its tendency to reduce everything to a common denominator) to grace (where individual differences are celebrated).
May my view of myself be conditioned more by my being bound up in life with others, rather than my separateness from them.
Help me to be big enough to be all things to all people, to help in their saving to keep the bridges between me and others in good repair…
Cure thy children’s warring madness
Bend our pride to thy control;
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.
[H.E. Fosdick]
Gather us in, thou love that fillest all; Gather our rival faiths within thy fold. Rend each one’s temple-veil and bid it fall, That we may know that thou hast been of old; Gather us in. Gather us in: we worship only Thee; In varied names we stretch a common hand; In diverse forms a common soul we see; In many ships we seek one spirit-land; Gather us in. Each one sees one colour of thy rainbow-light, Each looks upon one tint and calls it heaven; Thou are the fullness of our partial sight; We are not perfect till we find the seven; Gather us in.
[G.E. Matheson]
A Benediction
May God be merciful to us, and bless us; look on us with kindness, so that the whole world may know your will; so that nations may know your salvation.
May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you! [Psalm 67:1-2 (GNB)]
From Rowland Croucher, ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys, Albatross/Lion, chapter 13.