When a team grows to big to be everyone’s friend

Recently, the AFES Hobart staff team has grown outward and downward. I am direclty overseeing 5 staff, but there are 2 additional staff being overseen by our FOCUS team leader. Next year there will, God-willing be 2 MTS apprentices and another part-time staff in the mix.

What's been particularly different for me, is not particularly the number of people, but the layers: having staff one step removed from me, 'reporting' to someone else. I've been in that situation before with the FOCUS staff team, and it's always a bit different and a bit tricky. Why? Because I no longer have the same directly relational bond with the person one step removed.

This means that there is less affection and trust. It means that it is harder for us to be persuasive to each other in quite the same way, and easier for us to misunderstand, annoy or hurt each other. It's a little easier for them to not want to submit to my instructions and a little easier for me to be suspicious of a more distant team member.

Building relationship

Of course I need to go out of my way to invest in that relationship, being considerate, prayerful, interested. I aim to meet briefly, once a month with these staff, just to keep a point of connection.

It also makes the light chit chat when we cross paths, the interactions on email and SMS, and the time together in combined staff meetings all important. Time spent talking, chatting, reading the Bible and praying and eating corn chips is all important.

Letting go of the need to be liked

But at the same time, I need to make peace with the fact that part of growing the team, is moving away from needing a tight relational bond with everyone. I need to let go of that desire as well as the burden of guilt for not doing more. I need to be ok with the fact that I'm perceived as a bit more removed, and a bit more bossy and unapproachable or whatever. I need to not be driven by a need to be liked.

But I also need to make sure I lead in other ways which make up for the lack of close relationship.

Leading through vision, policy and character

I might no longer have the same relational pull, but I can possibly have an even stronger influence in setting a clear vision and set of priorities. Perhaps those team members closer to me might zone out when I set vision: they know who I am, and they are following me, not some vision statement. But those who are less close to me rely a bit more on a clear sense of what we stand for and where we're going.

Likewise, clear policies about expectations and freedoms and communication need to be spelled out and consistently applied. I need to not 'punish' team members for appealing to these policies, as if that somehow shows they are not Really On Board.

Crucial here is also my own character and conduct. In my speech, actions, consistency and integrity, I will need to strive to lead the whole team not based on my rapport with personalities, but instead based on alignment with our vision and fair application of our policies. My team needs me to be a just, merciful, faithful and kind leader, so that they don't miss out through favouritism or sloppiness.

Leading through other leaders

Laslty, I need to give responsibility to build team ownership and rapport to those staff who are leading other staff. They now have the job of providing relational glue. I need to teach and train and encourage them to invest in that, as this might be a new job that they have not consciously recognised.

I need to support their decisions, and allow them freedom to lead. Of course I need to hold them accountable to the vision, to our policies and to their own conduct. But I want to beware of undermining them. I also need to help their staff resolve issues with their immediate team leaders wherever possible, rather than relying on me always stepping in.

 And finally, I need to ask for a greater degree of communication from these team leaders, I want them to report to me not only on their own work, but also on the progress of the whole team.



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Mirrors 22nd September 2017

  1. Sandy Grant's lecture on Same Sex Marriage
  2. Lol!... but also an admission of a failure to listen.
  3. A conservative Roman Catholic discussion of Game Of Thrones with more substance than suspiciously Freudian tut-tutting 
  4. Survey finds even atheists consider fellow atheists less moral. 
  5. Why is the Knights Templar? 
  6. Haven’t followed Jordan Peterson before. Seems like an interesting character


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We need a Venn Diagram for family, home, marriage and legal significant other

I've already blogged on this before here.

Family is a powerful value-word. It features in discussions about 'normal' and 'non-traditional' families—are they all equally 'family' and are they equal in every way? But it also features in church contexts: where we (over)load the spiritual family of the church with all sorts of expectations, measures and ideals. Inded the idea even spills over into corporate and nationalistic settings.

What happens with a lot of our discussion is that a series of words, often with several different meanings and overtones for the same word, all get blurred together. So that we have far too much fuzziness in our thinking about how the following are the same and different, or necessarily required by each other:

  • Family—blood relations and natural children.
  • Legal family—legally incorporating others into your family through marriage and adoption.
  • Home—a group of people who accept, care and live together with a range of pledges of loyalty to each other and the permanency of that home.
  • Legal significant other—be the person who has significant legal rights in relation to another.
  • Marriage—union to express sexual love, start a family (both as a union and through having children), found a home and be the lifelong legal significant other.

But these aren't all the same, and don't necessarily all go together:

  • The church is a metaphorical 'family' in a way that doesn't over-rule our blood relationships or potential sexual attractions.
  • A spouse is not family in quite the same way that a brother is. How much more a mother-in-law. 
  • An adopted child is not family in quite the same way that either a spouse or a natural child is. 
  • An immediate blood family, or even a marriage union sadly doesn't always found a stable home.
  • An adult child is not bound to the home of their birth family in quite the same way that the husband and wife are.
  • Different cultures and individual families include a smaller or larger circle of blood relatives into their home.
  • A marriage might not always successful in giving birth to children.
  • I might choose to make someone other than my blood relatives or spouse my significant other for all sorts of various reasons.

But what is striking is that 'family' and 'marriage' carries with it an expectation of permanence and obligation on some level. A very serious act of 'disowning' or 'divorcing' needs to be done to completely break a family or marriage bond in a way that few other social ties require.



