Petley White Fury

Book Review of Christer Petley’s ‘White Fury’ by Dr. Steve Watts

Steve Watts - Book Review of Christer Petley's 'White Fury'

Petley White Fury

Christer Petley’s White Fury: A Jamaican Slaveholder and the Age of Revolution (Oxford, 2018).

Available to purchase here.

“British historians write almost as if Britain had introduced Negro slavery solely for the satisfaction of abolishing it.”

This bitter observation, made by the noted historian and first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Eric Williams, appears in the final pages of Christer Petley’s superb White Fury: A Jamaican Slaveholder and the Age of Revolution. It gives voice to a view that British historians, if not also the British public, have tended to see slavery primarily in terms of its abolition. And why wouldn’t they? Who wouldn’t want to see themselves on the right side of history? But if we are not careful it can be a story more concerned with praising John Newton’s amazing grace, than lamenting the utter wretchedness of the human cargo he had transported, so matter–of–factly, across the Atlantic.

Petley does not say so explicitly, but one gets the sense while turning the pages of his book that he had Williams’s words firmly in mind. White Fury, simply put, is an unvarnished portrait of British slaveholding. More specifically, it is a portrait of Simon Taylor, not only the most “successful” of the Caribbean planter class, but also one of the wealthiest men of the British Empire.

Employing Taylor’s correspondence as his principal resource, Petley traces the slaveholder’s career from the mid 18th to early 19th centuries as it weathers storms both literal and figurative. High winds, blight, and disease turn Taylor’s sugar plantations into high-risk, high-reward ventures, while the American and French revolutions and the unwelcome rise of abolitionism challenge his relationship to the Empire. And so we read of Taylor’s hopes, fears, struggles, ailments, frustrations, and finally his fury when the British government turns its back on what still remained a highly profitable industry. Abolition, for Taylor, was no humanitarian victory; it was nothing short of betrayal.

What is strikingly absent from Taylor’s correspondence, however, is any meaningful comment on the thousands of people who lived, and often quickly and miserably died, on his plantations. He treated these, by–and–large, as little more than livestock. Not much better was his treatment of those few relatively-privileged African men given authority over the more destitute, among which numbered a substantial number of women and children. Not much better still was his treatment of those Creole women, euphemistically referred to as “housekeepers,” who produced Creole children without the legal status of heirs. His quest for profit eclipsed their personhood; their value enumerated, literally, in pound sterling. His overwhelming concern, then, was for their economic productivity, tempered only by an ever-present fear of their revolt.

Gratefully, Petley does not limit his study to Taylor’s self-interest. Instead, the reader is treated to a wider, richer view. At turns, Petley traces the passage of a slave ship on its dreadful course, details the hardships of plantation life, reveals the integration of Caribbean and British mainland economies, and much besides. Indeed, one can quite easily imagine a not too indirect line from the lucrative output of Taylor’s plantations to the proverbial spoonful of sugar in the average British home. All the President’s Men told us to “follow the money”; in this case, the same could well be said of the sugar.

All told, then, Petley offers both a bracing and enlightening account of this troubled period in British history. It is carefully-researched and highly readable. It is unflinching yet unpolemical. And it offers much to chew over, to reflect upon. So, of the many possible subjects to explore in the latter part of this review, I think it beneficial to highlight at least a few.

The first, concerns Taylor’s colonial British identity. As has often been pointed out, the American Founding Fathers were evidently not referring to the new nation’s multitudes of African slaves when they affirmed that all men were created equal. But in light of Taylor’s letters and the wider contours of British colonisation detailed in Petley’s study, it occurs to me that the Declaration is neither as tragically ironic nor obviously unjust as I had previously assumed. White colonists, and particularly those ruling over a multitude of black slaves, were in fact often at the more progressive edge of political liberalism. They were especially keen to assert their rights and freedoms vis–à-vis a potentially overbearing government back home. Such freedom, moreover, was further reinforced in contrast to the enslaved people who surrounded them, laboured under them. Freedom, alongside whiteness, western civilization, and religion, was what made them distinct, and––in their eyes––superior.

The second relates to Taylor’s stunning degree of compartmentalisation. How is it possible to be a champion of freedom while enslaving others? But perhaps that is just my naïveté talking. The world’s first democracy, after all, was underwritten by slave-labour, specifically in the silver mines southeast of ancient Athens. And yet the theological and biblical allusions scattered about Taylor’s letters still strain the boundaries of credulity. What is anyone to do with a slaveholder who unironically describes their position relative to the British government as being akin to Israelites straining under Egyptian bondage? And yet, there is Taylor again, thanking Providence for blessing his labours.

If there is a place for critiquing Petley’s otherwise fine analysis, it is here. Much more could have been said about the religious and theological content that emerges in the writings of both slaveholder and abolitionist. And the same surely goes for the beliefs of the slaves themselves.

Early in the book, for instance, there is brief mention of the nonconformists who arrived in Jamaica and immediately set to work undermining the strict hierarchy of the slave society they encountered. Unlike the baptisms into the Church of England for those select few of Taylor’s skilled and favoured slaves, these sought mass baptisms and grassroots change. Indeed, despite the caricatures of present popular imagination, such missionaries were more typically thorns in the side of imperial economic interests rather than ignorant agents of colonisation.

And later on, when Petley charts the rise and ultimate success of the abolition movement in Britain, he repeatedly refers to these as humanitarian activities. But this movement began among the Quakers and then gained momentum predominantly among evangelical Anglicans. Humanitarian is thus far too secular a word for something so explicitly theological. From Clarkson to More, from Newton to Wilberforce, slavery was a sin––a sin for which the British Empire was already being judged by God. What then to do with these conflicting theologies with real world consequences? What then to do with those places where slaveholder and abolitionist were otherwise in theological agreement? Neither party, it must be said, was in much doubt that the Empire itself had been providentially ordained.

With this criticism aside, I return again to Williams’s initial observation. Not only can the standard British account of slavery focus more upon abolition than the slavery itself, but it can also prioritise the voices of the powerful, regardless of whether they are doing the enslaving. Petley appears sensitive to this pitfall. At every opportunity he seeks to give voice to the thousands of otherwise historically voiceless men, women, and children unloaded upon Jamaican shores. Indeed, the very arc of the work seems to point in their direction. Whether intended or not, I appreciated his decision to address the immense cost born by these people first, prior to any exploration of Taylor’s own risks and labours. It gave the welcome impression of putting matters in their rightful place, if only in historical retrospect.

