Talking to the media and teaching kids about creation and evolution

John Dickson on Q&A

Really enjoyed watching John Dickson on Q&A the other night. The guy is very good at handling stuff in that kind of forum. If you missed it, do check it out. You have another 6 days to watch it here.

But I was disappointed with how he spoke about Christians in who don’t believe in evolution, as a small, fringe minority: ‘Most mainstream Christians are very comfortable with ... all the discoveries of modern science, including….’ the big band and evolution by natural selection.

Personally I have never firmly ‘landed’ on one position. It is tricky to contemplate death and gradual development by mutation and natural selection before the Fall… but then I can see that Genesis 1-2 don’t demand to be read with the same historical detail as other parts of Scripture. Also I do want to trust the broad scientific community, in part because my faith teaches me to be rational!

Where I come down somewhere is on some form of theistic evolution that allows for a historical Adam and Eve and a historical Fall.

But I want to honour Christians who think deeply about these things, wrestle with the issues and come down on some form of old or young earth creationist position. Because it’s not just a scientific question, it’s also a biblical question. It is possible to be a creationist even though you understand all the arguments about how science and evolution need not conflict and how Genesis need not be read such a way… and yet become convinced that’s the best reading of the text and the wider theological issues that feed into it.

And I haven’t done the statistics, and I wonder if John Dickson has either… but my anecdotal experience and reading makes me doubt whether creationists of some stripe are really only, by John’s implication, ‘few’ on the ‘fringe’ of Christianity? Perhaps if ‘most’ and ‘mainstream’ referred to Anglicanism? Or Australian and English theologians?

True, he does go on to say that he has many friends who hold a different view, which is nice. But I just feel something slightly more measured could’ve been said?

Teaching kids about creation and evolution

Nikki and I have talked about it a bit. In the end we have ended up doing with our kids what I do with the students at Uni Fellowship:

  • Underscore fundamental theological truths: God is creator, God created the world good, death is the result of the fall (especially human death), Adam and Eve were sinless before they fell, God can create things using ‘means’.

  • Teach them that there are a mix of Christian views out there: ‘some Christians think God used a slow process to make all the different animals… but Adam and Eve were a special climax’... ‘some Christians think God did it all really quickly’.

  • Teach them the bare bones of the scientific debate: Some people think that it was all an accident, they think science explains everything. But God can even use the the things that science explains to do his work. And science is just figuring out what happened from all the clues… sometimes science about what happened a long time ago can be wrong.

We try to reinforce a conviction that God is creator and can create and govern a vast, weird and wonderful world and can do so using secondary means. We do this by talking often about God being at work in the natural world - say when watching a documentary. And we always talk about what God could do miraculously, if he chose.

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How to keep high energy when you get tired

I was asked by a staff member to give some advice on how to keep energy high in ministry when you get stressed and tired.

I tend to do this naturally, and find it frustrating and discouraging when those around me, including fellow ministers, let sickness and tiredness get to them: a meeting where they become fuzzy, a conference where their preaching declines over the weekend, an event where they start to become quiet and flat.

But how do you keep high energy? What is it that I naturally do?

In a search for conscious competence, I googled sports psychology sites on ‘focus’ and ‘staying in the zone’. Here’s a list compiled of my own hints and some of my googling:

  1. Pray to God for energy and bring the needs and issues before him.

  2. Meditate again on the purpose of the event, meeting or sermon. Think about the impact it is supposed to have on the lives of others for God’s glory.

  3. Think about the duty you have to others, what they need from you and what you alone are able to give to them.

  4. Visualise ‘wild success’. But do more than VISUALise: let yourself feel and smell and taste success. That is, engage your senses and imagination in picturing a positive outcome. And picture yourself contributing to that outcome.

  5. Freshen up: wash your face, shave, wear clean, ironed clothes.

  6. Exercise and eat well. Hit the gym or the pool or the bike track. And have a big brekkie.

  7. (Naughty advice: drug yourself up on coffee, sugar and, if you’re sick, pseudoephedrine. Shh! I didn’t say that.)

  8. Stay relaxed. Stress sends off bad vibes. AND it sucks your energy away from where you need it. Slow breathing. Walk slowly. Move slowly. Hang loose.

