Jesus’ Patchwork Kindness


blingJesus didn’t really mean it.

Is it true that Jesus didn’t really mean what he said in Mark 10:17 when he told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor?

How do we play this text away to justify that Jesus didn’t really mean it?

Most often we use the ol’ Jesus was really talking about the man’s heart.  However, it should concern us not a little that Jesus did not say, ‘Have an attitude of the heart that demonstrates that you would sell all your possessions and give them to the poor and come and follow me.’  This is not in the text.

question_markBut let’s ponder this line of reasoning for a minute.  If we truly had the attitude that we would sell it all, what would the circumstance be where we would put that commitment into action?  Hmmm…

I’m pretty sure that whatever circumstance we might insert here actually exists, which presents a bit of problem.  By our own reasoned standard, who of us has the proposed attitude of the heart that is willing to actually sell all we have and give it to the poor when the occasion arrives?

As I prepare for a seminar on the topic ‘Is is possible to have faith?’ (for a Bulgarian primarily secular audience) I’ve been reading a bit of Dietrich Bonheoffer.  It is impossible to not be challenged by the guy, especially when you get hold of chapter 2 in The Cost of Discipleship where he breaks down our rationalising and relativising of the said text.

He takes the last clause of the text (come and follow me) as serious as the selling everything clause.  Jesus is demanding a life of commitment, not merely commitment.

I think the way that we render this text has implications on the way that we help the poor.  We’re not obligated to sell all we have to help the poor and so we live this out.  We don’t sell what we have to help the poor.

imagesInstead our lives become patchwork gifts.

We find a cause here or there to contribute to out of our excess and in so doing we fail to engage with Jesus’ point – die to self and follow me.

We give cups of water when we a) manage to find a spare cup b) have some spare water lying around c) have some spare time to hand it over and c) find a spark of motivation to do it.

This means that our lives are not characterised by a) sacrificing our own wants for others’ needs and b) giving to the poor and needy, let alone c) following Christ.

Maybe Jesus means what he says.

If you want get a hold of this personally, head on over to www.thecriticalgap.org and get on board.  Or like The Critical Gap facebook group here

X/Y-GENS & colour theory


red1Well, it’s election time again in Australia.

The PM has called an election for the 14th of September.  Yep, don’t even bother thinking about it until we start talking about the Eagles and the last weekend in September.  It’s ages away!

Despite the small aeon between now and then we are presented with a dilemma that’s not going away nor becoming simpler to resolve.

Who do you vote for?

As a Christian who do you vote for?

Should being a Christian make a difference?

blueI have a theory.

I have an increasing feeling that my generation (and the one below me) is not so set on where their political allegiances lie when compared with our parents.  Perhaps, 10/15 years ago when we started to vote we followed in line with our parents – this was the norm, but how things have changed.

You’re not a farmer, so you don’t vote National.  You don’t have dreadlocks so you don’t vote Green.  You’re not a sparky, so you don’t vote Labor.  And you’re not a businessman, so you don’t vote Liberal.

BUT…

greenYou care about the environment, you care about dealing with the asylum seeker situation carefully, humanly and lovingly, you care that the needy are provided for, you care that Australia’s future is secured with wise financial management, you care about the continuous development of our great nation’s infrastructure, you care about maintaining your own ethical prerogatives, and you care about how much tax you pay, you care about the situation in the Middle East, and you probably care about some other quirky thing too.

Ok, so which colour do you choose – Blue, Red or Green?

Now I hear the voices telling me of the other colours: mauve, teal, oh, and don’t forget spew, but the bottom line here is that these primary colours (and the secondary ones for that matter) don’t capture our concerns, not even a small portion of them.

greyWhat we are after is achromatic – that middle point on the colour wheel where all the colours converge to create a neutral grey.  A political party that doesn’t focus on one colour or the other, but every colour, shade, and hue in between.

That’s what we want!

I’ve got no answers, just colour theory.

Book Review – Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology


anglcanSydney Anglicanism: An Apology.  By Michael P. Jensen.  Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2012. $9.99 for Kindle version and $21.00 for paperback here.

Sydney Anglicans are fundamentalist, sexist, theological and political bullies, and not faithful to historical Anglicanism.  These are some of the claims that Jensen seeks to debunk in his book Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology – though not before presenting a raft of issues that need addressing, as well as possible ways that Sydney Anglicans can move forward as they look to the future.