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Mirrors 15th September 2017

  1. Does Christianity Oppose Reason? My recent sermon/lecture at Uni Fellowship of Christians.
  2. What can we learn from the Puritans? by Sinclair Ferguson 
  3. If Catholics tended to emphasise procreation & Lutherans preventing immorality, Puritans emphasised companionship
  4. My sermons from the Launceston Men’s Bible Conference. The 3rd one should be called “What’s God’s Plan for My Life?” 
  5. A very helpful series on bullying among church staff. (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4)


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Mirrors 25th August 2017

  1. Have You Found Truth? my first sermon from the @CBS_UNSW mission last week 
  2. How do you talk about answers to prayer in an evangelistic sermon? My 2nd sermon from @CBS_UNSW mission
  3. This post misleadingly implies Xn ethics is just a matter of ‘opinion’, rather than grounded in the Bible text. But it is also revealing of the authority for author’s own ethics: ‘My experience says otherwise’.
  4. Women’s, black, queer studies—you name the sub-group & it'll have an academic discipline devoted to it. This is not to say that many of these topics do not touch on legitimate objects of study. This partitioning of the humanities is significant, b/c it reflects & reinforces the divisions in which everything is now political. It puts students in silos where they're not inconvenienced by the need to listen (as opposed to critique & dismiss) alternative opinions. Carl Trueman on American university administrators.
  5. Tim Keller and Michael Keller on campus ministry. Check out the link at the end of the article to Parts 2–4 of the same series.


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Levels of agreement with fellow Christians on political matters

It's tricky when Christians speak up in public, especially if they experience opposition... because I want to stand side by side with my fellow believers. My instinct is to stand with them, even if I don't fully agree with them, rather than throw them under the bus for not saying things quite the way I would. But then again, I often DON'T agree with what they are saying or how they are saying it.

So I try to filter the different levels of agreement and disagreement I might have with fellow believers. This helps me in my thinking and my explaining. And allows me to stand with my brothers and sisters without compromising my own convictions on secondary matters:

  1. Spiritually, I agree with my brothers and sisters in Christ on our faith in Christ. I can accept someone as a fellow believer, even if I disagree with them quite strongly on their actions and opinions in other ways.
  2. Ethically, I usually agree with them on the moral principals in God's Word. There are some points where fellow Christians may see something as a black and white moral issue, but I perceive it to be an area of conscience and wisdom. This is especially the case when we are extrapolating from the explicit words of Scripture.
  3. When it comes to political theory, we might disagree on the best form of government. Of course some believers are very strongly convinced that a small government free market democratic approach to politics is grounded in the Bible, so that it is really a matter of ethics. But then again others have a higher view of monarchy or socialism. Personally I am not convinced by those who advocate fiercely for one politicl theory as necesarily Christian.
  4. Even if I DO agree broadly with the political theory of my fellow believer, we may not agree on a particular public policy. Public policies are almost always the combination of ethical principles and practical considerations. This means that we might dial in our ethical ideals at various points. Almost always public policies will have positive and harmful direct and indirect effects. This leads to a range of different possible views amongst Christians.
  5. Which priority we give to various ethical and policy issues is a matter of strategic agreement. Our reading of what the burning issue of the moment is, and what is the gateway issue, or front line of battle is influenced by many complex factors. As a result we may differ on this reading, and differ on our person sense of responsibility to rally to a particular issue.
  6. This then leads on to the particular part we see ourselves as playing in the broader public discusission. This is a matter of role agreement. Often Christians speak about 'What WE should be emphasising right now', as if there is only one possible conversation that can be had at any one time. This is a very simplistic way of looking at things: a narrowly public relations journalistic/political view. The reality is that there are a range of different roles and perspectives and levels of conversation that all going on concurrently and in a complementary manner. For example, a lobbyist speaks more bluntly and polemically than a social worker.
  7. I may agree with a fellow believer on all of the above maters, but not like the way they say things. There is a matter of rhetorical agreement: "You're not WRONG... you're just being RUDE" might be our thought.

It's tricky isn't it? And what's especially tricky is when the critic of Christianity OR the zealous Christian activist blurs these all together:

"If you stand for the gospel, you will hold to these ethical issues, which means you will have this political outlook, agree with these public policies, and their current importance and so you will speak for them in this particular way"

Hardly.



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Should Christian Unions Be More Holistic in Engaging with the University?

Arthur Davis sent me a link to a really intriguing article he wrote about the future of campus ministry, that we then read as a staff meeting here in Hobart.

It spells out ways that we can round out our campus ministries to be more effective in all four of the following modes:

1. Evangelism

2. Piety

3. Apologetics and

4. Dialgoue

Historically here in Australia, Arthur says, we are strong on the first three, but not so much on the fourth—unless it is a debate or a ‘dialogue meeting’, where the focus remains maining apologetics and evangelism. He is pushing in this article for us to think more about how we can genuinely contrbute to the life of the university, not merely as outsider missionaries coming in to train and to preach, but as citizens of the community, seeking to enrich the whole academic endeavour and formation of university students.

Arthur sees the ministry of the Simeon Network in Australia, connecting Christian academics to think deeply about how their faith informs their research as an example of this.

What I like

I like the desire for holism. Evangelism should be more than the thin, fundamentalist type of preaching. Discipleship should be more than being accountable about pornography use and daily quiet times. Training should be more than how to share you faith and run a Bible study.

