Levels of agreement with fellow Christians on political matters

It's tricky when Christians speak up in public, especially if they experience opposition... because I want to stand side by side with my fellow believers. My instinct is to stand with them, even if I don't fully agree with them, rather than throw them under the bus for not saying things quite the way I would. But then again, I often DON'T agree with what they are saying or how they are saying it.

So I try to filter the different levels of agreement and disagreement I might have with fellow believers. This helps me in my thinking and my explaining. And allows me to stand with my brothers and sisters without compromising my own convictions on secondary matters:

  1. Spiritually, I agree with my brothers and sisters in Christ on our faith in Christ. I can accept someone as a fellow believer, even if I disagree with them quite strongly on their actions and opinions in other ways.
  2. Ethically, I usually agree with them on the moral principals in God's Word. There are some points where fellow Christians may see something as a black and white moral issue, but I perceive it to be an area of conscience and wisdom. This is especially the case when we are extrapolating from the explicit words of Scripture.
  3. When it comes to political theory, we might disagree on the best form of government. Of course some believers are very strongly convinced that a small government free market democratic approach to politics is grounded in the Bible, so that it is really a matter of ethics. But then again others have a higher view of monarchy or socialism. Personally I am not convinced by those who advocate fiercely for one politicl theory as necesarily Christian.
  4. Even if I DO agree broadly with the political theory of my fellow believer, we may not agree on a particular public policy. Public policies are almost always the combination of ethical principles and practical considerations. This means that we might dial in our ethical ideals at various points. Almost always public policies will have positive and harmful direct and indirect effects. This leads to a range of different possible views amongst Christians.
  5. Which priority we give to various ethical and policy issues is a matter of strategic agreement. Our reading of what the burning issue of the moment is, and what is the gateway issue, or front line of battle is influenced by many complex factors. As a result we may differ on this reading, and differ on our person sense of responsibility to rally to a particular issue.
  6. This then leads on to the particular part we see ourselves as playing in the broader public discusission. This is a matter of role agreement. Often Christians speak about 'What WE should be emphasising right now', as if there is only one possible conversation that can be had at any one time. This is a very simplistic way of looking at things: a narrowly public relations journalistic/political view. The reality is that there are a range of different roles and perspectives and levels of conversation that all going on concurrently and in a complementary manner. For example, a lobbyist speaks more bluntly and polemically than a social worker.
  7. I may agree with a fellow believer on all of the above maters, but not like the way they say things. There is a matter of rhetorical agreement: "You're not WRONG... you're just being RUDE" might be our thought.

It's tricky isn't it? And what's especially tricky is when the critic of Christianity OR the zealous Christian activist blurs these all together:

"If you stand for the gospel, you will hold to these ethical issues, which means you will have this political outlook, agree with these public policies, and their current importance and so you will speak for them in this particular way"

Hardly.



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Should Christian Unions Be More Holistic in Engaging with the University?

Arthur Davis sent me a link to a really intriguing article he wrote about the future of campus ministry, that we then read as a staff meeting here in Hobart.

It spells out ways that we can round out our campus ministries to be more effective in all four of the following modes:

1. Evangelism

2. Piety

3. Apologetics and

4. Dialgoue

Historically here in Australia, Arthur says, we are strong on the first three, but not so much on the fourth—unless it is a debate or a ‘dialogue meeting’, where the focus remains maining apologetics and evangelism. He is pushing in this article for us to think more about how we can genuinely contrbute to the life of the university, not merely as outsider missionaries coming in to train and to preach, but as citizens of the community, seeking to enrich the whole academic endeavour and formation of university students.

Arthur sees the ministry of the Simeon Network in Australia, connecting Christian academics to think deeply about how their faith informs their research as an example of this.

What I like

I like the desire for holism. Evangelism should be more than the thin, fundamentalist type of preaching. Discipleship should be more than being accountable about pornography use and daily quiet times. Training should be more than how to share you faith and run a Bible study.

I also agree that we want Christian groups that exist as part of the larger university community and are good and engaged citizens of that community. This is why I favour Christian Unions over uni churches doing evangelism to uni students. A Christian Union is able to be more deliberately and demonstrably committed to the university. They exist for the sake of the uni, whereas uni churches can sometimes seem to have a slightly more mercenary relationship: we are merely coming on to campus to save souls and scoop up potential congregation members.

I like the outlook that sees graduates as a third part of campus ministry. Graduates from Chrsitian Unions should not simply be seen as a recruiting ground for apprenticeships and a support raising base. Christian Unions are well positioned to keep investing at that high university-educated level into the gradutes from the ministry as they go into their working lives. Even if we can't do heaps in this area, it seems fitting that we should do something... or work closely with groups like City Bible Forum and Simeon Network who can pick up where we left off.

What I’m cautious about

1. There is a limiation to how many events and programs we can run: the reality is, there are only so many events we can fit into our calendar, only so many things we can organise, promote, run, and follow up. Given the limited time and energy we have, I am convinced that the main focus for Christian groups should be evangelism and leadership training, rather than holistic worldview interaction. It’s not that we shouldn’t seek to do this, but just that it can’t be our main emphasis.

2. You don’t need a new event, program or publication for every distinct thing: the lazy way to fix a perceived lack is to start something new—a new conference, event or website that will focus on the lacking area. And so it might seem like the positive response to Arthur’s article is to start new events that facilitate more of the dialogic engagemenet with the university. And the risk is that this takes too much time and energy to be sustainable.

However there are two other solutions which I try to work out in our local ministry and which are more efficient:

a) Weave holistic integration into the existing programs: Chrsitian Union meetings, missions, debates and dinners are all contributions to the life of the university. They are all para-univeristy structures, just like the Philosophy Club or the Alumi Keynote or the Residential College Tutorial Program. The best Christian Union evangelism and discipleship is academically deep and stimulating and so ticks all 4 boxes.

b) Encourage Christians to engage with the structures of the university itself: we don’t need new programs, new lectures, new publications. We can keep encouraging journalist students to be invovled with the student newspaper, politics students to weigh into student politics, high achievers to engage in various Dean’s List programs, residential students to connect with that community.

3. There is a limitation to how open Australian academics are to new networks: I am also delighted to see the growth of the Simeon Network, and hopeful that it will go from strength to strength. But my limited experience of interacting with Chrsitian academics, as well as the bits and pieces I hear from other campus pastors, is that they don’t all have the energy of inclination to invest in a new program.

These are busy people with lots of commitments. And some of them go to thoughtful churches that serve them well in their efforts to integrate their research with their faith. They are engaged in ministry through their local church or other networks they are engaged in. Not all academics are necessarily interested in taking on a new commitment to meet, write and present to a Christian academic forum, nor to mentor young Christians in their field.

Perhaps in places like Tanzania, where Arthur is, where there are a higher percentage of Christians in the universities faculties, there will be larger numbers overall that make this kind of stuff bigger and more vibrant. But as with other cautions in this post, I don’t want to tie holistic Christianity to ‘programs, events and publications committed to holistic Christianity’.

4. Participation and Dialogue is Massively Time Consuming and Minimally Effective

In so many areas, it is true that more time talking, listening, eating and laughing woudl build connection and respect and understanding. This is true for families, staff teams, neighbourhoods, members of different political factions, staff and students, different nationalities, different religious groups. We could spend all our free time building rapport and connecting and understanding. It’s a nice idea. But it doesn’t in the end achieve much. And it takes heaps of time and resources to organise. It’s idealistic and after a while, exhausting.

Surely there’s a better way? Surely we can weave a stance of relationship building into productive activities. Can we take the time to listen and connect and love as we go about our business?

  • Rather than set up staff-and-student morning teas, take the time to chit chat before and after class?
  • Rather than set up getting-to-know-you meetings with other student societies, go and talk to them when they have stalls set up around the campus, and be friendly with those posted near you at O Week markets.
  • Rather than hosting inter-religious dialogues, ask for their input when you are going to prepare teaching and training on topics related to their beliefs, or listen to members of those religions when they attend your events.


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Mirrors 11th August 2017

You know what? I don't think I've done a Mirrors roundup post for 2 months! Sorry about that!

  1. Josh "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" Harris is doing a documentary on what went wrong with this book and its effects.
  2. The Da Vinci Code, Feminist theology, art history and Opus Dei: 3 fun lectures from University of Calgary
  3. As a matter of fact this University of Calgary Centre for Christian Thought has heaps of great stuff
  4. "Big shoutout to Tom Pugh" for giving Stephen McAlpine's blog a makeover.
  5. I don't agree w/ Moody's (or even author Atwood's) reading of the story. It's best as a critique of the Taliban IMO. 
  6. This article sees the connections between the Handmaid's Tale and Saudi Arabia.
  7. I  don’t 100% agree with everything here but I like @nm_campbell’s dismantling of the wacky end of anti-ABC sentiment
  8. Key to being President of the USA? George Dubya says 'humility'. Great convo between Clinton and Bush Jnr.
  9. Super helpful series of articles on how to make the church safer for victims of domestic and family violence
  10. I listened to this a bit getting in the zone for @CBS_NSW mission Have You Found Truth? I acutally spoke at this week.
  11. New series of @HomecomingShow by @Gimletmedia off to an amazing start!!! Nice to hear Colin getting a taste of his own medicine...
  12. Church order, persecution, heresy and mission. my first sermon-lecture in our Origins: History of Christianity series.
  13. Deeeep thoughts on both Harry Potter and the iPhone. When Mohler is good, he's really good.


