True Revival    Blog

A five-minute video-clip, 'Donald's Bible' has gone viral in recent weeks, creating great excitement. It began as a popular story in 2017, and relates to a religious revival on the Scottish island of Lewis some 80 years ago, from 1949-52. The story centered on the remarkable discovery that two elderly sisters involved in that revival were in fact the great-aunts of no less than the 45th President of the United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump himself. Additional details soon got added to the narrative – paving the way for the current video.

It’s an intriguing story for sure. And at first glance it seems quite possible. It’s no secret that Trump’s mother, Mary Anne Smith Macleod, hailed from Lewis. Her own mother’s maiden name was indeed Smith – she lived from 1867 till 1963. This would have been roughly contemporaneous with the lives of Christine and Peggy Smith, who are famed in revival folklore for their lives of faith and intercession.

But sadly the story’s not true. In fact it’s riddled with problems. There are hundreds of Smiths in the Western Isles, and the names Christine and Peggy Smith do not match with Trump’s relatives. Further, Lewis is a relatively small, well-connected island where people know genealogy well, and we are dealing with just two generations. People on Lewis insist that Mary Anne is not directly related to the Smith siblings. (Also, Mary Anne Macleod came from the east Lewis village of Tong, just north of Stornoway; the Smith sisters lived in Barvas, on the west side of the island).

The teenage boy that the video claims the Rev Duncan Campbell became dependent upon during the revival was Donald MacPhail from Arnol. He is incorrectly referred to in the video as Donald Smith. There is no evidence to suggest that Donald MacPhail was a cousin of Mary Anne. In any case, MacPhail’s life of faith and intercession could not have inspired Trump’s mother to name her son after him; the Lewis revival began in 1949 and MacPhail became a Christian the following spring, in May 1950. Donald Trump, however, was born in 1946 – did he live without a forename for the first four years of his life?

Further, Trump’s own uncle was called Donald; so was his maternal great grandfather. There was no need for Mary Anne to look to some religious revival on the other side of the world for someone to name her son after. In fact, Mary Anne left Lewis in 1930 (not 1936 as the video claims), before Donald MacPhail was even born. That means she also emigrated long before the 1949-52 revival ever broke out on the island. Although she returned to her native Lewis in later years, it is quite possible she never knew that a spiritual revival occurred on Lewis in those years (one of a whole string of revivals to grace the island in the twentieth century). Besides, there were countless other Donalds on Lewis – what select source is privy to her naming her son after one particular Donald over another?

Even if Christine and Peggy Smith were Mary Anne’s aunts, no one has provided a reason for them choosing to donate their Gaelic bible to Mary Anne rather than one of their many other nieces and nephews (Mary was one of ten children). Besides, their bible would probably have been the last thing the godly sisters would have parted with. Well-worn after a lifetime of use, and full of hand-written notes and markings as it probably was, it would almost certainly have been their most prized possession. Rather than post a heavy bible to their niece in the States in any case (they were poor), it would have been more convenient to send a postal order so she could buy a new one.

And that leads to another problem. Mary Anne did give her son a bible when he was young. Rather than being in Gaelic (a language unfamiliar to Donald), it was an English translation; and it was a Revised Standard Version. The RSV was first published only in 1952, by which time the Lewis revival was already coming to a close. Trump’s bible was presented to him at First Presbyterian Church in the Queen’s district of New York in 1955, when nine-year-old Donald graduated from Sunday school there. (Indeed, he swore in on this bible when inaugurated as President in 2017). Trump proudly refers to this as the bible his mother gave him – he has made mention of no other.

Everybody loves a good story, and ‘Donald’s Bible’ is one that many have found inspiring. But in a faith-system that centres on truth, myths need to be exploded (though some may prefer to carry on believing the lie). The 45th President of the United States of America keeps no ‘Hebrides Revival Bible’ in the Oval Office. On the contrary, as with his mother, it’s doubtful Donald Trump has even heard of the Lewis revival, let alone of his would-be great aunts. The entire story, sadly, is a mammoth fabrication.

The video can be viewed here

Tom Lennie: May 2020

Paul Hattaway ‘An Asian Harvest Monarch Books 2018

Paul Hattaway is hardly a well-known name in Christian circles, even though he has authored numerous popular titles, one of which remains one of the best-selling Christian books of the past fifty years! That book is ‘The Heavenly Man: The Story of Brother Yun’. Paul Hattaway is perhaps the world’s foremost authority on the Chinese Church. A former missionary to Far-Eastern nations, Hattaway is founder of the mission-charity, Asia Harvest. His mammoth study, Operation China (published in 2000) is a totally unique resource; being the first attempt ever made to profile all the people groups of China. Based on field research; the harvest of more than ten years work, the 700-page study includes important new ethnographical and anthropological material.

