Queen’s Theological Alumni Conference

I was grateful to be the theme speaker at the Queen’s Theological Alumni Conference in Kingston, ON, Oct 20-22, 2014.  Attached here are the slides from my presentations.

Queen’s Slides – 1rev

Queen’s Slides – 2rev

Queen’s Slides – 3rev

Rob Fennell is Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, NS.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Jesus and the Song of Songs

The Song of Songs reminds us that we are sexual beings through and through: “Your rounded thighs are like jewels… Your belly is a heap of wheat… Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle that feed upon the lilies.” And the woman says: “My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows… My beloved is mine and I am his.”

But what happens in the New Testament? Does Jesus simply warn us against a leering, lecherous, objectifying approach to the other? “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” Does he never experience any kind of sexual craving or desire himself?

True, Jesus did not seem to marry. But when he speaks about marriage he stresses the binding sexual interaction between two individuals becoming “one flesh.” He suggests, moreover, that prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before the religious leaders of the day. He openly enjoys female friends and disciples. His male disciples indeed are “astonished” one day to see him talking intimately with a hated woman from Samaria.

Also, some of the disciples themselves are female: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and “many others.” To Martha’s consternation Jesus enjoys a special rapport with Mary. He defends the woman taken in adultery. He entrusts the message of the resurrection to the women and instructs them to tell — the men.

And that’s just the stuff that got into the official male-inscribed records! Jesus is surely no more frigid than he is a rake. He enfleshes the spirit of the Song of Songs even as he invites us to “store up for ourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust consumes.”

John McTavish is a retired United Church minister and lives in Huntsville, Ontario.




Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Fresh Pie with Jesus

I am so delighted that our elder son will be home for Thanksgiving. SO HAPPY. We miss him! And there will be pie. Oh yes.

Home is a funny thing. We connect it with an address, or a place, or a landscape. Yet in the Christian journey, home may not really be any of these. It’s said that “home is where the heart is.” And oddly, it turns out that our loving God is making a home in our hearts while opening God’s heart to us.

Jesus reminds us of this when he tells his followers to look at the birds in the air and the lilies in the field. Do they lack for anything? Jesus asks. No, he says – God the creator knows everything they need and provides for them.

Surely, then, even as you read this, you are in God’s keeping, you are in God’s watchful eye. Scripture even says that we are the apple of God’s eye. Everything we need has been made available ahead of time, and as we seek God’s realm of peace, it is all given to us. As we come home to God, we receive all we need.

The call to come home to God is challenging one, too, because it means we’ll have to give up some things. We’ll have to give up believing we are self-made and self-sufficient; we’ll have to give up the idea that we deserve only what we can earn.

The message of the cross is actually the reverse. Jesus dies for us so that we can have what we can’t possibly earn …we’re not meant to “earn” it at all: God’s unfailing, everlasting forgiveness and love. Jesus rises from the dead to bring us something we can’t possibly accomplish on our own: everlasting life, freedom from the fear of death, and a spirit that can be renewed in us every day.

The love of God as we find it in Jesus shapes us to become people of hope, joy, generosity, and uncommon love.   As we become ever more committed to Jesus Christ, as we give up more and more control and turn our lives over to him, we get closer and closer to our true home.

And best of all, in that home, there is room for every one of us at God’s kitchen table. The pumpkin pie is fresh, the flowers are in bloom, and Jesus is just now striking up a new song of thanks for all of us to sing together.

Rob Fennell teaches theology and the history of Christianity at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Calvary: An Unashamedly One-Sided Movie Review

Quick: name three movies with central characters who are fine Christians. Hmm, that’s what I thought.

Of course, there are some— Chariots of Fire (1981), The Mission (1986), Babette’s Feast (1987), Romero (1989), Cry the Beloved Country (1995) Dead Man Walking (1995), Amazing Grace (2006), and Of Gods and Men (2010) spring to mind immediately. Even if you have more than that on your list, you probably have enough fingers to spare to add another: Calvary (2014), starting Brendan Gleeson (remember Mad-Eye Moody in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows?).

Gleeson plays a Roman Catholic priest in rural Ireland (the scenery is breathtaking—almost another character in the film). The movie begins with one of the most dramatic openings in the history of cinema. (I could be wrong about that—there are a million movies I haven’t seen—but I somehow doubt it.) Quite rightly, the trailer features the opening scene. You can find it online. In it, the priest is sitting in the confessional, waiting for penitents. A man enters (though we never see him) but, instead of confessing, he informs the priest that he is going to kill him, and that he will do it a week from Sunday. The killing will be revenge for the sexual abuse the man suffered as a child at the hands of a priest now dead. And he chooses Father James for the simple reason that he is . . . a good priest.

The rest of the movie goes through the days of that week one by one, showing the priest going about his pastoral duties—confronting, comforting, serving, counselling, visiting the pub, arguing with the village atheist, administering last rites, and leading worship. Little by little, the tension grows as Sunday draws near. (Do not go unless you are feeling strong. To say the movie is intense is an understatement. Thank God for the rough and ready humour that punctuates the script.) And the ending is, well, stunning—and abrupt. (Two people laughed at that point the night I saw it. I guess they didn’t get it.)

Father James is a Christ-like character. There are even echoes of the clearing of the temple and the scourging. Yet he is also deeply fallible. He has a troubled relationship with his daughter (he wasn’t ordained until his wife died), he has a problem with alcohol, he has doubts, and he has a violent temper. And yet, and yet.

As a meditation on the Christian life, on being a witness, on what it means to serve Christ in life and in the shadow of death, to be aware of one’s fallenness and God’s grace, it doesn’t get any better than this. Too bad Calvary won’t get any Oscars. It deserves them.

