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From Dr Who to the Bechdel test of the Bible January 15, 2019

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I love how quickly the web can lead you from one interesting thing to another. My son binge watched a lot Dr Who over Christmas, and I admit it I joined him in viewing many of the episodes. Recently I clicked on an article asking why the latest Doctor doesn’t seem to be the lead character in her own show.

That article mentioned the Bechdel test, a simple formula for evaluating how well women are represented in film and TV (must have at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man). Its a fairly low bar so disappointing the number of films that don’t reach it. From there I wondered whether anyone had applied the Bechdel test to the Bible. (Yes, well done Paidiske).

My curiosity now is which of the three links in this blog get the most clicks?


Apps and accountability for a fresh start with God January 1, 2019

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Wanting to be in a better place physically, emotionally or spiritually, often isn’t quite enough to get us there. Most of us need a few nudges and some external help.

This is a new year post but it can apply every morning or every minute. It’s easy to make plans or even New Year’s resolutions – harder to stick to them. That’s why people buy fit-bits, or join some kind of club to keep them on track to achieving goals around fitness.

The same is often true about people’s desire to improve their ‘spiritual health’. We know that reading our Bible, spending time in prayer, and quiet contemplation, and then also spending time living out what we learn would help us feel better, live better and love better, but somehow it is easy to get distracted.

Thomas Aquinas with a smart phone
(adapted from an earlier work by
Gentile da Fabriano )

Fortunately, the same technology that can distract us from the world around us and the people around us can also help us stay connected to people, to God, and to the world he so loved.

Go Tandem app from Back to the Bible

Go Tandem is an app (and a website) from Back to The Bible, which leads you through your own self assessment to determine what you see as strengths and areas you would like to grow in and then gives you multiple nudges with Bible verses and questions for reflection throughout the day. When I first reviewed it a few years ago it also included an option for you to jot and share your own notes. A more recent upgrade has removed this function but links you to additional reading plans on other apps.

YouVersion Bible app and website

YouVersion and Bible.com now provides free access to scripture in 1,258 languages, (1,257 more than you might need) but it is designed not only to give as many people as possible access to the Bible but to encourage you to engage with God through the Bible. There are hundreds of different reading plans plus the tools to create bookmarks, highlight verses and create notes that you can either keep just between you and God or share with friends. Most versions can be downloaded for offline use but you do need to connect to the internet to use the search function or access some of the options. Getting a virtual badge for completing a reading plan or sharing your first verse may or may not be an encouragement to you but it obviously helps some people.

Additional resources include videos from the Jesus Film, Lumo, and the Bible Project, plus audio of many of the translations.

There are many other apps and tools through which the Bible is available in multiple languages and versions. Faith Comes by Hearing specialise in audio scriptures and have partnered with Jesus Film and others to bring together audio, text and film. Their Bible.is app also form the underlying technology of the Gideons app.

A longer list of Bible apps and sites is available at https://1000bibles.wordpress.com/ . If you have a favourite Bible app not listed leave a comment to let me know and be sure to let others know about it via your social media feed (or even by talking to people). But more important than the applications we have on our phones is how the Bible is applied in and through our lives.

Another resource worth exploring is PrayerMate. which is a helpful way to remind you what and who to pray for, drawing from selected prayer guides from different organisations and from your own personal list. The video gives a good overview but it would be good to emphasise that prayer is about who you are praying too not just what you are praying for.

Languages and relocation December 18, 2018

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I almost missed it but Dec 18th was International Migrants Day . I’m a migrant, though in recent years I have migrated back to near where I was born.

I always thought of myself as British as well as English and for a a few years now I’ve also been a Canadian. I’ve learned other languages but not enough to be fluent. In the UK I’ve lived in  seven English counties, two Canadian provinces, and also spent a couple of years in a country in Asia. In each of the places I’ve lived I’ve spoken English (most of the time) but my accent and speech patterns have shifted a bit.

I’m on the border of Staffordshire and Derbyshire so I might have grown up sounding a bit like this…

But I don’t (at least to my ear) and I hadn’t heard the words “gostered” or “gloppant”. 

When people move they take their language(s) and dialects with them but the way they talk and the people they talk to changes.

A BBC  Future article talked about how people can lose their first language, even as adults and delved deeper into the how and why.

I’ve been involved in a lot of interesting discussions about languages over the last 22 years and in the last year a lot of those have been about how migration, urbanisation and multilingualism make thinking about what language someone speaks a lot more complicated than I’d previously thought.

Firstly, a huge number of people don’t just speak one language. A Dutch colleague is quite fluent in four languages and knows bits of a few more, a Kenyan colleague said he could preach in about ten languages and greet people in a few others.

