Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Biblical literacy

Al Mohler's post on this topic is a nice follow-on from my posts on the 6-finger exercise, and my synopsis of biblical knowledge to prepare children for high school.

I'll reflect on my own history of learning the Bible.

It probably wasn't until my later teens that I started coming to grips with the flow of the Biblical narrative (I know that it is not just narrative, but the term will do). This was by sheer dint of perserverance, and thus inefficiently attained on my part. Nowhere: not in Sunday School, youth Bible studies, church sermons, school religions education efforts (both lunch time club meetings and formal lessons) was I formally taught the lay of the land, Bible-wise.

I remember reading Zechariah at about age 14. I couldn't place this strange book; I had no concept of the overall structure of redemptive history and literature. It would have made far more sense if I had known at least that Zechariah was a 'minor' prophet, contemporary of Haggai, wrote about 520 BC and 16 years after the return from Exile (thus, after the events of Ezra-Nehemiah), looking towards the messiah, after Israel's many centuries of waiting. Also it was written long after the Psalms and David's reign, and also (not as) long before the coming of the Messiah.

But, for much of this period, the Bible was largely a mystery. Not even the Scripture Union notes that I used helped. They were of devotional assistance in the micro-detail, but the overall picture was not well formed.

I think that even a one-lesson Bible overview for later primary school children would be a great thing. It could be done interactively like the 'Walk through the Bible' programs, which takes one day for each testament, so could be quite a fun-filled and interesting approach particularly for younger people.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Being silent?

Al Mohler recently released his book We Cannot be Silent, a discussion of social changes that are inimical to Christian understanding of relationships.

In the article he canvassas a number of factors that have paved the way for the changes we now see: thus, none of them are new, merely a continuation of long tolerated trends.

The 'trend' as also aroused some academic interest, with James Wright asking similar questions in his editorial in Social Science Research (41) 2012.

Factors that come to my mind are: the now 'hyper-individualism' of Western society: unfortunately, a trend started for good by Martin Luther, but now we can all make our own standards. It used to be that society tolerated self-regualation as long as no one else was hurt. This has been washed away in same-sex 'marriage': the long term welfare or rights of children no longer count.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Bible knowledge

As we move into a post-literate world, dominated by the fleeting black-box of ideas that is the trade of electronic connectedness where 'connection' makes the banal ubiquitous, people loose touch with the bones of our culture: its literary traditions.

And so in Christian circles, it would seem, from a survey of biblical literacy reported by Al Mohler.

It is pretty easy to teach the Bible; it requires simply dedication, memorisation, thought and instruction.

It also needs to be promoted by the church, or WE loose touch with our literary (biblical) culture!

Thursday, January 21, 2016


What do you do when you see a new person at church?

I've experienced the range from being completely ignored, to being courted by far too many people.

Here's best, in my view:

If the person is sitting awaiting the service to start politely excuse yourself, introduce yourself, mention that you've not seen them before, but you hope they find the service to their liking. Then move to your seat.

Do not assume they are a Christian, do not assume that they want a long converstion, do not assume that they want a bosom buddy (unless their demenour suggests otherwise).

After the service briefly greet them again, and again, if it seems appropriate, have a brief conversation: perhaps something like:

"That was a typical serivce here, how did you find it?" Without quizzing them (you know, normal polite conduct on your part).

If they want to chat they may open up the conversation, perhaps give them the opportunity by inviting to get them a cup of tea, etc. Offer to introduce them to others. The conversation may or may not go anywhere.

To remember: do not assume they want a long talk. I remember at a stage in my life I would not want a long conversation at all, just a nod and smile of acknowledgement was enough. Others may be similar. Demeanour will tell all.

The biggest thing however, is to avoid the 'evangelical conversational butt' that is the 'butt in' that evangelicals seem to specialise in. If you do need to talk to the other person (the church regular who's talking to the visitor) excuse yourself and ask if you could speak to them afterwards.

