Saturday, October 31, 2020

The 5pm service

As we come out of the (completely unnecessary) coronavirus circus, our church instituted a 5pm service. We all had to keep up the circus performance, of course, sitting distant from others, not singing (not even finding creative ways to sing while avoiding being infection vectors) and signing in!!

I hope those records were destroyed 14 days after they were made. I don't want anyone prying on who goes to church.

Anyway, we got an e-mail telling us that the 5pm service was now a real service. I'd not thought anything but.

I've been to churches with services at 5pm, 6pm and 7pm in the evening and 8am, 9am, 9:30am, 10am, 11am and 11:15am.

The early starts were either to accommodate three morning services, or to let people 'get church out of the way'.

I have no interest in 'getting church out of the way'. Meeting with my Christian brothers and sisters is the highlight of my week.

The pattern of church during my adolescence and early adulthood was what suited me.

9:30 to 10:30 Sunday School, and adult bible study. I helped on the bus roster at one church. We had three full size buses and 9 or so on each Sunday to operate them. While SS was on we had our Bible study. It was a wonderful time.

11:00 was the main church service. Pre-busses we spent the time between SS and church at morning tea with other helpers. This too was a wonderful time of chatting as well as prepping for church if on roster.

Back home for 1pm Sunday lunch -- the high meal of the week. Typically baked chicken or lamb, sometimes beef, with roast vegetables. Desert was usually an apple pie with cream or custard (or both) or a lemon meringue pie. Bliss.

Sunday afternoon relaxing, visiting friends and occasionally church: training or discussion meetings, committee meetings of the youth club organisers, etc. For a while we held Christian Endeavour meetings in the afternoon. I learnt a lot from them.

Sunday evening we met at 7pm. Following this service was a light supper.

Often my family went on Sunday evenings to our 'mother' church: the church that had 'planted' our regular church which we supported, and the church  my mother had grown up in.

Following the evening service here (7pm, of course), we could join a small group to take communion, then many times we were invited to old friends of my mother's for  supper.

Truly joyful times.

Supply chain for churches

We are starting a 'mainly music' program for toddlers and their families, well, mainly for toddlers.

It's about music, fun, a bit of dance and relaxing time for mums, dads, carers. Whoever brings the child.

We'll hold an optional concert by the kids in an end of year church service (it'll be 'seeker-modified', but not very, with a sermon in context).

But we'll develop a 'supply chain' out of it.

This might include reduced price mini courses on aspects of child's development.

Dinners/lunches for mums/dads/carers with a child raising expert to talk, maybe even a kick up your heels club for young parents.

All of this will have some overt Christian content, but the aim is to offer people access to the next link: 'the full life' courses (intro to the story of reality), being a 'dad/mum/carer' courses, and a 'breakaway' coffee morning or afternoon (on weekends for workers) so that parents can just relax. A creche will be available.

There'll even be occasional grandparent program, for young parents to have an older person to talk to if their actual parents are distant or unavailable.

Should be good.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Worship? Song and dance or something else?

Too easily we follow the habit of thinking 'worship' is the name of our corporate rituals, or even worse, limited to singing (Eph. 5:19). Our community gatherings are we bringing together our experience of the redeemed life bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

Terry Dein's sermon at Swiz, today.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Story or report?

How do we get from the ineffable God to profane man? How can the limitless eternal God be brought into connection with limited, fallible and comparatively ignorant man? How do we get anything from God's mind into our finite Earthy practice? How do we get from God to Man?

The Genesis 1 section of the creation account shows us how, precisely, in detail, and in terms of the experience of man of his world: not as a story about those things described, but an account of those things done.

If it is merely a story about those things done described and our relationship to them, neither of which are real, but are metaphorical, or symbolic or figurative or illustrative, then we must wonder to what do they refer? There must be a third element which is definitive and which is truly real in all relations and under all conditions. This point of reference to which the story refers is the reality behind the story. But we only suppose this because we need to get away from the story itself, following Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:8. And if it were so, we do not and cannot know this true reality. It is hidden behind an illustration and is out of reach. Untouchable. We therefore have no knowledge.