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Learning How and Why Well Meaning People Get Things Wrong

The Julia Baird article and susequent discussions about Domestic Violence and how they can manifest in Christian relationships and poorly dealth with in Christian circles has been a distressing but welcome thing. It shows how the Bible can be twisted and misunderstood and so it helps us think more carefully how we explain and apply the Bible. It also shows how people can be listened to poorly and given extremely bad advice. And these failures can have disastrous effects.

A difficulty I have in reading about these things is that I can’t easily see myself or my church communities in the descriptions. I am told that it happens and that churches are often doing a bad job in this area… but I sometimes struggle to see how it ends up happening and how churches do a bad job in a way that I can easily relate to and improve on.

This is where I have found it super helpful to hear the ways in which friends, family and church leaders get things wrong. It is really enlightening and troubling to hear what they thought they were doing and why they got things so wrong, even when they meant well. Then I see how I could make the exact same mistakes. As long as I think church leaders "Out There" are heartless sexists who are somehow eager to promote domestic violence, I won’t know if there’s anything I can do better. Becuase if I sincerely seek to be compassionate, respectful of women and if I am eager to stop domestic violence. It remains a problem for someone else Out There, not for me.

But I have found it eye-opening to hear what kinds of misunderstandings can lead even very well-intentioned family, friends and church leaders to give terrible advice and accidentally protect abusers and make victims feel unsupported, trapped and even blamed.

Some of the things I am learning:

  • It is so important to understand how charming and persuasive abusers can appear to those outside of the privacy of the family home. There might be other tell-tale signs of the possibility of abuse, but they are subtle unless we know what to look for.
  • The abuse can make the victim unsure of themselves, and so we might not perceive them to be reliable. In fact the abusive partner may even do things to enhance this perception.
  • The victim might have doubts about whether or not they are being abused, and worried about whether they’ll be believed, and so they might actually downlplay the severity of the problem.
  • A vicitm of abuse is often isolated by their partner, and so the kind of continuity of contact that we normally rely on to build trust and facilitate support and counselling might be lacking. We might need to be more proactive than we are used to being.
  • The way we teach in putblic and talk and counsel in informal settings can easily be misheard. Things we might mean in a ‘softer’ way, may have a ‘harder’ meaning within the rhetoric of abuse.

In part this underscores the fact that we need to hear many different types of stories: both the stories of victims and the stories of those who have failed to support victims and are honestly repenting and seeking to do better.



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Odd chapter and verse divisions in the Bible: I wish this WAS how it happened

[Stephanus’] fourth edition (1551) is possibly even more significant as it is the first edition of the Greek New Testament that divides the text into verses. Until then, the text has been printed all toegether, with no indication of verse division. There’s an amusing anecdote associated with how Stephanus did his work for this edition. His son later reported that Stephanus had decided on hius verse divisions (most of which are retained for us in our English translations) while making a journey on horseback. Undoubtedly he meant that his father was ‘working on the road’—that is, that he entered verse numbers in the evenings at the inns in which he was staying. But since his son literally says that Stephanus made these changes ‘while on horseback’, some wry observers have suggested that he actually did his work in transit, so that whenever his horse hit an unexpected bump, Stephanus’s pen jumped, accounting for some rather odd verse placements that we still find in our English translations of the New Testament

Bart Ehrmann, isquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York: HarperOne, 2005), 80.



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The evolution of Modern Islamic views on The Crusades

I've been reading The New Concise History of the Crusades (Lanham: Roman and Littlefield, 2006) by modern mediaeval expert Thomas F. Madden. It's a very readable, popular-level book, drawing on his expertise in this area.

His final chapter and conclusion are fascinating, how the remembering and retelling of history changes over time... and in the process distorts history.

For a long time the Western world saw the Crusades and a good thing

Until the last 70 years or so, much of the reflection of the Crusades was positive. It was a noble and glorious cause. As a result, 'crusade' had the overtones of a "grand and glorious campaign for a morally just goal" (215).

Bringing civilisation through the process of colonialisation and the Great War were both portrayed as glorious Crusades. In fact the the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after Wolrd War I was seen as the final chapter of the Crusades.

The Western, anti-religious and anti-colonial revisions of the Crusades

From the Enlightenment into the 19th Century, the Crusades began to be seen by some intellectuals as a horrible example of senseless, intolerant religious war. Saladin was portrayed as a wonderfully chivalrous leader whose sophisticated civilisation was brutalised by the Crusaders. 

Marxism likewise provided a new lense through which to examine the Crusades: they were simply an early, imperialistic land-grab.

The historical evidence, as weighed by Madden, do not justify either of these secularist readings of the motivations of the Crusaders or the cultural realities of the Crusades. They are more anachronistic re-readings than accurate, contextual explanations.

The Crusades were not an important thing for the Muslim world until the 19th and 20th centuries

The simple fact is that the crusades were virtually unknown in the Muslim world even a century ago.... Westerners may be surprised to learn that Muslims int he Middle East have only recently learned of the crusades.... It must be remembered that although the crusades were of momumental important to Europeans, they were a very minor, largely insignificant thin to the Muslim world. (217–218)

It seems that knowledge of the Crusades was introduced to the Middle East by colonialism, to show how Western imperialism was a good thing for the Middle East... and that kind of backfired :-P

Once the Western world began to critique colonialism and revise and critique the history of the Crusades in the second half of the 20th Century:


 Arab nationalists and Islamists agreed fully with this interpretation of the crusades. Poverty, corruption and violence in the Middle East were said to be the lingering effects of the crusades and subsequent European imperialism. The Muslim world had failed to keep up with the West because it had been dealt a debilitating blow by the crusaders, a blow that was repeated by their European descendents in the nineteenth century. (220)

 

The reality of the Crusades vs the modern re-tellings

But Madden asserts that this just does not reflect the historical reality:

Scholars have long argued that the crusades had no beneficial effect on Europe's economy. Indeed, they constituted a massive drain on resources. The rise of population and wealth in Europe predated the crusades, indeed allowed them to happen at all. Rather than decadent or 'assaulted on all sides' the Muslim world was growing to ever new heights of power and prosperity after the destruction of the crusader states in 1291. It was the Muslim world, under the rule of the Ottoman sultans, that would invade western Europe, seriousyl threatening the survival of the last remnant of Christendom. The crusades contributed nothing to the decline of the Muslim world. Indeed, they are evidence of the decline of the Christian West, which was forced to mount these desparate expeditions to defend against ever expanding Muslim empires. (221–222)

And in reflection on the use of the Crusades in some modern Muslim rhetoric:

It is not the crusades, then, that led to the attacked of September 11, but the artificial memory of the crusades constructed by modern colonial powers and passed down by Arab nationalists and Islamists. They stripped the medieval expeditions of every aspect of their age and dressed them up instead in the tattered rags of nineteenth-century imperialism. As such, they have become an icon for modern agendas that medieval Christians and Muslims could scarcely have understood, let alone condoned. (222)



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The ‘literary and linguistic miracle’ of the Qur’an?

I attended a Christian-Muslim debate last night at UTAS last night between Samuel Green and Sheikh Wesam Charkawi. The Sheikh made much of the literary and linguistic miracle of the Qur'an.

I was left pondering how one could really falsify this assertion. The Sheikh didn't really give objective measures by which one could assess whether or not the Qur'an's 'perfection' had been matched or not.

And as soon as such measures were articulated, surely then matching the Qur'an's perfection becomes a matter of colour-by-numbers.

So either the assertion is unfalsifiable... or false.

One of his proofs was a quote from E. H. Palmer's introduction to the Qur'an:

"That the best of Arab writers has never succeeded in producing anything equal in merit to the Qur′ân itself is not surprising."

Although the quote in context actually makes a similar point to my post:

"That the best of Arab writers has never succeeded in producing anything equal in merit to the Qur′ân itself is not surprising. In the first place, they have agreed beforehand that it is unapproachable, and they have adopted its style as the perfect standard; any deviation from it therefore must of necessity be a defect. Again, with them this style is not spontaneous as with Mohammed and his contemporaries, but is as artificial as though Englishmen should still continue to follow Chaucer as their model, in spite of the changes which their language has undergone. With the prophet the style was natural, and the words were those used in every-day ordinary life, while with the later Arabic authors the style is imitative and the ancient words are introduced as a literary embellishment. The natural consequence is that their attempts look laboured and unreal by the side of his impromptu and forcible eloquence."



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Constantine Christianity Conspiracy: amazing how little evidence there really is

We are doing a series on the history of Christianity at the UTAS Christian Union. As much as time and energy allows, I am trying to engage with some primary sources, rather than just Wikipedia pages and general 'introduction to church history' texts.

At our first 'Citywide Gathering' we did the topic 'Did the Early Church Invent Christianity?'. As a part of that I read a bunch of theories claiming that Constantine basically created Christianity as we know it today in 325AD, suppressing the more diverse and pagan Christian spiritualities of the previous centuries and burning their texts en masse.

So I read every extant primary source related to the Council of Nicaea. And was bowled over just how little evidence there is for these theories. At all. For theories that are so widely reported and repeated in various ways, there is basically nothing at all. It's all an exercise in speculative reading between the lines. It genuinely is a paranoid conspiracy theory of the 'the 1969 moon landing never happened' or 'the American government did 9/11' or 'the world is ruled by Illuminati lizard men' variety.

I mean Constantine didn't really even get the theological issues at stake. He tried to get both sides of the Arian Controversy to kiss and make up and just stop talking about it. And even after Nicaea he kinda changed his mind and started supporting the Arians more than the Nicaeans.

Amazing.

There are some objections to Christianity that really tie us in knots a bit. This isn't one of them.