And it is this tendency that brings me to a final, discomfiting reflection. As I first began to read White Fury, I became aware that I was approaching Taylor in terms of how and why he did what he did. How could he have systematically disregarded and even destroyed so many people, so many images of God? Surely profit, no matter how great, could ever pay off such a grievous blood debt. How could he sleep at night? And yet… and yet. Follow the sugar. Follow the tags on my clothing. Follow the phone in my pocket, to the hands that made it, and under what conditions. I don’t know. Follow the often war-torn origins of the metals that bring my devices to life, ever-hungry for my entertainment spent in leisure. Do I want to know? Do we?

Compartmentalisation and its dear friend Hypocrisy are never too far away from the human heart. But there is yet more to say. My perspective, when reading Taylor’s letters and, indeed, Petley’s study, assumes a freedom to choose; the freedom to say no. It is clearly not, then, the perspective of one shackled to another in the dark, rows upon rows, stench and disease, frightened, angry, hopeless, human cargo shuddering along the Middle Passage. I struggle to imagine myself in that place, so far from freedom, even though it has been experienced by so many. So many. And that distance is haunting, and more revealing, than I would care to admit.

Steve WattsDr. Steve Watts teaches Church History and Spirituality at WTC. He received his PhD in Mediaeval History at the University of St Andrews and was most recently a postdoctoral fellow at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto. He graduated from Regent in 2010 with an MCS in Interdisciplinary Studies. He presently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, with his wonderful wife Elissa and four bright-eyed children.


TheoMisc Blog

Theological Miscellany is a blog where we post a variety of theological reflections on scripture, life, culture, politics, society, gender, and pretty much anything. WTC attracts a whole range of people as students and a wide range of faculty from around the world with different interests and theological leanings. What draws us all together is our commitment to a Christ-centred theology, taught in a Spirit-led fashion in partnership with the local church.

Find all posts HERE

Come and Study With Us

WTC TheologyOur study of theology means engaging with a Kingdom that is powerful and transformational.

We offer programmes in ‘Kingdom Theology’ because at the heart of our study is the belief that Jesus came proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. Through his life, death, and resurrection, he has brought the reality of the Kingdom to this world.

Find out more about WTC Programmes HERE.

Church Closed

The Holy Spirit and the Church

Alain Emerson -The Holy Spirit and the Church

The Holy Spirit is the one who ushers in the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom is present, although often hidden, in the church. The Holy Spirit is the one through whom God actively loves us in time. The Spirit is the way that the Trinity is revealed to us, pointing us always to the truth embodied in the Crucified, and leading us to the Father. By Godʼs love, we live in the Age of the Spirit, that new time in which the church exists and testifies to the world that our time is not our own. God has taken time for us and the sign of that divine intrusion is the Holy Spirit at work in the church that lives and works in the world. God through the Spirit draws us into the life of the Trinity, forming the people of God. The Spirit chooses to have a body on which the Spirit can rest. That body turns out to be called “church.”


In recent years, it has become common to talk about the church as both ‘gathered’ and ‘scattered.’ It’s helpful language in many ways as most will concur that church should be both a gathered community and a scattered dispersion of Jesus followers in their local communities. Often though this language becomes fashionable, impressive coffee-shop conversation focused more on how to ‘program’ both gathered and scattered expressions, but lacking the creative leading of the Holy Spirit. I’ve also heard it said you need to choose what kind of model you want to be—a city on a hill (emphasis on gathered expression of church, implying a well-oiled machine of great Sundays and a ministry program menu to back it up) or the salt of the earth (emphasis on scattered church expressions—‘church-wherever-we-are’ types and the dispersion of everyday missionaries into the spheres of influence).

I have always thought, Why not both? Is this not the biblical mandate? And I wonder if our pre-Covid church categories and cultural Christianity of 21st Century forced us too rigidly into one model, or often motivated us to establish one in reaction to the other? Is this season of deconstruction allowing us to reframe our understanding of church and re-centre our ecclesiology on something more akin to the normative patterns of the New Testament.

Our theology / ecclesiology is so important here. First of all, we are primarily the redeemed people of God, sinners rescued from darkness to form a new ‘covenant’ community based on the sacrificial love of Jesus. We are an alternative community, the ‘one new humanity’ living in this world as a counter-cultural vision of kingdom family, a signpost of how people will live together forever in the new heaven and earth. Sacrificial Love is therefore the axis for everything this community does and is. As Jesus taught us ‘people will know we are His if we love one another’ as he loves us. We are not just a random set of individuals scattered all over the place colliding once a week for some fellowship and pep-talk. The church is a people, a one-minded, one-hearted family baptised into one Spirit.

I am coming to realise that many streams of the church have focused on individual conversion and individual spiritual formation and even individual evangelism at the expense of building an actual community of the Holy Spirit. Remember the desert fathers who taught us the importance of solitude (monk, comes from ‘monos’ which means ‘alone’) and counter cultural spiritual formation in an empire-compromised church reached the point where they realised a life spent completely ‘solitary’ could only take them so far in their spiritual journey! Basically, they realised they needed other people to truly grow and thus the inspiring individual spiritual lives of St Anthony and others soon developed into inspiring spiritual communities. As John Finny put it – “the cells [of the Egyptian desert] became clumps (groups of monks meeting for fellowship) and the clumps became communities (the birthplace of communal monasticism as we know now it).”[2] In this context Jesus-followers became committed to a healthier form of spiritual formation. The raw elements of these communities intrigued the masses, from the poor and destitute to kings and queens and the DNA of these communities was exported into the soil of many nations all around Europe resulting in a meta-change in the cultural landscape.

My point is that as much as we, in the charismatic church, want to see a dispersion of scattered servants, carrying kingdom authority into every sphere of influence, gossiping the ‘good news’, healing the sick and confronting the powers and as much as we want to break the over-emphasised institutionalised form of the church (I get it!), we should not allow our reaction to this to pay less attention to the gathered church and its corporeal reality. The early church never assumed that ‘kingdom work’ could be done as isolated individuals, who simply ‘checked-in’ with one another for church on Sunday or worse simply watched an ‘online’ service. Rather the corollary to the spontaneous expansion of the early church was small communities of believers learning how to become one in Christ so they could reflect the life of Christ in the world.

