‘Evangelical fission’, anti-intellectualism in the Church and why Christian journalism matters: Mark Woods talks to Catalyst Live

Christian Today Contributing Editor Mark Woods talks to BMS about Christian journalism and hosting Catalyst Live.

Christian Staff Photos 2014

Is the UK Church engaged enough intellectually, or is there an anti-intellectual stream as one might see in the US?

I think it’s quite dangerous to generalise about anti-intellectualism in the US Church, just because the US is such a huge country and the Church there is so incredibly diverse.
There is a tendency sometimes, in evangelical churches particularly, to focus on what the Bible says. And that’s great, because we need to be going back to the Bible all the time. But as well as reading the Bible, we have to be able to read other books. We need to read the Bible through the lenses of what experts in society, culture and economics have to say, and read what these experts say through the lens of the Bible. And the danger is that if we take out the dialogue between them, then we end up with a very lame approach to and understanding of culture and how the world works.

So is there an anti-intellectualism in the Church? I think there is always that risk, because we end up talking to ourselves about ourselves, about our own concerns, and we don’t hear the wider conversation. So yes, there is a danger.

As a journalist, you have not shied away from controversial stories, for which you have received a certain amount of flack. How important is good, critical journalism for the Church?

I think it’s hugely important. I think of some of the stories I’ve worked on where I have been personally criticised. I’ve looked into my heart and thought: “should I have written this? Was this a useful thing to do for the kingdom of God?” And invariably I’ve come back to the view that it’s the job of a journalist to bring things into the light which people might prefer were hidden.
It’s easy I think for [Christian] journalists and the Church in general to want to sweep things under the carpet to a degree, because they think it doesn’t reflect well on the Church. And I think that’s a completely indefensible way of looking at things, to be honest. Because we are about truth and we’re about light. Nobody wants to wallow in the Church’s failings, and nobody wants to gratuitously do our dirty washing in public, but if there is wrongdoing, if there are questions that need to be answered, then we just need to be honest enough and brave enough to face up to these things.

You’re going to host BMS World Mission’s Catalyst Live events this year. What do you like most about them?

The Catalyst Live events I’ve been to previously I’ve found enormously stimulating, in that they bring people together to hear top-class teaching and really challenging, exciting speakers. We talked earlier about whether there was an anti-intellectual current in evangelicalism. Well, I think events like Catalyst Live really give the lie to that, because hundreds of people come together to be stretched ‒ they want to be challenged, they want to have their minds opened and helped to think. And I think that’s really important.

Catalyst Live has a strong World Church element this year. How important is it to talk to as well as about the World Church?

I think it’s extremely important. One of the things that the Church in Europe and North America has not come to terms with is the extent to which the centre of gravity of Christianity is shifting and has actually shifted. And the corollary to that is that talking to the World Church does not mean that we can simply import the methods and the culture from churches in other parts of the world into our western European culture and expect it to work here as it works over there. It’s very easy to see mega churches in the US, South Korea, Latin America and parts of Africa and say, ‘Wow, if only we would do things here as they do things there, then we too would have our mega churches, we too would have massive outbreaks of revival.’ It’s not that simple.

I think the World Church ‒ to use that shorthand ‒ has had to learn quite slowly that it has to do things its own way ‒ it can’t just think in the categories of western Christianity. It has to have its own ways of thinking, its own ways of doing things. And it has to cut itself free from that colonial church mentality.

And the same works in the other direction. We have to do things our own way as well. We have to find ways of speaking to our own culture in our own language. And we are failing, quite obviously, to do that.

I don’t believe that the Church in Western Europe is finished by any means, but what’s clear is that we are failing to talk to a generation which thinks that it can do pretty well without the Church. There are huge challenges that we have to face, and we can learn from the World Church, but we must not imitate the World Church.

Learning from the World Church is harder when many in it find much of western Christianity’s theology and social liberalism problematic. The Church of England has been dealing with this for years, but I’m not sure evangelicals have had to engage much with this.

