Bible/Theology, Environment, Videos

Love Always Hopes

February 15, 2019

‘Love Always Hopes’ was the challenging theme I was given to speak on at The Justice Conference in the Netherlands. How do we stay hopeful in the face of millions of people still living in extreme poverty and with global inequality increasing? How do we hope for a better future when our beautiful earth is being devastated by the effects of climate change and waste?

To hear my reflections on remaining hopeful, watch the video of the talk below. (Please note that while the introduction to the talk is in Dutch, the talk itself is in English!)


Christians Who Make a Difference

November 11, 2018

It’s a pretty scary thing asking an external body to do some research for you and having absolutely no control over the findings. What if you don’t like what they come back with?!

So it was with some nervousness that we decided at Tearfund to team up with the research firm Barna Group to look into connections between caring for people in poverty and spiritual growth.

In particular, we wanted to look at what we call a ‘whole life response’ to poverty. Tearfund is absolutely committed to helping Christians, in the UK and around the world, respond to poverty in a ‘whole life’ way: through prayer, giving, advocacy, lifestyle, and other actions such as volunteering. We summarise that as Pray, Act, Give.

In the research we wanted to explore this whole-life response and see how that features for Christians in the UK (and in the US too – a US version is soon to be released). The research came back with a huge amount of fascinating findings – too many to go into in detail here! But three things in particular stood out for me:

  1. There is a close correlation between the Christian faith and responding to poverty, and Christians are more likely to engage in poverty activism than others.

Four out of five Christians (87%) have taken action on poverty in the past year and, in every area of poverty response, churchgoers scored more highly than non-churchgoers. Of particular interest to me was the small minority (16%) of Christians who took action in all five areas and were what we would call ‘whole life responders’. Consistently the findings showed that Christians who prioritise serving people in poverty also prioritise faith practices such as reading the Bible, being a regular part of a church, and praying.

  1. The Christian faith has a continued legacy when it comes to poverty response.

I was fascinated to see in the findings that growing up in a Christian household is a significant predictor of later poverty activism, even among adults who don’t attend church now. Six out of ten poverty activists (62%) grew up in a home where Christianity was practised regularly, even though they no longer attend church. This underscores the long-term impact that religious upbringing has on caring for the poor, even without current involvement in a church.

  1. We have a long way to go

Although the links between responding to poverty and Christian faith are strong, the research also shows there is much more we can do. It’s great that 73% of UK self-identified Christians gave to a charity last year but, quite honestly, why isn’t that 100%?! And only 34% say they respond to poverty in their prayers. It is encouraging to see that 63% have been engaged in advocating for political change in some way (the majority through petitions), but only 39% report making a concerted effort to change their lifestyles, and especially their consumer habits.

So what can we take away from this research? Well I’ve no doubt all sorts of different things will be brought out by people looking at it, but for me there are two things to take away:

  1. Responding to poverty and discipleship are deeply intertwined

This should be pretty obvious to any church leader reading this, but somehow we still seem to miss it. Around the world, discipleship is one of the big issues being discussed (how can we form faithful and effective disciples in today’s challenging context?) and we run all manner of discipleship courses to try to make this happen. Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking we need to sort out people’s prayer life and bible reading habits first, and things like responding to poverty come further down the line.

If you are a church leader, the message is clear: if you want your congregations effectively discipled, get them engaged with people in poverty and their relationship with Christ will be transformed. 

  1. An effective response to poverty requires our whole lives

Giving financially is a vital part of how we can respond to poverty. Tearfund couldn’t do the brilliant work it does if it wasn’t for the generosity of our incredible supporters. And giving to help others is a Biblical command and reflects our values – if you want to know what is most important to a person, look at their bank statement! But giving on its own isn’t enough. We must also take practical action through, for example, volunteering. And alongside these things, we must be advocates: speaking to governments, institutions and businesses to encourage and push for policies and practices that work on behalf of the poor, instead of against them. Underneath all of this is our own lifestyles and endeavouring to live in ways that are respectful to both people and planet. And finally, surrounding all these human endeavours is prayer. Through prayer we connect with who and what we are praying for and we believe prayer is powerful: at Tearfund we have seen amazing things happen through prayer!

