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Greenbelt 2012: Talks despite torrents

25 August 2012

by staff reporters

© Drew McLellan

The rain hasn't been the only thing that has descended on Cheltenham Racecourse this weekend. The crowds began arriving yesterday for the start of the 39th Greenbelt Festival.

On Friday, the Revd Dave Tomlinson ( Features), author of The Post-Evangelical, kicked the talks programme off in the Jerusalem venue with a talk based on his new book, How to be a Bad Christian - and a Better Human Being.

The term "Christian" is better thought of as a verb than a noun, he said. "A way of life rather than a badge to wear." Jesus never called on people to believe particular things; he invited people to follow him.

Speaking on the Power of Delusion, on Friday evening, the Revd Tony Campolo, a US minister and speaker, laid down a challenge of his own to his audience and the Church, to speak with authority, not power.

Jesus gave up his divine power because love and power are in an inverse relationship, he argued: the more you love someone, the more you have to give up any use of power over them. The Church must live out the Christian life, then speak with the authority that gives, he said, rather than coercing politicians with the power of a bloc religious vote. 

On the main stage, on Friday evening, veteran Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn (left) ( Cover story) turned the arena into his living room.

It was remarkable to see one man and an electric-acoustic guitar fill the space with such confidence. But then Cockburn is very much at home at Greenbelt, having played here on and off since 1987.

Church Times columnist Canon Giles Fraser (below) drew a large crowd to Jerusalem on Saturday morning, for a talk on economic growth. Canon Fraser reflected on the causes of the financial crisis, and the reasons for the Church's "lame response", which had too often been "bland" or "colourful", and "not. . . rooted in a knowledge of the financial system". 

At a time when the Church of England is tiptoeing round the question of women's leadership, the Revd Dr Kate Coleman strode into the debate, on Saturday morning.

A leader in her own right, with over 20 years' experience of pastoral responsibility (she is also chairs of the Evangelical Alliance Council), she talked of her own experience as a black woman trying to establish herself in a male-dominated Christian world. Her closing challenge was to: "Discover your calling and get on with the job".

Professor Sir Diarmaid MacCulloch gave, in just 30 minutes, an admirably concise summation of his 1000-plus page book, and multi-part BBC TV series on the history of Christianity. He said that, just as the Bible could not be described as a book, but was more of a library, so Christianity could not be considered as a single entity.

Christianity can only live on if it "remains a questioning faith," he said. "A sentence with a question, means there has to be another sentence. With a full stop, there is no more. It means death."

Church Times is putting together a special 12-page Greenbelt Supplement, which will be available free of charge with the next issue.

Talks are available to preview and to buy at the Greenbelt website.

There is an exclusive Greenbelt offer at the gbooks store, being run by Church House Bookshop. Spend £25 at gbooks and get a free 13-week subscription to Church Times or 5 issues of Third Way. Or, subscribe for 13 issues of Church Times, or 5 issues of Third Way,  and get £5 to spend in gbooks.

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