Repost: Some infant baptism thoughts — negative (from September 2007)

1. "Believer-baptists accuse us of baptising unregenerate people, but believer-baptists do it all the time! How can they live with the fact that people fall away?"

This is unfair. What the believer-baptist is saying is that infant-baptists *delieberately* baptise people who are not regenerate.

For an infant baptist, the church kid who chucks in the faith in high school is a true member of the visible church who has betrayed of their ultimate calling. For the believer baptist, the convert who falls away was never a true member of the visible church - their membership was a sham.

2. "Don't call us 'infant baptists", call us 'convenant baptists'".

Seems sneaky to me. Believer-baptists believe in covenants too, and they believe that baptism is a sign of the covenant. They just happen to believe that the covenant is restricted to regenerate believers.

3. "I don't want my kid to go to Hell. Therefore infant baptism is true"

This is emotional, immoral and illogical:

Emotional: Things are not true cause we want them to be true.
Immoral: Why can you sleep better knowing *your* kid won't go to Hell, but don't care two hoots about the child of the non-Christian?
Illogical: It does not necessarily follow that belief in infant baptism means belief in salvation of your kid.


4. "Baptism is God's promise.... we raise our kids in faith not in fear"

Belief in infant baptism does not mean belief that your kid will go to heaven. Clearly many kids from Christian families fall away from the faith and *don't* go to heaven. So there is some fear, isn't there? And if kids from Christian families don't go to heaven, what do we make of God's alleged 'promise'?

We need far more clarity here. I would prefer to remove these vaguely worded promises altogether. But for the sake of clarity let's map out three possible infant-baptist views:

Presumptive regeneration: Baptism is a sign of God's promise of regeneration and eternal salvation. We presume that all children of Christians are regenerate and predestined. We know that in the mystery of God's will some are not, but our default position, and expectation, is that they are. (I don't like this view, but it is the one where is 'faith not fear' sort of logic works best)
Sign of external blessings: Baptism is a sign only of the external blessings of belonging to the visible church and hearing the gospel, nothing more. Baptism, then says nothing about the salvation of the individual.
Sign of internal and external blessings: Baptism is a sign of God's promise of regeneration and eternal salvation. But we do not give it to children of Christians because we presume they have received the reality. Rather, we consider that it is fitting to give them the sign of regeneration, even though they aren't necessarily regenerate.

5. "Household baptisms in Acts."

Whatever.

6. "We believe in the unity of the covenants."

So does a believer baptist. We both believe that there are some points of discontinuity. The believer baptist just draws the line at a slightly different point.

A strength of Reformed theology is that it is integrated and it joins the dots between its various doctrines really well. The problem is that as a result, Reformed theologians can often argue that every peculiar Reformed doctrine is central and fundamental to the gospel itself. I once read an article that said that Amillenialism, paedobaptism, presbyterian government and limited atonement were all totally central to the gospel and to deny any of them was to let the gospel itself crash down in a heap.



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Mirrors 17th February 2017

In case you haven't noticed, I've been cheating with 'Mirrors' and just posting the things I link to on Twitter. Only two this week, which is a bit dismal:

  1. Round 3 of Tasmanian Christian Fund now open. Including new tier of $20 000–$50 000.
  2. My sermon-lecture on Existentialism as a part of the Uni Fellowship's series on Identity.


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Repost: Some infant baptism thoughts — positive (from September 2007)

  1. Believers-baptism is the default position. It does take time and care to argue for infant baptism, just as it takes time to argue for predestination or the Trinity or the two natures of Christ. This doesn't necessarily make it 'too many steps of extrapolation'. Some theological structures just take time to establish. Especially if we are clearing the ground of pre-existing ideas and assumptions.
  2. Baptism is never defined in Scripture as being only for believers. It is often used in metanomic figures of speech (eg Rom 6, Gal 3) to stand for repentance, faith and conversion. But this does not mean that baptism is primarily a sign of faith. The closest we come to this is 1Peter 3:21. But even here, is God saying 'baptism can only be given to someone who is capable of a rational pledge of conscience' or 'baptism is only true, saving baptism when it is accompanied by a rational pledge of conscience'?
  3. Better to see baptism primarily as a sign of God's grace, God's gospel, God's promises. Adult converts receive the gospel, and hence the sign of the promises of the gospel. Children are raised under the preaching of the gospel, raised inside the visible church. On this grounds alone, it is fitting to mark them with the sign of the gospel which has been held out to them from birth. But more, the OT and NT argue that God has a 'general electing love' for the physical offspring of his people (see 8 below). Baptising them is an expression of this love.
  4. I like the section in Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion on infant baptism. A lot of arguments for infant baptism that have become simplistic and sloppy in the hands of later apologists - such as 'Let the little children come to me' - are written with care and subtlety by Calvin.
  5. A believers-only view of the visible church feels very 'modern': a voluntary society of individuals. Do you know what I mean?
  6. From a believers-baptism point of view, it is hard to know how to make sense of children of Christians. Are they the same as any other non-Christian guest? Not really. Surely they are 'members of the church' in some sense.
  7. Baptising a child at birth is said to be artbitrary and without scriptural warrant. At the same time, most believer-baptists hold off on baptism until some arbitrary point. Few believer-baptists baptise confessing two-year-olds. If we are going to baptise kids of Christian parents at some abitrary point, perhaps birth is as representative as any other time.
  8. John 1, Romans 2 and other such passages are not saying that physical descent has no significance whatsoever. They are merely saying that physical descent is not the *necessary* nor *sufficient* ground for eternal salvation. Romans 3, 9, 11 and 15 all teach us that there is significance to physical descent. There is a 'general electing' love of God as well as a 'individual electing' love of God.
  9. Colossians 2 does not say (as some infant-baptists argue) that baptism *is* the New Testament's circumcision. There are four steps (1. In Christ circumcised 2. With circumcision of sinful nature 3. Having been buried with Christ 4. Through baptism) not two steps (1. In Christ circumcised 2. Through baptism). But what it does teach is the the spiritual significance of circumcision and baptism is the same. They may not be identical but they are parallel.
  10. We must pay more careful attention, brothers, to the way we use Covenant of Grace and New Covenant. As a rule, the believer-baptist has a stronger emphasis on the distinctions between Old and New Covenant. They tend to use 'New Covenant' to speak about the things that are particularly unique about the new dispensation. Infant-baptists are a little more vague. 'New Covenant' can mean simply 'the Covenant of Grace as experienced in the new dispensation'. For a believer-baptist, 'member of the New Covenant' means 'regenerate, predestined person who *will* go to heaven'. For an infant-baptist, 'member of the New Covenant' can often just mean, 'member of the Covenant of Grace, even purely because they are members of the visible church'.
  11. Believer-baptists often consider the visible church to be responsible for making sure the church is only made up only of the Elect. It is an "opt-in" ecclesiology: you can only join if you can prove your conversion. You might say the believer baptist *presumes* to purify the visible church. Infant-baptists often consider the visible church to be responsible for accpeting all who confess faith, and disciplining those who betray their confession. It is an "opt-out" ecclesiology: you are only rejected if it your unbelief can be proved. The infant-baptist *assumes* that a person's confession is true unless evidence is given to the contrary.


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The fundamental failure to train in ministry

A great excerpt from The Vine Project:

In our conversations with pastors over the past six years, we have found — almost universally — a quite remarkable lack of equipping, training and mentoring at level 3 [specialised training]. This is especially the case with small group leadership. Very few pastors are satisfied with the nature and quality of the equipping that they provie for their small group leaders (whether in initial training or ongoing support). This seems to us to be (in most cases) a strategic mistake in the allocation of time and resources. Small groups have enormous potential to move people to the right — but their frequent failure to do so is in very large measure due to poor quality leadership. Whatever energy or resources we put into receruiting and equiping small group leaders will pay enormous dividends over time.

