Archives For Christianity

I really really like this song. I can sort of take or leave the music (I like it well enough), but the understanding of what it means to be human, and what it means to follow Jesus, that it presents is pretty spectacular.

I’m just a man of unclean lips, I’ve only seen a glimpse but everywhere I look I see His finger prints, all things were made through Him we received His revelation so we reflect it when we breathe and the concepts we conceive are born of spiritual seed manifest in the material realm as musical composition the rhythm of heart beats transformed by the Gospel and Godly wisdom I’m an instrument of His mercy, unworthy but still He uses me the beauty of the eulogy, through His death we are truly free free indeed, the condemnation and the bondage of our sin was abolished on the cross & He alone accomplished it God made Himself known exposing His own nature and His glory through His son, the revelation of Our Savior the fullness of God born in human form, deity in the flesh we need the Spirit and the Word to open our eyes so we can see correct – the Vital Lens

It’s from this album. Which is a free download from NoiseTrade.

Did you catch Q&A last night? I’ve largely given up watching Q&A, unless Malcolm Turnbull or Tanya Plibersek are on. They seem to be able to humanise the political catch phrases better than most. Tony Jones irks me. I’m turned off by the turnstile approach to pumping politicians through the panel who simply foist us with whatever party line there is to be foisted upon us, with minimal humanity, minimal engagement, and maximum robotechnics. Nobody seems to change their minds as a result of an hour of twitter interrupted grandstanding, and the show is so pitched towards the self-proclaimed intelligentsia that I actually feel a little bit dirty watching it. A case in point is the sycophantic applause bandied round on Twitter following K-Rudd’s Q&A performance, followed by the panning the general public gave him for nastily and arrogantly going for the jugular when he answered a Christian who held the position on gay marriage that K-Rudd himself had signed up for until a couple of months prior.

Q&A barely has mojo.

But I do tune in when there’s likely to be a discussion about Christianity – as was the case last night, in the Festival of Dangerous Ideas special edition, featuring gayctivist Dan Savage, feminist provocateur Hanna Rosin, feminist elder stateswoman Germaine Greer, and Peter “brother of Christopher” Hitchens.

Peter Hitchens is a Christian. Some time in his history a switch in his head flicked and he went from Trotskyist to Tory, from atheist to Christian. He’s an interesting character in part because he’s elegant and eloquent, but he’s also supercilious and appears curmudgeonly, and in part because he’s got interesting street cred as someone who significantly shifted his position on issues of politics, philosophy, and religion while in the public eye. He changed his mind. There are so few public intellectuals who do that. That alone makes him worth listening to. Even if listening to him is a pain. At times. Because he sounds like such a toff.

Last night on Q&A it was Hitch 2.0 verse the world. The champions of the world were Savage, Greer, and Rosin, with Jones offering a little support every now and then. Hitch held his own – he doesn’t back down from his opinions, he seemingly seems to see no reason to do so – he also refused to make eye contact with his fellow panelists, and was often guilty of dehumanising them or using personal pronouns in a less-than-vaguely dismissive way when referring to his fellow panelists. It was uncomfortable television.

Usually on Q&A there’s someone you can get behind and cheer on, or at least agree with. My ability to empathise with the panelists was pretty lacking last night. I came close to identifying with Germaine Greer, who was at least prepared to admit that the sexual revolution doesn’t come for free. When you read the transcript of the evening, Hitch 2.0 is much more reasonable than his manner suggested, and he was certainly shouted down whenever he spoke – by the other panellists if not the audience.

Hitch 2.0 opened with a defence of Christian morality, and something of a requiem to Christendom.

PETER HITCHENS: Well, Christianity more or less collapsed in Europe after 1914 and the First World War and when it ceased to exist, all kinds of other things rushed in to take its place. But mostly what’s rushed in to take its place is what I call ‘selfism’: the idea that we are all sovereign in our own bodies, that no-one can tell us what to do with our own bodies and that everything that we do is okay, provided we think we aren’t harming anybody else. Quite often the truth is that we are harming other people but hiding it from ourselves.

HANNA ROSIN: But who gets to decide what’s corrupt? So, you know, drinking, drugs, gay sex. I mean sort of where do you draw the line at what seems totally arbitrary?

PETER HITCHENS: Where do you draw the line? You draw the line fundamentally, as far as I’m concerned, around about the Sermon on the Mount and those instructions given to us and I have absolutely no shame in saying that I believe that the Christian religion was the greatest possession which the human race had, which it’s now, in large parts of the world, rather busily throwing away.

His big dangerous idea seemed to be that we’ve got to take responsibility for our actions, and admit that we’re inherently selfish. Which is beautifully orthodox Christian anthropology. He was, by word if not by tone, self-effacing and humble.

“DAN SAVAGE: Consent matters and harm matters. Consent matters and harm matters. If there’s consent and no one is being harmed it’s no one’s business what an individual chooses to do with his or her body.

PETER HITCHENS: Yes, but the question…

TONY JONES: No, I’m going to…

PETER HITCHENS: No. No. No. It’s so essential to answer this. The people who say that they’re not doing harm are invariably deceiving themselves. The people who divorce and say the children are happier as a result, they’re not.

DAN SAVAGE: And the government should rush in to prevent people from being self-deceptive if that’s indeed what they’re doing?

PETER HITCHENS: The teenager who takes drugs and becomes mentally ill and ruins his own life and that of his parents is doing harm to other people, but at the time they do these things they say “No, my body is sovereign. I am a completely autonomous person. I don’t harm anybody else. ” We lie to ourselves about this all the time. I lie to myself about it. You all lie to yourselves about it. You lie to yourself about. We know that we harm other people.”

Hitch’s criticisms of the Savage world view were coherent and are worth hearing. But this quote below is one of the examples of his refusal to engage person to person, as it were.

TONY JONES: Peter Hitchens, I’ll just bring you in here. You listened to that. I mean do you see anything sort of wrong with this concept of hook-up apps?

HANNA ROSIN: You’re setting him up. You’re setting him up. Say no. Just say no. Just for the surprise of it, just say no.

DAN SAVAGE: I’m going to get on grinder and see who’s on right now in this room.

PETER HITCHENS: Do you want me to say anything, or not? It seems to me that when intimacy is something which is profoundly private and often, if people are mistreated when they’re intimate with other people, they are severely damaged and the idea that sexual relations can be conducted in this casual and mechanical fashion is extremely cruel and crude and dismisses the concept of human love from a very important part of our relations and I think that’s a pity. He doesn’t think it’s a pity. He wants a crude and, as far as I’m concerned, individualistic, unrestrained and a totally selfish world.

DAN SAVAGE: And the transcendent can emerge from the crude.

PETER HITCHENS: There is a definite difference between me and him. I’d just like to emphasise it. I think a society in which his ideas rule will be one you will very much regret having created.

Here’s a nice little example of Tony Jones participating in the discussion…

PETER HITCHENS: (Indistinct) No, don’t stop me. The ceaseless (indistinct)…

TONY JONES: Excuse me, we have a question. We have a question on this subject.

MULTIPLE SPEAKERS TALK AT ONCE

HANNA ROSIN: Wait a minute. Wait. Wait. Wait. Can I…

PETER HITCHENS: …(Indistinct)…

TONY JONES: You’ll get a chance.

HANNA ROSIN: No. No. No. Just one thing…

PETER HITCHENS: You haven’t stopped anybody else.

HANNA ROSIN: One thing.

PETER HITCHENS: You haven’t stopped anybody else.

TONY JONES: I’m stopping you to allow a questioner to make a point…

PETER HITCHENS: Yeah, I know you’re stopping me. I noticed that, yes.

TONY JONES: …you can respond to.

PETER HITCHENS: Right.

Great hosting Mr Jones.

Here’s how Hitchen’s thesis for the evening plays out in his own brand of condescension come self-deprecation. It’s an odd mix for an Australian audience.

PETER HITCHENS: All revolutionaries…

DAN SAVAGE: …it will identify itself to you.

PETER HITCHENS: All revolutionaries claim to be fighting against the oppression of other people when, in fact, they’re fighting for their own personal advantage.

TONY JONES: On that one-liner we’ll move on.

DAN SAVAGE: I’m fighting for everybody.

TONY JONES: Sorry, go on.

DAN SAVAGE: Well, the gay rights movement is fighting for the advantage of being treated equally and being full members of society. We are not fighting to take anything from anyone else.

PETER HITCHENS: Says you.

DAN SAVAGE: That is not some selfish goal that we had in mind. Oh, it would be really fun to be equal under the law.

PETER HITCHENS: No selfishness involved in it at all. Not a bit. No.

DAN SAVAGE: No. I’m not trying to prevent you from living your life.

PETER HITCHENS: Well, of course I’m selfish but I don’t pretend not to be.

He does present quite a nice warning – he’s not fighting the cultural wars, he’s fighting a desperate rear guard action. This exchange was also a little heated.

DAN SAVAGE: How do you hope to bring about the world – to return the world to the state you would like to see it in without authoritarian (indistinct) …

PETER HITCHENS: Oh, I gave that…

DAN SAVAGE: You’re not going to get the pot out of my hands any other way.

PETER HITCHENS: I gave that up long ago. It would only make me miserable. I know that you people have won. All that I seek to do…

DAN SAVAGE: Which is why you have to be gay married now and do drugs now with the rest of us.

PETER HITCHENS: No, all I seek to do is to tell the truth about you and what you want while it’s still allowed to do so because you are so fantastically intolerant.

TONY JONES: Now, Peter, I’ve got to interrupt. What do you mean when you say “you people”?

PETER HITCHENS: I mean the cultural revolution. I mean the cultural and moral revolution which has swept the western world since the collapse of Christianity.

DAN SAVAGE: I’m not intolerant.

PETER HITCHENS: It changed our societies, as anybody who has lived through it knows, out of all recognition in the course of 50 years and in my view for the worst. He’s part of it. She’s part of it. For all I know you are part of it but I’m not.

DAN SAVAGE: You’re paranoid and you’re projecting by saying we are intolerant. You have…

PETER HITCHENS: See, this is the intolerance. Because I hold an opinion different from his, he has become suddenly a qualified psychoanalyst who can tell me – who can tell me that my opinions which I am entitled to hold.

DAN SAVAGE: You’re entitled to your opinions. You’re not entitled to your smears.

PETER HITCHENS: But are a pathology. And this is the absolute seed bed of totalitarianism. When you start believing that the opinions of other people are a pathology, then you are in the beginning…

DAN SAVAGE: You’re the one standing there pathologising other people’s choices.

PETER HITCHENS: …in the beginning of the stage that leads to the secret police and the Gulags.

DAN SAVAGE: You are the one sitting there saying that society is sick and damaged because other people are now free as white men used to be.

PETER HITCHENS: You’ll have the whole world to yourself soon. You can’t imagine anybody else is entitled to hold a view different from yours without having some kind of personal defect. That’s what’s wrong with you.

And this bit…

“DAN SAVAGE: You sit there pathologising other people’s choices. You sit there saying that other people being free to live their lives by their own light in some way oppresses you, when it oppresses you in no way whatsoever. You are free not to get gay married. You are free not to use drugs. You are free not to drink. You are free to stay married to one person for the rest of your life. You are free to stay home and raise your wife’s children so they always have a parent by their side. You are not free to sit there and say that other people being just as free as you are to live their lives and make their own choices in some way is damaging you personally, in some way is destroying society. People are freer now, happier now. It’s a less intolerant world than it used to be because people like me are now empowered to look at people like you and say you are full of shit.

PETER HITCHENS: This is so personal. Can I respond to it before the…

(AUDIENCE APPLAUDE AND CHEER)

PETER HITCHENS: It’s a rally.

