Tag Archives: evangelism

Insanity prevails

The internet is atwitter (it’d be abuzz if Google’s social networking effort didn’t suck quite so much) with news that the Insane Clown Posse, famously shocking shock rockers who fuse professional wrestling, abhorrent lyrics about sex and gangster violence with clown make up and circus garb, have been covert Christians for 20 years, trying to bring people to Jesus through the power of gangster. If true they are the poster boys for “contextualisation” gone wrong.

Read a couple of articles… like this one, and this one, tell me what you think. There are lyrical clues in some of their songs. But they are alongside such gems as:

“She hit me in the balls. I grabbed her by her neck. And I bounced her off the walls. She said it was an accident and then apologised. But I still took my elbow and blackened both her eyes”

Which is apparently satire.

Or:

“Barrels in your mouth/bullets to your head/The back of your neck’s all over the shed/Boomshacka boom chop chop bang.”

Here’s their testimony in a newly released single to clear up years of “mystery” surrounding the clues they’ve dropped over the course of their career, including a six album series.

“F*** it, we got to tell.

All secrets will now be told

No more hidden messages

…Truth is we follow GOD!!!

We’ve always been behind him

The carnival is GOD

And may all juggalos find him

We’re not sorry if we tricked you.”

Interesting. Undercover gangster rapper agents might not have been quite what Paul had in mind when he spoke of being all things to all men. But here’s the rationale from the two insane clowns:

“You have to speak their language. You have to interest them, gain their trust, talk to them and show you’re one of them. You’re a person from the street and you speak of your experiences. Then at the end you can tell them: God has helped me.”

Even the journalist writing that article could spot a problem with the logic:

“Of course, one might argue that 20 years was, under the circumstances, an incredibly long time for them to have pretended to be unholy, and that, from a Christian perspective, the harm they did while feigning unholiness may even have outweighed the greater good.”

If you’re curious to see what undercover Christian gangster rappers look and sound like, here’s a video from one of their more overtly “Christian” songs. I haven’t listened to the words yet, but doubtless it needs a language warning (as do those links).

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Doug Green on Genesis: Part 3

This was the last session and concluded with a nice little summary of how these thoughts can be used in meeting culture with the gospel.

Self-rule and self-mastery

If we are to exercise dominion over creation then that should start with the creature closest to us – ourselves. This is one of the things that distinguishes us from the animals. Animals don’t exercise self-control. We can train them, but they are driven by instinct. We are humans who are less than human because we do not exercise dominion over ourselves.

Esau, the hairy baby, is portrayed as a beastly human – a hunter who is at home in the wild.  Jacob is more “ideal” – but he has to cover himself in goat skin, like an animal, in order to trick Isaac.

Esau lives on instinct, like an animal. He sells his birthright to satisfy his hunger. He’s not exercising self control.

This opens up some interesting angles on our culture – we define what it is to be human in degrading, instinctive, animalistic terms – “if it feels good do it” is the modus operandi of animals. Does our advertising sell the human experience or a sub-human experience?

Christian ethics – like abstinence before marriage – is decried as unhuman. It’s a case of exercising self-control.

We need a rich and diverse presentation of the gospel to reach our culture – because not every angle will hit every person.

The good news of the gospel is our hyper-restoration. We’re not just restored to Adam’s status but beyond. We go past the pristine. There’s a way out of our beastialised humanity. There’s a way for us to exercise dominion over creation, and ourselves. The gospel reconceives what it means to be human. The question “What does it mean to be human?” is a great way to address our culture with the gospel.

The good news of the gospel is not just about Christ – but about Christ and his Spirit. We’re often Christocentric in a way that forgets the Spirit. It can seem like evangelicals are a bit embarrassed by Jesus’ humanity – we like to focus on his divinity. Our definition of true and normal humanity is skewed – we talk about our reality, normal humanity, as though our fallen selves are the norm. Perhaps Jesus’ humanity is the norm – and is in line with our created identity (ie that which we were created to be prior to the fall). Jesus is the true bearer of the divine image. The true human (in his sinlessness). It’s not super humanity but true humanity.  It’s where we’ll be in our resurrected state. Sin is the aberration. We say “to err is human” but that’s really a definition of what it means to be fallen humans.

Jesus may, in fact, be no more than humanity as it’s meant to be. The resurrected Jesus is as humanity was always meant to be.

The writer of Hebrews reads Psalm 8 as a prophecy about the Messiah. “We see him for a little while made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour.”

True humanity submits to God’s authority – which is what Jesus did, in the extreme, at the cross.

The writer of Hebrews doesn’t limit this picture of glorified humanity to Jesus alone – but puts it as the destination for humanity through Jesus – the purpose of Jesus’ resurrection is to bring many sons to glory. Jesus suffered, died, and rose again so that we might become like him as “sons of God” – not in a vague liberal sense that we’re all sons of god, but to be what Adam was supposed to be.