But Genesis 1 is not like this. It is embedded in and embeds the only real reality that flows in a continuous sweep from God's word to man's experience of the creation, resulting in his true knowledge; reflecting that God created in wisdom, understanding and knowledge (Proverbs 3:19-20 ), and not out of what is seen (Hebrews 11:3).

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Methodological what?

You've maybe heard that modern physical sciences operate on the basis of 'methodological naturalism'. That is they assume the natural world as a uniform closed system. Good as far as it goes but this is not the case.

The 'methodological naturalism' claim is a ruse to import what is truly at play: metaphysical naturalism. That is, the assumption that the material world is all there is.

But here we start into a problem. If that's the base assumption, I don't see how you get to methodological naturalism from it.

What is labelled 'methodological naturalism' is in fact methodological Christian theism. The base philosophical assumptions of modern science from the get go are founded in Christian theism. From the assumption of the mind to the assumptions of a rational objectively perceived universe that we can have genuine knowledge of (and that the idea of genuine knowledge is meaningful) are Christian and spring from Genesis 1 to 3. Paganism/naturalism doesn't imply them.

Some videos that might be of interest:

Darwin's corrosive idea:

The myth of materialism:

Information enigma:

They all seem to set the biblical timing of creation to one side, but are conceptually aligned with its central premise. Logos precedes techne (material systems) and produces episteme (knowledge).

Sunday, October 25, 2020

What Genesis is really about

My letter to Wayne Grudem

Dear Dr Grudem,

I was eager to watch the YouTube video of your talk at Biola ( ) on Genesis 1 defying its corruption by theistic evolutionist tendentiousness.

I know you only had a short time, but there's at least two hours that could be spent to examine the theology that comes out of Genesis 1-3. This is an area of thought that needs the attention of evangelicals. A theology will  answer the 'so what' of defence of the historicity of Genesis 1-3.

Firstly, if I may, a couple of comments on the structure of Genesis 1. I know it is grammatically historical, and it also reads like 'dead-pan' history. It has none of the arch imprecision of time and place or existential discontinuity of myth.

From my studies (at masters level) in computer science (not my major, mind you), the narrative of the days looks like a BC Normal Form data structure, 'days' are the key, each has a count field, a definition field (evening and morning, as a calibration of their duration), a description field and an end of record field. All very economical of space and parsimoniously precise.

Another aside. People worry about incest in the first generation. Not because of the law, but because of biology. However, we can assume the gene pool of A&E was perfect, eliminating that quibble.

The major concern we should have of the three theistic-evolutionists you mentioned in your talk is their implicit philosophical idealism: this results in God communicating what is by a 'story' of what is not: that is, not true to events in our time and place (I avoid 'space' so as not to confuse this with physics). Therefore they must hold that something else really happened, not what is stated, and that it is this something else (evolution!) that defines reality and our experience of it. Thus we end up with both an ontology and an ethics denominated by chance (despite the warning of Isaiah 65:11, for instance). Yet this does not reflect our innate aspiration, or our experience of our own interaction with the world. Our 'word' is reliably casual in achieving effects. No one takes their car to an 'evolutionary mechanic'!

The theology of Genesis 1 starts, in my thinking, with God's creation over a series of days. Days are how we experience life. Specificity of place and time denominates our 'life-world'

Genesis 1 shows that God is active and present in our life-world, working in the circumscriptions of time and place that we have, by God's grace. God is near, as Jeremiah 23:23 reminds us, and not far off. God moves the creation by logical stages from the creation of energy (light) to the completed habitable setting of our fellowship with him: where, to borrow from N. T. Wright (ironically) heaven and earth are shown to 'come together', to overlap, or to become coincident existentially as God forms us in his image and speaks to us (A&E) within our place.

There is an astonishing intimacy that God shows us in coming into our constrained world, it's terms, categories and how it works with reliable causality showing us its nature, and to create it for us to bear his image and be his people in a commutative relationship (relationship expressed mutually).
There is nothing of the myth here: God is not remote or unapproachable, he is not restrained in some place of which we are unaware. Nor is he unknowable and depersonalised. He is here, in our life-space, being the relating God in community with his creatures, showing and being love.

