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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A few quibbles with Piper’s ‘Christian Hedonism’

I'm working on a footnote where I want to say a few quick things about John Piper's 'Christian Hedonism'. I feel like many people appreciated Desiring God for showing us that it's a good thing to enjoy God and all his good gifts— that this actually glorifies God as well. But I don't know how many people were fully brought on board with Piper's full system.

Here are a few quick quibbles I could think of with the 'Christian Hedonism' system as I understand it. Have I got it right? What would you add? What would you clarify... or disagree with?

 

  1. I am unconvinced that we are commanded to rejoice, I would rather say we are exhorted to rejoice. A very in the imperative mood is not necessarily a command.
  2. I don't think it is true to say that 'we glorify God by enjoying him'. While our joy in God does glorify him, this is not the overarching category for how we glorify him: we also glorify him by obeying him and relying up on him and so on.
  3. I disagree with the idea that the one overarching impulse for human activity is 'seeking joy'. Seeking to do the right thing can't easily be collapsed into that. Joy is the wonderful benefit of the Christian life, rather than its primary goal.
  4. I am troubled by the claim that we can only please God if we pursue joy. We can please God even if we do not experience of joy from time to time, or focus on the pursuit of joy in a particular act.

  5. While the term 'hedonism' is used to be helpfully provocative, I think it is more offputting than illuminating.


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Recruiting for Ministry: from jobs in church to full-time ministry

Across Australia there’s lots of thinking and praying about recruiting for ministry. We are trying to find new pastors for vacant churches, new people to join staff teams, young people to do MTS apprenticeships, new elders for our churches and new people to help with music or creche or small group leadership.

Recruiting for ministry has to be more than public announcements and reactive recruitment. Public announcements can raise general awareness about ministry needs and occasionally flushing out keen volunteers, but it often doesn’t work. It can create the impression that we are always desperate to push people into ministry, recruiting out of guilt and neediness, rather than raising people up and drawing them to a vision.

Reactive recruitment relies on people to stick up their hands and put themselves forward. Once they have volunteered themselves, we then plug them in. This severely limits the amount of people we will bring into ministry, because most won’t necessarily volunteer. We might also end up putting people into ministry who are unsuitable, since we are relying on their own willingness rather than their actual giftedness.

A more satisfactory ministry recruitment plan is much more holistic, much more bound up with our discipleship work, and ultimately much more fruitful. The same principles apply equally well, whether we are recruiting new pastors, new elders or new Sunday school teachers. Here are some basic elements of proactive ministry recruitment:

1. Teach and proclaim the vision of the gospel.

As we do the basic work of teaching and preaching the Scriptures as they reveal Christ to us, people are led to repent from their sins and depend upon Christ alone. We are compelled by our love of God to live for him and our vision of the world around us and the times we live in are shaped by God’s word. A motivation for ministry comes from us ‘getting’ the gospel.

2. Raise awareness of ministry opportunities.

We shouldn’t wait until there is a gap for us to raise awareness of ministry opportunities. Churches should think of ways to share how people are serving the gospel: ‘ministry spotlights’ during the church meeting, a ‘ministry expo’ after the church meeting, little testimonies in the bulletin and so on. At a broader level, we need to think about ways to raise awareness of ministry in our region or ministry niche, to help in recruiting people from elsewhere to come and work among us.

3. Invest in individual spiritual maturity.

Recruiting people for volunteer roles, MTS apprenticeships and staff roles flow naturally out of investing in people’s spiritual maturity. As we disciple people in preaching, small groups and one to one, we help them grow in obedience and commitment to serve God in ministry. It is a good idea for staff to set a recurring task to ‘scan the roll’ and think about how to help members of their church grow in Christ and become active in ministry.

4. Make use of events.

Events don’t do all the work for us, but they are one piece of the puzzle. A range of events can help speed up the recruiting process: ministry expos, training courses, Challenge Conferences, MTS Dinners. In the same way, with recruiting staff, it can be worthwhile to visit Bible Colleges and conferences to speak about needs in your area.