John Bowen is Director of the Institute of Evangelism and Professor at Wycliffe College, Toronto.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Lukewarm is a laundry setting, not a vocation

I’ve come to the conclusion that the lukewarm days of the church are over. I’m not the first; I just have, perhaps, been in some denial about it.

The de-churchifying of North Atlantic countries, set in contrast to the rapid expansion of the Christian movement in the global south, puts things in stark relief. Unless we are convinced that the gospel has more than some vague, general merit to it (like probiotic yogurt or whole grain bread) and is actually going to be transformative for human lives and the lives of the rest of those with whom we share this planet, not to mention the oceans and the forests, I think we might be better off just packing it in.

I mean, what good is a church whose highest good is being “friendly” – ? Are we serious? I like friendly people, and I try to be friendly, but surely there is more to the Christian way than this.

If, on the other hand, we can deepen our conviction that God has a vision for redemption and ACTUAL reconciliation, and that God is asking us to be part of making that vision a reality, then the gospel is an incredibly live hot coal we’ve got on our hands.

I have come to love the wildness of the gospel, its odd and outrageous way of opening the floodgates of the Holy Spirit into our lives. Start paddling, friends.

May God make us
restless for grace,
hungry for hope,
passionate about serving God by serving others,
and mighty in love.

Rob Fennell teaches at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, NS.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

“B” Special

It’s orientation week here at St. Andrew’s Hall & The Vancouver School of Theology. While all around us UBC’s slogan is “A Place of Mind,” our delightful Principal Richard Topping has encouraged us to consider theological education as “A Place of Imagination.”

I’ve been reflecting a bit on my role here at the college and the ways in which I hope to prayerfully engage my students. Here are a few “b” things I’m hoping to pass along this year to those who might lead congregations in the future:

1) Behold – Surely, a deep and necessary part of Christian leadership is knowing both who and whose we are. Living and leading as a Christian requires an attentiveness to our own discipleship. In light of God’s on going revelation to us through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, how might we discern and delight in what God is doing all around us in worship, work and wonder.

2) Belong – as a Pastor you always hear people tell you, “I’m a Christian, I just don’t go to church.” And while, “going to church” doesn’t make one a Christian, it is pretty hard to conceive of a vibrant, sin-checked, Christ-centred faith that is not rooted and accountable in some sort of covenanted community. We all need to belong to some sort of Christian community, whether it is a Cathedral or a house church.

3) Believe – in my teaching of the Creeds and Confessions of the Reformed tradition this autumn, I am particularly aware of particularity. In other words, our “beliefs” are not just our own private confessions of faith, but rather we belong to a larger tradition and confess our faith publicly alongside those who may be very different from ourselves in certain ways but are united in our baptism and devotion to the risen Christ.

4) Behave – so this one sounds a little negative. As a father of three young (high energy) children – I often think of “behaving” as following a set pattern of rules. And yet, any community we “belong” to has a set of rules. One of the first things I received this spring when we moved into our new Townhouse in North Vancouver was the bylaws of the Strata council. In other words, to live here – these are the rules we agree to. As Reformed Christians we understand that under the authority of Scripture, we continue to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in an ongoing reformation of our life and practice as Christians. Therefore, the rules are not “set in stone.” But, whether one is Episcopalian minded and following Canon Law, United Church and living by “The Manual” or Presbyterian and following “The Book of Forms” we are all living by a set of rules.

Behold. Belong. Believe. Behave.

As children of God, living by the grace of Christ, may the Holy Spirit awaken us daily to what it means to “b” special.

Ross Lockhart teaches at St. Andrew’s Hall, Vancouver.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Under Construction…

You could not imagine a more beautiful day here in British Columbia. It’s so beautiful, in fact, we’ve decided to make it a holiday and give it the rather unimaginative name of “BC Day.” The sun is out in full force (a rare thing) and the temperature is soaring to nearly +30oC. I was up early for my jog and decided to go over the Cleveland Dam and into the woods with the many trails twisting and turning around the Capilano river. Oddly, for the first time the heavy metal door was open halfway across the dam with cold metal stairs descending into the darkness of the dam below. I had to take a look. I gazed down into the bowels of the massive dam and in the distance the clear sound of heavy machinery was clunking away. Right in front of me was a sign posted saying, “Construction zone ahead – work in progress.” Hmm, I thought about that as I jogged away and into the beauty of the Pacific Northwest rainforest on the other side of the Dam.

In a sense, all of us are like that massive dam with complicated working parts and more than enough darkness to shroud our best intentions in mystery. Surely each and everyone of us who claim to be following Jesus (or at least trying most days) could be summed up as a work in progress. The church has long had a fancier word to describe it – sanctification. I think back over the years with my love for evangelism and the amazing way that I have witnessed God at work in people’s lives. One of the things I worry is that I did not always make clear enough to new Christians that once the excitement of being saved wanes, it can be easy to feel discouraged at how we slip back into our old lives. The Apostle Paul has been most helpful to me in this…like when he writes in Romans 7: 15, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.” This tug of war between our will and God’s will after our “Yes” to God’s gracious invitation to relationship in Jesus Christ is our sanctification. Our growing in grace. I don’t know about you but my experience of obedience to Christ and his gospel has certainly been a tug of war over the years…two steps forward, one step back.

Yes, we are all under construction…we are all a work in progress…but thank God that is the work of God in us and not our own ability or cleverness that wins the day. As I continued jogging this morning through the beauty of God’s creation, I was mindful of the many ways in which God is “at work” in my life…I’m glad to be a work in progress…Great is God’s faithfulness…each and everyday. May you too rejoice this day for what God in Christ is doing in your life through the mystery and majesty of the Holy Spirit….

Ross Lockhart teaches at St. Andrew’s Hall, Vancouver.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment