Christian Today Digest - Autumn 2012

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From:-
TORCH TRUST, Torch House, Torch Way, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, LE16 9HL, U.K.
Telephone: +44(0)1858 438260, Fax: +44(0)1858 438275, email: info@torchtrust.org
The Torch Trust for the Blind, registered charity number 1095904.

Contents

Welcome!

Welcome to this autumn issue of Christian Today Digest - with what we trust will be an interesting, encouraging and challenging mix of news from a Christian perspective.

Here are just a few things to bring to your notice before we get into the magazine.

We are approaching the time of year when we hold our annual celebration of thanksgiving to God for all he has done through Torch in the past year.

Details are as follows:

Do come and join us. For directions go to: www.torchtrust.org/downloads

How does a Christmas freebie sound to you? Every year, we offer a free leaflet for you to use yourself or pass on to a friend who may be wondering about the real meaning of Christmas. This year, the freebie is Christmas - What's it all about? Christmas is a festival whose origin is rooted in recorded history. It came about because Christians wanted to regularly celebrate the birth of Jesus. Indeed, the word Christmas is made up of two shorter words, which mean the celebration of Christ (God's chosen one). It is available on audio CD, giant print and braille, order code 7995.

If you'd like some daily reflections during advent, we now have a wide selection in our free lending library. Please call 01858 438266 or email library@torchtrust.org if you'd like to borrow one.

Finally a reminder of our Book Week mentioned in the previous issue of this magazine. This takes place at Torch Holiday & Retreat Centre, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex. The date is: November 5th-9th (Monday to Friday). Cost: £250. To book phone: 01273 832 282 or email: holidays@torchtrust.org

God bless you all.

Jill Ferraby and the editors

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Ageing population not a problem

Leading statistician Andrew Dilnot is not concerned about Britain's ageing population. Speaking at the Keswick Convention, he said it was "peculiar" to talk of the "burden of ageing".

"The alternative to the burden of ageing is the burden of being dead," he said.

The reason for his positive attitude? His belief that time on this earth is time that can be spent doing something useful.

"Our earthly lives are good things: we have work to do while we are here. It is a marvellous thing that people are living longer," he told Christians at the Convention.

"We easily forget how flexible we can be. It is true that the number of those who are aged 65 or more is going to rise over the next twenty to thirty years.

"But it has also increased massively over the last hundred years. And that hasn't led to our economy and society falling apart."

He noted that in 1901, there were 61,000 people aged 85 or over. Today, there are 25 times as many - 1.5 million.

The change is "astonishing", he admitted, but it is also one that society has "adapted to".

"We have found appropriate ways round it. We have developed pension regimes, health services that provide the right sorts of health care," he said. "This astonishing change that we have experienced in the last one hundred years - far more dramatic than anything we are about to see - has been, by and large, coped with."

He said it should come as no surprise to people that we are living longer.

"Part of the creation mandate was that we were put here to look after the world," he asserted. "There are lots of examples in the biblical world of the way in which God's people have changed - going to Egypt, the exile, rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem."

While some argue that the country cannot afford to have such a huge elderly population, Mr Dilnot said this was the "wrong way" of approaching the issue and that it may mean spending less on something else.

"Of course we hear stories of bad care, of care going wrong, but there is a huge amount of astonishingly marvellous care, delivered by loving, dedicated people, sacrificing their time and their energy to look after other people," he said.

"Some of that care is provided by family and friends," he continued, "but much of it is care provided in formal settings, by people who are being paid. Much of it is touching and a marvellous example of the love people have for one another - and that is the love that we can celebrate, because we know it is a reflection of God's love for all of us."

He admitted that it made no financial sense to care for the frail but added that the motive behind care provision should not be profit.

"We do a huge amount that makes no sense at all if we think that financial self-interest is what is driving the world," he said. "It does not make the economy work more efficiently, to look after the care of an elderly person who is unlikely to go back into the paid labour market. We do it because it is right ... these actions reflect God's love for every single individual."

The lack of financial support to cover the cost of care was making people "very, very frightened", he continued.

He suggested Christians had a responsibility to respond to the need by building caring communities.