  9. Do warm up drama school stuff. Vocal warms ups. Physical shaking and jiggling.

  10. Talk to yourself (‘C’mon’. ‘Nearly there’). Talk to your team. Talk to God!

  11. Build up some routines around these kinds of things to help you get back into the zone. I think of Rafa Nadal pushing hair behind his ears and pulling his shorts out of his bum before every point when he plays tennis.

  12. In addition to staying relaxed and loose, also do energising actions: jumping, slapping knees, bending knees.

  13. Keep smiling, keep your face expressive, your posture good, your gestures strong and sure.

  14. Keep your voice loud, clear, varying and keep enunciating clearly.

  15. Only focus on what you can control. Don’t get distracted by things you can’t fix.

If there are any sports psychologists or musicians or drama teachers among my readers I’d love your input!

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Mirrors 22nd February 2013

  1. The conversion story of a lesbian English professor, from Christianity today. It demonstrates to power of genuine relationships in evangelism.

  2. What’s wrong with Tasmania, really? Jonathan West says:
    Ultimately, Tasmania doesn’t change because its people actually don’t really want to. They don’t need to change because their way of life is financed by the mainland. Far from helping overcome this pattern, the nation’s resource-boom prosperity is enabling and cementing Tasmania’s under-achievement…. It is important to understand what it is about Tasmanian culture and society that permits such an abrogation of responsibility, a refusal to confront reality. Only a minority of Tasmanian households derive their income from participation in the private sector, and few indeed are dependent on the portion of the private sector traded out of the state. The 2011 census revealed that over a third of Tasmanian households derived their sole or primary source of income from a Commonwealth government payment almost another third of the Tasmanian economy was made up of public services (health, education, welfare, administration, policing) and government business enterprises. On top of this, it is estimated that up to 10% work for a private corporation whose sole client is government: road construction, building maintenance, or outsourced government services in the welfare sector. These numbers suggest that as little as a quarter to a third of Tasmanian households derive their livelihood from the genuine private sector.

    I’m interested to read the other articles in this series about what is ‘wrong’ with Tasmania.

  3. How do you ‘Do community’ when you church members are geographically dispersed? Tim Chester gives three ideas:

    1. Join or plant local churches

    2. Move closer to one another

    3. Jump in the car

  4. This has been sitting in my ‘starred items’ of Google Reader since October. Ira Glass from the wonderful podcast ‘This American Life’ talking about his interest in Christianity, how Christians are caricatured in the media… and how the Christians he actually knows (even the fundamentalists) are far more nice and thoughtful:

    Thanks to Nathan for the link.

  5. Tim Challies admits how easy he finds it to jump to believing the worst of those who love him the most:

    I’ve been married to Aileen for more than fourteen years now. In that time she has been loving and loyal and kind and everything else a husband could desire in a wife. She has borne me three children, supported me through career changes, tolerated my sin, prayed me through difficulty, helped me be a man whose church can call him to be their pastor. And yet in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when she in some way displeases me, I can act as if she has never loved me at all, as if she has only ever treated me with contempt. In a moment I can throw out all those years of love and sacrifice and assume that she is now opposed to me, looking out for her interests instead of mine, interested in harming me rather than helping me. In a moment I throw away all these evidences of her love and behave as if she hates me.

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The problems with the ‘relevance’ model of relating to culture

Tim Keller in Center Church:

  1. By adapting so heavily and readily to the culture, such churches are quickly seen as dated whenever the culture shifts or changes.

  2. Downplays the need for theological precision and the need for the insights of Christian tradition.

  3. The main energy behind churches that follow this model is often directed not toward the teaching of the gospel and seeking conversions but toward producing art, doing service projects, or seeking justice.

  4. It is especially in this model that the distinctiveness of the Christian church begins to get blurry. If, as some propose, God’s mission advances through historical processes moving toward increasing economic justice and social equality this ‘removes the church from the equation of how God works in the world’ (Van Gelder and Zcheile, Missional Church in Perspective.

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The place enjoyment has in Ecclesiastes’ argument

I think one of the key things in your take on Ecclesiastes is exactly what place you think the “enjoy life” passages have:

  1. Is it just part of the ironic wisdom - the best one can hope for in a meaningless world? ‘Eat, drink for tomorrow we die’?