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Millennial Missionaries: selfish and superficial? Or sacrificial with better haircuts?

Have you seen this yet? It's pretty funny:

 


And no doubt there is that strand of self-absorbed and materialistic millennial attitude and behaviour. What is especially powerful about this video is how it cunningly exposes the power of buzz words to manipulate and justify our actions. As long as you string together the right God-words you can mask the most repulsive wordliness. I've seen this not just among the young and trendy, but also among the pompous traditionalists.

BUT. I also feel uneasy about this video  It's funny... but I could imagine this is how an older missionary perceives many millennials... when it's really a matter of much more superficial differences: 

  • A millennial might dress more stylishly. Their clothes may not cost more than the missionary of a previous generation... and yet the older missionary is suspicious.
  • A millennial might take the time to appreciate and enjoy the environment they find themselves in, in good conscience... where the older missionary mainly talks about missing vegemite.
  • A millennial might talk about their feelings, pleasures and preferences in good conscience... where the older missionary thinks it's more discreet to not mention such things.
  • A millennial might question, challenge and reject pointlessly burdensome patterns of missionary behaviour and expectation that don't serve the cause of the gospel, but have just become normal. 


But the millennial missionary may well work just as hard, sacrifice just as much. What seems like cutting and penetrating critique, might just be resentment and predjudice.

I have often heard sneering and judgmental comments about 'trendy urban church planters with their lattes'. And knowing many hardworking and pious urban church planters in our Australian cities, this really does indeed betray exactly this kind of very shallow judgmentalism. Anyone who fancies that urban church planting is comfortable hasn't tried it. But sure, the coffee is better.



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Applying 1Corinthians 11:2–16 in the 16th century

Two interesting sections from John Calvin's commentary on 1Corinthians:

Regarding the covering of the head:

 Let us, however, bear in mind, that in this matter the error is merely in so far as decorum is violated, and the distinction of rank which God has established, is broken in upon. For we must not be so scrupulous as to look upon it as a criminal thing for a teacher to have a cap on his head, when addressing the people from the pulpit. Paul means nothing more than this — that it should appear that the man has authority, and that the woman is under subjection, and this is secured when the man uncovers his head in the view of the Church, though he should afterwards put on his cap again from fear of catching cold. In fine, the one rule to be observed here is το πρέπον — decorum If that is secured, Paul requires nothing farther.

Regarding verses 14–15:

"Doth not even nature itself..." He again sets forth nature as the mistress of decorum, and what was at that time in common use by universal consent and custom — even among the Greeks — he speaks of as being natural, for it was not always reckoned a disgrace for men to have long hair.  Historical records bear, that in all countries in ancient times, that is, in the first ages, men wore long hair. Hence also the poets, in speaking of the ancients, are accustomed to apply to them the common epithet of unshorn. It was not until a late period that barbers began to be employed at Rome — about the time of Africanus the elder. And at the time when Paul wrote these things, the practice of having the hair shorn had not yet come into use in the provinces of Gaul or in Germany. Nay more, it would have been reckoned an unseemly thing for men, no less than for women, to be shorn or shaven; but as in Greece it was reckoned all unbecoming thing for a man to allow his hair to grow long, so that those who did so were remarked as effeminate, he reckons as nature a custom that had come to be confirmed. 



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What should I call my book?

I'm about to submit a manuscript to Matthias Media, which God-willing they will publish. The working title has been 'Living Well', but I'd like to give them some ideas for a title and sub-title that is a little bit more explanatory and a lot more catchy. As you can see below, I haven't really advanced much further with my brainstorm. Can you help?

If your suggestion, or something very much like it, ends up getting used I'll send you a free copy of the book :-)

What's my book about? It is an ethics book exploring the topic:

  • How we hold together theologically the ideas of living well in God's good but fallen creation, with the commands to die to self and sacrifice for the sake of the gospel in these last days. 
  • It is also an exposition of Christian freedom as the framework that helps us make different decisions about how we might sacrifice good things for the cause of Christ.

Main title ideas

  • Living Well at the End of the World
  • Living Well While Dying for Christ
  • The Good Life of Dying for Christ
  • Live for the Kingdom
  • Joyful Sacrifice
  • Single Minded in a Complex World

Subtitle ideas

  • Living well in God’s world and making decisions in the last days
  • How do we live zealously for the kingdom while loving people and enjoying God’s creation?
  • Why it's really good and we're actually free to sacrifice for the sake of Christ

Some random words and ideas

  • Simple vs Complicated
  • Really Good Because it’s Really Real
  • Burnout vs Sellout 
  • Worldly
  • Wartime, lifeboats, cure
  • Sacrifice
  • Urgent
  • “Even Soldiers Get Icecreams Sometimes”


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Mirrors 9th June 2016

  1. "It's not life hacking [to get just get a Solution] but hacking being human." A very emotional and personal episode of the Startup Podcast about a startup founder juggling work and parenting.
  2. Reflecting on complementarianism and domestic violence.
  3. I try to squeeze a little bit of God into my rollerblading podcast occasionally. Listen at 6:13–7:15  for an example.
  4. A Gospel Coalition Australia article on Sgt. Peppers
  5. A far superior (but still critical) article on the perceived imbalances in Equip 2017 than the one in Eternity.
  6. Your church needs to be less stable
  7. Some tips on a welcoming mind-set and welcoming habits for a welcoming church.


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Gender differences, the Bible, the church, preaching, cultural forms and the workplace

There has been some heated discussion in response to a sermon by Carmelina Reid and a video segment at the recent Equip Women's Conference in Sydney. Two big points of contention were 1) the relevance of 1Corinthians 11 to appropriate Christian women's hair length today and 2) whether the Bible teaching about Eve being created to be a 'helper' to Adam should somehow affect the way women conduct themselves in the workplace. Seeing some of the reactions on Facebook, it seems to me that quite a few issues are raised here, that are worth exploring:

  1. We need to be careful, in a reaction against particular Bible teacher, that we aren't reacting against the Bible itself... or endorsing a unteachable heart in response to the Bible itself. In some of the reactions to the 1Corinthians 11 exposition, it seemed hard to distinguish how much people were reacting to the apostle Paul himself, and how much to Carmelina's exposition of his teaching. In a sense, the fact that God HAD said that hair length was at one time an appropriate expression of godliness should measure our reaction to what it may or may not mean for us today. For others some of the reaction, I suspect, would encourage a removed attitude to the Bible: if I don't like the sound of what it says, I should feed that intuitive reaction, rather than suspend it to be open to being changed by God's word.
  2. Love for our brothers and sisters in Christ should be preserved wherever possible when we disagree. This is hard when we strongly, emotionally disagree with someone else, especially when they are in a position of power or influence and we feel judged or rejected by them. There's nothing wrong with disagreeing strongly with each other. But something goes wrong if we drift quickly into a stance of anger, condescension, sneering and mockery. There might be points where we disagree so significantly that we cannot find a way to speak about the beliefs and teaching of others without being stern or satirical in the way we describe their views. But we need to be slow to get there.
  3. It is honest and respectful to acknowledge those secondary (and beyond) things where Christians differ. It's right to recognise that there are some points of doctrine and some passages of Scripture that Christians disagree on. This is a gesture of love to our brothers and sisters, recognising that they exist and their convictions are sincere and are that they are still loved in Christ. This is also an admission of humility too: we might be the one who is wrong! It is a helpful signpost to the fact that we might possibly be approaching an area of biblical teaching that is less clear. The amount of acknowledging we do differs depending on the context we are in: a local church, a conference for a parachurch with a tight doctrinal basis or a broader non-denominational event.
  4. We need to preserve confidence in clarity meaningfulness of the Bible and the importance of doctrine. When it comes to these passages we need to be clear whether these points of disagreement are of primary, secondary or tertiary (or further down the list) importance. Saying that something is of tertiary importance doesn't mean it doesn't matter, and doesn't have consequences, but it does mean that it is not fundamental to genuine Christian belief. And admitting that genuine Christians disagree does not mean that Scripture is without meaning, or that this meaning might not be grasped more clearly. We need to accept fellow believers with whom we differ, but that is not the same as somehow celebrating that different doctrinal convictions are equally good. And we need to recognise when we come to points where Christians might differ, while still having confidence to make a strong case for our understanding of the text.
  5. Public preaching and teaching needs to be clear on how it relates to official instruction. Whether teaching in a church gathering or an inter-denominational conference, the public teachers need to give some thought to what relationship their teaching has to the official position of the church or parachurch. In some contexts, I might not comment on something like the baptism of infants in depth because of the interdenominational platform—the teaching would be different in a local church.
  6. Preachers and listeners need to be aware of the nature and limitations of public preaching and teaching. Public teaching necessarily will be incomplete and imbalanced in some way. We can't say absolutely everything in a way that will be fairly heard by every possible person. In fact in order to be persausive and clear we may even deliberate be incomplete and imbalanced so that one truth might cut through. Recognising this risk, however, should make preachers aware of the need for care and nuance, to limit unnecessary trouble. But those of us who are listening to preaching need to work on careful and nuanced hearing. We need to strive to travel with the teacher, strive to grasp what they are trying to say, however imperfectly. We need to do some work in filling in the discliamers and balancing ideas. Rather than reacting to what we think we've heard, we should first ask what they thought they were saying.
  7. Cultural expression is a secondary, but still significant concern for biblical ethics. God looks at the heart, not merely the outward appearance. But this doesn't mean that cultural expression is irrelevant to Christian ethics. We communicate things through cultural and we live together in culture, unavoidably. We have to figure out how to love with the externals of words and actions and dress. Whatever we might think about the appropriate application of 1Corinthians 11 today, clearly the text is saying that some kind of cultural expression (head coverings and hair) is important on some level for Christian conduct.
  8. Appropriate cultural expression becomes harder in diverse communities with little agreed upon shared cultural norms. This challenge in applying 1Corinthians 11, or other biblical teachings that are connected with cultural expression, is that we live in a very diverse cultural context. More than that, we live in a cultural context that has increasingly resisted any kind of shared, civic culture. There are very few things that we agree upon as a kind of mediating 'lingua franca' for cultural behaviour. As a result, we must be much more open in our encouragements to culturally appropriate behaviour. Not only should we say 'this might mean this is the godly way to behave' but we need to also affirm 'but also it might not be this at all, but something else'.
  9.  More clarity would be helpful among complementarians, about the difference between biblical commands about gender difference and general inclinations and cultural norms arising from gender differences. It is important to observe that the explicit Bible teaching on gender roles is applied to marriage and the official teaching leadership of the local church. Because of this, many insist that we must restrict application of these principles to these contexts only: not to any other area of Christian ministry, let alone broader men-women relationships or secular work patterns. I largely agree with this. However, the danger with this approach is to make these instructions fairly arbitrary, and disconnected from anything in the created nature of men and women. So I have sympathy for those complementarians who want to explore how the Bible's teaching on the differences between men and women affect other areas of life: we don't stop being men and women when we step outside of the church. The problem comes, I believe, when these more global applications become commands (or very strong encouragements). If, as the Bible teaches, men and women are different and were created to be different, we might expect there to be generalisations about what many women are like and what many men are like. We might expect there to be behaviours that can be described as more 'masculine' and 'feminine', more 'paternal' and more 'maternal'. This in itself is fine. But to say that all men must be masculine and paternal (or that all women must be feminine and maternal) according to a narrow pattern, is going too far. We can recognise these tendencies and the underlying gender differences that might feed into them, without mandating them. We should still make space for men to be more feminine and maternal and women to be more masculine and paternal, without passing judgement.
  10. Nothing much constructive comes from discussing whether 'feminism' is good or not. As a term it now gets used in so many ways, to describe so many different ideas that sometimes contradict each other. It is no longer possible to say in a simple way that 'feminism is good' or 'feminism is bad'. Which feminism? Which bits? For those who want to critique feminism, it seems to me that it is no longer effective or persuasive to make blanket statements about 'feminism'. By all means critique particular feminist thinkers or particular branches of feminism. But to make global statements about 'feminism' is unconstructive, it seems to me. Likewise, to insist that everyone must adopt the label 'feminist' in order to be a good person is an odd linguistic legalism.
  11. Save the outrage for when it's really needed. If everything is outrageous, nothing is outrageous. If everything is outrageous, nothing is good. Perhaps if the sermon and video content from Equip made strong, unequivocal negative statements like "You cannot ever be a godly Christian and have short hair" or "Christian women only work in the secular workplace to make men shine and nothing more", this might be different. But if someone simply arrives at different conclusions to you, within the realms of Christian orthodoxy, and expresses them in an unnuanced way: is this worthy of outrage? Of walking out in protest? Of publishing a critique not merely on a personal blog or Facebook Page, but in a public newspaper, that itself is watched by the wider media? We live in a culture that escalates very quickly, when hot topics come up. It would be a peculiar honour to us Christians in this particular social context if we were quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Be dismayed, confused, annoyed, critical. But resist the urge of outrage unless really neeed.