The doctrine of glorification (eg Romans 8) – we need to think about this doctrine as a now but not yet doctrine – yes, it’s our condition in the age to come, but the power that will transform us (the Holy Spirit) is already at work in us. Mostly it’s not yet. But that power of transforming us into glorified people is already at work in us. The Spirit’s work in us is to make us human in a way that God’s breath into Adam made him human. We’re being made a new people, now glorious.

When we are speaking about what it means to live as true humans Jesus should be our starting point because he is the “true human.”

Ethics

Living as true humans has to mean living in Christ. Once you come at it this way, Christian ethics are simply to live humanly (rather than animalistically).

If we are to understand our fallen humanity as “beastly” where we live without self-control and on instinct. Peter uses the analogy of “brute beasts” when describing those who blaspheme – “creatures of instinct born only to be destroyed”…

Our tendency is to live by instinct. We should, instead, be living via the fruit of the Spirit, a redefinition of what it means to be human (Galatians 5), where self-control gets a Guernsey. Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 9, with an athletic comparison, also uses self-discipline as a key for life as a Spirit empowered human. The new human is united to Christ and empowered by the Spirit and so is beginning to exercise the dominion that Adam was meant to exercised over creation.

Self-control is about every area of our lives – not just about sex. It’s about our tempers, about controlling our tongues, about controlling our diets, it’s about controlling our passions. This is counter-intuitive in our culture, which regards self-control as an unnecessary prohibition.  Our world looks at self-control and calls it a vice (cf Romans 1).

When we look at the fruit of the spirit we should think “this is what it means to be human, no more and no less.”

Fresh angles on evangelism.

We live in a world where everybody is questing to be truly human.

Every religion and ideology, every political vision, is built on the question of what it means to be truly human.

Our political debate is just an expression of what it means to be truly human. The health care debate in the US is also underpinned by what it means to be truly human. The debate about gay rights, our popular culture (eg Twilight), just about every expression in our world is undergirded by this question of what it means to be truly human. We say that the definition of true humanity focuses on the question of Jesus Christ – who shows us what it means to be God, and also what it means to be truly man.

We say “consider Jesus” the one true human, defining humanity by any other starting point is defective. We, as Christians, should be modeling what it means to be human. We are the ones living the truly alternate lifestyle. Our task is to live humanly and model what it means to be truly human.

We are united to Jesus and have begun the process of becoming truly human. We don’t get up and pronounce that we’ve got something that others don’t – but we do model this fuller picture of humanity. As we become more “godlike,” as the Spirit transforms us, we become more human, and then we become advertisements for the gospel.

Our gospel message is redefining and modeling humanity in a way that is hopefully attractive to the people around us.

Deuteronomy – when Israel keeps the law the nations go “oh what a wise God you have…”

Australia is ahead of the US in terms of being a “post-Christian” society – the US is moving that way and grappling with the question of what that will look like.

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Apologetics inside the church

Kim Dale is a Pressy minister in Queensland, he does a fair bit of thinking on apologetics, and in particular the issue of worldviews. He was essentially converted through apologetic dialogue with a Christian. He’s our guest lecturer today. These are my notes – unless indicated they are rough or direct quotes from Kim.

Apologetics: The written and spoken defense of the Gospel where there is opposition, and it’s done in love.

This definition prevents apologetics just being “argument” for argument’s sake. There may be times when it might seem like that.

On Walk Up Evangelism: One of the drawbacks is that you don’t actually want to get engaged for a long time – we need to think about the relationship between apologetics and evangelism. There’s an organic relationship between apologetics and evangelism.

We have to be ready and prepared to give answers – but we need to be doing that in a loving way.

Francis Schaeffer, in The Mark of the Christian calls love “the final apologetic” – if we aren’t demonstrating love then we may get really frustrated in the attempt of sharing the Gospel. Schaeffer says we need to be able to give the message of the gospel and be prepared to actually give it when the situation arrives. Schaeffer uses John 17.

Apologetics needs to take place, where possible, in a community of Christians – there needs to be some exposure to the nature of Christian relationships and Christian people in order to see the genuineness of Christian love. That’s part of the deal of apologetics. Sometimes it may seem artificial to get people involved. Even if it seems that way at first they need to see the genuine love of God – which is often beyond us as individuals.

There can be situations where we don’t want to bring anybody to our churches – because of the presence of hypocrisy – where all our arguments will, as a general rule, fail on the basis of love.

There might be times where what you’re going to do, so far as apologetics is concerned, is just show love. Rather than rehashing old arguments. Getting to know people and where they’re coming from is a good move. We can get overly defensive or offensive when it comes to the gospel.

Where do we do it?

Normally we would think of apologetics as something we do outside the church, with non-believers. But we have to defend the gospel in the church. It has an important place inside the church. The overwhelming amount of information available in modern culture can be overpowering. We have to expose ourselves to this information, and it can be enjoyable. But we have to be prepared to take a break.

The religious and philosophical scheme is so diverse that it’s inevitable that the church is effected on the inside by what is happening on the outside. We need to defend the faith from the pulpit – people within the life of the church will doubtless call on you to make such a defense.

