Resources on resilience

008In this series on resilience, we have made the point that resilience is essential for our survival as mission workers.  We need to develop it before we go, sustain it when the going gets tough, and restore it when things get easier.  Today we’re going to look at some resources to help with this, several of which we have already referred to in other blogs because they’re so good, but it does no harm to bring them together in one place.

Books

The best single resource we have come across on this subject is a small booklet called Spirituality for the long-haul, by Tony Horsfall.  It is a simple, practical and accessible way of making sure you have everything you need in place, and you can buy it online from Kitab for just £3.  Tony is also the author of Working from a Place of Rest, which helps us combat overwork.  Gene Edwards’ A Tale of Three Kings and Marjory Foyle’s Honourably Wounded are both classics in helping people wounded by their own leaders and colleagues. And Laura Mae Gardner’s Healthy, Resilient & Effective is a great handbook for leaders of agencies and churches in helping develop resilience in their mission partners.

Online resources

There is now a vast number of websites dedicated to supporting mission workers, and out of them all you might like to look first at Member Care Media with its vast array of podcasts on a variety of topics.    The Headington Institute has a variety of fascinating articles about self-awareness, stress and resilience.

Retreat

We frequently talk about the importance of retreat to restore our inner peace and create a space to reconnect with God.  While there are many places across the world providing retreat for mission workers (see our retreats page) we particularly recommend Penhurst Retreat Centre in East Sussex for its cosy, informal atmosphere, effective debriefing and focus on mission workers.  Those of you in extreme stages of burnout or trauma may find a visit to Le Rucher helpful, and of course there are similar resources in other continents.

Sacred Pathways

Sacred PathwaysDo you ever have the troubling feeling that while everyone around you in church is having an amazing experience of God, you are feeling nothing at all?  You wonder if there is something wrong with you.  Are you having a spiritual crisis?  Have you lost your faith?

Such thoughts can be common among all Christians, but can be a particular challenge for mission workers who may have a much narrower choice of churches, and find their ministry needs them worshipping as part of a church which is intentionally geared towards meeting the needs of the local believers.  This can make a significant contribution to levels of stress and mislead people into thinking they are not cut out for the mission field.

People feeling like this may find Gary Thomas’ book Sacred Pathways helpful.  I’ve used it many times to help people understand why they may feel they don’t fit in.  Thomas’ simple theory is that we all meet God in different ways, so what works for one isn’t necessarily going to work for someone else.  He has come up with nine different types of people:

Naturalists, sensates, traditionalists, ascetics, activists, caregivers, enthusiasts, contemplatives, intellectuals.

Needless to say, people are not necessarily all one and none of the others, but a mixture, though a dominant type will probably be present.  The beauty of the names he gives is that they are readily accessible.  It’s pretty intuitive to know whether you are an activist or a caregiver, though he does go into an explanation of each in the book.

So what does it mean for the frustrated mission worker?  The first thing to say is that it’s not a licence to stop being part of a church!  It’s a tool to help you understand why your church doesn’t work well for you and what you can do about it.  So, for example, if you’re a naturalist you’re much more likely to meet God out of doors than inside, so make sure you get some nature in your spiritual life, possibly by going to a park to read the Bible.  If you’re a traditionalist you need some sort of routine, so if your church is the sort that does something different every week, compensate for that by introducing routine, or even liturgy, into your personal devotional time.

Sacred pathways is available from many online bookshops and you can read more about it on Gary Thomas’ website: www.garythomas.com/books/sacred-pathways where you can also download the study guide and read a sample chapter. The study guide gives helpful descriptions, examples of famous people who represent each type, scriptures and songs for aid in worship and suggestions of pitfalls one can fall into.

Let’s hope that this simple but effective understanding can help jaded Christians re-engage with God in a way that is suitable for their personality!