The book is divided into two parts: The Bible and The Church.  This division enables Jensen to not only address the concepts that are distinctively associated with Sydney Anglicanism, but also to engage with a number of opponents and arguments that have been pitted against Sydney Anglicanism.  Jensen also takes opportunities (especially in part two) to delve into Sydney’s unique culture and history to shed some light on why Sydney Anglicans are a unique breed.  This uniqueness, however, is carefully couched within an argument that seeks to maintain that Sydney Anglicanism is an extension not only of historical Anglicanism but also of the contemporary universal Anglican Communion.

Jensen begins part one by clarifying the term fundamentalism.  He subsequently defends the view that, according to the historical conception of fundamentalism, the labelling of Sydney Anglicanism as fundamentalist is at best misguided and at worst disingenuous.  The impression that Jensen gives is that the label fundamentalist is used of Sydney Anglicanism in the pejorative sense, in an attempt to impugn by mere association.  This is clearly an issue that Jensen seeks to lay to rest, which he achieves with the limited treatment that he gives.

The reader is then given a guided tour around the biblical distinctives of Sydney Anglicanism.  Of particular note is Graeme Goldsworthy’s pioneering of Biblical Theology.  This view holds that the Bible is a unity that centres on the cross of Christ, the event that orientates not only the New Testament but also the Old Testament.  As such the Bible is not a bunch of proof texts but a meta-narrative that informs not only how one reads the Bible but also how one teaches the Bible.

The final aspect of part one has to do with revelation and how this impacts praxis.  There are two primary discussions, the first of which engages with Peter Carnley’s mystical perspective, something not dissimilar to the Eastern Orthodox view of the unknowability of God.  Jensen portrays this view as seeking to distinguish itself from Sydney Anglicanism, which Jensen identifies is encapsulated in Broughton Knox’ clumsily titled article, ‘Propositional Revelation, the Only Revelation.’  The second discussion in this chapter engages with this article.  Jensen defends Knox by describing the title as hyperbole, however, Jensen does call for greater perspicuity of the issue for which he draws upon Peter Jensen’s The Revelation of God.  Essentially God’s self revelation is verbal, and it centres on the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is not to be understood as a static statement, but a living reality.  In other words, the words Jesus Christ is propositional and personal (a means of encounter).  Jensen defends the historicity of this claim.

In the last chapter of part one, Jensen demonstrates why preaching, and in particular expositional preaching, is the natural corollary of God’s self revelation. If God reveals himself in the gospel, then the reading, explication and application of this revelation must be central to the gathering of believers.  Jensen refers to John Stott’s influential visit to Moore College in 1958 and his book I Believe in Preaching, as formative to Moore’s current views.  In particular, that expositional preaching does not describe a particular style, as is commonly understood, but rather describes a particular content, that is, whatever the text is saying.

In part two Jensen looks at the doctrine of church, in particular the influence of Robinson and Knox.  Jensen is refreshingly critical of Robinson’s narrow view that church is local and verbal (an activity) on the basis of the word ekklesia.  Three arguments are worthy of mention.  Firstly, Jensen highlights the NT usage of ‘the Church of God’, a clear reference to an earthly church.  Secondly, Jensen shows that the Broughton-Know view was overly linguistically analytical and not sufficiently theologically informed.  Thirdly, Jensen highlights the dearth of attention given to the Holy Spirit in the Broughton-Knox ecclesiology.

In chapter seven Jensen gets to the real beef when he addresses the question, ‘Are Sydney Anglicans Actually Anglicans?’  In short his answer is yes.  Jensen cites the Sydney Anglican conviction and fidelity to the reformers and their associated texts, and that Sydney Anglican evangelicalism is a true reflection of the Anglican Church’s reformation past.

Jensen then deals with the topical issue of ordaining women in a helpful manner.  He highlights that the Sydney Anglican’s use of the term ‘subordination’ was a mistake and unhelpful.  To compare the subordination of women to men in role with Jesus’ subordination to the Father in role could be (and was) construed as Arianism.  Jensen engages this issues by clarifying the relationship using different terminology.  This is a welcomed correction.  Furthermore, Jensen offers a number of constructive discussions that could help clarify and promote better Sydney Anglican synthesis on issues regarding gender. The most helpful of these would be to engage in dialogue to better understand how Sydney Anglicans are using the words authority and obedience.

In the final chapters, Jensen identifies that Sydney Anglican’s have on many fronts dug their heels in and held their ground, however, he also shows that they have work faithfully within the Anglican political machine, giving ground where they could.