I think that this is one of the big problems which is coming down the highway at a considerable rate at the moment. I think particularly views on sexuality. There is a big question, not just on that but on other things as well, as to how you define an evangelical and how big the evangelical tent can be.
For some evangelicals it’s very big indeed. Others, they want to draw the boundaries very, very firmly in thick black crayon and define an evangelical in terms of not just an approach to Scripture, but an approach to social questions and ethical questions in a way that I personally do not find very helpful. I find it sad when evangelicals want to dis-fellowship each other over secondary questions. But what we will always have to ask is what are the secondary questions and what are the primary questions? There are no easy answers to this and it is difficult to see a way in which everybody who claims the name of evangelical can be held together in some overarching evangelical umbrella. I think we have to get used to the idea that we’re not going to be able to speak with a common voice, that there is going to be fission as well as fusion. That there are going to be rows and that nothing is going to be tidy.

Mark Woods was talking to Jonathan Langley. To see Mark at Catalyst Live 2016 book your tickets today.

Is anger a Christian virtue?

We often see anger as a sin, but is that always the case? As Christians, can our anger lead to good? Catalyst Live 2016 speaker Sam Wells says we should put reason before emotion when dealing with anger:

Anger is a rational and emotional response to a perceived injustice and a desire for retribution, punishment, or at least calling to account.

It is flawed if it puts emotion ahead of reason, in any of seven ways:

  • if its judgement is incorrect, and there has in fact been no such injustice
  • if it leaps to conclusions, apportioning responsibility to the wrong party
  • if it inverts its emotion and, in order to maintain a sense of control, blames oneself, thus reversing anger and turning it into guilt
  • if the punishment envisaged is disproportionate, and ceases to be an act of love, for example if it exhibits vindictiveness rather a becoming a means of restoration and eventual reconciliation
  • if it wilfully remains ignorant of its own power, and reacts intemperately and self-indulgently to discharge a sense of powerlessness
  • if it ignores the realities before it, and acts out of a prior narrative that has made pre-judgements about rights and wrongs
  • if it insists on acting for a wronged person, thus exacerbating their diminishment, rather than with them to empower them as an agent in their own right

But if it does none of these things, and puts reason before emotion, anger can be a helpful, indeed sometimes necessary, stimulus to turn appropriate perception of injustice into suitable calling to account. Bill Clinton described the civil rights historian John Hope Franklin as “A happy angry man and an angry happy man.” This describes a good kind of anger that sees and responds appropriately to injustice, but does not allow bitterness to cloud its judgement over all other matters, and never forgets the purpose of anger lies in eventual restoration of relationship. Nelson Mandela could be described in similar terms.

Sam Wells is vicar of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, London. This is taken from the autumn 2016 issue of Engage, due to be published in September. To see Sam at Catalyst Live 2016, book your tickets to the Reading event today.

Catalyst Live 2016: full speaker list confirmed

Mark Woods will be hosting Catalyst Live 2016

Mark Woods will be hosting Catalyst Live 2016

You know when you meet someone for the first time and have a captivating conversation with them? The kind of person you could listen to for hours?

We’ve got 13 scintillating people just like that speaking at Catalyst Live 2016.

And you are going to want to know every one of them. All have interesting backgrounds and fascinating things to say. They come from all over the world and will give a global perspective on everything from faith to technology, worship music to science, poetry to art. They will challenge and surprise you and make you think.

So who’s speaking? Here’s the full list:

Vinoth Ramachandra – The Sri Lankan theologian, social critic and author is never dull. “Expect to be provoked,” he says. “I hope to be able to deliver stimulation and healthy provocation.”

Samuel Escobar – Yes, the legendary Latin American theologian will be at Catalyst Live! He made his name through his involvement in the Lausanne movement and writing influential books such as The New Global Mission. He is widely respected for his wise insights on mission today.

Anneke Kaai – Anneke is a Christian artist based in the Netherlands. She will be showing and talking about her abstract, symbolic paintings, many of which have biblical themes.

Miyon Chung – If there was ever a person born that fits the description ‘global citizen’, it is Miyon. Born in South Korea and now living in the US, this talented theologian teaches in seminaries all over the world and works at the respected Morling College in Australia.

