Thursday, April 30, 2015

Channelling God

Most sermons I've heard are preceded by a short prayer from the speaker. That's right and proper to my mind. But there are some sermon-givers at church who seek to 'channel' the Holy Spirit, with a prayer to the effect that the Spirit speaks through them, or some such twaddle.

This morning's sermon giver, one of our ministers (they like to call themselves 'pastor' in our church, not a usage I particularly like, as pastoring is a function, not an office), did the 'channelling' prayer. His sermon was good in parts, and extra good in one part where he asked us how long it was since we had last put our minds to repenting of anything. Great! Remember, repenting is not 'feeling sorry', or even saying sorry. It is a decided reorientation of behaviour and motives to love others and not oneself in all its many aspects and forms. Good to be reminded.

The 'channelling' prayer is objectionable on a number of grounds. Prominent among them is the veiled manipulation of the congregation that they'd better listen extra good, because this might be God speaking here, and any problems in the sermon can be slated home to the Spirit and not style or substance authored by the speaker.

Another objection is that God doesn't fuel the words, but works within us, the hearers, to apply them to us in the circumstances, state and events in which we are immersed. Nothing to do with the particulars of the teacher who is speaking.

Further, God gives teachers a gift to teach: we have to exercise gifts, so that means work at them, sweat, if necessary. Our teacher this morning gave evidence of having done that, so no complaint on those grounds; but I still think it is not good to try and get us to think that these are God's words and not man's (as in this case). God largely has spoken through the authors of the Bible. I think he speaks to us subtly in a manner of applying to the soul what the ears hear. Nothing to do with the speaker.

A better prayer as the prelude to a sermon is the one that Robert Jones uses. He is an Anglican minister who served at two churches our family has attended (and currently at St James Turramurra). It goes like this:
Loving father your word is before us this day and we thank you for your revelation to us within your word. May your Holy Spirit be our teacher and guide; may he lead us into all truth and so apply that truth to our own hearts and minds that our lives are changed and we become more like the lord Jesus in whose name we pray.
Completely self-effacing, and joining the congregation in us all seeking the Spirit to be our guide. Nothing here about the teacher, as it should be.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bow in the sky

Ashfield council had a rainbow flag flying a while back, as I slunk off to the Catholic Club for a cheap but enjoyable lunch. The flag, of course, had more to do with Romans 1:26, than Genesis 9:8-17. But how sad, that the opportunity was not taken by churches to use this misuse of the sign of God's covenant with us to not bring a destructive flood again (and to point towards his resolution of the disquiet of evil in his creation in Christ) to point to the gospel.

In a way I'm probably relieved because most public Christian discourse is sadly ineffective at speaking out against or even in cognizance of the belief-frame that those outside the kingdom of God have.

Even worse, I've seen churches where the Ark was displayed on the pulpit to show that the church was 'inclusive' of the Romans 1:26 crowd. Of course, we all are in sin and are included in the reach of the gospel, but I think that the 'inclusion' I recall here was not about repentance, but affirmation of the conduct Paul decries.

Happily there is a church that has the rainbow used well on its webpage:

I'd reword some of the text, I think (the 'accept' 'reject' buttons don't do much for me, I'm afraid, as useful communication), but the basic idea is very affirming of faith.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Evangelism as it has become

If I had a theological or religious studies degree, I'd offer courses at local 'evening colleges' (if you're not familiar with these, they are operated in high school premises by independent community college organisations), with some theme such as 'ancient religious texts' or 'the real story of the Bible' etc.

I'd not think that there would be a big turn out, but it could be surprising.

A friend and I spent some years joining 'new age' groups that advertised in local newspapers; we went along to ask difficult questions, but also to find out what they believed, or espoused. It was very interesting, and sometimes lead to conversations with others afterwards. In the aggregate, the number of people involved in such groups would be quite large across a city like Sydney.

We decided to extend this activity to a major 'new age' festival called the Mind Body Spirit Festival where we operated a stand for several years in the late 90s. We probably spoke to hundreds of people who would not have been touched by the gospel in any other setting and distributed a ton of material that we had written. If you went to this 'festival' and came across a stand called Bereshith, that was us.

