2014 in Review image

2014 in Review

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Over the past couple of years I have come to be known by the sobriquet of ‘Mr Festive’ by members of my church: an ironic nod to my well-known ambivalence regarding Christmas.

It’s true: I do struggle with Christmas. Once we’re in church, for a carol service, and the truth about Christ is being proclaimed, I am OK. I like listening to Carols from King’s. I like the food (roast rib of beef in the Hosier house). I also like some of our small, local traditions – like the Gateway Church Christmas day swim in the sea. But I struggle with the hype, with the shops being full of Christmas tat from October, with the weight of expectation put on this one day. I can’t abide the cloying naffness of “The Festive Season” and “all the trimmings.” And I struggle at this time of year anyway: the short, dull, days don’t work for me. Give me summer!

I do, however, like endings and beginnings, so wrapping up one year and looking forward to the next is OK with me. So here’s Mr Festive’s review of 2014 with a Think slant.

Justin, Steve and Vicky
The removal of Steve Chalke’s Oasis from the Evangelical Alliance, the coming out of Vicky Beeching, and the legalisation of same-sex marriage in March naturally generated a number of posts from us on Think, which met with predictably mixed responses. While Justin Welby pulled off a cleverly opaque response on Desert Island Discs about the question of gay marriage (“I’m really not going to answer the question very well because we’re now into conversations within the Church, both globally and locally, and I think if I weigh in at this stage it’s inappropriate.”) there must be times to point out how crazy the whole notion is: the high profile, celebrity ‘weddings’ of recent weeks not withstanding, the idea of same-sex marriage remains a farce.

Welby’s somewhat evasive response is utterly explicable for someone in his very difficult position, and exactly what would be expected from the chief architect of the Strategy of Silence, but those of us in less sensitive positions can probably afford to be less sensitive. Generally, I think we’ve stayed on the right side of a line which wants to highlight what a nonsense it is to ‘marry’ two people of the same sex, while also seeking to be respectful to gay people. I still wouldn’t attend a same-sex mirage though – and I would still submit that sexual and reproductive ethics is the issue of our age: which is itself an indicator of how ridiculous our age is.

Rob and Mark…and Alastair
The seismic shifts we are witnessing in perceptions of ‘gender’ continue to create problems for the way in which the sexes are meant to operate. In our evangelical world this has been highlighted in stark relief by the falling of the twin Mars Hill stars: with neither Driscoll’s Christianity as martial art, nor Bell’s Christianity as getting in touch with your inner Oprah, offering a helpful model for the Christian man.

In the wider culture the lack of what might once have been described as ‘manly virtues’ is also evident. President Obama was correct to label Sony cowardly for pulling The Interview. And while I hesitate to ask this, as to do so risks sounding disrespectful towards those who died, where were the men when a solitary lunatic held hostage a Sydney café? Driscoll’s machismo-messiah was surely overdone, but equally surely there must be times when men are meant to fight.

From the highest level down, the desire for ‘gender equality’ trumps all other demands, as witnessed by the recent pronouncement by the UK Government of plans to open combat roles to women. Doubtless there are women who both want to serve in frontline roles and are able to meet the physical demands of the infantry, but their numbers will always be tiny: this is not an equivalent to attempts to get more women in the boardroom or Parliament – it is estimated that fewer than 40 would qualify annually.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence, said, “Our Armed Forces should reflect the society they serve.” Maybe, but I would have thought that the primary purpose of the Armed Forces is to defend the realm. Doubtless it would please some readers of this blog (and some contributors!) if the UK military were reduced to a ceremonial role, but I think that would be a mistake: sometimes we need men who are willing to fight.

However, entering into gender debates is always a minefield, as we found with an insufficiently contextualised and qualified quote from Alistair Roberts. Andrew’s idolatry post generated more attention than any other post this year, but it was his quoting of Alastair that seemed to result in the most ire. We finally took the offending post down, but Alastair is well worth reading on his own blog on the subject of Christian masculinity.

A sprinkling of Preston and a weight of Wright
Of course, a desire to neuter the British armed forces to a point where they are incapable of operating in any meaningful way might be a perfectly reasonable strategy if we want to have an excuse for never again getting involved in a saga as sorry as our Afghan misadventures.

It is sobering to think that my children have never known a time when we have not been ‘at war’ in Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the ending of direct British involvement has provided no cause for celebration. We probably haven’t given as much attention to current conflicts on Think as the subject deserves: overall we’ve given more to pacifist Preston Sprinkle, though I have attempted to leaven the mix at times.

While Preston was referenced at least half a dozen times on Think this year, he is way behind NT Wright, who one way or another seems to pop up a couple of times a month. By comparison, we referenced:

Stephen Westerholm once
Simon Gathercole three times
John Piper six times
Tom Schreiner seven times
Tim Keller nine times

Perhaps surprisingly, Roger Olson was referenced a Tom-Wright-equalling twenty-three times, but Scot McKnight a poll topping twenty-five times: which I’m not sure reveals anything other that Andrew’s fan-boy tendencies!

Hello & Goodbye
It was a shame to say goodbye to Liam Thatcher this year. Liam had been blogging with us since the beginning, but has decided to move across to his own – excellent – blog, on which he waxes lyrical not only about theology, but baking. On the other hand it has been good to welcome some new contributors, including Nathanael Smith’s film reviews which offer an angle previously lacking on Think.

We have also said goodbye to comments. You can still interact with us on Twitter though, and we might look at getting a Think Facebook page set up. Of course, any serious complaints should be directed towards St Stuffed Shirt. As Think’s most senior contributor, the Otter demands to be consulted, even if he doesn’t always receive all the credit he so clearly deserves.

Goodbye 2014. Happy 2015 everyone!

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