TONY JONES: Okay.

PETER HITCHENS: It’s a rally.

TONY JONES: Hold on. We actually do need to hear (indistinct)…

PETER HITCHENS: While you do this – while you do this I can’t talk. While you do that – while you do that I can’t talk and you know it and that’s to your – and that’s to your shame because silencing opponents is a very wicked thing to want to do.

DAN SAVAGE: You’ve been a lot of things tonight, but you’ve not been silenced.

PETER HITCHENS: You said this is very personal. This is very personal. I’ll reply to it. I am a very rich and fortunate person. I can – and I’m coming towards the end of my life anyway. I can personally escape many of the consequences of this but most people can’t. They can’t afford to and leave aside some of the things you’ve mentioned but a society in which the use of illegal drugs is widespread and unrestrained is one in which everybody is affected by the consequences, whatever they themselves do. It’s like that ridiculous bumper sticker “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one,” to which my reply has always been: “Don’t like murder? Don’t commit one”. The fact is if a society permits – if a society permits things to happen which damage the lives of many people, who, as I’ve said earlier as a result of the selfish unwillingness of those who do those things to recognise that they have consequences, it affects everybody.”

Peter Hitchens also channeled Russell Brand, or more the anti-Brand, with his thinking on the modern political scene.

“TONY JONES: Peter, you did do whatever you could to hasten the demise of the Cameron Government. In fact you…

PETER HITCHENS: Yeah, not very effective with that.

TONY JONES: Well, in fact, you actually advised people, or your readers, to vote for UKIP, which is a populist party – a populist party primarily anti-immigration in its basis?

PETER HITCHENS: Well, I advised them to do that because I kept saying that they shouldn’t vote at all but they all seemed to think that voting was some tremendous important process, which actually it isn’t. If you go to a shop and you’re offered a load of goods which you don’t want to buy, you don’t buy any of them. So why, in an election, do you vote for people you don’t like?”

Interestingly, Hitchens and Brand had this clash last year.

And then this one as a follow up…

But back to Q&A.

Rosin and Savage kind of became one person by the end of the show, or some sort of comedy double act where you couldn’t tell who was playing the straight man. Greer was, at times, incoherently nostalgic, once the show hit its halfway mark she stopped answering questions and started wafting into stories from the good old days. As I said above, Hitch 2.0 wasn’t particularly loving to the other panelists, and for me, that damaged the credibility of what he had to say. It’s an ethos thing. You can’t just carry ethos with the words you say. But boy did he nail the finish.

Where Tony Jones invited the panel to share what they think is the most dangerous idea going around… Here’s the video of the answers, the transcript is below.

I’ll present the answers out of order – so that Hitch gets the last word, which he was so keen on all night. These were a little character revealing.

DAN SAVAGE: Population control. There’s too many goddamn people on the planet. And I don’t know if that’s a – you know, I’m pro-choice. I believe that women should have the right to control their bodies. Sometimes in my darker moments I am anti-choice. I think abortion should be mandatory for about 30 years. That’s a dangerous idea. She wanted a dangerous idea. So throw a chair at me.

 

GERMAINE GREER: Well, I’m always in the same place. The most dangerous idea, the one that terrifies us the most, is freedom – to actually be free – is, to most human beings, disorientating, terrifying but it’s the essential bottom line. If you want to be a moral individual you must be free to make choices and that includes making mistakes.

 

HANNA ROSIN: I’m tempted to say something about the Jesus Christ but being the Jewish one on the panel I’ll let that one go. Given our conversation today, I think I’m going to go with we should watch our children less. We live in a culture which follows our children around, is obsessed with safety, decides everything for our children, doesn’t let them have any freedom. Doesn’t let them wander. Doesn’t let them go anywhere or do anything by themselves and we should, in fact, do less with our children, not more.

 

PETER HITCHENS: The most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the son of God and rose from the dead and that is the most dangerous idea you will ever encounter.

DAN SAVAGE: I’d have to agree with that.

TONY JONES: Just quickly, because I think you can’t really leave it there, why dangerous?

PETER HITCHENS: I can’t really leave it there? Because it alters the whole of human behaviour and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all. If we reject It, it alters us all was well. It is incredibly dangerous. It’s why so many people turn against it.

What an ending. There wasn’t a whole lot to love about Q&A last night. But I loved that.

There’s a bit of a conversation happening in the Australian Evangelical Blogosphere (so about the smallest pool in the world) about inner city church planting. They’ve got me mulling over next year and life at Creek Road South Bank – a new church, in Brisbane’s inner city, that I’ll be serving as the Campus Pastor (note, I think just about any name/title for a ministry position can sound a bit ego driven, the emphasis here hopefully will remain on the “serving” not on the “Campus Pastor”).

Here are some of the posts I’ve read…

The answer to the question “do we need more inner city church plants?” is clearly a yes.

It’s the answer to any question about “do we need more churches?” Churches are like broadcast towers that send the message of the Gospel around Australia – we need something like the National Broadband Plan to ensure good Gospel coverage around Australia. We also need more workers to work in these churches, and we definitely need more Christians. Australia isn’t meaningfully becoming less Christian, Australia has never been particularly “Christian” – church attendance was high when we started because people were forced to go to church. Australian laws might have assumed or reflected a Judeo-Christian moral framework – but that was the default, it didn’t mean they were written by people whose hearts were owned by Jesus, even if some of our early colonists were passionate Christians, others weren’t. We need more churches in Australia because Australia is full of lost people. And so are our inner city areas.

Which is why, for want of a better understanding of the nuance of what the church I’m part of is doing (hopefully this post will clear this up a little) – next year I’ll be an “inner city church planter.”

I’m finishing college soon. I’m thinking about what life in ministry, post-college, is going to look like for me, and what I thought it would look like before college. So just indulge me a little with this poorly structured stream of consciousness response to the posts above. It’s more about me than most posts you’ll read here, but indulge me a little.

Why I do what I didn’t want to do…

I feel like this whole South Bank thing is forcing me to think through a whole heap of competing thoughts and passions of mine in a way that hopefully ends up being consistent and a healthy compromise on my youthful idealistic zeal.

Before college I was pretty outspoken and cynical about church planting (or church planters) – and what I meant was inner-city church planting. I was cynical about the guys who wanted to plant churches without working with an established church, in a hip, non-denominational way (or even in the denomination but not of the denomination) – they’re the guys who were a little bit too sure of themselves, a little bit too sure of their central place in God’s plan. Or so I thought (and still think). I was especially cynical about people who wanted to plant megachurches.

This quote I shared from a guy assessing church planters a few years ago still resonates with me… It’s still a problem.

It’s amazing how many young pastors feel that they are distinctly called to reach the upwardly-mobile, young, culture-shaping professionals and artists. Can we just be honest? Young, upper-middle-class urban professionals have become the new “Saddleback Sam”.

Seriously, this is literally the only group I see proposals for. I have yet to assess a church planter who wants to move to a declining, smaller city and reach out to blue collar factory workers, mechanics, or construction crews. Not one with an evangelistic strategy to go after the 50-something administrative assistant who’s been working at the same low-paying insurance firm for three decades now.

One of the problems Josh Dinale identified with the current crop of church planters is:

“1) pastors wanting to be the next Mark Driscoll

the more I connect with young pastors (yeah I know I am still generally young, having said that, I have been in Christian minsitry for 10 years, I have been around the block a few times) I am seeing guys who look like Driscoll, speak like Driscoll, act like him, teach like him. I am sorry to tell you, but you are NOT him. you  are fearfully and wonderfully made, God has a plan for you, and you alone. I am pretty sure it is not to be like Driscoll but to be the best pastor God has created you to be. Be content with where you are, minister out of your gifts not someone elses.”

Mike Bird also identifies a similar trend.

“I’ve come across many young men who seem to think they have some kind of destiny to become the next Mark Driscoll or the next Tim Keller. They have a church planting strategy from the movie Field of Dreams. Remember the motto of that movie: If you build it, they will come. But the reality is a bit more complex as church planters are not just battling against a secular culture, but competing with existing churches in their area and even competing with existing church plants. In addition, many church planters are abandoning their denominations to plant these new independent churches, leading to a kind of righteous remnant mentality, cultivating a very low ecclesiology without historic bonds to the past, and looking down disparagingly on pastoral leaders who decide to keep working within their existing denominations.”

The whole “thinking you’re the new Driscoll” thing is nothing new (see this post from 2009 – five years ago) – Driscoll has an incredible ability to create fanboys out of the disenfranchised. But I haven’t spoken to many Driscoll fanboys lately, most people in that sort of camp seem to be man-crushing pretty hard on Matt Chandler. And most people of the generation slightly above me seem to be keen to shave their heads, read CS Lewis, and be Tim Keller.

Part of my reluctance to embrace the inner city thing is that there’s a perception that to do this sort of ministry you have to be some sort of bleeding edge hipster. And while I score pretty well on the “Are you a Christian Hipster?” tests because I like specialty coffee and craft beer (and I have a decorative typewriter, and a beard), I don’t want to be that guy.

As soon as ministry becomes about the minister it starts being dead.

This is also my problem with Josh’s thoughtful corrective – I may have been fearfully and wonderfully made – but more importantly I’m being amazingly remade into the image of Jesus – and it’s him people should be thinking about when they go to church. Not me. Or any pastor. If we talk about something a pastor brings to the table, or the locale, and it’s something other than Jesus, we’re talking about the wrong thing. I’m not naive, I think there are good pragmatic reasons that I’m not a bad fit in the inner city, but as soon as I start thinking about myself being a good fit, or being in any way necessary, or the inner city needing me to come in and save it – the narrative is wrong.

I don’t want to be an inner city church planter.

I don’t want to target the yuppies with a trendy and edgy ministry.

I do want to play my part in God’s program of reaching people, including the yuppies, including people in the inner city, and the regions, and the small towns. Sacrificially, doing ministry that resonates with people of whatever culture is around me – a bit like Jesus did when he entered Jewish culture as a Jewish man who spoke the language of the people around him, and told stories they could understand… using imagery they were familiar with… everywhere he could.

I might be a pseudo-hipster, but I have good reasons not to want to be an inner city church planter. I love regional Australia. I grew up in country town New South Wales (after a few years in Sydney), I worked in regional Queensland after uni. And regional Australia punches above its weight on the evangelical scene. In my experience. I think, and still think, that the human resources we suck into cities would, in the providence of God, also produce great results in regional areas. Regional areas and regional people need the Gospel.

Plus. I don’t buy into the tendency to spiritualise “the City”. Cities are significant because there’s a high concentration of people there, but the whole “heaven is a city, therefore city” thing just strikes me as ridiculous. This is a quote from a Christianity Today article about Tim Keller’s philosophy/theology of City ministry from a few years back…

““Surely God’s command to exiled Israelites applied to Christians in New York: “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you” (Jer. 29:7). Long before that, God had designated cities as places of refuge when Israel entered the Promised Land. They remain so today, Keller noted—which explains why poor people, immigrants, and vulnerable minorities such as homosexuals cluster in cities. They attract people who are open to change. Paul did most of his missionary work in cities, and early Christianity flourished within them. Revelation portrays the final descent of the kingdom of God to earth as a city, although a garden city, with fruit trees and a life-giving river at its center. Keller suggests that, had Adam and Eve lived sinlessly and obeyed God’s directions, they would have made Eden into just such a city.”

I get the appeal of the vision of transforming a culture from the city out (ala Tim Keller), but having spent time in a parochial regional centre that wanted no bar of most of what came from a city, simply because it came from the city, I’m not sure how effective this nationwide campaign of transformation is going to be beyond the urban elite, and those who wish they were urban elite in regional cities – who never really gel with the culture of their town or regional city.