This book is the first stop to understanding Sydney Anglicanism.  Jensen does not try to convert, but rather reveal with fresh eyes and with an appropriately critical spirit what is Sydney Anglicanism.  This book would also be a great help to those people  throughout Australia and the world who wish to understand organisations that have been influenced by Sydney Anglicanism and Moore College, and even to understand the Biblical foundations of individuals who may have studied at Moore College.

Missions Musings 16: The controlling legacy


bulsagaWe’ve inherited a legacy.

My mum always said, ‘If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all.’   I try to operate by that principle with my blog posting.  Ok, I revise it a little.  It goes more like this: ‘If you don’t have something to be appropriately critical, insightful or encouraging to say, then don’t say it at all.’

Hence my lack of Missions Musings in the past 6 months.  Yes, life has been that ordinary.  But here I am for number 16 to break a few missiology rules, be a little politically incorrect and probably succumb to some form of colonial indiscretion.

Here it goes:

If I was to summarise my time in Bulgaria with one word I would choose the word ‘control’.

When I reflect on my time growing up in Australia I was blessed with the freedom to do what I want, when I want and how I want.  I’m sure that I annoyed my parents, teachers, Bible college professors and the like no end.  I could choose what I would study at university.  I could choose if I wanted to get a job or not.  I had complete control – or so I felt.

I sound like a spoiled brat!

Whatever I may have been I rarely felt as though I was fighting the system to be able to live my life.

Since arriving in Bulgaria we have felt as though we have been doing nothing but fighting the system.  We have felt like a piece of property, or a possession.  We were a resource to be used as the owner felt.  We were not our own.  Whether is was government, church denominations, individual churches, other organizational bodies, and sometimes even friends, we were at their mercy and under their control… well, so they thought.

Why was this, and was this necessarily a bad thing?

I’ve thought a fair bit about this issue because of the pervading reach of it.  My conclusions are not conclusions per se, but thoughts about how this cultural phenomena might be comprehended by a foreigner trying to make it long-term in this country.

brotherFirstly, communism is the elephant in the room.  Control was how the communist rulers perpetuated ideology, and perhaps more importantly its own rule.  If you wanted to head to Sofia for the weekend you would have to report to the police when you left your village and report to the police when you arrived in Sofia.  You could not pack up and move villages or cities easily for work, etc.   If you were a teacher you would holiday with the other teachers.  The engineers with the engineers, and so on, and so on.  The family was dismembered and subjected to the control of the state.

It is clear that this method of operation is still a major part of the DNA of the government structures and voices within it, the non-govenment structures, and also the church.

I’ve observed that the release of control to others in nearly non-existent.  It is closely guarded.  Micro-managing is the natural tendency.  Dissenting voices are not welcome and quickly shut down.  There is next to no leadership development and handover.

As you could therefore imagine, our feeling of being controlled is a fairly normal thing.  A day in the life of 7.2 million Bulgarians.  Our experience is not an exception.  We are just another stat in the fat part of the bell curb experiencing the same thing as everybody else.  It is culture clash.  We are resources to be controlled.  We are a resource that is available for the leaders to use when they see fit.  If you don’t fit then you get thrown out.  It’s really that simple.

Secondly, the culture of control, especially within churches, was in part set up and perpetuated by the workers that have gone ahead of us.  That is, we’ve inherited a legacy of missions that was characterised by control.

Let me explain.  I believe that all cultures should be viewed through the lens of the Bible and critiqued appropriately.  After the changes (late 80’s), it was imperative that the church was lensgiven the skills to evaluate how they have been impacted by communism.  They needed to be able to evaluate themselves in light of the gospel.  They needed to become something from the start that was characterised by biblical principles rather than something that was characterised by assumed communist ones.  Once the changes had happen and the tsunami of ‘missionaries’ flooded in, it was their duty to set up proper working relationships with whatever existing churches there were and the ones that subsequently sprung up.  It appears that these missionaries set up autocratic church structures and relationships, and served within them as such.

Our experience has been that there is a general tendency for churches to treat ‘missionaries’ (forgive the use of the horrible term!) as a commodity.  When I look at the recent past this is not an uncommon story for most workers.  They’ve been subjected to church/denomination control in no uncertain terms.  If they haven’t performed as they ‘should have’ then they were given the royal boot.  This treatment seems to me to be the mere out working of a certain mission legacy that was implemented by the post-fall workers, perpetuated by certain missiological practices since, that is now turning around and biting us newbies on the behind!

Question: Why have we been subject to such a culture of control?

Answer: Bulgaria’s communist past and mission legacy.