We’re to be “on guard,” but it’s not just defense – we need to be prepared to correct or destroy ideas (in love) to dismantle and break down harmful ideas both within and without. There’s “knowledge” that sets itself up against God. And that has to be dealt with. Sometimes these moves should be in public (and we see books published addressing anti-God arguments). There is an offensive strategy that we need to embrace.

Part of apologetics is clarifying other people’s thinking for them – asking “how can you make the judgment?” and “on what basis?” Get people to question basic assumptions.

Areas where having thought about apologetics have helped Kim.

  1. Going through the membership vows – and the person says “I believe that, but I also believe in reincarnation”… where do you go from there?
  2. Some people wanting to become members said “we used to belong to the Presbyterian Church, my wife taught Sunday School”… and in going through things like the divinity of Christ and they say “yes, in the same way that I’m divine too, as a son of God.” Where do you go if they’re not going to change on those positions. You explain the faith, and you deal with the consequences.
  3. When receiving an email after a sermon that said “when you were preaching there was a halo around you and three angels standing behind you” and then went on with a bunch of numerology stuff…
  4. God can’t act until we pray” said from the pulpit when doing prayer in the morning.

What if he’d said “yes” to all of those – you need to make sense and be doctrinally consistent. That’s the necessity of apologetics inside the church. We need to have some interactions with the other ideas that are out there.

How do you deal with people when you know they have odd ideas?

Try to get to know them, outside of the Sunday morning context, get them in a situation where they’re learning (eg a Growth Group), it can, for individuals, take a tragedy or difficulty and you being there pastorally.

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Did ancient Israel do mission?

I’m working on an Old Testament essay at the moment. On the wisdom literature. And I’m wondering if the wisdom literature – particularly Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs functioned as pro-Yahweh propaganda for the surrounding nations. Other nations had comparable wisdom literature (and indeed Israelite wisdom literature borrows directly from some of these surrounding documents providing a bit of a theological corrective – namely that knowledge starts with the fear of the Lord). Solomon’s dispensation of wisdom to the nations (in 1 Kings) seems to be the most fitting pre-Christ fulfilment of the Genesis 12 promise that Abraham’s descendants would be a blessing to the nations.

Part of my thinking is that Ecclesiastes and Proverbs are either written by Solomon, or presented as being written by Solomon, which I think makes a pretty compelling claim for reading them alongside the accounts of Solomon’s reign – where nations gather to experience his wisdom (somewhat vicariously – at the very least rulers of the other nations come to see Solomon).

Trouble is, I can’t find anybody (in the academic world) who agrees with me yet. And unfortunately, the question is “evaluate the proposal that Ecclesiastes and Job are protest literature” – some scholars think they’re basically a corrective of Proverbs – particularly the idea that material blessings flow from our actions (it’s called the acts-consequences nexus). So I have to show that I think the three are theologically united and serve this missional purpose. If I still think this is the case tomorrow.

What do you reckon the place of mission was in Israel? There were provisions to look after “sojourners” there are Psalms about the nations coming before God… that was also part of the messianic framework that developed in Israel prior to Christ. But, other than Jonah, there doesn’t seem to be too much direct preaching to gentile nations in Old Testament times (Obadiah’s prophecies about Edom might be an exception).

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Bruce Winter’s tips for apologetics

We’re doing a bit of a mini-subject on apologetics this semester as part of a weekly “preparations for ministry” session.

Yesterday’s session featured Bruce Winter sharing some insights on the important discipline of apologetics garnered from his extensive studies on Paul and his culture, and from his experience as an apologist in Singapore and while working as an academic in England (Cambridge).

Here are my notes:

Every Christian is required to be ready to give a reason to the hope that lies within them.

It’s interesting that the word there – apologia – goes beyond the idea of giving some answer. Stoic philosophers used apologia to argue their case while interacting in a substantial way with the mindset of the people they’re addressing.

How are we going to engage in apologia with people in the 21st century? Two Ways To Live isn’t going to work for everybody. We see from the way that Paul tackles apologetics that he engages the culture around him.

We need to engage the audience and move around their world – Paul’s letter to the Romans is a great apologia that removes objections to the gospel – objections that come from the mindset of people living in first century Rome.

Paul argues that we need to pull down every argument against God both within and outside the church – he talks about demolishing the stronghold of people’s ideas contrary to God, he distinguishes between the argument and the person. Paul demolishes and reconstructs these arguments “captive to Christ.

Acts 17 is a good example, and a good paradigm, of Paul connecting with the audience and their expectations and producing converts. This is the parliament of Athens.

Five things to learn from Paul to connect and engage with people’s world. This message needs to engage the thought world of the people around it.