I also agree that we want Christian groups that exist as part of the larger university community and are good and engaged citizens of that community. This is why I favour Christian Unions over uni churches doing evangelism to uni students. A Christian Union is able to be more deliberately and demonstrably committed to the university. They exist for the sake of the uni, whereas uni churches can sometimes seem to have a slightly more mercenary relationship: we are merely coming on to campus to save souls and scoop up potential congregation members.

I like the outlook that sees graduates as a third part of campus ministry. Graduates from Chrsitian Unions should not simply be seen as a recruiting ground for apprenticeships and a support raising base. Christian Unions are well positioned to keep investing at that high university-educated level into the gradutes from the ministry as they go into their working lives. Even if we can't do heaps in this area, it seems fitting that we should do something... or work closely with groups like City Bible Forum and Simeon Network who can pick up where we left off.

What I’m cautious about

1. There is a limiation to how many events and programs we can run: the reality is, there are only so many events we can fit into our calendar, only so many things we can organise, promote, run, and follow up. Given the limited time and energy we have, I am convinced that the main focus for Christian groups should be evangelism and leadership training, rather than holistic worldview interaction. It’s not that we shouldn’t seek to do this, but just that it can’t be our main emphasis.

2. You don’t need a new event, program or publication for every distinct thing: the lazy way to fix a perceived lack is to start something new—a new conference, event or website that will focus on the lacking area. And so it might seem like the positive response to Arthur’s article is to start new events that facilitate more of the dialogic engagemenet with the university. And the risk is that this takes too much time and energy to be sustainable.

However there are two other solutions which I try to work out in our local ministry and which are more efficient:

a) Weave holistic integration into the existing programs: Chrsitian Union meetings, missions, debates and dinners are all contributions to the life of the university. They are all para-univeristy structures, just like the Philosophy Club or the Alumi Keynote or the Residential College Tutorial Program. The best Christian Union evangelism and discipleship is academically deep and stimulating and so ticks all 4 boxes.

b) Encourage Christians to engage with the structures of the university itself: we don’t need new programs, new lectures, new publications. We can keep encouraging journalist students to be invovled with the student newspaper, politics students to weigh into student politics, high achievers to engage in various Dean’s List programs, residential students to connect with that community.

3. There is a limitation to how open Australian academics are to new networks: I am also delighted to see the growth of the Simeon Network, and hopeful that it will go from strength to strength. But my limited experience of interacting with Chrsitian academics, as well as the bits and pieces I hear from other campus pastors, is that they don’t all have the energy of inclination to invest in a new program.

These are busy people with lots of commitments. And some of them go to thoughtful churches that serve them well in their efforts to integrate their research with their faith. They are engaged in ministry through their local church or other networks they are engaged in. Not all academics are necessarily interested in taking on a new commitment to meet, write and present to a Christian academic forum, nor to mentor young Christians in their field.

Perhaps in places like Tanzania, where Arthur is, where there are a higher percentage of Christians in the universities faculties, there will be larger numbers overall that make this kind of stuff bigger and more vibrant. But as with other cautions in this post, I don’t want to tie holistic Christianity to ‘programs, events and publications committed to holistic Christianity’.

4. Participation and Dialogue is Massively Time Consuming and Minimally Effective

In so many areas, it is true that more time talking, listening, eating and laughing woudl build connection and respect and understanding. This is true for families, staff teams, neighbourhoods, members of different political factions, staff and students, different nationalities, different religious groups. We could spend all our free time building rapport and connecting and understanding. It’s a nice idea. But it doesn’t in the end achieve much. And it takes heaps of time and resources to organise. It’s idealistic and after a while, exhausting.

Surely there’s a better way? Surely we can weave a stance of relationship building into productive activities. Can we take the time to listen and connect and love as we go about our business?

  • Rather than set up staff-and-student morning teas, take the time to chit chat before and after class?
  • Rather than set up getting-to-know-you meetings with other student societies, go and talk to them when they have stalls set up around the campus, and be friendly with those posted near you at O Week markets.
  • Rather than hosting inter-religious dialogues, ask for their input when you are going to prepare teaching and training on topics related to their beliefs, or listen to members of those religions when they attend your events.


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Mirrors 11th August 2017

You know what? I don't think I've done a Mirrors roundup post for 2 months! Sorry about that!

  1. Josh "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" Harris is doing a documentary on what went wrong with this book and its effects.
  2. The Da Vinci Code, Feminist theology, art history and Opus Dei: 3 fun lectures from University of Calgary
  3. As a matter of fact this University of Calgary Centre for Christian Thought has heaps of great stuff
  4. "Big shoutout to Tom Pugh" for giving Stephen McAlpine's blog a makeover.
  5. I don't agree w/ Moody's (or even author Atwood's) reading of the story. It's best as a critique of the Taliban IMO. 
  6. This article sees the connections between the Handmaid's Tale and Saudi Arabia.
  7. I  don’t 100% agree with everything here but I like @nm_campbell’s dismantling of the wacky end of anti-ABC sentiment
  8. Key to being President of the USA? George Dubya says 'humility'. Great convo between Clinton and Bush Jnr.
  9. Super helpful series of articles on how to make the church safer for victims of domestic and family violence
  10. I listened to this a bit getting in the zone for @CBS_NSW mission Have You Found Truth? I acutally spoke at this week.
  11. New series of @HomecomingShow by @Gimletmedia off to an amazing start!!! Nice to hear Colin getting a taste of his own medicine...
  12. Church order, persecution, heresy and mission. my first sermon-lecture in our Origins: History of Christianity series.
  13. Deeeep thoughts on both Harry Potter and the iPhone. When Mohler is good, he's really good.