Contrary to what many of us may think, it’s hard to deny Jesus spent as much time forming a community as he did proclaiming good news! This of course is not a dichotomy we need to force but rather a recognition that the proclamation of the kingdom flows from the formation of a Christlike community—Family on Mission. We can only accurately display the kingdom of God when we are committed to the community of the King because the community gives credibility to verbal proclamation. The one new humanity is what God is establishing on the earth to give glory to Himself. Of course, we are not talking about an insular-looking cozy community serving its own needs – rather a family loving one another into Christ-likeness, empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the good news of the kingdom and to push back the kingdom of darkness. We must encourage everyone to do the work of the evangelist – but we must not forget the church as community is an evangelist—the body of Christ on earth, witnessing to his saving grace. Further the church is more than God’s agent of evangelism of social justice in the world, it is the agent of God’s entire cosmic purpose (Eph 3:10). The church’s pattern of life and commitment to loving one another serves as a countercultural structure to the political and social structures of the day. As Karl Barth describes, the church is ‘the provisional representation of the sanctification of all humanity.’[3] Therefore in its very ‘being’ the church should be prophetic and evangelistic.

Yes, we must absolutely equip the church to scatter into society and leaven the lump of the world, not ‘demanding’ or ‘imposing’ change but scattering the seeds of truth in the way (sacrificial love) of Jesus Christ—a love more powerful than any of the sin-systems of this world, even death itself! These seeds will plant roots in society and bring forth the fruit of change in the world. But where community is lacking and where there are no environments to nourish, the leaven can often become inactive and loses its flavour. In this season of lockdown and restrictions, with a lack of gathered environments, we are in danger of the church ‘losing its flavour’ as, in my experience ‘online church’ is not able to ‘salt’ God’s people as much as actual ‘sacramental’ community.

Practically, therefore, we need to adapt and think about how we establish our churches in these days which are built around family and where spiritual formation in the way of Jesus continues to happen in community, where it was also supposed to! This of course is more challenging in days of lockdown and restrictions, but what if we have an opportunity to make these environments better than what they were pre-Covid. While there are a host of advantages to how we pivot our technology in this season there is also the danger that church becomes even more a ‘spectator sport’ than it was pre-Covid! I really believe if we work hard, reform our patterns and gathered environments to engage more people in smaller, participatory groups built around Word and Spirit dynamics and establish these groups on the principles of discipleship and mission (the Great Commission), this could be an incredible moment for the church. What if we can maximise the opportunities to build these type of environments in this season, even if it is online, so at least the principles and practices are in place for once we get out of restrictions? If the last reformation put the word of God into people’s hands what if this is an opportunity to put it into people’s hearts?

If you are unsure how to do this, ask the Holy Spirit and give yourself to more rigorous Biblical reflection on the New Testament with your leadership team. The Holy Spirit specialises in granting wisdom for how the church is established and as we submit ourselves to the scriptures He will guide you in these uncertain but full-of-opportunity days! Ephesians 3:8-10 reminds us God grants those who are called to lead and serve His church a ‘mysterious’ wisdom in the administration (or planning /‘architecting’) of the ‘household of faith.’ Look to Him. He’s been waiting for a chance for us to put down the church growth books, break the clergy-laity divide, surrender whole-heartedly to His leading and pick up the New Testament again – it’s all in there! Also be aware of who God has placed in your church body; doubtless there are many mature people who haven’t yet been empowered, equipped, and challenged to lead and disciple others. Maybe now is the chance to deploy them into service – take a risk, call them into action alongside you and go for it! A new wineskin built on the reality of the priesthood of all believers, the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the radical servanthood of the Spirit of Jesus.

Maybe this is our reformation?

[1] Stanley Hauerwas and William H Willimon, The Holy Spirit (Abingdon, 2015).

[2] John Finny, Recovering the Past (Celtic and Roman Mission), (Darton,Longman & Todd, 2013)

[3] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics v. 4: The Doctrine of Reconciliation. eds. Geoffrey William Bromiley and Thomas Forsyth Torrance (Edinburgh T. & T. Clark, 1958-1962), 614.

Alain Emerson WTC FacultyI’m Alain Emerson and I live in Northern Ireland where I help lead Emmanuel Church and also provide leadership for 24-7 Prayer in Ireland. I have the privilege of teaching at WTC on the module, ‘Shapes of the Church: Past, Present and Future,’ which is part of the Church Planting and Leadership Programme. As someone who has grown up in the
church and found myself in church leadership most of my adult life, I have a passion to see the body of Christ become all it was destined to be. I am fascinated by the many shapes of the church which have emerged throughout the centuries and the current
conversation. This has informed and inspired my own practice as a church leader, church planter and overseer over a network of churches. During these unique Covid days, I am convinced the Spirit is giving us an opportunity to reform many of our structures and patterns and yet the theological framework upon which we establish this is of utmost importance. This is a small contribution to the on-going conversation.


TheoMisc Blog

Theological Miscellany is a blog where we post a variety of theological reflections on scripture, life, culture, politics, society, gender, and pretty much anything. WTC attracts a whole range of people as students and a wide range of faculty from around the world with different interests and theological leanings. What draws us all together is our commitment to a Christ-centred theology, taught in a Spirit-led fashion in partnership with the local church.

Find all posts HERE

Come and Study With Us

WTC TheologyOur study of theology means engaging with a Kingdom that is powerful and transformational.

We offer programmes in ‘Kingdom Theology’ because at the heart of our study is the belief that Jesus came proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. Through his life, death, and resurrection, he has brought the reality of the Kingdom to this world.

Find out more about WTC Programmes HERE.

Welcome Home - Ghost Ship

Welcome Home

A blog post by Revd Azariah France-Williams.

A Warm Welcome?

Ghost Ship - Azariah FW

There is a myth that black West Indians were invited by the U.K government after WW2 to help rebuild the shattered British landscape. In fact, the government was not willing to have members of the Islands come over. They sent emissaries to the Islands to in effect declare:

“England is not open for business, thank you for your interest, we do not need your help.”

The problem was Islands like Nevis had incredibly high literacy rate coupled with easy access to English newspapers. The classifieds were clear, England was bleeding and needed labour to staunch the flow of blood. So although the government did not want the black presence, the businesses did.

