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Franklin Graham at the Odyssey, Belfast. WHY???

April 4, 2008

bannerbutton.jpgOK. Here is a post guaranteed to irritate some local friends. Evangelicals from a wide spectrum of churches are financing a high profile series of rallies with Franklin Graham this weekend in Belfast . It’s billed as a message of hope for a new Northern Ireland in a post-conflict era, and I have a whole series of questions I want to get off my chest.

1. in 2008, what is the point, other than serving some ego needs or of shoring up an increasingly desperate and marginalised church.

2. where were they when the conflict was at its height?

3. what is their understanding of hope and how does it differ from what might be culled from any self-help paperback on the delirious shelves of our book shops?

4. by what measure do they justify the colossal expenditure? This really makes me angry. I mean, these events are scheduled for the Odyssey Arena, which I can see from my office in one of the most deprived and marginalised communities in the whole of NI.

When I’m feeling really cynical (and honestly, I do try to fight the impulse and I don’t want to be hurtful for the sake of it) it strikes me that hundreds of thousands of pounds are being spent on these events so that essentially middle class church members can ferry in, in their 4*4s and their people movers and enjoy ‘praise’ music and a cheering talk.

To get there, they will by-pass areas like this, much as the priest and the levite did the injured man. They will congratulate themselves on their capacity to substantially fill the arena, revel in their cultural awareness (!) and high-tail it back out, lest someone from Short Strand or the Lower Newtownards Road damage their cars. Oh yes, and they’ll avert their eyes discreetly from the scantily clad clubbers making their way to more secular celebrations.

5. who was the genius who came up with the idea that a new era for post-Conflict NI could be celebrated hopefully by an invitation to a man who consistently attracts criticism for his intolerant attitudes towards Islam and his pronounced support for war in Iraq? Does anyone sense an irony here? (sorry that was two questions).

I despair.

But I feel better with that off my chest.

Oh, and did I say I won’t be there? Not that I’ll be missed.

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From → Rant

31 Comments
  1. It’s the fleet of big shiny gas-guzzling Range Rovers complete with suited and tied drivers that have been sitting outside the Hilton all week that gets me! I’m sure VIP or fona CAB could have laid on a driver and a people carrier for a week – though I’m guessing they’re a gift from Agnews/other-brands-exist.

    You could always call in at IKON … this month’s religious act is billed as “we have decided not to die” … bar opens at 8pm at The Black Box.

  2. You are saying here what I have been too cowardly to say publicly…
    The expense, the speaker, the juxtapositiion of Odyssey and EBM all leave me cold, and despite the event being sold to some of us as a means to an end, that end being to equip the church to share the gospel, sadly my experience of the training events was that they were unashamedly focussed on the event itself, with little training about REAL discipleship… some emphasis on “following up” converts… but little on helping them to follow Christ…
    Not to justify my personal cowardice, but to articulate where my thinking is, my two problems have been this.
    1) How do you challenge this form of superficial, out-dated evangelism without seeming to write off evangelism full stop?
    I have constantly said that sharing what Jesus is about has to be more than big venue events… And have challenged what is happening with some of the key leaders. But I have run shy of completely disassociating myself and my church from it… That, for me would cause more problems than it would be worth… at least in the short term.
    2) I personally came to faith through a similar event in 1980… And I think that may be true of a number of people involved. They want for others what they found for themselves in a similar event, be it in 1980, or more likely the 1960s or even 1950s… God can use this… And I truly pray he will… But God forbid that we are still doing the same in another 28, 48 or 58 years…
    Thanks Glenn…

  3. Isn’t the key about preventing a Christian subculture, not promoting or creating one, and about ensuring that real, touchable relationships are created and sustained in all communities.

    Events inspire. Something like Summer Madness enthuses hundreds of folk each year. And Street Reach makes it real, taking their faith out into communities. (Let’s hold off a possible debate about Street Reach for another time!)

    But if the legacy of events isn’t intentionally channelled into real people living in real places already part of real communities, all with real problems and issues, then it evaporates.

    In ye good olde days, before PA systems, big screens and all the fun stuff I enjoy playing with, if you spoke then the people immediately around you heard you.

    You might stand up on a platform – is Ezra the first recorded user of a pulpit? – and increase your audience, but no more than a few hundred people could actually listen to you.

    I don’t read about Jesus going around with a tour bus full of disciples and hangers on. Seemed more like the number of people who could walk beside him and hear what he was saying.