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Learning How and Why Well Meaning People Get Things Wrong

The Julia Baird article and susequent discussions about Domestic Violence and how they can manifest in Christian relationships and poorly dealth with in Christian circles has been a distressing but welcome thing. It shows how the Bible can be twisted and misunderstood and so it helps us think more carefully how we explain and apply the Bible. It also shows how people can be listened to poorly and given extremely bad advice. And these failures can have disastrous effects.

A difficulty I have in reading about these things is that I can’t easily see myself or my church communities in the descriptions. I am told that it happens and that churches are often doing a bad job in this area… but I sometimes struggle to see how it ends up happening and how churches do a bad job in a way that I can easily relate to and improve on.

This is where I have found it super helpful to hear the ways in which friends, family and church leaders get things wrong. It is really enlightening and troubling to hear what they thought they were doing and why they got things so wrong, even when they meant well. Then I see how I could make the exact same mistakes. As long as I think church leaders "Out There" are heartless sexists who are somehow eager to promote domestic violence, I won’t know if there’s anything I can do better. Becuase if I sincerely seek to be compassionate, respectful of women and if I am eager to stop domestic violence. It remains a problem for someone else Out There, not for me.

But I have found it eye-opening to hear what kinds of misunderstandings can lead even very well-intentioned family, friends and church leaders to give terrible advice and accidentally protect abusers and make victims feel unsupported, trapped and even blamed.

Some of the things I am learning:

  • It is so important to understand how charming and persuasive abusers can appear to those outside of the privacy of the family home. There might be other tell-tale signs of the possibility of abuse, but they are subtle unless we know what to look for.
  • The abuse can make the victim unsure of themselves, and so we might not perceive them to be reliable. In fact the abusive partner may even do things to enhance this perception.
  • The victim might have doubts about whether or not they are being abused, and worried about whether they’ll be believed, and so they might actually downlplay the severity of the problem.
  • A vicitm of abuse is often isolated by their partner, and so the kind of continuity of contact that we normally rely on to build trust and facilitate support and counselling might be lacking. We might need to be more proactive than we are used to being.
  • The way we teach in putblic and talk and counsel in informal settings can easily be misheard. Things we might mean in a ‘softer’ way, may have a ‘harder’ meaning within the rhetoric of abuse.

In part this underscores the fact that we need to hear many different types of stories: both the stories of victims and the stories of those who have failed to support victims and are honestly repenting and seeking to do better.



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Odd chapter and verse divisions in the Bible: I wish this WAS how it happened

[Stephanus’] fourth edition (1551) is possibly even more significant as it is the first edition of the Greek New Testament that divides the text into verses. Until then, the text has been printed all toegether, with no indication of verse division. There’s an amusing anecdote associated with how Stephanus did his work for this edition. His son later reported that Stephanus had decided on hius verse divisions (most of which are retained for us in our English translations) while making a journey on horseback. Undoubtedly he meant that his father was ‘working on the road’—that is, that he entered verse numbers in the evenings at the inns in which he was staying. But since his son literally says that Stephanus made these changes ‘while on horseback’, some wry observers have suggested that he actually did his work in transit, so that whenever his horse hit an unexpected bump, Stephanus’s pen jumped, accounting for some rather odd verse placements that we still find in our English translations of the New Testament

Bart Ehrmann, isquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York: HarperOne, 2005), 80.



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The evolution of Modern Islamic views on The Crusades

I've been reading The New Concise History of the Crusades (Lanham: Roman and Littlefield, 2006) by modern mediaeval expert Thomas F. Madden. It's a very readable, popular-level book, drawing on his expertise in this area.

His final chapter and conclusion are fascinating, how the remembering and retelling of history changes over time... and in the process distorts history.

For a long time the Western world saw the Crusades and a good thing

Until the last 70 years or so, much of the reflection of the Crusades was positive. It was a noble and glorious cause. As a result, 'crusade' had the overtones of a "grand and glorious campaign for a morally just goal" (215).

Bringing civilisation through the process of colonialisation and the Great War were both portrayed as glorious Crusades. In fact the the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after Wolrd War I was seen as the final chapter of the Crusades.

The Western, anti-religious and anti-colonial revisions of the Crusades

From the Enlightenment into the 19th Century, the Crusades began to be seen by some intellectuals as a horrible example of senseless, intolerant religious war. Saladin was portrayed as a wonderfully chivalrous leader whose sophisticated civilisation was brutalised by the Crusaders. 

Marxism likewise provided a new lense through which to examine the Crusades: they were simply an early, imperialistic land-grab.

The historical evidence, as weighed by Madden, do not justify either of these secularist readings of the motivations of the Crusaders or the cultural realities of the Crusades. They are more anachronistic re-readings than accurate, contextual explanations.

