Monday, December 21, 2009

Plans for 2010

The Stars Change...

When Sydney University was established in 1850, the founders envisioned a center of learning that would be equal to the great Oxbridge traditions of which they where heirs. The stars may have changed, but the mind stays the same. Indeed, the new university would embody the great advances of modernism that Cambridge and Oxford didn't. In particular, the university would be founded without a theology department and outside the control of the church.

In 2009, Sydney University has over 50,000 students and staff. About a quarter of students are from overseas, largely from mainland China. Many of the students and staff don't know Jesus.

In 2010 I'll begin a two-year ministry traineship (the Howard Guiness Project) through the EU Grads Fund in partnership with the Sydney University Evangelical Union (SUEU or EU). The EU is made up of between 600-1000 Christian students. 2010 will be their 80th anniversary of proclaiming Jesus as Lord to the campus and growing Christians in their faith and devotion to Jesus. I'll be working with students in Agricultural and Veterinary Science (the AgVet faculty), and also with postgraduate students from several different faculties across the university. I'll also receive training which, Lord willing, God will use for his purposes for many years to come.
"The university is a clear-cut fulcrum with which to move the world. The church can render no greater service, both to itself and to the cause of the gospel, than to try to recapture the universities for Christ. More potently than by any other means, change the university and you change the world." - Charles Habib Malik, former President of the UN General Assembly, Pascal Lectures, 1981.
After three years of working at CMS and being exposed to the ministry of CMS missionaries around the world, I'm totally convinced of the truth of what Malik says. Part of what excites me about the next two years is the vision of the EU Grads Fund: "To flood God's church in Sydney, Australia and beyond with lay and vocational Christian leaders who are biblically and theologically mature, servant hearted, and innovative ministry strategists." Furthermore, in several years Alison and I would, Lord willing, like to serve overseas in student ministry. So we see 2010 and 2011 as a really important time for me to learn and be trained and have my mind more and more transformed into the image of Christ.

You would be interested in supporting me either in prayer o financially, please contact me: mpmoffitt [at] gmail.com.

Isaiah 6-12 as a Wordle


Because it's Advent, here is Isaiah 6-12 as a wordle.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Follow Those Links II

Friday, December 11, 2009

DB Hart on Women and the Early Church

For David Bentley Hart, one reason for the spread of Christianity if the four centuries after Jesus was it's vision of humanity. It was the 'total humanism' offered by Christianity in the God who became human, in stark contrast to the dehumanizing practices of paganism, that was so attractive to inhabitants of 'the ancient world'. Hart argues that as society was transformed by Christianity in live with it's vision of humanity - both before and after Constantine - Christianity was increasingly attractive to woman (a point collaborated by the pagan emperor Julian).
"Frankly, no survey of the documentary evidence regarding early Christianity could leave one in any doubt that this was a religion to which women were powerfully drawn, and one that would not have spread nearly so far or so swiftly but for the great number of women in its fold.

This should not really surprise us. Whether women of great privilege would have gained much by association with the Galilaeans can no doubt be debated, but there can be little question regarding the benefits the new faith conferred upon ordinary women - women, that is, who were neither rich nor socially exalted - literally from birth to death. Christianity both forbade the ancient pagan practice of the exposure of unwanted infants - which is almost certainly to say, in the great majority of cases, girls - and insisted upon communal provision for the needs of widows - than whom no class of persons in ancient society was typically more disadvantaged or helpless. Not only did the the church demand that females be allowed, no less than males, to live; it provided the means for them to live out the full span of their lives with dignity and material security. Christian husbands, moreover, could not force their wives to submit to abortions or consent to infanticide; and while many pagan women may have been perfectly content to commit their newborn daughters to commit their newborn daughters to rubbish heaps or deserted roadsides, to become carrion for dogs and birds or (if fortunate) to become foundlings, we can assume a very great many women were not. Christian husbands were even commanded to remain faithful to their wives as they expected their wives to be to them; they were forbidden to treat their wives with cruelty; they could not abandon or divorce their wives; their wives were not chattels but their sisters in Christ. One might even argue that the virtues that Christianity chiefly valued - compassion, humility, gentleness, and so forth - were virtues in which women had generally better training; and that it was for this reason, perhaps, that among Christians female piety was often so powerful a model of the purity of their faith. Even in the latter half of the fourth century, Christian men as prominent as Basil of Caesarea and his brother Gregory of Nyssa could look to their brilliant and pious sister Marcina as a kind of ideal of the Christian life. That ancient Christians were not modern persons, and so could not yet conceive of a society in which men and women occupied the same professions or positions, is both obvious and utterly undeserving of reproach. The 'social technology' of perfect sexual equality - or, at any rate, equivalence - was as far beyond their resources as was the material technology of electric light. But Christians had been instructed by Paul that a man's body belonged to his wife no less than her body belonged to him, and that in Christ a difference in dignity between male and female did not exist. And while it would be silly to imagine that the women who converted to Christianity in the early centuries had first calculated the possible social benefits of such an act, it would be just as foolish to deny that Christian beliefs had real consequences for how women fared in the Christian community, or imagine that Christian women were entirely unconscious of the degree to which their faith affirmed their humanity." - D.B. Hart, Atheist Delusions, pp. 159-161 (bolding added).

Monday, December 07, 2009

"Reports of My Demise..."

"Anglicans lack identity..."

"I expect the meetings in Rome have begun an inexorable reabsorption of the Anglican Church into the world's oldest institution. The church created by the charismatic King Henry VIII has found its current archbishop, an undertaker, appearing to see his mission as an orderly burial."
According to Ross Cameron, former Federal MP for Parramatta (and one of several devoted Roman Catholic Liberals who came to prominence during John Howard's premiership), "we must assume the Anglican idea is fast reaching its use-by date." Cameron is quite polite in his Op-Ed piece from last Saturday's SMH: "It has, however, been a great innings". Cameron is quite ready to assign Anglicanism as the origin of everything from religious tolerance to scientific discovery. But Cameron is ready to consign Anglicanism, if not to the dustbin of history, then at least the historical retirement village.

Which is because of a fundamental error in Cameron's thesis. Cameron's Anglicanism has no identity because hasn't developed since the turmoils of Henry VIII. And this is an error because Anglicanism hasn't been static, and has had significant developments in expression and identity in it's five centuries (which I have previously described here). According to Gerald Bray:
"Most people seem to believe that when Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1534, he invented the Church of England and made himself its head in order to legitimise his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and that since that time, his successors have all been bound to belong to this somewhat dubious creation, an obligation which is symbolised by the royal title ‘Defender of the Faith’. This is false." - Honi soit qui mal y pense (worth checking out for Bray's analysis on current moves to remove the exclusion of Roman Catholics from Monarchy).

