Monday, November 30, 2015

Not quite new earth

The sermon yesterday was on 2 Peter 3:10-18; the new heaven and new earth passage.

It could have been so good, but instead of that we got a lecture on pop-environmentalism that first set up the, to my experience, straw man of Christians who think that because the Lord will burn up the planet we can despoil with it. Well, I've never heard this, ever, in over 40 years of active Christian life, some in quite radical groups (Action for World Development being the most prominent; I think that its folded now, but was loosely connected to the Australian Bishops (RC) Conference).

A quick look around the Bible will indicate that despoiling, greed and exploitation, including of future generations, is in congruent with the creation mandate and the fruit of the Spirit. Note that most critics tendentiously read the creation mandate outside of the conception of a loving God who made the creation out of love. 'Subdue' does not mean pillage, it means manage fruitfully.

The sermon decended into sad farce with the promotion of empty human induced climate change strategies, including a march to call for 'climate action' held in Sydney.

Political maneuvers that are the underlying motive for 'climate action' along with other social activist topics either had not come to the teacher's attention or were ignored. The touting of 'science' where there is none also escaped attention, as did the effect on the poor, who bear the brunt of the economic costs of misdirected public policy.

There is plenty on the net that is critical of pop climate rhetoric, but the greatest indictments are models that cannot model the past, have missed the current pause in temperature changes and farcically propose that a single number trend (which is not clear) has any meaning in describing something as complex, deferentially variable and statistically inscrutable over time as climate!

A couple of links: the Pope, and not the Pope.

Aside from the facts, it is worth noting, when beating up on either the church or the West in general for its perceived transgressions against someone's view of 'right' is that the concepts being deployed are generated within and are consistent with a broadly Christian world-view and tradition, and are typically best exemplified in those places where there is a general Christian consensus.

Thus, once again, reform comes, over the long term, through the gospel.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Just one hour

On Reformation Theology there is a link to a sermon: If I had an hour with a new convert what would I say.

The sermon starts well; talking about the Bible (which version and why), the creeds (choose one) as a summary of Christian theology hammered out over the early centuries, and the teaching of various books: Romans and John's gospel.

I agree with it all, particularly that the speaker prefers the literal translations: NASB and ESV; me too. The dynamic equivalence approach leaves me unstimulated. It is too fuzzy.

I also like the reference to the creeds (Apostles is my favourite, but needs clarification about the 'descent into hell'). The church I was brought up in was isolated from the vast Christian tradition, being an individualistic non-conformist crowd; although the politics had some benefits that appeal to my volunteerist leanings (I was going to say anarchist, but people mis-understand that word) in that each congregation was self-organising; no bishops or bosses from elsewhere.

He spoke well, if too long, about spiritual experience and the theology of redemption.

Where it fell down was in not talking about:
  • prayer! and study of the Bible (use of references)
  • the church: what it is and what it is for
  • the thematic structure of the biblical arc between creation and new creation--this orients the reader to the vast literature in the Bible and simplifies initial reading.
  • the implicit view of reality in the Bible (philosophical theology without the big words)
  • what the detractors say, and what their implicit view of reality is (usually materialist, but sometimes impersonal monist or idealist: the parlous influence on theology and apologetics)
I know that makes for a busy hour, but pace, emphasis and multiplexing the message would all help (that is, one discourse covering many items together)

Working with new converts is a wonderful privilege. I hope to write more about this in the future.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Why study?

Browsing Ben Witherington's blog I saw a post (can't find it now, so apologies for no link), where a student of Witheringon asked  why he needed to study, and just couldn't get into the pulpit and let the Spirit speak through him.

Ben replied that the Spirit needed something to work with...this reminded me of people who think that intellectual or artistic inspiration just pops into one's mind when it comes from a richly furnished experience and deep knowledge of a field.

The questioner also misunderstood a bunch of things.

Firstly, a teacher in the church is not 'inspired by the Spirit' as were the prophets and apostles captured in the canon.

Secondly, Paul encourages us to study...

Thirdly, the 'creation mandate' teaches that we are to apply ourselves to the world in which we bear God's image: so we work, as God works. There are no easy roads to service.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

This will be great

As he started his sermon, the speaker foretold that this sermon would be very special for some people.

40 years ago I would have been alerted to look out for gems with such a prelude. Having sat through a number of such preludes that have failed to deliver, I was now braced for a repeat; I was vindicated. Others may have struck gold there, but I found the sermon tedious, repetitious and superficial. There were depths that could have been plumbed, but they were not.