The Crusades were not an important thing for the Muslim world until the 19th and 20th centuries

The simple fact is that the crusades were virtually unknown in the Muslim world even a century ago.... Westerners may be surprised to learn that Muslims int he Middle East have only recently learned of the crusades.... It must be remembered that although the crusades were of momumental important to Europeans, they were a very minor, largely insignificant thin to the Muslim world. (217–218)

It seems that knowledge of the Crusades was introduced to the Middle East by colonialism, to show how Western imperialism was a good thing for the Middle East... and that kind of backfired :-P

Once the Western world began to critique colonialism and revise and critique the history of the Crusades in the second half of the 20th Century:


 Arab nationalists and Islamists agreed fully with this interpretation of the crusades. Poverty, corruption and violence in the Middle East were said to be the lingering effects of the crusades and subsequent European imperialism. The Muslim world had failed to keep up with the West because it had been dealt a debilitating blow by the crusaders, a blow that was repeated by their European descendents in the nineteenth century. (220)

 

The reality of the Crusades vs the modern re-tellings

But Madden asserts that this just does not reflect the historical reality:

Scholars have long argued that the crusades had no beneficial effect on Europe's economy. Indeed, they constituted a massive drain on resources. The rise of population and wealth in Europe predated the crusades, indeed allowed them to happen at all. Rather than decadent or 'assaulted on all sides' the Muslim world was growing to ever new heights of power and prosperity after the destruction of the crusader states in 1291. It was the Muslim world, under the rule of the Ottoman sultans, that would invade western Europe, seriousyl threatening the survival of the last remnant of Christendom. The crusades contributed nothing to the decline of the Muslim world. Indeed, they are evidence of the decline of the Christian West, which was forced to mount these desparate expeditions to defend against ever expanding Muslim empires. (221–222)

And in reflection on the use of the Crusades in some modern Muslim rhetoric:

It is not the crusades, then, that led to the attacked of September 11, but the artificial memory of the crusades constructed by modern colonial powers and passed down by Arab nationalists and Islamists. They stripped the medieval expeditions of every aspect of their age and dressed them up instead in the tattered rags of nineteenth-century imperialism. As such, they have become an icon for modern agendas that medieval Christians and Muslims could scarcely have understood, let alone condoned. (222)



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The ‘literary and linguistic miracle’ of the Qur’an?

I attended a Christian-Muslim debate last night at UTAS last night between Samuel Green and Sheikh Wesam Charkawi. The Sheikh made much of the literary and linguistic miracle of the Qur'an.

I was left pondering how one could really falsify this assertion. The Sheikh didn't really give objective measures by which one could assess whether or not the Qur'an's 'perfection' had been matched or not.

And as soon as such measures were articulated, surely then matching the Qur'an's perfection becomes a matter of colour-by-numbers.

So either the assertion is unfalsifiable... or false.

One of his proofs was a quote from E. H. Palmer's introduction to the Qur'an:

"That the best of Arab writers has never succeeded in producing anything equal in merit to the Qur′ân itself is not surprising."

Although the quote in context actually makes a similar point to my post:

"That the best of Arab writers has never succeeded in producing anything equal in merit to the Qur′ân itself is not surprising. In the first place, they have agreed beforehand that it is unapproachable, and they have adopted its style as the perfect standard; any deviation from it therefore must of necessity be a defect. Again, with them this style is not spontaneous as with Mohammed and his contemporaries, but is as artificial as though Englishmen should still continue to follow Chaucer as their model, in spite of the changes which their language has undergone. With the prophet the style was natural, and the words were those used in every-day ordinary life, while with the later Arabic authors the style is imitative and the ancient words are introduced as a literary embellishment. The natural consequence is that their attempts look laboured and unreal by the side of his impromptu and forcible eloquence."



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Constantine Christianity Conspiracy: amazing how little evidence there really is

We are doing a series on the history of Christianity at the UTAS Christian Union. As much as time and energy allows, I am trying to engage with some primary sources, rather than just Wikipedia pages and general 'introduction to church history' texts.

At our first 'Citywide Gathering' we did the topic 'Did the Early Church Invent Christianity?'. As a part of that I read a bunch of theories claiming that Constantine basically created Christianity as we know it today in 325AD, suppressing the more diverse and pagan Christian spiritualities of the previous centuries and burning their texts en masse.

So I read every extant primary source related to the Council of Nicaea. And was bowled over just how little evidence there is for these theories. At all. For theories that are so widely reported and repeated in various ways, there is basically nothing at all. It's all an exercise in speculative reading between the lines. It genuinely is a paranoid conspiracy theory of the 'the 1969 moon landing never happened' or 'the American government did 9/11' or 'the world is ruled by Illuminati lizard men' variety.

I mean Constantine didn't really even get the theological issues at stake. He tried to get both sides of the Arian Controversy to kiss and make up and just stop talking about it. And even after Nicaea he kinda changed his mind and started supporting the Arians more than the Nicaeans.

Amazing.

There are some objections to Christianity that really tie us in knots a bit. This isn't one of them.



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Millennial Missionaries: selfish and superficial? Or sacrificial with better haircuts?

Have you seen this yet? It's pretty funny:

 


And no doubt there is that strand of self-absorbed and materialistic millennial attitude and behaviour. What is especially powerful about this video is how it cunningly exposes the power of buzz words to manipulate and justify our actions. As long as you string together the right God-words you can mask the most repulsive wordliness. I've seen this not just among the young and trendy, but also among the pompous traditionalists.