Overall, our observation is that most churches don't understand the improtance of level 1 equipping [grasping the vision to serve], and so rarely plan for it. This means that when they do try occasionally to do some level 2 equipping [basic skills] they are frequently disappointed at the response or level of take-up — because there is not the heart or motivation to be involved. This in turn leads to a dearth of candidates for level 3 training [specialised ministry training]. (page 277)



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Mirrors 10th February 2017

  1. Why bother with women's ministry?
  2. One 20something’s experience of dating in the 2010s. Guesswork, feigning casualness & indirect communication.  Blerg  *language warning*
  3. 9 ethical questions all skateboarders should ask themselves
  4. For the 1st time, ACNC has revoked charity status on grounds of political involvement: Catch the Fire 
    Ministries
  5. Yes to these critiques of Desiring the Kingdom
  6. My sermons on Galatians 3-4 from Credo Conference in Perth last May
  7. Pastor, defend Christian liberty
  8. Getting clarity ontology and ethics, normal and normative, law and principle regarding gender roles 


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Mirrors 3rd February 2017

  1. Francis Chan rant: be willing to model gospel mission to your family, not merely bunker down in a gated community. 
  2. Australian Stories: On resting in and wrestling with the paradox of modern Australia on Australia Day as a Christian.
  3. Funny video about how altruism can be a power play. So gross. But so true in work (and ministry) patronage.
  4. Listen to these 3 old John Woodhouse sermons on Ezekiel & have your mind blown (search ‘Ezekiel’ from drop down).
  5. Ooh! The ranty ‘Why Bishops are Deacons’ Phillip Jensen lectures now up on Proc Trust. #mustlisten Scroll down to 1988 EMA.
  6. Stern critique of James KA Smith’s ‘You Are What You Love’ by @PeterWoodcock58  and Tom Sweatman. What do you think? 
  7. Ten simple steps to writing a book.
  8. Helpful NDIS infographic article on difference between reporting on outputs/activities and reporting on outcomes


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Repost: UTAS O Week Mission 2016 — Part 1: Overview of Process (June 2016)

Late last year I posted a bunch of ideas and resources from Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) that we used for inspiration for a bunch of new ideas for O Week that we trialled this year, made possible by a grant from the Tasmanian Christian Fund.

In the next few posts I want to share our experience, results, and lessons learned for next time.

Three preliminary comments

1. Not really that different: just bigger and more focussed

We weren't doing a whole heaps different to what lots of AFES groups and other campus ministries already do. Heavy broadcast promotion, attempts at gathering large numbers of contacts, providing a mix of social and ministry events to connect with, and personal follow up.

For that reason we probably haven't learned much that a larger campus group hasn't already figured out. But perhaps we can provide some pointers to other medium sized groups we want to stretch their reach.

But maybe one or two of our ideas will be fresh, or maybe the overall 'spirit of the project' will be inspiring to other groups.

2. Not directly applicable to church ministry, but plenty of things will be

Campus ministry is unique in its sprint-lull rhythm, its demographic focus and its concentrated seasons where a large proportion of the target group will all be in a few locations with an interest to joining new things. In that sense what we have discovered won't easily translate to church ministry.

However, I think there are lots of things that will translate well, perhaps with thoughtful adjustments. The principles around large scale promotion and connection and personal follow up will definitely have their place in church ministry. And speeding up the pace and drive of a local church could well be a good challenge.

I'm keen to hear from those who are doing some of these things in church ministry, or who have stolen and adjusted some of our ideas.

3. Spending money on mission

A lot of the scale and quality of what we did was made possible by the grant, that we spent a lot of time applying for and keping records to report against. But since we feel the O Week Mission was a success, we are resolved to spend money on this next year.

And I want to say it's worth it. If spending money helps connecting with more people more meaningfully, why be a cheapskate at this point? That's a big mindset shift though. Rather than running a campus group on a shoestring budget, to proactively plan to raise and spend more money to reach more people.

Also we have more staff than the equivalent sized local church (1:25 ratio is pretty common in campus groups in USA; these stats are similar in Australia): so we are 'spending money' at this point too. There's a bunch of reasons for this ratio... but one point is to say: to do mission really effectively and broadly 'costs' in people time too. There will be a limit to what we can attempt in outreach and promotion if it depends on one 'generalist' pastor and a bunch of volunteers.

Purpose of O Week Mission

1. Provide face to face opportunities to discuss the gospel with hundreds of university students

We wanted to stretch and push ourselves to be more present and 'ubiquitous' on the campuses of UTAS, so that there were heaps of opportunities for that connection to take place. The 'gospel opportunities' would be light touch: but a face to face invitation to find out more.

The spirit of the mission was to do more. How could we logistically stretch our group, that normally only had one 'contact table' or point of presence? How could we instead be present on multiple campuses or multiple sites on the campus at the one time?

2. Connect interested non-Christians with multiple formal and informal opportunities to investigate the gospel of Jesus Christ 

3. Connect committed Christians and nominal Christians coming to uni with a vibrant and robust Christian community to help them grasp the spiritual, personal, intellectual and lifestyle implications of the gospel 

4. Train Christian students in public marketplace evangelism, formal event evangelism and informal personal evangelism, for their ministry at university and church, both now and into the future 

5. Test effectiveness of mass promotion

For us, this O Week Mission experiment was an opportuntiy to test a couple of things. First of all, we had noticed over the last 6 years that by far the most effective way for us to connect with new people is:

  • Facebook promotion
  • A really good Pre-O-Week Conference (our Pre-Season Conference)
  • Informal word of mouth advertising

We decreased our amount of fliering and cold contacting, and yet saw an increase in the size of the group. And very very rarely did our mass promotion lead to fruitful gospel opportunities or actively involved Christian students.

And that is true more generally in the Geneva Push network I'm involved with: vibrant, growing church plants rely predominantly on social media and informal invitations, rather than printed, published or cold contact evangelism.

So I wanted to test if there was a place for mass promotion and cold ontact Or is it just a financially expensive or time expensive activity that bears little fruit?

6. Test saturation of the campus

Short of revival, most ministries will reach a point of saturation, where any further growth will be slower. This is because you have engaged most of the Christians who will ever be engaged by your particular ministry and you have connected with the 'low-hanging fruit' in evangelism. All other growth will be the slow but worthwhile trickle of evangelistic growth and maturity-leading-to-more-regular-attendance growth.

I was curious to know what the saturation point for our Hobart campuses of around 14 000 undergraduates. At what point will your group reach a 'cap' on its growth, short of significant spiritual, sociological and ecclesiological changes?