After decades documenting the life-stories and achievements of Asian believers, Hattaway at last offers some glimpses into his own eventful life. ‘An Asian Harvest’ is an absolutely riveting autobiography. It’s one of those books I literally couldn’t put down except due to necessity! I read it in just a few short days, and I was richly blessed as a result. More than anything it is the sense of genuine humility that comes over; Hattaway is not somebody trying to make a name for himself, but is perfectly willing to live low, simply fulfilling God’s calling for his life. I am deeply impressed by his obvious humility. It’s this quality especially that makes the book come over in a quite different manner to so many other Christian biographies I’ve read.

Paul Hattaway is also an excellent writer – I was already very aware of this, of course, from reading ‘The Heavenly Man’, and it is again, overtly observable in this autobiography. And I love the testimonies he shares throughout the book, of God’s wonderful provision in his life. He’s clearly had some deeply impacting encounters with his Maker.

The lessons Hattaway shares from his own life experiences I found particularly poignant; not least his leading to turn down the offer of a lucrative financial deal with little work involved; the way he handled the complex and thoroughly awkward situation regarding the missionary leader/ sexual predator, etc. And particularly his observation that speaking to Christian groups in the Far East, compared to giving talks to Christian groups in the West – made him sometimes feel he was encountering two quite different faiths altogether. I found that a very sobering thought. Certainly the Western Church needs to be challenged on many issues – this book helps to do that. Thank you, Paul for pulling back no punches.

I think what impacted me most of all in ‘An Asian Harvest’ was Paul's complete surrender to the will of God – it’s a thread that runs right through the book. He’s a man willing to give his life totally over to Him, to use as He pleases, no matter what discomfort or defamation that might mean for him personally. And when he states that in recent years the Church in China has been facing a threat much more dangerous and insipid than physical persecution – that of prosperity – this is poignant stuff indeed. How the Western Church needs to hear it!

This is a remarkable testimony - it deserves to be very widely read - but I wonder, somehow, if it actually will be......

Tom Lennie: April 2020

Joshua D. Jones ‘Elijah Men Eat Meat: Readings to Slaughter your Inner Ahab & Pursue Revival and Reform’ (self-published, 2017).

Few books in the past decade have packed as potent a prophetic punch, or carried such ‘piercing, singeing truth’ as this intriguingly titled book (actually applicable to women as well as men!). The writer is a forty year-old blogger, and pastor of the independent Therfield Chapel in Hertfordshire. ‘Elijah Men’ comes in the form of 80-or-so short chapters, each comprising a thoughtful study on a particular aspect of the life of the prophet Elijah, followed by its relevance to the Church today.

In these studies, Jones provides pertinent reflections on a wide range of issues of a spiritual or moral nature, including marriage, the plague of powerless preaching, God as Father (not Mother), foreign missions, and what it means to say ‘God is love’. A brief survey of chapter titles reveals further topics; ‘Prophets and the Poor’, ‘The Lost Art of Truth Telling’, ‘The Cancer of Spiritual Passivism’, On Freedom and Foodolatry’, ‘Zealous for His Name’, etc, etc.

Jones devotes considerable space to dealing with the illogic and corruption of LGBT ideology, and these focused and uncompromising sections make for essential reading. So, too, do his writings on prevailing intercession.

One chapter that I found especially pertinent was the self-explanatory, ‘Job Vacancy – Prophet’, which clarion call for ‘broken, godly men to break the hearts of wicked men’ makes me think I’m reading a chapter from ‘Why Revival Tarries’, penned by that pungent prophetic voice of last century, Leonard Ravenhill.

In fact, the sharp (though not harsh) prophetic tone that runs through this book has a strong echo to men of faith like David Wilkerson, E. M. Bounds and Ravenhill himself. Indeed, Jones not infrequently quotes from the latter two (as well as from Catherine Booth and Andrew Murray). But it’s Jones’ own pithy statements that resonate most poignantly with this reader……

‘We’ll never understand God’s patience and mercy if we don’t first understand His wrath’.
‘Many whimsically quip that all roads lead to God. That may be. But many of those roads lead to Him as Judge. Only through Jesus can we meet God as Father’.
‘How many of today’s hip young preachers and bloggers will fast for 40 days just to meditate on the book of Deuteronomy (the source of all Jesus’ quotes in the desert)?’
‘The spiritual famine of today ‘is caused by distractions, not dictators’.
‘Our lives must be controlled by a divine fear that leaves every earthly intimidation toothless’.
‘We’re obese on spiritual junk food and unfit for God’s mission’.
‘When love (marital or otherwise) becomes a god, it will then inevitably become a devil’.

And on the topic of prayer…..
‘Those who are willing to be broken in prayer are the ones who will break hellish fortresses’
‘God likes it when we get stubborn on our knees’
‘If our generation is going to see revival and reformation, it will be because men set themselves to call down spiritual rain upon a dry land and pray until it comes’.
‘We will not see the fruit of Elijah’s boldness, if we do not know the fellowship of his tears’.