God also creates in a rational, causally reliable continuity from Logos (he speaks) to effect (techne) making our episteme also reliable and truthful. This is not the 'world' of the Hindu or materialist illusion. It is the world where we directly and reliably experience what truly is. There is no platonic, or mythic 'is' that we need to refer to, there is only what comes from God's word (Hebrews 11:3 reminds us).

The TE theologians must split God off from his creation and sever his intimate connection with the concrete reality he creates for our habitation and pleasure, and for communion with him. They sever God's creating actions from the flow of history and its continuous ontology in which he overcomes the fall and brings about his Kingdom, yet the Bible brackets this flow of history with two great conjunctions of Heaven and Earth, both in terms of our existential place in a real reality. These are the Creation, and the New Creation, with the peak event where this also happens in the Incarnation.

These theologians  place their theology of creation in Genesis 3:8b: they hide from God. Evolution starts here: it's the means, along with the long fantasy ages of materialism and paganism ( ) to separate God and his creatures. Indeed this was expressly the mission of Hutton, and carried out by Lyell ( ). Our TE brothers advance this mission.

The wrong liturgist?

 Our church service today was puzzling in parts.

The liturgist had a unique approach, which provided most of those parts.

Most services start with a 'call to prayer' a reading of scripture or the like.

Ours started with 'let's kick-off'. No, it was not a foot ball game. At least she didn't want to 'kick-start' it, like an old motorbike.

It was good that she prayed next. But I wondered why she prayed that we should 'hold God to account' for his promises. Hold the almighty creator of heaven and earth, our saviour and Lord to account? Hardly.

She made a remark that we 'come in repentance but leave some change'. I didn't follow that at all. Like we've something to leave for our Father who provides all that we have?

Next stop was reference to John 21:17, where Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him and reminded Peter that love meant obedient action concordant with that love.

I got the impression that the liturgist thought of a warm feeling in the 'heart' in response to Jesus's undoing Peter's three-fold denial.

Later the preacher asked us how long a sermon should be and what its purpose was. Answers included that it was to teach us the Bible, apply it to our lives. He asked why.

Now, just off the cuff I was stumped trying to think of a thorough answer (always the way with me when unrehearsed).

One brother said  'because it's the rules'.

I thought, no, it shapes our knowledge of reality and of God. (or our Creator and our connection with him).

So next time "It shapes our knowledge of reality and of God".

I'll stick with that.

The knowledge is by action played out in history, of course and interpreted by the prophets.

Then the liturgist came back (after some wonderful songs offered by the band).

She ended with a quiet and lovely prayer. Much appreciated.

Friday, October 23, 2020

With my body

 I think we misunderstand the word 'worship' these days. In many churches, 'worship' means singing. Not so.

Worship is our action and affections directed to one who is worthy of that direction.

The Anglican Book of Common Prayer shows it in the context of marriage: 'with my body I thee worship'. The husband to the wife. A Vow of exclusive physical intimacy, affection and dedication.

A Mennonite post says it well.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The declining congregation - 2

 So, what would I do*?

Project inward: the congregation.

It is the congregation that is the great communicator, but people need to know their faith, the Bible and their context plus, be trained and practiced.

First, teach through the biblical description of reality as a consolidated flow of history in our services, once a month lunch after the morning meeting. In the early evening a more discussion type reprise of the morning content (which would also be a 'service' including song and prayer). A light supper would follow, with 'evening prayer' for those who wanted to end the Sunday in fellowship with our Father.

I'd run Sunday afternoon seminars, maybe once a month, on topics that would help people have conversations about their Christian convictions. These would discuss the intersection of contemporary life and world-views with the scriptures.

Then a men's Bible reading group, for congregants. One morning a week, to model devotional reading of the Bible, with prayer. Friends welcome, of course.

Project outward: beyond the congregation

I'd also start an evening course program: two courses per year of 6 weeks each. They would be designed to have general appeal. For instance 'The history of you' about the literature and history of early Genesis, but set in a modern existential frame to demonstrate the connection with today. 'Parents and children' might be another, about child-parent relationships (Ephesians 6:4 the starting point, maybe).

Next, contact with the community at a more casual level. Children, elderly and stay-at-homes being the groups of interest.

All of these would provide 'services' to people as an introduction to the congregation, to lead on to further contacts: dinners and talks perhaps two a year, an occasional BBQ on a weekend afternoon for attendees and congregation, with hooks to KnowingReal a series of 3+7+3 meetings about Christian knowledge (sort of like Alpha, but not).

Meanwhile, I'd build up congregation-organised groups for young people, young adults, men and women that had a community/social action aspect, with some political action, local community contact, 'talk your convictions' practice, but mainly fellowship.

We would also have a church 'conference' each year over a Friday night and two half days on the weekend. This would involve some outsiders, open to guests, but mainly for our church's deepening and, again, fellowship.

All good fun.

*like last time, I'm not a paid clergy-bod, but have served on a denominational church development and education committee, church management committees, a church planting committee, worked on evangelism 'strategy' for one church I served at, engaged in community evangelism (at the Mind, Body, Spirit festivals in the late 90s, as an example), contributed to small group training, studied at three bible schools, four if we count 'theological education by extension' lectures, attended two L'Abri centres in the US and served in youth work for a number of years.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Say hi to the neighbours

We are about to expand our church property.

It'll be a renovated house, mainly for informal work: weekend small group seminars, youth and elder use through the week.

But it looks like a house. It's amongst other houses.

We are thinking of having a 'street party' in the new ministry centre (called 'The Out House', a flippant nod towards the outdoor toilet) every year, to say hi to our neigbours and to offer them some relaxed hospitality.

This is a 'contact' thing, and being a good neighbour. We'll have some take away literature in the foyer, flyers for courses and other programs, but that's all for that side of it. No overt talks. Just food, gifts for the children, live music and a Christian entertainer with a small band of 'hosts' to serve food and ensure everyone is comfortable.

We'll invite the neighbours by direct mail and a reminder leaflet and RSVP to get the numbers.

Should be lots of fun.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Loving God

Intentional ambiguity there in the title.

One of the defences to the 'problem' of evil is the 'free will defence'. The argument goes that God wanted people to love him who would do so freely.

Now, that's OK for Adam and Eve. The could. They chose not to and now we can't. We are left with the the negative and can only know being  poor in spirit.

But I think the defence is wrong.

We were given 'free' will (notwithstanding Adam and Eve's fall) not for God's pleasure, but for our own. God doesn't need any more pleasure. Our worship adds nothing to him.

But God, being loving, wants us to be able to, as creatures in his image, with effective volition, to fully enjoy loving him and experience his love for us!

The  Stepford wives cannot enjoy loving the Stepford husbands.

Non-'free-will' creatures cannot love God and so cannot enjoy God.

That's what its about!

Similar to the purpose of praise, worship. Its for our benefit; yet we hubristically collectively reject God.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The job of prayer

I chatted to my brother today about some good medical news my Radiation Oncologist gave me: 2 months ago I had three tiny lung tumours. Two weeks ago the PET scan showed two tiny tumours. The larger had not grown between scans, and a smaller one did not show as 'bright'. So, metabolically relatively inert. The smallest one was not evident.

My brother noted the importance of prayer, but mentioned inter alia that it 'didn't work' for one of his neighbours.

I reminded him: prayer is not fundamentally about solutions to problems. It's about living in communion with our Father in heaven. That's what prayer is about. It's about putting our feet in his footprints, so to speak, about learning to be part of his Kingdom. That's the magnificence of prayer: the slow alignment of our wills with his.

Not only do all atheists and other detractors miss the point. I think a lot of Christians do too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

A theological summary of Genesis 1 (to 2:4)

 One of the great challenges of thinking about God is how the infinite eternal God can be in communion with his finite creature, bound by time and space.