5. Ministry prospectus and job descriptions.

Basic summaries of the purpose and nature of your ministries can help people better see what needs to be done and why it is important. So also job descriptions can make roles seem more clear and concrete. Spelling out the details of purpose, vision, function and expectations make the role more ‘real’ and also help in overcoming objections people might have.

6. Personal recruitment, orientation and commitment.

You will struggle if you rely on drawing people into ministry from afar. You need to get up close, personally inviting people into ministry roles - actually looking them in the eye and asking the question. Orientation is also very helpful. As Al Stewart says, ‘If you let people play with the puppy, they are much more likely to want to take it home’. It’s worth the expense to fly potential staff down to see things first hand, or give a trial period to potential kids ministry leaders. But don’t leave the edges vague, especially with volunteers. There needs to be a point when people make a definite commitment one way or the other.

7. Ongoing training, encouragement, coaching, and review.

Of course recruitment doesn’t end when someone ‘signs on the dotted line’ - we need to keep investing in people by providing the training and resources they need; the relationship and community to encourage them; the coaching to get better and the regular reviews to help them see progress and plan ahead. This both helps people grow in their existing roles, but also creates a positive ministry culture: people want to get involved in ministry with you!



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Mirrors 12th May 2017

  1. Should we make our 'public' website entirely for the new visitor? Personally, as a visitor, I like to get a bit of grit and vibe of the actual community. I find overly polished ‘pitched’ websites annoying.
  2. Fascinating: seems all research says that front page web mag sliders don’t work
  3. Seems to underplay the now/not yet of exile.  Yes Christ ends the exile. But in Revelation we are still in Babylon.
  4. Oldie but a goodie. Remove the final (4th) panel from Peanuts comic strips and they become bleakly existentialist.
  5. New eBook on measuring outcomes in Not For Profits. They provide excellent clarity on what 'outputs' and 'outcomes' are: 'doing what we said we'd do' and 'making a difference'.
  6. Great, brief, but rich papers on a Christian approach to national and international social issues


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Growing past the 100 barrier and why we get stuck

Many of the churches in our Tassie network have plateaued between 100-200 people - and sometimes stayed this way for years. This is often called the ‘200 barrier’ (in practice somewhere between 100 and 200). 

The reason for this plateua has got to do with a bottleneck in the life and shape of the church. The capacity for the church to engage and incorporate and adjust to new people is geting seized up by a whole bunch of little things. And all sorts of signals are being sent to visitors and existing members which makes it hard to grow.

This is what people mean when they talk about ‘growth barriers’ - points where churches tend to plateau - they might grow for a season, but then oddly shrink back to roughly the same size. Because there are whole bunch of things that cause these growth barriers, they can’t be fixed simply by improving this or that program. A much larger change has to take place.

So how do we make progress with this ‘200 barrier’? How do we get past this 100-200 people point? To get past this particular ‘barrier’ is often the hardest of all, because it requires the church to change BOTH its leadership style AND its community life at once. Books, articles and lectures I’ve come across suggest the following things:

1. Vision and prayer

Setting a vision for growth is crucial if we and our leaders and our people are going to be motivated to make costly changes. And deep, kingdom-centred prayerfulness, that repents earnestly and looks beyond our immediate needs to ask bigger and bolder things of God is the kind of thing a truly gospel vision produces.

2. Volunteer leaders and leaders of leaders

The change in leadership that is needed for a church to grow, is the change from a paid leader and a bunch of pro-active volunteers muddling along together to a growing team of leaders and even leaders of leaders, some paid, but most volunteers. The more people are engaged in serious ministry, the more people can be engaged, incorporated, disipled and empowered. And to recruit and sustain more people ministering, you need more leaders of leaders to recruit, oversee and coach them well.