It is enormously exciting and encouraging to observe that God is raising up strong, clear prophetic voices in the Western world at this hour. Inspired and mentored by similar voices of past generations, and more especially by their biblical precedents, they are prepared to fearlessly speak the word of God to a sin-hardened nation that has turned to a multitude of lesser gods. Jones’ hope is that a network can be raised of ‘those with ravenous hearts for the things of God’.

Because of its uncompromising nature, this book may never become ‘popular’ Christian reading. But to those who long to see spiritual reformation and a revival of pure Christianity in our nation, ‘Elijah Men’ will be eagerly sought meat indeed. Unquestionably, one of the most vital, relevant and incisive books I’ve read in many years.

Tom Lennie: March 2020

Michael F. Bird  (Editor), Craig A. Evans, Simon Gathercole, etc. "How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus' Divine Nature - A Response to Bart Ehrman" (Zondervan Books)

I almost didn't buy this book - numerous of the reviews on suggested it was a poorly crafted work, and a quite inadequate response to Ehrman's ‘How Jesus Became God’.

But I did buy it - albeit hesitantly - because, as a committed Christian, I was somewhat disturbed by some of Ehrman's proposals, and I wanted a considered response from the `conservative' camp. This was as good as I was going to get (by the way, I'm STILL waiting for an adequate response to various other Ehrman titles. E.g. "Jesus Interrupted", "Misquoting Jesus", "God's Problem" - do any such strong responses exist, and if not, I wonder, why not?)

Back to the current volume. Definitely these author's aren't as good writers as Ehrman. ‘How Jesus Became God’ doesn't read so smoothly, at times it's quite tedious; whereas I simply couldn't put Bart's book down - he's So good at keeping one’s interest throughout, and putting forth his arguments in a compelling manner. The present book is tougher going.

But - and this surprised me, given the bad press - ‘How Jesus Became God’ is definitely a worthwhile read. Certainly, as Ehrman himself contends, the main intent of these authors seems to be to deconstruct (knock a hole through a good many of Ehrman's arguments), rather than to construct (set out a whole new theory). Maybe they wrote their book too hastily, in attempt to get it published same day as Bart's book. If so, that was a mistake.

Nevertheless, as a destruct, they make a pretty good job on the whole, I reckon. There's a whole host of Ehrman's arguments - including his very core points - that these five guys run roughshod over. In so doing they make reference to a great number of contemporary biblical scholars (thus the footnote section is quite impressive and well worth referring to).

One of the authors’ strongest points is in challenging what is definitely Ehrman's weakest. This is in regard to Ehrman basing an entire theory upon a truly contentious reading of one third of a single verse in one of Paul's letters (Galatians 1:14), while almost utterly ignoring the entirety of the rest of Paul's Epistles. This indeed I found to be a standout weakness in Ehrman's book (one of many according to these authors). It’s also an embarrassing one - and definitely comprises the weakest argument I've found in any of Ehrman's books that I've read (admittedly only four).

Moving on. Thankfully, only one of the five authors makes repeated personal, snide remarks against Ehrman (Michael Bird). He clearly seems threatened by Ehrman’s arguments. It's a pity, because such remarks (which he calls `humour', despite the face they aren't remotely funny) serve to lower the tone of the work overall.

What disappoints me a lot is the fact that Ehrman, who has read ‘How Jesus Became God’ has stated (on his own website) that he feels it unnecessary to make any detailed `response' to this book, because, other than Craig Evan's chapter, he feels that none of the chapters are strong enough to merit a counter argument. That sounds slightly arrogant to me – there is indeed much in this work that require a considered response. Could it even be that Ehrman doesn't have a reasoned response to make to some of these five guy's essays?

To sum up, this book may not go down in history as a classic theological treatise, but as a deconstruct of some of Ehrman's arguments, it works well. Whether it's strong enough to dismiss Ehrman's work out of hand is another matter. The debate goes on - or at least it needs to.

Tom Lennie: December 2019

Dave Tomlinson "The Bad Christian's Manifesto: Reinventing God"  (Hodder & Stoughton)

This is an engaging, thoroughly controversial little book. It’s very easy to read, and full of interesting personal ‘stories’, all of which serve to endorse Tomlinson’s ‘theological’ views. There’s lots of good in the book, and plenty that I heartily agree with. The author urges us constantly to be non-judgemental, and to seek to see the good in all humanity. He wants us all to be tolerant. I’m not sure he’s too tolerant of conservative Christians, however – he has much to say in their disfavour. Much of what he suggests isn’t new - in fact, many of the good things he says are taught and practised in several ‘conservative’ Christian churches I know of.