Cameron's analysis of the early history of the Anglican church is somewhat erroneous. The average Anglican in the 16th and 17th centuries would have strongly aligned themselves to the Protestant cause. And to argue that England sat on the sidelines of the "religious wars" (which according to D.B. Hart had more to do than with the rise of the nation-state against empire and church) is to ignore most historical scholarship in the area for the past 20 years (such as Jonathan Scott).

Cameron's Op-Ed is also typical of most detractors of the Anglican Church from the western world. The Anglicanism they see and present is declining in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They present it as increasingly irrelevant and being run aground by "fundamentalists". What they neglect is the phenomenal growth Anglicanism has experienced in Africa, Asia and South America. The rise of the Global South has not revitalised Anglicanism, it's the future. Cameron's assertion that Anglicanism is entering her autumn years are greatly exaggerated. Which is why I'm looking forward to the Monday night of CMS Summer School when the President of CMS, Peter Jensen, will be speaking on the role of a mission agency in the Global South.

Photos from the GAFCON website.

Lamentations As A Wordle

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As requested by Laura, this is what Lamentations looks like as a wordle. I noticed that 'like' seems to be a frequently used word. And I'm pretty impressed by how big 'Lord' is.

Any suggestions on what to do next.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Growth of the Old Atheism

If you had to put your finger on what caused the rise of the church in the Roman world (and beyond) in the first four centuries AD, what would you suggest? Miracles (as Eusebis suggests)? The blood of the martyrs (as Tertullian suggests)? I'd be inclined to follow sociologist Rodney Stark's suggestion that it was through relational networks of family and friends.*

According to Emperor Julian (b.331/332, d. 363), the last pagan emperor of the Roman Empire, the rise of Christianity in it's first four centuries - by the end of which at least half the empire was Christian - was the distinctive behaviour of Christians (which D.B. Hart includes as temperance, gentleness, lawfulness, and acts of supererogatory kindness) which were visible and appealing to their non-Christian neighbours. Julian wrote:
"It is [the Christians] philanthropy towards strangers, the care they take of the graves of the dead, and the affected sanctity with which they conduct their lives that have done most to spread their atheism." - Julian, Epistle 22 to Arsacius, the pagan priest of Galatia. Quoted by D.B. Hart in Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its fashionable Enemies, 2009.
* Rodney Stark would also argue that it was Christian behavior that made it so attractive, particularity it's treatment of women.

Proverbs as a Wordle


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As requested by Jeremy, here is what Proverbs looks like as a wordle. Any surprises here? Any suggestions on which book to wordle next?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Is Modernity Bad For You?

"Part of the enthralling promise of an age of reason was, at least at first, the prospect of a genuinely rationale ethics, not bound to the local or tribal customs of this people or that, not limited to the moral precepts of any particular creed, but available to all reasoning minds regardless of culture and - when recognized - immediately compelling to the rational will. Was there ever a more desperate fantasy than this? We live now in he wake of the most monstrously violent century in human history, during which the secular order (on bother he political right and the political left), freed form the authority of religion, showed itself willing to kill on an unprecedented scale and with an ease of conscience worse than merely depraved. If ever an age deserved to be thought an age of darkness, it is surely ours. One might almost be tempted to conclude that secular government is the one form of government that has shown itself too violent, capricious, and unprincipled to be trusted."
I've been reading David Bentley Hart's new book 'Atheist Delusions' and I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far. Hart does hold back in this book, and often attacks the New Atheists with all guns blazing (which can be quite amusing). This is a book about history and ideology: Hart wants to set the record straight on the the way the New Atheists use and abuse history, and defends the the history of the medieval and early church [on which he brings a unique perspective given his Eastern Orthodox roots]. He is also totally scathing of the ideology underpinning the New Atheists, particularly modernity and The Enlightenment. According to Hart, the failures of Western civilization lie in the disintegration of Christendom in the 16th Century when the influence of the Church was replaced by the modern Nation-State:

"The savagery of triumphant Jacobinism, the clinical heartlessness of classical social eugenics, the Nazi movement, Stalinism - all the grand Utopian projects of the modern age that have directly or indirectly spilled such oceans of human blood - are no less the results of the Enlightenment myth of liberation than are the liberal democratic state or the vulgarity of late capitalist consumerism or the pettiness of bourgeois individualism. The most pitilessly and self-righteously violent regimes in modern history - in the West or in those other quarters of the world contaminated by our worst ideas - have been those that have most explicitly cast off the Christian vision of reality and sought to replace it with a more 'human' set of values. No cause in history - no religion or imperial ambition or military adventure - has destroyed more lives with more confident enthusiasm than the cause of the 'brotherhood of man,' the post religious utopia, or the progress of the race. To fail to acknowledge this would be to mock the memory of all those millions that have perished before the advance of secular reason in its most extreme manifestations. And all the astonishing violence of the modern age - from the earliest European wars of the emergent nation-state onward - is no less proper an expression (and measure) of the modern story of human freedom than are the various political and social movements that have produced the moderns west's special combination of general liberty, material abundance, cultural mediocrity, and spiritual poverty. To fail to acknowledge this would be to close our eyes to the possibilities for evil that have been opened p in our history by the values we most dearly prize and by the 'truths' we most fervently adore." - D.B. Hart, Atheist Delusions, 2009.

Romans as a Wordle


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These are the most frequent words Paul uses in his letter to the Roman Church (using the NRSV). Any surprises?


Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hans Kung on Priestly Celibacy

"Since the Second Vatican Council in the 60s, many [Roman Catholic] episcopal conferences, pastors and believers have been calling for the abolition of the medieval prohibition of marriage for priests, a prohibition which, in the last few decades, has deprived almost half of our parishes of their own pastor. Time and again, the reformers have run into Ratzinger's stubborn,uncomprehending intransigence. And now these Catholic priests are expected to tolerate married, convert priests alongside themselves. When they want themselves to marry, should they first turn Anglican, and then return to the church?"

Hans Kung on the Roman offer to Anglo-Catholics.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

International GIS Day

This week is Geography Awareness Week, and today (November 18) in particular is International GIS Day.

You're first reaction to this might be "What is GIS?". According to wikipedia: "In simplest terms, GIS is the merging of cartography and database technology." I only know because I'm married to someone who once regaled with stories about GIS fun at uni. Alison now uses GIS regularly at work and was so excited about today that she baked a cake.