I do, however, think that cities are incredibly useful for producing dominant cultural narratives, that do filter out into the regions via the consumption of media and advertising. But if you’ve ever watched the ads on regional television, you’ll know that even the impact of these zeitgeisty narratives is limited, and watered down by being presented along with not so slick regionally produced media.

And I do think the Gospel is the best story there is going round, and it should be told more, and it should become part of conversations where different narratives compete – ala Peter Hitchens presence on Q&A last night. We need to get better at telling the Gospel story in the places where stories are told or presented professionally. And being crucified for it.

I like what Keller’s attempts to transform culture from the city, but I’m pessimistic about the impact of his method beyond the city. Though less pessimistic than Carl Trueman. I’m less Presbyterian than him too.

“And, to put it bluntly, Keller is the transformationists’ best shot today.   It does not matter how often we tell each other that our celebrity transformationists are making headway, such claims are only so much delusional hype.  A Broadway play and a couple of nice paintings do not help the man who cannot rent space to worship on the Lord’s Day.  Indeed, I wonder if any of these transformationists have ever asked themselves whether what we are seeing are not in fact transforming inroads into the culture but the modern equivalents of bread and circuses designed to gull the gullible — meaningless trivia, conceded by the wider culture, that make no real difference; where and when the stakes are higher and actually worth playing for, no quarter is, or will be, given.

Surely it is time to become realistic.  It is time to drop the cultural elitism that poses as significant Christian transformation of culture but only really panders to nothing more than middle class tastes and hobbies.  It is time to look again at the New Testament’s teaching on the church as a sojourning people where here we have no lasting home.”

I think the example we get from the New Testament church, especially from Paul, is that it’s incredibly unlikely that we’re going to change a city by producing cultural artefacts – the Roman Empire was eventually transformed by the sheer weight of Christian converts, but I think we produce Christian converts by borrowing or subverting cultural artefacts to tell the story of the Gospel. The early church grabbed hold of a bunch of terminology associated with the announcing and promoting of a new king, they used terminology and titles for Jesus that were identical to the terminology and titles used of Roman emperors, but they promoted a king who was crucified, which was a cultural anathema, and was never going to result in immediate wholesale change.

Paul’s Areopagus speech, probably the best strategic attempt at cultural change we see in the New Testament, ends in what many would suggest is a failure to transform… most people laugh at him, and only some are transformed… and yet his speech, which presents the Gospel in a culturally informed way, is recorded in one of the longest lasting transformative texts in the world.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Paul goes to the heart of the city, the best place to tell the story of the Gospel, and he tells it in a culturally engaged way. But it doesn’t instantly transform the whole city (Jonah might be a better story about a city being transformed).

Which is why I’m excited that Creek Road South Bank is telling this story, hopefully excellently, at the Queensland Theatre Company’s Billie Brown Theatre, every Sunday. And it’s why I’m excited that our band is aiming for musical excellence, and Creek Road Media is aiming to produce culturally engaging video that tells this story in excellent ways. And I hope this does result in transforming the lives of enough individuals so that the fabric of our city starts to change. Person by person.

I also get that inner city ministry is incredibly hard. Because of the Inner City Pressure (cf this Flight of the Conchords song).

It’s hard because people who live in places that tell incredible narratives that provide apparent satisfaction to deep desires are often pretty convinced that they already live in heaven, while simultaneously feeling profoundly dissatisfied because they are surrounded by lots more people who both are broken, and reveal one’s own brokenness through interpersonal interactions.

But ministry is hard everywhere. Because it involves gathering a bunch of people who naturally think about what’s best for their sinful selves – even while God is uniting them behind the cause of the gospel by his Spirit. Let’s not fall into the trap of hyper-spiritualising inner city ministry.

Inner city ministry – and by extension, inner city church planting, is important because there are people in the inner city.

And, in a city like Brisbane, it’s strategic because there is public transport to the inner city from just about every corner of the city – and evangelical churches in Brisbane are not well represented in the statistical breakdown of religious belief in our city. So if people from parts of the city where there’s no evangelical presence can get to a place where there is, because they’ve been invited there by people who work in the City, then that’s a good thing. The notion of place or a patch for churches is just culturally out of touch. We don’t live, work, and play in the same suburb. Our relationships are likely to stretch not just across suburbs, but across cities, states, and countries. Building a strategy for church planting based on geographic saturation is a bit old school. People travel. We’re better of putting churches in strategic hubs – in Brisbane this might mean places where there are major shopping centres, that people are already in the habit of travelling to…

 

Image: Relationship networks visualised using Facebook friendships and flight routes, Credit: Robot Monkey

South Bank is also exciting for me because we’ve got a burgeoning ministry to refugees in Brisbane, and many of them live around where this church plant is happening. We’re reaching the world from Brisbane. I’m not sure Iranians on bridging visas are going to be all that enthused about a pastor with a fixie, and a well manicured ironic moustache.

… to do what I do want to do (or rather, what God wants us to do)

Paradoxically, part of the reason I’m excited about being an “inner city church planter” is that I didn’t ever want to be an “inner city church planter.” The bigger reason I’m excited is that I’m not going out on my own as some gung-ho, got all the answers, inner-urban hipster type who is cutting all ties with pre-existing structures. I’m part of a team, that is part of a church, that is part of a denomination, that also has a bigger agenda in terms of church planting. That’s a great way for ministry to not be about me.

While it looks like I’m an “inner city church planter” because each Sunday I’ll be at a new church in Brisbane’s inner city, that’s not what really excites me about next year. As exciting as it is. I went to college as a Presbyterian because being a Presbyterian is a great boat to fish from in Queensland to do Gospel ministry, because I’m theologically pretty Presbyterian, and because I like the attachment to a narrative that has history, that unfolds and is deliberately linked to things that have happened in the past, rather than being deliberately disconnected. I think it’s a little disingenuous to attempt to start a church with a clean slate. With no ties. With no baggage.

I’m excited about being part of the Creek Road team for a few reasons. Mostly because I’m excited about what I think is a reinvention of “team ministry.” I’m excited about team ministry at least in part because I’m an extrovert, but I’m theologically excited about team ministry in terms of what it looks like for a church to function well as the body of Christ, where each bit of the body uses different gifts in complementary and sacrificial ways, that benefit a variety of congregations who are either part of Creek Road, or part of our network. The approach we’re taking at Creek Road has the potential to be incredibly scalable – with some of the benefits of franchising a business in terms of quality control, pooling of resources, and some sort of “brand identity” (which, lets face it, is part of the appeal of denominations), but also the flexibility to do things differently in different places based on who is there – both in the pulpit, and in the congregation.

I think if people in ministry are just thinking about their immediate patch they’re thinking too small. If we’re only thinking about the city, but not the regions, if we’re only thinking about reaching Australia, but not reaching the world, then we’re omnifocused to our detriment, and the detriment of the church’s mission. It’s possible to focus on more than one thing at once. Despite what certain personality types will tell you. Jesus was pretty happy to leave this mission global (making disciples from every nation), while providing a starting place that was geographically bound (first in Judea, then Samaria, then the ends of the earth). We not think global, and act local and global, simultaneously?

Physical presence is a big part of ministry, but the God we serve is transcendent and omnipresent. And prayer works. And prayer is ministry. And communication isn’t geographically contained anymore. Physical distance has collapsed into bits and bytes that can be fired through the skies. Why are we so keen to limit our footprint to our suburb? Using the incarnation of Jesus as a paradigm for local ministry is terrific and necessary, but we’ve also got to learn from the Apostles who used mediums that could be copied and spread, and fly through communication networks (like the Roman roads), whose relationships and span of care stretched across geographic boundaries.

I don’t think of myself as an inner city church planter because I want to serve the church and its mission wherever I can, not just in South Bank.

I don’t think of myself as an inner city church planter because I’m part of a team that is intentionally trying to create resources that will serve churches anywhere.

I don’t think of myself as an inner city church planter because, as part of the team at Creek Road, I’m contributing, with the rest of the team, to what happens every week in three different locations.

Mike Bird’s suggestion, in the face of this whole inner city church planting trend thing is:

“So I’m wondering, without disparaging church planting efforts, if we need to focus more on church rejuvenation over church planting in areas already well served with churches.”

I think this question presents a classic false dichotomy (on the back of a false premise – that there are areas well served with churches). And I don’t buy it. Why not do both? Why not focus equally on both?

Denominations are in a position to do that – so are bigger churches within denominations. Just about every objection to “inner city church planting” raised in those posts linked above is addressed by a model that sees big churches using their resources to serve and help smaller churches, be it starting them from scratch, or in partnership. And this is why I’m excited about the Creek Road model (you can read a bit of an explanation of this model here), and why I’ve signed up.

Big churches have an incredible opportunity to provide resources for small churches – in their own city, or beyond, that help in the rejuvenating process, they have the opportunity to start new churches that share the economies of scale and resources of the mothership. Whether or not regional churches take up the opportunity is entirely up to them, and there’s a gap between city culture and regional culture that needs to be carefully bridged. But Australia is full of people who don’t know Jesus. I’d really like more people to know Jesus. That’s why Robyn and I quit our jobs and left Townsville to go to theological college. It’s why I’m a candidate for ordination with the Presbyterian Church. It’s why despite myself I’ll be hanging out in a new church in Brisbane’s CBD next year with Creek Road.

We need more churches in the inner city because we need more churches everywhere. Brisbane will have a population of 3 million people in 2020. That’s heaps of people who need to know Jesus. That scales up the wider you cast the net – Queensland’s population is growing, Australia’s population is growing, the global population is growing. We need more churches. We need better resourced churches.

Have you seen Russell Brand articulate what his socialist egalitarian revolution will not be like?

It’s compelling and uncomfortable television. Brand is a smart guy. Interviewing him would terrify me. He has form in this area. Making interviewers uncomfortable is part of his schtick.

This video is spreading like wildfire – because he’s captured the essence of a particular zeitgeist, and articulated an ideal, without getting bogged down by details.

Imagine if he spelled out, moment by moment, detail by detail, how this revolution was going to happen. It’d kill the communication moment. It would kill the story. It would stop this viral video in its tracks.

Idealism gets bogged down in details. But there’s still a place for idealism – without it, the status quo – unhelpful or otherwise – will simply be maintained.

And there’s something in that. Brand is a storyteller. A humourist. A satirist. A raconteur. A provocateur. A preacher. It isn’t his job to work out the details simply because he’s identified a problem. That would be ridiculous. As smart and articulate as he is – he’d be a horrible dictator.

I’m not signing up to Brand’s revolution – though it is potentially more palatable to me than the status quo where our politicians are selected for us by special interests and party machines that churn out apparatchiks with sausage like regularity, in a process you don’t really want to see. Replacing matter with anti-matter isn’t particularly compelling to me.

But.

There’s something to his method that is worth learning from – as Christians.

Because as Christians – unless you’re committed to installing Christian governments in the here and now – our job in the political process is to speak as idealists.

Idealists who care for the weak and the vulnerable.

Idealists who want to see change made to protect the voiceless and the marginalised.

But ultimately idealists who are hanging out for something better.

Our citizenship in the new creation – with our creator – where king Jesus reigns with his father. King Jesus who started his reign – who was enthroned – on a cross. A cross where he gave up his life in an act of sacrificial love. We live in the world of the cross – while we wait for this future.

We’re storytellers too. We’re telling a story of self-denial. We’re talking about a revolution. We’re sharing a message that is foolish and unpalatable to the political mainstream. And it’s the nature of this foolishness – the counter cultural nature of our message that shapes our approach, and our expectation in this sphere.