BUT. I also feel uneasy about this video  It's funny... but I could imagine this is how an older missionary perceives many millennials... when it's really a matter of much more superficial differences: 

  • A millennial might dress more stylishly. Their clothes may not cost more than the missionary of a previous generation... and yet the older missionary is suspicious.
  • A millennial might take the time to appreciate and enjoy the environment they find themselves in, in good conscience... where the older missionary mainly talks about missing vegemite.
  • A millennial might talk about their feelings, pleasures and preferences in good conscience... where the older missionary thinks it's more discreet to not mention such things.
  • A millennial might question, challenge and reject pointlessly burdensome patterns of missionary behaviour and expectation that don't serve the cause of the gospel, but have just become normal. 


But the millennial missionary may well work just as hard, sacrifice just as much. What seems like cutting and penetrating critique, might just be resentment and predjudice.

I have often heard sneering and judgmental comments about 'trendy urban church planters with their lattes'. And knowing many hardworking and pious urban church planters in our Australian cities, this really does indeed betray exactly this kind of very shallow judgmentalism. Anyone who fancies that urban church planting is comfortable hasn't tried it. But sure, the coffee is better.



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Applying 1Corinthians 11:2–16 in the 16th century

Two interesting sections from John Calvin's commentary on 1Corinthians:

Regarding the covering of the head:

 Let us, however, bear in mind, that in this matter the error is merely in so far as decorum is violated, and the distinction of rank which God has established, is broken in upon. For we must not be so scrupulous as to look upon it as a criminal thing for a teacher to have a cap on his head, when addressing the people from the pulpit. Paul means nothing more than this — that it should appear that the man has authority, and that the woman is under subjection, and this is secured when the man uncovers his head in the view of the Church, though he should afterwards put on his cap again from fear of catching cold. In fine, the one rule to be observed here is το πρέπον — decorum If that is secured, Paul requires nothing farther.

Regarding verses 14–15:

"Doth not even nature itself..." He again sets forth nature as the mistress of decorum, and what was at that time in common use by universal consent and custom — even among the Greeks — he speaks of as being natural, for it was not always reckoned a disgrace for men to have long hair.  Historical records bear, that in all countries in ancient times, that is, in the first ages, men wore long hair. Hence also the poets, in speaking of the ancients, are accustomed to apply to them the common epithet of unshorn. It was not until a late period that barbers began to be employed at Rome — about the time of Africanus the elder. And at the time when Paul wrote these things, the practice of having the hair shorn had not yet come into use in the provinces of Gaul or in Germany. Nay more, it would have been reckoned an unseemly thing for men, no less than for women, to be shorn or shaven; but as in Greece it was reckoned all unbecoming thing for a man to allow his hair to grow long, so that those who did so were remarked as effeminate, he reckons as nature a custom that had come to be confirmed. 



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What should I call my book?

I'm about to submit a manuscript to Matthias Media, which God-willing they will publish. The working title has been 'Living Well', but I'd like to give them some ideas for a title and sub-title that is a little bit more explanatory and a lot more catchy. As you can see below, I haven't really advanced much further with my brainstorm. Can you help?

If your suggestion, or something very much like it, ends up getting used I'll send you a free copy of the book :-)

What's my book about? It is an ethics book exploring the topic:

  • How we hold together theologically the ideas of living well in God's good but fallen creation, with the commands to die to self and sacrifice for the sake of the gospel in these last days. 
  • It is also an exposition of Christian freedom as the framework that helps us make different decisions about how we might sacrifice good things for the cause of Christ.

Main title ideas

  • Living Well at the End of the World
  • Living Well While Dying for Christ
  • The Good Life of Dying for Christ
  • Live for the Kingdom
  • Joyful Sacrifice
  • Single Minded in a Complex World

Subtitle ideas

  • Living well in God’s world and making decisions in the last days
  • How do we live zealously for the kingdom while loving people and enjoying God’s creation?
  • Why it's really good and we're actually free to sacrifice for the sake of Christ

Some random words and ideas

  • Simple vs Complicated
  • Really Good Because it’s Really Real
  • Burnout vs Sellout 
  • Worldly
  • Wartime, lifeboats, cure
  • Sacrifice
  • Urgent
  • “Even Soldiers Get Icecreams Sometimes”


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Mirrors 9th June 2016

  1. "It's not life hacking [to get just get a Solution] but hacking being human." A very emotional and personal episode of the Startup Podcast about a startup founder juggling work and parenting.
  2. Reflecting on complementarianism and domestic violence.
  3. I try to squeeze a little bit of God into my rollerblading podcast occasionally. Listen at 6:13–7:15  for an example.
  4. A Gospel Coalition Australia article on Sgt. Peppers
  5. A far superior (but still critical) article on the perceived imbalances in Equip 2017 than the one in Eternity.
  6. Your church needs to be less stable
  7. Some tips on a welcoming mind-set and welcoming habits for a welcoming church.