    If 3000+ actually listened to what he was saying, they must have been sitting pretty silently. More likely some heard, and word spread throughout the crowd.

    There’s accountability in small numbers. There’s an untouchability in large numbers, as so few can actually test the reality in person.

    I hope all the weekend’s activities over in the east of the city go well. I hope God continues to shower his grace on human efforts to follow his divine will – whether that with Odyssey/BGEA or EBM, CoI, PCI, gospel halls, St Colmcilles …

    And I hope that I’ll be able to honestly relate to the friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, shop staff, that I meet over this weekend. Whether they serve me, or I serve them … maybe Jesus will be there too.

  4. Have been enjoying what you guys are saying here… I’ve been away for all of the hype surrounding the Celebration of Hope stuff but have heard plenty about it in the blogosphere. I have my hesitations too, knowing that if I went I probably wouldnt be taking any people with me who dont already know Jesus – because events like that tend to push the people I love further away. That said, I know they do reach some people, so I’m not writing it off completely… I just wonder if we used the same kind of economic theory of cost-benefit analysis, how would this look?

  5. Whilst I wince at the amount of money going into this event, in my less bitter moments I shrug my shoulders as I realise that this money is money we could never have accessed for social-engagement programmes in a million years… It is donated sincerely out of a love of God and a desire for others to love God, and as such I cannot stand in judgement over those who have donated it, any more than the disciples could stand in judgement over Mary as she wasted all that precious ointment on Jesus’ feet… The reality is that, the poor we will have with us always, and we have to keep plugging away at that. The danger of “cost-benefit” analysis is that it is on the same basis that pietistic evangelicals challenge those more committed to social engagement to demonstrate “product” (souls saved) for all the effort. In both formal evangelism and social outreach we sow in hope…

  6. Great post

    I get annoyed every time I pass one of those smug billboards.

    They showed a cringeworthy promotional video in our church a few weeks ago and I’m glad none of my friends outside of church saw it.

    Although it has sincere intentions and people of a certain social class may be impacted in some way, I fear it’ll just be another praise party for the christians.

  7. Mark permalink

    But surely its all worthwhile if even one lost sinner is saved?

  8. I share your feelings about this (from a distance) and I’m glad to hear someone voice these things.

    But my question is the same as David’s (comment 2) – how do we raise questions about this kind of approach without seeming mean-spirited and anti-evangelism? what do we do if people in our churches are excited about it for good-hearted reasons?

    We await your wisdom…

  9. Mark… On the one hand I say “Amen! Halleluyah!” And on the other I say is that not an excuse for lazy evangelism… Using old models in a tarted up form… Old models that were never that effective in themselves as regards long-term, deep-seated discipleship.
    Sorry… have to go to the Odyssey…

  10. lambypie permalink

    I have the exactly the same feeling when events like this are put on but surely you have fallen into the trap of making the same sort of sweeping generalisations about the people going to this event as you are accusing them of making in their attitude towards people in the Short Strand and Lower Newtownards Road. A couple of great young people in our church are bringing a group of completely unchurched teenagers who they’ve kept things going with since summer outreach. These kids have no interest in Franklin Graham, nor do I expect them to have after Saturday night. They want to hear the bands, put up with the talk and go and get something to eat after all the cheese is over. It’s not perfect, maybe not what it’s designed for but it’s all about how you use it. Another way to connect, another discussion, critical if necessary. After all, I’ve been known to use a wrench to knock in nails when I haven’t been able to lay my hands on a hammer. Not as good as a hammer but it gets the job done.

    And I can safely say none of them will be in 4x4s or people-carriers.

  11. thanks for taking one of our cranks over there for a while. Franklin is one more son, squandering the legacy of his father – would you be willing to house W and Richard Roberts also? at least for a few months?

    I hear the Romney kids may also be looking for gigs.

  12. Glad you posted, Glenn… and not in the form you described yesterday!
    I won’t be there either, but I’ll ask lots of questions of those who were… perhaps sowing seeds of hope for when they get to the state of withered cynicism they probably see in me now!

  13. thanks everyone for commenting, and also for the tone of the conversation [except for Mark: we need to have a word!]

    This post has led to a quadrupling of my regular traffic and the vast number of visitors who have read have not commented. I’ve no problem on that score, but it does highlight something which has been said to me in several conversations and phone calls today…that some who made contact today felt unable to make any sort of negative comment for fear of how that would be interpreted and what it would do for their reputation, standing etc.

    I understand that, but we shouldn’t be happy with it. What we need is a space for genuine, fair conversation about the difficult issues without fear of exclusion or boycott. SOme of the people involved in this project are friends. Some of the churches involved are led by long-time friends. But there are serious issues and questions that need to be talked about and discussed, with an irenic spirit, in the pursuit of truth in word and deed.

    As Cheryl hints, my original post on this matter was VERY angry, but the benefit of drafting and a wife with more wisdom, tempered this considerably. I do want a conversation on the matters it throws up.

    Am I consistent in my views and comments, probably not, as lambypie graciously points out. And I do genuinely hope that the event serves as a vehicle for deeper relationships among those young people.

    I accept my comment on the class issue may be intolerant, and exclusive. And lambypie is right to draw my attention to this. But the issue of social class does need to be addressed openly and honestly. We as the church far too willingly collude, often unconsciously, in the further marginalisation of people who are already marginalised by society at large.

    And at the risk of appearing to sound like Judas in his pseudo-concern for the poor, we cannot let this level of expenditure pass without at least raising the issue of who it actually serves.

    Anyway, thanks again for the generous tone of the comments. Let’s begin a conversation here that may continue face to face in some quarters.

  14. By the way, no-one has commented on the issue of our tendency to invite the outsider in to tell us stuff. Nor on the appropriateness of Franklin Graham as the one.

    I’d be interested in views and opinions.

  15. I agree Glenn. I’m glad this conversation is happening.

    I confess I can’t think of a good reason to invite someone from outside to come and give what I assume will be a basic call-to-conversion message, except for the pull of celebrity. But presumably an American Christian celebrity is more of a pull for Christians…

    I can’t comment on Franklin Graham, but on the question of fathers and sons and legacies, here’s a fascinating article by Os Guinness about Franklin Schaeffer: http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2008/002/1.32.html

  16. I’m back… And boy what a lot of activity in my absence. My verdict on the whole thing… Well, it could have been worse!
    Mark, you’ll be glad to know that there were many more than one sinner saved… Didn’t count heads, but I would reckon on around 100-150… Was that cost effective? The place wasn’t full… (About 2-300 empty seats in the auditorium). And it all felt a bit anodyne… There was no real sense of place… It could have been Brisbane or Boston rather than Belfast… And whilst the Odyssey is a barn at the best of times, the fact that the organisers had left about a third of the floor space at the front empty to accommodate the hoards coming forward didn’t help any sense of intimacy…
    If I was nit-picking (unlike me) I would have described the event as akin to a Christian variety show, of mixed quality… there certainly wasn’t much of a sense of worship about it…
    But after a mixed bag of music and dance, Franklin was announced as “the climax” of the event… Which is where my cynicism meter went off the scale…
    Glenn, again, you are right… Why do we feel the need to import “names” for these and other events? Particularly given the very mixed (I’m being kind) reputation of this particular “name”.
    But God works through him all the same… I just pray that those who have made a public declaration of faith tonight will get clear help as to what this now means in reality… Because reality didn’t get much of a look in tonight.

  17. dons permalink

    I think we have to think carefully about the way we communicate the gospel. Whatever else Jesus did, he told religious people to A) think about their religiosity and B) to lighten up. So we have to ask, is an “Odyssey altar call” the best way to go?

    When I answer this question, I say “no,” my reason being that God communicated the message of Jesus through, well, Jesus. That is, through the incarnation, through becoming us and entering into our suffering. Sure incarnational things can happen in the context of an Odyssey rally, but they don’t need an Odyssey rally at all. What if you took all that money it takes to rent out the Odyssey, bring big name people to town, promote and advertise the event, and divided it up among the “Christians” who were planning to attend and told them to spend an evening in fellowship with whomever it was that they were planning to take to the Graham rally? Isn’t there at least as good of a chance that someone might be “saved” or encouraged in their journey towards/with God as there would be from a night at the Odyssey?

    We don’t do that because it doesn’t have as much cultural currency. A big rally says, “Look at us, we are as cool, hip and popular as the Arctic Monkeys. People like us and come to our events.”