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Liberty of conscience means slightly different things in the Bible and in political theory

As I was trying to write about Christian freedom for the book I'm working on, I began to get that slippery/fuzzy feeling in my head, that something wasn't quite right. Often this feeling comes when I am conflating ideas. And in this case I think I was.

Christian liberty in the Bible: free from human rules, answerable only to God

You see, in the Bible, and confessions like the Westminster Confession of Faith, Christian "liberty of conscience" is about our freedom from human rules and doctrines. Our consciences should not be bound by false religion, or extra-biblical scruples and traditions, because we are ultimately only answerable to God.

This concept of liberty of conscience does not uphold the freedom of men or women to believe in a false religion, nor in their freedom to hold unbiblical positions on moral issues. Our consciences are NOT free from God's word.

But when we speak about 'liberty of conscience' in political science, we mean a slightly different thing.

Liberty of conscience in politics: freedom from human coercion in matters of religion and morality

This idea is about stopping secular governments from over-reaching. They should not legislate too much in matters of morals and religion, so that individual liberty of conscience is preserved. This concept argues for allowing diversity in church demoninations, and diversity in religious beliefs and even diversity in moral opinion. We must allow people to act and worship according to their own conscience.

A version of this might even apply in a church setting. For example, the Presbyterian Church of Australia's 'Declaratory Statement', that is appended to the Westminster Confession of Faith says  "That liberty of opinion is allowed on matters in the subordinate standard not essential to the doctrine therein taught, the Church guarding against the abuse of this liberty to the injury of its unity and peace".

How does New Testament Christian liberty related to liberty of opinion?

I don't make this observation in order to argue that the second kind of liberty is extra-biblical and so unbiblical. In the first place I just want to conceptually separate them, so that you and I can think and speak more clearly.

I actually think the two work well together. I think the teaching about Christian liberty in the New Testament points in a way that encourages to allow a certain degree of liberty of opinion in the church and especially in society as a whole. Romans 14 strongly argues that people are ultimately responsible to God, not to human authorities (including church leaders). The same chapter also stresses that we are each individually responsible to God for our personal beliefs and actions. It is not enough for us just to conform to external powers, whether in the church or in the world: anything that does not come from faith is sin.

A wise church leadership or civil government will consider where and how to allow freedom on points of disagreement regarding religion and morals. To leave room for individual responsibility and the ultimate lordship of God, it is good and right to restrain the reach of human authorities, even if they not adding to God's word, but only seeking to enforce it, as they understand it. So we should give a wide space around individual beliefs and moral action, to support genuine conversion and sincere moral action.

A final reason for supporting the second kind of 'liberty of conscience' is the truth of human fallibility and sinfulness. We human leaders are likely to be wrong when it comes to morality and religion, from time to time! If we are aware of this risk, then we will have an extra, biblical reason to be guarded in how narrowly we presume to legislate beliefs and behaviour.



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Anxious entrapment and urgent intensity in evangelical leisure time?

I came across this strange passage in Andrew Cameron's Joined-Up Life:

In this connection, I offer a word to those who work hard in evangelical churches, as either members or leaders. They're not legalists, and have a healthy sense that they may enjoy morally indifferent goods. They also have a strong sense of being the 'perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all'. But oddly, we sometimes drift into a new form of anxious entrapment. The obligation of 'service to all' totally dominates us, so that our leisure-time uses of adiaphora must erupt with urgent intensity in order that we may feel free. Paradoxically, these preachers of freedom can feel quite trapped."

(Joined-Up Life page 208)

What do you think Andrew has in mind here? Can you relate to this phenomenon?



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A few quibbles with Piper’s ‘Christian Hedonism’

I'm working on a footnote where I want to say a few quick things about John Piper's 'Christian Hedonism'. I feel like many people appreciated Desiring God for showing us that it's a good thing to enjoy God and all his good gifts— that this actually glorifies God as well. But I don't know how many people were fully brought on board with Piper's full system.

Here are a few quick quibbles I could think of with the 'Christian Hedonism' system as I understand it. Have I got it right? What would you add? What would you clarify... or disagree with?

 

  1. I am unconvinced that we are commanded to rejoice, I would rather say we are exhorted to rejoice. A very in the imperative mood is not necessarily a command.
  2. I don't think it is true to say that 'we glorify God by enjoying him'. While our joy in God does glorify him, this is not the overarching category for how we glorify him: we also glorify him by obeying him and relying up on him and so on.
  3. I disagree with the idea that the one overarching impulse for human activity is 'seeking joy'. Seeking to do the right thing can't easily be collapsed into that. Joy is the wonderful benefit of the Christian life, rather than its primary goal.
  4. I am troubled by the claim that we can only please God if we pursue joy. We can please God even if we do not experience of joy from time to time, or focus on the pursuit of joy in a particular act.

  5. While the term 'hedonism' is used to be helpfully provocative, I think it is more offputting than illuminating.


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Recruiting for Ministry: from jobs in church to full-time ministry

Across Australia there’s lots of thinking and praying about recruiting for ministry. We are trying to find new pastors for vacant churches, new people to join staff teams, young people to do MTS apprenticeships, new elders for our churches and new people to help with music or creche or small group leadership.

Recruiting for ministry has to be more than public announcements and reactive recruitment. Public announcements can raise general awareness about ministry needs and occasionally flushing out keen volunteers, but it often doesn’t work. It can create the impression that we are always desperate to push people into ministry, recruiting out of guilt and neediness, rather than raising people up and drawing them to a vision.

Reactive recruitment relies on people to stick up their hands and put themselves forward. Once they have volunteered themselves, we then plug them in. This severely limits the amount of people we will bring into ministry, because most won’t necessarily volunteer. We might also end up putting people into ministry who are unsuitable, since we are relying on their own willingness rather than their actual giftedness.

A more satisfactory ministry recruitment plan is much more holistic, much more bound up with our discipleship work, and ultimately much more fruitful. The same principles apply equally well, whether we are recruiting new pastors, new elders or new Sunday school teachers. Here are some basic elements of proactive ministry recruitment:

1. Teach and proclaim the vision of the gospel.

As we do the basic work of teaching and preaching the Scriptures as they reveal Christ to us, people are led to repent from their sins and depend upon Christ alone. We are compelled by our love of God to live for him and our vision of the world around us and the times we live in are shaped by God’s word. A motivation for ministry comes from us ‘getting’ the gospel.

