Tag Archives: Bible

Reformation 2 – Only the Bible

The second of three talks given by Wayne Clarke at New North Road Baptist Church, Huddersfield, marking 500 years since Martin Luther lit the spark of the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

This second one was given on Sunday October 29th, 2017. It begins with a Bible reading (2 Timothy 3:1-17) from Barbara Trigg.

Click on the play arrow on the bar below to listen to the talk.


download the talk as an MP3 file and listen offline by right-clicking on this link and selecting “save link” or “save target”  Only the Bible

As well as the audio of each talk you can read the text as a Word document and see an accompanying PowerPoint Presentation.

click on the link below to download and read the text that the talk was based on:

OnlytheBible text

click on the link below to download to see the PowerPoint that went alongside the talk:

OnlytheBible ppt


Reformation 1 – Only by Grace

The first of three talks given by Wayne Clarke at New North Road Baptist Church, Huddersfield, marking 500 years since Martin Luther lit the spark of the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

This first one was given on Sunday October 22nd, 2017. It begins with a Bible reading from Gordon Morrison.

Click on the play arrow on the bar below to listen to the talk.


download the talk as an MP3 file and listen offline by right-clicking on this link and selecting “save link” or “save target”    Luther 1 – Only by Grace

As well as the audio of each talk you can read the text as a Word document and see an accompanying PowerPoint Presentation.

click on the link below to download and read the text that the talk was based on:

OnlybyGrace text

click on the link below to download to see the PowerPoint that went alongside the talk:

OnlybyGrace ppt


Going Viral with The Doctor

I attended the Church and Media Conference in Swanwick last week. As together we enjoyed the good food and convivial atmosphere, we shared in sessions about the future of the Media.

Our opening keynote address was from Elaine Storkey. Among other encouraging words, she reflected on the way people use social media, and the sheer scale of the thing. One statistic stuck in my mind – that one in twelve of the world’s population is a regular user of Facebook.


I had my own taste of the power of social media as the Conference came to an end. Our speaker Danny Cohen, the controller of BBC One, covered a wide range of topics in conversation with Andrew Graystone. He promised that Songs of Praise would still be around for its sixtieth anniversary in ten years’ time. He also revealed some news about Doctor Who, that there wouldn’t be a full series of the sci-fi favourite in 2012 but there would be more for Who fans in 2013. I was one of several people in the hall who had been tweeting through the Conference, sending out short summaries or comments on what speakers had said. So I tweeted what the controller said about Doctor Who. I hadn’t realised just what I’d done.

My tweet was retweeted by a hundred people, whose retweets were then retweeted hundreds more times. I received responses from other Twitter users, some grateful, some mocking and some insulting. Then the BBC’s entertainment correspondent wanted to speak to me, and then the story started appearing on dozens of blogs and fansites. My tweet was made a “top tweet” by Twitter. Eventually Doctor Who supremo Steven Moffat commented on the story, a story that had started with one comment at a Christian conference and one tweet.

To my mind there were two more significant stories in what Danny Cohen said, which I had also tweeted about. One was Songs of Praise and the other was to do with the representation of Christians on television in everyday situations, but sadly it was the Doctor who grabbed the time and space.

The internet is a big scary place, but it’s a place where we can all make a difference. Our unconsidered tweets and status updates, our blogs and podcasts can influence people. Our responsibility is to make sure our influence is for godliness, for righteousness, and for the coming of the Kingdom of God.

One and Many

My final thought comes from my recent readings in John’s gospel. In John 6 Jesus speaks to many thousands of people in one big crowd. But in the preceding chapters his dealings are with individuals: a woman at a well in Samaria, a royal official with a poorly son, a disabled man at the pool of Bethesda. Sometimes we reach the many, but more often we speak to individuals, and individuals matter. Whether we broadcast or write for millions, or speak to one colleague or one person in need, every word we say matters and can be for the blessing of the ones that God loves.

On meeting Rob Bell

Rob Bell & Wayne Clarke

Rob Bell & Wayne Clarke

I met controversial American pastor Rob Bell last night. To say there’s been a lot of fuss about Rob Bell lately is an understatement. He’s a superstar to many, the epitome of the cool, relevant communicator. But recently he’s been rejected and reviled by evangelical leaders in the States. He’s been on the news bulletin of major US networks. He’s on the front cover of Time magazine.