One of the travellers over that period was a nineteen year old girl from Nevis who boarded an Italian boat called the Lucania. The sea spray flecked her cheeks as she boarded British passport in hand in 1955. That young bright-eyed teenager was the woman who would become my mother. She came to bring her strength and her love as a full citizen, with full rights, bringing her full self. But it can be hard to bring your gift and feel like you are merely tolerated. She worked as a seamstress and would sit on the long bench in front of her sewing machine at Hepworths factory in Leeds. Her white colleagues had a game where they would all shuffle down the bench until she toppled off the edge of the bench. White supremacy can not accommodate anyone that is ‘other’ and will strive to reestablish a world where the ‘other’ is on the floor. Although she was treated badly, she determined to make others feel welcome driven by her faith and love.

There is a Peters and Lee song called ‘Welcome Home’ the lyrics are warm and melodic, causing one to sway and smile whatever mood you were in before listening. School was not easy for me for a range of reasons. Whenever I arrived home from school, I would spot the net curtains twitch and I would know what to expect. Upon entering the house the ‘Welcome Home’ song would be blaring out at top volume and my mother would take my hand and pull me into the hallway, and dance with me. After I got over the embarrassment I would sway along and join in with the singing. We would laugh, and settle into the rest of the afternoon.

Mum welcomed me in the place she received no welcome. U.K stood for UnKind.

To some extent my mother came to the U.K to find some purpose and identity. As a ten-year old, when the second world war had finished, she wanted to now be a part of the ongoing rebuilding enterprise. She was coming to the mother country for affirmation and validation. It was a big journey with companions along the way and the thought was always that she would head back to Nevis, head home after she had done her bit, seen the world, and saved up some money to cultivate her patch of land, return and settle down. Because we all know there’s no place like home.

There is no place like home.

In the movie the Wizard of Oz Dorothy and her ragtag crew of three friends and Toto seek him out to receive the gifts he is presumed to be able to offer. Dorothy’s dog Toto pulls back the curtain and then they met the wimp behind the wizard. He shuffles from behind a curtain and the game is up.

A biblical hero with his three friends on a journey is Daniel. The story here is that they survive their own tornado and are taken to the land of power and oppression. The sheer scale and magnitude cowed many of the stolen into capitulation to the new power. They had their names changed and the emperor, the Wizard demanded they saw the world he did.

He set up a huge statue to himself and demanded everyone gathered to worship, and bow down to this oppressive display of power, but Dorothy and her three friends, I mean Daniel and his companions, would not bow down seeing the fragility behind the projection of power.

‘There is no place like home.’ Daniel and his friends bring a sense of home with them. They connected to the God of their ancestors and even in a strange land they stood despite the risks. In my book Ghost Ship, I am attempting to stay standing, I am holding onto the edge of the bench, the Church of England has rejected her children from other lands. Well eventually Dorothy got back home, and Daniel’s descendants returned, but now identity was hybridised. Home would have to be reimagined all over again. My mother never made it home but made herself a home to so many. 

God knows black lives matter, God is unambiguous about that love. When our doorbell rings and someone different to us turns up at our door, in our nation, at our church can we dust off the record player and play ‘Welcome Home,’ they may be tired, and one day it may be you needing to push the doorbell hoping to hear the music.

‘in as much as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me’

Azariah France-WilliamsRevd Azariah France-Williams is the author of Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England available from Amazon and SCM Press.


TheoMisc Blog

Theological Miscellany is a blog where we post a variety of theological reflections on scripture, life, culture, politics, society, gender, and pretty much anything. WTC attracts a whole range of people as students and a wide range of faculty from around the world with different interests and theological leanings. What draws us all together is our commitment to a Christ-centred theology, taught in a Spirit-led fashion in partnership with the local church.

Find all posts HERE

Come and Study With Us

WTC TheologyOur study of theology means engaging with a Kingdom that is powerful and transformational.

We offer programmes in ‘Kingdom Theology’ because at the heart of our study is the belief that Jesus came proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. Through his life, death, and resurrection, he has brought the reality of the Kingdom to this world.

Find out more about WTC Programmes HERE.


Praise as Defiance in the Face of Suffering and Death

Catherine Delve - Praise as Defiance in the Face of Suffering and Death

Praise as Default

Ever since I was a child, I’ve known something of the power of praise. Praise was a default after my dad walked out, albeit after 24 hours once the initial shock had passed. It seemed something of a rebellious act—my own small act of rebellion in the face of disaster and grief. And it has seemed like this at multiple times since, when all appeared to be lost. Whether close to bankruptcy (a fair few times), or dealing with the onset of a chronic health condition in my 30s (which threatened to lead to confinement to a wheelchair), facing the seemingly impossible has been a regular occurrence in my life, as I’m sure it probably has been in yours too.

When Paul and Silas found themselves in prison in Acts 16:25, facing the injustice and humiliation of a Roman flogging and having their feet restrained in stocks, their response was to praise God. I can’t imagine that this was praise born out of thanksgiving for the situation in which they found themselves. A Roman flogging was not like a tame rap on the knuckles. It was a brutal act; their backs were likely torn and bleeding. They would have been in terrible pain and discomfort. Nonetheless, they continued to believe that God was exactly who he said he was, and they praised him as a result. As they did so, something powerful was released. There was an earthquake and the prison doors flew open! Freedom manifested itself.

In the West, our challenges are normally less extreme, but nonetheless they are real. But now, the unparalleled and testing times we find ourselves in globally as a result of the coronavirus are stretching many of us to our limits, and for many, are extreme. The grief of the loss of loved ones, the feelings of loss of control, the sudden loss of income for so many, and uncertainty about the future presses in on every side. It is so easy at times like this to feel blind-sided by our circumstances and to be overcome by fear or anxiety. Equally, it is easy to question where is God in all of this. Where are you God when I can’t seem to see you or feel you? And indeed, who are you, God? Can I trust that you are good, that your mercy is new every morning?

NT Wright wrote an insightful piece recently (you can read it here), which despite its clickbait title, helpfully encourages us to join God in lamenting the tragedies which overwhelm us. As my friend and OT scholar Matt Lynch has already identified, the charismatic church doesn’t really know how to lament if the lyrics of the top one hundred songs in contemporary Christian music are anything to go by.[1] Now would be as good a time as any other for us to focus on developing this. However, what our tradition is much better at is eschatological hope. Consider some of the songs of the moment: Raise a Hallelujah, Way Maker, God of Revival, Good Grace to name but a few.[2] Much of our sung congregational worship is of this ilk. Perhaps we could even say that this trend in contemporary Christian music has led us to build a somewhat lopsided tradition which knows how to do declaration and hope, but knows less how to do reverence or lament.