Deep Calls To Deep

9781841017310-l“Much of our spirituality is geared toward relieving our pain and finding ways to ensure happiness, success and well-being… Those who face struggles in their walk with God are accused of unbelief or dismissed as lacking in faith or strength of character…”  So writes our favourite author Tony Horsfall in his latest book, Deep Calls To Deep.

So when we are suffering, where in the Bible can we turn to for encouragement?  To Job, who rails against his situation and receives a revelation of God which silences him but brings no understanding of what actually happened?  To Paul, who seems to brush suffering off as “momentary, light afflication” (2 Corinthians 4:17)?  Or to James, who tells us to be glad because it’s worth it in the long run for our character development (James 1:2-4)?

Tony suggests we should turn to the Psalms to find authors who really understand what we’re going through.  He reminds us that many of them were conceived in pain, whether in David’s fugitive years or the subsequent exile in Babylon.  In Deep Calls To Deep, Tony effectively uses Walter Brueggemann’s observation that the Psalms contain psalms of orientation (when all is right with the world), disorientation (when everything has gone wrong), and re-orientation as the psalmist reconciles the difference between the world he experiences around him and the worldview which he holds.  Tony selects some psalms which show evidence of these characteristics to unpack and expound, looking for the encouragement even in the dark places that God deliberately takes us into for the sake of our own spiritual formation.

Tony taps into the honesty and emotion we find in the psalms in a way that helps us to engage with the writers and realise that they shared the feelings that we struggle with, yet held onto God in the midst of pain and confusion.  Tony comments:

We can never squeeze human suffering into a box where we can understand it, analyse it or fathom it. And recognising that God uses the difficulties of life to shape and mould us is not meant to trivialise suffering or offer a simplistic solution to the pain we face. What the Psalms teach us is to trust in God even when we don’t understand, when there seems to be no reason for our pain, and indeed our suffering seems disproportionate. They teach us to be content with mystery and not-knowing. This is part of the work of formation that God is doing in us in the darkest of nights, and the only way that faith can come to maturity is through the path of suffering.

Tony HorsfallIn a unique innovation, Tony accompanies every chapter with a letter from someone who has been through their own darkness and soul-searching, among them the pastor suffering from depression, a young couple with a severely ill baby, and a couple who have both suffered from long-term illness for 20 years.  These are not necessarily fairy tales in which they all lived happily ever after, but show how ordinary people grapple with suffering and come out the other side.

Deep Calls To Deep is short, well-written and easy to understand.  We thoroughly recommend it to anyone struggling to come to terms with the suffering they have undergone or witnessed.

Deep Calls To Deep can be bought direct from the publishers BRF Online.

A review of Syzygy’s year

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

At this time of year many people send out round robin letters to tell everybody they don’t see regularly what they’ve been doing throughout the year, and we’re no exception.  It’s been an excellent year for us and we praise God for his grace to us as we seek to serve him in supporting mission workers worldwide.  During the year we passed the milestone of our tenth birthday and were amazed to look back and think that 10 years ago we could not have imagined what God would do in us and through us.

We’ve had the joy of continuing our co-operation with other agencies and networks such as Global Connections and the European Evangelical Mission Association, together with several of their forums, and to forge new links with other agencies for whom we’ve been able to provide advice and consultancy.

We’ve successfully developed new training modules including workshops on how to thrive as a single mission worker, how to deal with ongoing challenges following re-entry, and understanding why many mission workers allow themselves to become stressed.  We’ve also supported individual mission workers going to the field and returning to the UK.  We’ve taken these into a number of contexts, speaking at several conferences (including the European Member Care Consultation) and at bible colleges.

