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franciscan - May 1999

© The Society of Saint Francis, 1999

Mind, Heart and Will

in interview with Graham Claydon

I always think of evangelical Christians as focused on ‘bringing people to Christ’. Is that central to your ministry and how do you do it?
Yes, I believe it to be my calling. I do it as a preacher, a counsellor and a friend.

I preach, not only to inform, but to challenge towards decision. My sermons move towards choices, for instance, to pray daily: ‘God, whoever you may be, show me more of yourself’; or to read a book of the Bible or some other book. Only sometimes do I present the big challenge: ‘Will you open yourself and receive Jesus Christ into your life?’ I work to free people from the blockages that stand in the way of their response.

It is primarily an emotional matter but, of course, the mind comes into it. Like any other discovery, it is a long process in which the pieces of the jigsaw gradually come together until the picture appears. For me, truth is more a matter of pictures than propositions. But I present truth in different ways and the congregation is now used to me saying, ‘Some Christians think this and some that.’
When people come to share personal matters, I seek to listen deeply and reflect with them on their issues but, since they have come to a Christian Minister, I ask, ‘How do you see God in this?’ and, ‘Shall we talk to him about it?’

I came into parish ministry through the call to be an evangelist. So I take time to go around among people and share myself so that both of us may change. Many of my close friends are not churchgoers, but I would not be myself if I didn’t naturally talk to them about Christ.

I associate evangelicals with certitude; for instance about the Bible and moral questions, and with confidence in telling people what they ought to do. Am I right?

I understand certainty and confidence to be about relationship and trust, rather than about assent to propositions. It is about a Person rather than a package. Of course, I use the Christian framework of creed, baptismal formulæ of repentance and faith, etc., but I know that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who shows us that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and who brings us to the ‘Abba, Father’ relationship. There’s room for pluriformity in propositions, but the heart of the matter is in the relationship of trust.

Are you comfortable with Alpha?
I’m only on my second one, but I find the combination of meal, presentation, sharing and questioning and the experience of the Holy Spirit on the away-day remarkably effective. But the open sharing and the allowing of people to understand things differently from the video is important to me.

What attitude do you take to non-specifically religious spirituality?

I am happier with them when I see them as a preparation for the gospel, rather than self-contained systems which exclude openness to God. The more mystical side of me accepts something of Christ in all things and knows that it is not my place to say how others encounter him. But it is my calling to speak about Christ in all situations and to help others to respond. I have sometimes done workshops on body posture and prayer through physical objects, etc., though I know that unguarded silence can leave a person vulnerable to dark forces, whether from within them or outside.

How do you advise Christians to relate to the world?

Surrounded by Christ’s armour and aflame with ‘the fire of God’s love’, I encourage them to plunge into life around them and work with God for the coming Kingdom. I see the Church as overlapping with the Kingdom but not identical with it. I think that it’s a sad division in a person if they can only talk about Christ in a churchly setting. On the other hand, young Christians who have wrestled with temptations and addictions need to be wary of the deceits of the world.

I find it difficult, by the way, to answer some of the questions you put to me in the general, rather than in the particular; don’t you?

Yes, of course. I only hope I can catch the tone of your replies in the write-up. You told me earlier that over the last two years you have set out to read McGinn’s five-volume history of Christian spirituality. Where do you see evangelical spirituality fitting into this story?

Evangelicalism today varies: it’s more defined by the adjectives – open, traditional, biblical, charismatic, Reform, etc. I see a sixteenth-century reformation spirituality, a seventeenth-century Puritan one, a nineteenth-century one which much contemporary evangelicalism has re-packaged; and I look to where many evangelicals are moving now. For instance, there’s the contrast between ‘only do it if it’s in Scripture’ and ‘do anything as long as Scripture doesn’t specifically forbid it!’ I think that the attempts to come to terms with Enlightenment-thinking – the basic assumptions and propositions of which are much challenged today – and the attempts to express Christianity in ways that are congruous with it, has changed us all considerably, but more changes are ahead.

Thank you very much indeed. Do you have a final ‘bon mot’?

Maybe the quotation John Collins (formerly of Holy Trinity, Brompton Road) frequently used: ‘The word alone and you dry up; the Spirit alone and you blow up; the word and the Spirit together and you grow up.’ §

 

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