2. Raise awareness of ministry opportunities.

We shouldn’t wait until there is a gap for us to raise awareness of ministry opportunities. Churches should think of ways to share how people are serving the gospel: ‘ministry spotlights’ during the church meeting, a ‘ministry expo’ after the church meeting, little testimonies in the bulletin and so on. At a broader level, we need to think about ways to raise awareness of ministry in our region or ministry niche, to help in recruiting people from elsewhere to come and work among us.

3. Invest in individual spiritual maturity.

Recruiting people for volunteer roles, MTS apprenticeships and staff roles flow naturally out of investing in people’s spiritual maturity. As we disciple people in preaching, small groups and one to one, we help them grow in obedience and commitment to serve God in ministry. It is a good idea for staff to set a recurring task to ‘scan the roll’ and think about how to help members of their church grow in Christ and become active in ministry.

4. Make use of events.

Events don’t do all the work for us, but they are one piece of the puzzle. A range of events can help speed up the recruiting process: ministry expos, training courses, Challenge Conferences, MTS Dinners. In the same way, with recruiting staff, it can be worthwhile to visit Bible Colleges and conferences to speak about needs in your area.

5. Ministry prospectus and job descriptions.

Basic summaries of the purpose and nature of your ministries can help people better see what needs to be done and why it is important. So also job descriptions can make roles seem more clear and concrete. Spelling out the details of purpose, vision, function and expectations make the role more ‘real’ and also help in overcoming objections people might have.

6. Personal recruitment, orientation and commitment.

You will struggle if you rely on drawing people into ministry from afar. You need to get up close, personally inviting people into ministry roles - actually looking them in the eye and asking the question. Orientation is also very helpful. As Al Stewart says, ‘If you let people play with the puppy, they are much more likely to want to take it home’. It’s worth the expense to fly potential staff down to see things first hand, or give a trial period to potential kids ministry leaders. But don’t leave the edges vague, especially with volunteers. There needs to be a point when people make a definite commitment one way or the other.

7. Ongoing training, encouragement, coaching, and review.

Of course recruitment doesn’t end when someone ‘signs on the dotted line’ - we need to keep investing in people by providing the training and resources they need; the relationship and community to encourage them; the coaching to get better and the regular reviews to help them see progress and plan ahead. This both helps people grow in their existing roles, but also creates a positive ministry culture: people want to get involved in ministry with you!



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Mirrors 12th May 2017

  1. Should we make our 'public' website entirely for the new visitor? Personally, as a visitor, I like to get a bit of grit and vibe of the actual community. I find overly polished ‘pitched’ websites annoying.
  2. Fascinating: seems all research says that front page web mag sliders don’t work
  3. Seems to underplay the now/not yet of exile.  Yes Christ ends the exile. But in Revelation we are still in Babylon.
  4. Oldie but a goodie. Remove the final (4th) panel from Peanuts comic strips and they become bleakly existentialist.
  5. New eBook on measuring outcomes in Not For Profits. They provide excellent clarity on what 'outputs' and 'outcomes' are: 'doing what we said we'd do' and 'making a difference'.
  6. Great, brief, but rich papers on a Christian approach to national and international social issues


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Growing past the 100 barrier and why we get stuck

Many of the churches in our Tassie network have plateaued between 100-200 people - and sometimes stayed this way for years. This is often called the ‘200 barrier’ (in practice somewhere between 100 and 200). 

The reason for this plateua has got to do with a bottleneck in the life and shape of the church. The capacity for the church to engage and incorporate and adjust to new people is geting seized up by a whole bunch of little things. And all sorts of signals are being sent to visitors and existing members which makes it hard to grow.

This is what people mean when they talk about ‘growth barriers’ - points where churches tend to plateau - they might grow for a season, but then oddly shrink back to roughly the same size. Because there are whole bunch of things that cause these growth barriers, they can’t be fixed simply by improving this or that program. A much larger change has to take place.

So how do we make progress with this ‘200 barrier’? How do we get past this 100-200 people point? To get past this particular ‘barrier’ is often the hardest of all, because it requires the church to change BOTH its leadership style AND its community life at once. Books, articles and lectures I’ve come across suggest the following things:

1. Vision and prayer

Setting a vision for growth is crucial if we and our leaders and our people are going to be motivated to make costly changes. And deep, kingdom-centred prayerfulness, that repents earnestly and looks beyond our immediate needs to ask bigger and bolder things of God is the kind of thing a truly gospel vision produces.

2. Volunteer leaders and leaders of leaders

The change in leadership that is needed for a church to grow, is the change from a paid leader and a bunch of pro-active volunteers muddling along together to a growing team of leaders and even leaders of leaders, some paid, but most volunteers. The more people are engaged in serious ministry, the more people can be engaged, incorporated, disipled and empowered. And to recruit and sustain more people ministering, you need more leaders of leaders to recruit, oversee and coach them well.

This means doubling or tripling the number of people we want in ministry, and doubling or tripling the number of people who have a significant role in recruiting, overseeing and coaching those in ministry. In other words make leadership development a high priority!

3. Act like a chuch of 200-300

It’s silly and pointless to pretend you are a church of 1000 people if you only have 85. But it is do-able to learn some habits and values of a church twice your size. Often the regulars at your church think of it as smaller than it is, whereas visitors come expecting more from you - as an already-biggish congregation.

So reading, visiting, and learning from just-slightly-larger churches can be helpful: how do they do things up the front on a Sunday? How do they communicate with the congregation? How do the do ministry?

4. Multiply ministry and multiply ministry staff

Last of all, most of the stuff about breaking the so-called ‘200 barrier’ talks about breaking out of the mould of being one single comunity with one main leader. Instead multiply leaders and multiply ministries.

This might mean working hard to gather the resources to appoint a second full-time senior pastor. The ministry capacity another gifted and trained pastor can bring is massive. It will be a financial stretch that will require some persuasion and maybe some creativity - but it’s the last time your budget will have to basically-double because of adding a single staff member!

This might also mean adding a second Sunday service - something I have written about in a previous newsletter - another way to open up the church to more people and more ministry opportunities.

Or it might simply mean being much more pro-active in growing the other ministries of the church - how to multiply more growth groups? More avenues for training, socialising and evangelism? How to grow the shape of the Sunday school and youth ministries?

Summary

This is hard work, and involves big changes and a new ways of doing church and leading in ministry. No wonder it’s hard for us to get past. But I really want to encourage us to do some talking, thinking, reading and praying about how we could remove unnecessary human barriers to our existing churches being even more fruitul for the gospel.



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If we fail to guard Christian liberty we undermine Christian joy in God’s good gifts

A great and insightful bit of pastoral theology from John Calvin:

In the present day many think us absurd in raising a question as to the free eating of flesh, the free use of dress and holidays, and similar frivolous trifles, as they think them; but they are of more importance than is commonly supposed. For when once the conscience is entangled in the net, it enters a long and inextricable labyrinth, from which it is afterwards most difficult to escape. When a man begins to doubt whether it is lawful for him to use linen for sheets, shirts, napkins, and handkerchiefs, he will not long be secure as to hemp, and will at last have doubts as to tow; for he will revolve in his mind whether he cannot sup without napkins, or dispense with handkerchiefs. Should he deem a daintier food unlawful, he will afterwards feel uneasy for using loafbread and common eatables, because he will think that his body might possibly be supported on a still meaner food. If he hesitates as to a more genial wine, he will scarcely drink the worst with a good conscience; at last he will not dare to touch water if more than 2135usually sweet and pure. In fine, he will come to this, that he will deem it criminal to trample on a straw lying in his way.For it is no trivial dispute that is here commenced, the point in debate being, whether the use of this thing or that is in accordance with the divine will, which ought to take precedence of all our acts and counsels. Here some must by despair be hurried into an abyss, while others, despising God and casting off his fear, will not be able to make a way for themselves without ruin. When men are involved in such doubts whatever be the direction in which they turn, every thing they see must offend their conscience.
(Institutes, 3.19.7)

He then goes onto to describe how Christian liberty, should always be guided and directed by love and self-discipline and modesty:

For there is scarcely any one whose means allow him to live sumptuously, who does not delight in feasting, and dress, and the luxurious grandeur of his house, who wishes not to surpass his neighbor in every kind of delicacy, and does not plume himself amazingly on his splendor. And all these things are defended under the pretext of Christian liberty. They say they are things indifferent: I admit it, provided they are used indifferently. But when they are too eagerly longed for, when they are proudly boasted of, when they are indulged in luxurious profusion, things which otherwise were in themselves lawful are certainly defiled by these vices. Paul makes an admirable distinction in regard to things indifferent: “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled” (Tit. 1:15). For why is a woe pronounced upon the rich who have received their consolation? (Luke 6:24), who are full, who laugh now, who “lie upon beds of ivory and stretch themselves upon their couches;” “join house to house,” and “lay field to field;” “and the harp and the viol, the tablet and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts,” (Amos 6:6; Isa. 5:8, 10). Certainly ivory and gold, and riches, are the good creatures of God, permitted, nay destined, by divine providence for the use of man; nor was it ever forbidden to laugh, or to be full, or to add new to old and hereditary possessions, or to be delighted with music, or to drink wine. This is true, but when the means are supplied to roll and wallow in luxury, to intoxicate the mind and soul with present and be always hunting after new pleasures, is very far from a legitimate use of the gifts of God. Let them, therefore, suppress immoderate desire, immoderate profusion, vanity, and arrogance, that they may use the gifts of God purely with a pure conscience. When their mind is brought to this state of soberness, they will be able to regulate the legitimate use. On the other hand, when this moderation is wanting, even plebeian and ordinary delicacies are excessive. For it is a true saying, that a haughty mind often dwells in a coarse and homely garb, while true humility lurks under fine linen and purple. Let every one then live in his own station, poorly or moderately, or in splendor; but let all remember that the nourishment which God gives is for life, not luxury, and let them regard it as the law of Christian liberty, to learn with Paul in whatever state they are, “therewith to be content,” to know “both how to be abased,” and “how to abound,” “to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need,” (Phil. 4:11).