This means doubling or tripling the number of people we want in ministry, and doubling or tripling the number of people who have a significant role in recruiting, overseeing and coaching those in ministry. In other words make leadership development a high priority!

3. Act like a chuch of 200-300

It’s silly and pointless to pretend you are a church of 1000 people if you only have 85. But it is do-able to learn some habits and values of a church twice your size. Often the regulars at your church think of it as smaller than it is, whereas visitors come expecting more from you - as an already-biggish congregation.

So reading, visiting, and learning from just-slightly-larger churches can be helpful: how do they do things up the front on a Sunday? How do they communicate with the congregation? How do the do ministry?

4. Multiply ministry and multiply ministry staff

Last of all, most of the stuff about breaking the so-called ‘200 barrier’ talks about breaking out of the mould of being one single comunity with one main leader. Instead multiply leaders and multiply ministries.

This might mean working hard to gather the resources to appoint a second full-time senior pastor. The ministry capacity another gifted and trained pastor can bring is massive. It will be a financial stretch that will require some persuasion and maybe some creativity - but it’s the last time your budget will have to basically-double because of adding a single staff member!

This might also mean adding a second Sunday service - something I have written about in a previous newsletter - another way to open up the church to more people and more ministry opportunities.

Or it might simply mean being much more pro-active in growing the other ministries of the church - how to multiply more growth groups? More avenues for training, socialising and evangelism? How to grow the shape of the Sunday school and youth ministries?

Summary

This is hard work, and involves big changes and a new ways of doing church and leading in ministry. No wonder it’s hard for us to get past. But I really want to encourage us to do some talking, thinking, reading and praying about how we could remove unnecessary human barriers to our existing churches being even more fruitul for the gospel.



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If we fail to guard Christian liberty we undermine Christian joy in God’s good gifts

A great and insightful bit of pastoral theology from John Calvin:

In the present day many think us absurd in raising a question as to the free eating of flesh, the free use of dress and holidays, and similar frivolous trifles, as they think them; but they are of more importance than is commonly supposed. For when once the conscience is entangled in the net, it enters a long and inextricable labyrinth, from which it is afterwards most difficult to escape. When a man begins to doubt whether it is lawful for him to use linen for sheets, shirts, napkins, and handkerchiefs, he will not long be secure as to hemp, and will at last have doubts as to tow; for he will revolve in his mind whether he cannot sup without napkins, or dispense with handkerchiefs. Should he deem a daintier food unlawful, he will afterwards feel uneasy for using loafbread and common eatables, because he will think that his body might possibly be supported on a still meaner food. If he hesitates as to a more genial wine, he will scarcely drink the worst with a good conscience; at last he will not dare to touch water if more than 2135usually sweet and pure. In fine, he will come to this, that he will deem it criminal to trample on a straw lying in his way.For it is no trivial dispute that is here commenced, the point in debate being, whether the use of this thing or that is in accordance with the divine will, which ought to take precedence of all our acts and counsels. Here some must by despair be hurried into an abyss, while others, despising God and casting off his fear, will not be able to make a way for themselves without ruin. When men are involved in such doubts whatever be the direction in which they turn, every thing they see must offend their conscience.
(Institutes, 3.19.7)

He then goes onto to describe how Christian liberty, should always be guided and directed by love and self-discipline and modesty:

For there is scarcely any one whose means allow him to live sumptuously, who does not delight in feasting, and dress, and the luxurious grandeur of his house, who wishes not to surpass his neighbor in every kind of delicacy, and does not plume himself amazingly on his splendor. And all these things are defended under the pretext of Christian liberty. They say they are things indifferent: I admit it, provided they are used indifferently. But when they are too eagerly longed for, when they are proudly boasted of, when they are indulged in luxurious profusion, things which otherwise were in themselves lawful are certainly defiled by these vices. Paul makes an admirable distinction in regard to things indifferent: “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled” (Tit. 1:15). For why is a woe pronounced upon the rich who have received their consolation? (Luke 6:24), who are full, who laugh now, who “lie upon beds of ivory and stretch themselves upon their couches;” “join house to house,” and “lay field to field;” “and the harp and the viol, the tablet and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts,” (Amos 6:6; Isa. 5:8, 10). Certainly ivory and gold, and riches, are the good creatures of God, permitted, nay destined, by divine providence for the use of man; nor was it ever forbidden to laugh, or to be full, or to add new to old and hereditary possessions, or to be delighted with music, or to drink wine. This is true, but when the means are supplied to roll and wallow in luxury, to intoxicate the mind and soul with present and be always hunting after new pleasures, is very far from a legitimate use of the gifts of God. Let them, therefore, suppress immoderate desire, immoderate profusion, vanity, and arrogance, that they may use the gifts of God purely with a pure conscience. When their mind is brought to this state of soberness, they will be able to regulate the legitimate use. On the other hand, when this moderation is wanting, even plebeian and ordinary delicacies are excessive. For it is a true saying, that a haughty mind often dwells in a coarse and homely garb, while true humility lurks under fine linen and purple. Let every one then live in his own station, poorly or moderately, or in splendor; but let all remember that the nourishment which God gives is for life, not luxury, and let them regard it as the law of Christian liberty, to learn with Paul in whatever state they are, “therewith to be content,” to know “both how to be abased,” and “how to abound,” “to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need,” (Phil. 4:11).

(Institutes, 3.19.9)



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Mirrors 5th May 2017

  1. Please arrive late for Bible study
  2. My article for Gospel Coalition Australia: 1) Be kind 2) Avoid false dichotomies/unfair conflations and 3) talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ. 
  3. Interesting article on the genre and legal conventions of Old Testament.
  4. Five reasons to do an MTS apprenticeship.
  5. For campus ministers in the S. Hemisphere, where ‘December’ is the equivalent of May.
  6. A Christian fundraising dinner manual!
  7. My sermon-lecture on Christian freedom
  8. Helpful podcast discussion on the dignity of secular work. Subscribe to the CCL podcast as well why dontcha?


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Some notes on personal evangelism

At a MTS Day last year, Bernard Cane from Good News Christian Church shared some provocative thoughts about outreach and the reasons why we aren’t me diligent in this area of church ministry (the audio and session notes can be found here).

In this brief article I would like to complement Bernard’s ideas about church-wide connection and promotion with some things I’ve heard, experienced or thought about personal efforts to share the gospel.

1. Look for those who are curious

I’ve noticed the uni students at Uni Fellowship of Christians often talk about this or that classmate who is ‘curious’ about Christianity, or praying that their friends might become more curious. It’s a interesting choice of words and a helpful one.

In Australia many people are either apathetic or hostile to religion and Christianity. We might be able to say a thing or two to prick this apathy or offsest this hostility. But being watchful and prayerful for those who are actually curious about philosophy, religion or Jesus can take the pressure off having to force the issue with those who are less open.

2. Extend invitations, make offers and give opportunities

There are different ways to think about using a public mission event, an evangelistic course or an apologetic book:

- With those I know well and who are curious, I can extend a sincere invitation that they would be my guest at this event. This is the kind of invitation where I actually seek a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ and where I follow up closer to the time.

- With some who I suspect might be open, I might make an offer - this is a lighter kind of invitation. I put the idea before them without expecting a reply and I might not even follow up the invitation. 

- With those I hardly know at all, or who are hostile to Christianity I can be even more gentle still - I think of it as giving an opportunity for a conversation, giving an opportunity to investigate things. In this approach my tone of voice is almost apologetic, acknowledging that it’s a ‘big ask’ and they are welcome to shut it down.

Multiple approaches for multiple contexts help me do something rather than nothing, while also doing the best I appropriately can in any given situation.

