From this to the next: beautiful


queenAbdication – it’s not a common occurrence.

Today we heard the announcement that Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands will abdicate, handing over the reigns to her 45 year old son, Prince Willem-Alexander.

It is news that clearly brings joy to the Queen herself, which was evident in her voice as she presented the news.  I heard that the Prime Minister is pumped and the country in general is excited about the coming events on April the 30th.

This event prompted me to ask the question, who is willing to hand over power?  That is, who is willing to step aside and give up the power, title, responsibility and much of the prestige that goes along with it?

Abdication requires maturity, humility, vision, trust and wisdom.

For this reason I think that abdication is not the dumping of responsibility, but the fullest form of taking responsibility.

conceptual image of an alarm clock showing that you are too lateWe church leaders have something to learn here.

What we should not do is look at this monarchial moment as a fairytale ending, the beginning of a new phase, or the obvious timing and outcome.  Rather, we should take a moment to learn from Queen Beatrix and what she has done.

She has planned for the moment.  She has groomed the king to be.  She has stepped aside before it was too late, but not before carrying out her duty.

I suppose it often comes down to what one values: the personal glory or the kingdom.

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Adoption: It’s a lucky dip


It seems that not a week goes by without some kind of religious hullabaloo.

What is it this week?  A topic that is close to my heart.  Adoption.

I am thankful daily for the blessing of growing up in a loving family.  In my work as a teacher, youth worker and young adult pastor and now in my work in Bulgaria I know that this is not the norm for the world over.  I assure you that as I have my 33rd birthday today my family experience is not taken for granted!

I find it interesting that we Christians are often seen to be clamouring for influence.  For what reason?  Often it is couched in terms of saving those who don’t believe.  At other times the reason given is for social transformation –  a desire to limit pagan influence and un-Christian political manoeuvring.  At other times it is used to achieve change by lobbing the political process in order to impose(?) a Christian social ethos.   I would not say that this is necessarily a bad thing, but I will say that Christians who have grappled for such influence and now have it are giving the press way too many opportunities to tar Christianity with a certain brush, whether that be the dumb brush, angry brush, hateful brush, ignorant brush or clueless brush.  What we have seen in the last few days is certainly grounds for painting Christianity with the stupid and heartless brush.

I’m embarrassed and ashamed to be associated with the words that Pat Robinson (that’s a Wiki link for your convenience:)) communicated on live television last week regarding adoption. On the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) show called the 700 Club (Check out the discussion here) they did a special segment on adoption.  They checked out few families that had adopted and then zipped back to the studio for a discussion on the issues.  Robinson’s comments lacked logic, were insensitive and did not reflect the Bible’s treatment of a believer’s responsibility to orphans and the poor.

Lacked logic.

He begins with a caution and finishes on the same caution.  Once one adopts they can’t simply be dropped off at the pound like a dog if it doesn’t work out.  It’s a serious decision.  Who would disagree?  Well, probably you when you find out why he thinks it is a big decision!

He argues that they could have been influenced prior by demons and this of course means that you don’t know what behaviour will come out in time.  He also tells us that they could be brain damaged.  Later in the discussion he remarks or perhaps rambles: ‘[Adoption] can be a blessing if  you get the right child.  It becomes a part of the family and that child you love like your own.  But! But!… the child can be badly damaged mentally and emotionally… not enough food, love… [The Romanian orphans] are so emotionally scarred… [Orphans] never adjust to adulthood.’

His point: it’s a lucky dip.  You don’t know what you’re going to get.

Let me trace his logic through.  If you don’t know what you are going to get you should refrain from adopting – this was the pervading sense that he communicated.  If that is the reasoning for not adopting then you also shouldn’t choose to have your own baby through natural means, because the baby could similarly come out brain damaged, and or be socially or physically impaired in time.   You never know how they will turn out, right?  So don’t risk it – don’t have babies!  Hmmm…

But this is foolishness. A couple does not have a child by natural means in order to create a perfect child.  Of course they know that when the baby comes into the world there are many events that are out of the parents’ control that can impact how the child will grow up.  Let’s be realistic, even before the baby comes into the world there are many forms of complications that can affect the subsequent life of the baby and the parents.  That there might be possible future complications is no reason to refrain from having your own biological kids, nor from adopting children.