(Institutes, 3.19.9)



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Mirrors 5th May 2017

  1. Please arrive late for Bible study
  2. My article for Gospel Coalition Australia: 1) Be kind 2) Avoid false dichotomies/unfair conflations and 3) talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ. 
  3. Interesting article on the genre and legal conventions of Old Testament.
  4. Five reasons to do an MTS apprenticeship.
  5. For campus ministers in the S. Hemisphere, where ‘December’ is the equivalent of May.
  6. A Christian fundraising dinner manual!
  7. My sermon-lecture on Christian freedom
  8. Helpful podcast discussion on the dignity of secular work. Subscribe to the CCL podcast as well why dontcha?


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Some notes on personal evangelism

At a MTS Day last year, Bernard Cane from Good News Christian Church shared some provocative thoughts about outreach and the reasons why we aren’t me diligent in this area of church ministry (the audio and session notes can be found here).

In this brief article I would like to complement Bernard’s ideas about church-wide connection and promotion with some things I’ve heard, experienced or thought about personal efforts to share the gospel.

1. Look for those who are curious

I’ve noticed the uni students at Uni Fellowship of Christians often talk about this or that classmate who is ‘curious’ about Christianity, or praying that their friends might become more curious. It’s a interesting choice of words and a helpful one.

In Australia many people are either apathetic or hostile to religion and Christianity. We might be able to say a thing or two to prick this apathy or offsest this hostility. But being watchful and prayerful for those who are actually curious about philosophy, religion or Jesus can take the pressure off having to force the issue with those who are less open.

2. Extend invitations, make offers and give opportunities

There are different ways to think about using a public mission event, an evangelistic course or an apologetic book:

- With those I know well and who are curious, I can extend a sincere invitation that they would be my guest at this event. This is the kind of invitation where I actually seek a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ and where I follow up closer to the time.

- With some who I suspect might be open, I might make an offer - this is a lighter kind of invitation. I put the idea before them without expecting a reply and I might not even follow up the invitation. 

- With those I hardly know at all, or who are hostile to Christianity I can be even more gentle still - I think of it as giving an opportunity for a conversation, giving an opportunity to investigate things. In this approach my tone of voice is almost apologetic, acknowledging that it’s a ‘big ask’ and they are welcome to shut it down.

Multiple approaches for multiple contexts help me do something rather than nothing, while also doing the best I appropriately can in any given situation.

3. Personal openness

Sharing the gospel is not just about waiting for theoretical discussions about the meaning of life. It is often sharing insights into our personal experience of being Christian and how it shapes our lives. It may even be sharing the unique challenges and frustrations that come with our faith.

Could I be more open about my life and faith? How might I offer more of myself and my spiritual life in everyday conversation? Am I trying to be too perfect, rather than being honest about the ups and downs of life?

4. Personal prayer and small group prayer

God hears and answers prayer. Since we deeply desire people to be saved we should ask him to make it happen! I have also found that personal and small group prayer for the non-Christian people in my life both makes me more attentive to the oppportunities that come up. And sharing these kinds of prayer points in small group also holds me accountable to make the most of these opportunities!

5. Deliberately make time for people

God made all human beings in his image, and he so loved the world that he sent his only son. And we are to love our brothers and sisters, do good to all and even love our enemies. And as we love people, more opportunities to share the gospel will come our way, because we are having more meaningful contact with people. 

This can express itself in lots of different ways, depending on lots of factors, some of these might be:

  • Don’t look at phone when collecting kids from school, taking lunch break or on the bus - instead make eye contact and be willing to strike up conversation.
  • Be frienldy and conversational with service staff at shops.
  • Look for opportunities to offer practical and emotional support to others, and be willing to accept the same in return.
  • Have drinks and snacks in the fridge, ready to invite people to stick around and chat.
  • Plan a night a week for hospitality.
  • When planning parties and outings, consider inviting those outside church and family circles.

Conclusion

None of these guarantee good opportunities to share the gospel, let alone open responses to the gospel. But they’re a good start, aren’t they? All the best with your prayerful efforts to make the most of every opportunity!



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A few notes on postmodernism

I have been doing an excellent free Open Learning Course by Monash University professor in French studies Christopher Watkin on the topic "Postmodernism and the Bible: Understanding Derrida and Foucault". Great to have this kind of Christian academic thinking happening in Australia!

Here are a string of half-thoughts that I've tweeted out as I've gone through the course material:

  1. People with complex & impenetrable theological theories say "You haven't  understood me properly." This seems like a kind of gaslighting: They say one thing, then deny they meant it and call you foolish.... until eventually you doubt your own mind and submit to them.
  2. Pondering the irony of how structuralism/post-structuralism removed confidence in language... but boosted confidence in knowing motives/fantasies of speakers.
  3. Derrida asserts that a philosophy of ‘différance’ is not a ‘negative theology’. I’m not convinced. Seems like it to me.
  4. A Christian philosopher's summary of Derrida's ethics. He doesn't say 'It's all relative'
  5. From my lecturer: the ethics of Derrida & Levinas is seeking how a philosophy without God can make sure the Holocaust can never happen again.
  6. The irony of postmodern politics: You accept that hidden power structures shape society beyond conscious human intention... so then you try to police those hidden power structures with conscious human intention.


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Mirrors 28th April 2017

  1. The management feedback model gone toxic
  2. In their typical world-weary way, @firstthingsmag discuss M. Pence & women at 33 minutes. I largely agree with them.
  3. Michael Jensen says 1) Xns still have lots of social power 2) We should be following The Benedict Option regardless 
  4. Hebrews 9:16-17 is referring to confirming covenants with God by sacrifice, not enacting wills by death of testator
  5. Calvin: The forms of our church life exist to give decency and order. They are ‘arbitrary’ in the sense of not fixed. But these forms of church must never be infused with religious obligation or compared to the worship of God. forms for church are ’merely’ for common help. Still, it’s right to submit to them if they accord with Bible. Institutes 4.10.27-32
  6. Some good advice on encouraging people to be more engaged with weekly church attendance.But the slippery slope argument ‘If ppl attend church less than weekly now what’ll happen in 10rs’? Isn’t strong. I suspect there’s more to this: social change, inaccurate nostalgia, more holistic church life, less rigidity.
  7. A reply to the Gospel Coalition article about church attendance. Thanks Stephen McAlpine.


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Clarity about the gospel mission

What is our distinct mission as Christians? What should concern us uniquely as the people of God in these last days?

At our AGM the Vision 100 Network committee adopted, with a slight addition, the new Geneva Push doctrinal basis as an expanded expression of the the doctrine that unites us as a network (see http://ift.tt/2qgPo1d)

We wanted something with a bit more depth, to clarify matters of primary and secondary importance that spell out both our understanding of the fundamentals of the gospel and the realities, consequences and responibilities surrounding the gospel.

I want to quote and reflect on the section entitled ‘The Mission’:

As God's redeemed people there are many important duties and good deeds he has prepared for us to do. However the mission that we are explicitly and uniquely called to and entrusted with is to making disciples of all nations. Christlikeness will include growing in a desire to see all people saved.

We believe that the gospel should be urgently proclaimed to all people so that through the preaching of God’s word by the power of God’s Spirit all people might believe and be saved.

Good deeds provide opportunities for evangelism, they dictate the conduct of the evangelist, they are the necessary and inevitable fruit of genuine conversion and so they commend the gospel to our hearers. But they remain distinct if rarely separate, from the gospel preaching mission itself.

First of all, this item recognises there is more to the Christian life than evangelism.

The many duties of God’s people

There is more to the Christian life than evangelism and edification, prayer and praise. Because although the mission is important, it’s not the entirety of our duties to God and our neighbour. God calls us to love him with our whole selves and live lives of self-denying love to our neighbours 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Christian teaching is about the formation of a Christian worldview. Christian discipleship is all of life discipleship. Our worship of God touches every area of our existence and has relevance to every corner of our world.

The unique mission of God’s people

Among these many duties and opportunities is a distinct and unique mission: the preaching of the saving work of Jesus Christ to all nations. Proclamation of the gospel, and supporting its proclamation has a special centrality and importance for God, and so for God’s people.

So important is our obedience to Christ in the advance of the gospel, that blessings of God’s world are rightly forsaken and good deeds left undone.

The mission is rarely on its own

The relationship between evangelism and good deeds is complex. We often get opportunities to share the gospel in the context of charity or hospitality. So also our credibility is boosted, or damaged by the purity and integrity of our lives.

There are some occasions where gospel proclamation occurs almost in isolation, such as more broadcast forms of evangelism. But normally evangelism and good deeds occur together.

The mission is distinct

Nevertheless, while gospel mission and godly love belong together, and influence and fuel each other, they remain distinct. Gospel preaching is a distinct thing from things that are the good and even necessary consequences of gospel preaching.