But I have some very real concerns with the book too. We’re taught for example, to be tolerant of all religions because they’re all equally good, ultimately. (But does that include voodoo, black magic, Satanism, etc? Wouldn’t it be judgemental to exclude any of these, breaking Tomlinson’s own golden rule of tolerance?) The author insists we must also be tolerant of all forms of sexuality. But aren’t there sexual practises that even the author would disapprove of? For example, non-monogamous sexual activity; incest; bestiality, etc. If such is the case, wouldn't it be ‘intolerant’ not to approve of these practises? As long as people are showing ‘love’ and not hurting others, isn’t that what’s important? Indeed, isn’t love the real essence of all true religions? Tomlinson is unable to bring clarity to the very questions his own writing poses.

And what is a Christian in any case. Tomlinson fails to inform us. He does say that ‘bad’ Christians (who he is sure are true Christian believers) are ‘the hordes of people who know their lives are a bit screwed up....but whose hearts are open to God in all sorts of ways’. But what does that mean? In how many ‘ways’ do you need to be ‘open to God’ to be a Christian? Do you need any degree of faith in Christ at all? Interestingly, Tomlinson appears unable to confirm whether ‘good’ Christians are also ‘true Christian believers’.

I had a particular revulsion to finding Tomlinson compare the merciless, hacking to death of Lee Rigby in Woolwich in 2013 by Islamic fundamentalists to an anti-Islamic extremism demonstration in York some time later. To compare a demonstration to hideous murder that shocked the entire nation (and which we know could happen anywhere else in Britain anytime) is more than a little disturbing. A number of other suggestions the author makes in this passage I find similarly skewed.

Ultimately, there’s plenty of good within this book. But if you decide to read it, I advise you to do so with much discernment.

Tom Lennie: November 2019

Richard Holloway "Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt(Canongate Books)

I've long had a real respect for what Richard Holloway has to say, despite the fact that I come from a more evangelical background and he was always decidedly liberal. So I was very keen to read his memoirs, which is largely a spiritual biography, or as the subtitle suggests, 'A memoir of faith and doubt'. Holloway is an excellent writer, and the narrative flows well, keeping the reader gripped throughout its 350 pages. His spiritual pilgrimage has been a most interesting one - so much of it I didn't know before.

Interestingly, there are real similarities between his own walk of faith and doubt, and mine. Although connected to the evangelical church all my Christian life, I moved away from fundamentalism after a time - realising that matters of faith and life are simply not nearly as black and white as I had been taught, or as I had hoped. Life would be so much easier if everything was so clear-cut. But it's just not. That was always the main reason I never entered the ministry myself, so it's fascinating to hear from someone with doubts and naggings every bit as strong as mine who actually did become a church minister. It surely wasn’t easy for him. And this spiritual tension in his life runs right through the book. Eventually he seems to come to the position that he does not believe in God. He still hopes there might be 'Something' out there, but he's far from convinced there really is. So, ultimately, he really did have to resign his position as Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Scotland - he had no choice.

I genuinely sympathized with Holloway in his ongoing quest for knowledge of the Divine, only to encounter nothing but Silence. Throughout the book he refers to God as the Absence. I find that really sad. He seems to fail to appreciate - or at least does not acknowledge - that for so many Christians the opposite has been true. Countless believers are very aware of a sense of God's presence in their lives - a living presence with and in them. For them He truly is a real Person whom they can communicate with. It's a pity Holloway appears to have had no experience of this kind. God was so far removed - so very absent.

There were a few issues that I found myself questioning in regard to this book. One was Holloway's intriguing forays with tongues speaking. He makes out that this was basically speaking pure gibberish and also that it's so easy - anyone can do it. Just two pages later, he speaks of a deeply spiritual friend whom he admires a lot who begins to seek after glossolalia - but even after much encouragement from over-enthusiastic students fails to 'receive' the gift. There would appear to be some contradiction there.

Tongues-speaking may or may not have a psychological explanation, but it certainly can’t be described as pure gibberish. Many have testified to there being a profoundly spiritual dimension to this phenomenon which only those who possess it and practice it can comprehend. And despite Holloway's own embarrassing incident of attempting to try his 'Chinese language out on a China native - I know of literally scores of reported scenarios where tongue-speaking Christians have spoken in languages they knew nothing about - and being told by someone present that they were speaking clearly a certain known language which they themselves understood.

A few other points niggled me - e.g. Holloway’s suggestion that evangelicals are gay-haters. This is polemical rhetoric and Holloway should know better. He could equally be accused of hating evangelicals. Some extremists may be, for sure, ‘homophobic’ in the popular understanding of the term. But most evangelicals I know do not remotely hate gay people. There are countless evangelicals who believe that homosexual practice is a sin (because the Bible appears to teach so), but who have a genuine love for gay people.