Insensitive.

There is also a subtle, yet very hidden comment here, that those children with any sort of impairment are not desirable or wanted.  What a horrible thought!  That these children have no parents and are potentially damaged is precisely the grounds for which both believers and non-beleivers should consider adoption.  It is not something that one turns away from, but embraces with a sense of responsibility.

Further, Robinson’s discussion partner tries to pick up the pieces and basically admits that the children are sometimes, if not often, damaged: socially, emotionally, physically and/or spiritually.  But she does not shy away from her belief that it is a believer’s responsibility to look after these children.  Robinson offers a patronising comment (and it was patronising!), ‘Well it’s all real lovely…’ before the lady cuts him off to rightly put him right.  She said, ‘Well, it’s not lovely…’  And she is right.  Adoption might be construed in the media as a fad, but let us not paint adoptive parents in some flippant light.  The task that adoptive parents take on is not one that should be put in the New Year’s resolution basket along with losing 20kg and taking up water colour painting, as though adopting a child is something that you just do on a whim!  Adoption isn’t something that you just do, and of the adoptive parents that I know the idea, plan and actual adoption is something that is taken just as seriously as having their own baby by natural means.

And the Bible?

He calls on the Bible to caution his viewers – count the cost he says, three times.  WOW!  Count the cost!  I’m pretty sure that when Jesus is talking about counting the cost in Luke 14 he is not talking about adoption.  Well, I suppose if adoption is a synonym for being a disciple of Jesus then he has a point, but that is far from plausible, perhaps even comical (in the sad sense).

And what does he do with this famous text:  Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you (James 1:27)?  Clearly nothing!

And what does he do with the very prominent usage of adoption in the Bible to understand salvation.  Like this one for example: He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… (Ephesians 1:5)?  Again, clearly he doesn’t do anything about this text.  He has not been able to see that he was a damaged person and that because of this God adopted him into his family through Jesus Christ.  That he/we have been adopted by God through Jesus is truly a beautiful thing that we should never lose sight of.

Granted, Robinson did release this statement on his personal website:

Today, on live television, I misstated my heartfelt dedication and commitment to helping orphans. For decades, I have supported adoption, and have helped tens of thousands of children worldwide.

I wanted to say, but it didn’t come out the way I intended, that adoption is not for everyone.

The mother of three adopted children, who wrote in about her boyfriend’s issue with her children, did a wonderful, unselfish act to adopt and I respect her immensely. Yet, adoption might not be a fit for her boyfriend. If that is the case, she needs to find someone who better shares her passion for adoption.

Adoptive parents are taking on enormous responsibility, both emotionally and financially. Quite frankly, they need as much disclosure as possible about the child’s background and health to assure the best fit and be prepared.

In answering the letter writer, this is what I meant to say. If any doubt remains, I ask you to please look at what I’ve done over the years to help orphans.

Pat Robertson

I accept his apology, but unfortunately the damage is done.  Few will read the apology, but millions will hear his ‘misstated comments’.

We should be careful with influence.  If is a dangerously powerful thing.

Missions Musings 13


If you have tuned in for the first time to this series called Missions Musings, welcome.

In these posts I try to articulate from the inside of what the church calls mission some of the changing dynamics, pressing issues, and current debates that are (or should be) being played out.

In this post I want to unveil one of our greatest sins.

Our job is to work.  It takes on many forms: church planting, evangelism, literature translation, education, leadership training, advocation for the powerless, humanitarian aid, medical aid, theological training, and so on.  It’s all good stuff!

Or is it?

What if that work equates to nothing more than my kingdom being built?  What if one’s work is one’s pride, glory, and hope?