I’m not so sure that I’ve nailed this, but I think that I am getting close.  I’d really appreciate my Bulgarian friends to give some input into this.  Being on the inside you would have a much different perspective than me, which I am really interested to hear.

 

Church: That’ll teach ’em


There are some things that just boggle the mind.

When I was growing up there were often times that I didn’t want to go to church.  Church could have been used by my folks, if they wanted, to punish me.  ‘If you don’t clean your room you’ll be going to church on Sunday!’  I would have cleaned my room in a flash.  Or perhaps something like this, ‘Right, that’s it.  You’ve got church for the next four weeks.  I hope in that time you will learn how to treat your big sister Josie with a little more respect!’  I certainly would have learned very quickly to respect my big sister Josie.

Deterrent or punishment – church would have been a cracker!

Well, courtesy of Richard Dawkins, I just read a ridiculous story in the US where a judge sentenced a teen to attend church for the next 10 years.  This was a part of the judgement handed down to the teen for killing someone when he crashed the car he was driving while drunk.  You can read it here.

It boggles the mind.

In an age when the church is already maligned by every conceivable thing, we now have judges in our world handing out church as a form of punishment or means for rehabilitation.  What would happen if the kid refused?  Then what?

But maybe the judge has cottoned on to something that the Brits worked out 200 years ago.  I mean, look what happened after the Brits sent a few boat loads of convicts to Australia.

Ingenious.

Vacant: Theological education and the equal validity of secular and ministry vocations


its_about_timeThis post has been sitting in my draft box for a fair while now.  The time has come, however, to post it on the wall.

What prompted such drastic action?

I am working my way through Michael Jensen’s latest book called Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology (Book review to come.  You can buy the book here).  He made this striking comment:

Valuing gospel work over secular work was indeed a decision for the eternal rather than the ephemeral because the “the time is short” (1 Cor 7:29).  This authentically biblical theology has enormous power as a critique of a this-worldly, middle-class idolatry of careers in the hothouse environment of the university campus (Loc. 2618 Kindle).

anglcanThe interesting thing about this comment is that it is embedded in a section that describes the role that campus ministry has played in developing a university and post-universtiy culture that highly values not only ministry as a ‘career option’ but also fulltime theological education.

The original reason why I was going to write this blog post was because I was asked why theological education enrollments, particularly full-time enrollments, might be dropping?

In my mind I ran through a number of possible answers.  It’s expensive.  It takes ages to complete.  It’s really hard.  ‘Languages?  Seems a little excessive.’  The pay once you’re done is ordinary.  Once you’re done you get treated like rubbish in churches and para-church ministries.  I should stop.

While all of these are factors that must be impacting theological studies enrollments, I think however, that none of these are singularly responsible for any great decline.

This is where my original thoughts and Jensen’s come together.

I read this in The Christian Post here:

NEW YORK – Pastor Tim Keller challenged a crowd of New York City professionals Sunday to rethink how they view work and to debunk the notion that spiritual vocations matter more to God than secular work.

The article writer referred to the need to cease making the distinction between spiritual work and secular work because such labelling devalues work that does not fall into the typical spiritual vocations.  This is nothing new from Keller and others of his kind.  We’ve been hearing this kind of reasoning for years now.

How might Keller level the playing field.  Check out this quote:

It means getting together to think, think, how does the preeminence of God reign in my field.

kellerSo, Keller validates all work (within reason, of course) by locating it within the overarching notion that whatever we do we do to God’s glory.  As long as we are evaluating and carrying our the occupation according to how it might be viewed through a gospel lens, all is ok.  I could have Keller wrong on this, but this is the overwhelming sense that I get from him.

Here is the rub.

In trying to eliminate the spiritual work vs temporal work dichotomy, Keller renders all work on par with each other.  This is problematic and it is hurting the enrollment bottom line.

The so called ‘spiritual vocations’ do matter more to God.  It is for this reason that in James we read that teachers of the Bible will be doubly judged.  But why, in the same breath, are these same people worth double honour?  Why are scribes or tentmakers not singled out to receive this curse and blessing?  The cleaners are not going to be judged doubly based upon their cleaning effort, so in what sense is the teaching role so different that it deserves such special treatment?

In Ephesians 4 Paul in clear in drawing attention to the word gifts as vital for the church.  How are individuals in the church equipped to do good works and even build the church up to maturity in Christ? Answer:  by the gospel being faithfully taught.   Those that do this are the people who will be judged double and rewarded likewise for their work.