  2. Is it the ultimate outcome/solution: everything is transient, so we ought to fear God and so enjoy life in this transient world as his gift?

  3. Is it a parallel solution: everything is absurd therefore we ought to both fear God and enjoy life as his gift?

  4. Or is it a penultimate conclusion: we do well to enjoy life as a gift from God, rather than fixating on gain, while ultimately knowing that the solution comes in fearing God and looking to his coming judgement?

I favour Option 4, because it deals better with the fact that the book itself often gently subverts the ‘enjoy life’ advice: enjoying life is also ‘meaningless’, in the grave you can’t enjoy it, when you’re old you can’t enjoy it, even when you’re young it’s meaningless, some good people suffer and don’t get to enjoy life.

I also think Option 4 gels with the conclusion - which focuses on Fear God and the coming judgement.

Finally, whereas at the end of the first half of the book, we are told that enjoyment frees us from worrying about the days to come (5:20), whereas the second half of the book urges us even while we’re young to focus on fearing God and thinking of the days to come.

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Motivating volunteers - the open source software example

We’ve recently establish a board to oversee the Vision 100 IT Team, that provides websites, email lists, and other tech support to churches in The Vision 100 Network here in Tasmania.

At our meeting the other morning, Jason presented a discussion paper of bullet point thoughts about how to motivate volunteers. He was particularly drawing on experience of those who have worked in the Open Source software world.

The three big take-homes for me were the need for:

  1. Social cohesion

  2. Management

  3. Passion - both about the big vision of what hope to do, and about the particular product/tool we are working on

Here ‘tis:

Maintaining the passion and commitment of volunteers, amongst busy lives. Finding confidence in task delegation, completion, and quality.

There is nothing fun about dry, boring IT maintenance tasks. The tasks themselves cannot be relied upon to drive a volunteer to completion, they are often done out of an unfortunate sense of obligation. The Vision 100 IT Board needs to find a method for empowering volunteers in the completion of their tasks, and to drive home the fact that their work is a service to the body of Christ.

The Open Source community is a key case study for this paper, as it resembles—on a much larger scale—our own IT team’s volunteer pool. There are, however, some differences. The Open Source community is driven by passionate volunteers. Passionate about the project itself, how it is going to change the landscape of the area into which it is deployed, passionate about the political, ethical, and social advantages of Open Source software, they want to produce good software, good code, they want to challenge and educate themselves by solving hard problems.

Key Points

  • Be warned: Thinking seriously about the why often leads to changing what you’re doing, or how you’re doing it.

  • Humans have a built-in desire to work with other humans, and to give and earn respect through cooperative activities.

  • Groups engaged in cooperative activities must evolve norms of behaviour, such as status acquired and kept through actions that help the group’s goals.

  • People are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

  • Delegation is not just a way to spread the work around; it is also a political and social tool.

  • What happens when you ask someone to do something? The job is done by someone that is not you, and they are made aware of the fact that you have trusted them to do it.

  • Tasks that are assigned in a public forum come with an added social and political pressure to perform.

  • Publically assigned tasks come with a pressure to accept, necessitating a method for graceful refusal.

  • Tasks that are assigned which require the involvement of others effectively transfers some amount of managerial control and responsibility. May have an opportunity to become a source of authority on a particular subject.

  • This added engagement may be daunting, or it could be exactly what that volunteer needs to become more engaged with the project/team.

  • Choosing not to delegate a task comes with an opportunity cost; the above opportunities are closed to other members of the team.

  • Volunteering for work that someone else doesn’t want to do immediately gains you goodwill, respect, and thanks.

  • Delegation and substitution are not just about getting individual tasks done, they’re also about drawing people into a closer commitment to the project.

  • Distinguish clearly between inquiry and assignment.

  • Asking someone to do something in a way that implies that it is their responsibility to do it, when they feel otherwise, is a short path to frustration and annoyance.

  • When you ask someone to do something, remember that you have done so, and follow up with them no matter what.

  • Having their interests and skills/gifts noticed makes people happy.

  • Praise and criticism are not opposites; both are forms of attention and are best applied specifically, rather than generally. Both should be applied with concrete goals in mind.