Put simply, mission work has the potential to easily morph into a career, like that of any accountant, teacher, business owner, or economist.  In this depraved sense, (mission?) work becomes the centrepiece of one’s heart and soul.

It consumes.

It defines.

It gives life.

It gives reason for existence.

It is god.

The mission field (workplace?) is a minefield for the believer.  At every turn there is a trap to fall in.  Around every corner there is something to be tripped by.  On every path we can become confused and disoriented by the plethora of divergent trails leading from it.

And this manifests in many ways.  Most commonly perhaps we see this in the exaggeration of mission success.  Numbers, activity, and progress can be reported in ways that can be construed by the reader, listener or supporter as positive when in fact things are not so rosy.

We also find ourselves protecting our patch (village, area of humanitarian help, method, people group… or whatever we can get precious about).  We don’t pass on information that could be helpful for other people’s ministries.  We don’t introduce people who could be helpful to another person’s ministry.  We don’t include others in our work lest it somehow becomes not mine. We don’t research to find out what others are doing so that we can avoid wasting time, effort, money and enthusiasm.  We are the pioneers and we are going to do it.

This all sounds a bit harsh, I know, but it’s a reality that we who are serving in cross-cultural contexts, and those supporting us, need to be acutely aware of.

We love to dwell on texts that talk about giving cups of water in Jesus’ name, and helping those who might be regarded like the Samaritans.  We love those texts that speak of going to the ends of the earth and making disciples of all nations.  All of these feature in the mission defence arsenal.

But what value are these texts without those other texts that mention the widow who gave out of what she had, or the man who needed to learn how to give without letting others (or his other hand for that matter!) know about it.  How can we dwell on those lovely texts without pondering on the famous one about love, where we learn that stuff done without love is not surprisingly just noisy, useless, dead stuff.  A perusal of Paul and his method of equipping others to take on responsibility within ministry should not be missed either.

My feeling is that mission loses its way when we forget whose it is.

We give a cup of water in Jesus’ name.  We are making disciples of Jesus.  We are training and equipping Jesus’ body.  We love because he fist loved us.  We are building his kingdom.

We are on his mission.

Rowan Williams: In between two rocks and a theological place


I just read Ben Myers’ little piece called The Problem With Rowan Williams on the ABC’s Religion and Ethics page.  It is a pleasant summary, which picks up on Williams’ characteristic relentless desire for creating dialogue within a theologically polarised church communion.  Williams is represented as irenic, articulate and measured – who could disagree?

Surely, in this age of theological polarisation, this man should be held up as a model of excellence to whom the wider catholic church should seek to emulate.

He did not enter into the game of power-broking.  He placated no particular interest.  He entertained no back room deals.  In fact, he sat in the middle of the tug-o-war, adding the appropriate weight on either side to balance the fight, so that neither side would pull away, winning, allowing the rest to collapse in a heap on the ecclesial floor.

This picture, however, is somewhat distorted because it presents Williams as some kind of adjudicator, one free to think, removed from the theological morass playing out before him.  But that is not the case.

We can paint a more accurate picture by placing Williams jammed tight in between two rocks: the numerically superior theological conservatives on one side, and the loose libs on the other.  But why is Williams jammed in the middle?  Simply because that is his theological place as one who holds tightly to a theological imperative of church/unity.

This theological position was the glue that held the Anglican church together.  Williams was not adjudicating a tug-o-war, but rather holding together with his kung fu grip two giant rocks.  It was this kung fu grip, or theological imperative of unity, that kept the rocks somewhat together.

Is the result that Williams has presided over one to be cheered or criticised?

Hmmm?

Perhaps both.  Look at what we have – one church.  Great, it is one!  Surely something to be cheered for.  But the proverbial elephant is as large as life, taking up a lion’s share of the room.  This one church is divided!

Communion and otherness… of a perverse kind.

 

Evolution strikes back: Adam, Darwin and Enns


The relationship between God and science has always been an interesting issue.

One of my old students said the other day on facebook that, ‘Humanity’s perennial belief in God or a supernatural realm that transcends 
the physical realm are merely superstitions that are passing away with the 
rise of science.’