"The biblical record again and again tells the story of God trying to help people to set up appropriate communities," he said. "I think it is clear that community, making it possible for individuals not to be on their own when they face enormous risks, is part of the way we need to set up the world. The current situation leads to enormous fear - if you are getting increasingly frail and may need care, you want to be able to plan, to organise yourself. But at the moment, you can't do that because you have no idea what the worst case scenario might be."

He said the current system in England, where those with assets above the value of £23,250 receive no support, was in desperate need of replacing.

"We have a system that positively encourages people to cheat, to give their assets away to their children, so they appear not to have any wealth when it comes to the means test. Any system that encourages cheating is surely a bad system."

The Care Quality Commission recommended in 2011 that a cap should be put on the amount any one individual should have to pay for their own social care in old age.

"In many ways," he said, "we have the state reflecting Christian values. We can do better."

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Bishop hails Olympics "goodwill legacy"

The Bishop of Chelmsford has praised the Olympic Games for the positive impact they have had on community life.

The Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell welcomed the way in which the Olympics and the Paralympics have regenerated a deprived area of East London.

"The vast and impressive buildings of the Olympic Park and the Olympic Village will indeed bring much needed regeneration. But I am beginning to wonder whether the Olympic legacy may bring a further change as well: a legacy of good will," he said.

The bishop praised the "heroic" achievements of the Olympics volunteers who helped to make the Games happen.

He said: "Here is a big society worked out in the astonishing little details of selfless charity and kindness. And there are indeed hundreds and hundreds of volunteers. And the example of their simple, cheerful goodness is very inspiring. Last week I also met a 17 year old who is on duty at Stansted airport every other morning. There is nothing very glamorous about this. But she wanted to be part of it, part of something bigger than herself. She wanted to do something. So she is spending her summer welcoming strangers."

Bishop Cottrell said many people had rediscovered a desire to celebrate with their neighbours through the Games.

He praised the efforts of churches that staged free community events, including a live screening of the opening ceremony in a Dagenham park that was attended by an estimated 10,000 people.

"We have expressed our own need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. It all just seemed too important, too special to watch on our own," he said.

While the Games were a huge logistical exercise, the bishop said they might also have been one of the "largest outpourings of good will".

"This is an Olympic legacy worth holding onto: the desire to serve my neighbour and the desire to celebrate with my neighbour. It is with these things that communities are built," he said.

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Bruce Forsyth rejects "abrasive" TV humour

TV legend Sir Bruce Forsyth has spoken of his enjoyment in entertaining the nation's families after more than 70 years in television.

Sir Bruce was interviewed recently by Premier Christian Radio's new child presenters, 10-year-old Matt Westray and his older sister Emma, 12.

Asked if his reputation for good clean fun had anything to do with his faith, he replied: "What a lovely thing to say. But, you see, I always wanted to appeal to a family audience. I don't like the abrasive humour that can be seen on TV these days. You can be funny without being dirty."

Asked if life had changed since his knighthood, Sir Bruce said: "I haven't really changed at all but, if anything, I've got a bit more humble since I received the honour."

He told Matt and Emma that he preferred being called Sir Bruce as opposed to Mr Forsyth as he found it to be friendlier.

Matt and Emma both attend church in Croydon and have been hosting Premier's Inspirational Breakfast show with John Pantry for the last week after winning a competition to become the station's first kid presenters. The pair specifically asked for an interview with Sir Bruce, who is one of their showbiz idols. During the ten minute interview, the 84-year-old said his favourite catchphrase was "Nice to see you - to see you, nice".

"It's so friendly," he said. "I still get people saying it when I'm walking down the street. It's an introduction that can be used by anyone."

He said he owed his successful career to his parents, particularly his mum who would travel with him two hours each way for his tap dancing lessons.

"I think they probably had more ambition than me. I owe them a lot," he said.

Asked what he might have been if he hadn't gone into show business, Sir Bruce recalled that he had been a proficient teleprinter operator when he was in the Air Force, just after the war, typing messages at 104 words a minute.

"I liked that," he said. "It was really very interesting work and I was quite good at it."

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Challenges of communities without sanitation

The Archbishop of York has spoken of the challenges facing Ugandan communities suffering from a lack of sanitation and limited access to clean water.

Dr John Sentamu made the comments following a visit to a WaterAid project in Uganda earlier this month. He toured the Kalerwe community, located around 4km north of Kampala, where WaterAid has worked with local partners, including the African Evangelical Enterprise, to build rain water tanks, public toilets and pre-paid water meters.

