Written by Dave Horsfall
on 23rd May 2023
How you think and act is probably determined by the things you believe are most important. If your work and career are significant, then you are likely to give a lot of your time, energy and thought to those things. Maybe the first thing your check in the morning, when you wake up, is your emails so you can keep on top of work demands. It could be your family or your friends and building good relationships with them. Maybe the last thing you do before you go to sleep is check your WhatsApp messages to make sure you’re up to date with everyone. I like football, ‘Spireites till I die’, which means I look at on how Chesterfield F.C. are doing each week. Work, family, friends, money, health, fitness, travel, football, (and I could go on), are the things that make up the content of our lives. They are not the places, however, that can give us the ultimate meaning for our lives.
The story of Scripture celebrates all the parts of our lives that I have mentioned but also it gives us a bigger story that provides the grand meaning and purpose which other things simply cannot do. Let me use an imperfect analogy; the world is a beautiful and fascinating place full of intriguing animals and ecosystems to explore and examine. You cannot fully understand the Earth, however, without exploring the effect that the Sun and the Moon have on our tides, temperatures, and energy. Our lives in the world are full of joy and pain, creation and destruction, life and death and everyone has a narrative, a story they use to make sense of it. Even an atheist has a story, a narrative, that they look to understand meaning and purpose.
The central story of Christians, the ground-zero of our faith, is the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Something that I find compelling about this is that God’s action is not an unseen spiritual act that we are called to trust in with little evidence to support it. Rather, the Christ-event is something that happened in our world, in creation, and in our time and history. God makes himself known, not in an ethereal act, a subjective spiritual encounter, but in the flesh and blood of a living person. He opens himself up to investigation and questioning. You can explore the evidence for the resurrection, you can read about what the person of Jesus did and said.
The resurrection of Christ is the event that convinced me of many things. It convinced me that Jesus was a real person in time and space, that he displayed to us the powerful action of God and that my life could be impacted and changed by his death and resurrection. This conviction is what led to my conviction that Scripture, the bible, was going to be central to life. It is in the pages of Scripture that we can read the accounts of Jesus of Nazareth and understand the implications of the resurrection. If Jesus is the fullest revelation of God to humanity, then Scripture is the medium by which we understand and reflect on the identity of Jesus.
If God has revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus, then the words of Scripture can give us an awareness of the meaning and purpose of life. These words can speak to how we understand pain and death, how we feel loss and grief and what hope and light can be found in those moments. The stories of Scripture can also show us what the character of God is like, and how we best understand someone who is ultimately beyond our full understanding. It gives us definitions for things like love, truth, faith, and hope which are the source of life-giving power.
One thing that becomes evident very early on in the story of Scripture is that God does not give us a bullet point list of definitions about himself. Instead, he gives us a story, an unfolding narrative about God meeting with his people and telling them about his plans for the world. What this means for people who centre their lives around the person of Jesus, is that we must spend time understanding this story. We need to give our time and energy to reading and exploring the Scriptures and the God they reveal. This is the God whom we can speak to in prayer, whom we praise with our worship and whom we thank for the good things of creation. All these activities are important and beautiful to engage with but it is Scripture which gives us the picture of who our God is.
I have spoken with hundreds of people about reading the bible and a common comment is that it is an unusual book to read. The dramatic conclusion comes two-thirds of the way through not at the end. It is not always laid out in order but it seems to jump around in time. There are lots of different types of writing so you cannot read each section the same. It refers to people living a long time ago in different cultures and with different social norms. The Bible is a book that we learn to read together. We need other people to help us understand it.
The CYM Foundations in Biblical Studies course is one way you can learn how to read the bible. It gives you an introduction to the story of Scripture and some tools you can use to read different sections of the bible well. Life as a Christian and ministry as a Christian will throw up situations and questions all the time that are complex and challenging. The more we appreciate and understand the story of Scripture the more we can appreciate how to respond.
If you were to reflect on your faith and ministry, how much does Scripture inform what you do? If you are a preacher or teacher, do you feel equipped to understand even the difficult passages of the bible? If you help invest in children and young people how is your ministry to them shaped by the story of God? If you work in prisons or the community how do the stories of Scripture help bring life to those facing huge challenges? The Bible is not a book we can open and find lots of easy answers to life’s big questions, life is more complicated than that. The Bible is, however, a book we can read which acts like a deep well we can draw water from. It does not give us trite cliches that place a plaster over life’s complexities, instead, it invites us to come before the God of all creation who steps down into the lowliest places with us. Nor is it a book that gives underwhelming descriptions of life’s joys and highs; instead, it excites our imagination about the endless creativity of a God who brings grants life to all the plants, animals, people, and galaxies that we can see and those who have not even discovered yet.
Every chaplain in whatever context does their work starting from a foundation of theology. I work out of a theological web; a series of interconnected theologies, which, when woven together offer a rationale for chaplaincy that has biblical integrity and educational/pastoral attraction. At the heart of that web is what I term the theology of chaplaincy as a gift.
Nigel Roberts - Lecturer
5th December 2023
There is something significant and resonant when people who are driven by a common purpose get together. That resonance deepens when God is involved - when we take time out to de-clutter our thinking and focus on God speaking through others’ learning, experiences and reflections.
Dr. Graham Bright - Associate Fellow
5th September 2023
Have you heard the phrase: ‘today’s newspaper headlines are tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper’? This ages me of course, since chips haven’t been sold in papers since around 1980 but the metaphor stands – today’s scandals quickly fade away like newsprint stuck to a soggy chip.
Robin Smith - Course Director
29th June 2023