More pondering, fewer self-reviews by sermon-givers.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

New Life

Came across an interesting looking Christian blog the other day, while I was looking for reviews of Leon Morris' Commentary on John.

It has quite a bit on the way traditional churches have removed women from ministry, frustrating the gifting of the HS in spades; but that's only part of it. The blog is very rich in Christian insight and commentary. Much to learn and interest there.


I've just completed a 6 week course on stress management hosted by C3 Carlingford.

I don't normally trip to the western suburbs of Sydney <gr>, but the course was in Pennant Hills (not very west, but still west of where I live) where the church has its offices and training centre, so I went.

The church big meetings are held in Carlingford High School auditorium: a nice model of church operations to my mind: big investment in sustaining facilities, low investment in low use premises.

The course was run by a facilitator and a clinical psychologist who were both part of the church (that is, they were part of the church body, neither a paid Christian) using cognitive behaviour therapy principles.

I found it of some value as a course, but what I really enjoyed was sitting with a demographically uniform bunch of blokes talking through how we handle our everyday pressures.

At one meeting I made the observation that these fellows, all of whom except self were part of C3, seemed to have a great community in their church: lots of mutual friendships and social contact at a deeper than typical Oz level. If my observation was right, that is how church should was a little taste of heaven to be even on the edge of it: acceptance, no platitudes, genuine conversation and real love: not rhetorical maneuvers.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

6 finger exercise

I've moved on from the 'five finger exercise' post to use a more biblical number: 6; the days of creation.
  1. Creation (Genesis 1-2)
  2. Crisis-confusion (Genesis 3-11)
  3. Covenant (Genesis 12-Malachi 4)
  4. Christ (Matthew-John)
  5. Church (Acts-Jude) and
  6. Consummation (Revelation)
I like it that the church gets a mention in the original mnemonic, so I keep it, and thus the clumsiness of step 2 'crisis-confusion' to keep the six points. I could have made it 7; with 'consummation aligned with the day of rest (see below: maybe I do prefer it). I think evangelicals forget, sometimes, the importance of the Church in the creator's economy. Christ died for his church, the church is his bride: so, highly significant.

The significance rings with me from my own days in 'high' Anglican churchly circles, where the church was given profound significance. The importance of church, in contrast to the more individualistic evangelical traditions, has stayed with me.

However, here's the 7; maybe a more scriptural number even than 6!
  1. Creation (Genesis 1-2)
  2. Crisis (Genesis 3)
  3. Confusion (Genesis 4-11)
  4. Covenant (Genesis 12-Malachi 4)
  5. Christ (Matthew-John)
  6. Church (Acts-Jude) and
  7. Consummation (Revelation)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Just when is it mission?

A pal was given a handout outside Ashfield Presbyterian Church the other day. It was for a kid's feature film length cartoon that the church was screening for the public. Nothing to do with Christian faith or practice! He was told it was to 'make contact' with people.

What contact? Unless such an activity is an articulated part of a communications or 'contact' effort with an end result being church membership (real membership via regeneration), then it makes the church and its mission to be a triviality. Much like some churches that hit up people at street fairs by doing face-painting and making funny balloon shapes. Again, unless this is a vehicle for serious 'on-mission' connection, to engage people's minds, to discuss their world view and their private eschatology (where their true world view takes shape), then its laughable.

Maybe that's why the apostles never ran entertainments, face-painting stalls or jumble sales.

My church is running a 'flash mob' at a local market. That might or might not be great. How is it connected to mission. What is the linking methodology? Where is the connection with the gospel made. Where do we talk about fear of death? Where?

Monday, November 16, 2015


An associate of mine has been working for some time with an Egyptian; a nice fellow who is always good company.

More recently, he has been talking to the Egyptian man about the Bible. Being a Muslim he has some familiarity with it, and is happy to talk about spiritual matters. He's particularly interested in Exodus.

Time to get him a Bible in Arabic.

My associate was in a part of the city that is popular with Muslims and so dropped into a church, hoping, and maybe even expecting to be able to pick up an Arabic Bible. Blank stares.  Same at two more churches.