People speaking as Christians, as participants in God’s people, the church, aren’t legislators (unless you’ve been elected as a legislator, in which case you probably should think about legislation and practical stuff).

It’s not our job to make things work. To turn the cogs of government.

It’s our job to influence the thinking of the people who are governed so that the government they elect makes things work for people. It’s our job to get people thinking about virtues, about values – and our virtues and values are shaped by Jesus, and found in the person and life of Jesus.

This means that for Christians our job isn’t to address nut and bolt concerns when it comes to implementing the stuff we’re calling for. That would make the politicians’ job easier, and there’s some merit in that if we want a box ticked here and now.

We do need to be prepared to equip people who are living as followers of Jesus to live the life we’re calling others to live – but that’s different. The Occupy Movement that Brand cites in the video had to work out some house rules so that they could all live together in various public spaces. But when it comes to us doing our job as ambassadors for Jesus in spheres – the areas that in the past were called the estates of the realm – it’s not our job to offer hard and fast solutions beyond Jesus. When it comes to being story tellers – being people who are trying to shape values – being people who are calling for a revolution – it’s not our job to sweat the details. They’ll be sorted out when there’s a will for the changes.

Here’s a concrete example. I’ve written a fair bit here, and on Facebook, about Australia’s refugee situation. More people are trying to get here than we are currently prepared to handle. Some people are trying to get here via a dangerous, non-authorised, boat journey. Our government has shut the door in their faces, and insists on dehumanising these folk by calling them “Illegal maritime arrivals” – turning the victims into criminals (victims of both whatever forced these people out of their home countries, and of people smugglers who charge them too much for a dangerous journey). In my writings on these matters I have toyed with offering better solutions. But these solutions are inadequate. I am not a policy maker. It would be silly for me to continue pretending that I am. I can, however, call people to remember the human faces behind this tragedy – the tragedy that so many people need to seek asylum. The tragedy that we are unprepared, as a nation, to open our doors and welcome as many people as possible – occasionally for explicitly selfish reasons, sometimes simply because we haven’t thought through our selfishness. I can tell this story, over and over again, using whatever means possible – in the hope that pressure will mount on policy makers.

But this isn’t my story. How we treat those seeking asylum – the weak and vulnerable – isn’t my story. It is only part of my story. That it is part of my story means that it isn’t opportunistic or manipulative to use asylum seekers to tell a bigger story. And this should function as something like an editorial policy for Christians engaging in politics – if the issue doesn’t relate to the Gospel story, then it’s an issue for someone else. It’s possibly also a way to figure out what issues are our priorities.

Asylum seekers are not my story. They are part of it. As I am a character in God’s story, my story is about the value these people have to God. We can see they have value to God because they bear his image – distorted as it is, by sin and death – and we can see the value he places on them because we see he would send his son into the world to live their stories, to potentially change the end of their stories. God writes himself into their story. He sent Jesus as a vulnerable person, who became stateless and statusless before a powerful empire (first rejected by his own people), to die. For them. For us. So that when we seek asylum with God there is a home for us. The story of asylum seekers is part of the story of humanity – and speaking into this story, idealistically, is part of speaking of the idealistic story. The greatest story. My story. God’s story.

Brand is on to something. If we want to achieve politically driven change in a broken system, if we’ve seen a problem that we can’t figure out how to fix, it isn’t our job to provide all the solutions. It is our job to point out the brokenness. To tell the story. There is a place for idealism. Idealism is a necessary point on the road towards change.

When it comes to issues like refugees – I think there’s a place for us, as Christians, to participate in political discussions as idealists. Agitating for change, articulating different priorities and concerns, without solutions. Both because the change we advocate is loving – and because it provides an opportunity for us to communicate about a greater ideal. A greater story. A greater problem.

If we want to achieve spiritually driven change in a broken world we’ve first got to help others see the problem. But we’re not the solution to the problem. God is. It’s never our job to solve the problem. It’s God’s. Our job, as it always is, is to be agitators. Story tellers. Provocateurs. Preachers.

Sometimes pragmatism is held up as the desirable alternative to idealism. As though they’re in binary opposition. But here’s the thing – when it comes to imitating Jesus, pragmatism and idealism get mixed up in the crucible of the cross. The cross makes the impractical practical. Imitating Jesus makes the idealistic the pragmatic. This is also where we differ from Brand – because, in a sense the mode of our storytelling, and the content of our story, is so compelling that it becomes part of the solution.

We’re called to imitate Jesus. Jesus, who renounced status and made himself nothing… Jesus, who proclaimed a better kingdom, Jesus, who was humiliated and crucified and humiliated some more by the ruling authorities. Cross shaped idealism from people whose hearts and minds are captivated and transformed by Jesus and the priorities of the gospel that points people to Jesus is the best form of pragmatism. It’s the only thing that’s going to achieve eternal results. It’s the only thing that really works. It’s the only thing that really changes anything.

That’s revolutionary. A world full of people renouncing their own status and wealth, taking up their crosses and following Jesus is how to achieve real revolution. It’s also how to achieve the kind of revolution Brand gets so passionate about in the video.

I started reading this book last night. Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense

I’m only two chapters in – but one of those chapters is just about the best chapter on the human condition I’ve ever read.

It is sensational. It’s brash. It’s frenetic. It’s honest. It’s compelling.

The writing moves like a bullet train, but hits like a freight train. It’s a dizzying stream of consciousness treatment of what it means to be human.

Here’s a little video Francis Spufford put together about why he wrote the book.

Atheist mega-brain Alain De Botton called it his book of 2012

“As a non-Christian, indeed a committed atheist, I was worried about how I’d feel about this book but it pulled off a rare feat: making Christianity seem appealing to those who have no interest in ever being Christians. A number of Christian writers have over the past decade tried to write books defending their faith against the onslaughts of the new atheists – but they’ve generally failed. Spufford understands that the trick isn’t to try to convince the reader that Christianity is true but rather to show why it’s interesting, wise and sometimes consoling.”

Here’s a couple of quotes – they’re potentially offensive – which sin should be.

“If I say the word ‘sin’ to you, I’m basically buggered (as we like to say in the Church of England). It’s going to sound as if I’m bizarrely opposed to pleasure, and because of the continuing link between ‘sin’ and sex, it will seem likely that at the root of my problem with pleasure is a problem with sex. For us, it refers to something much more like the human tendency, the human propensity, to f*** up. Or let’s add one more word: the human propensity to f*** things up, because what we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident, our passive role as agents of entropy. It’s our active inclination to break stuff, ‘stuff’ here including moods, promises, relationships we care about, and our own well-being and other people’s, as well as material objects whose high gloss positively seems to invite a big fat scratch.”

 

The HPtFtU is bad news, and like all bad news is not very welcome, especially if you let yourself take seriously the implication that we actually want the destructive things we do, that they are not just an accident that keeps happening to poor little us, but part of our nature; that we are truly cruel as well as truly tender, truly loving and at the same time truly likely to take a quick nasty little pleasure in wasting or breaking love, scorching it knowingly up as the fuel for some hotter or more exciting feeling.

 

But HPtFtU is in here, not out there. The bad news is bad news about us, not just about other people. And when the conviction of it settles in, when we reach one of those stages of our lives where the sorrow of our failure hangs in our chests like a weight, and waking up in the morning is painful because every time the memory of what’s wrong has to ooze back over the lovely blankness of the night – you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever been there – then, the idea that it would help to cling to a cosy sense of victimhood seems as silly as it would be to try and fight off the flu by waving a toy lightsaber. I’ve found that admitting there’s some black in the colour-chart of my psyche doesn’t invite the blot of dark to swell, or give a partial truth more gloomy power over me than it should have, but the opposite. Admitting there’s some black in the mixture makes it matter less. It makes it easier to pay attention to the mixedness of the rest. It helps you stop wasting your time on denial, and therefore helps you stop ricocheting between unrealistic self-praise and unrealistic self-blame. It helps you be kind to yourself.

 

First you have to go through; and while you do, while you’re struggling with the first raw realisation of the degree to which you’ve f***ed (things) up, in one of the louder or quieter crises of adult life, there is no resolution to be had, no comfy scheme of order to hold on to. The essence of the experience I’m trying to talk about in this chapter is that it’s chaotic. You stop making sense to yourself. You find that you aren’t what you thought you were, but something much more multiple and mysterious and self-subverting, and this discovery doesn’t propel you to a new understanding of things, it propels you into a state where you don’t understand anything at all. Unable to believe the comfortable things you used to believe about yourself, you entertain a sequence of changing caricatures as your self-image. By turns your reflection in the mirror of your imagination nonsensically grins, scowls, howls, yawns, gazes back inert as a lump of putty: decomposes into pixels that have forgotten the reason for their mutual attachment. Here is a description of the state from a Hebrew poem 2,600 years old: ‘I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.’

 

For what do we do with the knowledge that we’ve f***ed up, that we no longer make sense to ourselves? Turn to face each other, for a start. A community of acknowledged f***-ups ought at least in theory to be kinder to one another. And there are things we can use our imperfection for, once we admit it: structures that can be built from unreliable parts and yet be reliable themselves, like the constitutional order of the American republic, or the scientific method, or the internet. But there’s a limit to what we can do for each other, a limit to how much of each other’s HPtFtU we can ever manage to bear – even just to bear to hear about – while it often feels as if there’s no limit to how far or how long the ripples of our multitudinous f***-ups can keep travelling, or how intricately they can go on colliding and encroaching and causing collateral damage in other lives. Think of the consequences of John Newton’s HPtFtU, still fresh and vigorous after two hundred years. In this case, and in plenty of others where the harm is ongoing, it wouldn’t even be right to ask for help with the aftermath of doing the harm. Should John Newton’s victims have been asked to make him feel better about what he’d done to them? I think not. We have to attend to justice as well as mercy, and we’re finite creatures, with limited powers to make good what’s been broken. With the best will in the world, we can’t always take the weight of other people’s bad stuff, we can’t often lean in and lift it off them. The crack in everything is here to stay. So one thing we do instead, when we’ve f***ed up, when we no longer make sense to ourselves, is to turn towards the space where the possibility exists that there might be someone to hear us who is not one of the parties to our endless, million-sided, multigenerational suit against each other. To turn towards a space in which there is quite possibly no one – in which, we think as we find ourselves doing it, that there probably is no one. And we say: Hello? Hello? I don’t think I can stand this any more. I don’t think I can bear it. Not another night like last night. Not another morning like this morning. Hello? A little help in here, please?

This sort of anthropology – this understanding of the human condition – this experience – is not uncommon, nor is it beyond the reach of the modern atheist – this reminded me of a David Foster Wallace essay on movie director David Lynch, David Lynch Keeps His Head, which is one of the essays in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments.

“I’m going to claim that evil is what David Lynch’s movies are essentially about, and that Lynch’s explorations of human beings’ various relationships to evil are, if idiosyncratic and Expressionistic, nevertheless sensitive and insightful and true. I’m going to submit that the real “moral problem” a lot of us cinéastes have with Lynch is that we find his truths morally uncomfortable, and that we do not like, when watching movies, to be made uncomfortable.