  1. We have to connect our message with the audience we’re speaking to – Paul connects – he makes the connections the audience required (in introducing a new God to the council – eg the building of a temple, holy days/sacrifices), he also uses their culture (eg the statue of the unknown god) to engage.
  2. We have to structure our message in a way that provides a hearing for the gospel – The framework we present the gospel in changes based on the audience – talking to sciency people requires a different presentation to talking to people from different religious backgrounds. The main aim is that people hear the gospel connected to their world.
  3. Know how to connect the message, and know what it needs to correct – Paul knows that people need the gospel, but he also knows what the objections to it are, and he addresses them with the correction of the gospel.
  4. Converse with their world – it’s remarkable when you read historical sources talking about the nature of God and compare it to the way Paul quotes their arguments and poets/philosophers in his apologia. He understands their world, their language, and their issues. Paul is even able to point out inconsistencies in their current thinking and actions (they talk about the nature of Gods not living in temples made by man, but visit temples – Paul points out they aren’t living up to their basic beliefs and teachings.) He’s read the literature. He knows their teaching. He is well able to bring them to that point through the quotations of their poets.
  5. He confronts his audience – Paul doesn’t steer clear of the topic of God’s judgment and the predicament that places his audience in. God’s judgment coupled with God’s amnesty (he calls on all people, everywhere, to repent). Paul doesn’t compromise. He’s not prepared to negotiate on the fixed points that his audience was bound to be opposed to. It’s a different worldview.  Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 converts people from those opposing points of view and philosophy.

Some questions to ask regarding our approach:

  • How are we going to talk to different audiences?
  • How do we talk to those dealing with the certain uncertainty of death?
  • How do we connect with their views and preconceptions about Christianity and the world?
  • How can we talk to them about their world?
  • How do we talk to affluent people who think they have everything? Their question is different – “what’s missing?” – “what is it?” How do we raise the issue of the gospel in a way that articulates this need in a way they might never have considered?

A question to prompt thought in others is: If you had your life over again how would you do things differently? Everybody is fundamentally aware that they do the wrong thing at least occasionally.

We’re not dealing with blanks slates but people who have spent their lives deliberately ignoring (and justifying ignoring) general revelation. Romans 2 suggests that it’s our conscience that judges us as we face God at judgment day – so the question “how can God…” is irrelevant.

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How to talk to atheists about Christianity

So today I presented the thing about how to talk to atheists I mentioned a while back. Here are my notes. You’ll probably recognise them if you’ve been reading for a while. This was a great way to justify all the hours I’ve spent in seemingly fruitless debate in the last 18 months.

Things not to say

  1. Don’t present as an expert on scientific thought – unless you are.
  2. Don’t use words that carry baggage. Good in the Bible is a theological category, not a moral category. Don’t conflate them.
  3. Don’t say atheists are incapable of being good without God, or suggest they’re naturally immoral. Be prepared to ask how they make moral decisions – but don’t assert that they’re unable to – remember common grace.
  4. Don’t go down the “look at all the evil atheists” path unless you want to go down the “explain the Crusades” path.
  5. Don’t say “those people aren’t real Christians” unless you’re familiar with the “no true Scotsman” fallacy and you’re prepared to demonstrate how they are not in fact Christians (and can speak with authority about their state before God).
  6. Don’t suggest that Christian principles should form the backbone of law because the majority of people identify as Christians. Invert this thinking, and put yourself in the minority – we can’t expect everybody to live as though they have the Holy Spirit, nor should we be expecting the state to govern as though we’re a Christian nation.
  7. Don’t quote Bible verses out of context.
  8. Don’t say “there are no atheists in the foxholes”, “atheism is a faith”, or “you only don’t believe to justify your immorality” – these are all clichéd and the atheists think they’ve been “debunked” . Avoid Pascal’s wager too (as valid as it may be).
  9. Try to avoid generalisations – all atheists don’t think the same. There is no atheist “bible” or code they have to sign up to.

Here’s a list of things they say not to say (or do)…

This is not necessarily a list of things not to do, just a list of things atheists have said that they find annoying (from commenters on a site called the Friendly Atheist):

  • Bait-and-switch: Where they become your “friend,” but really, they just want to convert you
  • Not speaking out against other Christians who do really crazy things
  • Assume that everyone who isn’t a Christian is “lost” or needs “saving”
  • Giving credit to god for every good thing that happens, and accepting every bad thing as part of his “plan”.
  • Sneaking their beliefs into supposedly neutral conversations; using neutral platforms to espouse their religion (like facebook, et al.)
  • Automatically “assume” that everyone shares their beliefs
  • “You’re an atheist because you want to do immoral things. You know god exists really.”
  • Assuming that everyone who doesn’t believe is ignorant of the Bible, or of popular interpretations of the Bible.
  • Asserting that Christianity is not a religion because religions aren’t real or using some other silly criteria
  • Cherry picking the bible.
  • Not admitting that their god is immoral.
  • I’m also bugged by the ones who apparently care more about the soul of the person than the person.
  • When they acknowledge that “religion is bad” but then claim that True Christianity is not a “religion” is very annoying as well
  • Attempting to force their views on you, either by preaching or by codifying their belief system into law.
  • Latching on to your problems in order to try to convert you.
  • Affirming that people who didn’t believe in god in life are now in hell, even the relatives or loved ones of the person they’re talking to “My grandmother was an atheist, is she in hell?” “Yes”. This is beyond enraging, and it makes it even worse when the person saying it refuses to acknowledge how callous and cruel their words are, and how there’s nothing “loving” about them.
  • Quoting bible verses at you in lieu of actual debate or discussion, as though you accept their inerrance as much as they do.
  • They fail to see that the separation of church and state protects their freedom to worship as they choose. They naively assume that a mixture of religion and government would be a benign version of their particular sub set of their religion, instead of the insane tyranny in Europe that the founding fathers vividly remembered.