One further point - Holloway clearly has a strong aversion to religious people having a certainty about their faith - particularly evangelicals. And yet he himself has a certainty about numerous spiritual issues - that women should be eligible for ordination, that homosexual practice is absolutely acceptable, etc. Holloway states these things here without feeling any need to justify them. Yet he accuses evangelicals for the black and white stance they take on so many things - even though they do seek to justify them - by biblical teaching. Now, whether we accept such biblical arguments is another matter. Surely at the very least, to believe something because the Bible appears to teach it is very valid indeed. Holloway thinks otherwise, apparently having little regard for what scripture teaches.

Oh, and he also has a certainty that miracles cannot and do not occur. Forget all the evidence amassed by Christian testimonies from all over the world over the centuries, of remarkable answers to prayer and miraculous intervention (some, but not all of it, perhaps exaggerated), including stories of people rising from the dead. Holloway's mind is completely closed to this - because he has already decided they can't happen. Thus Christ simply cannot have risen from the dead in any real, significant sense.

Despite these flaws, ‘Leaving Alexandria’ is a most interesting read, and I simply couldn't put it down until I had reached the last page. What impressed me more than anything - apart from his intellect, with which I was already familiar, was his seeming modesty. Again and again he makes note of his own faults - misgivings he really didn't have to tell us about - we wouldn't have been any the wiser. He comes over as a genuinely humble guy, and I really admire that facet of him, as I do various other attributes, such as his total honesty about his doubts. He seems quite relaxed just being himself, and not trying to live up to the image we might have of a Bishop. Yet ultimately, it's a pity he never manages to find the God he has spent so much of his life ardently pursuing.......

Tom Lennie: October 2019

Dr Werner Bucklin "An Incredible God: China and her Encounter with God" (CreateSpace) 

I bought ‘An Incredible God’, mainly because I had heard that the author had inside information about Brother Yun - the 'Heavenly Man'. I was at times shocked, at times bemused by what I read. Yun was gracious enough to give Burklin a two-hour interview. Burklin does nothing but bring defamation to Yun’s name. He makes numerous charges against him – saying that the miracle stories in his book are all fabrications – lies essentially. But he provides absolutely no evidence whatsoever for this most serious charge. He even becomes quite ridiculous at some points – not least when he says that he looked into Yun’s eyes, and observed his body movements, and got the strong feeling that his book was full of lies!!

His main charge against him is that his stories cannot be true because they sound too much like the miracles in the Bible. (Burklin doesn’t tell the reader whether he actually believes the Bible miracles). Imagine it – Yun’s life resembles the biblical pattern of life too much! I’ve never heard anyone make this claim before. Presumably, then, he doesn’t believe that anyone can receive physical healing, since that would sound too much like Jesus healing someone?

But then he says that he cannot accept Yun’s testimony that he fasted for 78 days – without food AND water – because it is too different from the biblical story. It doesn’t sound a highly compelling argument. Having said that, I do confess, I also find the possibility of going 78 days without water really difficult to accept. Maybe it's just my own lack of faith, but it truly stretches my credulity). Burklin further states that Yun’s testimony of memorising a lot of Scripture in 28 days is also impossible – because He was unable to do it!

Burklin says it would be impossible for Yun to escape from prison, or to escape from China – because of the tight security controls. Mr Burklin seems to fail to understand the point of miracles. A miracle is something that is, by its very nature impossible, or at least highly unlikely by normal means. It would not be a miracle otherwise. Of course the Frankfurt airport police said it would be impossible for Yun to get in without a true passport. They do not believe in miracles. Every true believer does.

Burklin mentions the criticism of Samuel Lamb, another well-known church leader in China. But he provides no evidence whatsoever from Lamb that proves Yun’s story is not authentic. In actual fact, Lamb has never even met Yun. He says Yun has ‘disturbed’ the Church in China. But he doesn’t tell us in what way. Most would agree that, on the contrary, Yun has blessed the Church worldwide immensely.

The Heavenly Man’ has blessed countless thousands of believers all over the world. My own life has been deeply impacted by it. Burklin's criticisms are bordering on the slanderous. He needs to provide solid evidence that Yun is a fraud – or else get on his knees and repent.

Tom Lennie: January 2020

The Turning is an evangelistic campaign that was begun in Reading, UK in 2016 by the local Gate Church, having been imported from the States (where it was introduced by controversial ‘revivalist’, Rodney Howard Browne). Following a prescribed method of street outreach, a total of 1,850 people was said to have accepted the invitation to pray to accept Christ over a four-week period in the Berkshire town. It was seen as a miraculous response. Based on these results, the Turning has become a massive national and international initiative, with hundreds of (mainly charismatic) churches all over the country being involved. So far in Scotland, The Turning has done its rounds in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

There are a number of positive aspects to the Turning. Not least is the fact that it challenges believers to step beyond the safety of their cosy fellowships and reach out to a world that is spiritually dying. It is firing believers with enthusiasm to share their faith with those who know nothing of Christ and his message of salvation. And it encourages churches of differing streams to come together, encourage each other, and work as a team. But while one cannot but applaud such heart-desire to share the gospel, the methodology used appears to be somewhat suspect. 