Our greatest challenge was to 're-package' the gospel in terms that would be palatable to 'new agers'; much like Paul's efforts in the Areopagus. Of course, we'd had no contact with such an approach in our various churches, where language is firmly locked into a churchy world and is unhelpful for those outside it.

Our approach was to talk about the personal universe, using motifs drawn from 'creation' (i.e. Genesis 1 starts with the personal -- God who is there and who speaks -- and not the material). It was a very effective way of engaging people who would be repelled by a typical 'two ways to live' approach and and to whom the preoccupations of conventional Christian proclamation were alien.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bad Christians?


A while back in a post I mentioned that sometimes the cases I see at work move me.

If people in need come to my attention, often they will not get better. I know this is the experience of others as well, and all terminal illness in children is heart breaking, but here's a selection that I've seen recently. Just turn your mind to them when you think things are not going so well for you.

Juvenile Batten disease: parents watch their children slowly regress physically and mentally, typically loosing their sight at about 5-7 years of age, then after years of deterioration, die.

x-linked chronic pseudo intestinal obstruction disease: your child is sick and maybe in pain all the time, tube fed, weak and facing serious and life-threatening complications, organ failure, then death. Little, if anything, can be done.

Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva: your child's connective tissue becomes bony. They cease to be able to move. People with this affliction can live quite a long time as they gradually turn to bone.

I also see a lot of Huntington's disease. When you see the info on the internet, just bear in mind that juvenile onset is worse. Also bad is watching other family members succumb to it over years then find that you are developing its symptoms. It won't stop, and will kill you just like it did them and you know that you will be physically and mentally crippled. Your behaviour will change, you will loose your engagement with friends and the world about you...

Recently there was film on TV about a person with short term memory loss who had 50 dates, all just like first dates...cute in a movie, but real life with severe short term memory loss is not like that. Your life disappears. The result can be confusion, anger, sadness, isolation. Zero fun and unrelieved.

Another class of cases is acquired brain injury. I really feel for those who acquired it through a cerebral accident (stroke or aneurysm, for example, or HERNS syndrome). It can take years to gradually bring back the basic skills that you've lost: walking, eating, bathing, but sometimes they don't come back. Maybe you'll never read again; maybe you'll never remember who you were...but also maybe it came about because of a drug overdose or an accident while drunk. Sometimes partial drowning.

How do I as a Christian think about such things? Do I rail at God? Do I wonder why he didn't make the world better? Do I think, like Leibnitz that this is the best of all possible worlds anyway?

I think this is a broken world, its back turned on God and resolutely. We reap that day in and day out because he made the creation for his glory, but our care. So its all marred. But I go on to think that he has acted to rejoin fellowship with us in his kingdom and we look to a new creation.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Have fun

Detractors often regard 'the God of the Old Testament' as some mean god that demands that we fear him. But let's look at Deuteronomy 14:22-28 for some information about the relationship between God and his people.

  • You will tithe (pay a 10th of your produce). Not atypical of an agrarian society: the tithe goes to the overlord.
  • You will use the tithe for a party! The party will teach you about God (to 'fear' the lord; what this teaches is that God is a fun God and wants us to know him as the source of delight).
  • The party will include wine and strong drink (the text says 'whatever your heart desires'): this is a real hoe-down type party. God is more than a fun God.
  • Don't forget those who don't have their own produce (Levites, and every third year, the poor): God wants everyone to have fun.
Pity this aspect of God is not trumpted.

Then check out what the kingdom of God will be like: another party! Only those who don't want to participate are excluded.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sunday School 2

Of all the Sunday School teachers that stay with me, I think I am fortunate in that they are three men.

When I was in primary school at the small Presbyterian Church near my home: Sasha L, a tall handsome young Yugoslavian who may or may not have been a Christian; in my childhood I was not sure of his real position, but as a group of young boys we were very impressed at this huge happy bloke teaching us.

In later primary school years, another man: our SS was in his home, as my parents had decided to support a 'church plant' as we call it these days, in a nearby developing suburb. Max H was the age of my parents, so awesomely old for an 11 year old. Again, I relished being taught by a man. For a boy, it made it feel proper, serious and important. It also showed me a man being a Christian: a great model.