Our duty to make disciples of all nations can and should be understood, discussed and pursued with careful clarity and distinction from other possible Christian activity.

And so Christian programs of education, family life, political or economic structure, artistic expression, legislative reform or charitable effort must not be given the conceptual or spiritual imperative of the Great Commission. Although should be affected by our mission, they are not in themselves our mission.

The outer boundaries of discipleship

In the broadest possible sense, of course, as we make disciples and teach them to obey everything, we teach them to worship God with their whole lives and this touches on all these other areas. Absolutely! So perhaps an additional distinction is needed: there outer boundaires of discipleship that are less clearly black and white, less foundational, and not always necessary for us all to explore. These are the wisdom areas where our disciple-making mission should rightly give the tools to explore, but where we are unable to be as concentrated and dogmatic.

That is, there may are many other things, indeed urgent and important things that grab our attention and draw us to action: matters on a personal, local, national and global scale; ranging from moral, political, cultural, ideological, economic and environmental matters. As Christians we will seek to respond to this things shaped and motivated by our faith. And we may well differ on the best goal, the most appropriate response and the relative importance of these matters.

But while we may differ on some of these matters, what brings us together with a shared commitment and conviction is the wonderful truth of the saving death and resurrection of Christ and the duty and privilege to preach it to a lost world. This is the gospel agenda of God’s people.



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A few notes on power and problematic things

  1. Just because something could plausibly be explained by a framework of power or desire doesn't make this explanation the right one.
  2. A group or person may lose the 'right' to the dominant view on a topic. But it's not true to say "You have no right to comment on this".
  3. Something can be 'problematic' without it necessarily being a Problem.
  4. A word or act can be possibly expressive of a greater abuse of power or corrupt desire, but this doesn't make it as bad (or necessarily bad).
  5. There's something cruel & vengeful about saying someone has no right to suffering if they have previously been (or still are) privileged.


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Analysis of the dangers that lie in Christian ministry ambition

In a great section of Col Marshall and Tony Payne's The Vine Project they say "one of the culture changes that many churches need is a revolution in their level of gospel ambition. Putting it baldly, we need to think big." They make a biblical case for gospel ministry 'ambition'. Yes!

But then they have a few really searching paragraphs that analyse the dangers for finite and sinful people in gospel ministry ambition:

There are of course dangers in thinking big. There’s the credibility danger of creating disillusionment in the congregation by setting some pie-in-the-sky goal that we’ll never achieve. And if we talk big but act small (like not providing for more people on Sunday, or not equipping ministry leaders), then no-one will believe us. 

There are also spiritual dangers in having ambitious plans:

  • you might begin to lust for the glory and reputation that accrues to the minister of a large and growing church
  • you might be tempted to build a feel-good, people-pleasing ministry in order to attract the crowds
  • you might start to treat people like objects, and lose the compassionate inefficiency that leaves the 99 in order to seek after the one
  • you might start exaggerating or fudging the facts to protect your credibility (i.e. by making out that goals are being achieved when they’re not)
  • you might fall into the unprincipled pragmatism that follows any ministry method that ‘gets results’. 

(Page 300, emphasis mine)

'Compassionate inefficiency' is a lovely turn of phrase, isn't it? But the whole thing is spot on. It's helpful to take the time to list these various temptations and corruptions like this. Rather than careless and general warnings, this kind of specificity is really shocking in a good way.



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Mirrors 23rd April 2017

  1. An unrequired love letter to the lost rollerbladers of Brisbane. Nothing to do with 'Christian Reflections' particularly.
  2. Do I lead my ministry/organisation in such a way that it won’t be too bad if I left? Awesome article
  3. Simone Richardson responding to the Twitter hashtag #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear. I like how she categorises 4 different types of quote, it makes it a lot easier to hear when quite different things aren't conflated in one stream. I do wonder, regarding 'category 1': what IS the acceptable way to talk about modesty in dress?. And with category 2, I'd suggest it's not just 'wrong view of highest callings' but sometimes rather an 'over-extension of right view recognition of very common calling'.
  4. Nathan Campbell tells us how we can like Frozen BETTER.
  5. John Calvin on Christian liberty (Institutes III.XIX) could have been written yesterday. Still so wise, insightful and pastorally sharp.


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One of the first books on church planting I ever read

Is there anything more gross than this?

It's almost so disgusting it's cool again. It's one of the first books on church planting I ever read. Back in 1999 or something, when Limp Biskit and Korn were considered to be a good idea and every Christian Union in the country was doing Matrix-themed evangelistic sermons. Evidently I thought there was something good on page 33 and 41.

It seems you can still buy the book from Koorong.

I found the book thrilling: it laid out the need for new churches and steps to starting one. It gave warnings about things that could get in the way of a new church thriving and advice on how to help it grow.

I also found the book boring, for the same kinds of reasons I still find church planting plans boring: stuff about demographics and finances. Kill me now. But it also provided a fairly simple way to think about those things.

Thinking about it now, there are clearly things that are dated, just because culture and technology have changed.

But also most of it is the same as every book on church planting since. In the end you figure out what you're going to do, gather people, and do it!



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Mirrors 14th April 2017

Happy Easter!

  1. Join me in Sydney on 22/5 to discuss a super important topic: 'Living well in God's creation, or dying to self in the last days?'
  2. My @ufc_utas sermon on Hebrews 10:19-39
  3. I've started a podcast about rollerblading :-P
  4. The Gospel Coalition Australia is going to do a series of posts on Tim Dreher's book on the Benedictine Option. Here's the first installment.


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Repost: Creating Ownership (October 2007)

[Update: The Vision 100 IT Team has indeed grown in ownership and momentume in the 10 years since this was posted. What helped build ownership?

  1. Quarterly 'sprints' getting everyone together to drink V and hang out and get a big chunk of work done in the same space.
  2. Giving people unique 'projects' to own within the wider team
  3. Raising the standards of team members and holding people to account: better a smaller team with high ownership than a bigger team with dead weight

If you want cheap, consistent, ongoing IT help targets at small to medium sized churches and committed to mobilising volunteers, then contact it@vision100.org]

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I'm currently overseeing an inter-church IT group. It's a good idea, but I'm not doing an awesome job.

It was a reaction against our small churches having disorganised IT. It goes like this: a whole lot gets done by an over-eager volunteer. Then no-one updates the content. And they get a job interstate. And the domain name is not renewed. And only one person can do the tech support. And. And. And.

We are now much more organised... and are also very unmotivated.

So I'm now trying to think how to, with little available time and energy to inspire and energise the team. Should I send them out to dinner together? Should we take on some mammoth, technically demanding task? Should blow it all up and start again?

I like the idea of us being a virtual IT community, with minimal time wasted on meetings. But the reality is, I think, that if you want high degrees of ownership and empowerment you need to have a human face. You need to be letting down Mikey, not letting down an internet mailing list.

Also, to have a high degree of ownership you need to feel in control and in charge. So the challenge is to correct against the over-correction. I need to let our IT guys get excited about something and make a mess of things... without going to the extremes of old and without controlling them too much.

In the end, I need to channel some of that energy into getting them excited about doing the routine things I want them to do.

And I don't want to put too much energy into this particular group, because I am a preacher and an evangelist, not an IT manager. And I want a pony. And a laser gun. And I want Mark Driscoll to be our associate minister. And I want a gigantic water slide.



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Mirrors 12th April 2017

Forgot to post this last Friday — sorry!

  1. Michael Jensen exegetes the first two songs of Ok Computer by Radiohead.
  2. Gnostic liberalism: if you separate personhood from creatureliness you end up with ethical problems 
  3. Pilgrim's Progress appeals to children because it's kind of not quite suitable for them. It's suitably unsuitable
  4. I feel like this article over-corrects, while saying some good things about Mike Pence and the Billy Graham Rule
  5. Love the stuff on publicity in this article, which also talks positively about the Billy Graham Rule
  6. Short round table discussion about the beauty of gender complementarianism 
  7. Wow! Al Mohler battles Bryan Chappell on young earth creationism. Great model of gracious disagreement!
  8. "“Complaining to you allows your daughter to bring the best of herself to school. Instead of being rude or aggressive toward peers or teachers at school, your daughter contains her irritation and waits until she is safely in your company to express it.” A helpful parenting article.