We continue to provide pastoral support to mission workers both remotely while they are in the field and in person when they are on home assignment, doing debriefs and home assignment reviews.  This can be a terribly challenging task, as our clients are often badly wounded by their experiences, but it is also incredibly fulfilling.  We also provide information about different resources and advice on various topics such as immigration and tax continues.

avatarOur website has continued to attract attention, racking up a record number of hits and followers on both Facebook and Twitter.  A new guide to retirement has joined our growing collection of Guides to Doing Mission Well.  In case you missed some of our blogs, we introduced some new concepts into missiology, such as understanding where we really find our identity, knowing why mission workers can be more vulnerable to burnout in their fifties, how to pray for mission workers using household objects, and using sweets to help us understand where we are in cultural adaptation.  Over the summer we had a mini-series on how the Protestant Work Ethic has had such an unhelpful impact on western Christianity.  We considered the movie Avatar as a metaphor for Gen Y, reviewed some excellent books and considered what happens when Jesus doesn’t fulfil our expectations.

We continue to have some good reviews of our book for single mission workers and continue to sell many copies of it.  We’ve upgraded two of the three cars which we lend to mission workers on home assignment, and received donations from several individuals and trusts which helped us achieve this.  And we gained a new volunteer, Barry, who drives our cars to wherever they are needed.

Of course, we can’t do this on our own, and we’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of our many supporters who have helped, prayed, volunteered, funded and provided publicity for our services.  We recognise that we cannot do this without your help – and God’s – and we appreciate your partnership with us.  Thank you for helping us help mission workers worldwide.

What do you to when someone throws a spear at you?

Saul and DavidThis is the attention-grabbing tagline of a book with a much milder name, A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards.  Written in 1980 to counter the threat of authoritarian leadership in the church, it has become a minor classic which has proved highly therapeutic for victims of domineering leaders.

We have mentioned before in these blogs how some mission leaders can be ill-equipped for their leadership role, which is why Syzygy is committed to leadership development and mentoring, and are looking at other ways of supporting leaders.  Sadly, many Christian workers have been hurt by leaders who, uncomfortable in their role, resort to domineering or manipulative leadership styles to enforce their authority, brutally crushing ‘rebellion’ and marginalising the ‘rebels’.  We know, because we’ve been there.  And reading this book was part of the recovery.

A Tale of 3 KingsA Tale of Three Kings traces the life of King David, first as a young man working for a tyrant, and later as a king overthrown by his ambitious son, Absalom.  These are the eponymous three kings.  Edwards uses them as types – Saul as an insecure leader who wrongly feels threatened by anyone competent, Absalom as a proud, ambitious achiever quick to claim power that is not his, and David as a humble, broken leader who will not fight to take what is not his, nor to keep it.  He argues that despite the great suffering caused to him by both Saul and Absalom, David is the only one of the three who acts righteously throughout.

The answer to the opening question is “You get stabbed to death.”  Because in the brokenness, the dying to self that pain brings, you kill the Saul within you whose fleshly response is to retaliate.  That is what helps equip you to become a leader.  The minute you pick up the spear and throw it back, you become another Saul, Edwards argues.  Moreover, he argues that it was David’s suffering at the hands of Saul that equipped him to become a great king, because he saw first hand how a tyrant destroys.

Saul’s response to the challenge he perceived from David was to destroy.  In doing so, he revealed his own character weakness.  As Edwards puts it,

 Outer power will always unveil the inner resources, or the lack thereof.

This book is not to everyone’s taste, and its literary style takes a bit of getting used to, but for the Davids among us it brings great comfort, and to the Sauls and Absaloms, a thought-provoking challenge.  Many people who think they are Davids will be brought up short to discover how much Absalom is in them!  The book deserves its subtitle A Study in Brokenness because that is exactly what it is, as it aims to help us study the brokenness (or lack thereof) in our own lives.  A helpful section at the back makes this specifically personal by asking such questions as:

  • Who throws spears at you? How does God want you to respond?
  • What needs to happen to put your own inner Saul to death?
  • Sauls see only Absaloms. Absaloms see only Sauls.  Neither can recognise a David.  How can we distinguish the one from the others?
  • David considered the throne to be God’s, not his own to have, to take, to protect, to keep. Could you say the same about what God has given you?