Often our organisation talks about ‘heart language’ or ‘mother tongue’. Some people grew up with just one language spoken at home and then been exposed to another when they go to school and and then perhaps learn more as they move to a new location, but  many people today are exposed to several languages in their home and wider community from birth.

No one knows exactly how many languages are spoken in the UK (or any other country) as records are often imprecise. In the 2011 UK census there was a question about language but it asked what people’s ‘main language’ was and was open to a lot of interpretation and has lead to considerable under reporting.

Multilingual Manchester, a project of Manchester University has encouraged the office of national statistics to rethink it’s census question to uncover the many hidden languages in the data.

One example of the need for this cited the difference in census reporting vs information reported by local schools, ” in the Manchester ward of Ardwick just 2.2% of residents declared Urdu to be their ‘main language’ while over 13% of schoolchildren in that ward were registered as having Urdu as their ‘first language’.”

Language is strongly linked to identity but it’s possible to identify as belonging to multiple groups as well as speaking multiple languages.

How multilingualism is regarded in society and in the UK church is something I hope to investigate further in the coming months. 

But for now here’s a seasonal multilingual link


Do you or anyone in your church know how to say it in a language not listed on the Why Christmas site?

I don’t have time (not) to think December 4, 2018

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or “Not idleness but amplitude of space for thought…”

“Missiological Reflection” is a term that is being used a lot in our organisation at the moment. It’s not a new idea. It goes well with another common term “reflective practice” which really means think about what you are doing and why, and then do things better.

There’s a bit more to it than that if you want to Google the terms but you might be too busy for a long read right now.

One advocate of missiological reflection quoted the old idea that we should reflect on the world with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. This idea is often attributed to John Stott, but looking for the quote I found he referred to other theologians and preachers including Karl Barth and to CH Spurgeon. BibleandNewspaper

Each of these men are known for both their reflections and their practice. I found Spurgeon’s 1878 book “The Bible and the Newspaper” online and he quoted minister and hymn writer John Newton.

“I READ the, newspaper,” said John Newton, “that I may see how my
heavenly Father governs the world;” a very excellent reason indeed. We
have read the newspaper during the last three months that we might find
illustrations of the teaching of our heavenly Father’s word; and we think
we have not read in vain…

Spurgeon goes on:

“A sense of leisure and of rest is needed if one is to follow
the trails of nature, and listen to all her echoes. Not idleness but amplitude
of space for thought is a requisite for the weaving of allegory and the
fashioning of similitudes. Lacking these essentials, amid the hum of London
and the whirl of the wheel of daily duty, we have produced a little homespun
where others might have woven tapestries of golden thread.”

It sounds a bit old fashioned and you might need to read it a second time to get the meaning. The “whirl of the wheel” may have got even faster and newspapers and more modern media may have got more crowded and not overly encouraging, but read together with the Bible you may still see how our heavenly father both governs and cares for a world that too often seems to care little for him.

May you find “amplitude of space for thought” and have time to reflect alone and with others on what an amazing world we live in, and an amazing God we serve.

(oh and if you read this and don’t know this amazing God yet you can find online Bibles in many languages.

pictures from wikipedia articles about Stott, Barth, Spurgeon, and Newton.





Have you discovered Follow JC Go? November 3, 2018

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A few weeks ago I called YouVersion’s new Bible Lens “The Pokemon Go of Memory Verses“. I meant it in a good way, seeing it as something that had the potential to help people look at the world around them and wonder what Bible verses the new app would suggest went well with what they see.

followJCgo At that point I was unaware that another new app was also on the horizon from a different set of developers.

Follow JC Go” really is trying to copy the success of Pokemon Go in an app by getting the Catholic faithful to get their phones out and look for saints and Biblical characters digitally overlaid on the world around them.

I heard about it first from a friend on Facebook and then in an article on the BBC news.

Follow_JC_GOA translation of the apps description states “It allows players to form their eTeam (Evangelization Team, made up of friends, biblical characters, saints, blesseds and Marian devotions.

The eTeam will help you generate a collection of characters (virtual and real) that will accompany you in your day and pilgrimage to the WYD 2019 in Panama and other religious events in the world, for this you must fulfill individual and group missions; Search and answer trivias to incorporate collectables to your eTeam.”

So far it has had over 100,000 downloads and mixed reviews, partly because not everyone who has found it is a fan of either Jesus or the Catholic Church, and partly because so far it is only available in Spanish and lots of people are frustrated at not being able to understand it (perhaps they have got too used to the Bible itself being in their own language).

I’ll save my thoughts on the game itself until the English version comes out in a few weeks. You can download it (or not) and make your own decisions, but at least now you’ve read this you have a choice.