Anyway, all of this was kind of a rationale for me to post this classic clip from The West Wing about maps:



UPDATE: Here is Alison's post on International GIS Day

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Guest Post: Foray Into Media-Land

A syndicated guest post by Alison Moffitt

My department has been working on a report for the last couple of months that was released to the media on Tuesday (November 10) as part of Anglicare's Christmas appeal launch. It's the first time that I have ever written something for the public, and even though very few people outside of the industry will read it, it was still kind of cool to have something out there that was covered in the news for a fleeting moment.

The report was an update on a larger report my co-workers put together in June. It was an analysis of trends among people who access emergency relief services from Anglicare - the kind of help that comes in the form of emergency financial assistance for people who are really struggling to pay bills and buy food. The previous report identified that

- single mothers
- indigenous people
- people in public housing
- people who lived alone

were massively overrepresented.

It also called for a better emergency relief model. Many single mothers, indigenous people, single person households and people in public housing struggle with many other social and financial issues that can't be addressed by giving them a food hamper or paying off an occasional electricity bill. The government currently only funds organisations like Anglicare for this kind of assistance. When emergency relief staff spend time helping people negotiate centrelink or helping people access counselling services, parenting classes, drug and alcohol programs, budgeting classes or anything that isn't a financial transaction, the organisation has to subsidise it themselves.

Our update happened because we got an extra 5 months of data which helped us see how the global financial crisis impacted on these people. Firstly, there were more of them. The demand for services increased, although we couldn't actually help many more people because we were already operating at capacity. The same sorts of people were accessing services but, they were coming with different problems. Many many more people were coming because they were having trouble securing housing, and many many more were presenting with unemployment.

If you want to check out the report, you can find it here.

If you are more of a visual person, you can look at the wordle instead:


So on Tuesday, the report was made public, there were media releases and the report was covered by both Fairfax and News Limited with an identical story, although different headlines (having taken the story from AAP). I'm not sure how that works. This is my first experience like this, but somehow I wasn't surprised when the reports were dramatically incorrect. I am never complaining about poor journalism in the Sydney Anglican newspaper ever again. It has nothing on this. They just copied and pasted extracts of the Anglicare media release, and then got creative. They changed 'increased' to 'rocketed' and pulled out the biggest stats they could find from the media release. They also made up something about increasing requests for counselling and family services, even though (as I just mentioned) the only data we had was for people coming to financial assistance, and the media release was pretty straightforward about that. It's making me suspicious of most of what I have ever read in the newspapers.

This post is also available here.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Karl Barth on Refugees

Commenting in October 1942 on the refugee crisis facing Switzerland, Karl Barth had this to say:
"The refugees are our concern: not because they are good and valuable people, but because they are today the lowest, the most wretched people in the whole world and as such they knock on our doors, [and because their] inseparable companion is the Saviour. They are our concern: not although they are Jews, but precisely because they are Jews and as such are the Saviour's physical brothers...The refugees (whether they know it or not) are honouring us by seeing our land as a last refuge of justice and mercy, and by coming to it...We see in the refugees that which we have been miraculously spared of. It is certainly true today we are not doing all that well either. But again, it is also true that we are at least taken pretty good care of, and are taken such good care of that we are rich in comparison to these unhappy people. Can we bear this without wanting to help them with all our might."
This was at a time when the Swiss border was completely sealed off from Jewish refugees. Although many made it into Switzerland, over 100,000 refugees were rejected by the Swiss authorities during the Second World War. I won't comment on the current refugee situation in Australia, except to point to two excellent posts by Meredith Lake here and here.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Bonhoeffer: Church and Community

"Since I as a Christian cannot live without the church, since I owe my life to the church and now belong to it, so my merits are no longer my own but belong to the church. Only because the church lives one life in Christ, as it were, can I as a Christian say that the chastity of others helps me when my desires tempt me, that the fasting of others benefits me, and that the prayers of my neighbours is offered in my stead" ~ Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio, p. 183.
h/t Alex

Friday, October 30, 2009

Free for Their Full Humanity

Rowan Williams recently had this to say on the foundation of CMS:
"Those who founded the [Church Missionary] Society were close to those who fought against the slave trade in the British Empire and also those who were working for better conditions for working people in England. They were concerned, troubled and angry that working people in England and slaves in the British Empire could not truly experience their own full humanity. And so their missionary activity was always connected with the concern to set people free for their full humanity." - Rowan Williams
The Eclectic Society was a remarkable group of men. They founded CMS, fought for better working conditions in Great Britain, fought against the slave trade in the British Empire, and ensured a Christian chaplaincy to the new colony in New South Wales. They wanted to liberate people from a life that was thoroughly dehumanizing. But they also had a deeper motivation: to see the Christian faith spread and for people to know real humanity, the "measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4.13).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Exit Strategy

This interesting article was in The Guardian on Wednesday.
A former prostitute is challenging the idea that only some sex workers are forced into the industry:

By the age of six, Beverly Carter was being sexually abused by immediate members of her family, who then used her to provide paid-for sex to outsiders – leading to a 30-year stretch of prostitution. Despite eventually reporting the abuse to doctors, she says she wasn't helped and began to use alcohol and drugs – including slimming pills, cannabis and crack cocaine – to fill the painful void.

Today, aged 47, Carter is free from alcohol and drugs and prostitution, citing a 12-step drugs programme and a conversion to Christianity as her turning points. "For me, a holistic approach to rehabilitation is what helped," she explains. "Prostituted women need to deal with all areas of their lives in order to get free – mind, body, soul, spirit and, most importantly, the deeper levels of emotions."

You can read more here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Anglicanism's Mid Life Crisis

Has a denomination ever had as much trouble understanding it's identity as the Anglican church has? Every few months there seems to be a new book released either articulating what Anglicanism looks like (i.e. Tom Frame, Bruce Kaye), or commenting on the current crisis in the Anglican Communion (i.e. Oliver O'Donovan). One only needs to briefly scan one of the many blogs searching for an Anglican identity (such as hebel; also this and this) to see how widespread the quest is.

At the centre of the current crisis in the Anglican Communion is a question of scripture and authority. But what is at stake are opposing visions of what the Anglican Church should look like. The crisis, which has rages for several decades now (the main crisis vis-a-vis scripture and authority has stayed the same even the issues have changed, i.e. woman's ordination, homosexuality), can be interpreted as one front of the cultural wars that have raged since at least the end of the second world war. However, I want to suggest that there are several other reasons operating here.