3. Personal openness

Sharing the gospel is not just about waiting for theoretical discussions about the meaning of life. It is often sharing insights into our personal experience of being Christian and how it shapes our lives. It may even be sharing the unique challenges and frustrations that come with our faith.

Could I be more open about my life and faith? How might I offer more of myself and my spiritual life in everyday conversation? Am I trying to be too perfect, rather than being honest about the ups and downs of life?

4. Personal prayer and small group prayer

God hears and answers prayer. Since we deeply desire people to be saved we should ask him to make it happen! I have also found that personal and small group prayer for the non-Christian people in my life both makes me more attentive to the oppportunities that come up. And sharing these kinds of prayer points in small group also holds me accountable to make the most of these opportunities!

5. Deliberately make time for people

God made all human beings in his image, and he so loved the world that he sent his only son. And we are to love our brothers and sisters, do good to all and even love our enemies. And as we love people, more opportunities to share the gospel will come our way, because we are having more meaningful contact with people. 

This can express itself in lots of different ways, depending on lots of factors, some of these might be:

  • Don’t look at phone when collecting kids from school, taking lunch break or on the bus - instead make eye contact and be willing to strike up conversation.
  • Be frienldy and conversational with service staff at shops.
  • Look for opportunities to offer practical and emotional support to others, and be willing to accept the same in return.
  • Have drinks and snacks in the fridge, ready to invite people to stick around and chat.
  • Plan a night a week for hospitality.
  • When planning parties and outings, consider inviting those outside church and family circles.

Conclusion

None of these guarantee good opportunities to share the gospel, let alone open responses to the gospel. But they’re a good start, aren’t they? All the best with your prayerful efforts to make the most of every opportunity!



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A few notes on postmodernism

I have been doing an excellent free Open Learning Course by Monash University professor in French studies Christopher Watkin on the topic "Postmodernism and the Bible: Understanding Derrida and Foucault". Great to have this kind of Christian academic thinking happening in Australia!

Here are a string of half-thoughts that I've tweeted out as I've gone through the course material:

  1. People with complex & impenetrable theological theories say "You haven't  understood me properly." This seems like a kind of gaslighting: They say one thing, then deny they meant it and call you foolish.... until eventually you doubt your own mind and submit to them.
  2. Pondering the irony of how structuralism/post-structuralism removed confidence in language... but boosted confidence in knowing motives/fantasies of speakers.
  3. Derrida asserts that a philosophy of ‘diffĂ©rance’ is not a ‘negative theology’. I’m not convinced. Seems like it to me.
  4. A Christian philosopher's summary of Derrida's ethics. He doesn't say 'It's all relative'
  5. From my lecturer: the ethics of Derrida & Levinas is seeking how a philosophy without God can make sure the Holocaust can never happen again.
  6. The irony of postmodern politics: You accept that hidden power structures shape society beyond conscious human intention... so then you try to police those hidden power structures with conscious human intention.


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Mirrors 28th April 2017

  1. The management feedback model gone toxic
  2. In their typical world-weary way, @firstthingsmag discuss M. Pence & women at 33 minutes. I largely agree with them.
  3. Michael Jensen says 1) Xns still have lots of social power 2) We should be following The Benedict Option regardless 
  4. Hebrews 9:16-17 is referring to confirming covenants with God by sacrifice, not enacting wills by death of testator
  5. Calvin: The forms of our church life exist to give decency and order. They are ‘arbitrary’ in the sense of not fixed. But these forms of church must never be infused with religious obligation or compared to the worship of God. forms for church are ’merely’ for common help. Still, it’s right to submit to them if they accord with Bible. Institutes 4.10.27-32
  6. Some good advice on encouraging people to be more engaged with weekly church attendance.But the slippery slope argument ‘If ppl attend church less than weekly now what’ll happen in 10rs’? Isn’t strong. I suspect there’s more to this: social change, inaccurate nostalgia, more holistic church life, less rigidity.
  7. A reply to the Gospel Coalition article about church attendance. Thanks Stephen McAlpine.