The creation account shows that God is present and active in the world of his creatures by his word (showing that his word precedes all that we know and experience in the creation).

Indeed, the very act of creating in sequence of our 'days' demonstrates this.

The only theology that would overturn this is a theology where God is not reliably available for our worship (the way we are in communion with him). That is a theology that relegates the sequence of days to story-land, but still hopes it tells us something by not telling us what is! This is the type of theology that follows Genesis 3:8, a theology that hides us from God.

The declining congregation - 1

One of the routes I take for my daily walk goes past a local church property. It is on a main road, so highly conspicuous.

The building itself is a quite attractive (or not unattractive) 1960s style triangular prism, the grounds immediately around the building are a step down from that: not so good. They appear, from an aesthetic point of view, not quite considered, and are not appealing. Often they look un-cared for.

Adjoining the plot of land of the building is an unmade car parking area, and then adjoining that a dwelling and open ground used for outdoor functions.

Here the unkemptness looks even worse, even sloppy, bedraggled!

Think of the passers-by. In the locale of this church people are generally very 'house-proud'. It is a high income area and the properties usually look very 'sharp' and at least neat, well presented and carefully looked-after. It's an area with high appearance values.

The church premises are discordant with this. They suggest a demeanor that is inconsistent with the area. A place people might feel ashamed to be associated with (I would).

Over the years I've been living near this property, I've seen the number of  'services' decline from three per Sunday to one.

What's happened? It can't be just poor property presentation, it's got to be more.

I pray for this church as I stride past it.

But, what would I do?

I'm not a professional clergy-person*, nor do I know the congregation; but I know the area and its people, so I can but make a few guesses.

They are here.

*but I have post-graduate quals and experience in adult education and marketing.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Walking through Genesis

This morning I watched St Swithun's 'traditional' service. The one I attended for many years, many years ago.

There was an interview with one of the scripture teachers at nearby Turramurra High School. She mentioned that year 8 works through Genesis.

So, I wondered, how would I 'work through' or teach Genesis.

Its a challenging book on one level, but on another is a piece of great literature with an enthralling sweep of  a story.

I would start with asking the students to read through the book as quickly as they could. Not like 'speed reading', but read it like a book. That way you get the whole picture and it hangs together as a story, almost like a saga. Which it is. But a real saga.

Then we would talk about the story for a few lessons.

After that we'd talk about the historical setting, just so we didn't make any anachronistic mistakes (like, 'Why didn't they text each other?')

Then we'd look at a couple of other pieces of literature that purported to address the same events. The Gilgamesh epic and extracts of the tedious Enuma elish. We'd compare these with the Genesis accounts, particularly noting the mythic elements of both stories.

Perhaps we might also look at the Story of Wenamum (Egypt) and the Lament for Ur, noting language, style and subject.

Then we'd look at the biblical theology flow of Genesis. Now we are getting serious: it's about God's interaction with his people through history, as we guided events to repair the damage of the Fall and bring his creatures to a condition of fellowship and knowledge of God and his love.

Finally we'd look at the creation account in Genesis 1-3, culminating in 3:8, of course where the breach of the relationship is shown.

Then we'd study the theology of the account, it's structure, its place in the biblical flow, its place in the pure historical flow of human history and the structure and language that drives the theology.

Of course this would lead us to a critique of the materialist basis of modern intellectual life and its parlous consequences for relationship with our Father in heaven and conduct and understanding of life in general.

We would also need to deal with a couple of popular misunderstandings of Genesis 1. Most prominent at the moment tends to be the so-called 'Framework Hypothesis', discussed by Pipa and McCabe's more detailed paper and blog. Walton's fanciful approach is also takes an approach that denies the direct meaning of Genesis 1 and obstructs its theology of contact.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

What the creation is really about

 A nice piece on this, that goes to the theology of the creation that is given by the content of Genesis 1-3.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

The main philosphical game

In my post on the Problem of evil is us, I show the locus of evil.

There's more to be said.