In a report given at a meeting I attended, it was stated that as many as one third of the 1,850 people that made decisions have subsequently become associated with churches and are going on in their faith. Such proportion would be any evangelist’s dream come true! A third works out at just over 600 extra church-goers – which would be a massive boost to Reading’s congregations in such a short time.

I’ve had contact with someone on the leadership team of a Baptist church in Reading, and he said that 2, 3 or 4 people have been added to some churches across the city as a result of the campaign. Nothing remotely approaching 600, itself less than a third of the 1,850 figure. And yet the entire national Turning initiative is based purely on the ‘phenomenal’ success of the supposed mighty ‘outpouring’ of the Spirit on Reading in 2016, sweeping powerfully across the town.

And this is part of the problem - the significant hype that has accompanied the campaign. No true move of the Spirit requires hype. Where you find a lot of puffed-up talk in regard to a spiritual awakening, it’s a tell-tale sign there was no genuine revival in the first place. And the Turning was reported by its own leaders as a great spiritual awakening. A Christian friend of mine who has lived in Reading for years told me he had never heard of the Turning till I recently asked him about it. To this day he knows no one who claims to have come to Christ through it.

The main operational concern with the initiative is the near obsession with clocking up ‘Decisions’. When I looked, the Turning’s website said nothing about the number of people being discipled and joining churches over time. Its focus seems purely directed on the number of decisions made on the street. Christ calls for a deeper response – a response of the heart. This is not so easily ascertainable. It’s not that a decision is in itself wrong – but it cannot be taken as synonymous with a true conversion.

Yet the Turning seems infatuated with them. On a daily basis, Yinka Oyekan, founder of the initiative, inserted in huge bold type on his Facebook page the number of decisions recorded each day of the campaign in Scotland’s capital city. Scores of his followers exulted enthusiastically over such amazing move of the Spirit – signs of a great spiritual movement. I’ve tried to politely engage with Yinka by email and on Facebook – thanking him for his heart for evangelism, and sharing a few of my concerns; hoping to receive a constructive reply. But he refused to engage with me in any form, and quickly proceeded to block me completely.

Budding evangelists are required to stick closely to a prescribed script. Following a short introduction, three short Scripture verses are quoted in succession. A prayer is offered, during which the person is invited to repeat a version of the ‘sinner’s prayer’. Emphasis is placed throughout on being quick. From the opening ‘hi’, the entire process can be over in a few minutes. The person continues on his way – now apparently a new creature in Christ; and another ‘decision’ is added to the various social media outlets.

A common response is that even if just one or two people prove to have genuinely come to Christ through such strategy, then the whole campaign will have been worth it, because just one person’s salvation is utterly priceless. Certainly we should rejoice over any genuine conversion. But how many people might we also be turning away from Christ by our instant-results methodology. Someone makes an instant ‘decision’, without remotely considering the cost (because no one told them there would be any) – leading the street-evangelist to confirm they are now a new creation. There may be no change whatsoever in their lives, yet they may go through life thinking they must be a Christian, because they were told that they were, owing to the ‘decision’ they once made. Alternatively, knowing their ‘decision’ didn’t lead to any positive change, some may well become cynical towards the gospel. Hardened towards it, because they once ‘tried it’ and it proved a complete sham.

And it’s not just a Calvinist / Arminian issue. Certainly anyone with a Reformed theology would baulk at these methods. They would undoubtedly lead the likes of Robert Murray McCheyne, Charles Spurgeon and Martin Lloyd-Jones (three personal heroes of mine) to turn in their very graves. But such easy-believe-ism would be equally deplored by a great many men regarded as Arminian. Leonard Ravenhill, David Wilkerson, Duncan Campbell and scores more deplored such quick-fix methods, each stressing the essence of a complete turning from sin. I mentioned the Turning to a full-time evangelist-friend recently and he said he was appalled by the approach.

It appears to be the infatuation of the present-day Church to get instant results that leads to this corruption. We ought dare not to cheapen the gospel in this way. Leonard Ravenhill calls it plucking unripe fruit. We’re trying to get folk saved who don’t even know they’re lost. We need to leave the Holy Spirit to do His work – in His time.

Jesus said regarding a person’s character, ‘Ye shall know them by their fruit’. He never said, ‘Ye shall know them by their decision’, or even, ‘Ye shall know them by their sincerity’. It takes considerable time after seeds are sown for fruit to appear – far more time than modern day evangelism is willing to wait, apparently. American bible teacher, Paul Washer is so strong in his opposition to decisionism that he terms it ‘idolatry’, because it encourages people to put faith in a decision made rather than in Christ himself and his finished work on the cross.