The O Week Mission Strategy

Basically the whole thing was one massive funnel:

1. Broadcast Promotion

We threw money at a whole bunch of things to see what would work:

  • Radio advertisements on the Christian radio station and on the community radio station that broadcasts from the uni,
  • Corflute signage out the front of the building where we hold our main evening 'Citywide Gatherings'
  • Paid Facebook advertising and 'boosts'
  • Fliering at orientation lectures
  • Giveaway BBQs in Week 2 (so not competing with all the other free stuff in Week 1)

2. Brief surveys on all campuses of UTAS with gift incentive

  • We positioned ourselves at contact ables at multiple points at the largest campus of UTAS Hobart, as well as the other satellite campuses and residential colleges
  • Invite any and every passerby to complete a short, 3 question survey and in return we will give them a gift bag with a KeepCup and free coffee voucher from an awesome boutique cafe.
  • The third questions was: "Would you like to find out more about the Uni Fellowship of Christians' events and activities? YES/MAYBE/NO

3. Live data entry and afternoon follow up

  • Previously we had left data entry and follow up calls to the evenings of each day of O Week.
  • But this year, because we were inviting people to things that very day (see 4, below), we sped up this process.
  • We had people rostered on to do data entry at the same time that new contacts were being made.
  • We recorded the raw survey data in Survey Monkey and plugged all the Yes and Maybe data into our Elvanto database.
  • All the Yes and Maybe answers then received a generic 'Welcome from Uni Fellowship' email, as well as a personal call/SMS/email inviting them to the pizza parties:

4. Pizza Parties Monday-Wednesday of O Week

  • We invited new contacts to come to free pizza parties (or dessert on Wednesday) each night of O Week.
  • This was meant to be an opportunity to connect with people personally and socially straight away, rather than just inviting them to a public ministry event (Bible talk, for example).
  • At this event we gave a brief explanation about our group and encouraged people to sign up to evangelistic courses or Fellowship Groups.

5. Personal follow up coffees

  • Staff and student leaders contact each person who said Yes or Maybe, to invite them for coffee (our shout) to find out more about the Uni Fellowship and ask any questions.
  • We extend this invitation 3 times before giving up.

6. Invitiation to Public Meetings Faculty Cluster social events, Fellowship Groups and Chrsitianity 1A

  • Our pattern of regular meetings also became part of our follow up: inviting people to plug into our small groups, evangleistic course and public meetings.
  • We also gave money to our Faculty Cluster groups to organise social events on a faculty basis.


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Tempo, meter and rhythm in preaching

I was discussing this with some of the Uni Fellowship, how a poor preacher will speak with one steady rhythm and speed. It's doesn't grab you and carry you. Such preachers often have to rely on colourful illustrations, gritty application, simplistic (and sometimes gimmicky) structure and brevity to hold the congregation.

I encourage preachers to think carefully about how human communication works, and to master a variety of meters and speeds (and volume and gestures etc), so both engage and persuade people.

And then a few days later, I was watching 'The Hip-Hop Evolution' documentary on Netflix and I heard Rakim talk about how he was influenced by John Coltrane to vary his rapping in a similar way. Here's another video (not from the Netflix doco) where he says similar *language warning*

Prior to Rakim's era, hip-hop often had a very staccato, rhyme at the end of every line regularity. After his era there was much more of the variety that we recognise in hip-hop today.

Listen to some of the preachers you most appreciate, and you'll notice that they vary sentence structure, length and emphatic rhythm. You might even notice that they have a few favourite rhythmic patterns that they use :-)



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Mirrors 27th January 2017

  1. There’s 2 sides to every story. Justin Dean was Mars Hill’s media spokesperson right to the end. Interesting listen.
  2. Being church in post truth Australia. An excellent manifesto from Nathan Campbell!
  3. Tim Challies has done a great series on getting older, including: Ageing with graceWith Greater Age Comes Greater Sorrow and Aging Brings Life-Shaping Decisions
  4. There may be gendered roles taught in Scripture, but that doesn’t mean God only gives certain gifts to one gender
  5. Some thoughts on minimalism by Nathan Campbell. Prepare for a storm of comments, Nathan.
  6. Obvious advice on work-life with pretty diagrams. 
  7. About the Pslams of imprecation 
  8. Seven ways leaders demoralise their teams
  9. Six Reasons to Consider Avoiding Cute Sermon Series Titles
  10. Some true & not so true factors in US election. And largely untrue statements about Aussie Christian onlookers.


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The similarities between two unpopular subcultures: rollerblading and Christianity

I took up rollerblading again two years ago. The kids expressed some interest in getting rollerblades/rollerskates for Christmas, and I thought I'd get myself a pair too.

 

I started rollerskating when I was about 10, and after trying my first pair of inline skates on the St Kilda boulevard as a 12 year old, I was hooked. This was when 'aggressive inline skating' (tricks and ramps and jumps and stuff) was on the rise and so I got into that, until a severe injury on a handrail when I was 16 made me hang up my skates.

Inline skating exploded in popularity in the 1990s, and at its peak was vastly more popular than skateboarding. There was even a pretty ordinary comedy drama film with a very young Jack Black and Seth Green all about a rollerblader:

But somewhere in the late 90s early 2000s the sport went into precipitous decline, and has never recovered. But like struggling bands might say... 'we're big in Japan' :-) Here's a documentary that tells that story:

It was watching this documentary that first got me noticing some of the similarities between rollerblading and Christianity. They speak about the effect that being a mocked and 'persecuted' subculture has on your identity and the cohesion of your community. Over the last few years I've noticed more similarities.  So here we go:

1. The rollerblading community is interested in people joining the sport, not just having a go

To be Rory Shiner has already done a simliar thing to this post, with something he wrote about how the church should be more like a the sport lacrosse, than like the cinema in the way they deal with declining popularity: the cinema will do anything to woo you to get your money, whereas the lacrosse community doesn't just want your money, it wants YOU. The lacrosse community is a formative community. 

Some stuff about this isn't quite the same: rollerblading doesn't need a team, a time keeper, a sausage sizzle.. so there isn't the same parallel that Rory could draw between a lacross team and church rosters. 

But what is similar, is that when your sport is small, you really feel a desire not just to get people to dabble. You want people to engage. I'm more excited by my friend Miranda who regulary rollerblades for fitness, than someone who tells me they have a pair and could do it now and then if they wanted to.

2. 'Persecution'

A need to get the image and the language right because you will be misrepresented by your persecutors

Rollerblading was really hated on the 'cool' subcultures of the 1990s. If you were skating around skateboarders you'd probably hear things like 'fruitboots' and 'rollerfags' and 'What's the hardest thing about rollerblading? Having to tell your mum that you're gay' (which is all interesting in itself, right? How 20 years ago so many insults revolved around a derogatory reference to homosexuality). You were not a 'real' extreme sport, like BMX or skateboarding. You were 'toy' or 'try hard'. It was all easy: they're strapped to your feet, right?

And so on the one hand was a lot of effort to try to improve the image of rollerblading. That's where the term 'aggressive inline skating' came from: to distance what WE did, from the lycra and hypercolour wearing recreational rollerbladers on the boardwalk. We were not fluro-colours recreational 'rollerbladers'... we were  AGGRESSIVE INLINE SKATERS. The videos and magazines of the time modeled a fashion and attitude very similar to skateboarding, and promoting tricks that were serious technical tricks, not goofy stunts.

This was all good stuff. And it is similar to what the church does: the effort to get the words 'right' and to clarify the preconceptions and unfair stereotypes. There really is a place for this. Because you will be misinterpreted by your detractors.

Getting the image right isn't enough: acceptance within a despised community

But in the end it didn't matter how much of this rollerblading did, it was always the loser kid brother of skateboarding. Because, like with Christianity, no matter how cool you look, and how clear you are on what you are and are not... if you are not culturally accepted, you're doomed.

So over time, as the documentary above describes, rollerbladers began to accept they were a despised minority. And with this came a happy sense of belongning: we love what we do, we get it, we love each other. This is the belonging within a subculture, that is very similar to Christianity. And in some ways the very experience of being on the 'outside' became part of the rollerblader narrative.