Things to say

  1. Stick with Jesus – most atheists accept that he lived and taught good stuff (some don’t) – keeping the question grounded in the historical reality of the resurrection – or that claim – is much better than talking about whether the resurrection is scientifically plausible. Atheists want physical evidence – Jesus is the point at which physical evidence was historically provided (see his interaction with Thomas in John 20). That’s the nexus of atheistic thought and gospel proclamation.

    When Mark Driscoll, in a column in a Washington Paper, was asked what the best case for Christianity was for skeptics this was his answer:

    Christianity is not first and foremost about a sacred place to pilgrimage to, a philosophical system to ponder, a moral code to live, a religious tradition to honor, or an impersonal god to experience. Rather, Christianity is about a person who claimed to be the only God and said he would prove his unprecedented claim by living without sin, dying for sinners, and conquering death through resurrection.

  2. Acknowledge that in many cases they have many points that some of us sometimes forget – it is likely that you’re a Christian because your parents are – but that says nothing about the truth or otherwise of Christianity. Science is a good way to understand the world around us – in fact it’s a good way to understand how God does things. Christians have done terrible, unloving things to people – including each other – because of their faith…
  3. Acknowledge that many atheists have actually thought through the question of faith, or come from a position of faith, to reach their own conclusion. There is still some social stigma attached to being an atheist, it’s not a position you default into.
  4. Explain your rationale for believing what you believe, positively – atheist propaganda suggests that atheism is the point at which all thinking, questioning people inevitably arrive at. Tell your story, show your workings, acknowledge your doubts.
  5. Acknowledge that there are important areas where atheists and Christians can agree – separation of church and state is big for them, freedom of speech, most religious and spiritual beliefs are silly (we reject all divine claims but one), relativism is dumb – we can’t all be right.

Things to do…

  1. Read the material – be familiar with the arguments Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, and Hitchens are equipping a generation of atheists with. Read atheist blogs. PZ Myers and the Friendly Atheist are a good sounding board for atheistic thought.
  2. Familiarise yourself with logic and argument – know what a straw man argument is, recognise ad hominem, know what the “no true Scotsman” fallacy is, understand circular reasoning (eg the Bible is true because it says it is true) and why atheists see it as a problem…
  3. Read the Christian responses to these writers. Know the critiques. Especially John Lennox, Alistair McGrath (EDIT: 2015, and most especially David Bentley Hart).
  4. Ask honest questions. They can be honest questions with an agenda – but be convinced that evangelism is God’s work and just try to ask questions about why they think what they think. What are their assumptions about the world?
  5. Treat one another with respect. You don’t fundamentally have to agree with somebody to love them. People are more likely to listen to what you have to say if you don’t resort to name calling.
  6. Realise that at some point you actually have to fundamentally disagree. Sometimes what you say will be offensive to them. The atonement is offensive, God’s judgment is offensive, our claim to be in a relationship with the creator of the universe is offensive. If you want atheists to like what you have to say – and still be atheists – you pretty much have to get rid of the gospel. They love “liberal” Christianity – many like Spong and his ilk, and those who are doing their best to liberate Christianity, particularly from ‘oppressive’ views of sexuality.

Serving the waiters

Christians make terrible tippers at restaurants. Especially when they leave fake money evangelism tracts.

It’s when I read stories like this that I am glad tipping at restaurants is not part of Australian culture. And I don’t have a ‘Jesus Fish’ for the same reason. Being a public delinquent in your car is bad enough – without telling everybody that the guy who just cut them off or glared/honked at them is a Christian.

In Justin Taylor’s post he shares some “tips” for how restaurant visitors can provide a positive Christian interaction… how do you reckon these would go down in Australia…

1. Be friendly. Tell them you will be praying before your meal, Ask if you can pray for them. If body language, tone of voice and time permits, ask if there is anything specific.

2. Pray for them.

3. Leave a good tip.

Groceries and the gospel

Have you ever seen a 7-11 in a country town? How bout a Woolworths? How about an evangelical church? When it comes to spreading the “bread of life” around the country the evangelical church’s (defined for the sake of this post as Bible believing and theologically reformed) strategy has been closer to 7-11’s urban focus than Woolworths’ approach of putting Supermarkets wherever it might be viable.