I long to see the people of my neighbourhood and city come into a true personal knowledge of Christ. It won’t be by following some quick-fix strategy, but by obeying the word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit for our own precious locality. To the extent that the Turning is inspiring Christians to get out there and share the gospel within their needy communities it’s a positive thing. But how we do so is very important. I do believe the harvest is ripe. We need to be bold, and be ready to become the answers to our own prayers for our neighbourhoods. Lord, send the workers into the harvest field – following the leading of Your Spirit all the way.

Tom Lennie: October 2019

Steph Macleod “Gold (Steph Macleod Music, 2018)

We’re accustomed to Steph Macleod sharing his soul in song. On his striking debut album, 'Light in the Darkest of Nights', he openly exposed the brokenness and humiliation of months spent as a homeless man on Edinburgh's cold streets. 'Gold', his third studio album, sees the Scottish singer tackle another deeply emotive issue, the stigma of mental health recovery. This gathering of ten home-grown tunes was inspired by Steph's own journey of restoration. Lyrically, it reveals him as a psalmist in the true biblical sense. Songs penned from a place of darkness, vulnerability and despair; Steph cries out to God for mercy. We see him revel in the grace lavished upon him, leading in turn to an outpouring of gratitude and praise. While naturally steeped in the blues, Steph effortlessly treads well outside such musical comfort zone, and as with his previous CD, 'Kingdom Come', shows remarkable competence in a range of styles; from acoustic folk to electronica; from swinging gospel to Americana.

Previously unrecorded, "Grace" is one of Steph’s older tunes, resurrected here to feature some rap intervention from Scottish rapper, MPFree. "Old John Barleycorn" comes, ala Rend Collective, in upbeat folk-rock form and calls for a strong stance against the wiles of the Enemy. Typically Steph, several tracks begin gently, rising in intensity as they progress - such is true of the title-track, a stripped-down beauty. Meanwhile, the pounding "Soul Searching" reveals Steph at his meanest and rockiest, with blistering, guitar-drenched chorus. And then there's the heart-warming, "Love Changes Everything", which ably brings out Steph’s soulful voice and an irresistible gospel chorus; and the folksy "Ever Golden", with its undulating, delectable melody.

Steph oozes song-writing ability and gutsy, raw vocal prowess. This, combined with uncommon musical diversity and depth of emotion makes for one impressive recording. It’s an inevitable pun, but this album truly is pure gold.

Tom Lennie: February 2019

Community Festival of Christmas Trees”, Orphir Kirk, Christmas 2018

Orkney plays host to a stunning array of local festivals – almost certainly more, relative to its population, than any county in Scotland, if not the whole of the UK. In particular, music festivals abound – the Orkney Folk and St Magnus Festivals are the most international among a host of other musical celebrations – including the increasingly popular Orkney Rock, Blues and Jazz Festivals.

Music apart, Orkney Festivals are far from scarce – with as varied events as a Science Festival (international in scope), a Bible Festival, a Drama Festival, a Storytelling Festival, a Book Festival, a Nature Festival and even a Sheep Festival (North Ronaldsay) occurring at various times throughout the year.

Nearly all of these events take place in the spring, summer or autumn months. In distinction to these, and especially to the mid-summer St Magnus Festival, a more recent Orkney festival has arisen in recent years during mid-winter. This is the Community Festival of Christmas Trees, hosted by the Orphir & Stenness kirk, now in its third year of operation.

Meticulously organised and run by devoted church volunteers, this novel project – the only such event known in the north of Scotland - acts as a wonderful coming together of nearly all the social, arts and sports groups that exist throughout Orphir and Stenness, as well as of the two parish Primary Schools and a growing number of remarkably gifted individuals who feel up for a bit of a challenge. Participating groups include the 1st Orphir Guides, the Orphir Nursery, the local Book, Flower and Badminton Clubs, the Stenness Diamond Club and the Orphir Lifeboat Guild.

This year’s theme was Books – and what a remarkable ‘library’ of well over twenty book-trees was soon to emerge. Titles chosen reflect the impressive and diverse range of literary interest among the teams involved, with several little-known delights arising. A number of sub-themes were apparent, however. Several titles had an Orkney or north-Scotland theme (‘Orkney Shore’ by Robert Rendall, ‘The Wey Hid Wis’ by the Stenness Diamond Club and ‘The Silver Darlings’ by Neil Gunn). Various others had an overtly Christmas or children’s theme, while still others were literary classics – e.g. books by R. L. Stevenson, Roald Dahl and J. K. Rowling.