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Topics for training MTS apprentices or for conference workshops

I stumbled across a crusty old list of training ideas for MTS apprentice training. I don't think I'd looked at the list for years, but it is a pretty good list. This is the kind of stuff you can do with a ministry apprentice (see more at mts.com.au) or even as the topic for a workshop at a conference. Here's what it has:

  • Basic reading a Bible passage and discussing it together — at an MTS apprentice level.
  • Discuss people you are ministering to (Christian, young Christian, trainee):
    • What are you doing with them? What can you do for them practically? What can you learn from them? Where are they at spiritually? What's the next step forward for them? How might you help them get there?
  • Contact evangelism: as above
  • Do some cold contact evangelism and then debrief on it.
  • Adopt a book of the Bible for a long period of time and study, discuss and read other books about this book. Listen to and critique sermons on this book. Whenever you have to do any Bible teaching stuff, try to do it from this book.
  • Assess what role prayer has in your life and ministry.
  • Check in on progress of reading whole Bible.
  • Write and review a reading list of Christian, nonfiction and fiction books.
  • Saying the Hard Things that need to be said.
  • Ministry of the pew
  • Different learing styles
  • Critique different religions
  • Ministry training philosophy and principles
  • The doctrine of the atonement
  • The doctrine of predestination
  • Getting Things Done
  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Manager Tools
  • Duty of Care and Work Health and Safety and Privacy
  • Basics of managing finances for a ministry
  • Ecclesiology
  • How to do one to one ministry
  • How to lead small groups
  • How to do follow up
  • Review different evangelistic courses
  • Men and women in ministry
  • Work in a team
  • DiSC profile/Myers-Briggs
  • Friendship in ministry
  • When something's worth doing it's worth doing badly — when it's right to take shortcuts
  • Counselling
  • Church size barriers
  • Ministry to children, youth, young adults, mothers, workers, middle-aged, elderly, sick
  • Music ministry
  • Diaconal ministry
  • Sexual ethics
  • Church and culture
  • Political theology
  • Biblical theology and systematic theology
  • Visit other churches and critique
  • Why plant churches
  • Rest and holidays and pacing yourself
  • Gospel-driven godliness
  • Church discipline
  • Exegesis — perhaps using something like How to read the Bible for all it's worth
  • Politics and the English language
  • Denominational distinctives: even attend a denominational meeting
  • Time use assessment (write down every half hour for 1 working week how you are spending your time and then analyse)
  • Delegation
  • Coaching
  • Reflect on your trainer's ministry style
  • Preacing, clarity, gesture, posture, vocal use, illustrations, rhetoric
  • New Testament Greek
  • Post college plans
  • Christian heresies
  • Science and faith
  • Technology and ministry


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Mirrors 31st March 2017

  1. A Christian philosopher's summary of Derrida's ethics. He doesn't say 'It's all relative'.
  2. To get why Lorna Jane has those slogans or why movie characters make those decisions you need to get existentialism. My sermon-lecture from last year.
  3. Des Smith sermon on Using the Bible in Ministry 
  4. A well written article showing how a Christian kid who understood the faith lost the faith
  5. Don't overstate or totally deny the experience of Christians being persecuted in America (or Australia) 
  6. Craig Tucker on scaling up leadership
  7. The 1st episode of Alpha ends with a sustained 'pitch' to come back & do the whole course. I think my and most ministries I know generally rush our 'come back' pitch. It's a big decision, we need to reason with people about it.
  8. "It seems ridiculous to me for Christians to call for a boycott or removal of a character based on their sexual preference .... It communicates that anyone who’s attracted to ppl of the same sex is not... even welcome  in the world Christians inhabit." from Following Phoebe


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Reply to “God and the problem of sincere disbelief”

A friend of mine shared this article with me and a few others this morning. I thought it was a great read. A sad and real story. It was clearly written by someone who had lived among the kind of Christians I am and I know and I love. It did a fair job at representing Christians in a generous and faithful way, as the author sees and hears and understands it. I have friends whom this guy reminds me of: people who know enough about Christianity, and care enough about Christians, to want to speak well of it.

It struck me how honest this guy was about the grief and complicatedness of falling away:

I didn't want to lose my faith. It hurt, a lot

The opening line of novelist Julian Barnes' book Nothing To Be Frightened Of has stuck with me since I first read it almost a decade ago:

I don't believe in God, but I miss him.

And again:

My family has never been anything less than loving towards me, but there have been plenty of times when I've wished I could go to church with them and not feel like an imposter. When I've wished I could say "amen" during grace at a family dinner and actually mean it. When I've wished I could answer my parents' prayers that their prodigal son would return. And most of all, when I've wished I still had the comfort of knowing God is looking out for me.

But what I wanted to reflect on is the two central points this article makes. Two reated things that he found increasingly implausible, that can be summed up in one setence: That not all unbelievers are wicked and purposeful in their unbelief.

First, having grown up in the church he was shocked to find many unbelievers were good people. And second, he was shocked to find they were ambivalent and unpersuaded about the existence of God and the gospel of Jesus.

A few thoughts:

  1. The Bible does sometimes speak in simplistic black and white terms: In apocalyptic literature, the New Testament letters and the teaching of Jesus we are given a sharp distinction between the children of God and the children of the devil, those who love light and those who love darkness. These black and white descriptions remind us that there is one fundamental issue that ultimately defines our lives: whether or not we have faith. Faith upholds us despite our failings. And without faith, even our most noble deeds fall far short. But the Bible doesn't only speak in simplistic black and white terms.
  2. If we only speak in black and white terms, young people will find Christianity increasingly implausible: The Bible also recognises how most evil human fathers seek to give good gifts to their children, that misguided Isarelites are zealous for God (but their zeal is not based on knowledge), that tax collectors love those who love them and so on. The Bible tells stories of the faithful doing wicked things, and the wicked doing noble things which put the faithful to shame (Abraham and Abimelech in Genesis 20 for example). If young people are only ever fed a diet of 'Christ vs Culture', where The World is demonised in simplistic, cartoonish terms, where no subtlety or nuance or disclaimer is ever uttered — then they will get a shock when they go to university. For they will discover this sub-biblical perspective doesn't match the real world.
  3. If our churches and our families are so coccooned from non-Christians that our kids never interact meaningfully with non-Chrsitians then they will get a shock once they make a friend or two at uni. Thoughtful, gracious but truthful and faithful interaction with real non-Christians will help young people in Christian homes see the gospel truly and clearly and give them confidence that it has something great to say, even to the good, nice, open-minded and intelligent unbeliever.
  4. We need to be clear that Christians can do bad things and atheists do good things. I don't know who's to blame here, the Christian community, or deliberate misunderstanding: probably both. But it is not true to say that Christians are always good people and atheists are always bad people. Christians are forgiven sinners, and while we are regenerated and gradually sanctified, we are not yet glorified and perfected. And atheists remain God's image bearers capable of good and noble things. Many hold to religions and philosophies with high moral ideals. The Bible nowhere teaches that everything Christians do is always good, or that everything atheists do is always bad. Nor does it teach that any given Christian will be morally superior to any given atheist.
  5. We need to spell out the relationship between morality and Christianity and atheism. There is an argument about the relationship between morality, Christianity and atheism, but it is more subtle. It is often misrepresented by academics and punters alike. Perhaps this should tell us we need to be more careful and clear in how we express it? The true argument is: while atheists may do good things, they don't have a consistent philosphical basis for this. On the other hand, when Christians do good things, they do so for very solid religious and philosophical reasons. To put it simply: while Christians don't always act morally, when they do, they are being consistent with their religious beliefs. And the inverse is true: while atheists don't always act immorally, when they do they are not being inconsistent with their atheism.
  6. Condemnation is not in the first place for failure to believe the gospel, but for original rebellion against God, and everything that comes after. A pretty common question runs like this: Why would God send someone to hell for not believing in him? But this question fails to recognise that while there is an additional guilt that comes on those who refuse salvation, this is not our primary guilt before God. We are not guilty for failing to believe in Jesus or even for failing to believe in the existence of God. It is not as if we were all on a neutral moral footing until God decided that he wanted everyone to believe in him, or Jesus or whatever. Rather, we are all, as a unified human race, guilty as rebels before God, in Adam. And even if this is hard to believe, surely even the author of this article would agree that all human beings do plenty of evil in their lifetime? God's gospel and command to believe in Christ comes to us as already guilty people. To reword the question shows how odd it is: "Why would God not save someone who refuses to accept God's offer of salvation?"
  7. Responsibility does not rest solely on each individual being rationally convinced. The article develops a variation on this question about unbelief. Because it says:

It always seemed unconscionable to me that someone could be denied salvation not because of a moral failing, but because they simply disagreed about the evidence for God.

This is where we need to be clear that our condemnation does not depend on individual persuasion. This is clearer if you think about moral guilt: Even if someone claimed that they were unconvinced that murder was wrong, we would hold them guilty if they killed another human being. Morality doesn't require consent to be binding on an individual! So also, God's reality, and our guilt before him, doesn't vanish because we are not sure he's there.

You see we inherit more from Adam than just a share in his guilt and a sinful nature and a mortal body. We are all born into a human society whose ideologies and social patterns make faith and obedience to God implausible or undesirable in various ways. And the mercy of God doesn't just overcome our hard hearts and guilty consciences, but also needs to correct our distorted thinking! Just as God needs to work providentially to ensure I get to hear the gospel spoken, he also needs to work to enable me to be able to give it a hearing.


It is true that the Bible teaches that we reject God because of sin. But it does not follow that this sin is crassly selfaware and defiant. Sin may have set up a whole orientation of life in which I reject God. I have been born into a life that loves darkness on this fundamental level, so that I don't want to come into the light... but I might not even consciously think of 'the light' as light at all!

8. Is talking about the role of sin in unbelief an ad hominem attack? That's what the author of this article claims. That to talk about how unbelief is ulitmately the result of sin is an ad hominem attack. This would be the case if Christians used it as a  justification to not give reasons for their faith or interact with the questions and challenges of unbelievers. But what have I been donig for this whole blog post? And I have no doubt that the author has also encountered plenty of rational arguments for Christian belief. 

But the author is claiming that any mention of sin as a cause for unbelief is an 'ad hominem attack'. But an ad hominem attack is not in and of itself illegitimate. If it is the sum total of an argument, a refusal to deal with substantive issues then an ad hominem argument is a fallacy. If it is pointing to an irrelevant aspect of a person to discredit their arguments, then it is a fallacy. But if one is discussing the various reasons why an individual might hold a belief, it is perfectly legitimate. Because one is no longer simply discussing the merits of the idea in abstract, one is discussing the reasons a particular person holds to a belief. It is naive to think that people form most of their beliefs for purely rational reasons. In fact people can hold true beliefs for inadequate and incorrect reasons, and false beliefs for rational reasons!

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A great article, encourage some good reflection, don't you think?



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