Anglican identity has historically been in flux. Whilst there has always been a solid evangelical (reformed, protestant) core that has sought to define Anglicanism by the Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and Ordinals, and the Homilies (the Anglican Church League in Sydney was founded a century ago to persevere these things), there have always been other "factions" (i.e. Anglo-Catholics) that have nuanced the Anglican identity. The Tudor and Stuart periods are the classic example of this, where Anglican identity would vary according to how sat on the throne of England. The emergence of liberalism from the 18th Century has only increased the divergence of and competition for Anglican identity. The variegated historical experiences of Anglicanism since the 16th century continue to challenge our assumptions of Anglicanism today.

Naturally, related to this is the theological breadth of Anglicanism. It is often said that the genius (and frustration) of Anglicanism is that is both catholic and protestant, it holds the middle ground. But the challenge of walking the tight-rope of the via media is not to sway too far to one side or the other. Even then we have to realize that neither side is a homogeneous unit (i.e. the variances amongst contemporary Anglican evangelicals). "Anglican theology" has always had a polemic streak to it. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (a founding document for the formation of the Anglican Communion) aimed at restoring unity with other churches with the episcopacy (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodoxy), whilst providing a stumbling block for protestant churches with other forms of church government.

The polemics in Anglican theology have become more and more pointed in the past 50 years: Evangelicals v Anglo-Catholics v Liberals (v Charismatics?). The spread of Anglicanism through mission has changed the face of Anglicanism forever. The Church of England may still be established in England and considered by some to be the "mother church" (with the Primate of All England being the symbolic head of Anglicanism worldwide). The American and Canadian Episcopal Churches may still be the wealthiest churches in the communion. But the spread of the gospel on the coat tails of the British Empire through mission agencies such as CMS has resulted in Africa, Asia and Latin America having the largest populations of Anglicans in the world. Although the traditional realms of Anglicanism (England and North America) are still quite influential, but Anglicanism today is being the defined by the churches in the Global South. As you may know, the churches of the Global South are closer to what I have described central core of Anglicanism (protestant, reformed, evangelical and catholic) than the Anglican Church in North America.

These three factors, history, theology and mission, have not caused the crisis in identify. But they are crucial in understanding the struggle to define Anglicanism. Already we are seeing some answers to question of scripture and authority. One proposal is to strengthen the organisational structures of the Anglican world, particularly the instruments of communion. At this stage the success of this approach seems quite unlikely. I feel as though to define Anglicanism structurally is to miss the point. The past century has provided several examples of valid forms of Anglicanism that are out of step with the communion (i.e. The Church of England in South Africa).

Long gone are the days when you could walk into any Anglican Church in world and roughly understand what was happening. But the end of a common liturgy etc. does not spell the end of Anglicanism.

I am not a prophet nor the son of prophet, but the future of Anglicanism would appear to lie with GAFCON. This is a difficult process. It is also tremendously exciting as it offers a reinvigorated Anglican identity that is built on the central core of Anglicanism I have previously identified (protestant, reformed, evangelical and catholic) that is also truly global. It is an expression of church that will, Lord willing, continue to proclaim his life, death and resurrection until he returns.

Photos from the GAFCON website.

Destination Cambodia

I wrote this for a CMS handout distributed at the Sydney Diocese synod last night for mission hour.

‘Come and help us in leadership training!’

This is the most common request to CMS from partner churches across the globe. In many locations, the need for leadership training far outstrips the ability of the local church to provide it, and so many church leaders aren’t well trained to build up God’s people or to reach out to the lost. Dave and Leoni Painter, along with fellow CMS missionaries Rolf and Bonnie Lepelaar, have been teaching at the Phnom Penh Bible School in Cambodia and are involved in training future leaders of the church.

The Cambodian church was decimated in the 1970s under the Khmer Rouge regime, and then during the civil war that followed in the 1980s. Out of a total population of 8 million, over a million Cambodians died from executions, overwork, starvation and disease. And only 16% of all the Christians in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge came to power survived this terrible period.

The killing and upheaval ended in 1991, and has been followed by a period of rapid economic development and reconstruction. The church has also grown dramatically since then, with churches planted in each of Cambodia’s provinces. However, Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Many Cambodians also live in fear of evil spirits and bad karma, and struggle with the array of social problems that plague Cambodian life.

The growth of the Cambodian church presents new challenges. In 1999 there were over 300 evangelical churches, with more than one church starting each week. But there is a great need for mature leadership. The loss of so many educated people in the Khmer Rouge slaughter, and in the social turmoil the Khmer Rouge left in its wake, pushed many new Christians into leadership before they were ready for it. Often, the first person to become a Christian in a Cambodian village will be made the church pastor for their village – without any training, and before they have developed Christian maturity.

CMS responds to this great need for theological education and ministry training by sending faithful and well equipped servants, such as the Painters and Lepelaars, to build up and develop local leadership. By mentoring and teaching theological students and pastors in Cambodia, a foundation is being laid for the future of the church in that country.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Follow Those Links

Andrew has a great series on 'The Synoptic Gospels and the Nature of Scripture'.

Meredith asks 'Is Jesus a Greenie?' and 'Does Australia Have a Theological Temperament?'

Byron articulates a thesis question. And Tim explains his.

Chris ponders the relevance of Jesus.

Jeremy explains the Tour de France.

Steve blogs on living with evil.

The Pilgrims Podcast provide some fantastic interviews and resources on pastoral care.

Mike W discusses the Torah and Psalms.

Michael J discusses 'Music in the 21st Century'.

Michael K blogs on the 2009 Sydney Anglican synod.

A summary of O'Donovan's The Desire of the Nations.

A theology of pipe smoking.

The NT Wright Project contemplates the humanity of Jesus.

UPDATE 1: Philip Jenkins has just published a new book on the Christological and Trinitarian battles of the 5th Century: The Jesus Wars - How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years. h/t Greg Clarke.

UPDATE 1a: The Social Issues Executive have a funky new website.