All because of one book. He’s written controversial books in the past, but his new one “Love Wins” deals with heaven hell and eternity, God’s love and God’s judgement. What has upset so many people is his claim that all or nearly all the people who ever lived will be embraced by God into heaven, a very earthy heaven of perfect love and justice. Not everyone knows that heavenly state in this life, but those who have rejected God’s love, or simply never heard it, will get multiple second chances to respond after they die. This idea of “post-mortem conversion” is a not a new one, but for many evangelicals it has aroused anger and the outright rejection not just of Rob Bell’s views, but of Rob Bell as a person and a brother Christian.

I had the chance to meet Rob Bell last night in my role as a BBC radio presenter. I had a full fifteen minutes to interview him, longer than the cursory three minutes most “celebrities” allow interviewers like me. I then heard his talk to a full house of 1,200 people at Liverpool Cathedral and the lengthy Q and A that followed.

So what’s he like? As a person he is very likeable. He was comfortable enough to make jokes and to laugh at my jokes. He talked to me about people from Liverpool being called “scousers” and what that meant. He is also surprisingly tall.

He has clearly been hurt by the recent criticism. It has affected his wife and family and his church congregation and that has not been pleasant, though he sees the critics as a symptom of the problem in the Christian church that he has been addressing for years. He mentioned the Yorkshire web designer who has the Twitter name “Robbell” and has received vile insults and threats from Christians, thinking he was the preacher. Rob Bell the preacher conveyed an honest vulnerability and sadness at the way the world is and the way the Church is.

He is clearly a gifted communicator. Like the best preachers, he told stories and included many telling illustrations. But he also quoted the Bible, passage after passage, reference after reference, with deep conviction and respect. If he is a liberal, he is the most Bible-loving liberal I’ve ever met. Very much of what he said rang true for me and seems to be a crucial message for our time. His insistence that people need to urgently heed a call to turn to Jesus and his teachings, his desire to see the world changed and to see hurts healed and sins forgiven, are both timeless and timely.

Rob Bell is not a universalist, not in the way most people understand that term. He believes that salvation is only found in Jesus. He believes that some will resist the love of God and be finally in a place apart from God we call “hell”. And his view of hell is not as heterodox as some are claiming. Leading evangelicals of our day are questioning the standard “everlasting conscious torment” view of hell that many of us have inherited. On some matters it is okay to agree to disagree.

On reflection there are two things that Rob Bell teaches that I can’t agree with. One is the way Bell sees no distinction between “judgement” and “justice”. Our God is a God of justice and righteousness, and his heart is to see a world filled with his righteous ways. This making of righteousness is something he calls us his followers to do as well.  God is also a God of judgement, which is something he tells us not to do. As our maker, God imposes right judgement on those who continue to oppose his kingdom of justice and joy. Bell writes and speaks as if the God of judgement is merely a God of justice, but that takes from God an essential part of his character.

The second thing I can’t agree with is the question of turning to faith in Christ after death. This notion of an evangelical purgatory where Hitler and his like will be continually offered the opportunity to repent and have faith in Jesus seems to be without scriptural basis. I’m not denying a rich tradition of people being judged by God on the basis on the revelation they have received. I’m sure heaven will hold some surprises and people we never expected to see will be there. But that’s not the same as Bell’s view of a nearly empty hell.

In all meeting Rob Bell was a delight. I’ve worked in broadcasting long enough not to be star-struck when I meet people who have some measure of celebrity. So it’s not just the pleasure of meeting the man who is courting so much publicity. It’s the joy of meeting a brother in Christ whose endeavours I respect even if I don’t agree with everything he says. God bless you Rob Bell and keep on shaking up the church, we need it.

My interview with Rob Bell will be on BBC Radio Merseyside at 8am on Easter Sunday. I’ll post the full audio here after it’s been broadcast.

Exploring the Bible together with the “Essential 100”

I’ve always found it hard going to stick with a Bible reading programme. I’ve tried different kinds of Bible reading notes from Scripture Union and others. I’ve tried various versions of the Bible in a year. But I’ve never quite kept up with them. Then comes the guilt and the shame.

I’m also someone who uses the Bible in my ministry as a pastor, preacher and broadcaster. When you’re constantly looking for inspiration for sermons, talks and group studies, it’s difficult to read the Bible for your own enrichment without constantly thinking of how you can make use of it for teaching and encouraging others. It’s not easy to allow God to speak to your heart without making it into a teaching point for that Sunday’s message.