Woolworths has more than 700 stores in Australia (according to Wikipedia). 7-11 boasts more than 350 stores in Australia

At our college weekend away our principal, and brother in the Lord, Bruce Winter (he doesn’t like the “Dr” honourific) encouraged us to consider our ministry futures as a blank cheque – and specifically raised and criticised the attitude of some people he’d met who scoffed at the notion of leaving a city to engage in country ministry. This idea stands in stark contrast to Izaac’s report from the other day.

Here’s a quote from the post where Izaac quotes Phillip Jensen.

God cares for people more than sheep. So we need to send gospel workers where there’s more people than sheep.

Alright then. Guess I won’t be leaving the city. And New Zealand is definitely out of the question. On further explanation I understood Phillip’s point. He was just using the line as an introduction to his reflections on strategic thinking. He went on to inform us if we drew an imaginary triangle between three Western Sydney suburbs (I forget which ones), there’s more people contained within than in the entire state of South Australia – so we theoretically need at least as many workers in that triangle as in South Australia. Phillip wasn’t against country ministry, but highlighted the increased importance of regional centres rather than establishing a formal church in every tiny community.

Perhaps Phillip Jensen might reconsider his quote (boldened) if those in the country stopped sending their sheep and grain to the cities for food? I commented on the post suggesting that the church should not consider itself as 7-11 but rather as a supermarket. We don’t need an evangelical church on every corner of Sydney’s bustling streets. We need a supermarket mentality where we’re in every town in Australia. All Australians need to be able to shop for groceries – and all Australian’s need the gospel. If we’re convinced that the gospel is a necessity then like Izaac says in the comments on his post – we need to be thinking in terms of access rather than saturation.

Part of me likes to think in the category of access. Though churches need to operate evangelistically as individuals that “go out” with the gospel, it is also true that churches can have an attractional quality whereby people “come in” to hear the gospel. So there is a certain reality to a smaller town with a church gathering where the gospel is proclaimed, is doing a similar thing to having one good church per suburb in the city; namely providing an opportunity for those keen to hear about Jesus the chance to do so.

I disagree with the premise that you need one good church per suburb – I suspect you need one good church hub for every six or seven suburbs.

When I defined “evangelical” churches as “Bible believing and reformed” earlier you can be sure that most of these churches in Australia are enjoying the fruits of faithful men who happened to serve in Sydney. Most evangelical churches around the country can trace their roots to Sydney (just like any white settlement in Australia). But the same can be said for Woolworths.

In 1788 Samuel Johnson’s York Street Anglican was the “cradle” of evangelical Christianity in Australia, the first Woolworths opened in 1924, about 150 years later, just two streets away in Pitt Street.

I don’t want to toy around with counting up the number of “evangelical” churches in the country – but I’d say in Queensland there are a handful (more than ten, less than twenty) in the city of Brisbane and ten or less throughout the state’s regional centres. I may be undercounting in both cases. And I’m certainly not au fait with the number of evangelical Chinese Churches around the traps (I learned this over the weekend).

I’m not arguing that we should neglect the city – I just don’t buy the argument that the number of work(er)s should be proportional to the size of the population. Here are some stats from the National Church Life survey (NCLS)

“According to the Australian Community Survey (ACS), some 63% of adults live in urban areas. Of the remaining 37%, 10% live in large regional centres (population greater than 20,000 people), 15% in centres of between 2000 and 20,000 people, 8% in centres between 200 and 2000 people, and 3% in centres of 200 people or less.”

How many of those 37% of people have easy and convenient access to groceries thanks to Woolworths or Coles? How many have access to faithful Bible teaching? If there’s a disparity we’re doing it wrong. Bible teaching is as necessary for life as bread and milk.

The NCLS provides a further breakdown…

“Reported church attendance among people in urban and rural areas is similar, with 20% of urban dwellers attending frequently compared with 19% of rural dwellers. However, farmers and agricultural workers have much higher levels of frequent church attendance (28%) than others. This could be because churches provide opportunities for social interaction, although other community organisations do this too. Alternatively, the higher attendance levels among farmers could be because the way of life of farmers and their work in providing the necessities of life receives greater affirmation from the churches than most other occupations (Why People Don’t Go to Church, 2002, p 20).”

“Christian belief is average. Urban and rural dwellers are just as likely to hold a range of traditional Christian beliefs (30%). Rural dwellers (12%) are less likely to be interested in alternative or New Age spiritual practices than urban dwellers (15%). Urban dwellers are a little more likely to value spirituality, freedom and an exciting life than rural dwellers. But rural dwellers place more importance on national security than urban dwellers (69% compared with 62%).”

Extrapolating on denominational attendance figures from census data it’s a safe bet that a high proportion of these rural church goers aren’t enjoying the benefits of reformed evangelical Bible teaching.