WaterAid has teamed up with local partners across Uganda to deliver water and improve sanitation in remote or difficult to reach communities. The communities face challenges in securing clean water and proper sanitation as a result of many issues such as land rights, overcrowding, and poor refuse management.

The Archbishop of York said the situation in communities like Kalerwe was "desperate".

He said: "The challenges are tough, very tough for the local people. There are 350 people in this community using just two latrines. The situation is that the town runs out of water when the rains don't come in time. People are using unclean water which is collected in jerry cans. This is too difficult to imagine for most. I am glad the African Evangelical Enterprise is involved, telling people of the love of God but that love of God has also a practical implication."

The Archbishop appealed to Christians to consider supporting WaterAid's work during Harvest.

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Cycling hero returns to Cardiff

A cycling hero returned to Cardiff in August having competed in his own Olympic challenge.

Beginning in Athens nearly three weeks earlier, Malcolm raised over £6000 for Amelia Trust Farm, Barry. This working farm, set in 160 acres of countryside in the Vale of Glamorgan, offers a calming and therapeutic environment for vulnerable and disadvantaged young people. Through fun and work-based activities, young people are empowered to participate, learn new skills and develop potential.

Malcolm's fitness and endurance were tested to the limit. Attacks by stray dogs in Greece, non-existent cycle paths, the departure of two team members due to ill health in Italy and soaring temperatures would have tested the most elite of athletes, but Malcolm kept on pedalling.

On day 12 of his ordeal, Malcolm blogged: "Still in Lugano. Last night's hills wiped me out. No sleep. Can't face sitting on the saddle. I will refuel and head for the Alps later on. Everywhere hurts but I still feel positive."

Malcolm's determination to finish the challenge and get back stemmed from a firm belief in Amelia Trust's vision.

"Preparation for long-term independence is key for a successful transition to adulthood. The money raised by this cycle challenge will help build an Independent Living Centre (ILC) at Amelia Trust Farm, as part of a project to teach crucial life skills to disadvantaged young people.

"Areas such as budgeting, household management, healthy living, and social skills will form the core syllabus; as well as education and any additional training necessary for living in the community and participating in community activities."

With its Methodist background, the Amelia Trust Farm was created in 1991 after a donation by local benefactors Bob and Ethel Huggard and a vision shared by founder Rev John Stacy-Marks with a group of volunteers who formed the Council of Management.

To help meet the £10,000 target, please text "AMEL14 £5" to 70070 or donate online via www.ameliatrust.org.uk

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Faith in the garden

The Church of England has got behind a new community garden project in Durham.

The Shildon Community Garden is situated near the railway museum and includes raised beds, a compost toilet and an educational building for local children. The garden was formally opened by the Bishop of Jarrow, the Rt Rev Mark Bryant. He praised the way in which the project had involved people of all ages.

"It's clearly enabling people to do all sorts of things that a year ago they would never have imagined were possible," he said. "The more we can bring people together the less loneliness there is and people start to discover that they can achieve things; and that generally makes our communities healthier and happier places for everybody."

The garden is part of the "Faith in the Community" programme, which is backed by the Diocese of Durham and aims to increase the Church of England's involvement in local community life.

Bernadette Askins, the Diocesan Faith in the Communities project co-ordinator, said: "This was one of the first Faith in the Community projects and it is just brilliant to see where they are five years on. They have worked so hard at it with so many people from the community working with them. It's been absolutely fantastic."

In addition to the Church, support has come from local schools and some of the funding has been provided by Awards for All and the Area Action Partnership.

Paula Nelson was on the committee that worked with other volunteers to create the garden.

She said: "It is absolutely fantastic. I have wanted it for a long time for children and vulnerable people to come down and just have some fun and learn about allotments because, when I was a little girl, my granddad taught me how to plant and I want kids to learn how to do it."

St John's Church in Shildon played a key role in developing the project.

David Tomlinson, Curate at St John's, said: "It's about empowering people to discover gifts and talents that they didn't know they had. It's about learning together, breaking down inter-generational gaps and children discovering skills that their grandparents have.

"Sadly, these days with tiny pocket-sized gardens and busy lives, gardening can be neglected. It also allows church to be what church is called to be, a light in the community which allows people to see something of who they are in Christ because of discovering their innate gifts and abilities."