I know this will shock many evangelicals who ride roughshod over normal manners and simply ignore the other person so they can talk to the one they know.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Adventure at Koorong

My adventure at Koorong where I had a 30% off voucher from a post-Christmas purchase: a couple of the books I had wanted were not in stock at that time and to avoid a wasted trip, I rang ahead to check stock today.

After a long recorded message telling me all sorts of uninteresting things a person spoke to me. She assured me that there was one copy of the book I wanted in the store I wanted to visit. I also looked on the web page; agreed. One copy.

I asked if it could be put aside for me...I didn't want to waste that trip! She assured me that she would ring the shop and ask them to do so.

An hour or so later I was in the store. Suspicious of all commercial undertakings, I first went to the shelves; sure enough, the book had not been put aside as I'd been informed would happen. I picked it up and a couple of others of interest. Imagine how cross I would have been if the book, not having been put aside, had been purchased by another.

At the counter I checked if the discount had been applied, and was advised that it only applied to one item. OK, I'll only take book X and gave the others back.

Time for lunch.

I headed to the in-store cafe and ordered my burger with HOT chilli sauce. After a short wait, it arrived, with the wait person telling me that my SWEET chilli sauce had been added. No, I firmly said. I had ordered HOT chilli sauce (I don't even know why sweet chilli sauce had been invented!). So, off she toddled to re-make my burger.

I finished reading the complimentary newspaper. I waited. I finished my cup of water (I don't drink fruit juice, sweet drinks, dairy based drinks, or shop coffee and I didn't want tea). I waited some more. That was handy practice, because I then had to wait some more again.

Burger and requested sauce arrived.


Keeping promises: NIL
Prompt service: NOT

Overall customer satisfaction: only because goods eventually delivered: 5/10.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Is the church relevant today?

Two inner west Sydney churches have had this theme for recent talks. Ashfield Presbyterian for lunch time talks (attended by about 3 people), Summer Hill Anglican for the sermon on 17 January. There was one stranger at the Summer Hill evening service. For a self-billed 'we'd love to see you' church with 'welcome' on its webpage carousel, the stranger was left strangely alone, as I observed.

When organisations use provocative slogans, the slogan itself usually diagnoses the very problem it announces. Thus, only a church that is struggling with relevance or obsolescence (Summer Hill's word), would even think of those words in a slogan or advertising.

So, then, where is the radical discipleship, the rejection of the world's materialism and its pagan channels (science...post-modernism...hyper-individualism...), the disarming engagement with strangers?

I wonder?

A couple of reasons why the church is irrelevant: it is self obsessed (look at me, look at me), not people obsessed (thus the 'church' organisation over against the 'congregation' of people, to refer to Coverdale's word), it wants to fit in and be liked, it takes up only the challenges that it thinks society expects it to take up, but declines to articulate a critque of society at its sensitive points (I've aluded to them above); in its publications it speaks only to itself (with only one exception that I know of).

In books, articles, on TV (I think of John Dickson on Q&A for instance), it strives to be 'nice'; just like the Saducees did in Jesus day, I expect, but unlike them, never confronting the unspoken materialism of our time.

However, substituting kid's face painting, free ballons and glove puppets for the great existential questions: who am I, why am I here, why do we die, why is there something rather than nothing, does humanity have any dignity...Shaeffer gives the drill...amounts to the church turning its back on its mission; instead of Paul's example we have naive 'corner-store-ism'.

In short, it is doing its best to be irrelevent, obsolete, and no darn good to God or man.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What to know: university

I've dealt with what to know for high school, as sought in my original 'what to know' post. Here's 'what to know' for a young person heading to university.

From the ground work laid up to high school, we move onto study of the peg-point books, or part books: Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, 1 Samuel, a minor prophet or two, Luke-Acts, Galatians and Revelation. A good 6 years work.

More work on theology and Biblical theological understanding, and on church history and apologetics. There would be new work on philosphical theology and general philosophy/world view studies (without the intimidating titles) as well as ethical thought (theological ethics and ethical epistemology, if you want the big words).