The fact is that David Lynch treats the subject of evil better than just about anybody else making movies today—better and also differently. His movies aren’t anti-moral, but they are definitely anti-formulaic. Evil-ridden though his filmic world is, please notice that responsibility for evil never in his films devolves easily onto greedy corporations or corrupt politicians or faceless serial kooks. Lynch is not interested in the devolution of responsibility, and he’s not interested in moral judgments of characters. Rather, he’s interested in the psychic spaces in which people are capable of evil. He is interested in Darkness. And Darkness, in David Lynch’s movies, always wears more than one face. Darkness is in everything, all the time—not “lurking below” or “lying in wait” or “hovering on the horizon”: evil is here, right now. And so are Light, love, redemption (since these phenomena are also, in Lynch’s work, forces and spirits), etc. In fact, in a Lynchian moral scheme it doesn’t make much sense to talk about either Darkness or about Light in isolation from its opposite. It’s not just that evil is “implied by” good or Darkness by Light or whatever, but that the evil stuff is contained within the good stuff, encoded in it.

DFW says Lynch movies work to make the viewer uncomfortable because they force the viewer to identify with people who turn out to be a mixture of light and dark. But they’re very dark. Which reveals something about us – something like the realisation Francis Spufford describes above.

“And I emphatically do not like to be made uncomfortable when I go to see a movie. I like my heroes virtuous and my victims pathetic and my villains’ villainy clearly established and primly disapproved by both plot and camera. When I go to movies that have various kinds of hideousness in them, I like to have my own fundamental difference from sadists and fascists and voyeurs and psychos and Bad People unambiguously confirmed and assured by those movies. I like to judge. I like to be allowed to root for Justice To Be Done without the slight squirmy suspicion (so prevalent and depressing in real moral life) that Justice probably wouldn’t be all that keen on certain parts of my character, either.”

I submit that we also, as an audience, really like the idea of secret and scandalous immoralities unearthed and dragged into the light and exposed. We like this stuff because secrets’ exposure in a movie creates in us impressions of epistemological privilege of “penetrating the civilised surface of everyday life to discover the strange, perverse passions beneath.” This isn’t surprising: knowledge is power, and we (I, anyway) like to feel powerful. But we also like the idea of “secrets,” “of malevolent forces at work beneath…” so much because we like to see confirmed our fervent hope that most bad and seamy stuff really is secret, “locked away” or “under the surface.” We hope fervently that this is so because we need to be able to believe that our own hideousnesses and Darknesses are secret. Otherwise we get uncomfortable. And, as part of an audience, if a movie is structured in such a way that the distinction between surface/Light/good and secret/Dark/evil is messed with—in other words, not a structure whereby Dark Secrets are winched ex machina up to the Lit Surface to be purified by my judgment, but rather a structure in which Respectable Surfaces and Seamy Undersides are mingled, integrated, literally mixed up—I am going to be made acutely uncomfortable. And in response to my discomfort I’m going to do one of two things: I’m either going to find some way to punish the movie for making me uncomfortable, or I’m going to find a way to interpret the movie that eliminates as much of the discomfort as possible.”

Or, Spufford might offer a third way – one might confront that darkness head on. Which is why that chapter is one of the most compelling things I’ve read on the human condition.

 

Dave Miers is a cool guy. I’ve never met him. But he seems cool. He does cool stuff like raising money for clean water in India – but he does even cooler stuff than that, he tries to help people know and love Jesus. He’s writing a couple of concurrent series on davemiers.com one called Digital Skatepark about using the Internet for Youth Ministry, and some interviews with people like Steve Kryger, Steve Fogg, and little old me - about redeeming social media.

In my post I shared this quote I read on Church Marketing Sucks a few weeks ago which I think sums up the opportunity that social media presents.

“If some day they take the radio station away from us, if they close down our newspaper, if they don’t let us speak, if they kill all the priests and the bishop too, and you are left, a people without priests, each one of you must be God’s microphone, each one of you must be a messenger, a prophet. The church will always exist as long as there is one baptized person. And that one baptized person who is left in the world is responsible before the world for holding aloft the banner of the Lord’s truth and of his divine justice.” – Oscar Romero

 

Here’s my big thesis about how churches should use social media:

Doing social media well as an institution is all well and good, but churches need to equip and empower their flocks to use social media as people who don’t promote their own image on social media, but the image of Jesus.

Anyway. I say more on that post. Keep track of these two series though. They’re good stuff.

There’s another Bible conspiracy theory doing the rounds. Each of these is more inane than the last. And each gets media attention from the tabloids. First there was the claim, from a guy named Reza Aslan, that Jesus was a zealot. A political revolutionary. A rebel. Now we have the apparently completely antithetical claim – that Jesus was a pawn of the Roman empire. An invention. Designed to bring the Jews into line and have them adopt pacifism.

Here is this new theory in a nutshell.

‘Jewish sects in Palestine at the time, who were waiting for a prophesied warrior Messiah, were a constant source of violent insurrection during the first century.

‘When the Romans had exhausted conventional means of quashing rebellion, they switched to psychological warfare.

‘They surmised that the way to stop the spread of zealous Jewish missionary activity was to create a competing belief system.

‘That’s when the “peaceful” Messiah story was invented.

‘Instead of inspiring warfare, this Messiah urged turn-the-other-cheek pacifism and encouraged Jews to “give onto Caesar” and pay their taxes to Rome.’

Both claims are odd.

Stupid in fact.

Both claims seem to miss some pretty key elements of the very counter-culture, extremely non-populist, basis of the Christian message, while also relying on the New Testament texts as valid historical documents from which to draw evidence to support their crazy hypothese.

Here’s the thing. According to the New Testament – Jesus died. At the hands of both the Roman Empire, and the Jewish establishment.

He can’t be a pawn for the Roman Empire because the movement claimed another king existed – a king who shared all the titles Caesar had bestowed upon himself. A king who called himself the saviour of the world. A king proclaimed through a gospel – a word used to described the announcement of new emperors. What self-seeking Roman emperor would hatch a plan like this? None. It’s stupid. They were about centralising power, as much as possible, in the hands of the Caesar. Having other kings running around wasn’t good for business.

Jesus saying “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” isn’t even pro-imperial. It’s ambivalent to the empire. He’s making a much bigger claim. Coins might have Caesar’s image on them. People are made in God’s image. Jesus is laying claims to something much bigger than one’s money – he wants their fealty. Their loyalty. Their lives.

In some sense Jesus was a revolutionary – he did come to change the social order – but not in the “rebel without a cause” way Reza Aslan suggests he did. He came to change people’s priorities – Away from Self. Away from success. Away from family. Away from empire. Four pillars of Roman society… So in Matthew 10…

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

He equally can’t be a tool to unite the Jews in a pacifistic movement – because his first spokespeople condemned the Jewish establishment for killing him, and Jesus spent significant time attacking the Jewish establishment as an expert in the Old Testament – the chances of Rome having the sort of sophisticated understanding of the Old Testament required to construct a significantly complex Messianic claim are fairly slim. And the prospect of the masters of propaganda – and that’s what Imperial Rome was, and needed to be for this new thesis to survive – failing to put forward a compelling messianic figure, and coming up with a messiah that most Jews rejected – is risible.

It’s stupid.

But the stupidest bit is the idea that one would select a crucified king as remotely compelling – either that a Roman would come up with the idea, or that a Jew would buy it.

“Lets crucify this king. That’ll work”

Martyrdom wasn’t a particularly effective tool in Rome – so, for example, Cicero was martyred for his opposition to the Empire. And the Empire moved on. Unworried. Execution was meant to kill seditious claims. It usually did. The chances of it starting them are incredibly remote.

And there’s textual evidence from the time to support just how dumb this idea is… Cicero himself said, of crucifixion:

“Even if death be threatened, we may die free men; but the executioner, and the veiling of the head, and the mere name of the cross, should be far removed, not only from the persons of Roman citizens—from their thoughts, and eyes, and ears. For not only the actual fact and endurance of all these things, but the bare possibility of being exposed to them,—the expectation, the mere mention of them even,—is unworthy of a Roman citizen and of a free man…”

Paul, one of the Christian story’s first storytellers – who’d have to be bought in on the conspiracy (and would have the requisite knowledge of Judaism, it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s part of the theory… the old “Paul invented Christianity” trick) – was aware that crucifixion was an impossible sell to a first century audience – Jew or Greek. If you wanted a messiah claim to stick, this isn’t how you do it…

“Even if death be threatened, we may die free men; but the executioner, and the veiling of the head, and the mere name of the cross, should be far removed, not only from the persons of Roman citizens—from their thoughts, and eyes, and ears. For not only the actual fact and endurance of all these things, but the bare possibility of being exposed to them,—the expectation, the mere mention of them even,—is unworthy of a Roman citizen and of a free man…”

The problem with seeing Paul as the source of this myth is that he completely distanced himself from the Jewish establishment, and Judaism. Read Acts. The Jews are consistently trying to kill him – and he runs from them, into the Roman court system. As a prisoner. He is beaten. He suffers. He eventually dies. Like Cicero. Like Jesus. He’d have to have been pretty bought in to this mission to subjugate his own people, and he doesn’t leave his Judaism behind easily. He was on a skyrocketing career trajectory before he joined team Jesus.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.

Anyway. A crucified messiah just didn’t wash with the Old Testament expectations. It ran counter to them. To be crucified was to be cursed. Which is part of the whole “Jesus taking our curse upon himself” thing that completely defied messianic categories in the first century. Here’s Deuteronomy 21…

“If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole,you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

That’s precisely what Paul says in Galatians 3…

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us– for it is written, “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”

This wasn’t especially convincing to the Jews of his day. They tried to kill Paul too.

And if Crucifixion was stupid and laughable – the claim of a resurrection after that was even further beyond the pale. And yet that is the central claim of Christianity – taught long before Paul came on the scene – such that he can cite it as a creed when he’s writing one of his earlier letters…

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James,then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

He also seems to keep relying on witnesses. People who aren’t him. If you’re going to use parts of his letters to support your theory, you need to consider the whole. These 500 witnesses who his first readers can speak to – that’s an incredibly large conspiracy theory.

Look. It’s a nice modern sociology theory – because it will sell well. But it doesn’t work in practice. It misses the point of the texts it uses as evidence. It requires on completely deconstructing them – using post-modern literary theory on pre-modern texts. The author was very much alive in these texts – and the idea of writing with a clear communicative purpose was also very much alive.

These claims should be dead. They are woeful scholarship. And covering them with so much attention – even if half the story debunks them – is woeful journalism. This isn’t “objective” reporting of a serious story. This is a stupid story.

I’ve often wondered. Now I’m going to use this test to try to find out. This is, of course, slightly tongue in cheek. I think these tests are useful, and descriptive, but not prescriptive.

 

Jesus was a human though. So one imagines that he acted like a human and had a personality, many of these questions would normally require a both/and approach so the answers are shaky… but I’ve tried to back up my answers to the test questions with some sort of reference to the Bible. The working out is after the “continue reading” link…

The results are in…

ENFJ
Extravert(44%) iNtuitive(38%) Feeling(50%) Judging(67%)

You have moderate preference of Extraversion over Introversion (44%)
You have moderate preference of Intuition over Sensing (38%)
You have moderate preference of Feeling over Thinking (50%)
You have distinctive preference of Judging over Perceiving (67%)

They’re obviously imperfect results, because the test isn’t geared towards people who by nature transcend complex dichotomies – Jesus is fully God and fully man – it doesn’t get more dichotomous than that.

But, according to the personality profile… Jesus is “the giver” – which sounds about right.

Especially in the light of Jesus own statement about his human life… in Mark 10…

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Some of the bits from that profile…

As an ENFJ, you’re primary mode of living is focused externally, where you deal with things according to how you feel about them, or how they fit into your personal value system. Your secondary mode is internal, where you take things in primarily via your intuition.

ENFJs are people-focused individuals. They live in the world of people possibilities. More so than any other type, they have excellent people skills. They understand and care about people, and have a special talent for bringing out the best in others. ENFJ’s main interest in life is giving love, support, and a good time to other people. They are focused on understanding, supporting, and encouraging others. They make things happen for people, and get their best personal satisfaction from this.”