The philosophical or theological 'problem of evil' is, I think, a means of avoiding the problem; of attempting to avoid our problem of evil and put it back onto God.

Man does everything he can to avoid God, starting in Genesis 3:8 (the starting point of the idea that the cosmos made itself and that we 'evolved' into existence care of the same process to avoid God and eject him from the world that Genesis 1 shows him clearly active within).

We say the problem is 'God's' because we want to resist that the problem is ours. We are evil, every thought is evil as is every motive. Evil because they revolve around us our our base motive of pride.

The start of dealing with the problem of evil, the problem that cuts us off from communion with God, is to repent of rejecting God and turn to him.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

A day 'in'

With the authorities imposing the current corona-circus inflicted on all and sundry (and with little push back if any from churches for their reasonable liberty to continue operating as they see fit), our church came up with  a great alternative to a spring houseparty (which would have been just like school in risk terms; i.e. almost zero).

It was a 'day in' at our church premises.

The program was:

9:00 - registration

9:30 - activities

10:30 - morning tea

11:00 - input session

11:30 - discussion groups

12:30 - free time

13:00 - lunch

14:00 - activities

16:00 - afternoon tea

16:30 - seminar 1 (a range of options available)

17:00 - seminar 2 (a range of options available)

17:30 - free time

18:00 - dinner

19:00 - movie

21:00 - close

22:00 - the real go-home time.

The consensus was that this was a great day, and is likely to be provided during each school holidays, irrespective of government panics or not about illnesses.

Something similar twice a year for the adults could be considered as well, although a better program might be two half days on the weekend.

Now if your church is too small to run such a thing, why not get together with a few local churches (in a rural area), or a group of your denomination in a large city area (for example, all the XYZ churches on the North Shore could get together).

This would be a great way of building friendships, deepening understanding of faith and its communication, and building skills in conducting groups, speaking and discussing.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Next step

One of the most arresting items in Mitchell's Lewis talk was this:

He spoke to a dying friend and asked him to write a name on paper. Friend asked why. Mitchell replied that it was the name of one of his friends who had died 20 years previously. He wanted to send a message to him.

Now, nice integration of the real hope and today's life, nice sentiment about his friend. But let's think about it.

The scriptural data first. A few passages spring to mind:

> The thief on the cross: Luke 23:424. Today you will be in paradise with me (and so much for Yeshua's going to hell)

> The Thessalonians: 1 Thess 4:17. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.

> After death: Phillipians 1:3. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.

> Revelation 21: all things new, the old is passed away, in our Father's presence forever.

We seem to think of heaven (I use this not as the neoplatonic fictional world of spirits, but the domain of God's will being done) as some sort of in between place like a waiting room, perhaps while we await the return of Yeshua (1 Thess 4:17). In this place the saints gradually accumulate over earth-time. So my parents will have been waiting 20 or so years for me to join them.

If this would be the case, Mitchell's note might be in order.

But it's still not. We will be renewed. We will have no concerns, we won't forget things; certainly not important things, things about people and relationships. No need for a note. He'll remember!

Mitchell seems to think it will be the same time in heaven as here. His friend will have 'waited' 20 years for news of his family.

I don't think this is on either.

Firstly, I don't think heaven time is coordinated with creation (earth) time.

If anything, the 'scale' of time might be different. So 20 years earth time might be a blink of the eye in heaven time (if there even is heaven time).

Secondly, I don't think heaven has been designed by bureaucrats with waiting rooms, real books of deed, etc. I think these are part of the great and very serious operatic images of Revelation.

Thus, and thirdly, I think 'paradise' may be the only paradise discussed. The new creation.

So perhaps we all 'arrive' in the new creation (heaven) at the same time. Time sort of warps between here and there/then, heralded by the return of Yeshua.

Here is subordinate to there. Not the reverse.

And there we are, pre-millenial dispensationalism in the bin at last.

After I'd written this, but before it posted, I discussed my speculation with my brother, who is smarter than me. He proposed that the new creation will be always 'now'. It will be 'un-tensed'.

Now, that's interesting.