Swimming Up The Tiber

The Roman Catholic church this week has announcemed that it has created a structure to welcome home 'traditional' Anglicans unhappy with the 'rampant liberalism' (ACL) in the Anglican church. Whether this will have the apocalyptic consequences for the Church of England that The Times says it does remains to be seen (Ruth Glendhill talks about this leading to the disestablisment of the CofE, and reclaiming of churches and cathedrals by Roma Catholics “'stolen' from them at the Reformation'). Oliver O'Donovan, commenting on the nineteenth article in the 39 Articles of Religon ("so also the Church of Rome hath erred..."), had this to say on ecumenism and institutional unity:
"Ecumenism is one of the ways in which the institutions of the church must be shaped and re-shaped to express the truth of the church itself more adequately than they do. But, of course, not any form of institutional unity will be appropriate. It must be a kind of unity which corresponds to the unity which the Holy Spirit gives, a unity which can comfortably embrace the diversities of gifts, operations and services within the united confession that 'Jesus is Lord'. Unity of the wrong kind will fail, just as disunity fails, to make the church institutions an effective sign of the gospel." - Oliver O'Donovan, On The Thirty Nine Articles - A Conversation With Tudor Christianity, 1986.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

CPX interview Miroslav Volf

The folks at the Centre for Public Christianity have interviewed theologian Miroslav Volf. "A victim of intense and sustained interrogation by the government of then communist Yugoslavia, Volf's work focuses on forgiveness and reconciliation and remembering wrongs sustained in the past. He maintains that the Christian vision of the world entails the possibility of overcoming the past for both the victim and the perpetrator of wrongs." He is described by Rowan Williams as "one of the most celebrated theologians of our day". You can watch part one of the interview (on forgiveness) below:





Part I The Gift of Forgiveness

Part II Loving Enemies - dangerous and absurd

Part III - Justice, Christianity and Reconciliation

Part IV - Religion and Violence

Part V - Faith, Community and Identity

Southern Cross Letter II

Here is the letter that, as I mentioned previously, has been published in the October edition of Southern Cross.*


Ridley College’s Peter Adam has found himself at the centre of a nation-wide controversy. Peter Adam was in Sydney on 10 August as a guest of the Baptist Union of NSW/ACT to deliver the second annual John Saunders Lecture at Morling College. His lecture, Australia – Whose Land?, gained national attention with a carefully crafted and well considered analysis of the treatment of Indigenous Australians. It was a fine example of bringing Christian ethics to a significant national issue. For Sydney Anglicans it provides several avenues for thought and action.

It was a lecture that pulled no punches. Adam called for Australian Christians, and the wider Australian community, to repent and make just recompense for past wrongs. The wrongs, or sins, that Adam had in mind were the theft of Aboriginal land since 1788, and the large-scale murder and genocide that has accompanied it. What particularly caught the imagination of the media was Adam’s suggestion that all post-1788 arrivals in Australia should, in order to make recompense through restitution, offer to leave so the land can be returned to the Indigenous people. However, recognising how difficult this would be, Dr Adam’s suggestion was that if we can’t leave, we should make some form of recompense that would appropriately rectify the wrongs committed against indigenous people.

I won’t try to argue the practicality of Adam’s proposal. You should read the lecture, available on the Ridley College website. This is an important issue that requires serious thinking and action, and I’m really glad that Peter Adam has taken a lead on this issue. He has offered a vision for true reconciliation. Here are five steps we can take in response to Peter Adam’s comments:

  1. We should repent. Repenting is the Christian thing to do. According to Dr Adam, while we may not have been personally involved in the dispossession of Aboriginal land and murder of Aboriginal people, we have all benefited from it. The land on which our homes, schools, workplaces and even our churches are built is land that indigenous Australians have unjustly been dispossessed of since 1788. We are effectively enjoying stolen property. Adam described this as a failure to treat those who are made in the image of God justly; a failure to love our neighbours as ourselves.

  2. We also need to pray. It would be very easy to start working towards reconciliation. But mere activism is not Christian. We need to pray for wisdom for our church and its leaders to understand the issue at stake, we need to uphold our wronged Indigenous brothers and sisters in prayer, and we need to pray that we will have to strength and faith to respond in a way that gives God all glory.

  3. We need to be informed and try to understand the gravity of what Indigenous people have suffered. The most moving part of the evening was after the lecture when people were invited to ask questions or make comments. Several Indigenous brothers and sisters spoke up, some in tears, and shared their experiences of being part of the stolen generation. They also expressed relief and excitement that the rest of the church, who they rightly described as “our brothers and sisters”, might finally recognise the issues they face. The Anglican Church must do more to understand the stories of Indigenous people within our churches and the wider Sydney community so that we can truly love and serve them. This will include taking up the pen and writing to our Governments. Advocating on behalf of our Indigenous brothers and sisters is one way that we can serve them.

  4. Non-Indigenous Australian Christians must continue to minister to Indigenous Australians. This will involve continued support for the training of Aboriginal Christians in ministry and theology. There is an urgent need to develop Indigenous leaders in the church. Non-Indigenous Australian Christians must also take up the challenge of connecting with both Christian and non-Christian Indigenous Australians.

  5. Perhaps it is time for the Anglican Church to discuss ‘acknowledging country’. This is different to a ‘welcome to country’. Acknowledgment of country is a statement of recognition of the traditional owners of the land. I’ve found one Sydney Anglican church that acknowledges country on their website. Should we have plaques at the entry to our church buildings acknowledging country? Should we do it at the start of major church gatherings, Synod, and the start of our conferences? It’s a difficult discussion to have, but that is by no means a reason not to start the debate.
God has called his people to be salt and light in the world. We should never shy away from seeking justice and showing mercy, even if it means speaking into a tense and complicated political issue. We follow a Lord whose humiliation and crucifixion have made him the head of a church where we know true love and reconciliation. It is tempting to assume that Kevin Rudd’s apology has ended the problems that Indigenous people face – it hasn’t.

Can I encourage you to listen to the case that Dr Adam has made and think about the ramifications it has for you, your church and the wider Christian community.



*Having tonight compared what I sent with what has been published, I have noticed that what is posted here and what appears in Southern Cross is slightly different.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Problem With Bible Reading II

A Question of Authority

Coincidentally after my previous post which quoted John Blanchard on the power of public Bible reading, Anglican Bishop Rob Forsyth has also written on this issue: The Marginalisation of Scripture. Rob quotes Oliver O'Donovan's lecture in April (mentioned on hebel here) to describe the place of scripture within our churches, and particularly how it has been sidelined in recent years. Rob argues that: "It can be easily be overwhelmed by the other elements: the music, the singing or, even more likely in our culture, the preaching."

Several years ago I heard a sermon that said that the most important of church is hearing the bible read out loud. How can the public reading of the Bible be central to our church gatherings? According to O'Donovan and his friend and contemporary Tom Wright, it comes down to authority. O'Donovan's account on this authority is superb. According to Wright:
"...[I]n public worship where the reading of scripture is given its proper place, the authority of God places a direct challenge to the authority of the powers, not least those who use the media, in shaping the mind and life of the community. But the primary purpose of the readings is to be itself an act of worship, celebrating God's story, power and wisdom and, above all, God's son. That is the kind of worship through which the church is renewed in God's image, and so transformed and directed in it's mission. Scripture is the key means through which the living God directs and strengthens his people in and for that work. That, I have argued throughout this book [Scripture and the Authority of God], is what the the shorthand phrase 'the authority of scripture' is really all about.

