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Pub chats tackle contemporary issues

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Once a month, Gracepoint pastor Bill Hogg presides at a bar – and he invites anyone to join him. Hogg, several “expert” panellists, and guests meet at Belle’s Restaurant in Surrey, B.C., on the last Monday of the month to feed their bodies, minds, and souls with lively discussion on contemporary issues around faith and culture. The discussion podcasts are then posted on The Kindlings Muse – Canada West website (www.thekindlings.ca).

Kindlings is a Canadian extension of a movement in the U.S. inspired by the famous weekly pub conversations of the Oxford Inklings – C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others. Founder Dick Staub says Kindlings seeks to ignite “intelligent, imaginative, hospitable exploration of ideas that matter in contemporary life.” Hogg calls it “a forum for hospitable conversation among thoughtful seekers who are Christful.”

It’s neither an outreach to non-Christians, nor a Christian supper club. Kindlings “promotes discipleship of the mind, engagement with arts, discernment about pop culture, and builds bridges to God among pre-Christians,” says Hogg.

Regular attendees are mostly believers wanting to develop the intellectual dimension of their faith, but also include folks who are “de-churched” (disillusioned by the church but not turned off faith). Others come for a specific topic, and incidental diners are welcomed to listen in. Hogg hopes to see a greater mix of Christians and pre-Christians in the crowd, currently weighted toward the former.

As for the website, the comment function has been “underutilized,” he says, but hopes engagement will increase in the future with more content posted, and more interaction with “young adults who prefer dialogue to pedagogy.”

A former talk show host and Youth For Christ evangelist, Hogg chairs the panel’s two 20-minute segments of comment on a predetermined topic, followed by a third segment of moderated but unfiltered question-and-answer from listeners present. All three segments are punctuated by breaks for conversation at the tables as well. Subjects discussed since Kindlings began in April 2009 include the New Atheists, the Olympic games, the best films of the year, and fundamentalism.

Regular panellists Peter Chattaway, film critic for Christian Week and BC Christian News; Allyson Jule, associate professor of education and co-director of the Gender Studies Institute at Trinity Western University, Langley, B.C.; and Kevin Miller, a screenwriter and producer from Abbotsford, B.C., dig into the issues with guests like Bryan Born, head of intercultural studies at Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford; and Carson Pue, president of Arrow Leadership.

“People have found it stimulating,” says Hogg. At the end of a Kindlings evening of conversation and exploration, one participant remarked, “I wish church was like this.”

—Karla Braun

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