  • Praise and criticism are diluted by inflation: Praise too much and you will devalue your praise, past and future. This is also true for criticism, though criticism is usually reactive, and therefore more resistant to devaluation.

  • Criticism should be detailed and dispassionate, focused on the work, and free of generalisations that could be misconstrued as criticisms of character.

  • If someone doesn’t improve in response to criticism, the solution is not more or stronger criticism. Better to transition a person into a role that they are less likely to fail.

  • Find ways for those that are critical of themselves to find jobs that they are good at in order to foster a sense of self-satisfaction.

  • Identify contributors that are burning out, or begrudging. Give them a break for a while.

Contributors need to feel that if they can see a problem, they have a way to fix it, or are at least able to provide adequate and constructive feedback in order to have it fixed.

  • Focus on describing outcomes, rather than how to get there.

  • Be clear on why a task exists. What prompted its creation?

  • Praise is a tool, and should be carefully applied. Ask yourself why you want to praise someone.

  • Repeated praise for for normal behaviour gradually becomes meaningless. Reserve praise for unusual or unexpected efforts, with the intention of spurring them on to more such efforts.

  • Praise should also be used to ensure that participants do not feel underappreciated, where necessary.

  • This isn’t to say that contributions shouldn’t be acknowledged, but a project that is set up well will ensure that everyone is aware of other people’s achievements.

  • Praise can also be given indirectly by mentioning it in passing while discussing a related topic.

  • High-value contributors will know how valuable their work is, and shouldn’t need constant bolstering in praise. This could be a sign of a deeper dissatisfaction.

  • Systems should be in place that show contributors how well they’re performing.

  • Give contributors the tools they need to protect their spare time from other things. Teach them to prioritise the IT Team as a ministry they’ve already committed to.

  • How does Vision 100 IT Team volunteer retention compare to that of other volunteer roles? How do they keep their volunteers interested?

It’s a way to be in partnership with Jesus Christ in his work in bringing about his kingdom. It’s tedious and largely thankless for now, but perhaps one day he’ll say “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter your master’s joy.” —Jonathan Lange. (see also his software blog, which I don’t understand)


Jonathan Lange’s brain

Karl Fogel - Managing Volunteers (Chapter 8)

The surprising science of motivation - Dan Pink TED Talk

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We need to beware over-correction

I have been working as a full-time minister of the gospel for about 10 years. Over these 10 years, certain welcome ‘corrections’ to Australian evangelical culture have been on the rise.

But on some of these things it now sounds odd to me for people to be talking about ‘we need to correct against…’. It depends on who the ‘we’ is. If it is the ‘old guard’ or the ‘right wing’ then perhaps. But my concern is that among my peers (ministers in their 30s) we need to also beware of tumbling over to an opposite over-correction. In the 2010s ‘we’ need to beware of an opposite set of dangers.

This is most noticeable outside of Sydney. I think a lot of discussion in Sydney is still directed towards the central powers where the dialogue partner is always someone on the ‘right wing’. But among the younger generations in Sydney and much more elsewhere in the country, ‘we’ need to hear the older corrections again!

The solution is, I think, not to simple re-correct back. Nor is the solution to seek some perfect ‘balance’. Nor is it helpful at all to conflate the two extremes with statements like ‘doing good deeds IS part of preaching the gospel’ and ‘part of teaching the truth faithfully IS conveying its emotional content’. Rather to need is to do some hard thinking and find a synthesis between the insights, that can handle a scale of relative importance.

Here’s a quick list of things we might need to re-emphasise rather than correct against:

  1. Worship is all of life.

  2. The fulfillment of each Old Testament passage is the gospel.

  3. We need to preach the gospel, not simply the implications of the gospel.

  4. We need to recruit Christians to leave their career and serve the gospel full-time.

  5. The word has a priority over good deeds.

  6. In these last days we need to sacrifice current pleasure, happiness, convenient and well-being for the cause of Christ.

  7. There are significant theological and ministry philosophy differences between reformed evangelicals and charismatics.

  8. Christianity is about faith in Christ, not emotional experience.

  9. The fundamental thing about Christian ministry is teaching the Word, not being persuasive, passionate or cultural engaged.