The last bloke was called Glyn L, I think. Or maybe Glen; he had an odd accent. We were still supporting the church 'plant' while I was in junior high school and Glyn travelled half way across Sydney to teach us; a group of boys.

I would not know what any of these men thought of their efforts; 'just' teaching Sunday School? But here I am, remembering them decades later. Their efforts were important, at least to me.

Actually, as I cast my mind back, I can think of perhaps three men who were very important in my later development: Bob S., Wally L. and Denis P. (now dead). Great blokes with the quiet glow of the indwelling Spirit.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Some of the views we hear today about the Crusades is that they were predatory exploitation adventures purely against Islam with a view to (modern) colonialism.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Rodney Stark's book God's Battalions gives a deeply researched rebuttal to the tendentious journalistic view that we have portrayed for us today: the Crusaders went at great personal cost to prevent the domination of the 'Holy Land' by Muslims who raided and destroyed Christian settlements and preyed on pilgrims.

That got me onto the Crusades, and I've pulled a book from my shelves that I bought in 1982: Memoirs of the Crusades by Villehardouin and De Joinville. They are contemporary accounts of a later crusade, the fourth, I think. Should be good.

But what about the 'Holy Land'? At first I thought that the particulars of place and its history are spiritually irrelevant. But then not so. Christianity is almost unique (well, actually unique, setting aside the assertions of the pagans) in being able to attach events of spiritual significance to time, place, and real people; retaining the connections we thus have with God's acts and the world we are in is significant.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


My son was not well the other Sunday, so we stayed at home. I was in the mood to do so as well. We had Soccer trials in the afternoon which we also didn't get to, although we did turn up to buy some gear.

I had other motives. I'm a little demotivated at church by the interior of our main auditorium (what some like to call 'the church'). I've mentioned it before, but didn't elaborate on the huge sound desk halfway down one side of the space. It is intrusive and makes the seating layout awkward. Oh that the whole thing could be banished.

Is this a big thing? Well, yes and no. I don't feel that the space in any way exults the worship of God in our meeting or even respects us as a group. Its like a sound stage between productions: muddled and unconsidered.

The other motive was a darker one. I was thinking that I didn't want my son to grow up so emotionally locked into church that he experienced an isolating culture that would risk him becoming vulnerable in later life. So absence from time to time is fine, maybe good.

I might give more detail at another time (because few do, and it might be of interest to some), but my motivation reflects a set of derailing experiences in my early adulthood.

Two significant interests of the opposite sex produced an unfolding disaster for me as they ended. The first was a series of mistaken motives and objectives, maybe by me, but I felt, by Delta too. It ended with an astonishing rebuff that I should 'get myself together'. Unbeknown to both her and me was that I was living with an undiagnosed broken neck and using medication that was later found to have deleterious psycho-active properties for younger people. So, maybe I wasn't 'together' in her mind, but the unkind dismissiveness of the comment hurt deeply. I had admired Delta and regarded her as a friend; I had never until then thought that I wasn't 'together'; it shocked, almost frightened me. I felt that I recovered from it, but within a year or so I was crushed by the ending of a relationship that I possibly over-invested in. It ended with my limitations being examined for free.

I had to steer clear of Christian girls. They were too dangerous. I became very wary.

It all seems to be quite petty now, decades away, but I reflect that it might not have been if I'd been more worldly wise, less open, and more self-protective, maybe more experienced; but that would have meant an alternative to my plan to not be close with non-Christian girls.

Was it all bad? Well, no, as I later met the one who I would marry, so that was good. But the flip side was that hurt stifled effective Christian service for decades! I dabbled here and there from my early thirties, but am only now returning to the tempo I once had, but even so, still not quite.

The start of the modern world

Friday, April 17, 2015


Latin for 'third'.

From the post on new Christians we come to the third and final year of the novitiate:

The third year of a new Christian's 'novitiate' has to start the Christian, to the extent they are interested, on the intellectual journey of Christian faith.

In the second year reading the whole Bible should be the main effort, but for variety, I'd include basic church history, reading some classics as well as overviews.