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Former atheist to hit the road for Christian Aid

A former atheist and cycling enthusiast is gearing up for the ride of his life in support of Christian Aid.

Brett Hall, from Somerset, has been an enthusiastic follower of the Tour de France since he was a child. His wife was a regular churchgoer but he had never shown any interest in the Christian faith himself until a prescription for athlete's foot had some unusual side effects.

"I always thought of myself as an agnostic atheist. I went to the doctor's with athlete's foot but within two days of taking the medication I was having suicidal thoughts, bouts of depression, anxiety and panic attacks," he explains.

Brett came off the medication but the mental anguish continued and in desperation, he started saying the Lord's Prayer - and that had an effect.

"During that time," says Brett, "the only thing that took the edge off it was saying the Lord's Prayer. It became a bit of a mantra. I was saying it up to 150 times a day. After a while I realised I needed more of this, and my wife Becky suggested I come with her to church. It was brilliant. I found strength, courage, love and friendship and church has become a big thing for me. I met some great people and I put my recovery down to the love I received from God, my church and my community."

Brett's new-found faith not only brought him back from the mental brink, it also brought his family closer together.

"We now go to church as a family," he said. "My eldest child Joseph, who's three, is in Sunday school and we also have Sofia, who's 15 months. My depression coincided with my wife being pregnant with Joseph. She has been amazing and had to put up with being pregnant for the first time as well as my illness."

As a recent Christian, Brett is constantly struck by new discoveries on his walk of faith.

"I have a childlike awe of it. Often I find my breath taken away. Becky's been a Christian since she was a child and she keeps telling me this is all part of it. I am still careful about getting too emotionally up and down and I can tell if I'm close to another episode, but it doesn't affect me like it did. In the past I had preconception of church as a cold, grey building with a guy pointing at me telling me how bad I was. But it hasn't been anything like that. People were so welcoming and now I want to give something back."

Now the 30-year-old is looking to raise funds for Christian Aid after signing up for the development agency's 150-mile cycling challenge.

The Cathedrals to Coast ride takes place from September 22 to 23 and will see cyclists travel from London through the New Forest to Weymouth, en route passing cathedrals in Guildford, Winchester and Salisbury as well as Mottisfont Abbey, Corfe Castle and Lulworth Castle.

Brett was inspired to take up the challenge and do something positive for the church after seeing fellow Christians at Castle Cary Methodist Church raise money for Christian Aid.

Bradley Wiggins' recent triumph in the Tour de France will no doubt provide some additional inspiration to see him complete the challenge.

"I've been mad for the Tour de France since the 80s, much to the annoyance of my wife," he says. "I got into cycling through my dad who turned to riding a bike after a collapsed vertebra in his back stopped him from running. I want to give something back and doing this bike ride to raise money for an important cause is a great way to do that."

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Positive impact of religion on mental health

Researchers in the United States have concluded that religious people have better mental health than non-believers. The team was led by Brick Johnstone from Missouri University and included researchers at Samuel Merritt University in Pennsylvania and Via Cristi Hospital in Kansas.

The team looked at the results of three studies that interviewed Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants.

The participants were asked about their spirituality, mental and physical health, and personality traits. They found that across the faiths, those who considered themselves more spiritual tended to have better mental health and lower levels of neuroticism.

Researcher, Professor Daniel Cohen, said that spiritual beliefs may act as a "coping device" to help people deal with stress. He said: "Our prior research shows that the mental health of people recovering from different medical conditions, such as cancer, stroke, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury, appears to be related significantly to positive spiritual beliefs and especially congregational support and spiritual interventions."

Professor Cohen suggested that the improvement in mental well-being was linked to the way in which religion makes people more focused on others and feel like they are part of the world.

"With increased spirituality," he said, "people reduce their sense of self and feel a greater sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe. What was interesting was that frequency of participation in religious activities or the perceived degree of congregational support was not found to be significant in the relationships between personality, spirituality, religion and health. Health workers may also benefit from learning how to minimise the negative side of a patient's spirituality, which may manifest itself in the tendency to view misfortune as a divine curse."

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Service for peace marks year since riots

A Service for Peace took place at All Saints Church in Peckham on 5 August to mark one year since the riots that shocked the world.