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Gender differences, the Bible, the church, preaching, cultural forms and the workplace

There has been some heated discussion in response to a sermon by Carmelina Reid and a video segment at the recent Equip Women's Conference in Sydney. Two big points of contention were 1) the relevance of 1Corinthians 11 to appropriate Christian women's hair length today and 2) whether the Bible teaching about Eve being created to be a 'helper' to Adam should somehow affect the way women conduct themselves in the workplace. Seeing some of the reactions on Facebook, it seems to me that quite a few issues are raised here, that are worth exploring:

  1. We need to be careful, in a reaction against particular Bible teacher, that we aren't reacting against the Bible itself... or endorsing a unteachable heart in response to the Bible itself. In some of the reactions to the 1Corinthians 11 exposition, it seemed hard to distinguish how much people were reacting to the apostle Paul himself, and how much to Carmelina's exposition of his teaching. In a sense, the fact that God HAD said that hair length was at one time an appropriate expression of godliness should measure our reaction to what it may or may not mean for us today. For others some of the reaction, I suspect, would encourage a removed attitude to the Bible: if I don't like the sound of what it says, I should feed that intuitive reaction, rather than suspend it to be open to being changed by God's word.
  2. Love for our brothers and sisters in Christ should be preserved wherever possible when we disagree. This is hard when we strongly, emotionally disagree with someone else, especially when they are in a position of power or influence and we feel judged or rejected by them. There's nothing wrong with disagreeing strongly with each other. But something goes wrong if we drift quickly into a stance of anger, condescension, sneering and mockery. There might be points where we disagree so significantly that we cannot find a way to speak about the beliefs and teaching of others without being stern or satirical in the way we describe their views. But we need to be slow to get there.
  3. It is honest and respectful to acknowledge those secondary (and beyond) things where Christians differ. It's right to recognise that there are some points of doctrine and some passages of Scripture that Christians disagree on. This is a gesture of love to our brothers and sisters, recognising that they exist and their convictions are sincere and are that they are still loved in Christ. This is also an admission of humility too: we might be the one who is wrong! It is a helpful signpost to the fact that we might possibly be approaching an area of biblical teaching that is less clear. The amount of acknowledging we do differs depending on the context we are in: a local church, a conference for a parachurch with a tight doctrinal basis or a broader non-denominational event.
  4. We need to preserve confidence in clarity meaningfulness of the Bible and the importance of doctrine. When it comes to these passages we need to be clear whether these points of disagreement are of primary, secondary or tertiary (or further down the list) importance. Saying that something is of tertiary importance doesn't mean it doesn't matter, and doesn't have consequences, but it does mean that it is not fundamental to genuine Christian belief. And admitting that genuine Christians disagree does not mean that Scripture is without meaning, or that this meaning might not be grasped more clearly. We need to accept fellow believers with whom we differ, but that is not the same as somehow celebrating that different doctrinal convictions are equally good. And we need to recognise when we come to points where Christians might differ, while still having confidence to make a strong case for our understanding of the text.
  5. Public preaching and teaching needs to be clear on how it relates to official instruction. Whether teaching in a church gathering or an inter-denominational conference, the public teachers need to give some thought to what relationship their teaching has to the official position of the church or parachurch. In some contexts, I might not comment on something like the baptism of infants in depth because of the interdenominational platform—the teaching would be different in a local church.
  6. Preachers and listeners need to be aware of the nature and limitations of public preaching and teaching. Public teaching necessarily will be incomplete and imbalanced in some way. We can't say absolutely everything in a way that will be fairly heard by every possible person. In fact in order to be persausive and clear we may even deliberate be incomplete and imbalanced so that one truth might cut through. Recognising this risk, however, should make preachers aware of the need for care and nuance, to limit unnecessary trouble. But those of us who are listening to preaching need to work on careful and nuanced hearing. We need to strive to travel with the teacher, strive to grasp what they are trying to say, however imperfectly. We need to do some work in filling in the discliamers and balancing ideas. Rather than reacting to what we think we've heard, we should first ask what they thought they were saying.
  7. Cultural expression is a secondary, but still significant concern for biblical ethics. God looks at the heart, not merely the outward appearance. But this doesn't mean that cultural expression is irrelevant to Christian ethics. We communicate things through cultural and we live together in culture, unavoidably. We have to figure out how to love with the externals of words and actions and dress. Whatever we might think about the appropriate application of 1Corinthians 11 today, clearly the text is saying that some kind of cultural expression (head coverings and hair) is important on some level for Christian conduct.
  8. Appropriate cultural expression becomes harder in diverse communities with little agreed upon shared cultural norms. This challenge in applying 1Corinthians 11, or other biblical teachings that are connected with cultural expression, is that we live in a very diverse cultural context. More than that, we live in a cultural context that has increasingly resisted any kind of shared, civic culture. There are very few things that we agree upon as a kind of mediating 'lingua franca' for cultural behaviour. As a result, we must be much more open in our encouragements to culturally appropriate behaviour. Not only should we say 'this might mean this is the godly way to behave' but we need to also affirm 'but also it might not be this at all, but something else'.
  9.  More clarity would be helpful among complementarians, about the difference between biblical commands about gender difference and general inclinations and cultural norms arising from gender differences. It is important to observe that the explicit Bible teaching on gender roles is applied to marriage and the official teaching leadership of the local church. Because of this, many insist that we must restrict application of these principles to these contexts only: not to any other area of Christian ministry, let alone broader men-women relationships or secular work patterns. I largely agree with this. However, the danger with this approach is to make these instructions fairly arbitrary, and disconnected from anything in the created nature of men and women. So I have sympathy for those complementarians who want to explore how the Bible's teaching on the differences between men and women affect other areas of life: we don't stop being men and women when we step outside of the church. The problem comes, I believe, when these more global applications become commands (or very strong encouragements). If, as the Bible teaches, men and women are different and were created to be different, we might expect there to be generalisations about what many women are like and what many men are like. We might expect there to be behaviours that can be described as more 'masculine' and 'feminine', more 'paternal' and more 'maternal'. This in itself is fine. But to say that all men must be masculine and paternal (or that all women must be feminine and maternal) according to a narrow pattern, is going too far. We can recognise these tendencies and the underlying gender differences that might feed into them, without mandating them. We should still make space for men to be more feminine and maternal and women to be more masculine and paternal, without passing judgement.
  10. Nothing much constructive comes from discussing whether 'feminism' is good or not. As a term it now gets used in so many ways, to describe so many different ideas that sometimes contradict each other. It is no longer possible to say in a simple way that 'feminism is good' or 'feminism is bad'. Which feminism? Which bits? For those who want to critique feminism, it seems to me that it is no longer effective or persuasive to make blanket statements about 'feminism'. By all means critique particular feminist thinkers or particular branches of feminism. But to make global statements about 'feminism' is unconstructive, it seems to me. Likewise, to insist that everyone must adopt the label 'feminist' in order to be a good person is an odd linguistic legalism.
  11. Save the outrage for when it's really needed. If everything is outrageous, nothing is outrageous. If everything is outrageous, nothing is good. Perhaps if the sermon and video content from Equip made strong, unequivocal negative statements like "You cannot ever be a godly Christian and have short hair" or "Christian women only work in the secular workplace to make men shine and nothing more", this might be different. But if someone simply arrives at different conclusions to you, within the realms of Christian orthodoxy, and expresses them in an unnuanced way: is this worthy of outrage? Of walking out in protest? Of publishing a critique not merely on a personal blog or Facebook Page, but in a public newspaper, that itself is watched by the wider media? We live in a culture that escalates very quickly, when hot topics come up. It would be a peculiar honour to us Christians in this particular social context if we were quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Be dismayed, confused, annoyed, critical. But resist the urge of outrage unless really neeed.