The third year would combine study of a major book: OT or NT, or both (Isaiah and Romans spring to mind, as long as the Calvinist spin is avoided...and read NT Wright at the same time), with some theology and apologetics.

If the person is interested a systematic theology could be useful, or a more specialised work (Theilicke, or similar more contemporary) might be used. Otherwise some of the more popular works such as Mere Christianity could be useful.

Tertiums might also be helped through the major heresies and how they were rebutted...because they keep coming up.

Apologetics would be based on the prominent attacks on Christian belief and its documents and how they can be dealt with, and themselves criticised.

But that's just the reading. A couple of retreats for a more devotional and prayerful approach to faith would be good too, as would further exploration of the devotional life. This could include exposure to the Christian musical traditions, for example.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


In the church that went to the Carrington the home group we were in had a bizarre commencement ritual. It was called 'spotlight'. In this charade each week a group member was in the spotlight and had a couple of minutes to introduce themselves.

One could 'pass' and not reveal anything, but this would be almost impossible in a group of a few people in the rector's living room. No one did.

In fact, the reverse. As you know, we all love talking about ourselves, eventually, even if it's only just a trumpet blowing exercise. Of course, this was studiously avoided, unless one could blow the trumpets of humility or suffering. Some did.

The idea was to allow us to come to know each other. A good idea, but poor execution. One does not 'get to know' anyone by such artificial self-disclosure. Do you ever get to know the interviewee on Parkinson? No!

The exercise failed. Maybe it works in Anglican private school land, which is artificial in its entirety, but in the real world one comes to know people by the conversational progress of mutual disclosure as trust is built and the ground for relationship is formed.

This was a black mark event.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Blind faith?

In an apologetics article recently read, the author stated:
...evolutionists by faith have to believe in [random processes producing organised information]. And because evolution is the justification for the materialistic world view atheists are indeed religious people...
 Evolution is a presuppositional belief system couched in rationalism and evidentialism. For this very reason we need to include weapons against these beliefs in our apologetics arsenal.
Aside from the belligerence of seeing conversations with non-believers as being about ‘weapons’, which is not a good footing to demonstrate love and care for another person, the quote seems to lurch from mistake to mistake, or at least is flexible in its use of words like ‘faith’ and ‘belief’.

The author seems to say that evolutionists have faith because their system makes no credible connection with the world as it is. Does this author, who is a Christian, think this of ‘faith’ when used in a biblical context? That is, is Christian faith maintained despite what the world really is? Often today, as I’ve mentioned previously, Christians mistake their faith for the faith established by ‘leap’ popularised by Soren Kierkegaard, the existentialist philosopher. Not so. In the Bible faith is a reasonable response to events and facts. Nothing ‘leapish’ about it at all. It is a result of understanding in the Bible’s ‘concrete realist’ frame, not the airy frame of disconnected fantasy (or philosophical idealism...which amounts to much the same thing).

Thus, evolutionists’ ‘faith’ is nothing like biblical faith, but is more like wishful thinking, presumption or better, ‘blind’ in nothing at all!

And that brings my objection to the strange assertion that “Evolution is a presuppositional belief system couched in rationalism and evidentialism.”  Presuppositional it may be, and it adopts the rhetoric of ‘rationalism’ and ‘evidentialism’, emptily, but has no connection with any rational consideration of the world or any evidence for its central proposition. It is a dogma held in spite of rational regard for actual evidence, special pleading and arguing in a circle all over the place.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


Reminder of some lovely Easter celebrations. I was not able to attend all at St John the Evangelist's, but what I did get to was wonderful.

I haven't really felt part of a church, I mean really part of its throbbing beat, since Ashfield Presbyterian, even tho I had ministry responsibilities at St James Turramurra...just didn't really feel part of it.
I thus don't feel part of St John the Evangelist, but it reminds me strongly of wonderful times I experienced at the twins of St James King St and Christ Church St Lawrence, in the early 1980s.
Next pages:

Endowment fund

A general principle of Christian giving is that we use the resources of now for the work of now. But to stretch this a little, we could build up funds for future ministry development; maybe to provide scholarships for training, for mission expansion, etc.