You can read more of the story behind A Tale of Three Kings here, and buy the book online at Seedsowers or other online retailers.

Book review: Redeeming Singleness

Redeeming SinglenessOne of the most challenging issues for single Christians, including mission workers, is the church’s seldom-questioned assumption that marriage is good.  The church rightly celebrates marriage, parenting and fidelity but the corollary to this assumption is the implication that singleness is wrong.  If married people are defined by what they have, singles are defined by what they don’t have, and that can be seen as an underlying deficiency.

This means that those who are married often fail to affirm and celebrate singles, while the singles can spend their lives feeling that they are somehow abnormal.  Unchecked, this negative attitude can undermine their spiritual wellbeing and come to dominate their thoughts and emotions.

Barry Danylak’s book Redeeming Singleness tackles this challenge head on.  It is one of the very few quality resources that Syzygy regularly recommends to single people at our events (along with our own Single Mission!).  At one such event recently, after we outlined Danylak’s proposition, one person in the audience commented “I feel really angry that these things are not being taught in our churches.”

We share that concern, which is why we recommend Barry’s book.  Academic without sacrificing readability, Redeeming Singleness propounds a positive theology of singleness that is absent from most churches today, despite the huge heritage of single people serving effectively in mission and ministry over the centuries.

David Hayward @ Naked Pastor.tumblr.com

David Hayward @ Naked Pastor.tumblr.com

Danylak starts by acknowledging the high importance attached to marriage in the Bible, particularly in the Genesis account where it is apparent that marriage has the duel function of companionship (Genesis 2:18) and procreation (1:28 and 2:24).  However he soon moves into explaining that it was important for people in the Old Testament to be married because they had no concept of the afterlife.  They lived on in their descendants (hence the significance of the genealogies) and in the land which they passed on to their descendants.

Thus, for an individual in Israel to be devoid of spouse, children, and land, such as Naomi on her return to Israel, was to feel the weight of divine judgment (Ruth 1:21-22).

Having established this base, Danylak shows how the prophets, particularly Isaiah, pave the way for a New Testament refocussing.  The woman who cannot have children is promised that she will have more ‘children’ than a mother (54:1-5).  The man who cannot have children (56:2) is promised something better – a lasting place and an eternal memorial.

Barry Danylak

Barry Danylak

Danylak then goes on to unpack Jesus’ frequently overlooked statement that, if you can handle it, it’s better to live a single life for God (Matthew 19:11-12) and then follows it up with an analysis of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 to demonstrate that there is significant esteem given to the single lifestyle by these two Jewish rabbis who, given their cultural background, might be expected to do exactly the opposite:

What is striking in Paul’s counsel to his Greco-Roman audience is that, while his perspective on sexuality and sexual ethics is so clearly rooted in the moral tenets of Old Testament law, his response on the question of marriage and singleness appears to be anything but a traditional Jewish perspective. 

goWhat happens to the blessing to Abraham?  It’s fulfilled in his ‘seed’ Jesus and in the ‘children’ of Jesus.  What happens to the blessing on Adam and Eve when they were told to ‘Go and multiply’?  This commandment is nowhere reiterated in the New Testament.  It is replaced by ‘Go and make disciples’, and in doing so, the followers of Jesus inherit the blessing.

This book is an excellent contribution to the well-being of single people.  It helps them overcome the implicit stigma of living a single life and be able to embrace their singleness through finding scriptural affirmation.  It fully demonstrates that while marriage may be normative in Christian culture, it is not the only way of living, and that singleness is equally, though differently, blessed.  Danylak concludes with:

Singleness lived to the glory of God and the furtherance of his kingdom testifies to the complete sufficiency of Christ for all things.  The Christian is fully blessed in Christ, whether he or she is married or single, rich or poor, in comfort or distress.