But the great thing about being part of a small and despised community is that you belong there. I could travel to many places in the world and be welcomed and looked after by rollerbladers. I could probably get personal access to many (all?) of the 'stars' of rollerblading pretty easily. Something about this feels similar to the global family of Christianity.

You might notice that I am using 'rollerblader' more than 'aggressive inline skater'... that's because this is what happened with the terminology. Over time, the aggressive inline community gave up on trying to get the perfect language to distance themselves from other things. They embraced the term 'rollerblader' anew. Besides, this is the term that everyone else understood. Perhaps this is similar to some of the challenges we face as Christians with terms like 'evangelical'?

This sense of being a despised community morphed into simple being an invisible community: a sport so small that no one cared enough even to hate you.

Treatment of other despised sports: welcome others because you know what it feels like

In some quarters there was a hateful backlash against this rejection: rollerbladers would hate skateboarders in return. Tragically there are now some rollerbladers say all sorts of mean things about scooter kids, which is sad. But many know what it's like to be rejected as the new kid on the block and so are quick to defend scooter kids and the younger sport.

Even within the rollerblading community, smallness has often encouraged a broadness. True, there are some who sink deeper and deeper into a kind of Pharasaical nitpicking (is it right to call a savannah grind an alley-oop backside unity?). But I am observing generally more openness. Few can afford to just celebreate 'aggressive' inline skating: instead we rejoice when we see recreational and roller hockey skaters too! And even within the aggressive community, there has been an openness not just to practice the cool, 'canonical' tricks, but also more goofy 'mushroom blading'. 

So also we Christians ought to defend other minority communities and religions, seeking their protection and respect, for we also know the pain of marginalisation. And even though I really think there is a place for a healthy godly 'tribalism' that cares about theological and ministry philosophy distinctives... there is also a reality that we cannot afford to endlessly divide over secondary matters with our brothers and sisters.

3. Post-persecution fascination

By the time I'd come back to the sport in the 2010s, and began turning up at skateparks swarming with scooterkids, rollerblading was no longer despised: it was unknown. And so the younger skateboarders didn't know they were meant to hate us. Instead of being dismissive: 'That's easy, the wheels are stuck to your feet', I've found they've been respectful: 'That's hard! They're stuck to your feet so you can't jump off when you need to bail!'. They see the unique potential that rollerblades have for spins, flips and grinds.

Part of this is also that kids are now growing up with three popular extreme sports: skateboarding, BMX and scooter. Skateboarding no longer has a monopoly, and so this pluralism has fostered openness, I think. (Also interesting is that skateboarding is not doing all that great these days either)

Some of this is increasingly true regarding Christianity on the university campus. Whereas the Gen X media and lawmakers are like old-school skateboarders — very negative and dismissive about Christianity — 18 year old students who have been raised several generations deep in biblical illiteracy are kind of intrigued by it. 

4. Lifestyle industries

You don't do it to get rich, you sacrifice for it because you love it 

You won't get rich making rollerblades, running a rollerblading shop or trying to 'go pro'. From the skaters right through to the manufacturers (except for those companies for whom rollerblades are just a small part of their overall production, like K2) this is a labour of love. A good example is this guy talking about the pressures running a skate shop put on his family:

When we started, I was able to support Gretchen completely through it, we bought a house, lived somewhat comfortably, and were able to travel a lot. Soon after the decline started, I found myself not being able to take a paycheck. I went years without taking one. Gretchen started working 2 jobs so we would have an income, we had really long stressful days. Struggling is probably an understatement. It was very stressful on us both of us, we joke now how cliche it is, but we literally had top ramen days. That’s all we could afford to eat. But, we always had hope for change. Gretchen also never gave up on me, she never quit on my dream. I am very thankful for that. Most girls would have bounced easy, gone. But, she stuck by me. She stuck by rollerblading.
Our storefront was amazing, it was difficult to let go of for sure. I worked there 6 days a week for 5 years straight. No days off, no sick days. We were dedicated for sure.

... Gretchen called me upstairs. I ran up, and she said I need to tell you something, “I’m pregnant.” That seriously put a lot of things in perspective. One second I’m figuring out the spot list for the day, then the next moment I find out I’m going to be a father. It wasn’t about me anymore or my crap, it became all about my son, Elias. Gretchen has sacrificed a lot for blading, and it was my turn to help her out. She has a really good job at Chandler Regional Hospital that provides a stable income, and health insurance. That is really important, so I told her, I’ll step back from the storefront, and focus on being a dad and be at home to take care of Elias and she can keep her job. The timing was right, our lease was up anyways, so I said, let’s close the storefont, and I’ll focus Revolution to be completely online. It made sense.

Sounds a lot like a church planter story! (for another story about a competition organiser see here)You do this because you love and care about it and are giving. 

In that sense, the wider community and industry is similar to Rory's lacrosse example above. Those who stick with rollerblading and get into rollerblading are lifestyle rollerbladers, not just consumers. 

Intersection of different groups to keep rollerblading alive

Like with the Christianity, there is an 'ecosystem' or people and groups that work together to keep rollerblading going... and provide a brittle skeleton upon which any future growth might happen: competition organisers, shop owners, website and magazine editors, podcasters, Facebook Group admins, YouTubers, manufacturers, other companies being generous to skate manufacturers. All of these have their place in keeping the community humming and giving it a chance of living on.

Sure, rollerblading could live on with people scrounging Salvos and Tip Shops for old parts and skates. Sure you could have solitary skaters carrying on almost entirely along. But that wouldn't last long.

So with Christianity: while the local church sits at the centre, there are the publishing companies, websites, conferences, theological colleges, parachurches. It would be naive be too quick to dismiss these different things. 

Investment in the industry to keep rollerblading alive

As I've continued on with rollerblading over the last few years, I feel a new responsibility: to do my little bit not only to promote the sport (see previous point), but also to invest in the sport.

So while I'll probably continue to buy skates of Gumtree to be frugal, I can see the sense in buying new skates to support the manufacturers (in case you were wondering if I were to buy a new pair, I'd get a handmade pair of Adapt Brand skates). If I needed to get a T-shirt anyway, I'm inclined to buy a rollerblading T-shirt, not only to help promote but also to help the company.

Even if I don't feel a strong need to find other rollerbladers in Hobart, I post on the Facebook Group, partly for possible evangelistic contacts (who knows?!), but also to keep the Group humming.

When you stop thinking like a consumer, in rollerblading or in Christianity, you realise that you can play a small part in keeping the whole healthy. You don't just attend or purchase or volunteer because it suits you. My financial support, my purhcases, my attendance, my volunteering: these all put economic petrol in the tank.

5. Promoting the sport and but powerless to seek revival

Is this the year the rollerblading will 'come back'? People often ask? We love our sport and would love to have more people be a part of it. Some of us remember the good things about being a larger sport: for skaters, for shops, for manufacturers. But then again, we also remember the sleazy side of corporate influence, and are kind of relieved to no longer be in the rollerblading equivalent if 'Christendom'.

But what would it take for rollerblading to be 'big again'? Pondering this question brings out plenty of parallels to those seeking revival for the church in the West. And why many 'quick fixes' are painfully naive.

Large cultural factors outside of our control

No matter how good rollerblading advertising is, not matter how much money we pour into exhibition performances and competitions in world cities, not matter how we adjust the look of the skates and fashion of the skaters... none of this could or would trigger a rollerblading revival. They might play a part in keeping the sport alive, and drawing in a few new participatngs. They might play a part in a revival once it gets rolling. But they can't trigger one.