ENFJ’s are so externally focused that it’s especially important for them to spend time alone. This can be difficult for some ENFJs, because they have the tendency to be hard on themselves and turn to dark thoughts when alone. Consequently, ENFJs might avoid being alone, and fill their lives with activities involving other people. ENFJs tend to define their life’s direction and priorities according to other people’s needs, and may not be aware of their own needs. It’s natural to their personality type that they will tend to place other people’s needs above their own, but they need to stay aware of their own needs so that they don’t sacrifice themselves in their drive to help others.

Continue Reading…

Dealing with genocide in the Bible

I had a crack at answering the conundrum that is the violence of the Old Testament in an essay in first year. And again in preparation for an exam last year. I’m still working out exactly what my answer to this moral question is – I think I’ve decided I was wrong in my earlier efforts to get my head around this issue.

I think I’m closer to the answer, and I’m hoping writing this post helps me get closer again… it’s a complex question, so it requires quite a bit of complex working out. And this post is some of my working. It’s long. It’s the longest post I’ve ever written. So maybe grab popcorn or something. Or just skim it. I thought about making this a series of posts, but I’d rather just have one long one, and not occupy people’s feed readers for days. Sorry. Skipping one post is easier than skipping eight.


Brick Testament rendition of Joshua 10:30

So did God carry out genocide in the Old Testament? And does that matter?

I think he did. And I think it does.

But not in the way the the New Atheists want to think it happened – or matters. I think most people operate with far too small a picture of God. A picture of God that looks like a big human, who should act like a big human, and should be judged like a big human.

This issue is much more complicated than flat and ‘literal’ readings of the text made popular by the likes of the New Atheists allow, and I can’t understand the indignation these Dawkinesque types direct towards a God they don’t even believe exists…

The question isn’t really “did God do this” – either he did or he didn’t. If you don’t think God exists then you’ve really got nothing to complain about when it comes to the events described in the Old Testament. If there’s no God involved then Israel should, according to the narrative, be commended as the little guy who did everything they could, against the odds, to survive amidst nations of bullies – who did worse things enemy children than kill them in battle.

The question is, if God did this, why aren’t we rising up in rebellion against him and trying to take him out in some sort of cosmic battle? The old epics are full of this stuff. Why are people so keen to worship, love, and revere him? Why are people prepared to speak of him as good?

What Christians are really being asked when they’re asked this question is “how can you be part of something like this, rationally, aren’t you better off writing it off as a nasty myth?”

But anyway, here’s a walk through my present thinking on this question… It’s quite possible I am wrong. It should always feel wrong to be appearing to be defending genocide, especially if it involves the death of children.

I don’t think it’s going to be satisfactory to everybody. It possibly won’t be satisfactory to anybody. But this will be where I send people when they ask me what I think about violence or genocide in the Old Testament. It’s meant to be comprehensive. It’s hopefully a helpful window into how I can still be a Christian while acknowledging that there are things we understand to be shocking in the Bible.

And if you’re one of those people I’ve sent here in the future, or you’ve been sent here by someone else – I want you to know four things.

Firstly, I just want to say from the outset that you don’t need to worry – I think there’s a big difference between something being described in the Bible and something being prescribed (or commanded) in the Bible.

Secondly, I really don’t want to shirk things here. I don’t want to dodge the question. I don’t want to pretend there’s nothing that looks like genocide in the text of the Old Testament (or, perhaps more importantly – though I’m largely dealing with the Old Testament – in the picture of Hell, God’s judgment, in the New Testament). I also don’t want to defend God, or defend the authority of the Bible. God doesn’t need me. He speaks for himself, through the Bible. I’m ultimately, in this piece, trying to defend the rationale, in my head, for thinking it is morally and intellectually coherent to submit to, and revere, the God of the Bible.

Thirdly, I quote big chunks of the Bible here – for two reasons, I want to show my working, and show how I think the Bible accounts for its own content, and secondly I don’t want to assume that you, dear reader, are necessarily familiar with what the Bible says, or that you’ll look it up. I’ve tried to bold the bits that are extra significant for my argument so that you can skim. I’ve used headings to break up the monotony of the text, and to help you skim to bits that might scratch the itch that has brought you here.

And lastly, if you don’t stick around to the end of the post (because it’s quite substantial) – it’s important, I think, that you consider the character of the God who Christians believe is behind both the Old and New Testaments – an infinite God who sends himself into a finite world, to a death on the cross, for people. This is a big deal.

Bigger than we can grasp.

We who are born to die, for whom death is a day to day reality – we sort of take death for granted. It’s part of our daily assumptions and decision making process. It’s real. But God dying? An infinite and immortal God – a person of the Trinity – becoming man and dying, is actually a really, really, big deal. It takes a bit of a revolution in our thinking to get that. But how many human lives is one infinite life worth? Mathematically speaking?

Using a poor analogy – how many ants is it ok to kill to save one human life? I think we’re approaching the magnitude of the cross when we get a sense of that question.

Anyway. If you want to read on…

Continue Reading…

Tom Standage’s piece “How Luther Went Viral” from The Economist is one of the most important things I’ve read during my time at Queensland Theological College. It became a significant part of the thinking behind my Masters thesis. It was published a while back – but it was a foretaste of Standage’s forthcoming book about ancient social media - Writing on the Wall. Which I’m very much looking forward to reading.

Here’s 16 minutes on ancient social media from Tom Standage that is worth your time.

He defines social media – in order to avoid anachronistically reading web 2.0 platforms back into the past as:

Media we get from other people, exchanged along social connections, creating a distributed discussion or community.

He says the elements required for “social media” to flourish are:

  1. Literacy.
  2. Low cost of transmission.

He looks at Cicero, and he looks at Luther – two of the people I deal with in my project – but I think he misses the missing link between these two.

The Apostle Paul.

(note: other than the fact that there’s a direct link, because Luther was a big fan of Cicero – as, incidentally, was Augustine, he’s pretty popular with Christians who are serious about communication).

I think the Apostle Paul was also a practitioner of ancient social media.

UPDATE: Tom Standage tweeted me to let me know Paul is in his book… Which is another compelling reason to pre-order it.

There’s an article doing the rounds about Jesus being the original tweeter too – but I don’t think he had a monopoly on pithy statements of wisdom. Moses, Solomon, and plenty of people outside the Judeo-Christian tradition were speaking in soundbites before Jesus.

Anyway.

Standage provides a bit of a teaser for his book in a post on his blog that describes Cicero’s approach to promoting his books (this gets a mention in the video), where he suggests Cicero was a social media practitioner in the context of the Roman publishing industry.

He describes the reliance on social networks for books to be circulated, and printed… which I’ll suggest is interesting when one considers the form/genre the New Testament takes. Coming, as it does, in easily (and widely) copied written volumes, about 100 years after Cicero…

Here’s an interesting insight into the purpose of publishing in Rome.

The sign of a successful book was that booksellers would have copies of it made for sale to the public — something they would only do if they were sure people would buy them. Roman authors, then, wanted their books to be as widely copied by as many people as possible, and ideally wanted copies to end up being put on sale, even though the author himself would not benefit financially. Instead, Roman authors benefited from their books in other ways: they were a way to achieve fame, highlight or strengthen the author’s social connection with an influential patron, get a better job, and generally advance in Roman society. Roman publishing was all about social networking, and Roman books were a form of social media.

If the success of an ancient document is assessed based on the volume of copies of manuscripts circulating and the spread, and longevity of the social networking spreading them – then the New Testament texts, and the Christian community are incredible examples.

While I believe that this is divinely orchestrated, the “natural” explanation of this success – because I think God works through natural, human causes, by equipping people for tasks – is equally fascinating. I’d suggest that the Apostle Paul was every bit as effective when it came to social media as Cicero, and that the relatively egalitarian social structure of the early church and non-reliance on famous and educated patrons for works to spread removed some of the inhibiting factors at play in the late Roman Republic, such that the New Testament spread further, and faster, than Cicero’s works.

I’ve tried to make the case for a link between Paul and Cicero for a while – here, I’m just going to compare them…

Cicero: Communicator par excellence

Here’s a cool quote from Cicero, who Standage suggests is the father of social media, from the video above:

“You say my letter has been widely published: well, I don’t care. Indeed, I myself allowed several people to take a copy of it.”

Sharing and circulating has always been at the heart of social media – it’s not something Facebook discovered.

Here’s Standage’s justification for that suggestion (from the blog post linked above):

To modern eyes this all seems strangely familiar. Cicero was, to use today’s internet jargon, a participant in a “social media” system: that is, an environment in which people can publish, discuss, recommend and share items of interest within a group of friends and associates, passing noteworthy items from one social circle to another. The Romans did it with papyrus rolls and messengers; today hundreds of millions of people do the same things rather more quickly and easily using Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other internet tools. The technologies involved are very different, but these two forms of social media, separated by two millennia, share many of the same underlying structures and dynamics: they are two-way, conversational environments in which information passes horizontally from one person to another along social connections, rather than being delivered vertically from an impersonal central source. This exchange of information allows discussion and debate to take place within a distributed community whose members may never meet each other in person.

The two-way thing is particularly interesting to me – there’s a guy, James Grunig, who’s the doyen of modern, ethical, public relations theory. His big thesis is that rather than being a one way information distribution thing, or an attempt to persuade or manipulate, public relations and communication should be “two-way,” and rather than being two way where the communicator adopts a posture of power and authority – it should be “symmetrical” – a genuine conversation, where your partner is treated as equal.

Cicero wasn’t just an orator par excellence, or a social media user par excellence – he was a public relations strategist par excellence – except he lost. And was executed by his opponents. But he was only executed because he was noticed, heard, and understood – he just happened to be speaking against the move from Republic to Empire.

Here’s a bit more from Standage…

“By the end of the first century BC a more formal way to announce and promote a new book, called the recitatio, had established itself. This was a launch party at which a book (or excerpts from it) were read to an invited audience, either by the author or by a skilled slave known as a lector. Once the reading was over, a presentation copy of the book would be given to the dedicatee, and other less fancy copies would be made available to the author’s friends and associates. The work was then considered to have been published, in the sense that it had been formally released by its author for reading, copying and circulation. At that point the book was on its own and would either spread — or not, depending on whether the author had succeeded in generating sufficient buzz.”

James Grunig, incidentally, had this to say about social media and symmetrical communication in a Q&A on a PR blog, before Facebook became the global behemoth it now is, back in 2008…

I believe the new media are perfect for practicing the two-way symmetrical model. I think it would be difficult to practice any of the other models effectively with the new media. Unfortunately, I’m afraid a lot of public relations practitioners try to practice these other models with cyber media.

Historically, whenever a new medium is invented people use it in the same way that they used the existing media. So, for example, when television was invented journalists tended to use it like radio by simply televising someone reading the news rather than using pictures.

With today’s new cyber media, public relations practitioners first used it like they used publications—as a means of dumping information on the public (following either the press agentry or public information model). With the advent of Web 2.0, however, practitioners seem to be adopting a dialogical model by listening to publics, discussing problems and issues with them, and interpreting their organization’s actions and behaviours to publics.

Effective communication through “social media” isn’t about dumping information on people and running away. Not now – and not for Cicero.

Effective communication through “social media” has, since Cicero, been about getting the conversation happening to spread your message further, growing its influence.

For Cicero, this meant propagating the values of the Republic through his books. His version of the Republic. His virtues. His understanding of the ideal Roman, the ideal orator, the ideal statesman, the ideal state… which are (largely) the focus of his publications.