This clear, concise Biblical teaching needs to reach a wider audience, so that single Christians will be encouraged and the church will be equipped to bring balanced teaching to facilitate a Christian culture fully supportive of both single and married people.

 

Redeeming Singleness (ISBN 978-1-4335-0588-1) is available from all good online retailers both as a hard copy and ebook.

Single Mission

2010000393024_Cover-970The moment single mission workers across the world have been waiting for has finally arrived: our new book Single Mission is now available!

Being single can bring massive challenges for mission workers.  Feeling lonely, isolated or misunderstood, or even being taken advantage of can cause self-doubt, resentment and can even lead to people leaving the mission field.

Written by Dr Debbie Hawker and Tim Herbert, Single Mission aims to encourage and equip single mission personnel, and to help them be strong in their faith, effective in their ministry, resilient and content with their lifestyle.

The best book about singles I have ever read.

If you care about mission personnel who are single, read this book so that you can support them better in their ministry.  Better still, buy a copy to send to them.  One church missions pastor said:

“The worldwide church has been waiting for this book… Our church will buy copies for all our overseas mission partners, both married and single, to help us all better understand the dynamics of single people in mission.”

Chapters have been contributed by over single 30 women and men from six continents and their stories include issues such as sexual temptation, adopting, the death of a husband after just two weeks of marriage, internet dating, pressure from family and church to marry, and plenty of tips on how to thrive in cross-cultural mission as a single person.  Some stories are sad, some are humorous, all are thought-provoking.  With chapter headings like Sacred Sexuality, What not to say to single mission workers, Loving and serving God, and Why aren’t you married?, let these stories of modern-day mission encourage and challenge you in your faith.

Other professionals supporting mission workers have said:

  • It fills a massive gap.
  • Wow!  This book does not hold back on issues not normally talked about! 
  • I’m glad to see that you aren’t shrinking away from the more difficult subjects.
  • We will certainly use it as a resource for training, preparing and supporting our mission workers.

You can read a review of Single Mission here.

Single Mission costs £8.99 plus £2.00 for postage and can be bought in the UK through the Global Connections shop, where you can pay online, or by emailing Tim Herbert.   Books are also available to buy online in the United States from Condeo Press and Single Mission is also available as an ebook.

All profits will be used to support mission personnel worldwide, through the work of ARREST and Sygyzy.

Book review: Honourably Wounded

Honourably woundedSadly, many overseas mission workers are wounded in the course of their ministry – as a result of burnout, spiritual fatigue, enemy action and sometimes even ‘friendly fire’.  Many of them return to life in their sending country with a deep sense of loss for the ministry they have left behind, and mourning for the lost relationships.  Often their churches do not know how to help them, and the agencies one might expect to be able to help them have often been part of the problem, so there is no opportunity for supportive dialogue.  Syzygy often meets people who still have unresolved issues many years after the field.  They don’t know how to handle their hurt, or even explain it to themselves let alone others.

Dr Marjory Foyle spent 30 years as a mission worker in India and Nepal, initially as a medical doctor and then as a psychiatrist.  Her work on understanding the need for better care for mission workers led her to become one of the founders of the member care sector.  Her seminal work Honourably Wounded (Monarch 2010, ISBN 978-0825463334) is a small book which has had a major impact on how churches, sending agencies and mission workers understand and deal with the emotional and psychological damage that can be caused to workers on the mission field.  To those who have been wounded in action, it has been a huge comfort to know that someone understands and can help.

Much of mission workers’ inability to cope well with stress is due to the false conception of ‘laying down our lives for the Lord.’  This is often taken to mean that we deny ourselves everything wholesome and enjoyable in order to get on with the task we have been given.  Marjory points out that:

“dedication and commitment to God, while essential if we want to go on with God, do not mean the wholesale denial  of the real person within, but provide us with freedom to expand, develop, and enjoy the good things God has created”.