For all of us reading this post, let’s ask ourselves: what are the areas of response we are stronger or weaker in, and what are the steps we could take to live a life that is focused on spending ourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfying the needs of the oppressed (Isaiah 58:10)?


The Gospel, The Whole Gospel, and Nothing But the Gospel

November 4, 2018

At a gathering I was involved with recently, one of the topics most under discussion was that old chestnut, ‘what is the Gospel?’ To help us with our deliberations we looked at some papers by a prominent church leader, author and speaker (I won’t say who it was because I don’t think the papers were truly representative of his thinking, so to give his name doesn’t seem fair). I was then one of the people asked to give a response to the papers.

This chap’s view of the Gospel was easily described as (to use his own words), ‘you are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, because of the substitutionary work of Christ alone’.

So is this the Gospel? ‘No’, I said in my response, ‘it is not. It’s a key part of the Gospel. In fact, I think I would go so far as to say that it is the core of the Gospel. But it isn’t the whole Gospel, and therefore – in and of itself – it is not the Gospel’. For someone who professes to hold a very high view of Scripture (elsewhere he uses the word infallible), it actually strikes me as a remarkably unbiblical view of the Gospel since it misses out so much of the Bible.

To me it is like an apple. The definition of the Gospel given above is the apple’s core, but there is so much more to an apple than the core alone, and if that is all you eat it will give you something, but ultimately will leave you undernourished. You might not realise it if you have only ever eaten the core, but you will be missing out on the delights of a whole apple!

So what juicy goodness are we missing out on if we focus only on the core, as important as that is (and I hope it hardly need be said that an apple without the core also isn’t a complete apple)?

Well, Leon Morris might want to say that Romans 3:21-26 is, ‘possibly the single most important paragraph every written’,[1] but I would like to suggest that a close rival would be Colossians 1:15-20, particularly in its assertion that the blood of Jesus was shed on the cross for all things (ie including but not just people).

To my mind, an understanding of the Gospel is deficient unless it is rooted in a strong understanding of the Kingdom of God. A couple of weeks ago I was teaching at a Theology School on the theme of peace. I looked at the angels’ announcement to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus that, ‘There is glory for God in highest heaven, and on earth there is peace among the people whom God has favoured’ (Luke 2:14, translation from The Word Biblical Commentary), and at Peter’s conversation with Cornelius about, ‘the good news (= gospel) of peace through Jesus Christ’ (Acts 10:36).

This message of peace was a fulfillment of the Old Testament hopes for the time when God would come and reign fully amongst his people, bringing in a new, earthy era of love, justice, righteousness and peace (eg. Isaiah 32:16-18; Psalm 85:10-13). As the Old Testament scholar Chris Wright has said, ‘God’s purpose was not to invent a production line for righteous individuals, but to create a new community of people who in their social life would embody those qualities of righteousness, peace, justice and love that reflect God’s own character and were God’s original purpose for humanity’.[2] An integral part of that social life is that it would be lived out within the wider community of creation that then responds appropriately (eg. Isaiah 55:12-13; Isaiah 11:6-9).

So Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament’s hopes and this is what the Gospel is all about.

The GOOD NEWS is that, in him, he brings about peace and reconciliation; a restoration of our relationships, with God centrally (2 Corinthians 5: 18-21; Philippians 4:7), but then also with other people (Romans 12:18; Ephesians 2:14-17), within ourselves (Romans 15:13; Thessalonians 3:16), and peace for the whole wider creation (Colossians 1:15-22; Romans 8:19-23).[3] Don’t we need that so desperately today? (The Introduction to Just Living: Faith and community in an age of consumerism, will give you much more on this.)

So when we think about the Gospel and about what it means to live it out and proclaim it – through the way we live, the things we do, and the words we speak – let’s not settle for something that will give us an emaciated faith: yes I want the core, but I want the whole apple too!


[1] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988) 173.

[2] Chris Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (IVP: 2004), 51.

[3] Out of a desire not to make this post too long, I have not considered what we see actually in Jesus’ life that relates to all of this, but there is much that we could look at there, for example the interplay between healing and salvation. Salvation is never a purely ‘spiritual’ thing.


Taking Action on Hothouse Earth

August 18, 2018

In the middle of the estate I live on is a lovely green. It’s a communal area where children play, people walk their dogs and families have picnics. Locals unofficially call it The Green. Over the summer though it would have been more appropriate to call it The Yellow. The heatwave had its impact.

In the UK we’ve been facing our longest heatwave for five years, with temperatures regularly hitting 33 degrees Celsius and water companies issuing water warnings and urging people to use water carefully. With the worst wildfires ever in California, wildfires in Greece and Portugal, and deadly heat in Japan, this will be a summer to remember.

Or will it? Will it just become one summer among many, each one breaking temperature records – the norm in a world that is one degree warmer than at the start of the industrial revolution and is warming fast?

Am I allowed to admit that this scares me? The thought of no rain and running out of water (as was nearly experienced by the residents of Cape Town as they headed towards Day Zero) and the impact of long periods of severe heat is awful. The vegetables in my garden this summer have been noticeably less bountiful than usual, but that’s nothing compared to the people Tearfund serves who have been hit by drought over the last few years in places like Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Somalia where millions need food aid to get back on their feet.

This summer’s heatwave is a wake-up call. We’ve had a few of those – things like floods, droughts, unreliable rain, and record typhoons which have been pushing people into poverty, and so have shaped Tearfund’s work over the last 10 years and more. We’ve had quieter wake-up calls too, like our garden birds migrating earlier in the UK. This week we had another loud one from the ‘Hothouse Earth‘ report from the American Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reminding us how terrible it will be if we go past the Paris Agreement target (1.5 degrees) and get warmer by two degrees since pre-industrial times, reaching a tipping point which will probably set in train a range of feedback loops that will lead to further warming. At that point… we dread to think.

The question facing us is, will we wake up? The science is certain. We know we are on a certain trajectory already, even if we were to stop CO2 emissions overnight. The challenge for us now is, armed with the scientific knowledge we already have, how bad are we going to let it get? Will we take bigger steps than we already have to keep us from getting to that two degree level?

The authors of the report (more properly entitled ‘Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene’) tell us that what is needed is ‘a fundamental re-adjustment of our relationship with the planet’. As Christians we can say a loud ‘Amen’ to that.

The consumer culture we are in teaches us to see the planet as simply ‘the environment’ – something akin to a stage on which we, the important actors, play out and make our lives. We have been taught to see the world simply as a resource, for us to use however we like for our own benefit.

However, Scripture gives us a different picture. The world is something that God has made and loves. He thinks it is ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31) – so good in fact that he creates a whole species which he tasks with the job of looking after his precious creation (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15). We are ‘adam from the ‘adamah (Hebrew for earth), intricately connected to the rest of creation. When the wider creation is harmed then we will be too.

The planet was made by Jesus and through Jesus and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16). That’s a stunning declaration of the value that is in this world. It is as if the planet was created to be a gift from the Father to the Son. How dare we defile something that bears the hallmarks of God in this way?

So how will we live out this transformed relationship with the earth? Or maybe the better question is, how will I live out this relationship? I need to make a response myself, I can’t just tell you what to do. So here goes:

Because I want to love this world and don’t want to see millions pushed into poverty or other species destroyed through climate change, I’ve looked long and hard at how I live my life. This year, any travel I’ve done in the UK and mainland Europe I’ve done by train or car rather than flying (it’s more time consuming but it’s much nicer, and I can get work done or look out the window depending on my mood). I turned down an offer to be the main speaker at a conference in Australia (that was tough – I would have liked to have done it). But I also know I’ve flown too much because of my work and am determined not to do that next year.

I’ve switched to a mostly plant and grain based diet and grow a lot of my own vegetables as well as supporting a local organic grower. When I took my job at Tearfund and knew I’d have to drive more, I asked them to install charging points and I got an electric car which is charged with electricity from a green energy supplier (and from my solar panels at home). Take a look here for more we can all do.

Because of the urgency of this situation, I helped start up Eco Church, a scheme to help churches look after God’s world through all areas of church life. We can act as local churches and as the global church together, acting and praying to see change. Get your church signed up!

I’m determined to use my voice to speak up and push our governments to fulfil the commitments made under the Paris Agreement – and yes let’s push Trump to do so too. And, please join Tearfund in calling the World Bank to switch their billions of pounds of energy investment in developing countries from fossil fuels to renewable power.

What will you do?

As followers of this Jesus through whom all things were made, let us be at the forefront of demonstrating a different relationship with the planet: a relationship of humility, servanthood, gentleness, mercy and compassion; one in which, instead of striving to pile up more and more goods for ourselves, we commit ourselves to working for justice and the flourishing of the natural world. Let us join God in loving this world that he has made.

( This article was first published on Christian Today. You can see the original article here. Image: ReutersAerial view of Trabuco Canyon as a tanker aircraft dumps water onto Holy Fire, Near Santiago Peak, California, August 6, 2018)


Five Ingredients to Reach a Tipping Point

May 5, 2018

The Tipping Point. That Holy Grail for all those wanting to see cultural change. It’s something we long for in many different areas, but it’s frustratingly elusive and nigh-on impossible to predict when it will happen.

In the UK we have witnessed an amazing tipping point recently around plastic. Individuals and organisations have been trying to go against the current for years: reducing our own plastic use, asking supermarkets to make changes, pushing the government to do more on this issue… and then suddenly, within the space of about six months, we find the tide has turned and we’re being caught up in a surge of interest, with individuals, government and businesses tripping over themselves in a bid to show who’s dealing most with the problem of plastic. The government recently announced both a £61.4 million aid investment in improving waste management and plastics reduction in developing countries and support to a new Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, and this latest announcement from more than 40 companies, pledging to cut plastic pollution over the next seven years is, I’m sure, not going to be the last to come from the business world.

So what can we learn from this? How do we reach a tipping point?

1. Perseverance

The tipping point for plastic was reached, of course, in the final episode of BBC’s Blue Planet 2, though it had been building throughout the other episodes as Attenborough hinted at the horrors that were to be laid bare at the end. What strikes me though is that Attenborough has been doing these sorts of series and saying similar things for decades. Would he have predicted the impact he was about to have with this one? I doubt it. But it only happened because of all the years he has spent wowing us, woowing us and earning our respect. None of us knows when a tipping point will be reached, but we can be encouraged not to give up and to keep going with dogged perseverance.

2. Boldness

Having said that, the BBC took a risk with this one and allowed the programme to present the facts more starkly and say more than any other Attenborough series has done in the past. Well done BBC for making the decision it did – and may we all be encouraged to speak out with boldness on the issues where we want to see change.

3. Beauty

Blue Planet 2 had its impact because we were captivated by the sheer amazing beauty of our seas and oceans. And then the realisation of what we were doing to that beauty struck deeply. This is a reminder that hitting people right at the start with bad news stories and terrible predictions of the future is rarely going to be the motivator that brings about change. Instead, we need to help people find a sense of wonder and awe at the world we live in – to marvel at the beauty of what is around us and, from that place, engender a determination to look after it. For me, recognising the beauty that God has created and starting there is more motivating and powerful than starting with ourselves.

4. Hope

I’ll confess, knowing what the last episode was going to say, I nearly didn’t watch it: I wasn’t sure I could bear it. But I knew I had to and, much to my surprise, it wasn’t the slit-my-wrists experience I thought it was going to be. In fact, it taught me a valuable lesson because the programme highlighted the problems through focusing on the wonderful people who were helping and working to bring about solutions. So we were exposed to the terrible, heart-breaking problems, but in a way that didn’t lead to paralysis and a sense of being overwhelmed, but rather led to hope and a sense of, ‘yes we can do something too’.