Steve Stockman – Steve is a brilliant poet, music critic and a minister in Northern Ireland. He’s award winning too! Check out his blog to get a flavour for his style of writing and sense of humour.

Nigel Crook – Mr Robot! Nigel Crook is Head of Computing and Communication Technologies at Oxford Brookes University where he leads research in cognitive robotics. He will be speaking with a robot on stage. Not to be missed!

Shadia Qubti – A Christian Palestinian Israeli, Shadia is involved in many initiatives encouraging Palestinian women and youth to advocate for peace. This is your chance to hear from someone working for reconciliation in one of the most complicated conflicts today.

Elie Haddad – Wise, humorous and inspiring, Elie fled civil war in Lebanon in 1990 and is now President at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. One of the highlights at the Baptist Assembly in Scotland in 2015, he is a brilliant speaker.

Alan Wilson – Speaking at Birmingham only, the Bishop of Buckingham is never short of interesting things to say – check out his blog to see what we mean.

Sam Wells – Speaking at Reading only, the vicar of the prominent St Martins-in-the-Fields Church in Trafalgar Square is a well-known speaker, author and broadcaster you may well have heard on Radio 4.

Margaret Gibbs – the former BMS World Mission Regional Secretary for East Asia, ethnomusicologist and minister at Perry Rise Baptist Church in London, Margaret is well known and loved by BMS supporters. She spoke and performed at Catalyst Live in 2013. Check it out – it was superb.

Nigel Wright – Principal Emeritus of Spurgeon’s College London, Nigel is a legend in Baptist circles and has great knowledge of the UK Church and the challenges we face.

Mark Woods – The former Baptist Times editor and now Consulting Editor at Christian Today is our host this year. He is well known for his painstakingly researched investigative journalism and provocative opinion pieces. Mark doesn’t think you should go to Catalyst Livehere he explains why.

What a great list of speakers, eh? So what are you waiting for? Book your tickets and see this amazing line-up of speakers either in Birmingham on 16 November or Reading on 17 November. You will regret it if you don’t go, so go!

Catalyst Live is dangerous! – Mark Woods

You shouldn’t come to Catalyst Live – so says Mark Woods Consulting Editor and host of Catalyst Live 2016. Below, he explains his reasons.

If you don’t feel like taking Mark’s advice, order your tickets now.

Mark Ord, Co-director of BMS International Mission Centre

Don’t go to Catalyst Live warns Mark Ord

You shouldn’t go to Catalyst Live 2016 – that’s the view of Mark Ord, Co-director of BMS’ International Mission Centre. This is why:


If you don’t want to take Mark’s advice, order your tickets now.

Catalyst Live 2016 speaker awarded civic leadership honour

Steve Stockman and Father Magill

Catalyst Live 2016 speaker Steve Stockman (left) and Father Martin Magill who have both won a civic leadership award in Northern Ireland

At Catalyst Live 2016, you will get to see and hear fascinating speakers from around the world. Now one of them is more than just scintillating to listen to: he’s award-winning too.

Steve Stockman, a poet, social commentator and Presbyterian minister in Belfast, has just been jointly honoured with his friend Father Martin Magill in the Community Relations Council of Northern Ireland’s Annual Award for Civic Leadership 2016. They were both recognised not only for their writing, broadcasting and individual community work but also for their collaboration on the 4 Corners Festival which encourages the Catholic and Protestant populations to experience cultural events in areas of Belfast they would not normally venture into and, by doing so, break down barriers and foster new relationships. Read more

Catalyst Live is back!

We are very excited to announce that tickets for Catalyst Live 2016 are now on sale.

Calling all thinking Christians – after the hugely popular events in 2013 and 2014, Catalyst Live is back this November! Hosted by BMS World Mission, Catalyst Live is the most intelligent Christian conference in the UK*.

We are happy to announce that Catalyst Live will be taking place on Wednesday 16 November in Birmingham and on Thursday 17 November in Reading. Save the dates, or even better – buy your tickets today!

St Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham: Wednesday 16 November 2016
The Concert Hall, Reading: Thursday 17 November 2016

Read more