MarjorieMarjory’s book is highly readable, honestly addressing difficult situations, and bringing good psychiatric awareness to the layman.  It covers a wide range of subjects including depression, culture shock, occupational stress and interpersonal relations, and it has an extensive bibliography which is also informative.  Marjory’s extensive experience of missions, and of the problems people can encounter has fed into a very practical resource.  She has a clear understanding of the dynamics or the relationships between family members, colleagues and the local culture and places all this in a firm biblical context.

While Marjory’s biblical understanding informs every chapter, the final one – a God’s Biblical Model for Member Care  – makes it abundantly clear that God doesn’t want his workers burning themselves out and is passionate about their health.  She writes of mission workers: Because there is always such a lot to do and they feel personally responsible, they overwork and use up a vast amount of physcial and mental energy with inadequate recharging of batteries.”  This book is her response to that problem.

If you have been wounded in action, or are trying to help someone who has been, this is the single best resource you can buy.

Working from a place of rest

Working fromI once heard a story about a colonial expedition into the African interior.  On the first day, they made excellent progress through the forest.  By the end of the second day, they had travelled much further than they had expected.  But when the third day dawned, the African porters steadfastly refused to move.  No amount of cajoling or beating from the European leaders could change their minds.  “We have travelled a long way from home,” they explained.  “And we are waiting for our souls to catch up with our bodies.”

Whether this story is true or not, it deserves to be.  It is true that our souls cannot travel as fast as our bodies do, and we ignore this truth at our peril.  One of the reasons so many mission workers suffer from fatigue, burnout and breakdown is that we don’t plan in regular times to stop and wait for our souls to catch up.  Tony Horsfall, himself a veteran mission worker who is now a celebrated author and speaker, learned this the hard way, as have many of us who have suffered burnout in one way or another.

Tony uses his own experience to encourage us to slow down and wait for our souls to catch up.  Using the story of Jesus sitting alone by a Samaritan well, he points out the importance of regular rest in our lives, as exemplified by our Lord, whose frequent breaks from ministry for rest and prayer enabled him to cope with extraordinary demands on him.  Tony invites us to

Come and sit by the well for a while. Take some time out to reflect on how you are living and working. Watch Jesus and see how he does it. Listen to what the Spirit may be saying to you deep within, at the centre of your being; and maybe, just maybe, God will give you some insights that will change your life and sustain your ministry over the long haul.

TonyWorking from a place of rest is well-written and easy to read, with short chapters that don’t weigh you down.  But the content is not light, as Tony covers such issues as The Discipline of Stopping, Remember the Sabbath and Drinking from the Well.  This book can help us discern what God wants us to say “yes” to, and when to say “no”; it can help us learn to build margin into our lives so that we work from a place of rest.

I wish I had been familiar with the concepts in this book before my health broke down and took me out of my overseas ministry early.  This book is a must-read for all mission workers who think they are too busy to stop and rest, and particularly for those who don’t think they need to.

Working from a place of rest is available online from its publisher BRF for just £6.99, as well as Christian bookshops and online retailers.

Book review: online publications

The latest issue of Vista was released earlier this month and for those of you with an interest in mission in Europe, this is a helpful and informative resource. Produced by Darrell Jackson, Jim Memory and Jo Appleton, this quarterly online journal features research-based information and analysis of life and mission in Europe. The latest issue of Vista features an exclusive interview with Mike Frost which involves a discussion of his new coinage ‘Excarnation’. It also features the results of useful research into what Generation Y Christians understand by the word ‘missional’ and an analysis of how we can identify and measure what ‘missional’ is.

Vista is a free publication produced by Redcliffe College and previous editions include a discussion of the increasing urbanisation of Europe, a review of the Atlas of European Values, a discussion of the demographic changes facing Europe and reflections on migration within and into Europe. Vista also invites contributions from informed missional practitioners working within the European contexts. It can be downloaded from the Vista blog, and you can also follow Vista on Facebook and Twitter.

You may also be interested to hear about a new resource called The Missional Network. This is a global partnership of missional thinkers and practitioners whose British partners are Springdale College: Together in Mission.  Their useful website provides you with articles, resources, links, information and videos from a wide range of excellent presenters, which are encouraging, informative and challenging. The Missional Network is also launching a brand-new academic resource: The Journal of Missional Practice.  The introductory issue is already available and features articles by Juan Martinez, Stefan Paas, Martin Robinson and Alan Roxburgh. The first full issue is due in February 2013 and contributors will include Bishop Graham Cray, Craig Van Gelder, Babatunde Adedibu and Dominic Erdozain.

Other online resources for mission include our old friends at Oscar, which is a veritable mine of useful information containing over 1000 pages of links, advice, information, blogs and access to the accumulated experience of hundreds of mission workers.  People engaged in mission in Europe may also like to connect with Eurochurch.net, who facilitate a missional conversation between church-planters and academics, and also have regular challenging updates on Facebook.  Those interested in member care will also find a wide range of resources listed at the Member Care Europe website, where member care practitioners can submit their own resources and events for listing. And churches looking for inspiration and support on becoming more focussed on global mission will find Passion for Mission very useful – it contains advice, testimonies and a wide range of resources to help your church become more missional.


Syzyzy’s new publication: The Book of Blogs

Syzygy is proud to announce the release of our first book – The Book of Blogs.  Stylishly presented in black and orange, and small enough to fit into a jacket pocket, we think it looks great.  But then, we would, wouldn’t we?

Always keen on recycling, it occurred to us some months ago to wonder what happens to all those old blogs that just sit gathering cobwebs on a server somewhere.  We thought it was a shocking waste of an excellent resource so we called them all up again, selected the 40 best ones (which wasn’t easy), and recycled them into a handy little book.

The Book of Blogs includes everything you’ve come to expect from a Syzygy blog: thought-provoking analysis, encouraging Bible studies, technical updates, information about critical developments in the UK and the mission world, and success stories from various missions.  Our accumulated pearls of wisdom nestle within waiting for you to discover them!  If you’ve ever wondered

What was the Great BlackBerry Showdown?

Why should you treat your password like your toothbrush?

How does it feel when the staircases rearrange themselves?

How can you cope with stress?

What is happening to Christians in China, Egypt and Nigeria?

this is a resource you need!  You’ll find the answers to these questions and many more.  Paying tribute to its origin as blogspots, each blog is published with its original categories and tags, which in a bizarrely reversion to printed media from electronic also form an index.  Feedback from initial distribution has been very positive – one person read it in a weekend!

It is our hope that by making this resource available we will bring an awareness of the Syzygy blogs to a new audience who have not yet discovered us online, and in the process raise some funds to help us improve the services we provide for mission workers worldwide.

Published at a price of JUST £5 (+ £1 P&P), this light and compact book will make an excellent stocking filler for people interested in mission, or whom you hope might become interested in mission.  They’ll fit comfortably on an unused corner of a church bookstall.  They’re ideal for people preparing to go overseas.  They’re cheap enough to give as Christmas present to people you ought to give something, but don’t really want to.  For overseas postage, please contact us at info@syzygy.org.uk

To order, you can post a cheque to Syzygy at 46 Wingate Close, Birmingham, B30 1AA, or if you prefer an online solution just make a donation through Everyclick (click here).  You don’t need an Everyclick account, but you will need a credit or debit card.  Here’s how:

  1. Donate in multiples of £6 and we’ll work out how many books you want.
  2. Leave your name in the ‘name’ box (it won’t appear if you’re logged into your account)
  3. Leave your address in the ‘comments’ box so we can post your purchase to you.
  4. On the payments page, don’t forget to tick the box marked ‘let this charity see your details’ or we won’t know who you are!

Please email info@syzygy.org.uk if you would like further information.  Remember, that all the proceeds go directly to Syzygy, thereby benefiting mission workers worldwide who a directly helped by our ministry.  You can also give money to Syzygy without any pain by using Everyclick as your search engine.

Has Rob Bell fallen from grace?

Popular inspirational speaker and church leader Rob Bell has created a storm with his latest book Love Wins in which he challenges the church’s traditional understanding of heaven and hell.  Bell, pastor of the 10,000-strong postmodern church Mars Hill in Grandville, Michigan (USA) and producer of the popular Nooma dvd series, has never been considered a theological heavyweight by evangelicals, despite the fact that he clearly makes every effort to make his teaching biblical (as he sees it) and this book is no exception.  Bell’s strength is communicating Christian truth in an entertaining and simple manner for a postmodern generation.

Bell’s favourite technique is to ask reductive rhetorical questions to help people realise the absurdity of the traditional view of heaven and hell.  Examples include:

God is loving and kind and full of grace and mercy – unless there isn’t confession and repentance and salvation in this lifetime, at which point God  punishes forever.  That’s the Christian story, right?


A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them, [will] in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormentor who will ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony.


Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue.  God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life.  However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach us that Jesus rescues us from God.

Bell is not in fact saying anything that erudite theologians in reputable seminaries haven’t been speculating about for decades, a point which he claims in his introduction to demonstrate his ‘alternative orthodoxy’.  Where Bell is different, however, is that he does not follow the traditional liberal line of beginning with a God of love and rejecting the authority of the Bible where it contradicts love.

While he begins with the problem (which all of us, in truth, grapple with) that an ostensibly loving God will condemn billions of his own creatures to burn forever, he seeks a fully biblical solution, looking at the teaching of Jesus and all the terms used in scripture for hell.  He explains that what Jesus and his listeners would have understood by heaven and hell are not the same as the image the church has inherited, and proposes a solution drawn from the parable of the prodigal son, where the older brother is invited to the party, still has the option of going to the party, but doesn’t.

The book itself is written in Bell’s engaging and accessible style, with plenty of rhetorical questions ridiculing the point he is criticising.  However, like Velvet Elvis, it starts with a big impact but gradually fizzles out.  It’s long on argument but short on proposition, and ends up being unable to answer coherently the questions that it has raised.

Technically, it fails to tackle head on some crucial texts (e.g. Matthew 13:47-52, Mark 9:47-48, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9, Revelation 20:10, 15) while claiming to have fully examined everything the Bible has to say about the subject.  While Bell is also quite correct by arguing that ‘everlasting’ (aionios in Greek) can be translated ‘for a time’ as validly as it can be translated ‘forever’, he doesn’t deal with how this can apply where ‘everlasting punishment’ and ‘everlasting life’ appear in the same sentence (Matthew 5:46).

Bell concludes that there is (or will be) no such place as hell, if by hell you mean a lake of fire.  He implies that he might believe in purgatory, and clearly anticipates a beautiful future for most of us, Christian or not, unless we choose to reject it.  And although he doesn’t actually say it,  there may  be a possibility making that choice after death.  And if we do reject it, the consequences won’t be hell, though it’s not clear from this book what they might be.

Whether you love or hate this book will depend on whether you are modern or postmodern.  If you are the latter you will be thrilled that someone has had the courage to recontextualise biblical imagery to create a new paradigm empowering us to live life like it really matters.  If you are modern, you will be furious that a high profile public figure will so undermine Christian tradition and challenge orthodoxy.

Bell has not succeeded in providing any answers, and while many Christians will be encouraged that the fate of their loved ones who have already died might not be as awful as they had previously believed, many more will be confused by this controversial and ultimately unhelpful intervention.  I can’t wait for John Piper to reply, probably by writing a book defending hell.

Many evangelical Christians will be outraged and offended by Bell’s views, but it is lamentable that they care so passionately about defending the traditional understanding of hell, yet do so little to prevent their neighbours being sent there.