    (Ok, it gets really cynical here, if you are troubled already, you may want to stop reading now). . . And all this in the service of soothing the troubled evangelical conscience, which deep down is insecure about either A) the truth of the whole religious/Christian/biblical thing or B) their own ability to hold up their end of the deal. Somehow a packed out Odyssey says, “It must be ok and I must be ok with my faith, this many people can’t be wrong, can they?” . . . Or to put this another (cynical) way, how many people who “accept Jesus” at the Odyssey (assuming Franklin follows in his dad’s methodological footsteps) will have already done so? How many will do so again at a later date? This kind of preoccupation makes personal conversion the end all and be all of Christian faith, which of course it is for many/most evangelicals, American ones anyway.

    Thus the problem is deeply theological . . . But if the point is faithfulness and fidelity to a gospel that speaks of God’s comprehensive redemptive purposes, not just individual personal salvation, we are freed to incarnate a gospel that is as much social as it is personal in/among/through the poor, the weak, the dispossessed and in suffering . . . which of course isn’t near as fun/entertaining/cool as a big blow out at the Odyssey.

  18. Mark permalink

    Good old Franklin has really got the juices flowing on crookedshore.

    My comment was intended as some provactative humour that might generate more discussion.

    To date, I’ve spoken to 6 people who attended last night and each were honest enough to say that they felt the idea was to take some “unsaved” friends with them. They were also honest enough to confess that they either didn’t have any friends in this catagory (an issue in itself?) or that they wouldn’t actually invite any friend to this type of overtly Christian event.

    My opinion is that for most who attend this type of thing, it amounts to Christian entertainment which may or may not be to everyones taste. This is not confined to large scale evangelical events but could also be a factor in regular Sunday Church attendance.

    The obvious and extravagant cost of staging this does wind me up because so much could be achieved in the inner East Belfast community with this level of financial investment by the Church.

  19. Mark permalink

    P.S. My 14yr old daughter has just informed me she needs a lift to Celebration of Hope tonight! When asked why she wants to go, she replied, “its a guy thing Dad”

    So I say “bring on mandatory cryo-genics for teenage girls”.

    Watch out for a little black Ka mixing it up with those 4 X 4’s.

  20. Glenn, really appreciate your gracious response to all the comments posted yesterday, including my own.

    In response to your question about inviting the outsider in I think it really depends on your focus. If you have an event mentality then the power of celebrity (however dubious) is always going to be a temptation. If your focus is on the bigger picture then surely it is better to, as much as possible, use local people to communicate to local people. As an example of this I would direct your attention to Mannafest, an event with a heritage of bringing across headline speakers (certainly in the days when I went there to look at girls). The main organiser of this event now is strategically using only young local speakers because he sees this as being more beneficial to this tiny corner of God’s kingdom in the long term even if it means not as many bums on seats, people harking back to the ‘good old days’ etc.

  21. Sadly, if it was “Christian entertainment” it wasn’t very good (with the possible exception of Tree 63… though most of the audience found them a tad raucous…)

    Bet you’re glad you started this Glenn!

    I think tho’ that some of us need to invite Steve Cave out for a coffee (or perhaps something stronger) and talk with him about some of this stuff, rather than just chat about it in virtual corners and other safe spaces.

  22. asharedadventure permalink

    My goodness, for a ‘christian ‘ event it certainly has brought out strong views from christians. I confess!…I did go on Friday night with a couple of christian friends. As some of you have mentioned, I wouldn’t have brought my non-christian friends as it would have been too ‘religious’. I myself would have ran a mile from such an event before I was a christian. David, I agree, there was no sense of worship and the term ‘variety show’ is a good one. There could have been an amazing session of worship, praise and adoration to God (as Robin and Tree 63 were very good) if words had been displayed and we were all standing to participate. I’m also sceptical about ‘alter calls’. I do know some who have become christians and have had amazing touches by God at such events that have been genuine and life changing, and who are we to judge what is and isn’t appropriate for God to use when the heart of those involved is focused on God, however there are many, myself included who have never had a date and time of (and I hate the term) ‘conversion’. Instead my relationship with God has developed and grown stronger and more intimate over a period of time, last night seemed more formula based with well over half those approaching the front having their white ‘encourager’ badges on. I know it’s not the number thats important and I pray that God touched many last night (including one man who may have had a drink too many staggered to the front but said each line of the prayer with every ounce of his being). I know many have criticised the idea of bringing speakers from other countries here and I can see your point, but I also think many have alot to offer. There is a spiritual side to all of this and many christians (in my generation anyway – I’m 34) don’t know God’s word, and inturn don’t know their authority and how to be more than conquerors. I don’t mean ‘name it claim it’ type theology, but we are saved and to be blessed in every area of our lives. As the children of God we are to have joy overflowing that spills out to others through love and servanthood. There are many speakers from other countries who teach christians and help them develop to the potential they haven’t been aware of through humour and a definate gifting from God. To limit ourselves to local speakers (no matter how excellent they are) only misses out on opportunities to grow. Perhaps hosting major international events aimed at worship, biblical truth and knowledge that focuses on God in a way that is fun aswell as emphasising how to change lives at practical levels for both christians and non-christians is the way forward. Major collections during such events could really aid local iniatives such as EBM etc.