Here we are, a mission field on their door step and they can't even keep one Arabic Bible on hand. I'll bet that no one in the church is learning Arabic or studying the history and culture of Islam. Yet a mission field awaits across the road.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

5 finger exercise

A nice mnemonic for understanding the flow of the Bible:

  1. Creation (Genesis 1-11)
  2. Covenant (Genesis 12-Malachi 4)
  3. Christ (Matthew-John)
  4. Church (Acts-Jude) and
  5. Consummation (Revelation)
From Ponderings on a Faith Journey, where I came across a review of People's Commentary on the NT by Boring et al.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


The home group that I am part of is planning a dinner together as our last meeting of the year. Each will bring something, and our families will come along as well.


After we had arranged this, I was asked to travel out of Sydney to give a seminar for my work in Orange. It was an overnighter: a two-day seminar. I would be unable to attend the dinner.

On this news the host thought it would be odd to have a dinner when the 'leader' was absent (they like the unscriptual term 'leader' at my church).

My reply?

It is the Christian community which is indwelt by the spirit: "where one or two are gathered...". It does not depend for this on the presence or absence of any particular person. Therefore, as group convener, I am irrelevant.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


The sermon of note on 2 Peter, that I mentioned, was on 'desire', in the main.

This presented an interesting branch, which I was sorry was not taken: having desire in Buddhism is the start of troubles, so 'don't desire'. That is entirely consistent with the impersonal world of Buddhism. If the start of belief, if what is basically true is impersonal, then 'desire' has no place.

But the real world is basically personal. God is love, and love entails extension beyond the self. This is a different world where desire, its pursuits and satisfaction are part of the very nature of things. The end of desire, of course, is its satisfaction in the new creation; but meanwhile, it is in prayer.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

That was something to think about...

Last Sunday we had a very thought provoking sermon, covering some very interesting ground in 2 Peter.

After the sermon, the MC remarked that 'there was much to think about'.

I don't know about you, but I find it unnecessary and unhelpful to have to listen to a 'back announcement' on the sermon, or on anything else, for that matter, in a church 'service'.

The MC might have thought it was 'much to think about', and while I did agree, I didn't need to be told by someone else. The sermon can stand on its own feet.

In similar vein, I wonder why the MC feels a need to announce absolutely everything that will happen, like we all suffer from autism. Not necessary, let's instead have a smooth and dignified service with people reading, particularly, in order, sans announcement. They can announce the passage being read, but generally the congregation will see that there will be a Bible reading as someone approaches the lectern.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

5 tips

In a recent e-mail update Frank Viola commented on these five things as lessons of life that a young Christian should know.

1. You’ll turn your head and you’ll be 40 years old. So live in the present and savor every moment. You cannot rewind the clock of your life.

I've no real 'I've not savoured every moment' regrets, but I would probably have done some things differently.

I wish I'd read fewer books, but sought more to learn from them; taken notes in my 'commonplace book' for example, and reflected more on them. Thus, fewer trashy Christian pop-books would have been good (then I wouldn't be reading Sartre now, but 30 years ago...when I was actually reading Heidegger! and, yes, I know those two are not Christian).

Maybe I should've taken my high school career advisor's advice and chosen a slightly different career (same broad industry, but different role); I'm pretty happy with the degrees I've done, except maybe the undergrad degree (which follows from above).

Work is important; I would have been less distracted from it and devote more to it in early years, when one is building one's professional profile. I left it a bit late.

I buried myself in church life, and became vulnerable, therefore point 3. below. If I'd put more into my profession, I would possibly have been more resilient and be in a much better place now (except nothing beats my children).

2. Life won’t get easier. So learn to accept trials, disappointments, suffering, and incalculable loss.

I think life does get easier: so far I can deal with loss and disappointments with a degree of resilience that sometimes surprises me...still, I don't want more. I think my responses are more grounded in faith, in a God who brings his kingdom and who will bring the new creation.

3. Christians will break your heart.

Bloke Christians have sometimes disappointed me, but it's girl Christians that have broken me...not just my heart, and steered my life, as per 5. below.

4. A great deal of what you are certain about now, you’ll question later in life.

This is probably true, my theology has become both firmer and more questioning (that is in a good way; for example, I can now happily read quite liberal theologies and see the spiritual thoughts they are grappling with, and admire their faith)

5. The commitments you made in your 20s will be severely tested in your early 30s

Actually, the commitments of my early 20s were severely tested in my later 20s! I purposely jettisoned the path of my 20s because it lead to a brick wall of heartbreak and loss (girl trouble); so I turned to a path to seek to be more self-protective, less open and more measured in my affections.