That ability to choose is a big part of what Christianity, in all it’s forms is about and part of the reason I’ve spent over twenty years of my life working in the ministry of Bible translation.

Around the world there are still people who have never heard of Jesus, many others who have never clearly heard about who he is in a language or a way that they understand.

I don’t know yet how much this app will help people truly connect with the real Jesus, but I pray it will be part of some people’s journey, both from the content of the app and the conversations it starts.


Bible Lens – the Pokemon Go of memory verses? September 8, 2018

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 2Tim3.16So, hot on the heels of the iPhone version, Bible lens for android is now here. The new app that automatically suggests Bible verses to go with your selfies and snapshots has already been installed on well over 100,000 times and will probably 500,000 before the weekend is out. (update: I was wrong on that. Two months in and still not at 500,000. Meanwhile a new app, “Follow JC Go” has launched which really is copying Pokemon Go)

Sadly it doesn’t seem to work on all phones and tablets (including the ones I own) but I can see what other people are sharing (especially when they use the #BibleLens tag.)

I suspect it will lead to a lot of people sharing a lot of Bible verses, and a lot of photos. Will it be a quickly passing fad or a new era in looking at the world around us and seeing what the Bible has to say about it?

I likened it to the Pokemon Go of memory verses because while I have a few reservations I can see it’s potential to get people out and connect the Bible with the world around them. Point your phone at a scene, take a picture and see what verse the apps algorithm proposes.

Does it trivialize the word or celebrate and share it? How does the app analyse the photos and decide what to suggest? I don’t know, and neither do I know what list of verses the app selects from. I suspect it’s not every verse. There are certainly a number you wouldn’t want to accidentally appear alongside the photos you share …(but I’ll save those for another post).

Meanwhile here are a few public examples from people I’ve never met.

(warning verses and photos can be taken out of context. The content below is direct from social media streams and may have been edited or have links and comments I didn’t see when posting)

Lots more available on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/search/photos/?q=%23biblelens

and lots on on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/biblelens/

What do you think of the idea and the app?

What are your favourite verse/photo combinations?

Not so popular verses in the Bible August 10, 2018

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There is a new app from YouVersion “Bible Lens“, allowing you to take photos and then “It detects not only objects in your photo, but more importantly, the Biblical themes of the moment that photo captured… and then suggests Bible verses to match!”

I’m suspecting that the app will probably pick from a small selection of pre-picked themes and vetted verses but it got me thinking. I recently found a website, topverses.com listing the most popular verses in the Bible. With over 30,000 to choose from I wondered which ones wouldn’t end up in the top half of the list



For example Job 30:29 seems to be much less popular than Leviticus 11:15, but more popular than Deut 14:14.

In case you haven’t memorised those verses here they are

Job 30:29 Bible Rank: 20,218
“I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls.” KJV

Leviticus 11:15  Bible Rank of 4,707
“Any kind of raven”

While probably never likely to be verse of the day on your favourite Bible website Leviticus 11:15 is apparently quoted on the web a lot more than when exactly the same four words appear in Deuteronomy 14:14

(check out other popular verses for raven at http://topverses.com/?find=raven )

If you want to browse the top verses in order you can start at http://topverses.com/Bible . At number 9 you will find

2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness


It’s worth remembering that however good single verse are the Bible isn’t meant to be read that way but  if you are inspired you could create your own #obscureverseoftheday memes with perhaps just a clue here or there as to why they are worth making available to the world.

Why you should translate …with caution July 28, 2018

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“Where do Christians get the idea that it is not only permissible, but even a good idea to translate?”

There are lots of words in this document. I apologize if it is not in your first (or favorite) language.

Justification4translationIn a 2012 post from Desiring God, Tyler Kennedy explains:

Why Every Christian Should Care About Gospel Resources in Languages Beyond Their Own


I recommend looking at the full article but here are a few quotes along with my own endorsement and a couple of words of caution.

English is the most dominant global language ever. So why are we at Desiring God doing so much work to translate our resources into other tongues? Why not just spend the same amount of time, money, and effort teaching people to read our English resources rather than doing the hard (and sometimes messy) work of translation?

“Why don’t you just teach them English?” has been a common question addressed by many.

There is a certain amount of of imperialism and superiority that goes with that. English is a dominant language because we forcibly dominated a lot of places that would have preferred we hadn’t.

That having been said, lots of people do now speak English and if its your first language you (hopefully) don’t think of it as being imposed by the people of England. We even differentiate between British English, American English and many of the other Englishes now spoken around the world.

Where do Christians get the idea that it is not only permissible, but even a good idea to translate?