It could go like this: every month those who can contribute a small but consistent amount to the MEF (Ministry Endowment Fund). At 5% return reinvested this is how it would look with various numbers of contributors, amounts and durations to build up the fund.

Big numbers produce a big fund, but being realistic, after 10 years with a large contributor base, a fund of over $150 million would be a good basis for ministry development. Only, the administering board (elected by contributors of good standing after a couple of years of contribution) would have to be tough and sagacious in dealing with requests and keeping costs down.

Friday, April 10, 2015


I've come to the end of a few reading series: series of books that I've always wanted to get through. My only disappointment was that I found Gibbon's Decline and Fall tedious: well written, but it grew repetitious.

I started Copleston's history of philosophy but maybe not yet. I decided instead to re-attack 20th century philosophy. I'd dipped into Jaspers and Heidegger decades ago, but now is time to do it better. My ambition was fueled by Paul Spade's class notes.

He sets Sartre nicely in the train of work from Kant onwards, through Husserl and to the man himself. He's also got a Sartre cook book which is worth a look.

Anyway, that might take me to Being and Nothingness eventually, but the notes themselves are great reading. I commend them to you.


One reason is just pure intellectual curiosity.

Another is that our culture is shaped by the theories of dead philosophers; although few realise it.

Another is that I'm interested to think through Sartre's philosophy as one for whom personhood is basic: God is, and God is love, before all else. Nothing else is more basic; although for the materialist, matter and its random dance in energy is basic. But, how dull. I just wonder where Sartre sets his work on the basis of his own first philosophy, or metaphysical foundation.

This then throws light on the theological angle. I've not looked with any diligence, but I'm not aware of anything publicly available on the internet equivalent to Spade's notes that deals with the contours of 20th century theology, whether from an evangelical perspective or not. I'd hope there are such works available for theological students, but they are probably locked in the very precious ivory towers of religious academia, a group that retains a separate priestcraft type of culture. This is sadly regrettable, benefiting no one but bringing intellectual costs to the church at large instead.  

Thursday, April 9, 2015


I’ve never been sure what to make of the communion ‘service’. I’ve passed through a number of different approaches: the Anglo-catholic ‘mass’ which at CCSL could be had several times on Sunday and through the week, the formal Anglican eucharist weekly in a ‘higher’ church, monthly in evangelical parishes, weekly in Churches of Christ and monthly in Baptist churches.

In all it has been approached as a ritual, done awkwardly in non-conformist settings, where a mystical experience was sought, or conjured in many cases, but splendidly in some Anglican churches. If you are going to have a ritual, do it properly. Dress up, do it with unselfconscious solemnity, but at least do it properly.
Eucharistic Procession at St James, Sydney
It was often well and truly hammed up in my experience in non-conformist churches, particularly when dress up meant men in 'bermuda' shorts and long socks!

It also amuses me that the non-conformists call horrible weak grape juice ‘wine’. At least at an Anglican church you get the real thing; but everyone calls a measly crumb of biscuit or bread ‘bread’. I think that's a bit of a joke.

Because the tenor of the NT is singularly non-ritualistic and even non-religions in many ways, when Yeshua said to ‘do this as often as you meet’ in remembrance of him I wonder if he was referring to the passover: whenever you meet together to celebrate the passover (annually)...the broken bread and cup of wine are those that are part of the passover meal: thus Yeshua is saying in the last supper that these are no longer symbolic of the body and blood of the passover lamb, but of him. He is, therefore the passover lamb.

This tells us that consumption is celebratory in manner and done with gusto and enjoyment (but not to excess, as Paul reminds us) not in the coy ceremonial of many contemporary churches.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Park St

From time to time our church bulletin includes a leaflet from the Glimpses of Church History series. the most recent was on Harold Ockenga, who ministered at Park Street Baptist church in Boston, a church of great mission and outreach activity (I mean real 'outreach' and not the fake outreach that is really 'in-drag' of most churches).

This rang a bell with me because an e-colleague I corresponded with many years ago was then, and I hope still is a member of that church. I can mention Evan's name as he is public on the web: he writes for Architecture Week, and edits a newsletter for DBUG, also running an e-list for the group. Nice association to be reminded of.

