Thursday, March 30

Derren Brown: Messiah

This is the title of a show I watched last night (which, incidentally, would be an excellent resource for studies of postmodernism!). Basically, the idea of the show is that Brown uses his psychological skills to raise questions about our acceptance of belief systems. He pretends to be (among other things) a medium, a UFO abductee and a Christian evangelist and in ease case wins the support of influential people in each of these 'faith groups'. By showing how reproducable these experiences are through psychological sugestion, he is not debunking or mocking any of these belief systems, but what he is doing is raising questions about our acceptance of power and authority.

Most interesting for me was the sequence on Christianity - where Brown (who was himself an evangelical Christian until his mid-twenties) uses suggestion to create "physical conversion" experiences in a group of atheists (getting them to fall over, collapse to their chairs and subsequently profess a belief in God).

Now I don't agree with all Brown says or does, but I do think there is a message here for us to hear. When we have (a) a theology of "conversion-as-event" (which, I believe, is not given the same weight in Scripture) and (b) a church model which has a great focus on the authority and personality of the man in the pulpit, we open ourselves to Brown's criticism. It is demonstrably true that "conversion" experiences can be acheived through psychological manipulation, and we need to be careful that we don't unwittingly produce a Christian-veneer version of Brown's show. Of course it would help if we didn't place too much weight on such experiences in the first place.

I currently go to a church where most believe that the spiritual gifts of tongues, prophecy etc. have ceased. I, for the record, disagree. But you don't need to be charistmatic to be at risk of psychological manipulation. All you need (as Brown shows) is a powerful personality 'up front' in a position of authority. I wonder if models of church which focus on the pulpit and preaching (sometimes almost exclusively) are inherently liable to create such a manipulative environment. What do you reckon?

Then there's the question of questioning. I think that honest questioning of our faith (if done constructively) leads to growth in faith. But how much questioning is healthy? What can we do to provide suitable environments for honest questioning - and not just for 'new converts' or 'seekers' but all believers?

I have my thoughts on these issues, but in light of Brown's show, I'll keep them to myself (for now) and ask the questions... ;)


P.S. There's more on the show on Derren Brown's webpage here, and I read a good (and short) review of the show on the channel 4 website here.
P.P.S. The other show I watched last night was a Newsnight special on anti-war protests by Iraq veterans - which contained many other examples of people accepting without question the views of those in power and authority; in this case, later totally (and sometimes angrily) reversing them!

Tuesday, March 21

Hello World!

This is just a temporary post, which I'll delete in a while, so you don't have to reply. I just wanted to flag up a couple of new features on SFT.

Firstly, there's the cool map at the bottom of this page, which shows where people are logging on from (and how many).

Secondly, there's the GuestMap. Here you can leave me a message or greeting along with a little pin in the map so I can see where you're from. Click the button below to leave me a message (and if you're the visitor from Saudi Arabia/Qatar please sign my GuestMap, I'd love to know how you found me!)


Sunday, March 19

Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking

This is more of a 'rubber-meets-road' post, and I'd love to hear your thoughts/experiences.

All this exciting theological insight has a worrying flip-side. I sometimes find myself moving beyond critical thinking and slipping into just being plain critical, and this leads quickly to bitterness. This often happens in conversations with like-minded friends, and what results is generally a "let me tell you all the things that are wrong with the church"-type rant.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on how we can think deeply and critically about how we 'do' church and theology, and apply this thinking to our church settings, without slipping into this kind of unChristlike ranting.

Thursday, March 9


I thought it would be nice to have a place for us to store up poems, stories, quotations, photographs, paintings, or anything else that seems to strike a chord. Just post a comment or a link if you find something.

Monday, March 6

Whose Good News?

"The good news depends on who you are"

This was a comment on OpenSource Theology which I thought tied in nicely with a few comments that are dotted around on the SFT. So I thought it might make a nice new thread. The full discussion on OST can be seen here. This is the context for the above comment:

"The good news depends on who you are. Jesus showed us that salvation depends on who you are becasue different people need salvation from different things. For some people salvation was "sell all you have and give it to the poor". For others it was "go and sin no more". For some it was physical or mental healing and for some it was political/social justice. Jesus recognized that all of us need salvation from different things. The good news is that there is help through some sort of transformation process and it can be found in the message of Jesus."

Is this definition of the gospel sufficient?