  23. In answer to your question David, yes I am glad to have started this. I genuinely believe that there is a significant issue here…dons points to the importance of incarnational theology, asharedadventure speaks of the formulaic nature of the programme and you yourself have indicated that there was a curiously impersonal dimension to the event and a lack of intimacy.

    And maybe dons is right in saying that the vast expenditure speaks of insecurity and a lack of confidence. I think dons may be on to something, that we hide behind a well executed, high profile event.

    btw, what are ‘white encourager badges’ Joanne?

    Oh and thanks for the eyewitness accounts.

  24. Mark, if you start a petition for the assembly on mandatory cryo-genics for teenage girls…I’ll sign!

    And the comments you relay from other attenders are fascinating. People go…but wouldn’t bring friends. I wonder why? Any ideas?

    If it’s because it’s overtly Christian, isn’t that the intention. And if it’s because it’s naff…or a Christian variety show, as david memorably called it…why do they go themselves?

  25. I too wouldn’t bring some of my friends simply because for them its just not where they are at – the glitzy show doesn’t do it for them. A friend was there on Friday with his group from alpha, one of whom used the opportunity to give this following Jesus thing a shot, which is great. He did say it was probably helpful for certain people who are at certain points in their journey, and whether they need a huge glitzy expensive event for that is a big question.

    We are consumed with an event mentality – maybe events are easier and ease that sense of ‘evangelical guilt’ s many seem to feel. For many to question the big event seems to question your belief in speaking to people about Jesus which just isn’t helpful.

    And although I recognise the difficulty of evaluating on cost – the cost of this weekend is bigger than the annual budget of the charity I work for, which we struggle to raise, yet we are putting people on the ground, being involved in the lives of people all year round..

    What will the impact be of Celebration of Hope’ in 5 years time is an interesting question. Remember Power to Change?

  26. Mark permalink

    This dialogue has genuinely made me think through some of the issues involved rather than fume silently or inflict frustrated whinging on my lon-suffering family.

    One additional thought I had was in relation to the “fear” I sense in the Christian community. A growing fear that we are being squeezed if not marginalised by the prevailing culture of the day. Is this creating a seige mentality in broad evangelicalism? Are we frightened that the rock we have lashed ourselves to is in danger of being smashed? Are we fearful that if we give one more inch of compromise, we’ll be swamped by the advancing hoardes of 21st Century pluralism?

    Could it be that if this fear is as potent as I think, an event such as Celebration of Hope may provide a stake in the ground which encourages the faithful? Could it be that an event such as this gives evangelicalism the sense of relevance because it can fill a concert arena for 3 nights on the trot?

    If these events do indeed provide this hope, maybe its no bad thing, but surely we should at least be honest about that rather than selling it as “for the lost”?

    Lastly; Maybe if we could inspire and encourage believers to live prophetic lifestyles which challenge injustice, materialism and greed, this would be a greater and more lasting celebration of hope?

  27. Hey soapbox…wondered when you would weigh in! The event mindset is endemic to evangelicalism I think. Youth ministry is the classic victim of it…and part of it is because church leaderships (i.e. employers AND parents and thus, if we’re honest, the consumers of the ‘product’ that workers produce) demand results of the youth worker which are most easily demonstrated in terms of numbers. Likewise, how many clergy, particularly from the USA, describe themselves as pastors of x,000 member churches etc. Events are in our dna I think.

    In response, though, to those who say that who are we to judge these events if people are being saved, my question would be

    ‘since when did we buy into the notion that ends justifies means’.

    To which the answer is…since always with evangelicals. We’ve always been that pragmatic. And we regularly trot out the scriptural comment (questionably applied), that we should become all things to all people that we may win one.

    I agree with Mark, we are now facing a crisis of confidence, and the way we face it is by running back to what is familiar, and what we do well. Big, expensive events. At least we feel good at the end.

