This talk (click here) was given to younger Evangelicals in the Church of England, but it doesn’t take much thinking to see the application for those in the Episcopal Church. The speaker, Lee Gatiss, draws on the great military strategists of history, quoting Homer, Sun Tzu, Plutarch, Field-Marshal Montgomery, and Cortes (as well as the Bible, in case you need reassuring) before concluding, ‘If we are to avoid the slow death of a softening evangelicalism or the catastrophe of having to start again from scratch, the brightest course ahead for those who want to see a renewed Church of England, is to stick with it and keep contending – not just on the “big issues” of the day, but on the gospel issues. There is no point winning all the battles on human sexuality, if we lose the war for human salvation.’ I found Sun Tzu’s point about foraging from the enemy particularly apt!

CalvaryA NEW movie making the rounds on the independent film circuit is Calvary, the story of an Irish priest in a church consumed with anger over the sexual abuse of children by clergy. The film has some great aspects, but if it had come with a spiritual health warning, I’d never have seen it, and I think I’d have been happier. So this is that warning, for any readers who might share my fragility.

First, though, some reasons why you might want to see it (I could give more, but I’m trying to avoid giving too much away). It’s well written (by someone who has a real grasp of the gospel), well acted, well directed, set in a beautiful landscape brilliantly photographed, and a suspense-filled whodunit as well as an almost unbearably perceptive social commentary. It’s one of the most thought provoking films I’ve seen in a long time; it made me think long and hard about the church, the society we live in, and what it means for Christians to share in Christ’s sufferings.

The health warning is necessary because its depiction of the sinful nature of humanity is so blunt, and hits the viewer so hard, that by the end of the film I felt as though I had been on the wrong end of the baseball bat that appears in one scene. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not ‘graphic’ or ‘explicit’, in fact it’s incontrovertible proof that heaving bodies are not needed for the portrayal of sex, or rivers of blood and guts for the portrayal of violence. Hollywood could learn a lot from the way Calvary shocks the viewer. The shock comes at least in part from the fact that the sadism and the perversion is presented as so deeply embedded, and in the sort of people we see every day—including the one in the bathroom mirror. As I say, by the closing credits I felt as though I had not only been physically assaulted but demeaned and humiliated, and I was ready to hit back. I felt as though it had been done by someone who delighted in rubbing my nose in his own anger, hatred and self-abuse; if the producer had introduced himself to me after the screening, I might well have returned evil for evil in a way that would have got me arrested, or at least thrown out of the cinema.

It was this anger at what I’d been exposed to that I had to think hardest about. I couldn’t be taking it personally in the literal sense, I’m not (yet) at the stage where I could suspect the producer actually had Philip Wainwright in mind as he put it all together. But insofar as sin is directed against our fellow human beings as well as against God, it is an assault on the dignity of every human being—we’re all worth more than the face values shown here, no matter what our failings—and it may be understandable, and even not inappropriate, to resent it on behalf of mankind. But, as the film suggests, and Jesus explicitly says, we are called to forgive, even when beaten up only metaphorically, and by a movie producer who doesn’t know we exist. And the angrier we are about the violence done to us, the more important it is to forgive it. The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. But perhaps it does help us understand the wrath of God against sin: if this is how a close look at sin affects me, when the sin in my own heart is at least a shadow of what faced me on the screen, the Bible’s portrayal of the anger sin arouses in God, Who is holy beyond our comprehension, must be the literal truth. How could He be anything but angry at what His creation has come to?

I wasn’t strong enough to bear the violence that I felt had been done to me as part of my sharing in the sufferings of Christ. I’m still struggling to forgive whoever it was that conceived this film. But it may be that God is using the film to teach me something. I may have been happier if I’d never seen it, but I might be a bit wiser for having done so. In any case, I trust that God is at work, and will bring good out of it. I can’t bring myself to recommend it, but perhaps God will put it to use in your case too.

PS, if you’re going to see the movie, I’d suggest doing so before reading any comments that get made on this post; any detailed discussion of it is bound to include some spoilers.

‘Realism’ is based on the grandest foundation a philosophy can have, namely human stupidity

—R. G. Collingwood, An Essay on Metaphysics (Oxford 1998) p 34.

A quote to keep handy when people tell you it’s not realistic to ask people to wait till they’re committed for life till they have sex, to have sex only with someone of the other sex, to stay with the person you have sex with your whole life long no matter how difficult they turn out to be, etc etc

On gay marriage, traditional evangelicals have lost an important battle—but the larger war is still going on.  And traditionalists and progressives alike must now get over ourselves and focus on other issues coming at us on which we can and must agree if we are to be a living, vibrant expression of the gospel in the contemporary world.  This is an opportunity.