In times such as these, this lopsidedness poses challenges and demands that we become more thoughtful and nuanced in what we are singing and why. Sometimes it is very challenging to sing songs of hope when hope is in danger of being drowned out by fear and death. Is it even appropriate to sing songs like this when people are dying, businesses are failing, many of the self-employed have lost their incomes overnight, and victims of domestic violence are in lockdown with their abusers and more at risk than ever? Isn’t this type of worship triumphalistic and naive?

I would like to suggest that just as Paul and Silas raised their voices to sing while they were in prison, we could do the same whatever our ‘prison’ is. It is at times like this in particular that we need to hold onto our hope more than ever. Do we really believe and trust that God is who he says he is and that he will accomplish all he has promised? This is not inappropriate triumphalism. We may not see the realisation of his promises in our own lives this side of eternity, but we pray in the promises for the world nonetheless. That is where our faith is truly tested and stretched. Just as Israel questioned where YHWH had gone in their time of exile, we may well wonder where God is, but let’s not be mistaken in believing that God has abandoned us. Now is the time for us to put our hope squarely in the right place. It is not about being naive. People are dying and will continue to, whether from Covid-19 or of something else, despite our best efforts (rightly so) to prevent it. However, one day I will die, and one day you will die! The essence of our faith is trusting that death does not have the final word.

However, praise as a form of defiance is not just about declarations of hope. It is also about resisting the powers. Twentieth-century theologian, William Stringfellow, brilliantly articulates the reality of the principalities and powers as aligned with either the power of death or the power of life.[3] He observed that war is a symptom of death, and not the other way around, i.e. death is not a symptom of war. This same logic applies to Covid-19. This virus is a symptom of the power of death powerfully at work in our world. Death is not a result of the coronavirus. The coronavirus is the result of death. As such, our resistance as Christians is against the manifestation of death in all its forms, rooted in the hope we have that death has been swallowed up in the victory of Christ on the cross.

Thus praise is our defiance in the face of death. Praise is our small act of rebellion in the face of fear, loss, grief and isolation. Except it is not a small act, it’s a powerful one. The power of the resurrection life of Jesus cannot be contained. The tomb couldn’t contain him; nothing since has contained him. Whatever state the church has been in—whether limping or running, colluding or serving, complicit or cooperating, defeated or empowered by the Spirit—the resurrection power of Jesus has broken through. My faith and yours are a testament to this.

So today, tomorrow and for as long as my body has breath in it, my praise will continue to be my powerful act of rebellion and defiance—rebellion against the power of death, and against the power of fear. I encourage you to try it! Even when it’s a sacrifice, even when I’m grief-stricken, even when I feel weak and out of control, I will declare with every fibre of my being that Jesus has overcome the power of sin and death. While taking faltering steps towards a better co-expression of joy, pain, reverence and hope, my cry is ‘Come Lord Jesus, come.’ In my life, in the lives of those in my household, in the life of the church, in the life of my neighbours, in the life of all in my city and nation, in the nations. Come on, Church! I believe this. We believe this. Now is the time to raise our corporate voice, our corporate and powerful act of rebellion against the power and fear of death.


TheoMisc Blog

Theological Miscellany is a blog where we post a variety of theological reflections on scripture, life, culture, politics, society, gender, and pretty much anything. WTC attracts a whole range of people as students and a wide range of faculty from around the world with different interests and theological leanings. What draws us all together is our commitment to a Christ-centred theology, taught in a Spirit-led fashion in partnership with the local church.

Find all posts HERE

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Charismatic Christians, Crisis, and Coronavirus: Part III

This is the third post in the series on Charismatic Christians, Crisis, and Coronavirus. For part one of this series go HERE. For part two of this series go HERE.

What Happened to 2,000 Years?

I love history and wish I had studied more of it in my life. I’m a bit shocked, if I’m honest, at how little history we all know, how little general history and how little Christian history. I remember one of my professors (a Roman Catholic) at King’s College saying that Charismatics and Pentecostals concertinaed time because we look back to the Bible and then map it straight on to today as if there was nothing in between. It’s so true. It means that now, Charismatics are looking to the Bible to make sense of what’s happening, and the results of trying to find guidance for this specific time can be a stretch. What would help us would be to speak to our historians who will provide us with some valuable resources from history that are much more specific to our situation because Christians have lived through plagues before. For a really good example of this see Bruce Hindmarsh’s post on the history of the church and plagues here.

One example that struck me is from Cyprian of Carthage (c.200-258 AD). He himself was martyred, but in the years before he was executed, also endured a plague. He writes about this in one of his Treatises (Treatise 7) on the question of mortality. In this piece of writing to the church, he encourages Christians to see their lives in the perspective of eternity and all that lies before us. For it is immortality ‘that is our peace, that our faithful tranquillity, that our steadfast, and abiding, and perpetual security.’ (§3)

Just like Christians today, many were clearly disturbed that being in Christ didn’t afford them any special physical protection from the disease. ‘But nevertheless it disturbs some that the power of this Disease attacks our people equally with the heathens, as if the Christian believed for this purpose, that he might have the enjoyment of the world and this life free from the contact of ills; and not as one who undergoes all adverse things here and is reserved for future joy.’ Famine, war, rain, drought, shipwreck make no distinction. ‘…and the disease of the eyes, and the attack of fevers, and the feebleness of all the limbs is common to us with others, so long as this common flesh of ours is borne by us in the world.’ (§8)

What is more important, according to Cyprian, is how we behave now. Some Christians like to claim that disasters are God’s judgement on the earth for the folly of humanity. In this treatise, Cyprian is saying that the judgement that falls on the human race is how the sickness and trial exposes our true motives. We are judged by how we respond. He writes this, ‘And further, beloved brethren, what is it, what a great thing is it, how pertinent, how necessary, that pestilence and plague which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the righteousness of each one, and examines the minds of the human race, to see whether they who are in health tend the sick; whether relations affectionately love their kindred; whether masters pity their languishing servants; whether physicians do not forsake the beseeching patients; whether the fierce suppress their violence; whether the rapacious can quench the ever insatiable ardour of their raging avarice even by the fear of death; whether the haughty bend their neck; whether the wicked soften their boldness; whether, when their dear ones perish, the rich, even then bestow anything, and give, when they are to die without heirs.’ (§16)