Where this would develop a point (as in spear point) for university would be discussion on major heresies historically and their modern day manifestations, and the major contenders for 'faith-attention': the 'new age' movement, Eastern religions, materialism and the assumptions that underpin these. Materialism, its outworking in evolutionary dogma and its twin of humanist 'political correctness' would deserve special treatment.

Introduction to major Christian authors would be part of this; and I don't mean the pop authors, but the theological heroes of the church as a whole; and OK, some 'pop' authors as well (CS Lewis, Chesterton, Stott, Schaeffer, Yancey).

It would be great if there were a text book that would support this curriculum, but I know of none!

During this period children should be introduced to using computer Bible software, and to developing church skills: speaking (debates, talks, presentations), organising (clubs, committees), and being involved in outreach and charity work, organised to match the maturity level of participants.

The educational delivery would be tuned to age: discussions, talks, work books, videos, excursions, reading. It would be designed to be interesting, fun and flexible, so that the range of abilities and interests would be accommodated.

Again, the vehicles: kids' church (with some cool name and format), youth group, religious education, day or weekends away (with family in early years, optionally without in later years).

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


I don't know of many magazines that are published for general reading by Christian organisations; the ones I do know of are for Christian consumption (and not always helpful in that regard, I might add: I think of Southern Cross, the Anglican tabloid), New Life, a more generally marketed paper, the self-consciously pretentious Eternity put out by the Bible Society; but that's about all. There used to be On Being, later called Alive, I think, and then a purely e-publication now seemingly disappeared, perhaps due to its drift to irrelevancy. For those who liked controversy, there was Robert Brinsmead's Verdict (I'm harking back to the early 1980s, and no, I have no SDA connection), and any number of US and UK publications.

However, these were or are all very internal, not for the general reader, and of no interest to the non-Christian, yet, here is an opportunity; print media still works, you can leave it around, put it in waiting rooms, and so on.

At a visit to the local SDA hospital with a relative recently, I picked up a copy of Signs of the Times. This fits the bill. It doesn't always hit my buttons, but for general interest and popularised Christian themes (even soft-peddling the SDA bit) it works. I read it from cover to cover and it was upbeat, practical and helpful. No offensive new age like twaddle, just straight talk for grown ups.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Buy expensive

Today's sermon, in keeping with the new tradition in our church of social engineering, urged us to avoid buying cheap clothes because they involve sweated or slave-like labour.

I'm all for not supporting such things, after all, my late father was a Union organiser, but one consequence of avoiding such purchases is that already poor people would be out of work. Australia could impose tariffs on goods from sweated labour, again that would reduce demand and create increased poverty.

There is no easy solution...opps, yes there is, but its long term. It is reverting to Christian mission and aggressively pursuing the proclamation of the gospel and locally building up people to work for justice. This rings with the Songs of Praise episode on ABC-TV today, which touched on the work of British Primitive Methodists in fighting politically for better conditions for ordinary workers. THAT is Christian action. Indeed, my father was in that tradition, I'm proud to say.

Meanwhile, I'm happy that the church has endorsed my love of hand made shoes: John Lobb and Edward Green spring to mind; craft made suits and leather goods. I'll keep shopping at Henry Bucks and in the specialty shops of Florence, Milan and London. Goody.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

What to know: for high school

In my post 'What to know', which was canvassing the idea of equipping children for the major stages of their intellectual development, I suggested that we aim to have children know certain things, or have certain faith-capabilities for their start at high school, then their start at university.

What, then, should we aim for our children for their start at high school, or what by the end of  year six should the church have equipped them with?

Some suggestions below.

The biblical landscape. Familiarity with the names and types of all the books of the Bible, and those that represent the 'arc of salvation'. To my mind that is the peg-points of: creation, crisis (fall and flood), confusion (Babel and dispersion as ground for the state of our world), covenant (and knowledge of the major episodes and people of that period, extending from Genesis 12 to Malachi), Christ/crucifixion, church and consumation.