But why?  Why are these roles set apart for special consideration?

churchplantingI’m going to suggest it is because these roles are fundamentally bound to the spiritual vitality of the church.  These roles are inextricably bound to the church reaching maturity in Christ, and it is here that we connect back with Jensen.  He continues:

The note of eschatological urgency was not now offered at the expense of tending to the needs of society as it had been then [the end of the 19th century].  Opportunities to do good are still reckoned by the Anglicans of Sydney to be opportunities to do good, whatever the lateness of the eschatological hour.

What drives the notion that gospel work is more valued over secular work?  Eschatology.  That is, the final divine state of affairs.  If one’s doctrine of the local church is linked to the eschatological church then one wonders how we could relegate the ministry of the word to something on par with secular work.

This perspective, I think, does not demean or relegate secular work, but rather positively identifies which earthly Christian activities are divinely factored into God’s meta-narrative.  The inverse should not be assumed, that is, that cleaning, teaching, or surf-lifesaving do not fit into this ‘lofty’ category and therefore are of no value.

Perhaps if we heed this order and stop validating all work as equal, we might see a culture develop in our churches that values theological education and also full-time ministry.  Although I would argue that this is not the intent of the divine order, this outcome would certainly go along way towards building up the body of Christ – the true intent of the divine order.

Please let me know your thoughts on this if you have any.  I’m keen to hear how people might take this:)

Dr Peter Singer: Who’s unethical?


Peter Singer hails from my land – Australia.

He is one of the world’s leading ethicist/philosophers, not because his ideas are necessarily more ethical but because he has gone further and pushed harder than most philosophers would dare. Euthanasia and abortion are a stroll in the park for this kid.  He supports notions of infanticide.  If you want to learn more about him and his views do a google search, or even better, go and download a book from the Kindle store and really try to come to grips with his ideas.

I was going to write that this post is not about his extreme ethical views, but I realised that it is.  Let me explain.

Just now I read a small article in the online Australian Newspaper.  It’s called, Singer’s chant for a better, kinder world.  Click here if you want to read it.  The article was written to recognise Singer’s winning of an Order of Australia (AC), which is no mean feat!  The interesting bit of the article comes after the accolades are given.  The writer uses a quote from Singer’s dad as a segue to the secondary point of the article.  His dad asked Peter one day, ‘How can you make a living as a philosopher?’  Well, it appears that Singer makes a good quid out of his book sales of which, we are told, he gives 25% to worthy causes.

A good philanthropist?

Not only does he give a fair whack of his book takings but he has set up a foundation where he encourages all people to give, not just a donation, but a regular percentage of their income.  The stats are startling – since 2009, 13 000 people have engage in the program and they have donated over $65 000 000.  Hooley dooley!

What drives him to do this?  What drives those other people to give as they have?

We can protest all day long about how evil his ethics are, but it is his ethical foundations that drive him to give to those that are dying and in need.  He is the one that is being motivated to help those that are without.  He is the one that is committed to giving 25% of his income to such causes.

I have to say that my giving patterns in Australia when I was earning a wage, along with my wife (Ok, so it was mostly her wage;)), were not close to that of my much despised philosopher friend here.  Where do we as believers get off in not giving huge percentages of our resources to those that are in need?

If we have everything in Christ, if we have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, if we have life like we all love to boast about, then why is the church not pouring money into underprivileged contexts?

I know that some of you will be trying to excuse the church at this stage, but I think that a realistic look at the numbers tells two ordinary stories.

The first ordinary story is that the percentage of money coming into churches is nothing like 10% of the wages being earned (a figure that many churches teach).  Christians in general are not giving generously through churches.  Secondly, of the money that comes into churches, a relatively small percentage goes out to the needy.  Yes, you can probably make a case that some people don’t trust the churches and give to charities directly, but I cannot for the life of me not err on the side of pessimism that this is not likely a norm, but rather an exception.

At the European Leadership Forum that I attended a few weeks ago in Eger, I heard this  telling quote, ‘We Christians have a love affair with being challenged, without wanting to engage in change.’  True!

Have a look at what Singer writes in the preface of his book, Practical Ethics:

The most relevant ethical issues are those that confront us daily: is it right to spend money on entertaining ourselves when we could use it to help people living in extreme poverty?…Other problems, like abortion and euthanasia, fortunately are not everyday decisions for most of us…

And isn’t he right?  Sometimes we Christians are so busy condemning these unethical philosophers/ethicists that we do not have the time to sort out ourselves on the most basic of ethical issues.

Perhaps a visit to the eye doctor is needed to help remove that plank from our eye.