These are actually the words of an Evangelical staying in the Presbyterian Church rather than the Episcopal Church, but all he says applies to us too. Read it all here. Thanks to Bruce Robison for the tip.

The closer the better

The closer the better

In the past I’ve recommended Simeon Trust conferences as a way to attend a Proclamation Trust-style preaching workshop now that EFAC-USA is no longer organising them, but I need to add a word of caution. Last Sunday while travelling I attended a church where one of the Simeon Trust workshop leaders was preaching, and was very disappointed. He preached on one clause in a verse, and in doing so appeared to contradict the rest of the verse. It was the classic mistake of making a good biblical point but not making it by expounding the passage in the Bible that makes the point, which comes down to making the point on your own authority rather than the authority of the word of God.

If you’re thinking of going to a St Simeon’s Trust preaching conference, let me know which one and I’ll tell you if you might be wasting your registration fee.

It's all here and nowhere elseAn early description of English Evangelicals, the forebears of Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church, from a Jesuit priest:

Each of them had his own Bible, and sedulously turned the pages and looked up the texts cited by the preachers, discussing the passages among themselves to see whether they had quoted them to the point, and accurately, and in harmony with their tenets. Also they would start arguing among themselves about the meaning of passages from the Scriptures – men, women, boys, girls, rustics, labourers and idiots

A 21st century observer of Evangelicals in the same tradition would perhaps notice fewer rustics and laborers, but I think would still see the rest, and most still with his or her own Bible, checking the text to see if the preacher, or leader of a Bible Study, has it right, and the wise leader will be grateful when corrected. Two heads are better than one when reading the Bible as in other cases, and many heads better still.

What would be good reading for Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church at this stage in our history?

Thanks to Andrew Cambers for the quote; see his Godly Reading: Print, Manuscript and Puritanism in England, 1580–1720  (Cambridge University Press 2011)

Bishop McIlvaineAn evangelical layman, Tom Isham of Trinity Episcopal Church in Marshall, Michigan, is working with the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to add the 19th century evangelical bishop, Charles Pettit McIlvaine, to the calendar of the Episcopal Church. The Commission is more likely to do this if there are already commemorations of McIlvaine taking place in some Episcopal Churches, and clerical readers of this blog are asked to consider using the propers below, and the brief biography, on or near March 12, the anniversary of his death.


Proverbs 4: 20-27
Psalm 119: 121-136
Romans 8: 31-39
Mark 8: 31-38


O gracious God, you kindled in your servant Charles Pettit McIlvaine a burning zeal for the salvation and sanctification of souls, and equipped him to those ends with great gifts of leadership, preaching and writing. Grant us to heed the example and teaching of this your servant Charles, that we too may have a hand in bringing to faith those whom you have called; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Biographical note:

As a man of great and varied gifts, Charles Pettit McIlvaine did many things and he did them well. Combining evangelical fervor and liturgical dignity in equal measure, he distinguished himself as a leader, author, scholar, educator, preacher, revivalist, reformer, ecumenist, and Sunday school pioneer. His literary and scholarly gifts advanced the evangelical cause in the Episcopal Church, defended Christian doctrine, and addressed social issues. He was an active delegate at the first Lambeth Conference.

Throughout his career, Bishop McIlvaine emphasized spiritual rebirth. Hence he preached at numerous revivals, conducting them in good Episcopal fashion, ‘decently and in order.’ His awakening at age seventeen matched the experience he recommended. ‘It was in the college of which I was a student,’ he recalled. ‘It was powerful and prevailing, and fruitful in the conversion of young men to God; and it was quiet, unexcited, and entirely free from all devices or means, beyond the few and simple which God has appointed… In that precious season of the power of God, my religious life began. I had heard before; I began then to know.’

Though raised in the East, McIlvaine served as Ohio’s second bishop for forty-one years. Earlier, he served churches in Washington, D.C. and Brooklyn, N.Y.; twice served as U.S. Senate chaplain; lectured on Christian evidences at the University of the City of New York, and served as chaplain and professor at the U.S. Military Academy, where he transformed the reigning secular ethos into one of Christian awareness, setting a new tone for the nation s officer corps.

During the first dozen years of his episcopate, he also served as president of Kenyon College and Seminary. He stabilized the college’s finances, built academic structures and faculty housing, and set the standard for racial harmony.

Early in the American Civil War, he served President Lincoln as envoy to Britain, where his wise counsel and diplomatic bearing assured the British would not ally themselves with the Confederacy. Later, he brought the Gospel to soldiers in the field, tended the wounded, and sought reconciliation between victors and vanquished.

It will be important to report any commemorations held to the SCLM; any reports added to this post as a comment will be forwarded to them, or you can e-mail Tom directly at ishamthomas [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.


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