This year our little church, Dovedale Baptist Church in Liverpool is taking the Bible seriously. Don’t get me wrong, we do take the Bible seriously every year. But this year we’ve decided together to read the Bible, study the Bible, get to know the Bible, and to act upon it. And we want to do it together. We looked at various options to support our intention and decided upon the E100 Challenge.

E100 is a programme of Bible reading from Scripture Union, The Bible Society and Wycliffe Bible Translators based on a pattern developed in the US. The Challenge is to read a hundred essential (that’s what the E stands for) passages from the Bible. These hundred readings, 50 from the Old Testament and 50 from the New, have been chosen to cover the full story of the Bible. The 100 readings are arranged into twenty “weeks” of five readings each, and each week is grouped together to cover a sensible section of the Bible. Over twenty “weeks” you discover the full scope of the Bible’s story and message.

The choice of the hundred readings is rather idiosyncratic. But if you were asked to choose fifty daily readings from the Old Testament and fifty from the New Testament, which would you choose? The Old Testament choices place an emphasis on “salvation history” with nearly a third of the readings coming from Genesis and most of the rest from the historical books. Only five readings come from the Psalms and Proverbs and only five from the prophetic books. The New Testament selection has a similar emphasis on narrative, with thirty of the fifty readings coming from the Gospels and Acts, fifteen from the epistles and five from Revelation.

Some will argue with the choice of readings, but it can’t be denied that if you read all 100 passages you gain a “wide-shot” understanding of the Bible that isn’t gained from spending five weeks in a detailed study of the Letter to the Galatians. The readings can be enhanced with the various resources on the E100 website and in bookshops. There’s a cheap and helpful card listing the readings, and a book that introduces each section and provides a reflection on each reading. This is helpful and balanced, though for my taste is too often about personal holiness and church, and hardly ever applies the reading to real-world living.

One hundred readings in twenty weeks are well and good, but how do you make use of them as a church community? The E100 website has some helpful ideas but we decided on our own way of going about it. Over the year we’re encouraging each other to read ten passages each month (using August and December as catch-up months). So we’re challenging one another to complete just two “weeks” of reading each month. This allows people to take it at a slower pace, which should make it manageable for everyone. We’re supporting the personal readings with a sermon series, so the preacher is asked twice each month to speak on the theme from one week of the readings in our main worship service. As a church which doesn’t use a lectionary this provides us with a structure, without stifling the spontaneity we’re used to.

Group studies are also vital to our approach. We meet in weekly term-time study groups to look through the readings from the E100 and ask each other questions about them. The idea here is not to get all the answers right but to let God speak through the Bible and through each other. We’re only a couple of months into the E100 Challenge but we’re finding it helpful and inspiring.

We’re also using new media resources to support the readings. We’ve set up a page on our church website which reminds us of the passages we’re reading that month. There are also audio recordings of our E100 sermons to download and listen to for those who missed out on church that Sunday. Some of us are tweeting or sending regular Facebook updates to encourage one another. Some of us are using mobile technology. I’m doing all my E100 reading on my Android smart phone using the YouVersion app which has the E100 readings as one of its Bible plans.

For us, E100 is proving to be a hit. Some people who have never previously read the Bible are now doing so with enthusiasm and some jaded old-timers like me are finding a new joy in the Bible, which is good for all of us.

This post was originally written for the Big Bible website

Should we revere the Authorised Version?

The AV Bible

2011 is being marked by many as the year of the Bible. It’s just four hundred years since the first publication of the Authorised Version – the AV, now most often called by its American name, the King James Version, the KJV. First published in 1611, this translation of the Bible has had a bigger influence on the English-speaking world than any other book.

The anniversary is being celebrated in Britain and across the world. In this country there are going to be big ceremonial events like the national service at Westminster Abbey with Prince Charles and a plentiful supply of dignitaries. The anniversary is being celebrated in the media and celebrated in the life of many churches.

The anniversary is a good reason to celebrate the Bible, but we don’t need a reason to celebrate – for Christians the Bible is the foundational document of our faith and the source of God’s dealings with his world and the people he has made.

The history of the AV is a fascinating one. The King James whose name it bears is James I and VI, the first king to bring religious stability to Britain after Henry VIII broke from Rome, and after Henry’s children led the nation in the extremes of Protestantism and Catholicism. James became the first Stuart king in 1603 and called a conference of Bishops and puritans to debate religious matters. There it was suggested that they needed a new English Bible that didn’t belong to the Anglo-Catholics or to the Puritans.

