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Dispatches from the pastoral front line


PEOPLE determined to believe that Christianity is boring and irrelevant should not read The Bible Theft by the Rev Peter Sanlon because they might find their prejudices being disturbed.

This 179-page book is a collection of eight superb sermons originally preached in 2017 to the congregation of St Mark’s, Tunbridge Wells, whom Dr Sanlon serves as vicar. The sermons aimed to alert the congregation to the seriousness of the anti-biblical teaching that has been spreading through the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

So, the chapters bear the marks of being forged in the heat of front-line pastoral ministry and that is what makes them so exciting to read. The directness of Dr Sanlon’s appeal to Christian people to engage with God’s truth in the teeth of the world’s lies is so very spiritually refreshing. Here is an example from the sermon on Romans 1v18-32, entitled Loving Clarity to a Confused World:

‘The Bible’s teaching is what God uses to make us spiritually healthy: to give us vibrant relationships with God and with other people . . . Faithful churches guard the Bible’s teaching because it is the key to people having good relationships with one another and with God.’

Here is another example from the masterly sermon on Revelation 2v18-29 – When Toleration must not be Tolerated: ‘To say that Jesus accepts anybody as they are is really a half-truth. And it is a dangerous half-truth. Jesus will indeed accept anybody, but he proves that they are accepted by Him by changing them.’

Sometimes the exposition of the biblical text can be confusing, for example the handling of the opening salvo of the New Testament letter by Jude. Dr Sanlon ran with the New International Version translation of verse 3, which is probably misleading: ‘Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.’

It would seem the Revised Standard Version is more accurate: ‘Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.’ Although participles can sometimes be used to denote concessive clauses in New Testament Greek, it would seem that the absence of a clear concessive particle in this context would indicate that the RSV has got it right.

According to this rendering, commitment to the salvation Christians share essentially involves contending for the doctrines upon which it rests. There would seem to be no ‘although’ about the matter.

But which is preferable – expositional perfection by a disengaged lecturer with his head in his Greek or occasional exegetical slip-ups by an active pastor loving and serving Christ’s precious flock?

This tremendously accessible and intelligent book from the pastoral front line breathes the excitement of Christian truth and thus commends the Faith to both Christians and non-Christians.

The Bible Theft: Guarding Against Those who Steal God’s Word from the Church by Peter Sanlon; Credimus Press 2019

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Julian Mann
Julian Mann
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Heysham, Lancashire.

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