Cicero’s books – and I’ve read quite a few of them – are packed with ideas. They were a sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle, rear guard defence of Republican values. They were pointed social commentary, offering a strong alternative vision for the shape of Rome.

And while I’m a big fan of Cicero, and a big fan of a lot of his principles in the face of the Empire – his integrity, the value he places on democracy and his semi-egalitarian desire to see people rise on merit, not limited by birth, his championing of oratorical substance over style (though style was pretty important), even his faux-stoic Roman virtues – one often feels that his writing functions to underline his fundamental thesis – Rome and Roman society should revolve around people exactly like him…

That’s between the lines of all his treaties on the ideal orator – where he never names himself as the ideal, but always hints at it, while encouraging people to find worthy orators to imitate. In many ways I’d like to be like Cicero, especially in how I communicate.

But, in many ways, I’d rather be like Paul. Who I think takes Cicero’s approach to new heights.

Now. Lets compare the pair.

Paul: A more excellent Communicator

Brand Jesus has lasted almost 2,000 years. The message has circulated, and been propagated with a pretty incredible degree of accuracy since it was first written down – and a huge part of the message was written by Paul. Even if you’re a “minimalist” type who doesn’t think Paul wrote some of the stuff attributed to him. These arguments usually rely on assuming Paul was incapable of employing more than one written style, or voice, an objection that is baseless if he is actually a trained communicator.

In any case, the popular criticism that Christianity was invented by Paul contains a kernel of truth. If not for Paul, then Christianity wouldn’t have circulated the way it did, reaching the heights of influence it has, lasting the length of time it has. Paul is, by any modern measure, a master communicator.

While there’s heaps of New Testament scholarship out there that writes off Paul’s rhetorical or oratorical abilities on the basis of one self-deprecating verse about his speaking in 2 Corinthians (which I think can be nicely explained as part of a connection with Cicero), when it comes to communication excellence Paul the publisher is closely related to Paul the speaker. This is equally true for Cicero. His speeches and books work together to present his message – they feed into one another. This relationship is tightened, and formalised, when one considers volumes that contain speeches by each communicator – for Cicero, there are plenty of extant copies of his speeches, for Paul, there’s Luke’s description of his modus operandi, and summarised content, in the Book of Acts.

I think Acts indicates that Paul gets “social”… here are a couple of quick examples… when establishing an audience for his message, Paul always heads to places where discussion is happening, like in Athens (Acts 17). Where he starts in the marketplace, where Luke says:

“All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas”

That’s where you go to start a conversation. If you get the social media thing.

His longer term strategy – in places he stays for a while – is to converse in the same location, presumably with the same audience. So when he hits Ephesus (Acts 19)…

“Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of TyrannusThis went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”

That’s a lot of people. It’s a pretty big network of relationships.

He also writes to the church in this town – an epistle – Ephesians – that most scholars believe was to be read out to the church, but also to be duplicated, kept in the community, and circulated further afield. The evidence – manuscript evidence, and historical evidence, suggests this happened.

He maintains this network of relationships – with a bit of a driveby catch up with the Ephesian elders as he bypasses Ephesus on his way back to Jerusalem (Acts 20).

His words in that meeting are interesting because they support the view that Paul was a “social media” practitioner, who used relationships to drive the circulation of his message such that Luke says the whole town and region heard it.

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

Paul’s approach is all about authentic relationships. And conversation.

You could mount an interesting comparison between Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and any of Cicero’s works on virtues, or being a citizen. Citizenship of God’s kingdom is pretty high on his agenda – but Paul, in Ephesians, also intentionally democratises the spread of his message. That’s where it lands.

All the Ephesians, not just Paul, have a role to play in spreading this message. Owning it. Not just endorsing it.

Which is a particularly cutting edge use of social media – Cicero might have relied on endorsements and patronage – but Paul deliberately encourages every person in his network to transmit their own version of his message, through their words and lives.

Here are some bits from the letter to the Ephesians, chapters 4 and 5, that reveal, I think, part of this strategy… First, in terms of developing social networks that last…

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Second, encouraging this network to participate in communicating – in part through ethos (another thing Paul and Cicero have in common) – the message of Jesus in a multimedia way… he keeps referring to sensory inputs beyond hearing speech, and reading that communicate something… and again, he encourages people to participate in the process.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God

… Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He expands on the communication side of things a bit more in his letters to the Corinthians, which I think are more deliberately focused on questions of communication (amongst other issues)… But finally, the way he closes the letter (Ephesians 6) reveals two things – his understanding of his message, and his role as messenger, and the importance he places on an ongoing friendship and partnership in this expanding network…

Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.

The repetition in that last part is emphatic. The strength of Paul’s social media model depends on feeling connected, socially. This has a spiritual aspect for Christians, but in sociological terms it proved quite effective as a communication tool, and still proves to be the case today.

We’ve seen that just this week – with the shocking and horrific bombing of a church in Pakistan, churches from across the globe – including in Australia – are communicating with those on the ground in Pakistan with a spirit of brotherhood, in a giant social network. This time with the modern convenience of social media.

I think Paul’s fairly consistent references to his fellow workers, and to people he has close relationships with in the towns receiving his letters is further evidence that they function, much the same way as Cicero’s books. These are indicative of some of the relationships Paul must have relied upon to spread his books. Priscilla and Aquila would be a great example – geographically mobile, they pop up in Corinth and Rome, they could well have been responsible for taking copies of Paul’s letters from church to church, and they would’ve had access to new letters Paul was writing in the times they were together with him… Even though both men ended up dying for their convictions, Paul’s social media campaign has been much more effective than Cicero’s. If we accept Standage’s definition:

Media we get from other people, exchanged along social connections, creating a distributed discussion or community.

Chances are people today are much more familiar with Paul’s work than Cicero’s – even outside the church.

This is probably, in part, because death was part of the package for Paul – as he promoted a crucified king, while Cicero’s horrible death simply served to highlight the death of that which he stood for. The values of the Republic.

This has implications for Paul’s approach to “public relations” – where Cicero adopts something like Grunig’s two-way symmetrical model, or something slightly manipulatively asymmetrical such that he uses his contacts to grow his influence through the appearance of conversation – Paul, as a follower of the “suffering servant” adopts a deliberately asymmetrical approach where he isn’t interested in his own power and influence so much as how we can serve and encourage his ‘public’ while he’s in chains, as a status-renouncing embodiment of the gospel.

Interestingly, and as a final tangent, of sorts regarding the parallel between Paul and Cicero – Cicero published widely, articulating his vision of the ideal theological system, ideal political system, ideal person, ideal virtues, ideal orator and statesman – often championing his own life, which embodied his message, Paul did the same – articulating a theological position – Christianity as the globally significant fulfilment of Judaism, a political system – the ethics of living in this world as a citizen of heaven, an anthropology with Jesus held out as the ideal person, the ‘virtues’ of a life led by the Holy Spirit, and he spends a significant amount of energy defining what it looks like to be an orator of the cross – such that Jesus is the example – but his example can be followed by anybody, not just somebody of Paul’s incredible gifts and abilities.

That, at the end of the day, is the biggest difference between Paul and Cicero as communicators.

Paul isn’t his own ideal. He’s not self-promoting. He’s not seeking his own power and influence. He’s not climbing the social ladder – if anything he’s climbing down it. He’s promoting Jesus.

Next year (part 2)

I mentioned a few weeks ago that we’re excited about our (potential) job for next year – starting a new church at South Bank (in Brisbane’s CBD) with Creek Road. And that is a big part of what we’re excited about for next year.

Check out this video about what’s happening at Creek Road.

But Robyn and I are also excited about something bigger than what’s happening at Creek Road.

Something that’s happening in Brisbane.

Something amazing.

Our friends the Cowlings are coming to Brisbane to work for AFES. Izaac and I grew up together in Maclean – on the New South Wales North Coast. It’s such a thrill for me that several of my friends from Maclean love Jesus. It’s a bigger thrill that Izaac and Sarah are coming north to share that love for Jesus with others – at Griffith University.

Griffith is a uni of 42,000 students. Almost a quarter of them are overseas students. It’s a huge mission field. Spread across multiple campuses. We’re excited about the idea of Izaac and Sarah joining up with AFES. We’re excited about more workers joining the harvest in Queensland. We’re very much looking forward to our kids growing up with their kids. In the providence of God our daughters and sons are the same age.

If you know Izaac and Sarah – you should stop reading now – and head over to their support page at AFES, and figure out how you can help them out.

If you don’t. Then here’s my pitch for you to support Izaac and Sarah.

I don’t normally include what is called, in marketing terms, a “call to action” in my blog posts. I especially don’t try to leverage my blogging into anything like a financial benefit for myself (unless you somehow manage to find an affiliate link for an amazon book I’ve reviewed in the past – but I can confirm that I have made less than $20 from that in a few years).

I’m not on about money.

But if you enjoy St. Eutychus, or if you don’t, but you love the idea of supporting some people who want to see uni students in Brisbane getting a chance to hear about Jesus, then can I ask you to consider throwing some cash to Izaac and Sarah? Can I urge you to pray for them as they make the move, with their young family, to Brisbane?

If you’re in Queensland, and you would consider supporting these guys, but feel like you need to learn more about them – come and have a coffee with me. I’ll make it. And we can talk. Shoot me an email. Tweet me. Text me. Let’s make this happen.

Support Izaac and Sarah using this link.

I’m thrilled this approach to defending Christianity is getting good air time. Rory Shiner’s self-deprecating Christ-focused winsomeness is now available in text form, thanks to Eternity (and Rory for sharing it). This would’ve been handy before I tried to type out the Shakespeare stuff.

I love that both Eternity and I settled on the word “winsome” to describe this approach. Seeing Krauss disarmed like this was pretty special, especially in contrast to the Brisbane debate. In a post-Christian world – where people aren’t just not into Christianity, but are also potentially angry about how we’ve wielded our power and influence during Christendom – subverting caricatures in a winsome way is going to be one of the keys to being heard.

Winsome.

Manner is, I think, as important as content in these contexts – because it is part of demonstrating your ethos – and a huge part of pathos.

Being on about Jesus is incredibly important – that was my main criticism of William Lane Craig’s approach – but being Christlike in the face of a hostile court is a huge part of communicating the gospel.

Being winsome will still win a hearing.

That is evident in the difference between how Krauss treats his two interlocutors during his Australian tour.

I love how Rory opens with self-deprecation. I love how he remains epistemically humble and acknowledges the parts of the Christian case that are likely to be unsatisfactory to those who don’t share our starting assumptions. I love that he doesn’t overreach. I love that he was a charming advocate who stuck to the main game – the resurrection, and did it with a bit of artistry.

“The potential of tonight’s event being something of a mismatch has given me two recurring nightmares over the past month. First, that my efforts would end up featuring on a Atheist YouTube comedy channel, and secondly, the abiding fear that the word “Shiner” will become a neologism in the atheist community—a newly minted verb to describe a wild mismatch resulting in hilarity. To Shiner, or to be Shinered.”

This next quote overlaps with the one from my last post. But it is so good.

This act of revelation centres of the man Jesus Christ, who was born in Palestine at the time of Herod the Great and Tiberius, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and who, Christians believe, was raised to new life by God somewhere in the wee small hours of a Sunday morning in a graveyard on the edge of Jerusalem.

At the point of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Christianity puts its head on the chopping block of history. It is not like the stories of dying and rising gods of antiquity. Such stories come from outside of Judaism, in which Jesus was firmly embedded. And those dying and rising gods were indexed against the seasons, and fertility. They were about how things are. And they were precisely gods, not men. Their dying and rising happened in the dream-time, in pre-history.