It’s remarkable that they should be asking for another English Bible less than a hundred years since William Tyndale and his followers had published the first ever Bible in English. At that time it was illegal and seen as scandalous that the “common ploughboy” and even women could read the Bible for themselves. Tyndale’s English Bibles were printed in Holland and Germany and smuggled into England where they were burned if they were discovered by the church hierarchy. Eventually Tyndale himself was burned for his crimes in 1536.

Now only seventy years later the king of Scotland and England commissioned a new Bible to be produced. There were by then two English Bibles in common use – one was the Geneva Bible, which was seen as being dangerously Protestant, and the other the Bishops’ Bible which supported the status quo and was liked by King James, but it was thought to be unreliable. The solution was to make a revision of the Bishops’ Bible using committees of the best scholars in the country.

It then took the various committees and groups just five years to produce a Bible that ended up using over 80% of the exact working that Tyndale had used. The AV wasn’t all that original.

It wasn’t all that modern either – the scholarly translators decided to keep from older translations words such as “thee”, “thou” and “thy” which were already old fashioned terms in 1611. At that time the word “you” had pushed out the earlier forms of “thou” and “ye”, but the translators continued to use the word “thou” in addressing God, which would have been seen as very last-century by its first readers.

It did use some simpler language and rhythms of speech in places and that’s where it has been most influential. For example in Psalm 23 the older Bishop’s Bible said “God is my shepherd, therefore I can lack nothing”. But the new version changed that to “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. In some ways that’s harder to understand, “I can lack nothing” is more straightforward language, than “I shall not want”, with its ambiguous use of the world “want”. But the newer version reads much more smoothly. Other than the word “shepherd” it’s all one syllable words, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. The emphasis in the speech is forced upon ”shepherd”, to focus attention on the most important word in the sentence.

So the AV wasn’t very original and it wasn’t very up to date. Neither was it very accurate, and it went through many changes in the years that followed. The finished version of the translation was finally produced not in 1611 but over a hundred and fifty years later in 1769 and by that time several thousand changes had been made since the first edition.

What made the AV was successful was mass production. It became ubiquitous. Over three centuries it became the Bible everyone read, in the days when everyone read the Bible. People stopped talking about the Authorised Version and just called it The Bible.

The AV became the Bible on every church lectern and in every family’s bookshelf. Still these days many people think the Authorised Version is the Bible. One objection to modern translations was that they were not seen as the real thing. People still say, “if it was good enough for St Paul it’s good enough for me”. In truth modern translations are more accurate and easier to understand and closer to the original languages of the Bible but people remain very attached to the AV Bible’s words and phrases.

Over 250 phrases used first in the AV now commonplace in our language, twice as many as the complete works of Shakespeare have given us.

Let’s look at some examples. “Let there be light” is now used outside of the context of creation. The rhythm of those words is just right for the act of creating light, holding back the important word for three less important words to increase the tension. This da-da-da-dum pattern which builds tension then releases it is also used in the most famous theme in classical music, the opening of Beethoven’s fifth symphony.

Other elegant phrases we may cite include, “My brother’s keeper” and “man does not live by bread alone” – again the rhythm is so much better than “only by bread”. There are also more surprising finds: “the skin of your teeth”, “no peace for the wicked”, “how are the mighty fallen”.

There is no doubt that the AV has had a significant effect on our language, though sometimes it is overplayed. It could easily be claimed that any piece of prose repeatedly read aloud and privately at home and in community would have the same effect.

The AV has clearly shaped our culture in significant ways, but I’d like to suggest that there has been something more influential on our country than the language of the Bible over the years, and that’s the content of the Bible. We’ll be hearing many people this year claiming that the AV has made our language what it is. I want to say something different – that the Bible in any translation has made this country the country that it is. The fact that the Bible was translated in to English and has found a place in people’s homes and has been read and believed has changed the hearts and lives of more people than any other book. God has spoken and still speaks through the Bible and the Bible has changed our world, and continues to change the world.

So I thank God for the AV and the Bibles that came before it, for Wycliffe and Tyndale and the pioneers of translation, for modern translations and translations into nearly every language in the world. Their work has changed us, not only our language, but every part of us.