Denomination No. of People (2001 Census) 2001 Estimated Weekly Attendance Percent attending of people identifying
Anglican 3881162 177700 5%
Baptist 309205 112200 36%
Catholic 5001624 764800 15%
Churches of Christ 61335 45100 74%
Lutheran 250365 40500 16%
Pentecostal 194592 141700* 73%
Presbyterian & Reformed 637530 42100 7%
Salvation Army 71423 27900 39%
Seventh-day Adventist 53844 36600 68%
Uniting 1248674 126600 10%
* NCLS attendance estimate for ‘Pentecostal’ only includes Apostolic, Assemblies of God, Bethesda, Christian City Churches, Christian Revival Crusade and Vineyard

If you don’t buy the 7-11 argument you should check out this map of Sydney Anglican Churches in North Sydney

How many staff do each of those churches have? How many overseas missionaries do they support? Probably heaps – how many churches around Australia could be created and supported by deconcentrating this presence?

How is it that Coles and Woolworths are caring better for the average Australian than the church that claims to adhere to the teachings and instructions of Jesus? If the gospel was all about reaching the most concentrated populations wouldn’t he just have stuck to Jerusalem or hit the road to Rome?

He was the guy who not only traveled the countryside preaching the gospel (Matthew 9):

35Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

He also sent 72 of his followers out in pairs to the countryside (in Luke 10) to reap a plentiful harvest, and then of course there are Jesus’ last words to the church prior to his ascension – it’s not an instruction to “go to the people of the earth” but the “end of the earth” – which despite my less than rudimentary understanding of Greek suggests a geographical element rather than anthropological understanding (I haven’t actually looked at the Greek at all – feel free to correct me). How much more plentiful is the regional harvest in our time – when our “country” centres (like Townsville) are the same size as Corinth in Paul’s day (according to Biblegateway).

If secular culture and corporations understand the value of getting groceries to consumers everywhere – why are we so good at saturating the city of Sydney and so bad at reaching the rest of the country?

Should we forget the forgetful?

Another day, another thought provoking iMonk post.

I don’t know if I mentioned this at the time… but during our Westminster Confession/doctrine classes at church a while back (so long ago I don’t remember the exact chapter we were discussing) I asked a question about whether non-Christian Alzheimer’s patients can be evangelised.

There’s a whole theology of disability that’s a little bit anemic. The post I’m referring to by iMonk is a question about how the Baptist Church handles the baptism of people with mental disabilities. It’s profound. Read it.

Then tell me what your thoughts are on the issue…

Also, if you’re an atheist and you want to hijack this post for your own snide purposes – I’m going to delete the comments. Feel free to comment constructively, but we’re working on the assumption that evangelism is a good thing and not a form of brainwashing or abuse.

Alpha bet ends

The Guardian’s atheist journalist who attended Alpha has finished. His experience makes for fascinating reading. It’s honest. Critical. And engaging.

He ends up deciding that atheists are far better off hanging out with Christians than yelling at them. Which is refreshing. And has some great insights into the good, the bad, and the ugly of evangelism.

Check it out.

He’s also got an insightful interview with the head of the Alpha movement, Nicky Gumbel, about all sorts of things to do with the course. It’s worth a read.

One of the criticisms I’ve heard of Alpha (I haven’t done it) is its focus on tongues – here’s what Gumbel says…

Yes, I think it’s one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s not the only gift and it’s not right at the heart of the New Testament, but it is there, and I think we don’t give it much more emphasis than the New Testament gives it, which is not very much. If you came to our weekend and heard it I don’t think you would feel this is something that is weird.”

Interesting. He has a longer treatise on tongues that is also pretty on the money. I won’t reproduce it all here.

My favourite quote in the whole Alpha Male series was this one – describing the low point of the experience for journalist, Adam Rutherford:

“The low point followed, when Barbara, with whom I had had fun, explained that following my sturdy but polite defence of science and attack on healing (the most galling session), she became convinced that with regards to the supernatural, there was “something rather than nothing”. I had managed to reinforce her latent suspicion of science towards a more faithful position. Christ alive, how disappointing is that? She is thoughtful and intelligent. She listened and argued with me, and chose an emotional and visceral position instead. As I do this for a living, I will certainly modify my rhetoric as a result.”

Yeah. Cop that atheists who think being smug is the way to change minds.

Evangelism and relationships

We’re doing Introducing God at church this term. We just did week seven tonight. We’ve got an odd mix of people where probably 75% of the regulars are Christians who are hoping their irregular non-Christian friends will turn up, or are just there in lieu of small groups.

I’ve been sitting with a couple of guys – one of whom is a new Christian from a very non-Christian background (the guy I’m cooking with), the other is his housemate who has grown up in a staunchly Christian home who is not a Christian. Tonight was good. We’re at the stage where a relationship exists and some pressure can be comfortably exerted.

Having a relationship with someone is pretty important if you’re going to understand where they’re coming from in order to offer an alternative or a critique on their life.

Mikey Lynch is an AFES worker in Tassie who has handed out tasks to his student leaders to make sure they have relationships with non-Christians. These relationships are important. And his challenges look fun.