Profound answers to these questions have been set forth by Andrew Walls, a man once dubbed by Christianity Today as perhaps “the most important person you don’t know.” In 1996 he published The Missionary Movement in Christian History in which he argues that translation work is both permissibleand necessary to the Christian faith. He gives two main reasons for making this claim:

  1. translation is a central component of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and
  2. translation is God’s means for sustaining and maturing his people.

Lamin Sanneh, in his article “Christian Missions and the Western Guilt Complex,” acknowledges the distinct power of human language. In speaking about the history of translation in Western missions, he states, “The importance of vernacular translation was that it brought the missionary into contact with the most intimate and intricate aspects of culture.”

SIL International affirms this reality in their Linguistic Creed: “As the most uniquely human characteristic a person has, a person’s language is associated with his self-image. Interest in and appreciation of a person’s language is tantamount to interest in and appreciation of the person himself.”

But many in SIL are also aware that many or even most people on the planet speak more than one language (quite a few that only speak one speak English) and that particularly in multicultural urban environments, some people might not always have just one ‘heart language’.

Meanwhile more from Sanneh

In many traditional societies, religious language has tended to be confined to a small elite of professionals. In extreme cases, this language is shrouded under the forbidding sanctions of secret societies and shrines, access to which is through induced trances or a magical formula. The Christian approach to translatability strikes at the heart of such gnostic tendencies, first by contending that the greatest and most profound religious truths are compatible with everyday language, and second, by targeting ordinary men and women as worthy bearers of the religious message.

Amen. But good Christian theology also isn’t confined to a small elite of (English speaking) professionals. Thought in the English speaking world has and continues to be shaped by works translated from other languages.

As people strive to translate their materials into other peoples languages lets hope that it goes both ways with ideas generated in less dominant languages translated into the more dominant ones.

Modern day translation of the Christian message continues Jesus’ work of coming to the common. People are saved, and their faith is nurtured, when they encounter Jesus in the language they know best.

For a recent example of this, see the BBC’s magazine article and corresponding video, “Jamaica’s patois Bible: The word of God in creole.”

Do watch that video and be encouraged that the BBC has services in multiple languages that don’t just translate stories from English but generate fresh material from journalists writing in the language they know best to the people they know best.

There is a lot more great stuff in the article and in the materials from Walls and Sanneh that Kennedy quotes.

But what do you do with these ideas? How do you apply them?

As individuals, families, churches, denominations, missions boards, etc., we should care about and prioritize translation work, especially Bible translation.

Having spent 20 years working with Wycliffe Bible Translators I’d say a healthy amen to that!

Kennedy then say…

In addition to the Bible, we should value and translate John Piper’s (and others’) content, because of how it helps people read and understand Scripture for themselves.

…and here is where I’m a little more cautious. John Piper has written a number of things that I have found personally helpful, but he has also more recently expressed views I (and others) are not so sure on. Even where I agree with him that might sometimes be my cultural and theological bias agreeing with some of his.

Many of the sermons and resources that resonate with us are not just because they are in our language but because they connect with (and often correct) our own experience of life. In some ways life in Minneapolis is similar to life in many other parts of the world, and in other ways it isn’t. (eg not sure when Piper or other DG staff last addressed ancestor worship, sacrificing to idols, child sacrifice or  witchcraft ).
The Bible deals with a lot of themes that don’t get preached everywhere, and preaching, while often seeking to be true to scripture usually comes with a level of denominational and cultural bias.

Bible translators work hard to avoid denomination bias.

Bible translation is scripture not commentary.

Commentary is commentary. Often incredibly helpful but not always presenting opposing views in an unbiased way.

For some of you this application means that you should take an incarnational dive into one of the unreached languages of the world, learn to speak it, develop a writing system for it, teach other speakers how to read it, create a dictionary, and translate the Bible into it.

A bit more partnership. The ideal aim isn’t that you translate but that you help people from the community translate.

For others it means that you should take the fluency God has already given you in another language and get down and do the tough, loving work of translating gospel material into it

Again this may put the emphasis on “learn another language” and translate into it. Often professional translators would say you are better translating from another language into your own.

eg If English is your second language you may be better equipped for the final stage of translation from English into your first language than someone who speaks your language ‘quite well for an outsider’

Perhaps the best translations involve partnership and discussion between people from both languages and cultures.

One final quote from Andrew Walls…

The present situation of Christianity is like that I’ve described with the first frontier, the Greek world was crossed, only this time it’s not the Mediterranean world or the Western world at all that’s the scene of the interaction. The crucial activity is now the Christian interaction with the ancient cultures of Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Pacific. The quality of the Christianity of those areas and thus the quality of 21st Century Christianity as a whole will depend on the quality of that interaction.
Walls (2002) Demographics, Power and the Gospel







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