Apparently, doctors would flee the plague, relatives would dump their kin out of their houses even before they had died, and the rich would leave the cities for the country. Christians, on the other hand, have been known at many times throughout history for being highly sacrificial, tending the sick, and caring for the vulnerable, many becoming sick themselves. It is very sobering to think that this is what healthcare workers are doing all around the globe at this very moment, many of them while they wait for the correct equipment and having to make do with protective equipment that places them at risk. We are deeply indebted to them. I pray daily for the equipment to reach them and for proper testing. Nobody should have to take unnecessary risks, and I’m not advocating that Christians rush in to treat Corona victims! But we can be seen to be behaving out of a spirit of generosity and trust. How is this situation searching out the righteousness of each one? If we have two toilet rolls and our neighbour has none, we should give one away. Aren’t we the people who believe that God will give us our daily bread? I read a poignant article by an Italian novelist in Rome who wrote this about her experience of lockdown, ‘The true nature of the people around you will be revealed with total clarity. You will have confirmations and surprises.’[1]

Christian Leadership in a Time of Crisis

We want our world leaders to take control and to find solutions to this massive problem. We want them to save lives, to act wisely and quickly, to put structures in place that will save future generations from making the same mistakes as we have done. We also want this for our Christian leaders. We need wisdom and comfort, faithful and wise decisions, and protection from making mistakes that will wound the next generation. The key thing now is that we don’t sell a false comfort or mislead people in their expectations so that they are then either bitterly disappointed, completely worn out, or forced into denial. I would recommend reading a recent blog post by James McGrath on “What Does the Bible Say about Coronavirus?” for a reminder of the dangers of false promises in the face of hardship. If we do this, as he says, we run the risk of ‘making a serious crisis worse by adding, on top of the illness itself, a long-term negative effect on your own faith and that of others.’ [2]

The Lord is My Salvation

Our faith and our scriptures teach us that real safety, security, and certainty can only be found in a relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, we are promised that these things are our spiritual inheritance, the riches given to our inner beings, our minds, and hearts, and souls, but not necessarily evident in our circumstances and the world around us. When we search the scriptures for comfort, we find that God promises to be our shelter, our rock, and our fortress. He will never leave us or forsake us. He alone is our salvation. We can also find scriptures that promise us that he’ll shelter us under the shadow of his wing, and that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God in Christ. But we will be hard-pressed to find scriptures that promise us we won’t have trouble and hardship in our lives or that we won’t find ourselves in the midst of them. When everything in our world is shaking, he is our ever-present help in the midst of trouble (Ps 46:1).

The reality is that human life is precarious and unstable. The world can be a beautiful and a dangerous place and nothing in it belongs to us to hold on to forever, not even our own lives. This has always been true for every human being that has ever lived. It’s only when the reality sinks in that we cry out in protest because in our inmost beings; we don’t want it to be true. But the Christian faith gives the deepest answer to that cry of pain and fear at the uncertainties of life. Christians, along with non-Christians, get caught up in the cataclysmic events of history as well as the everyday struggles and challenges of life. There is no difference in the conditions of existence. The difference is supposed to be where we find our sure and certain hope, and the most important hope that we have by far is that this is not the only life. This is not the only world. Jesus came to offer a far, far better world to come in which God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death, no more plagues and disease, no mourning or crying or pain, for the first things will have passed away (Rev. 21:3-5). This is the hope we have that no one and nothing can take away from us. God’s love poured out into the world through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit is precisely so that death won’t have the last word, but that it will be the beginning of a beautiful, new, whole, free, forgiven, life. That’s the wonderfully good news.

And The Creation Is Still Good…

I led the staff devotions the week we went into lockdown and I’ll admit it was a challenge to lead our first staff devotions together since the world had changed so suddenly all around us. I deliberated for a long time on which passage I wanted us to look at together. In the end I chose Genesis 1:26-2:3. I chose it for what it tells us about God, what it tells us about us, and what it tells us about creation. It tells us that the world is in his hands because it is his, he made it, and he is watching over us. We belong to him and he is the author of life. It tells us that when he made creation, he made it good, and when he made humanity, they were very good. What we are seeing now is bad. It is threatening to life, and frightening, and out of our control. It’s impossible to answer the ‘why’ questions, but Genesis does tell us that the fall gave rise to disharmony, brokenness, and evil. What was first intricately and beautifully connected is broken and twisted and the relations between humanity and God, human beings with one another, and humanity and creation are alienated and fractured.

But the Bible also tells us that God created human beings to govern the creation under his watchful care and so it doesn’t surprise me that what we are doing more than anything else right now is trying to bring this threatening and hostile aspect of creation under our control in every way we can. We know that to some extent, we are powerless, but we also know that if we can find a vaccine, if we can change the way we behave, if we can find a treatment, that we can defeat this hidden predator and save lives. As societies, we are offended by those who are not helping or making things worse. We know that the key to winning this war is good and wise management and so we take encouragement from various things:

  • Scientists are working around the clock to find cures and a vaccine for which we are grateful.
  • Specialists and experts are coming forward to advise governments and all of us on how we should tackle this.
  • We can learn lessons from this that will protect future generations from this sort of scenario ever happening again.
  • People in all places are displaying righteousness in one form or another. I’ve been so impressed by how sacrificial some companies have been at protecting their workers, protecting the elderly, caring for the vulnerable.

Linked to this was another reason that I chose this passage. In the week leading up the devotions I was horrified by the rhetoric coming out of the US about the over 70s being expendable because they were no longer working and contributing to the economy. As I read through Genesis 1 and 2 and I got to the part where God himself establishes the Sabbath and rests so that his people would learn to rest, it struck me how wicked it is to imagine that those who cannot ‘work’ to earn money should be seen as having nothing to contribute to society. The Sabbath rhythm demonstrates that one of the rewards for older people, who have worked through their lives, is that they should have time to rest, to spend time with their families, and be honoured just for who they are. I can’t describe how much my own parents gave to us and to our children in their 70s. I can’t express how grateful and blessed we all were to have them, their wisdom, their fun now that they were retired, their home that was a place where we could all flop and rest ourselves. Our children adored their grandparents and had the invaluable gift of being the centre of their worlds and the pride of their lives.