The challenges are things like:

  • Catch up with an old school friend,
  • Be chatty to everyone you interact with,
  • Catch public transport and chat to the people you sit next to,
  • Go to the pub and talk to people at the bar,
  • Piggy back on someone else’ hobby.
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Under the hood

If you’re a Christian and you want to evangelise and you need convincing that being loving is the best to achieve this outcome then you need to watch this interview that Denton did with a former leader of the Klan.

If you’re either not a Christian, or already convinced that speaking the truth with love is already the way to go, then you should watch the video too…

I am fascinated by the fact that both Denton and BoingBoing (where I found it) push the guy in question’s courage when the thing that strikes me is his love for his enemies.

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Graphical truth

GraphJam is awesome. And it appears that it has been overtaken by acerbic Christian wits and journalism graduates… such is the level of cynicism displayed by these posts…

Wisdom v Folly

I preached tonight. On 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5. It was neither my best or worst effort but wasn’t as coherent as I wanted it to be. It felt a bit rambly about 15 minutes in.

I really like the passage – but I kind of feel like I came at it with an agenda (critiquing atheism and encouraging evangelism (we’re doing a big evangelistic push at church this term)) and Paul is really addressing the immaturity of the Corinthian church. I especially like verse 18…

“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.”

I think, upon reflection, that I will go back to writing an outline before I write the text, and I suspect writing the whole thing in one session would be beneficial. There were a few times when I repeated thoughts unintentionally – and I didn’t really do a thorough proofread. Taking a whirlwind trip to Brisbane over the last two days probably didn’t help.

Oh well, enough self indulgent reflection.

On Work

This is a long post. Be warned.

Discussion on Simone’s blog has evolved in an interesting direction. And one I’ve been meaning to write about for some time – or at least since the “Ministry Matters” day the Walkers held a few weeks ago.

The debate about the value of secular work vs vocational ministry puzzles me.

Before I begin I want to say that I affirm the value of secular work – in most cases. So long as the job is in some way about “bringing order to creation” I see it as being of some merit. But to suggest that God is as glorified in secular work as he is in “ministry work” just seems odd.

It’s odd because I think the Bible’s pretty clear that one is more valuable than the other, that there are rewards for ministry (including anything that serves and builds up the Kingdom of God) that don’t exist for those who diligently work in their vocation.

The very fact that we get so little information about Jesus’ pre-ministry vocation in the Bible but so much about his ministry and preaching would suggest there’s a difference in value. But that’s a fairly long bow to draw…

I brought up the distinction between the two types of work in the comments on Simone’s post about rewriting song words – because I think it’s right for artists to be protective of their secular work – that which earns them their living, but I think the standard is different for those who are in ministry. I think their aim is to glorify God and serve the body of believers with their gifts.

I don’t think using gifts – for example a gift of communication – for your job is the same as using them for the spread of the kingdom. Luther and Calvin both affirm the value of secular work – and the value of using God given gifts in secular work – but you can affirm this without putting it on par with ministry.

My understanding of what both Calvin and Luther have to say about work is that it’s a valuable activity and should be tackled with gusto. They see work as a means to create or restore order – and again, I’d argue that for the Christian this is most likely to be expressed through the ministry of the gospel – whether by preaching, or teaching, or hospitality, or acts of service – than through secular work (I’m not saying this has no value – just less).

Overt glorification will always win out over intrinsic glorification – both in value and effect.

Full time ministry is a special calling – with special responsibilities, special rewards and special consequences for doing the wrong thing.

There’s also a hierachy within the context of ministry (where preaching and teaching is considered more valuable than other gifts – see below for the passage this idea comes from).

Let me back up my thinking with some Bible verses (which I’ll copy directly from my comment on Simone’s blog…). Obviously the “Great Comission” means that “making disciples” is the fundamental priority of all Christians. And lets face it – nobody is converted without some input from the word of God.Actions alone aren’t enough. They are important though.

1 Corinthians 3 is where I’d be drawing most of my thinking from with regards to the greater heavenly valuation of ministry.

Verse 8 implies a reward directly linked to ministry.

8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.

Verse 9 implies that Paul is specifically talking about ministry…

9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Verses 10 through 15 seem to be linking the heavenly outcomes for those in ministry with the quality (not quite the word I’m looking for) of their work…

“10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

I contend this isn’t talking about the vocational cleaning of toilets – though that be done well and to God’s glory.

I don’t think you can form a doctrine of work solely from the exhortation in Colossians 3:17…

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Then 1 Timothy 5 suggests gospel workers are worthy of double honour…

“17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.”

Then you’d have to consider Ephesians 4 – which suggests acts of service are a gift, but I don’t think it equates exercising them in the secular context with exercising them in order to serve the body of believers…

“11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 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.”

And finally, 1 Corinthians 12. The whole chapter is relevant. It starts off by establishing that while gifts are different they all come from God – but then the chapter only really deals with gifts that serve the body – again, not equating secular work with serving the body of believers.

“4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” And the last few verses seem to establish a hierachy – and exhort us to desire the “greater gifts”… “28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts.”

That’s my thinking anyway. And I’ve spent enough time on this. I have work to do.