Indeed, what is done in the classic offices of Morning and Evening Prayer by means of listening to one reading from each Testament, is to tell the entire story of Old and New Testaments, glimpsing the broad landscape of the scriptural narrative through the two tiny windows of short readings. To truncate this to one lesson, or to a short reading simply as a prelude to the sermon (and perhaps accompanied with half an hour or more of 'worship songs'), is already to damage or deconstruct this event, and potentially to reduce the power and meaning of scripture, within this context , simply to the giving of information, instruction or exhortation. Equally, to have a reading that lasts about 90 seconds, flanked by canticles that last five or ten minutes (the practice in some 'cathedral-style' worship), conveys the same impression as a magnificent sparkling crystal glass with a tiny drop of wine in it. The glass is important, but the wine is what really matters." - NT Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God.
Or as O'Donovan argues:
"It is simply that without a proper value assigned to the corporate exercise of public reading of Scripture, private reading must look like an eccentric hobby. No collective spiritual exercise, no sacrament, no act of praise or prayer is so primary to the catholic identity of the church gathered as the reading and recitation of Scripture. It is the nuclear core. When Paul instructed his letters to be passed from church to church and read, it was the badge of the local church’s catholic identity. This is not to devalue preaching, praise, prayer, let alone sacramental act; these all find their authorisation in reading." - Oliver O'Donovan, The Reading Church: Scriptural Authority in Practice.

The reading of the bible at church is a means through which God speaks to his gathered people. Not only is it meant to be a transformative and profound moment, is it an act of worship by Christians to our God. Which is why we should strive to do it well. Not because we are professionals, but because we value excellence in our ministry, because we believe that it honours God and inspires people. I'll be blogging on this later in the week...

How to Think About Politics

"Political authority, if it recognises itself to be a response to man's fallen nature with a limited non-redemptive task, can serve to contain the threat of chaos and the power of sin. It cannot, however, eliminate these. Once those seeking and holding political power try to use that power to achieve more than politics' ordained and limited end of restraining sin through upholding justice in society and serving the common good, political life soon becomes a new idol. Like all idols it feeds off people's devotion, but instead of meeting their real needs, simply creates more chaos. Christians, who know the true place of political authority in God's purposes, are devoted to serving the crucified Christ as Lord and are praying for the coming of God's own kingdom, must therefore encourage those engaged in political life to acknowledge its limited role and significance. They must warn any society when they discern its political life falling prey to the real dangers of idolatry leading to chaos." - Andrew Goddard, Thinking Christianly about Politics.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Southern Cross Letter

Following up from Jeremy Halcrow's suggestion, I have a letter published in this month's Southern Cross (the Sydney Anglican newspaper) discussing some of the issues raised in the John Saunders lecture by Peter Adam.

You'll find it on page 24 of Southern Cross.

If you would like to read it but a) don't live on Sydney, b) aren't Anglican, c) Can't wait until I post the letter here, let me know and I'll email it to you.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Barth on the Devil

Or Laugh at the Devil and he will flee from you...

I found this piece of gold on Byron's blog. Enjoy:
“How can we make clear the victory of Christ? In this way: when speaking of sin, demons, darkness, by not speaking of them in too tragic a manner—like the German theologians, all so serious! The further north you go in Germany, the more they are concerned with the realm of darkness. And if you move to the Scandinavian countries, all is darkness: God against Satan, and vice versa! ... It is not wise to be too serious.”

—Karl Barth’s Table Talk, ed. John D. Godsey (Edinburgh: 1963), pp. 16-17.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Wealth

"Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts." - James 5:1-4
In 2007 Australians gave $487 million to foreign aid.

In 2007 Australians spent $487 million on plasma screen TVs.

Oh boy.

Karl Barth: An Introduction

An introduction to Karl Barth, the Smoking Church Father.



h/t Ben Myers

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Crusades: God's Battalions

Long term readers of hebel might remember that one of my earliest post's was on the real history of the Crusades. American sociologist Rodney Stark has just released a new book on the crusades that I read over the October long weekend.

God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades is Stark's attempt to redress the imbalance in Crusader history. Stark not only reviews the several major Crusades from 1095 to 1291, he also explores the history of the Muslim occupation of formerly Christian lands in the Middle East since the seventh century. The status quo in Crusader historiography is to explain the Crusades as the beginning of European colonialism. Barbarian Christians from the 'dark ages' victimized the cultivated and tolerant Muslims of the Middle East in the European quest for land (especially all those un-landed second sons), treasure and converts.

In contrast, Stark argues that the Crusades arouse out of a deep devotion from the Christians in response to centuries of Muslim aggression towards Christian nations and pilgrims. His central thesis is:
"The Crusades were not unprovoked. They were not the first round of European colonialism. They were not conducted for land, loot or converts. The Crusaders sincerely believed that they served in God's battalions."
Stark also wants to argue that the 'Dark Ages' were much more technologically and culturally advanced than we often recognize. He also contends with the idea that ancient wisdom and philosophy was passed down to the West from Islam. It is both convincing and balanced. Philip Jenkins, author of The Lost History of Christianity (reviewed by me here) writes:
"Through his many books, Rodney Stark has made us rethink so much of what we had assumed about the history of Christianity and its relations with other faiths, and now God's Battalions launches a frontal assault on the comfortable myths that scholars have popularized about the Crusades. The results are startling. His greatest achievement is to make us see the Crusaders on their own terms."
With so much Islamic and atheist propaganda directed towards the Crusades, where Christians are portrayed as brutal colonizers, this 248 page book is worth picking up and engaging with our history.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Problem With...Bible Reading

An Excursus

I've been blogging about the problem with preaching. In my Australia evangelical context, I think this is a reaction to i. the polished "professionalism" of pentecostal churches; and ii. the sacramentalism of Roman Catholicism. And so in our preaching we've opted for something that is amateurish compared to the tele-prompted, "Britney microphone" kitted charismatic preacher.

This is also systematic of our church services. And nowhere is this more true than in the Bible readings at church. It can often feel like the first time the reader has looked over the text is when they're standing at the lectern doing the reading.