Because the thing is, sport popularity is the confluence of so many factors, from media portrayal to streams of cultural zeitgeist. People around the world are scratching their heads about how to make rollerblading, or lacrosse or European handball or windsurfing more popular. But these sports aren't less popular than soccer because soccer is doing more 'right' in its social media strategy and delegation principles. There are larger forces, all governed ultimately by God's will, which determine these things.

Some sports might have in-built limiting factors (expense, entry-level difficulty, eccentricity). Others, due to their geographical base will struggle for global reach (think: Aussie Rules Football). But even those which have been huge, or by all accounts are fairly indistinguishable from huge sports, and have decent bases in the 'right' countries: these things don't guarantee anything.

I remember when Geneva Push was just starting up, someone came to one of our meetings and said 'People say "church planting movements can't happen in Australia". They are defeatist conservatives. I'm going to prove them wrong.'. Ten years later... nothing much. Turns out the defeatist conservatives were right.

We can't engineer a Christianity revival through church planting, social media, cool Christian music labels, 5Ms structures or whatever else. There are so many forces out of our control... and that is just thinking in terms of God's ordinary providence, leaving aside the need for supernatural intervention.

Survival

Instead, the best thing rollerblading can do is just not die. We are almost powerless to bring about a revival. But we can make sure that rollerblading still is a thing, so that it can be revived. So also with the church, while we may not be able to engineer revival, we can persist with a faithful presence: holding a candle and keeping it alight.

Promoting

And in small ways, there are things I can do to promote the sport, which are strikingly similar to much of the evangelism that I think is most effective in Australia. 

Handing out fliers about rollerblading, holding public exhibition events about rollerblading, or doing walkup rollerblading evangelism at the skatepark wouldn't do much. And could well just irritate

  • Be active: keep skating (keep going to church, reading your Bible, participating in the parachurch group) 
  • Be public about it: Facebook sharing, instagramming, incorporating rollerblading into a blog post on a church planting site. Even just being public as a rollerblader, rather than keeping it to yourself makes it more visible to those around you (the equivalent for Christianity is clear, right?)
  • Be alert to those who express interest: holding forth about rollerblading to someone who is not interested won't do much good. But also be prepared to talk about rollerblading to anyone who asks you. Be ready to engage and woo those who show some keenness ('I used to rollerblade in high school!'). Perhaps bring it up again and draw them in a little more with a cool YouTube clip?
  • Have free stuff: if I weren't a Christian, if rollerblading were a higher priority, I'd definitely keep a swag bag of rollerblades to give to kids at the skatepark who express some interest (so with Christianity: invites to church/Christianity courses, giveaway books, fliers etc?)
  • Set a good example: scooter kids can be absolute twits, and it doesn't really affect the sport because it's in a good place at the moment. But if the only rollerblader in town is an idiot at the skatepark that can really do some damage. So in addition to actually skating well, if I can be Mr Good Vibes at the park, encouraging others with their successes, being friendly and following park etiquette, I won't win people over to rollerblading, but at least I won't turn them off.
  • Invest in the next generation: What's the future of rollerblading? The kids of those who started skating in the 1990s. So me getting me kids on wheels is one of the best things I can do for rollerblading. So also with Christianity: Christian parenting, Sunday schools, youth and AFES ministries are very important.


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Mirrors 20th January 2017

  1. What a hip lady! Alec Baldwin interviews Patti Smith. Among many things, she talks of contentment and family life.
  2. Why you should read multiple books at the same time.
  3. Sassy Wendy's social media manager maverick.
  4. A great article on the great film Finding Dory and not just its portrayal of disability, but of 'disability culture'


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Should we follow the 80% = Full rule for our church meetings?

Dave Jensen started this massive thread in a Facebook Group, by asking:

Is it better to have a room 3/4 full - or actually does it create a better atmosphere, and thus encourage more people to invite their contacts - when the chairs are all being used?

With permission of all participants, I have reposted on sub-thread that I was involved in. Keen to hear your thoughts!

Mike Doyle: that book by that dude that that other dude (Raj) got to come come here from that country (USA I think) suggested that you can think about room capacity in various quarters (as a rule of thumb):

0-25% = uncomfortably empty. Doesn't have critical mass. Feels bad. Won't grow.
25-50% = comfortably empty. Has critical mass. Lots of seats available. But also feels full enough to be energised and a going concern (i.e. - not dead)
50-75% = comfortably full. Feels full, but still room for newcomers. Feels good.
75-100% = uncomfortably full. Too full. Newcomers may come, but won't stay.

The general rule being that - because of capacity issues, a church will stop growing when they reach 50-80% capacity. At some point the regulars feel like it's full, and stop inviting people. And when newcomers come - they feel uncomfortable, too close to other people, and so won't return.

It's all (obviously) fairly rough rule of thumb.

In my own experience - we've stopped growing over the last 3 months. Not quite sure why. Exploring all sorts of issues including capacity, and also basic stuff (like doing better follow up etc)

Dave Jensen:  Yes...the 75%/85% stage has always been what i've been taught. But i'm wondering if anyone has actually seen this in action? I just listened to an interview of Brian Houston where he said they always, always put out less chairs - as a full room feels right - and it looks good to put out more chairs, like a hustle and bustle of growth.

Mike Doyle: I think there's something in that. Certainly in market economies, restricting the availability of a product (seats in church) increases its perceived value. 

Think iPhone releases and other such stuff where supply is limited.

I remember a guy telling us at CBS that the way to increase people coming to our Mid Year Conference was to limit the spaces each year to about 50 below what we think we will get. This will increase demand, and the perception that it's a limited supply item with a huge value.

So I wouldn't write Brian off - I mean - he's done a better job that most of us in filling his auditoriums.


Mick Bullen: Just clarifying: Is Brian's suggestion that we put out 'less' than expected chairs to start... but have good systems in place to put out more as needed in order to create a 'hustle and bustle' kind of effect?

Got a link to that interview - I'd be curious to listen to it.

Dave Jensen: hi Mick - I don't think he specified putting less out - but that he'd rather have less than have more, that putting out extras was a good positive feeling for everyone. I'll find the link... 

 http://ift.tt/2iAoRYA
CNLP 089: Brian Houston On Hillsong 
CAREYNIEUWHOF.COM

Mick Bullen: thanks brother!

Craig Hamilton: Yep, they put out less. Hillsong's event planning team take how many people attended this week last year (if you get me) then minus 10%. That's the number of seats they have out for this week to begin. Fill from the front and put out more/ open aisles/ sections as needed. 

I think it's a good plan.

Dave Jensen: I agree. Needs a fairly intensive ushering plan mind you - not a small cultural change to people used to sitting where they want.

Craig Hamilton: Yeah totally. We're about to launch a culture change strategy to do just that. But you're right, you can't just change it and expect people to come with, because in this they definitely won't  :D

Dave Jensen: Craig Hamilton how are you launching the strategy? Platform, or through other means?

Michael Jensen: How does it work with pews?

Dave Jensen: Michael Jensen curtains/ black sheets.

Craig Hamilton: Other means. 

Michael in their chapel, with fixed pews, they just have one piece of electrical tape at waist height down the aisles with the most friendly ushers and as they need more rows they just pull the tape off, rip it shorter, then stick it back on the next pew back.

Craig Hamilton: PS. part of our issue is the only group dynamics we're familiar with is one-to-one and small group dynamics and so we often apply them to medium and large groups with limited success.

There's been a bit of work done in social psychology on propinquity in recent years that has provided some insights on this stuff too.