5. Togetherness

The Plastic-Less Lent initiative I did caught me totally off-guard. My aim had been to get 100 people to join me, but instead over 2500 joined in, from 55 countries. One of the things that struck me about people’s comments on the FB group we created (and which has continued beyond Lent to become Plastic-Less Living) is that people felt able to make changes because of the support of the group, even one that was only virtual: ‘The community, learning and solidarity has been a great source of inspiration’; ‘This has proved to be the boost I needed to get on and make those changes’; ‘This group has been so good – challenging and encouraging. Thank you and let’s keep on!’, and, ‘This group has been brilliant and reminded me of things I know are important, and I don’t feel so alone in the struggle’, are just some of the many comments people made. Tipping points come when people feel they’re not on their own but are part of a movement.

Five things that help change a culture. There is more that could be said (for example, the media have been hugely instrumental in building public momentum, with the Evening Standard, Daily Mail, Guardian and Sky News all focusing on plastic over the last year) and I would love to hear what you think are key ingredients so we can keep learning together.

Of course, it has only just begun with plastic and there is much more that needs to be done. And, we need to see many more such tipping points: towards vegetable and grain-based diets, for example, and away from fossil fuels and frequent flying.

Knowing how we build movements and reach tipping points will always be frustratingly elusive. But let’s take encouragement from what we have seen in recent months and know that, when all sectors of society combine to take action, we really can see change.


People power is key to a plastic-less future

April 29, 2018

Back in February, my family and I decided to try a Plastic-Less Lent and put together a Facebook group to see if anyone else wanted to join us and share ideas and challenges. Much to my amazement, the group grew to well over 2,000 within a matter of days, from around 55 countries. Clearly this was an issue people were interested in.

People were engaged and excited. Such was the demand, the group has now become ‘Plastic-Less living’ and is continuing past Easter.

A survey by ComRes for the Global Challenges Foundation (GCF) found that 84 per cent know they should try to prevent future ‘climate catastrophes’, even if doing so has an impact on living standards. And yet, according to WRAP, the UK still generates about five million tonnes of plastic waste a year. So, public will, it seems, is not enough.

The government has already started to capitalise on this wave of discontent with our throwaway culture, and that is very welcome. The plastic bottle deposit scheme, where shoppers can claim money back if they recycle the containers, was announced a few weeks ago with little controversy.

When the five pence tax for plastic bags was introduced, usage plummeted by 80 per cent almost overnight – so do we need laws to help us change our lifestyle? It makes it easier to remember your reusable bags when you know you’ll be charged if you don’t.

Ministers are acutely aware of being a minority government and so it seems that for more of this kind of law, there has to be a swell of public support and demand.

At Tearfund we’ve been campaigning for more of the UK’s international aid budget to be spent on waste management in developing countries. Two billion people in the world have no rubbish collection and as well as causing environmental damage, mismanaged plastic waste is increasing the likelihood of diarrhoeal and infectious diseases. On top of that the toxic fumes from burning waste leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths a year.

Earlier this month thousands of Tearfund supporters emailed the Department for International Development asking it to take action on plastics and poverty. Last week the prime minister announced she would agree to the request and pledged to spend millions of pounds on this issue. A real sign that government listens to our concerns and a great step forward. But there is more to do.

It’s not just here in the UK that people power is convincing governments to make changes. In Recife, Brazil, Tearfund is working with communities living on the River Tejipio who are often flooded because of plastic waste. People have started campaigning, marching and demanding action from government. As a result the local authority has started some waste collection services.

Business also seems to be responding to the growing public dissatisfaction with the damage we are doing to the planet. The Iceland chain, for example, has pledged to get rid of plastic on all of its own brand products and a growing number of independent coffee shops are now refusing to use single-use cups.

So what can we do? Let’s keep putting the pressure on government and business to bring about changes that will benefit us all – people and blue planet alike. Our generation has an opportunity like no other. We are more connected and better informed than ever before. We can choose to work together to break down injustice, build up a more equal society, and a more sustainable planet.

Tearfund is part of Renew Our World, a movement of Christians from all over the world who are coming together to live simply, call for urgent action on climate change, seek justice, challenge inequality, and praying together for a world, and an economy, that brings restoration and renewal. Why not join us?

(This article was first published on Christian Today. See the original article here.)