    Faced with a choice however, soapbox, I’d split the money raised between EBM and your organisation, for a more incarnational return.

    [apologies for the length…I should really have done another post!]

  28. Stephen Cave permalink

    Wow – some interesting comments have been generated on this one!

    I don’t tend to check many blogs – probably because I don’t discipline my time well enough to check out what’s going on. But somehow I came across this discussion yesterday and thought I’d better stick my head above the parapet and let the arrows hit the target.

    I’m going to try and answer some of the questions raised and I’ll be as straightforward as possible. Before I do that, however, can I just put on record my disappointment at the tone of some of what I’ve read? Although some of the posts are anonymous I know that some of you I would class as friends and to be honest I reckon we deserve better from each other.

    David’s quote was: I think tho’ that some of us need to invite Steve Cave out for a coffee (or perhaps something stronger) and talk with him about some of this stuff, rather than just chat about it in virtual corners and other safe spaces.

    I’m not sure in what spirit to take that comment – suffice to say the invite hasn’t come(yet!) but maybe a conversation beforehand would have been a better way forward.

    I’d also have to say that the ‘smugness’ of which Celebration of Hope has been accused is well matched in some of these comments. Agan, we owe each other better than this. On te one hand we have an evangelicalism that is too easily caught in the past and struggles to make any connect with the real world and a more ‘progressive’, left-wing, even post-evangelicalism that too easily makes itself superior and aloof. And we get to the stage where the two even despise each other, can’t make common ground and maybe lose any desire to do so.

    And then there’s the vast majority of those loosely labelled ‘evangelical’ who fall somewhere between the 2, with loyalties to both, just trying to make sense of it all. And unfortunately the voices they need to hear can be lost to them, often because of the kind of comments and attitudes that in my opinion I’ve read in this blog.

    This is a deeply personal issue for me; obviously there’s my role with Evangelical Alliance trying to unite a diverse group but also because it’s my own passion. Today I’m found defending Celebration of Hope; tomorrow I’ll quite easily be found defending some of you in the cutting edge work that you’re doing for which some of you have taken serious abuse from som within evangelicalism, because they’re just s uncomfortable with the way you do things as you are with them. As some of you raise doubts about their focus on ‘conversionism’ some of them will raise doubts that you have deserted evangelism in your efforts in social engagement. Some of us even serve together on the council of an organisation that has taken its fair share of hits from the conservative wing of evangelicalism – my duty has been to come to its defence, as I have often come to your defence.

    So I also have a duty to come to the defence of those behind Celebration of Hope. Of course it wasn’t the perfect initiative; we’re well aware of that. And no one on this blog has raised a question that we didn’t discuss 10 months ago when we took on leading it – in fact, we asked a lot more questions. But for me there was a group trying to work together, the wheels were in motion and they needed help in organisation and shaping it; and if EA can’t provide that kind of help then who else can be expected to facilitate partnerships? CoH was going ahead whether I was involved or not and I believed it was much better to be in there trying to shape it than be outside watching. We have a duty to the range of our membership and constituency, not just to one branch of it – and we need to allow that freedom to each other.

    Further, somewhere near 400 churches have wored together on this, making it the widest partnership that I have known. From that perspective alone this was a huge step forward and broke down significant barriers.

    It’s also important to note that Celebration of Hope was not just about the Odyssey. Sure it gave a focus but it was just a small part. The heart of CoH was mobilising Christians to pray for their friends, share in the Christian Life and Witness Class and thenhave something to invite friends to where they’d hear good music, a few faith stories and a straightforward evangelistic message. Our only publicity until the last 3 weeks was in churches and what pubicity we did was just a reinforcement – the idea was that people would come to the Odyssey not because of a media campaign but because friends who were praying for them invited them. And thousands of people in churches got that message and did bring their friends; so many that on Saturday and Sunday we had to tur people away.

    Of course you can question how good the programme was – we’ll never please everyone and we were catering for a large age range. And it wasn’t meant to be a worship event, so words weren’t on the screen; though on Sunday we did that for a few songs as we responded to people’s comments. And it’s also not just about numbers, even though somewhere over 2500 people responded to a call to commitment. The test of that will be how the churches take on the discipleship challenge – though again, if they were brought by friends who prayed for them and have seen them respond their friends are hardly going to let them drop off.