Outlines of Christian belief (systematic theology: the great creeds would be a useful starting point) and how these are understood from the Bible; church history and apologetics.

Christian spirituality practices: prayer, devotional Bible reading, giving (of self and means). This would extend to memorisation of significant verses and longer passages.

The reason we have the Bible and its origins. Canon and sources, in more technical terms.

I would see this being delivered over the 8 years from early Sunday School/kids' church, youth group, school religious education, including some full day or weekends away (with parents).

Look here for the next lot: prep for university.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Christian pacifism...

Any opportunity to disagree with John Piper is welcome: here's a great one on the pacifism that Piper extols by Ronald Cherry.

What to know?

The education of children in Christian faith is up to the church to deliver expertise (parents deliver modelling and family instruction and encouragement); the local church, helped by school religious education that is provided through local churches.

From what I hear, most 'education' is story telling. Stories have a place, of course, but that place is the context of biblical knowledge.

To equip children to grow as Christians we need first to nurture their faith: that they become Christians is paramount, but that they obtain the knowledge to live as Christians and proclaim the faith, giving answers to questions whether asked or implied is also vitally important to their spiritual and intellectual development.

I think we should have two aims: preparing a child for the high school environment, where they will meet challenges to faith from other religions, blunt instrument secularism, and articulated atheism; with the occasional 'village atheist' fellow student.

The next challenge is preparing then for university and/or the workforce.

At university they will meet ideas from some of the brightest and most inventive intellects that have ever lived. Many of these will assail their faith, and, without their own intellectual equipment being prepared will result in their faith being submerged, denied, or atrophying.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Same God 2?

I wrote a short time ago on a theologian from Wheaton who thought that Jehovah and Allah were different names for the same identity. She clearly obtained her theology qualification from a packet of corn flakes.

American Thinker has an article on this same subject.

Church move

Our first Sunday in temporary premises has passed hitch free.

While our building works are underway, we are meeting in the capacious Turramurra Uniting Church premises. They are so capacious that there will be three morning services simultaneously! Two of ours and one of theirs.

I'm looking forward to the combined morning teas after the services when we will all get to mix.

Maybe we'll pick up some Uniting Church ideas and they will pick up some Baptist ideas!

One thing I am very impressed about with the Uniting Church facilities is that the original building; over 100 years old, has foundation stones laid, not by denominational or even local church worthies, but my a number of 'ordinary' members. All women, and I guess, young women; its disappointing that (young) men are not also recognised as part of the church, after all: "neither male or female", but at least it is ordinary members: very Christian, and true to the Methodist roots.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Computer Bible

No, not the 'Mac Bible' but a Bible for my Macs.

In early days I used Mac Sword; not a bad program, but as freeware the developer was not able to reap the potential.

Because I've got a suite of suitable software on my Windows machine (Bibleworks, PC Study Bible and a few odds and ends) I've not worried about the Macs for a few years; but yesterday I saw a promotion by Olive Tree for a no cost set up: promotion to build users and future cash flow, of course; but fair enough. Suits them, suits me, and a nice package to use.

It comes with a few free books; some are value for money (that is: free=no value, I think of Matthew Henry's commentary on the whole Bible: I'd love it if I was a 17th century Calvinist, but I'm not), others more than. The ESV being in my mind on this point, great value.

Now I'm busy adding to the collection. Outlines. I'd really like an outline like Metzger's that clicks to the passage in view; a similar for NASB's titles would be good. I've compiled these myself in a text document, with permission to distribute at no cost for local study; but an organised 'table of contents' to Bible passages would be most helpful.

I plan to buy a few 'Greek for English speakers' references, and cross reference tools: TSK, Thompsons probably. I bought Mounce's dictionary. I have it in hard copy and useful it is.

Also: NASB with Strong's, ESV Study Bible; eventually a good modern Bible Dictionary and/or Encyclopaedia will complete the collection.

I don't go much on e-books, so will generally avoid.

A nice addition would be for Olive Tree to  offer a 'verse of the day' feature on logging in, or at a set time of day; just nice; that's all.