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Dear Friends,

The Bishop of Blackburn has kindly given me permission to take a sabbatical at the beginning of 2018. This is an opportunity to take a break from the busyness of parish life and do some further study. My focus is going to be on ‘Recent developments in Evangelical Liturgy and Hymnody.’ It’s great that I can confidently leave the pastoral care of the parish to Mike while I’m out of circulation. I know that you’ll all give him your full support in what will be a busy time for him. My sabbatical starts on Monday 8th January and I’ll be back on duty on Easter Sunday evening.

For my letter this month I’m reproducing an article I recently wrote for the Lancashire Telegraph:

In my experience children are far more interested in theology than adults. Most adults will do anything to avoid a discussion about God but children are more than happy to ask questions and say what they think. So a word of warning if you’re thinking of starting a family: like it or not, sooner or later in the years to come your little one will drag you into the world of theological debate.

So just suppose you find yourself discussing the following question with your 6 year old at bedtime: “What sort of people does God love?” Almost certainly your budding theologian will take the view that God loves those who do good. And you’ll probably be tempted to agree quickly, kiss her goodnight, and turn off the light. After all, human love works in the way she’s describing. We all know that we find ourselves liking people who are kind and generous; so surely God operates in the same way? It must be true that he finds himself loving those who are lovely.

But it turns out that you and your 6 year old are wrong.

Here’s something simple but profound written by Martin Luther about the love of God in 1518 in a document called the Heildelberg Disputation:

“The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.”

When Luther wrote those words most theologians (both young and old) believed that God’s love was reactive. That is, God’s heart was moved to love by the loveliness he sees in us. But through studying the Bible Luther came to realise that God’s love is not reactive but is creative. God makes the first move and pours out his love on us through the death of Jesus for our sins. And through this act of love God makes us lovely in his sight; we are declared righteous by God.

Let’s be ready to tell of that love to our children.

Yours in Christ

Mark

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