Mikey Lynch: You can merge Brian Houston and Gary McIntosh's advice this way:
— have less chairs out at the beginning and keep putting out chairs as people arrive
— once the meeting begins, put out more chairs than needed so late arrivals don't feel it's 'Too full' and during/after the meeting people notice 'there's room to grow'

Mikey Lynch: To rely on 'packed to the rafters' market dynamic assumes a massive momentum that Hillsong had/has. WIthout that gravitational pull, the 'put out less chairs' will just lead to the sociological ceiling that McIntosh describes.

I've definitely seen it in practice. I see it in my own mind when I arrive at a church meeting that 'feels' too full.

Mikey Lynch: Michael Jensen — another thing with pews is that they feel 'full' quicker: I'm more comfortable to be closer to someone when a physical chair is distinct between us. Once we're on a single bench that feels weirder.

Also manspreading and handbagspreading is more common in pews.

Mikey Lynch: Final observation: those from highly compressed living circumstance/reserved social interaction cultures (like East Asian cities) are often happier with a 'fuller' church building than your average Anglo.

Craig Hamilton: Mikey one of the interesting things about this practice at hillsong is they do the same thing at their services of thousands as they do at their services of 50. Now obviously the smaller services still get the halo effect of the mothership's momentum, but can that be the deciding factor? They're adamant that it's not.

Dave Jensen: Putting out chairs as people arrive would be a pretty untidy look. Although potential in the second suggestion - depending on the average arrival time of your congregation. If they all rock up 10 min late then you're in trouble either way.

I'm not sure whether the putting less chairs out is the solution - however I'd be interested in the result of an effective usher/ bollard/ black sheet system - effectively cutting off the back of the church and only allowing seating as each row is full.
Mikey Lynch I'm going to go with church growth experts and personal experience over Hillsong being adamant they are not exceptional.


Mikey Lynch: Dave Jensen one can put out chairs with steez

Dave Jensen: Steez?

Dave Jensen: It's interesting: I was discussing the church growth 85% opinion today with a colleague - and we both agreed that the whole idea "the congregation see no need for church to grow" is actually counter-intuitive. In every other respect you are inspired to invite people to things that are well attended, for atmosphere reasons. If I go to a half full footy match or 3/4 full it's never as much fun as a sell out. Why do we think this is different in church?


Craig Hamilton: Yeah I think that's the thought. 

You know Mikey there would have been a time when I agreed with the expert/ personal experience over hillsong exceptional-ness. But I've changed my mind about that.

Dave Jensen: In fact, from a personal perspective: there is no difference. When I was a parishioner I felt more comfortable Inviting people when it was chockas. Better vibe.

Dave Jensen: Yep. "Church with lots of people" vs "church experts + individual preferences".

Dave Jensen: Craig Hamilton +1

Craig Hamilton: Yeah like obviously there's places where we'll diverge from hillsong, we can only go with them so far. But when it comes to managing people in medium and large groups they pretty much are the experts. From spending time with them my conclusion isn't that they are exceptional, it's that they are intentional. Fanatically so. And it's their fanatic intentionality that makes them exceptional, not the other way around.

Mikey Lynch: I look forward to hearing all about the outcome guys! May God bless it!

Dave Jensen: Craig Hamilton that's v good. In this nieuwolf interview with hhouston he speaks of his hatred of mediocrity. It's a great point.

Mikey Lynch: "And it's their fanatic intentionality that makes them exceptional, not the other way around."

False dichotomy. Andy Murray is fanatically intentional AND exceptional. So also Hillsong.

Craig Hamilton: Haha It is a false dichotomy: it was your dichotomy. You said instead of being intentional like them and doing the intentional practices like them we should ignore those practices because they're exceptional and that's the deciding factor.

My point was that it was both/and. They are exceptional and intentional and one feeds the other. Their exceptionalness isn't a reason to not follow their practices, it's the reason why we actually might.

So you're right! Haha you did set up a false dichotomy  :D


Mikey Lynch: Not quite. What I'm saying is that at this point it's their exceptional qualities at work.

Craig Hamilton: haha not convinced

Robbie Hayes: This is a fantastic thread to read along - some great young guys interacting with all sorts of different traditions and backgrounds, all in a positive but challenging way. Love it!!

 We're trying to set out comfier chairs towards the front as a way of bringing some people forward... seems to be working. We also deliberately put out the back rows later - and at bigger events, cover sections with black fabric. 

Oh and we've made some wall to ceiling curtains that can shrink the size of our church hall by about a quarter on each side, to help with smaller services.

Dave Jensen: Robbie Hayes where those black curtains $$$?

Robbie Hayes: Not really, at least not in pure $. We were blessed in that a member of our congregation volunteered to sew and hem and do all the other sewing related things (that I clearly have no idea about) - that saved us heaps! So we just paid for material (not the greatest quality, but more than does the job), wire and the rings that they run on.

Our next plan is to create another moveable curtain to cover the ugly back storage area of the church, which can be dragged away on the few big occasions when we clear the place for max seating capacity.

Mikey Lynch: I was wondering if I could have the permission of everyone in this sub-thread to repost it on my http://ift.tt/2jt4FMa? If I only get permission from some, I will remove the not-authorised comments  :-)

(Robbie Hayes? Dave Jensen? Craig Hamilton? Mike Doyle? Michael Jensen?)

Michael Jensen: Yep

Robbie Hayes: Sure!

Dave Jensen: 

Craig Hamilton: Yep

Mikey Lynch: Thanks! One catch: in my retelling, Im 6'3", dashing, twice as smart and have lots of Sorkinesque comebacks. And the rest of you are kind of Crabbe and Goyle.

And there are zombies.

Craig Hamilton: That's how I remember it.

Mike Doyle: For whatever I offered - feel free to repost. Remove the swear words first  ;-)
 



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Mirrors 15th January 2017

  1. Season 4 of the StartUp is especially amazing: it explore the rise and fall (and plan to rise again) of possibly psychopathic entrepreneur Dov Charney, founder of American apparel. Amazing study of power... and how someone can do great good in one area (worker's and immigrant's rights) while do heaps of bad in other areas (sexual harrassment).
  2. So weird listening to a discussion of some of your formative experiences as recent history. A great discussion of the 'Young Reformed and Restless' movement. My twentysomething staff read this recently to grasp what had happened in our church circles just prior to them getting active in ministry.
  3. What goes around comes around. They've made a movie of The Shack. We're going to have to resurrect all the critiques of that again.
  4. My (Mikey's) year in books, TV, movies and podcasts.
  5. Wow. This made me sad. Extremely sophisticated talk about privilege and feminism... but just seemed naive in the end.
  6. Good stuff from Rory Shiner about church scheduling.
  7. A new movie about a gay right activist who became a pretty far right Christian pastor. Most reports suggest that Gus Van Sant is preserve the integrity and ambiguity of the story: not damning the main character, but just presenting his story.


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Re-post: Epiousios = ‘bread for tomorrow’? (from 2007)

I have heard several preachers (including a guy at the recent MTS Challenge conference) argue for a different the meaning of 'Give us each day our daily bread'. Often it is boldly claimed that the verse literally reads 'bread for tomorrow'. What do we think?