  10. Unity in the gospel trumps denominational partnership.

  11. Others?

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The artificiality of ‘gospel communities’

In a fun section of Center Church Keller points out that a lot of modern attempts at creating ‘missional communities’ are desperately artificial. They are trying to create a mode of living that was quite natural in the first century… but best found today in small towns.

If you really wanna ‘do life together’ then rural ministry is for you:

I pastored a small church in a small, working-class town for nearly ten years. My church naturally had the kind of characteristics that house churches are seeking to create through intentional planning. Missional communities seek to re-create the oikos - the large, extended family of children, grandchildren, relatives, business associates, and neighbours that constituted most churches in the New Testament - and insist that ministry should be informal, relational and organic.

However, the midsized groups that are gathered into missional communities are not truly oikoi. They are usually not related to each other by a variety of blood ties, do not work in the same shops and plants, have not gone to the same clubs and civic organizations - which is how people in a small town know each other. The Christians in my church did not have to find ways to know their geographic neighbours; they were already deeply enmeshed with them. All the believers lived within a few miles of one another and rarely moved out of the area. We ate together, spent lots of time in each other’s homes, and were deeply involved in each other’s lives apart from Sunday services. And because of these durable and multivalent relationships, a great deal of outreach, pastoral care, fellowship, and community service did indeed happen organically through relationships. In short, small churches in small towns have, in general, the kind of relationships with each other and the surrounding community that missional communities seek to forge.

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Common growth mistakes for churches and other NFPs

I came across Les McKeown on the GTD podcast.

This video talks through his theory, with awful graphics, and then unpacks commons mistakes of not for profits, including churches:

The descriptions rang true to me: the resistance to breaking beyond ‘early struggle’ for example. Worth skipping ahead to about the 30 minute mark to skip the general summary of his model, if you’re pressed for time.

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Mirrors 8th February 2013

  1. I agree with R. C. Sproul Junior on boycotting businesses. He points out how close the moral-boycott is to the eating food sacrificed to idols issue.

  2. Ed Welch shares his growing appreciation of what heaven will be like over his lifetime and how that he has been blessed by it.

  3. Statistics make my brain bleed. They bore me and I have an unshakeable conviction that I’m not trained enough in understand statistics to interpret them anyway. But I have had this starred in my Google Reader for a while because I feel I ought to share it for one of you out there who likes the idea. Steve Kruyger links to a new ABS site that gives you quick stats on your suburb..Meh.

  4. I stumbled on this link via someone’s Google+. It’s a critique of the limitations of Getting Things Done: GTD is great for getting lots of bits and pieces done, but a separate model, ‘Deep Work’ is needed for more concentration-intensive stuff. I think it’s mainly wrong. But I like the framework of ‘Deep’ Work’. I’ve decided to give G+ a go for a while.

  5. Tim Challies ponders whether it’s really true to say ‘My wife’s job is harder than mine’... or the reverse:
    Aileen and I went out for lunch and I told her, “I don’t think your job is harder than mine.” I didn’t mean this as a judgment of how she goes about her responsibilities. I simply meant that in a subjective sense I don’t feel like it’s a true statement or one I could say with real conviction. She replied, “Do you think your job is harder than mine?” I don’t feel like that is true either. And as we talked I found myself expressing something like this: Our roles are so different, so complementary, that any kind of comparison is unhelpful. It doesn’t matter whose job is more difficult; what matters is that we each fulfill our role, our calling, with joy and with skill.

  6. Dave McDonald reflects on being a senior minister and being an assistant minister:
    in order to be good leaders, we must first be good followers. In fact, I would say if we can’t follow, then we must not lead. Good leadership is not about getting our own way or the wielding of power over others. It’s about service and giving our lives for the benefit of others.

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Living wisely in a meaningless world

I listened to and enjoyed and remained ultimately unconvinced by the

overall tone of

Kirk Patston’s (SMBC) sermons on

a couple of years ago.

I’m now reading through his Hebrew lecture notes which are good fun.

There’s plenty of helpful insight into the text. But I find myself

saying ‘Yes… Yes… Yes… No’.