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Liberty of conscience means slightly different things in the Bible and in political theory

As I was trying to write about Christian freedom for the book I'm working on, I began to get that slippery/fuzzy feeling in my head, that something wasn't quite right. Often this feeling comes when I am conflating ideas. And in this case I think I was.

Christian liberty in the Bible: free from human rules, answerable only to God

You see, in the Bible, and confessions like the Westminster Confession of Faith, Christian "liberty of conscience" is about our freedom from human rules and doctrines. Our consciences should not be bound by false religion, or extra-biblical scruples and traditions, because we are ultimately only answerable to God.

This concept of liberty of conscience does not uphold the freedom of men or women to believe in a false religion, nor in their freedom to hold unbiblical positions on moral issues. Our consciences are NOT free from God's word.

But when we speak about 'liberty of conscience' in political science, we mean a slightly different thing.

Liberty of conscience in politics: freedom from human coercion in matters of religion and morality

This idea is about stopping secular governments from over-reaching. They should not legislate too much in matters of morals and religion, so that individual liberty of conscience is preserved. This concept argues for allowing diversity in church demoninations, and diversity in religious beliefs and even diversity in moral opinion. We must allow people to act and worship according to their own conscience.

A version of this might even apply in a church setting. For example, the Presbyterian Church of Australia's 'Declaratory Statement', that is appended to the Westminster Confession of Faith says  "That liberty of opinion is allowed on matters in the subordinate standard not essential to the doctrine therein taught, the Church guarding against the abuse of this liberty to the injury of its unity and peace".

How does New Testament Christian liberty related to liberty of opinion?

I don't make this observation in order to argue that the second kind of liberty is extra-biblical and so unbiblical. In the first place I just want to conceptually separate them, so that you and I can think and speak more clearly.

I actually think the two work well together. I think the teaching about Christian liberty in the New Testament points in a way that encourages to allow a certain degree of liberty of opinion in the church and especially in society as a whole. Romans 14 strongly argues that people are ultimately responsible to God, not to human authorities (including church leaders). The same chapter also stresses that we are each individually responsible to God for our personal beliefs and actions. It is not enough for us just to conform to external powers, whether in the church or in the world: anything that does not come from faith is sin.

A wise church leadership or civil government will consider where and how to allow freedom on points of disagreement regarding religion and morals. To leave room for individual responsibility and the ultimate lordship of God, it is good and right to restrain the reach of human authorities, even if they not adding to God's word, but only seeking to enforce it, as they understand it. So we should give a wide space around individual beliefs and moral action, to support genuine conversion and sincere moral action.

A final reason for supporting the second kind of 'liberty of conscience' is the truth of human fallibility and sinfulness. We human leaders are likely to be wrong when it comes to morality and religion, from time to time! If we are aware of this risk, then we will have an extra, biblical reason to be guarded in how narrowly we presume to legislate beliefs and behaviour.



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Anxious entrapment and urgent intensity in evangelical leisure time?

I came across this strange passage in Andrew Cameron's Joined-Up Life:

In this connection, I offer a word to those who work hard in evangelical churches, as either members or leaders. They're not legalists, and have a healthy sense that they may enjoy morally indifferent goods. They also have a strong sense of being the 'perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all'. But oddly, we sometimes drift into a new form of anxious entrapment. The obligation of 'service to all' totally dominates us, so that our leisure-time uses of adiaphora must erupt with urgent intensity in order that we may feel free. Paradoxically, these preachers of freedom can feel quite trapped."

(Joined-Up Life page 208)

What do you think Andrew has in mind here? Can you relate to this phenomenon?



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