  1. Like a lot of claims made from the Greek text, it is a little inaccurate to claim 'oh it literally says this', because a literal word-for-word translation doesn't necessarily convey the phrase's intended meaning in social/literary context.
  2. How much more inaccurate is this claim when this particular word is so rare in ancient literature that Origen could suggest that Matthew and Luke (or Jesus?) coined the word.
  3. It is true that quite a few early commentators interpreted this request in an eschatological way - bread for tomorrow = spiritual bread = foretaste of heaven. But we must be careful with early church exegesis. Sometimes early church commentators can claim a spiritual/eschatological meaning of the text without necessarily denying its immediate literal meaning. See Paul's discussion of Oxen in 1Corinthians 9 as an example.
  4. The Lord's Prayer becomes a very limited prayer if 'daily bread' is interpreted spiritually. It becomes: "God be praised. God's kingdom come. God sustain us spiritually, restore us spiritually and protect us spiritually. Amen". It's possible, but it feels a little narrow.
  5. The prayer is otherwise quite prosaic. It is strange to find a slightly obtuse metaphor in the middle of it.
  6. Eschatological bread is not a really explicit and dominant theme in either Matthew or Luke.
  7. The spiritual importance of daily provisions as we serve God in this life is a dominant concern in Matthew and Luke.


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A believable fiction tale of conversion from Tim Winton

Eyrie is the first Tim Winton book I've read in a while. It's great for lots of reasons. Here's one of them.

I've always felt that portraying religious conversion positively is difficult to do in modern Western fiction. Cultish conversion or hypocritical conversion or tacky conversion: yes. But the kind of genuine and noble conversion that I see and recognise from my own Christian experience: I rarely see it done well.

So I admired this passage:

Forty years of hurt and bafflement and not once had he heard the man [Wally] offer a harsh word about his [the main character, Keely's] father.

He'd only been a boy when things went wobbly between Wally and Nev. In the days when most tradesmen were happy to work for the council or a government works department they'd gone into business together, made a go of it on their own. Just a pair of working-class blokes, they were, but they went hard at it, balls to the wall, and had begun to make some headway. Before Billy Graham and his groupies showed up. Before Nev and Doris went all 'different'. Before Wal was left holding the rag. By all accounts the divergences hadn't been gradual. Not that it was acrimonious, just bewildering. For the Keelys it was a sudden, radical shift, a total explosion of reality. Happened to lots of people those years, often only a momentary enthusiasm, but for Nev and Doris it was deep and lasting. In the wake of their religious conversion they were fundamentally realigned. And even for Wal, who bore the brunt, whose life was overturned in a manner less joyous, it was impressive — even frightening — to witness.

Nev did nothing in half measures. He was an all-out, open-throttle bloke, and in one blinding 'Just As I Am' moment he was letting the dead bury their dead. And the partnership, if not the friendship, was chaff to the winds. He just walked from the business and went out saving souls with Doris. No one could blame Wally for feeling bitter, not after what it cost him to save things singlehandedly and press on. Said it was twice the work and half the fun. He'd survived financially, but without his mate in it with him it was suddenly just work. Nev was lost to Christ. Yet by some miracle of agnostic tolerance the friendship endured. And even if Wal's teeth were gritted he did his best to give Nev his profane and tender blessing....

Oh, the sight of Wal in church. The only time he ever came. Staring up at Nev in the pulpit. Wal's face blank and closed like the ex at the wedding. That's how he'd looked at the graveside, too. Like a man spurned all over again." (p. 121–122)



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Re-post: Unfair eschatology (from 2007)

Simplifications are necessary, but sometimes unfair. A couple of simplifications in the area of eschatology have started to annoy me more and more:

1. Dismissing all premillenialism as pre-tribulational premill

It's not fair to oversimplify all premills as people who believe in literal fulfillment of promises regarding Israel, a rapture and so on. It's unfair on early church writers, it's unfair on many modern-day Christians.

Go ye to wikipedia and learn the important difference between pretrib premills (the rapture gang) and posttrib premills: millenial views diagram.


2. Dismissing all belief in a personal antichrist as premill

In certain amillenialist circles, the belief in a personal antichrist and a final tribulation is also lumped in, along with the rapture and the literal reestablishment of Israel with premillenialism. Not fair.

Some amills interpret the antichrist passages symbolically (somewhat difficult when it comes to 2Thess 2, but they do). But some amills believe both that we are in the 1000 years now, where there are many antichrists and ongoing tribulation and yet there will also be a personal antichrist and final tribulation.



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Getting from the Old Testament to the New Part 3: discovering and testing possible ‘typology’

Part 1: Putting things in historical order

Part 2: Resolving contradictions

It is sometimes hard to read and understand the Old Testament as Christians. Which means it is also hard to preach and teach the Old Testament, and difficult to answer questions from sceptics about the Old Testament.

The overall idea of biblical theology is very help in this: seeing how the Bible is one book, with one great theme; one big story, with a climax in Christ, his work and its fulfillment. Books like According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy, and teaching content like Strand 2 at National Training Event is so brilliant.

But the details of working from particular passages from the Old Testament remains obscure even to those who have mastered the basics of biblical theology. And so we can fall into two errors:

  1. Every passage gets forced into a simplistic mold, sapped of any unique insight, flattened out. Preaching on the Old Testament becomes an odd exercise in expounding the text and then ignoring it in a clumsy jump to the gospel.
  2. The overall framework is used to justify the move to the New Testament, without taking the time to see how this movement is implicit in the Old Testament texts themselves. As a result to sceptical hearers this move appears strained or even irresponsible.

This little series is my attempt to give more detail to this move, in a way that can be concretely applied to particular texts.

Discovering and testing possible 'typology'

God's dealings in history follow certain patterns for a several reasons:

  • out of mere 'coincidence'

  • because God is the same and people are the same, similar things will happen

  • through deliberate stylistic composition by scriptural authors

  • because God is foreshadowing his final plans in the gospel.

Our God and Father in his wisdom actually uses all four of these in various ways to make his Word into one united book with one grand story that reaches its climax in the death and resurrection in Jesus Christ.

Because of this, these patterns are not merely repititions or analogies but in addition:

  • the final pattern (in Christ) is greater and fuller than others
  • the earlier pattern in God's design are deliberate pointers to the final pattern

This is an exciting thing to begin to see in Scripture. It helps us make sense of the ways the New Testament quotes the Old Testament — those quotes that at first seems bizarre and out of context. It also opens up the Old Testament to us in new and exciting ways.

But we need to be careful with this. Without care and caution, all sorts of weird and wonderful interpretations can run free. Or perhaps more likely, all sorts of stretched, unconvincing, overly confident claims of biblical theology get made, which make the Old Testament just feel like a launch pad to jump off into the New Testament.

So my final acronym in this series: FULFILMENTS

How does this particular passage/episide Function in the kingdom?

Do you your historical and grammatical exegesis first: understand what the passage actually says and means.

Then place it within the larger biblical canon: how does this passage figure in the larger redemption-history of the Bible? Is it showing how the Messiah is appointed in Israel? Or the failure of the sacrificial system? Or the effects of the Fall?

This first step forces you to make sure you are focussing on the points of exegetical, historical and theological significant in the passage, not incidentals.

Is something shown to be of ultimate Unimportance that might suggest that it is symbolic of a greater reality?

Passages which reinforce the imperfection and temporary nature of Old Testament people, events and institutions provide a hint that these things should be considered symbolic of a greater reality.

When Solomon prays that the LORD cannot be contained by a human temple in 1Kings 8, we are shown that the temple and its consecretation are patterns of a greater reality.

What are other passages Like this one?

Building a theory about an Old Testament type based on your interpretation of a single passage is risky business. So apply the 'analogy of Scripture' to your biblical theology.

And if God's salvation history works in patterns, we should expect to find other examples of the same thing: whether or virgin births, suffering of the innocent before the dawn of salvation, God dwelling with his people, the scattering of judgment or whatever else.