The huge amount of imagination, time and physical effort put into creating each tree was obvious to anyone viewing the conifer display – each one being notable in its own right. Absolute standouts included ‘The Silver Darlings’ and ‘Treasure Island’, whose displays were also so abundant they spilled out from their trees to copiously occupy surrounding spaces. Equally appealing were ‘Little Drummer Girl’ and ‘One Snowy Night’ (a Stenness School delight, which proudly sat atop the church organ, and extended in every direction around it). One of the most prettily-decorated trees was that created to the theme of the Church Hymnary – suitably, the work of the Orphir Church Choir – showing that this team’s artistic talents are not restricted to their outstanding vocal harmonies.

As if the twenty-plus decorated trees weren’t enough to overwhelm the curious visitor, there was plenty more to charm, challenge and entertain. Located in the entrance foyer, for example, was a 'Mind and Memory Tree'– people could write names or messages about folk unable to be with them for any reason over the festive period, and hang them on the tree. There was also a short paper-quiz, based on individual entries. And there was even a sub-festival – a local community knitting project created around Noah’s Ark. With two massive knitted arks, attended by scores of finely-crafted paired animals, from armadillos to giraffes, from elephants to snakes, this was a striking exhibition in its own right. On top of all this, teas, coffees and scrumptious home-bakes were on offer in the kirk hall, all washed down with hearty conversation.

The Christmas Tree Festival is an extraordinary coming together of two large rural communities in a creative and most of all, Fun manner, and in the spirit of harmony and a healthy dose of festive goodwill. The festival is of course open to the public-at-large (for opening times next year, see local press). Will it soon become as firmly established in the local calendar as some of the other Orkney festivals? To many it already has. And judging by the enthusiasm shown by those involved in this year’s extravaganza, signs are the momentum is gathering pace. Undoubtedly, this is a family Festival with a difference to brighten up the very darkest of winter days.

Tom Lennie: January 2019

Raheem Kassam “No Go Zones – How Sharia Law Is Coming To A Neighbourhood Near You (Regnery Publishing, Washington DC, 2017).

There has been much heated debate in recent years regarding the extent and effects of Islamic extremism across Europe, with Donald Trump being vilified for daring to suggest that Sweden was experiencing major problems with its steady influx of Muslim immigrants. The idea that there are actual No-Go zones in various European cities – Muslim-dominated districts where Sharia law can prevail and from which the police stay well clear - has caused even more contention, many liberal commentators insisting that such ‘zones’ are purely a figment of the ‘far right’s’ imagination.

Both the title and sub-title of the book are deliberately (and perhaps unnecessarily) provocative. The author – a former senior advisor to Nigel Farage and editor of the Breibart website – is himself an ex-Muslim, being brought up in the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam. In this his first book, Kassam takes on the role of investigative journalist, as he makes a personal tour of the most potent Islamic community-strongholds across the Western world – or at least across Europe and America.

I was surprised that the Kolenkit area in Amsterdam isn’t given a mention, nor one of the Muslim-majority districts of Rotterdam. Instead, Kassam restricts his European survey to four other countries - France (various Parisian suburbs, such as Aulnay-sois-Bois, and the southern-French town of Beziers), Sweden (particularly Malmo, but also Stockholm), Belgium (the north Brussels district of Molenbeek, home to one of the surviving, alleged terrorists who took part in the November 2015 Paris attacks which killed 130 people and injured hundreds more), and the United Kingdom. Here attention is focused on the Yorkshire town of Dewsbury, and on various parts of London. Crossing the Atlantic, the areas the author is concerned with in America are Hamtramck, Michigan (which he terms as ‘essentially an Islamic colony in the Midwest’), and the Californian city of San Bernardino – quite different communities to those investigated by Erick Stakelbeck in his 2011 book, ‘The Terrorist Next Door’. 

Kassam discusses the varying degrees to which these districts truly are ‘No Go Zones’ – clearly not wholly so, since he himself entered each of them relatively freely, although he was careful in his movements. He converses with local residents of differing ethnic backgrounds, as well as local policemen (whose anonymous testimonies often contradict official police reports), and other intelligent parties. Through these, and his own insights, Kassam provides evidence that in each of these districts infidels are made to feel distinctly unwelcome, a subculture of resentment is fostered against the very nation that hosts them (and very often houses, clothes and feeds them), every effort is made to ensure that Islamic law governs, and extremism is growing at an alarming rate.

While the intent is clearly to shock and disturb, Kossam does provide a degree of balance. He is first to admit that the areas discussed in the book are not aflame (for the most part) with radical Islam. You won’t get flogged if you enter them, and you’re unlikely to encounter screeching Islamist imams on their street corners. As is stated in the Foreword, often the people who inhabit such districts are largely victims of their own community leaders and agents whose very desire is to create no-go zones, and to drive a wedge between migrant communities and native populations.

It’s a fast-moving, compelling read, which further discusses the degree to which socio-economic factors play a role in extremism, as well as the part played by Western media and governments, who constantly downplay the reality of the tensions within such ‘problem’ communities. All in all, a fascinating read.

Tom Lennie: December 2018