It is an interesting perspective, especially when the hottest story on the theological blog press atm is the place of science in understanding creation.

Let me give you a very quick run down.  A theologian called Dr Peter Enns is releasing a book called The Evolution of Adam that develops a thesis supporting an old word creation doctrine.  This old world perspective is an attempt to deal with the apparent vast amount of scientific data pointing to such an age.  For Enns it is a given.

This is where the issue really hits the road.  Let me now use Enns’ own words:

So, once one accepts evolution, the question becomes “what do I do about Adam?” I see two choices: Adam is either historical (in some sense) or he is not.

If one wishes to retain a historical Adam, the two options I am aware of (if you know of others, please let us know) are:

(1) “Adam” was a hominid chosen by God somewhere along the line to be the “first man”;

(2) “Adam” was a group of hominids (a view that accounts best for the genomic data that the current human population stems from a few thousand ancestors, definitely not two ancestors).

In my opinion, these two options fail for the same two reasons:

(1) They are ad hoc, meaning that are invented for the sole purpose of finding some way to align the Bible and science. It is generally a good idea to avoid ad hoc explanations, and we rarely tolerate them when others make use of them.

(2) The “Adam” that results from these ad hoc maneuvers is not the Adam that the biblical authors were talking about (a chosen first pair or group of hominids). No biblical teaching is really protected by inventing “Adam” in this way.

This brings us to a non-historical Adam–meaning Adam in the Bible as parabolic, metaphorical, symbolic, or “supra-historical” (a term I learned from Richard Clifford, meaning a truth transcends history but told in historical terms, and therefore not meant to be taken literally).

But before you or I jump to any conclusions as to the biblical validity of such a perspective, Enns at this point does some thinking for us, which is a good thing I think.

He outlines that to bring evolution and Adam into dialogue one must be sensitive of three things, which include: the near literary context, the canonical context, and the cultural context.   He cautions that these are not mutually exclusive but that they overlap.  By short circuiting this hermeneutical ground work Enns thinks that one will arrive at a skewed outcome, which is pretty good advice if you ask me.

I look forward to reading the book.

However, he has already flagged one point which for most of us is the elephant in the room, and that is, how does his model (his word) deal with the federal headship of Adam and the associated passage in Romans 5 with respect to Jesus as the answer to that dilemma?

I have read one response to this conundrum, which states that just because a theological problems arises does not mean that the model is wrong, it just means that work needs to be done.  How could I disagree after I bagged out Mohler in a post a few weeks back for something similar?   What is the difference?

My criticism is not Enns’ answer per se, which was my criticism of Mohler, but the method that he has employed to get his answer.

I think what we are seeing here is not culture driving hermeneutics, which is what I am normally banging on about, but science.  Science (and rational philosophy, I might add) is being used to (re)define what the Bible is saying.  This new view undermines what were some very fundamental biblical doctrines that shaped how we have viewed the gospel.  The issue is hermeneutical and the stakes are high.

The question we are being challenged with is this: can science form or help form theology?

Questions and Answers


As I have expressed before Rob Bell’s book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived is problematic.

In this post, as in my previous discussions of the book, I am not seeking directly to engage with the content of the book.  This is because I have concerns about fundamental aspects of the book that underpin the content within it, and feel that these should therefore be addressed first.

In the book Bell asks many questions – sweet!  This is a good thing.

Even better, Bell tells us in the preface that he asks the questions that no-one else is willing or game enough ask.  He asks questions like:

 Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number “make it to a better place” and every single other person suffer torment and punishment forever?

Is this acceptable to God?

Has God created over millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish?

Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?

Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?

I think you get the gist of it.  There are many more questions of this kind on page 2 through to page 11 of the book, as well as sporadically throughout.

One could assume, and rightly so, that the reason that Bell asks these questions is in order to answer them.  He states emphatically:

But this isn’t just a book of questions. It’s a book of responses to these questions.  And so, away we go.