The unprecedented violence on the streets of English towns and cities left many people wondering what would drive the nation's young people to such levels of destruction and theft.

Yet amid the chaos, stories of communities coming together to support each other and clean up the mess inspired as much as the violence had angered. Churches opened their doors during the riots and went onto the streets to support the emergency services and scared locals.

A year on, churches are as committed as ever to being agents of change in their communities.

Youth charity XLP and All Saints church in Peckham held a service in the immediate aftermath. This year's service saw the charity and church "restate their commitment to peace in the inner city". They highlighted some of the challenges facing inner city youths and shared some of the inspiring stories of young people who have rejected gangs and rioting as an option.

Patrick Regan OBE said: "Last year's Service for Peace was incredibly moving. People laughed and cried as some of the most heart-rending, emotional and uplifting stories were told, displaying the best attributes of community. The service this year will continue to pray for peace, but we will also look at ways we as individuals and organisations can bring hope for the future to our communities and young people - giving them something to live for. If your life is shaped only by a combination of poverty, poor housing, family breakdown, educational failure, crime, gangs and unemployment, then you can easily see why young people lose any hope for the future - this is why some people have written off this generation. However, I refuse to believe this is a lost generation."

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Strategic mission

by Rob James

I never expected us to have twins and I can still remember the sense of shock we felt when my wife was told "Yes, there's the second head". But I am so grateful for the experience; it might have been twice the work at times but it has proved ten times the fun, not least when they have been mistaken for one another.

And they have taken advantage of this on occasions too, even when one of them got married. It was a long, exceedingly hot day and so the groom graciously allowed his best man (twin brother) to take his place in some of the photographs, allowing a few minutes' rest! Hardly anyone noticed.

I think of my twins when I read Acts 19 because I long to see churches throughout the UK modelling themselves on the exciting missional community Paul set out to create in Ephesus.

We are living in challenging times. Stuart Murray Williams for example, has suggested that we live in the twilight zone which is the hardest place to be because people have rejected a message they mistakenly think they understand. Leslie Newbigin too, long championed the view that the paganism we're faced with today is far more resistant than pre Christian paganism because it has been born out of a rejection of Christianity; all of which has led Callum Brown to suggest that Christianity is in danger of becoming Britain's past rather than its present.

But we can take heart from what God did in Ephesus. Ephesus was the principal city of the Roman province of Asia and therefore no easy place to announce that someone other than Caesar was Lord. It also boasted a magnificent temple to the goddess Diana, one of the wonders of the ancient world and all kinds of mysterious cults and occult practices flourished there. And if that were not enough of a mountain to climb the city possessed the largest Jewish community in the area, yet another potential source of opposition to Paul's message of a crucified Messiah.

It might be helpful to remember why Paul chose to visit Ephesus in the first place: he had a strategic approach to mission and so should we. I wonder if we give sufficient thought to the tactics we should employ. We are trying to do this in Pembroke. We have decided to make no charge for anything we do for example, because the church has a reputation for wanting people's money.

We want to show our non-Christian friends that our generous God can fully resource our ministries. We have also discovered that there are lots of young families who are anxious to become better parents. We are offering to help them to do that. This affords us plenty of opportunity to talk about spirituality and values in the context of small groups, and the Lord is using this approach to build his church.

We have also realised that we need to be a confident people. Luke tells us that Paul spoke boldly about the Kingdom of God. He wasn't half-hearted and his approach was far from hesitant. Paul was convinced that Jesus was alive and would build his church; he simply had to step out in faith and challenge people to acknowledge him as their King.

I sometimes wonder why the British church has lost its confidence. We need to stop focusing on our weaknesses and fix our eyes on the risen Lord. We need to take risks and tell people that they can experience God for themselves. And we need to remind ourselves that we are far more likely to experience God as a church when we step out and engage in mission, and accept the God-sized challenges he will frequently give us.

All of which brings me to Paul's emphasis on the Holy Spirit. When he arrived in Ephesus he quickly identified a serious problem. He was introduced to a group of "disciples" but they told him that they had never heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul dealt with this immediately and the rest as they say was history. In fact Luke goes so far as to tell us that God did "extraordinary" miracles through Paul.

