by David James
from Signs of the Times No. 68 - Jan 2018

On Saturday 21st October, Modern Church South West arranged a study morning entitled ‘Reading through Mark’.

The speaker was Canon Chris Burdon, a group member, who was Director of Lay Training in the Diocese of Chelmsford and rearranged the New Testament syllabus there. He also wrote ‘Stumbling on God: Faith and vision in Mark’s Gospel’, and was thus well qualified to address the subject.

We hoped the session would be a resource for local churches as Mark is the lead Gospel for the 2018 lectionary which began on Advent Sunday. In the event an eclectic assortment of some 20 people gathered at Manvers Street Baptist Church, which seems to have become ‘home’ for the group. Others were hindered by Storm Brian, which blocked railway lines with fallen trees and made driving conditions from afar extremely unpleasant. We were, however, glad to have Jonathan Draper, our new General Secretary, with us.

Those who came were treated to a comprehensive resume of Mark’s Gospel, which of necessity seemed to go at the pace of the Gospel itself. The well-known characteristics of Mark - the ‘and - and’ pace of the text, the messianic secret, Son of Man, the short ending and so on were all covered, with appropriate space allowed for interjections and a little humour. It would be untrue to say that we were given an ‘overview’. Content and delivery were such that we were able to look at Mark from alongside and within. Participants were also put to work as we were handed the text (in English and Greek) of Mark 8:27 - 9:1 and asked to study and comment on it.

Judging by the copious notes being taken, sermons by various clergy and lay ministers will be enriched by what was said. It was encouraging to see people taking notes of the future programme of the group which includes a day (on Saturday 3rd February) when we look at the environment with Margaret Barker, who has developed an approach to biblical studies now known as Temple Theology, and the Right Reverend Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury, the Church of England's lead bishop for Environmental Affairs. On Saturday 12th May, Robert Reiss will talk to us about his latest book, Sceptical Christianity: Exploring Credible Belief, and a session in September focusing on the aftermath of  involvement with cults.

On a personal level, I had been taught in my Evangelical theological college that Mark was ‘the’ Gospel about evangelism – because it is short, begins with ‘the beginning of the Gospel', and justifies frenetic activity because of the frequent use of ‘straightaway’. To hear that Mark ‘didn’t have much to do with evangelism at all’ was meat for the soul. We live, and we learn. Thank you, Chris.