Back to the leaflets: they are useful way to introduce Christians to Christian history; a discipline much neglected and with it the knowledge of the history of theology. The idea could go further: posters charting the history of the church, of theology, and both the OT and NT would be very useful to post around a church's foyer (idea comes from this computer language chart). In fact, I might make them and put them on my walls at home!

Sunday, April 5, 2015


The way 'faith' is often used in the church today (that is, not in the church in the past) seems to be more influenced by cultural factors than the Bible. We hear of 'the leap in faith' even in Christian conversation, unwitting quotation of Kierkegaard's existentialism; as opposed to the realism of the Bible, where faith has substance, and is joined to 'understanding' and the operation of the mind, not wishful thinking.

Easter Sunday


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Evangelism as it was

My father was bought up in a conventionally nominal Christian home. He rarely spoke of it but did tell me that he attended a Methodist Sunday School as a child. In his later years, after my mother died, he joined a small Uniting Church congregation, and provided the music for it, playing the clarinet. That, and his last student, kept him happily involved in music, to his delight.

While we were children, dad came along to church with us when we attended my mother’s family church at Epping [the name reduced to an abbreviation on its current website). My grandfather had been one of the founding deacons (based on photographs of him and others at the site of the church’s building construction and family lore--so, could be wrong, of course).

The style of pulpit evangelism at this church, and most similar ones through the sixties and seventies was what I call the harangue! I can’t blame anyone for this, so am not casting aspersions in mentioning Harold Long as the earnest haranguer-in-chief at Epping. Dad resentfully often felt himself to be the ‘target’ of such sermons, having married one of the daughters of a well known family in that community but not being of that community. It wasn’t until the gentler respectful approach of the Uniting Church did he come to express his belief with any comfort.

I can remember also feeling the pressure of the harangue, but came to be sceptical of it after successive speakers over the years had claimed that the Spirit was moving in the congregation, and those who were being prompted would march to the front of the congregation to declare their conversion. The rarity of the sought reaction nurtured my scepticism as to their mystical knowledge.

It was unfortunate that I came across the harrangue at Burwood Baptist Church, about 25 years ago (apart from this it was a very warm and welcoming group of people although a little stuck in the 60s). The husband of one of the mainstay members was not in the church, and this attracted imploring, arm-twisting prayer for his conversion, as though God has to be wrangled into action!

Happily, evangelism now is more engaging and respectful than it was then, and less apt to misread the Scriptures and church history in its methods.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday

We didn't make it to our regular church this morning, instead we enjoyed Stainer's Crucifixion at St. John's, Gordon, presented by The Cathedral Singers.

On this gloomy day in the restraint of a 19th Century building it gave wonderful and meaningful form to the day.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


In an article in the Daily Telegraph, John Dickson made the remark: "Well conducted SRE programs reflect this balance perfectly. It is available but voluntary, and ethics classes offer an excellent alternative."

Ethics is an outcome of religious instruction (one hopes); a result of the underlying beliefs of the particular instruction. Just 'teaching' ethics as though it's the primary objective without a structural rationale can end up as arbitrary, tyrannical, or oppressive...without an overarching structure, it could produce the tyranny of the masses, rather than something that results from an external reference point.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

On the minister's terms

Back in the past, St Matthias had public meetings in Clancy Auditorium, at UNSW. Attendees were invited to leave cards with any questions on them...this was before the day of being able to Tweet questions, thankfully, and a few of us had volunteered to follow up.

I had a couple of Mormon 'elders' questions to answer, and one was as to why Jesus had been baptised if he was the son of God and therefore both divine and sinless.

Stumped me, stumped one of the paid Christians, so I was...stumped. The principal of Moore College was often in the pulpit at church, therefore he was one of our ministers. I decided to ring him. He should know, and it should be a simple question for him to answer (my theory here is that if a person really knows something they can give a simple answer).

His secretary scoffed at my enquiry and told me that he was too busy, and by implication too important, to help me. This was the beginning of the end of my participation with St Matthias.

I think I figured out the answer though: Jesus was acting as an obedient son of Israel, which was how he lived before his passion.