We may live in a post Christian age but all the evidence shows we are living at a time of deep spiritual hunger too. If any group should be demonstrating spiritual vitality it ought to be the church. This means we need to constantly be filled with and guided by the Holy Spirit. He will prove "predictably unpredictable" but we can also rely on him to exceed our expectations.

Last but not least we need to shed our judgemental, negative image. I never cease to be impressed by the way the city clerk defended Paul when he was surrounded by a baying mob. He was able to point out that Paul had not broken any laws, but he was able to go even further: he was able to assure them that Paul had not blasphemed their goddess either. The church at Ephesus then, was a church that was shaped by grace as well as truth. We would do well to remember that. Perhaps we need to spend less time telling people where they've gone wrong and more time talking about the one who got it right!

Michael Moynagh once compared the Western church to a beached whale. All we have to do, he said, is stay where we are and we will die. He's probably right. But he need not be because the more we resemble the church in Ephesus the more likely we are to grow.

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Teen Ranch round-up

Not many youngsters in Scotland enjoy the adventure of a western ranch. But for those who go to the Teen Ranch set in the countryside of Perthshire, it proves an incredible experience.

This western-themed ranch creates the setting of the American west with all its adventurous possibilities. It also offers young people their own choice of interesting and stimulating activities. There is fun and laughter, but also meaningful and thought provoking times. The Christian message is presented in a simple, clear way, combined with creativity and fun songs.

Dedicated staff and volunteers work hard to help young people gain the most from their time at Teen Ranch. Participants include people from a range of churches and ministries. Dave Glover, Associate Evangelist with OAC Ministries (Open Air Campaigners) took part in Round-Up 1, held from 1 to 7 of July.

"These young people enjoy their holiday time at camp so much," Dave says. "Everything is geared to their enjoyment, yet at the same time, they are developing social skills and learning Christian values. This year, I was working with the 11-16 year olds. Using the theme of the Olympics, I emphasised how we can be champions."

Like other OAC Evangelists, Dave uses a variety of creative object lessons to engage with young and old alike. Also, he uses audio-visuals. One of the great encouragements he noticed with this first summer camp of the year was the searching questions young people were asking.

"They come from many different backgrounds. Although many are referred from a church, others come through various organisations working with young people. These youngsters may be looking after their sick parents. Some are in care or have behavioural problems. Their needs are great and they are so open to discussion. During one evening of uplifting music and singing, there was a tremendous atmosphere. I gave an appeal. Six young people in their mid-teens came forward. Their life-changing decision can be nurtured because they have signed up to the Teen Ranch correspondence course."

Camp emphasis is on the physical, mental and spiritual development of young people. Yet this relaxed environment is geared to ensuring that the young people enjoy themselves and get the most out of a wide variety of activities. Canoeing, horse riding, group games, leather crafts and sports take place within this attractive themed setting.

"One touching aspect is the way these young people from such different backgrounds, including very troubled ones, are valued at the ranch," notes Dave. "Hard working staff and volunteers help them realise their potential because of God's love for them. That's something they take away with them."

That marks a special round-up for young people whose lives can progress to become the biblical champions they have learned about during their western adventure.

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Women are being "cheated" by Fifty Shades

"Mummy porn" book, Fifty Shades of Grey, is the book everyone is talking about. Once a social taboo not to be broken, E L James's erotic novel about a woman who becomes sexually dominated by a mysterious man has ended the stigma and blushes that it once would have stirred.

For Dr Rosalie de Rosset, professor of literature at Moody Bible Institute, the success of books like Fifty Shades and the Twilight series represents a frustrating trend among today's women towards impoverished pop fiction with "flat" characters - particularly the female characters - and "theologically bankrupt" stories. Even Christian literature in her view leaves a lot to be desired, consisting mainly of "Jesus fixes everything" scenarios that do not reflect anything like the complexity and depth of real life.

"They are not well written and they are not theological," she says.

Dr de Rosset has just published a new book, Unshaken and Unseduced, that is challenging Christian women to reject "cotton-candy" novels for the more rewarding classics of English literature. Her book is peppered with quotes from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

What is it about these characters Dr de Rosset so admires? The heroines have "dignity", she enthuses. "Everywhere I go, Christian and non-Christian women absolutely love Elizabeth Bennett and Jane Eyre. But that stands in such contradiction to their behaviour, to their demeanour, and to what they end up expecting as goals and outcomes of their lives," she laments. "It seems to me that what every woman really wants is a Darcy and Rochester, but what they don't understand is that coming up with men like that involves who you are too."