I want to share with you something I read when I first started leading church services etc. It inspired me, and hopefully it will inspire you too.
"There are times when I have felt that the Bible was being read with less preparation than the notices - and with considerably less understanding. I hesitate to use the following illustrations because of my part in it, but I do so a reminder to my own heart of the seriousness of the issue. A year or two after my conversion I was appointed as a Lay Reader in the Church of England , to Holy Trinity, Guernsey. There were two other, more senior Lay readers on the staff, with the result that on most Sundays the responsibilities could be evenly shared out. As it happened, the Vicar almost always asked me to read the Lessons, following a Lectionary which listed the passages appointed to be read each Sunday of the year. My wife and I lived in a small flat at the time, but I can vividly remember my Sunday morning routine. Immediately after breakfast I would go to the bedroom, lock the door, and begin to prepare reading the Lesson that morning. After a word of prayer I would look up the Lesson in the Lectionary, and read it carefully in the Authorized Version, which we were using in the church. Then I would read it through in every other version I had in my possession, in order to get thoroughly familiar with the whole drift and sense of the passage. Next I would turn to the commentaries. I did not have many in those days, but those I had I used. I would pay particular attention to word meanings and doctrinal implications. When I had finished studying every passage in detail, I would go to the mantelpiece, which was roughly the same height as the lectern in the church, and prop up the largest version of the Authorized Version I possessed. Having done that, I would walk very slowly up to it from the the other side of the room, and begin to speak, aloud: 'Here beginneth the first verse of the tenth chapter of he gospel according to St. John' (or whatever according the passage was). Then I would begin to read aloud the portion appointed. If I made so much as a slip of the tongue, a single mispronunciation, I would stop, walk back across the room, and start again, until I had read the whole passage word perfect, perhaps two or three times. My wife would tell you that there were times when I emerged from the bedroom with that day's clean shirt stained with perspiration drawn from the effort of preparing one Lesson to read in the church. Does that sounds like carrying things too far? Then let me add this: I was told that there were times when after the reading of the Lesson people wanted to leave the service there and then and go quietly home to think over the implications of what God has said to them in his Word." - John Blanchard, quoted by R. Kent Hughes, 'Free Church Worship: The Challenge of Freedom', Worship by the Book, ed. D.A. Carson, 2002.
Extreme? I wish I could read the Bible in church like that.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

CMS-NSW has recently launched an e-journal: Landscape.

Landscape will be published twice a year, and aims to provide a deeper analysis of theology, culture, and missiology than CMS is currently able to do in some other publications. It also seeks to capitalize on the new media that is now available. So you will be able to find in issue one a photo essay on a young woman's life in South Asia. There is also a video interview with a Nigerian Bishop on the front line between Christians and Muslims in Africa.

Other highlights include the article by Alix Baumgartner on the cultural identity of missionary children; and David Williams essay on idolatry in Australia. David is the Development and Training Secretary for CMS-Australia. Previously a doctor in England and then Principal of Carlile College in the slums of Nairobi, David is responsible for the development of CMS missionaries, staff and members.

You can find Landscape at: www.landscape.cms.org.au.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

4 Quick Questions and 1 Strange One...

Alison has been interviewed by our friend Jeremy about her work and the demographics of Sydney.

You can check it out here.

The day Thou gavest...

The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended,
The darkness falls at Thy behest;
To Thee our morning hymns ascended,
Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.

We thank Thee that Thy church, unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.

As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.

The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ’neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.

So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away:
Thy kingdom stands, and grows forever,
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.

I heard this hymn quoted in a talk by Glenn Davies last night on the central coast. It does its time: the sun never sets on the British empire church. But I think it carries a lovely sense of the whole church and that somewhere on earth prayer and praise is always ascending to God.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Problem With Preaching IV

The Value of Oral Communication

Having laid out some of the problems facing preaching in church, it would be tempting to just do away with it. The common lament I hear is preaching is dry, boring and painful. And with the rise of the internet and the massive social changes that come with it, maybe preaching has had it's day.

However, being a good Anglican, I want to suggest that the way forward is the via media. I want to find some middle ground. I don't think we need to stop preaching. Instead, we need to preach better, we need to 'preach smarter'. It was encouraging to read Peter Adam describe John Calvin's preaching. Adam goes on to argue that it was Calvin's sermons rather than The Institutes and the Commentaries that were his most significant contribution: "[I]t was more through his preaching than through any other aspect of his work that he exercised the extraordinary influence everyone has acknowledged him to have had" (R.S. Wallace).
Calvin helped create a powerful pattern of vernacular expository preaching. His aim was to let God have his say, to project God's eloquence, to help the congregation to hear the voice of God. Calvin's sermons, heard in Geneva, written down, published, translated and published again, helped to reform Europe. We need to recover the health and vigour of engaged and lively expository preaching for the maturity and usefulness of the people of God, for the conversion of the world, for God's glory. We have much to learn from Calvin's preaching. - Peter Adam, "'Preaching of a Lively Kind' - Calvin's Engaged Expository Preaching", Engaging With Calvin, ed. M Thompson, IVP 2009.
If we want to preach better, or "preach smarter", then we need to recover the health and vigour of engaged and lively expository preaching for the maturity and usefulness of the people of God, for the conversion of the world, for God's glory. Preaching can be powerful when it is done well. Speech is powerful. Calvin's sermons transformed not just one city, but large swathes of a continent. Sure, the sixteenth century was a far more oral society than at the start of the twenty-first century.

But even today a good speech can move people. We've seen that in the past year with Barak Obama's election to the American Presidency. Never before had an election campaign harnassed the power of the internet. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter. You name it, Obama was on it. But it was the power of speech that captured a nation's imagination. Let us consider what this wordsmith has to offer us regarding preaching...

Holy, Holy, Holy...

I'm feeling pretty tired as I write this. Our congregation just had it's weekend away down at Gerringong. It was a great time of fellowship, rest and community. Michael Jensen also gave three outstanding talks on God: The one-ness of God; The Pleasure of God; and The Wisdom of God. If it ever makes it into a book, it will be a great follow-up to YOU: An Introduction.

On the trip home we had the ipod on surprise (also known as shuffle. This is fairly normal for Alison and me). The best part was when Sufjan Steven's version of Holy, Holy, Holy came on. What a treat!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Frontline Nigeria

Back in May in mentioned that northern Nigerian Anglican Bishop Josiah Fearon was in Sydney speaking at some events for CMS. We interviewed him, and the interview is available online through the new CMS e-journal, Landscape.

Check out the Josiah Fearon interview below.

Josiah Fearon Interview with CMS from CMS NSW on Vimeo.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Where's the Coverage?