These like passages may not always be identical in every particular, but the lartger shape of them will be similar.

Is God's salvation Future described in terms of this passage?

This is one of the greatest clue that something is to be seen as a prophetic 'type': if it gets used that way within the Old Testament itself.

So when the Old Testament talks about the future salvation in terms of exodus, miraculous birth, Jubliee or building of a temple, you are being shown that these things anticipated God's great purposes.

Does the passage explain it is Intentionally symbolic?

Another great clue, is if the passage itself says that what it is describing is symbolic. The crowning of Joshua the priest in Zechariah 6 is an example of this, so also, as Hebrews points out, is the instructions to Moses to build the tabernacle according to what is shown him on the mountain.

What Links does this passage have with parallel themes in biblical theology?

To fill out the picture, it can be helpful to see how there are other interlocking themes that help use understand God's larger purposes in salvation history. 

For example: connecting Sabbath, creation, promised land and Old Testament festival together, or connecting together prophets, priests, kings and God's rulership of Israel.

Is this passage Mentioned in the New Testament?

You theological interpretation will be greatly helped if the New Testament explicitly quotes your passage, unless of course the quote is more illustrative (Jesus' reference to 'Solomon in all his splendour' in the Sermon on the Mount). So our reading of Psalm 8 is helped by Hebrews 2, for example.

Even if your specific passage isn't discussed in the New Testament, perhaps a 'like passage' or even a 'parallel theme' (as mentioned above) is, and this will be some help to you.

Is there an External fulfilment to this passage in the life of Jesus or the early church?

Now we come to the 4 ways in which an Old Testament passage finds its fulfilment in the New Testament.

The first of these is not always present, but features often enought that it is worth noting. Occasionally a gospel (or Acts) will declare someting in the life of Jesus or the early church to fulfil the Old Testament, in what can best be described as a external, anticipatory way. The very same event will later be said by other passages to be fulfilled in the other three ways mentioned below.

So for example, when Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt and then return to Judaea, we are told that this fulfills Hosea 12: 'out of Israel I called my Son'. Or the triumphant entry of Jesus matching the specific detail of 'riding on a colt' as Zechariah 9 is just one part of his much greater 'coming'.

On the other hand, there are a handful of Old Testament passages which seem most obviously fulfilled in the life of Jesus: such as the virgin birth and the betrayal of Judas. Even though these patterns seem mostly fulfilled in this 'external fulfillment' step, look to see if their larger siginificance is found in the subsequent steps below. 

What is the Nisan fulfilment?

Nisan is the month of the Passover/Easter. So this is just my creative way of saying 'How does Jesus' death and resurrection fulfill the Old Testament promise?' in a way that works with the acronym.

Even those passages which most explicitly 

How is this pattern fulfilled in the lives of those who Trust in Jesus?

How does the Holy Spirit apply to our lives and experience, as Christians, the realities and fulfilment of the Old Testament pattern?

Or how do we get caught up in the same rejection from the world that the Messiah experienced?

How are these things ultimately fulfilled in the events surrounding the Second coming?

Jesus redeems us in his death, we are redeemed when we put our faith in him, but we also await the redemption of our bodies, as Romans 8 reminds us.

Jesus was opposed by the raging nations in his crucifixion, the church experience that same opposition and the final Antichrist manifests this opposition in a climactic way.



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Re-post: Is Richard Dawkins right that ‘pantheism is just sexed-up athetis’? (from 2007)

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Bantam: London, 2006

"Pantheists don't believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings. Deists differ from theists in that their God does not answer prayers, is not interested in sins or confessions, does not read our thoughts and does not intervene with capricious miracles. Deists differ from pantheists in that the desit God is some kind of cosmic intelligence, rather than the pantheist's metaphoric or poetic synonym for the laws of the universe. Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism.... Einstein was using 'God' in a purely metaphorical, poetic sense. So is Stephen Hawking, and so are most of those physicists who occasionally slip into the language of religious metaphor." (pp. 18-19)

Some thoughts:

A helpful corrective for scientists. Dawkins avoids using 'God' in this sense, and considers it confusing and politically expedient. He has a point. Francis Schaeffer warns of the same thing is liberal Christian theology, where people who have basically denied the existence of God continue to use God-language in order to smuggle in greater emotional and spiritual significance to their otherwise-atheism.
It is not fair to say that all pantheism is merely sexed-up atheism. I can think of at least four ways that this comment could be engaged with:

  1. Some atheists use pantheistic language, and mean nothing by it, as Dawkins suggests. At worst, they are doing this is a politically expedient way, for which his derision is perhaps justified. Such pantheists are really de facto atheists.
  2. But properly speaking, pantheism is an ontological claim. It is the belief that there is a quality or value to the natural world that is more than the sum of its parts. There is something spiritual about the natural world. This is not merely sexed-up atheism, but a philosophical system.
  3. However, some atheists use pantheistic language because they truly want to say that there is something meaningful, valuable and significant about the natural world, while still denying a spiritual world. At times I feel that Dawkins wants to speak of good and evil with a force that really goes beyond his scientific naturalism. I think that this is because we do have an innate (not psychologically/biologically required) understanding that there is more to life than the merely physical. You could say that these atheists are de facto pantheists.
  4. But you could say that pantheism has no proper ground for its belief in a spiritual dimension to the created world. You could say that when taken to its logical conclusion any belief of supernatural value to the created world is intangible and meaningless. You could thus argue that intentionally or not, all pantheism is ultimately atheistic.


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What to look for in a financial report when you’re an arts graduate

I've been on some board or committee or another for most of my adult life (= most of my Christian life).

And for a decent chunk of time I just kind of tapped out of the financial report bit. I just didn't know what I was supposed to do with it. Was I meant to go through line by line and check the maths? I felt like Wayne looking at a contract in that scene from Wayne's World:

But my role on a committee or board is to be one of the eyes, minds and hearts that helps the ministry or organisation do what is smart, wise and good. I'm failing to fulfill that responsibility if I just give up at this point. 

So what should I look for? Four big things:

  1. Witnessing that the basics are done: on one level, I don't need to be self-conscious about not doing much when the financial reports come. Like a lot of formal things, like witnessing a contract, we are just making sure the bare minimum is done. So just be looking and seeing that our treasurer is keeping records and getting audits, I am protecting our ministry from basic incompetence and possible dishonesty.
  2. Checking we have more assets than liabilities: That's the balance sheet. I want to make sure we are not committed to paying more money (in debts and leave owing and things) than we have. In small ministries, we can get in particularly big trouble if our staff don't take their leave regularly for a long time. If they then left at short notice, the ministry could be crippled by a large leave payout, for example.
  3. Checking disproportionate expenses or income: This is what to look for in the Budget and the Profit and Loss sheets. Are we getting ridiculously less than your intuititon and experience says we should for certain activities or from certain supporters (like a campus ministry receiving little support from its graduates)? Are we spending more than we should on certain things (waterslides and chartered helicopters)? A board member can ask for more detail on these things to help the organisation be diligent with support raising and efficient and frugal with expenses.
  4. Making sure we can pay our bills for a few months: the normal rule of thumb is that we need to be able to pay our bills for 3 months, if we ran out of income tomorrow. This should probably be higher still if the organisation is dependent on only a couple of major donors.

That's what I've learned the hard way and from picking up bits and pieces of advice. Any other suggestions? If you are trained in finance, make sure you talk slowly and clearly for us arts grads :-P 



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Mirrors 16th December 2016



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