She explains further: "It is the very restraint Jane Eyre has and the very ability she has to turn Rochester down when it's not appropriate for her to be with him. She waits it out. And it's Elizabeth's ability to assess Darcy and say 'there are things I don't like about you at all'."

Sadly, whilst many women aspire to be like Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennett, in real life - with all its temptations and distractions - many women just "don't think it's doable", Dr de Rosset says, and they "let their standards slip".

In addition, bad "chick lit" and even Hollywood rom-coms are causing women to have unrealistic expectations about life - and love. By not reading good quality books, women are missing out on an education that could help them confront their own life challenges and relate to other people in different circumstances, particularly hardship or suffering.

Dr de Rosset explains: "When you look at popular fiction, it is action driven. The question is: what is going to happen next? The question with classic literature is always: why did this happen? We cannot experience everything on our own, nor could we know how to deal with what we are experiencing. The classics have so many levels of teaching that help us to understand another human being, and we can key in and have compassion because we have understood what that was even though it was not our experience. For us personally, it gives us gorgeous language to the experience of suffering and makes it meaningful, instead of just an aberration of happily ever after. Because the fairytale is in Heaven, the fairytale is not on Earth."

What she also admires is the sense of restraint in classic literature and the way in which that can help women today set different standards for themselves in their relationships with men. She points out the unmistakable erotic connection between Jane and Rochester that is conveyed so powerfully without any explicit description of intimacy.

"That is so much more powerful than showing it. It is truly romantic in the heavenly romance sense, not their lips clung together all the time," she laughs. "There are teaching moments in great literature and they are very transformative. I tell my students to even go back to the sheet music of the 1940s and compare that to 'Come on baby, do it to me'. Today's relationships suffer from terrible over exposure and there is confusion of communication. They are talking a lot on the cellphone or always being in each other's presence technologically without actually knowing each other, and there isn't the true knowing because there hasn't been any restraint or waiting."

Technology has not only transformed the way we communicate and spend our leisure time, it's also transformed the way we read. While Dr de Rosset is deeply concerned about the impact of technology on the way we relate to each other, she admits there are also things it does very well.

"I still value a book in preference to Kindle but I wish I had had a Kindle when I had a speaking engagement in New Zealand many years ago. Then I could have just taken that instead of two or three books," she quips.

But for Dr de Rosset, the substance of what is being read is more important than the medium with which it is read and in this aspect she has a bone to pick not only with the quality of Christian literature for women, but the substance of Christian theology or lifestyle books written by women for women.

"We need to forget about these very famous women who have written a shallow book and gotten very successful because some of it is so cosmetic. And we need to get away from talking so much about family and children and how a woman needs to minister to her husband."

She feels women in the church are being "cheated" by the poor quality of women's ministry and the lack of guidance from the pulpit, not only about behaviour, but about reading as a spiritual tool.

"Where do you hear from the pulpit 'Read well, think discerningly'? No, we hear find a good man," she says. "And even Christian bookstores have entered into the conspiracy because the chances of finding Jane Eyre on the shelves of a Christian bookstore are practically zero. It's not talked about from the pulpit, it's not seen as important. There is this idea that the book has to be explicitly Christian without any attention given to what it says."

Instead of "shallow booklets with dumb questions", she wants to see women's ministries that do actual theological and biblical studies of books and the Bible, and which "believe in the intellect of their women".

She also wants to see women take greater responsibility for what they are choosing to consume.

"They are more intelligent than Fifty Shades but they are not acting like they are," she says. "We need almost a complete revision of women's leadership."

Dr de Rosset teaches literature and theology classes at Moody. What some of her female students initially feel is that some of the great classic texts are too difficult, but after giving it a go, they are hooked.

"They love the stuff once they see it's important and they feel horrified that in their lives there wasn't exposure to this. It changes them and they can't go back."

She concludes: "I'm always so surprised by how many people have read Pride and Prejudice because it is a hard book to read. If you can read Pride and Prejudice you can read almost anything!"

If you feel challenged to get stuck into some good quality reading, Dr de Rosset has these recommendations.

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