But even then, even if they hadn’t given us anything, it would have been a privilege to have them in our lives. I don’t want to live in a society where people forget that to care for people who cannot care back is a privilege for the carer. It is also something we may all need one day and so it reminds us of our own sense of frailty and dependence. It forms us in ways that nothing else can and challenges all of our selfish, utilitarian impulses. It reminds us to value a life because it is a life and God has breathed it into being. It makes us more Christlike and thus, more human. If we, for a second, imagine that we would be better off without the elderly and the vulnerable we have completely forgotten who we are and what we were made for and we have lost our Christian foundations altogether.

The Lord is My Shepherd

Back in January, at our residential, one of my colleagues, Freddy Hedley, led us in a devotion that I found deeply moving. I have to admit that my heart sank a bit when he said he was going to lead us in a meditation. I’m normally really bad at anything that looks like meditation because my mind is too restless, but this time was different. I felt as if we were on holy ground. Freddy shared that he had found it hard to sleep the night before, but that instead of fretting and worrying or turning on his computer or phone, he had decided that he would lie there and meditate on Psalm 23. He repeated it over and over until he fell asleep. The next day he led us as a college in the same meditation, repeating the Psalm slowly and deliberately over us. I think he spoke it out four or five times, each time slower than the last. By the final time, every word seemed to be speaking to us all; it sank into our hearts and our minds. I felt we had been led into God’s transforming presence and it’s stayed with me ever since.

Pray Without Ceasing

I’ll finish where I started and that is with the idea that, for all our faults, at least we Charismatics will be praying. We’ll pray believing that our prayers make a difference and that God can change things. We’ll be praying for governments and nations, families and individuals, businesses and charities, people on the frontline rushed off their feet and people at home on their own. We’ll be praying for healings, for miraculous provision, and for signs and wonders in the times up ahead. Hopefully, we’ll also be doing, caring, reaching out to the vulnerable, the sick, and the elderly. And we’ll be encouraging one another to remain hopeful, to keep giving, and to seek God’s face in the chaos and confusion.

Whatever your circumstances, and whatever you’re facing, I pray,

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

I will finish by letting you read Psalm 23 for yourself. I hope it speaks to you.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.


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Charismatic Christians, Crisis, and Coronavirus: Part II

This is the second of a series of three posts on Charismatic Christians, Crisis, and Coronavirus. For part one go HERE.

Faith Not Fear or Denial?

Here’s another bit of a verse, ‘…perfect love casts out fear…’ (The middle of 1 John 4:18). I’m not going to go into detail of the context of this fragment here, but the main thrust of these verses is that those who have put their trust in Jesus and who are abiding in God’s love need not fear the final judgement. It really isn’t about God’s love casting out all the fears we have from spiders to dark alleys to plane crashes. It’s not that I don’t think God doesn’t help us not to fear in general. I believe he does, and I have my own testimony of being delivered of specific fears. But this verse used as a way of telling people that they should choose faith, not fear is laden with burdens for the believer. Is it the perfection of God’s love in me that will cast out my fear or the perfection of my love for God? Either way, how do I make this happen? What do I do when I fear?

Life itself and our loved ones are a precious gift from God and proof of their goodness is how desperately we don’t want to lose them. It is not wrong to feel deep anguish over suffering and the prospect of death, our own, our loved ones, those we have never met. One of the most poignant and powerful stories in our Bibles is the story of Jesus in Gethsemane. He was entirely on his own and the disciples were asleep so he must have confided in his disciples later what he went through that night. Jesus held tenaciously to his human life, facing grief and anguish and even sweating drops of blood at the prospect of human suffering and death, while also being willing to submit it wholly to his Father (Matt 26:37-42; Lk 22:41-44; Mk 14:34-36). He taught his disciples to do the same.

It’s natural to fear in a crisis, to wake up in the night in a cold sweat or a panic. But we won’t strengthen one another by forcing each other into denial. And we certainly won’t strengthen one another with false promises. If fear is threatening to swamp us, we are going to need good practices and strategies for this and in my experience, it will require many different approaches. Immersing ourselves in our favourite psalms, listening to music, getting our friends to pray, praying in tongues, focussed breathing, talking to a loved one. How about recognizing fear and anguish as a prayerful longing that things would change and be different, and offering it to God as a sacrifice, laying it on the altar with all our tears. We can and should encourage one another to grow in our complete trust in God, but I imagine that overcoming fear will be a process and not a one-off prayer.


This brings me to lament and grief. I’ve loved working with my colleague, Matt Lynch, for the last eight years. He’s taught me a lot about the need for a church that laments, and I’ve seen how powerful his teaching is for our students and those who hear it.

Matt writes,

‘Lament opposes denial and false optimism. It acknowledges honestly before God the distress, ill-health, dangers, and troubles that we face. Prayers and songs of lament constitute nearly 40% of Psalms, yet mainstream Charismatic worship hardly gives it a passing nod. Unfortunately, that leaves the church poorly discipled to face times of calamity with the kind of raw honesty that we see in Psalms. Ignoring lament also distances us from the example of Jesus, who lamented from the cross and throughout his life (Matt 27:46; Heb 5:7), and from life in the Spirit, who groans and laments to the Father (Rom 8:26).[1]’ For more of Matt’s reflections on lament, see his series of posts here.

Charismatics are so bad at acknowledging pain and loss, especially during a crisis, unless it’s part of a story where God has turned my mourning into dancing. (Ps 30:11) We can sow in tears as long as we are going to reap with shouts of joy. (Ps 126:5) The idea of a permanent sense of loss or grief is excluded from our narratives. We often only share our testimonies once we have a happy ending.

We are facing potentially huge griefs and losses, some have already seen loved ones die, and even now people are having to deal with small but not insignificant griefs and losses. It may seem trivial in life and death situations, but the pain of leaving school friends and college friends with no goodbyes is hard, letting go of weddings, funerals, special occasions, longed for holidays—these will all take their toll. There will be many mini-griefs alongside the major ones. On top of that, we’re watching as other countries face the most appalling tragedies and this and our own unfolding tragedies will sow its own trauma.