If you asked a pagan, “On what date did Osiris rise and at what time?” you would get you a puzzled face, saying: “You don’t really get myth, do you?” Jesus by contrast was crucified under Pontius Pilate, within the time of our history, and, it is alleged, rose to life in April, early in the morning, on a Sunday.

It is a claim of history. It is not scientific in the limited sense of observation, hypothesis, testing, repeating and so on.

No Christians claim that, under the right conditions, a 33 year old dead Jewish body will, in a sufficiently cold and dark tomb, come back to life within 72 hours. It is not a claim for something that happens, but for something that happened.

Whether on historical grounds it is reasonable to believe that that is what happened requires the kind of reasoning domestic to the discipline of history: written evidence, conjecture, probability, testimony and historical hypothesis.

 

My Lawrence Krauss v William Lane Craig post went a little viral with WLC’s fans – and even on Reddit’s r/atheism. I had no idea I was tilting at two sacred cows. Especially when it comes to the Christians – I can’t figure out how it is wrong or controversial to suggest that Christianity should be, primarily, about Christ.

Anyway. After that event, WLC and LK toured the country, with a couple more debates. Then WLC flew home, and Krauss didn’t. He stayed to have a final debate in Perth. Perth’s City Bible Forum brought out a local – a pastor – Rory Shiner. A real ‘David’ – if William Lane Craig can’t legitimately be described as such. Krauss’ fame as an intellectual far outweighs Shiner’s. If you read those links above, the David v Goliath analogy didn’t really work for either WLC fanboys or Krauss fanboys. Apparently Christianity is too big and powerful to be David, while WLC is too smart to be considered a David relative to Krauss…

Anyway.

Rory tried something a little different in his debate. He subverted the debate format. He appears to be prepared to take a few blows in order to be winsome and keep the conversation coming back to Jesus.

The best advert for his methodology is the description from an atheist who was there as a:

“magnanimous and cheerful crucifixion”

(source – that came from Rory on Twitter when I asked him how it went).

This, I think, is how you “debate” – it’s certainly how you be Christlike in this sort of situation.

Krauss is clearly a little enamoured with this conversation, and with Rory – he even says they have become friends in 24 hours (in video 2).

 

He can’t help but be nice. It’s in stark contrast to his approach to William Lane Craig.

Check them out. Discuss them. What lines are you going to steal? I love the Shakespeare stuff (video 1, from 27 minutes).

I like that he channels Paul at the Areopagus. I also likes that he writes off ‘generic’ forms of knowing God (sort of – “they wave their arms in a godward direction”), in favour of knowing God from revelation.

The Shakespeare analogy is so good that I’ve typed it out here to come back to in the future.

“When Christians speak of God they speak of a character not in our world. He’s not part of the drama. If the world is Hamlet, then God is Shakespeare. Shakespeare is nowhere present in Hamlet, and yet by Shakespeare everything that happens in Hamlet lives and moves and has its being…”

And then…

“If God is to our universe as Shakespeare is to Hamlet, then revelation is necessary. Could Ophelia conclude anything about the nature and character of Shakespeare from her position in Hamlet? No Hamlet, like our universe, makes a good deal of sense on its own. And just as the literary critic does not need to keep invoking the Shakespeare hypothesis to make sense of the drama, the scientist does not need to keep invoking the God hypothesis to make sense of her discoveries, and for Christians, this is not a bug. It’s a feature. We have a universe that is gloriously open to empirical investigation, and any Christian here should wait with bated breath for Doctor Krauss’ next book as we discover good and gorgeous things about our world. But for Ophelia to know Shakespeare – to stretch our analogy to breaking point – is for Shakespeare to write himself into the play. And that’s the specific Christian claim. Christians claim that the transcendent God of creation has for reasons of love written himself into the unfinished drama of human experience. The act of revelation centres on the man Jesus of Nazareth. Born in Palestine at the time of Herod the Great, crucified under Pontius Pilate, and who Christians believe was raised to new life in the wee small hours of a Sunday morning in a grave yard on the edge of Jerusalem. At the point of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Christianity puts its head on the chopping block of history.”

Is this not a better way than blustering ahead without listening to what your interlocutor is throwing at you?

Remember Kevin Rudd? He was once the Prime Minister of Australia, and he said some things about the New Testament that weren’t true.

One of the things I used to do when I worked in public relations once upon a time – a bit for the laughs, but also because it’s a useful tool – was run my media releases through Wordle. Word clouds don’t necessarily prioritise words – they simply show what ideas are repeated and linked. They’re imperfect. But always interesting.

Kevin Rudd said the New Testament is all about universal love.

Interestingly, other people occasionally suggest Paul, not Jesus, invented Christianity as we know it.

Just for fun I got a little bit “red letter” – I wordled the words of The Word as recorded in the Word (I wordled what Jesus said in each Gospel). And then in the ‘synoptic’ Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – which are quite similar. And then I wordled Jesus’ words from all the Gospels.

I’ll put a little bit of analysis here – because it gets a bit image heavy.

Jesus seems to focus on arriving as the person who is bringing in God’s kingdom. He talked about God, his father, very often. And commonly referred to himself as the “son of Man” which gets split up in the word clouds. From Jesus’ words the emphasis is clearly on what God is doing in his arrival. His message is that the kingdom of God has come. In him. Love is surely a part of that, but it doesn’t pop up as often in Jesus’ words as one might think if one believed Kevin Rudd.

Paul, understandably, talks a lot about Jesus.

I’m keen to look at Peter, James, and John in a future batch.

The Message of Jesus (wordled)

Matthew
Matthew's Gospel

Mark
Mark's Gospel

Luke
Luke's Gospel

John
John's Gospel

The Synoptics

The Synoptics

The Gospels
The Gospels

 

The Message of Paul (Wordled)

Then I did the same with the Pauline corpus – from Romans to Philemon.

Romans
Romans

1 and 2 Corinthians
1 and 2 Corinthians
Ephesians
Ephesians

Philippians
Philippians

Colossians

Colossians

1 and 2 Thessalonians
1 and 2 Thessalonians

1 and 2 Timothy
1 and 2 Timothy

Titus
Titus

Philemon
Philemon

Pauline Corpus
Pauline Corpus

I’d hate people to think that my condemnation of KRudd’s approach to the Bible (part 1, part 2) is an endorsement of Tony Abbott – either politically or theologically. And I suspect that any silence on yesterday’s foreign aid cuts announcement from the Liberal Party could lead to that sort of conclusion.

My guiding principle for this election, as a Christian, is that a Christian vote is a vote for others.

Tony Abbott is arguably more “religious” than KRudd – but it has become apparent that he has a very different political theology than Rudd. One much closer to my own. Such that he doesn’t think his faith should inform his decisions in a secular democracy. It’s close to what I think. But it’s not the same. For Abbott the end result is something like quietism from the Christian constituency, I’m more interested in a faithful Christian voice speaking in an informed, Gospel-focused way, that doesn’t end up trashing the truths of the Gospel by holding out the fruits of a life changed by the Gospel as the starting point for moral living rather than the ending point of the work of the Holy Spirit.

The voice of the Christian consistency should be a voice that is considered in the process – but it should be a voice that advocates for others rather than for our own interests. If we’re not going to speak out for the vulnerable, in an election that is all about the economy and by extension, our hip pocket, then who will?

I think the notion of constant economic growth nationally, and at home, is just a fancy way of justifying greed. I understand the argument that growing the economic pie for everybody is the best way to grow the dollar amount we can spend on foreign aid. There are huge complexities in our approach to economic management, and even infrastructure projects – and increasing efficiency through better infrastructure is a good way to boost productivity. I get that. But the $4.5 billion in foreign aid cuts, ostensibly for the purpose of investing in infrastructure at home, make me sad. Especially as these cuts come while the Coalition is proposing to introduce the most generous lower-upper class welfare package ever.

I understand the need for the Australian Government to govern for Australians. That’s their core business.

It’s also true that foreign policy is a pretty complicated affair – and stability in other nations is in our interest both economically – through creating new and viable trade partners through development, and in terms of national security, through creating less wars that we might be called to involve ourselves in, and less need for people to seek asylum outside of their country of origin.

We have an incredible opportunity to be generous to other nations, and their people.

National sovereignty isn’t something I’m particularly interested in or passionate about – it’s an incredible quirk of chance and good fortune that I was born in the most luxurious era ever, in one of the wealthiest countries in this period. This privilege is an opportunity to be generous. We have been given much – whether we acknowledge the giver or not.

Nationalism is often economic self-interest justified on the strength of our ancestors’ ability to capitalise on their geographic opportunity – or through our own ability to capitalise on our environment.

One of the arguments against foreign aid is that it is an inefficient use of money – especially because some of the aid money is lost in transmission, through corruption or bureaucratic incompetence. Even if you acknowledge that some of the money is not spent the best possible way through corruption or inefficiency on the ground – those inefficiencies are part of the “opportunity cost” of making a real difference to real people.

Augustine, an old dude from the olden days, said (but in Latin) “wrong use does not negate right use.”

Cuts to aid spending cost lives. Even if the model is flawed. I’m not sure where the stats on this budgetsmuggler site come from. But it’s a useful way of visualising the on the ground impact of cuts to aid spending. But this other guide suggests that every $2,500 spent on health saves a life (with more info).

Here’s the number of lives that BudgetSmuggler suggests will be lost before Christmas through these cuts.

 

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 9.43.08 AM
I know our aid spending doesn’t just go to health – and I know the $4.5 billion is only a cut to the speed of growth of our aid spending. But $1.125 billion a year is 450,000 lives annually. It’s 109 days until Christmas. So this figure actually seems conservative.

Even if you’re not a Christian – and you’re an Australia – it should shock you to your core that we are not doing something about the lives being lost elsewhere, simply because, by chance, we happened to be born (or move) here – to somewhere prosperous.

Our shared humanity

But I think Australian Christians need to advocate for our vulnerable neighbours from around the globe.

We actually have the best rationale for doing this. Humanists can argue on the basis of our shared humanity. And that’s great. But we have a theological account – not just of our shared origins – but our potential shared future, for those from around the globe who follow Jesus, and our theological understanding of citizenship and nationhood.

I’m also convinced we should be idealists rather than pragmatists in our approach to political debate, so long as we’re prepared to put our money and time where our mouths are when it comes to loving people on the ground – so if you’re talking about asylum seekers you’ve got to be prepared to love the refugees who are here.

Christians are not citizens of earthly kingdoms. Primarily. While we live here – in Australia – we live here as Citizens of God’s Kingdom. That changes our priorities. Here’s what Paul says – in a slightly different argument to the Philippians (in chapter 3) – but the principles apply here.

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

That process of transformation has begun. It starts in our minds. For Christians. It’s the process that sees us live for others. For the weak. For the vulnerable. Slightly earlier in the same letter Paul says we should be copying Jesus’ example…

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.

You know. Jesus who…

“…made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Jesus gave up his life to save our life.

Jesus – who was equal with God.

Gave up his whole life.

And we want to cut 0.375% of our national budget, or whatever the figure is, to make life more comfortable for ourselves in the long term. At the expense of others.

Seriously. If you’re a Christian the sacrifice that has been made on your behalf should be the paradigm for the sacrifice you make for others. That’s got to frame our approach to speaking about foreign aid – and being generous with our own budgets.

God gave his life for us. To save our lives.

National barriers are meaningless at that point – because our king transcends them.

Part of the breaking down of barriers is knowing where we’re going – where those barriers will be in the future of humanity – the future that is tied to those who know Jesus. The future where our citizenship in heaven becomes a reality. Where our citizenship in God’s kingdom transcends international borders. Here’s how John describes it in Revelation 7.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language,standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”