The positive side to Ecclesiastes

I don’t think ‘the Preacher’ is a total nihilist or heretic or

pessimist and that we need to transcend his teachings to find meaning

‘above the sun’. It’s not just a secular thought-experiment, or a

natural-theology thought-experiment whose dominant purpose is to push

us beyond it’s depressing teachings to the hope of judgement and


Ecclesiastes genuinely does help us think about how to live wisely in

this world, as it is. I think that its advice to learn to find joy in

the work of our hands and not get overwhelmed with dwelling on the

days of our lives is wise advice, even for the believer.

It is how to live in the everyday. It is the advice and outlook of our

‘provisional self’, as Derek Kidner puts it.

The negative side to Ecclesiastes

But I don’t see how we get from that to the claim that actually the

sun happily pursues its course round and round the earth, and that

‘all things are labouring’ but somehow happily busy not ‘wearisome’.

To say that the human problem is that we worry too much about what we

can ‘gain’ under the sun, and if we only embraced this world as one

where there are no gains, we would be happy - be able to accept this

world as transient…

It seems to be going beyond the evidence. I just can’t make it work as

I read the book. And as I follow the Hebrew notes there seems a jump

from the observations on the text to this conclusion. In the end

‘hebel’ has a negative connotation, however we translate it.

Just as imagining Ecclesiastes as a secular thought-experiment

stretches the bounds of what seems likely for an Ancient Near East

philosopher, so also an ‘embrace the limitations of this life and live

in the moment’ also seems to stretch the bounds of what is likely for

a Hebrew philosopher.

Death hangs over this book far too much as a negative force. And some

of the ‘wisdom’ we find reads best, as less-than-godly. A

‘wordly-wisdom’, if you like.

So I think we need to be able to hear the wisdom of Ecclesiastes as

partial, provisional wisdom. I think we need to even think how we

might take this wisdom on board as believers, applying it with care.

But I also think that ultimately Ecclesiastes does provide ‘Fear God

and look to the judgement (and salvation?)’ as a greater answer than

‘enjoy your work and eat and drink’.

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Good young preachers have too much content

Had a conversation with Des the other day about the mistakes preachers make when they’re inexperienced.

There are some mistakes that all young preachers make. There are some mistakes that bad or ordinary young preachers make. This is one I think that is a special tendency of those who have the potential to be good. Let me use Des’ description:

I was looking through some of my old sermons the other day and noticed exactly the same propensity: large chunks of (at times pointlessly) detailed exegesis, followed by seven or eight totally unrelated (to each other) ‘to dos’, which were by turns either scolding or sentimental.

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Another test blog->G+

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We’re doing quarterly staff planning days this year

The first one is today. It’s a 9-5 affair with lunch together (I’m wanting it to be noodles in boxes. I love the look of it when lawyers in movies eat that while working on an impossible case late at night… or when a single mum has just moved into a new house and is sitting amongst removalist boxes. Noodles in boxes.)

We’re starting these because this year the Uni Fellowship of Christians staff team will be 4 senior staff (including myself) and I really want us to enjoy the freedom and ownership of our various roles, while still functioning together as a team - where we build something in cooperation together, rather than just go off with our different busy work.

The first one or two I have prepared to be more me talking and taking questions… just to give the staff time to get a hang of their roles and our ministry philosophy. The topics we will be covering are:

  • Sermon first up

  • Ministry philosophy of ministry, ‘plumblines’ and goals

  • Ministry teams and year calendar.

  • Practical training and discussion on different levels of leadership.

But as the year goes on, I hope the last two will be much more vigorous, with each person bringing contributions and thrashing it out together.

At first we will meet at our headquarters, but I hope for at least two of the planning days to be ‘off-site’. Perhaps at a close-to-Hobart beach house or even just another board room in the city. Something about a change of scenery will be good for us.

I’ll let you know how we get on!

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The weaknesses of a ‘transformationist’ approach to culture

From Center Church by Tim Keller:

  1. The conception of ‘worldview’ in Transformationism is too cognitive.

  2. Transformationism is often marked by ‘an underappreciation for the church…’

  3. Transformationism tends to be triumphalistic, self-righteous, and overconfident in its ability to both understand God’s will for society and bringit about.

  4. Transformationism has often put too much stock in politics as a way to change culture.

  5. Transformationists often don’t recognize the dangers of power.

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