I attended the the John Saunders Lecture in August where Dr Peter Adam discussed Aboriginal land claims, the history of injustice against Indigenous Australians, and appropriate Christian responses including the question of recompense. I followed the resulting media coverage with interest (including the SMH, The Age, and Melbourne Anglicans).

And so I was somewhat disturbed and surprised by the relative lack of coverage of the lecture in the Sydney Anglican media. Besides this quick mention in Russell Powell's weekly column and 26 words in September Southern Cross (see the picture), the lecture might well never of happened.

Despite Southern Cross reporting the lecture under the Anglican Communion Wrap: Melbourne, this landmark lecture actually took place in Sydney. I was there, along with several members of the Moore College Faculty.

Although the lecture was organized by Morling College and the Baptist Union of NSW & ACT, it had several Anglican connections. Peter Adam is Anglican, and the principal of an important Anglican theological college. The Aboriginal elder who helped organize the evening is an Anglican from Queensland. Several members of the Sydney Diocese Indigenous committee and Social Issues Executive where present. I think on the night that mention was made of support the lecture had received from the Sydney Diocese. And a collection was taken at the end of the night to fund indigenous theological training through the Baptist and Anglican churches. I thought that all this would make the lecture worth reporting in September's Southern Cross (particularity given page two caries a feature article on the bicentenary of William Cowper's arrival in Australia).

What really disturbs me is that the lecture received national coverage across the media spectrum and yet it has been virtually ignored in the Sydney Anglican mouthpiece. Peter Adam offered a Christian call for recompense that received national attention and we (Sydney Anglicanism) failed to engage with it. I know Sydney Anglican Media are facing major staff reductions, but I expected more from them. The 2009 John Saunders Lecture was of significant interest to Sydney Anglicans, and I'm disappointed that it wasn't reported to them.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Pomo V

Last time we established the golden trilogy of popular postmodernism: authenticity, community and justice.

Authenticity
Like Christianity, postmodernism challenged the dangerous arrogance of the modernist worldview in imagining that human reason was supreme (the authority of the mind). Instead of authority, the ideal of authenticity should be pursued. It is the pursuit of identity and the search for self. It is life lived authentically to who you really are. According to Michael Jensen, people "want to live according to the truth of themselves as beings. This longing is partly in response to a sense that cultural conditions - technology, urbanisation, mass immigration - have made discovery of authenticity in life much harder, because our freedom has been so restricted."

It is in the respect that pomo can be described as relativist. What is authentic for me may be totally divergent to what is authentic for you, but that is OK in postmodernism as long as we're being 'true to ourselves.' There are issues with this (which I'll come back to later), but it is a response to so much in modern life that is manufactured and carefully spun (think of our politicians or the advertising industry). You'll find this value reflected in many new social mediums, particularly YouTube. The success in YouTube is that the content is real; the videos are not manufactured. Via YouTube I can show the authentic me to the whole world.

The ideal of authenticity is something that the church must come to terms with so that it can go forward in it's life and mission. What is up for grabs is the question of identity. Whilst postmodernism has raised this question, it doesn't provide easy answers. Michael Jensen has in fact observed several paradoxes in postmodern identity amongst 'Gen Y': biology vs dignity (am I just another animal, or do I have a special place as a human); narcissism vs self-loathing; self-discovery vs self-disappearance (the Internet allows us to disappear, to be anonymous); individualism vs. loneliness (the desire to be on or own can be seen in the growth of one bedroom flats. But it also comes at a time when people are more disconnected than ever before); consumption vs labour (Gen Y is relatively prosperous, and buys what it wants when they want to. They are also working longer hours than ever before); freedom vs intolerance (of moral choices); choice vs change anxiety; tradition vs. novelty (old is cool, sometimes. But so is the latest product from Apple); and global vs local.

With these tensions, pomo is still trying to answer the question 'Who am I?'. The church has exciting opportunity to articulate that my identity is found in Christ. The quest to find 'self' is achieved in denying ourselves and following Jesus: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it." He is the authentic human and what he offers to those who would come after him is human life that is recovered (from evil and sin) and renewed. What he offers his disciples is the only way to know thy self.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Disciples and Citizens

A Guest Post by Alison Moffitt

I just read a fantastic book. It's called Disciples and Citizens (by Graham Cray) and it presented a vision for Christian living that incorporates both genuine Christian worship and radical community involvement.

I once did a geography subject called "Cities and Citizenship" and I think it was one of the best subjects I have ever taken. Our lecturer Kurt took us through a range of issues linked with citizenship in urban areas - social capital, social norms, everyday life - and applied them to different communities - the homeless, children, queer people. It was everything I wanted in a course, and ever since, it has got me thinking about how I should respond to all these issues as a Christian. Disciples and Citizens summed it all up in 190 pages - a fantastic fusion of Kurt's geography courses, second year sociology, every teaching I've ever received from 1 Corinthians and Philippians and a beautiful argument for the Christian hope as a bodily resurrection rather than an escape to an immaterial 'heaven'.

I wanted to share the following quote that was quoted in the book. It's long but so so good. It's a translated segment of a second century Christian manuscript, the Epistle to Diogenetus.
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, no the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity... But inhabiting the Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives... To sum up all in one word - what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.
My challenge after reading this is to live a life that is true to this description, and to pray that the whole church will live like this. We need to be the salt of the earth, a city on a hill, and we need to be a vibrant and change-affecting part of the community. Don't hide the light of the gospel under bushels in church buildings!!

In the late 18th Century, a group of Christians from Clapham in England got serious about praying and bible reading and giving to the church. But it wasn't just an inward looking thing to build up their personal spirituality or build up the church. They also were super actively involved in the life of the London community, in sharing with the poor and getting super politically active. How politically active? The Christians from Clapham:
  • Encouraged education and supported the Sunday School movement for people with poor schooling
  • Supported the Factory Act to get children out of inhumane working conditions in factories
  • Founded the RSPCA
  • Fought against blood sports, gambling and dueling
  • Helped to establish the Church Missionary Society (Matt works for them now!)
  • Encouraged better administration in India and Sierra Leone
  • Led the movement to abolish the slave trade in India
So, Christians out there, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Have you ever written a letter to a politician about an issue you are concerned about? Why not?
  • Do you think that we don't need to look after the planet because is gets destroyed when Jesus comes back? Wake up! Jesus' resurrection has affirmed the goodness of creation, so we'd better look after the good things God made.
  • Do you get overwhelmed by the needs of the socially excluded? We have a fantastic role model in Jesus, his own Spirit empowering us to work here and now, and the promise of a future where justice is completely restored.
Read this book! I will lend it to you, even if you live in Western Australia! Even if you live in the USA.