As we read through the book Bell poses a number of answers to the stated questions, however, when you reach the end of the book you are still left wondering what he believes.  Why would someone with such influence ask the questions that no-one apparently wants to ask and then give possible answers without signing up or putting his name categorically to any of them?

I mean, the questions that he poses are not regarding his favourite ice-cream topping or colour.  The questions are fundamental to how the Bible deals with, and how the church has historically dealt with, the doctrine of salvation, amongst others.  Why would he not show us his colours?

It appears that he is suffering from the same condition that many before him suffered with.  The questions that nobody wanted to ask are the same questions that he doesn’t want to answer.  If Bell believes that what he has discovered in his thinking and research is truth, then why would he not stand up and state it?  If what he has discovered in his thinking and research is untruth, then why would you offer it as worthy of belief or perhaps an alternative truth(?)?

What Bell does in the book in asking the questions that nobody wants to ask is valiant and needed.  The church needs to engage with these sorts of questions as Bell has done – historically and biblically, because they are as relevant as they have ever been.

Where Bell clearly drops the ball is in his ambiguity in outlining his own thought.  It is fair and good to outline other answers to the posed questions, however the world is not short on answers.  Everyone has an answer, but are they biblically valid and historically consistent?  The world, and indeed the church, is short on people who will cogently argue using the Bible, and who will stand by their reasoning in the face of an often hostile world and (unfortunately) often hostile church.

When I think of the great men and women in history who have changed how we think about any issue, we think of people who bravely fought for their ideas in the market place.  In recent times we can think of a person like Nelson Mandela.  What he stood for was clear to South Africans of all persuasions and clear to the world.  He did not waver in outlining clearly his stance on equality for all and he faced whatever came his way.

What Bell does is helpful in that he leads the way in asking the questions that nobody wants to ask, however he demonstrates something very unhelpful too – in his silence he validates not one but any or all of the possible answers that he provides.

As Christians we must not shy away from these issues, but face up to them and be able to give the Bible’s answer.  Our leaders must lead the way in asking the questions and clearly standing by their answers to these.

Leadership lesson 1- Know their needs


Know the needs of the people you lead.  It has become apparent to me in my short time on this earth that the leaders who have most influenced me are not those who were the most charismatic, smart, savvy, in-touch with the world, theologically literate, etc.  The most effective leaders who have influenced me are those who knew my needs and addressed them appropriately.

So a leader should pander to the needs of every individual in their care.  No!  Perhaps this is the downfall of the modern teaching age.  Individual learning plans, OBE, etc, reflect a pedagogy where the individual’s needs are king.  The education institution in place is required to meet those individual needs.  A leader who submits to fulfilling needs in this vein are working quickly towards an early retirement – especially in the church context.   What I am saying is that an integral part of effective decision-making must include understanding those who are being affected by the decisions that are made.  Being aware of the needs is different to satisfying the needs.

How do we get to know the needs then?  The first thing is to establish lines of communication.  Without means to communicate there is no communication.  Be creative in this.  Find ways for people to easily and frequently express feelings, ideas, perspectives and maybe, ill-feeling to you.  Talking and asking questions of people is a good idea…novel, hey?  What do you think of…? gives an individual an opportunity to express their opinion.    Secondly, I stick to a personal saying that my mentor teacher told me in my first year of teaching.  He wisely said with regard to dealing with parents, ‘Keep short accounts with them’.  Meaning, talk regularly with them about the progress (or lack thereof) of their child so that there are no surprises.  By talking with people regularly there is more opportunity to express feelings (good and bad), which prevents build up and the eventual explosion!

Beware the danger of communicating with people.  You might get ideas you don’t like.  You might find ideas that are better than you own.  You might be encouraged or you might (probably) be challenged.  Essentially when we open lines of communication we are opening ourselves up to people and to pain.  But this is communication and it needs to be modeled from the top.

To lead well is to make good decisions.  How can we make good decisions if we don’t know the needs of those for whom we are making the decisions.