    Churches have been given a new impetus by this and that will continue as they sek to follow-up and disciple those who have taken a step of faith. Hopefully new partnerships among churches will become possible due to working together. Churches have also appreciate the fact that they haven’t been asked for money to support CoH – no church or individual had to pay to be involved; local Christians in business have risen to the challenge to provide this as a resource, though some churches have decided they want to support it.

    As for the people who came over the weekend, I think the sooner the comments about middle class Christians and their 4X4’s is retracted the better. That’s just not good enough, a pretty cheap shot and it couldn’t have been further from the mark. Anyone who looked at the range of people there, old and young, would see just how far from the truth that is. I guess it was written on the spur of the moment but that’s no justification.

    I guess I could write a load more but that’s enough. I haven’t answered all the questions and I certainly can’t say that CoH is the answer to everything; but it’s playing some part in helping bring new people to faith, provoking partnerships among churches, and revitalising Christians in praying for their friends and bringing a focus on evangelism that we have arguably lost.

    And of course we’re all free to raise our doubts and questions, to opt in or out; as long as we make our points from facts, not caricatures, and do it the right way, especially when we’re supposed to be friends, committed to impacting the world together, not tearing each other apart.

  29. Just to clarify… Steve, the call will come… but it certainly was not going to be in the midst of the maelstrom that keeping something as immense as the weekend’s events must have been for you… Nor even today (What are you doing going near a computer this morning you mad-man!)
    Anyway, we can speak more face to face when I call, (or more likely email) and arrange a meet.
    As for the tone… where mine has caused inappropriate offense I am sorry… Though there isn’t much in terms of substance that I wouldn’t stand over… But I’m not going to get all defensive.
    Thanks to all who have commented though… and thanks especially to Glenn for being honest enough to kick it all off…

  30. Conversation’s so much more civilised when it’s two-way! Stephen – thanks for joining the chat, even if you should be lying in a heap recovering from the weekend and the months of effort before.

    > big shiny gas-guzzling Range Rovers … outside the Hilton

    Since the vehicles in question could well have been transporting a certain President of Burundi who was in town last week too … I’ll happily withdraw the barb in my earlier comment … besides, if everyone drove Smart cars, there’d be no one to tow me home if I ever break down.

    But more seriously, as you’ve alluded to in your surprisingly good-tempered response, there are a balance of approaches old and new, and a balance of opinion (as you see within EA) on how our shared faith can make a sustained difference in our communities. You put it beautifully …

    > As some of you raise doubts about their focus on ‘conversionism’ some of them will raise doubts that you have deserted evangelism in your efforts in social engagement

    Isn’t it a debate worth having? And a reasonably healthy tension to live with for years to come. It’s oft quoted that Northern Ireland is about the local. It’s about what happens on our doorstep, within walking distance of our houses, in the local village or suburb. Maybe there is also an opportunity in the future to redress the balance, to intentionally promote the harder-to-fund local events and relationship building and to keep reattaching faith communities with their localities and the challenges within.

    Does make me wonder what difference I make in the community in which I live. Encouraging my wife to trim our side of the neighbour’s hedge may not be quite the impact God is hoping for. And holding the BBC accountable for the use to which NI licence fee payer’s dosh is put to may not be enough either. Umm.

  31. Thanks Stephen for coming on and making a comment, but let me assure you there was never an intention to force you to defend anything nor to dodge any arrows. And it is certainly not my sense from others who participated here that there was any assault on the people involved in the organising (except I did, and still do, question the appropriateness of the choice of main speaker). But there were serious questions asked that I think should be discussed. And I believe that the comments are fairminded, balanced as a whole and irenic in tone.

    I never expected the response this piece has received. I have several years at this game, and many more posts of which I am much prouder but that have never received even half the attention. Not only that but the number of people who have phoned or spoken to me in the street (honestly) who somehow found their way to the post indicates to me that the questions raised are not the preserve of some disaffected subset of evangelicalism. The questions and issues to be raised are much more mainstream I believe.

    But there are limitations to this form of communication which I am very much aware of and because of that I am shutting down the comment facility in the hope that we can ‘incarnate’ any ongoing discussions. I would be only too happy to meet and talk further and to take full responsibilities for the words I have written, to defend them if necessary, or to retract them if it is demonstrated to me that this is necessary, and to do so on the blog.

    Thanks all of you for being part of this temporary discussion group. Here’s to more conversation in the ongoing search for truth in word and deed.

    glenn

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