I was brought up by a mother whose own mother died when she was six days old and I would say she had a permanent sense of loss. She never knew her mother. Her father remarried a woman who couldn’t take her mother’s place, and her own mothering was coloured by a sense that she was giving what she never had herself. The wounding in my mother changed her faith, her view of God, and her compassion for others. She became an amazingly gifted bereavement counsellor and chaplain, working first in a hospice, and then a men’s prison until her mid-70s. She taught us that joy lives side by side with pain, that you can dance even though you mourn, and that you can weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. I imagine we are all going to have to learn this gift in the years to come.

God’s Will?

Someone put on Facebook recently that they had seen people saying things like God has caused this crisis, this is God’s will, God is giving us what we deserve. I haven’t seen that kind of thing, but we all know this happens. The idea of God’s control or not of the events of history is a complex and emotive issue and I’m not going to go into all the nuances of the debates here because it requires some in-depth biblical and philosophical reasoning. It’s a good reason to study theology to explore these questions.

What I do want to say first of all, is that it’s very natural, whatever our belief systems and worldviews to try and find a reason for what is happening, especially when we’ve been blindsided by tragedy. So people of all faiths and no faith will try to identify a cause within their own framework of knowing why this crisis is happening. They will look for explanations within what they know of how the world works. This could be in relation to God, or the gods and goddesses. It could be attributed to the selfishness and exploitative nature of human beings (if you are not a Christian) or what we would call sin if you are. A friend of mine sent me an article on the link between Corona and 5G. Or, it maybe you see this virus as the world running according to its own natural forces. We just happen to be on the raw end of it all right now.

I think there will always be people who attribute absolutely everything that happens in the world (including the bad things) to God’s ‘will’ and, to be fair, we can find a foundation for that in the Bible, expressed in different ways in different places, perhaps especially in the OT prophets. Some biblical writers depict suffering or disaster as having been inflicted by God either as a punishment, or to bring people to repentance, or both. These passages sit alongside promises of restoration, complete forgiveness, boundless mercy, and the assurance that God will keep his covenant promises. And this is not a case of pitting the OT wrathful God against the forgiving Jesus of the NT. For a meditation on how God does not treat us as our sins deserve, but forgives all our iniquity and heals all our diseases, why not memorize Psalm 103? It sounds remarkably like the God of Jesus to me.

When God does come to earth in Christ, he reinforces the extraordinary truth that God so loves the world, he has come to save it. The incarnation tells us that God the Son takes on the frailty of human flesh and the vulnerability of a fully human existence to redeem our earthly lives. He comes to earth to take on our sin and suffering into himself, into his very being, to die in our place, to defeat death through his resurrection, and by doing so, to transform our corrupt and broken existence into a new and perfect creation. He comes to earth in love to win us back to himself. This is God’s will for humanity—that all should be saved (1 Tim 2:3-5).

As for whether this signals the end times or not, Christians throughout the ages have believed that the end is imminent. So far, they’ve been wrong, but who’s to say when someone will be right? Christians are perpetually called to live their lives as if they might end tomorrow. It seems, though, that for those of us who live in a world where that has seemed so unlikely for so long, have simply forgotten that this is the case.

In the final post, I look at the importance of history, and where we might turn to in the Bible for understanding and comfort.

For the final post, go HERE

[1] Greek στεναγμός, used here of the Spirit’s groanings, is used throughout the Greek Old Testament to describe the act of lament (e.g., Ps 12:5 = LXX 11:6).

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Fan into flame the gift

Fan into flame the gift…

On a Sunday in early October, Mike Neelley and I went into Skagit County Jail together for our weekly services. Five men gathered around a stainless steel table cemented into the floor. We began with a prayer and then I passed out photocopies of 2 Timothy 1:6-14 – the passage on the gift of God.

I invite someone to read the first verse:

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”

I offer a brief introduction by stating that God has gifts for all of us– spiritual gifts. These gifts are different from natural abilities, like being artistic, perceptive or a good communicator.  Spiritual gifts are distinct from learned skills like carpentry, welding, or auto mechanics. They include healing, prophesy, identifying evil spirits that afflict people, faith, and many others.

“Maybe some of you already know of a gift God has given you,” I suggest, looking around at blank faces.

“Or, maybe some of you still don’t know if God has given you a spiritual gift, and you’d like to receive something.”

The men seem to resonate with this option. I go on to share how these gifts enable us to become actively involved in God’s liberating work in the world,

I share how exercising a spiritual gift, like praying for someone to be healed or sharing a prophetic impression requires faith, which means taking risks. I ask someone to read the next verse:

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and discipline.”

Hearing these verses in the heart of the jail, with the TV blaring a football game suddenly made me feel vulnerable. I think I was then and there experiencing the kind of fear or timidity we’d just read about. The next verse seemed to expose and directly address the underlying issue:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling.”

We talk about how natural it is to feel ashamed to believe in God’s liberating actions and of Jesus himself. You can feel like a fool believing in an invisible God.

Yet in the face of this Paul writes as an inmate himself, urging people not be ashamed. After all Jesus has saved us, and we need saving. Still when we respond to his call we do enter into a kind of suffering, which the apostle acknowledges.  But Christ Jesus “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

Suddenly I remember that the men hadn’t seemed aware that they had received a spiritual gift. I suggest that Mike and I would love to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal each person’s spiritual gift, and that we could gladly ask God to give new gifts.

The men all seemed eager to for whatever was going to happen next. Mike and I looked at each other and began to go for it, taking turns to speak prophetically over each man around the table.

Each man seemed to soak up the words of affirmation that Mike and I offered, agreeing with the gifts that we identified or spoke over them. We could see new hope ignited, there in this place of bleakness where negativity, harsh labels and curses abound.

Only one man joined us in “P pod”—a Mexican American guy with stars tattooed on his cheeks, barely visible under long curly black hair parted in the middle.  He is a man of deep conviction, born of suffering through years in prison.

Mike and I were moved by how easy it was to identify people’s spiritual gifts in the jail setting, and how precious and welcomed God’s perspective is among those who feel downtrodden.

We wrap up our time with each group by encouraging the men to step our in faith—fanning into flame their gifts. We encourage them to not let fear paralyze them, but God’s power, love and disciple.

Paul’s final words seem the perfect charge: “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”

Mike and I find ourselves being deeply encouraged by this Scripture and our experience with the men. I share this message at Tierra Nueva’s service that day, and the work continues.

For further reflections on the gifts of the Spirit, read “Guerrilla tactics: signs, wonders, justice and mercy,” chapter nine in Guerrilla Gospel: Reading the Bible for Liberation in the Power of the Spirit.

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