Hero photograph
Photo by Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash


Mark Keown —

Remembering fondly our three Covid editions last year, again we invited contributions to this edition based around living in the Covid-19 pandemic.

 As such, this edition is headlined by articles that take up themes related to the challenges of existing in a world threatened by the virus.

Our first offering is from Lynne Taylor (who previously contributed to the 2020 Covid Editions: Whereas last time she pondered bear hunts, workouts, and generosity, this time Taylor considers lessons from and for the church in times like these. After describing her qualitative research, she thoughtfully draws ten conclusions from case studies taken from a range of churches. Some involve us looking back to draw on past strength, remembering and re-enacting shared values, and most importantly, keeping an eye out for and leaning into God. Poignantly, we are challenged to be real about the situation we are in, and to focus on connection, participation, and intimacy. We are reminded to avoid self-recrimination, while dreaming of what could be. This is a must-read for pastors negotiating the challenges of leading communities of faith in this tricky time.

Also focusing on the pandemic, Derek Tovey (who also previously contributed to the special issues) this time asks, “How might the Bible inform Christians responses to Covid-19?” Reflecting on those Christians opposing and protesting against the vaccine and government, he challenges us to consider how we might deal with the virus and limit its spread. Tovey finds insights from the way in which the exiles returning from Babylon began a government-supported building project showing that trust in God and using our human resources are not mutually exclusive. He considers biblical texts that urge Christians to “do things for the sake of others” such as Jesus’ summons to neighbourly love. He next ponders how we might overcome fear and reassure the anxious. His article should generate in us a desire to keep digging into God’s word to find resources to help us negotiate this difficult time and love one another as we do so.

Our third piece is from Sebastian Murrihy, a Presbyterian minister leading a church through the pandemic. Reflecting on Amy Plantinga Pauw’s wisdom ecclesiology and the work of other scholars, he considers the role of pastors as poets in such a time as this. As poet, the pastor or minister is to “draw attention to God’s movement” and minister as one who “re-shapes the social imaginary, speaks in a creative tone, and ministers in concrete reality.” Such a process includes deep engagement with Scripture, the Spirit, sacred spaces, church, and world, and enables the pastor to be real and yet creatively re-imagine the given context to draw people toward God and his vision of life. Pastors, in particular, will be drawn to the challenge of being truly poetic in a pandemic.

In our fourth Covid-related article, Chris Northcott thoughtfully considers John Owen’s providential interpretation of the Plague and Fire that beset London in the mid-1600s, and what it might say to us. He carefully considers Owen’s fiery appeal to his church to heed the warnings of these events and turn aside from wickedness and apathy. We are shown how Owen drew from Old Testament texts to challenge his flock to make his appeal and warn of worse to come if they did not. Northcott concludes by recognising that while Owen can be rightly critiqued in a number of ways for his providentialist readings, we should be spurred in such circumstances to affirm God, live rightly, and pray seriously for those who dismiss God.

The next piece included in this edition comes from Old Testament scholar, Richard Neville, who gives careful thought to the moral dilemma created by the flood of Genesis 6. Neville opens up the passage judiciously, noting how it affirms God’s love of creation and his image bearers. He shows how in this act of recreation, we see God’s desire to promote life that flourishes. He observes how God, in wanting the best for his world and people, starts over when evil was at its most sinful. He acknowledges the violence of the flood but observes that the flood is in fact “a magnificent expression of his love for his creatures.” The flood anticipates what will come in Jesus, sees life regenerated and flourishing, shows God’s justice, and how all such moments are also a starting over. Those who ponder matters of theodicy will enjoy this piece greatly.

Along with these five lead articles we have the usual array of diverse quality offerings. In “Ministry Corner,” Stimulus interviews Salvation Army officers, Anne and Alister Irwin, and hears their thoughts on the very real challenges of helping people in the pandemic. Our “Synergeo” piece comes from Tracy Taylor and Eunice Gaerlan-Price who creatively ponder the critical importance of hope in teaching. In “Hearts and Minds,” Graeme Flett mulls over whether there really is any such thing as “common sense” in a digital age. In “The Voice,” Geoff New takes us into the world of Esther to hear whispers of God for those living in exile (or a pandemic!). For those who enjoy a good laugh, St Imulus gives us part one of the converse of the Amplified Bible—the D(e)amplified Bible. The Saint manages to condense the 39 books of the Old Testament into 883 words!

In the Film Review, Sarah Penwarden takes a look at “The Two Popes” through which she perceptively calls viewers to reflect on “our own spiritual journey as we watch others wrestle with theirs.” Peter Jelleyman’s Music Review finds transcendence and a search for God in the Beatle’s Song, Something. Finally, we have a range of book reviews from recent publications that will whet our appetites from some holiday reading.

We do hope you enjoy this edition. The team at Stimulus wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a restive season. We pray you stay safe and find peace for your souls as you negotiate the challenges of the times. May this Stimulus do its work and stimulate you in the direction of faith, hope, and love.

Mark Keown