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Clarity about the gospel mission

What is our distinct mission as Christians? What should concern us uniquely as the people of God in these last days?

At our AGM the Vision 100 Network committee adopted, with a slight addition, the new Geneva Push doctrinal basis as an expanded expression of the the doctrine that unites us as a network (see http://ift.tt/2qgPo1d)

We wanted something with a bit more depth, to clarify matters of primary and secondary importance that spell out both our understanding of the fundamentals of the gospel and the realities, consequences and responibilities surrounding the gospel.

I want to quote and reflect on the section entitled ‘The Mission’:

As God's redeemed people there are many important duties and good deeds he has prepared for us to do. However the mission that we are explicitly and uniquely called to and entrusted with is to making disciples of all nations. Christlikeness will include growing in a desire to see all people saved.

We believe that the gospel should be urgently proclaimed to all people so that through the preaching of God’s word by the power of God’s Spirit all people might believe and be saved.

Good deeds provide opportunities for evangelism, they dictate the conduct of the evangelist, they are the necessary and inevitable fruit of genuine conversion and so they commend the gospel to our hearers. But they remain distinct if rarely separate, from the gospel preaching mission itself.

First of all, this item recognises there is more to the Christian life than evangelism.

The many duties of God’s people

There is more to the Christian life than evangelism and edification, prayer and praise. Because although the mission is important, it’s not the entirety of our duties to God and our neighbour. God calls us to love him with our whole selves and live lives of self-denying love to our neighbours 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Christian teaching is about the formation of a Christian worldview. Christian discipleship is all of life discipleship. Our worship of God touches every area of our existence and has relevance to every corner of our world.

The unique mission of God’s people

Among these many duties and opportunities is a distinct and unique mission: the preaching of the saving work of Jesus Christ to all nations. Proclamation of the gospel, and supporting its proclamation has a special centrality and importance for God, and so for God’s people.

So important is our obedience to Christ in the advance of the gospel, that blessings of God’s world are rightly forsaken and good deeds left undone.

The mission is rarely on its own

The relationship between evangelism and good deeds is complex. We often get opportunities to share the gospel in the context of charity or hospitality. So also our credibility is boosted, or damaged by the purity and integrity of our lives.

There are some occasions where gospel proclamation occurs almost in isolation, such as more broadcast forms of evangelism. But normally evangelism and good deeds occur together.

The mission is distinct

Nevertheless, while gospel mission and godly love belong together, and influence and fuel each other, they remain distinct. Gospel preaching is a distinct thing from things that are the good and even necessary consequences of gospel preaching.

Our duty to make disciples of all nations can and should be understood, discussed and pursued with careful clarity and distinction from other possible Christian activity.

And so Christian programs of education, family life, political or economic structure, artistic expression, legislative reform or charitable effort must not be given the conceptual or spiritual imperative of the Great Commission. Although should be affected by our mission, they are not in themselves our mission.

The outer boundaries of discipleship

In the broadest possible sense, of course, as we make disciples and teach them to obey everything, we teach them to worship God with their whole lives and this touches on all these other areas. Absolutely! So perhaps an additional distinction is needed: there outer boundaires of discipleship that are less clearly black and white, less foundational, and not always necessary for us all to explore. These are the wisdom areas where our disciple-making mission should rightly give the tools to explore, but where we are unable to be as concentrated and dogmatic.

That is, there may are many other things, indeed urgent and important things that grab our attention and draw us to action: matters on a personal, local, national and global scale; ranging from moral, political, cultural, ideological, economic and environmental matters. As Christians we will seek to respond to this things shaped and motivated by our faith. And we may well differ on the best goal, the most appropriate response and the relative importance of these matters.

But while we may differ on some of these matters, what brings us together with a shared commitment and conviction is the wonderful truth of the saving death and resurrection of Christ and the duty and privilege to preach it to a lost world. This is the gospel agenda of God’s people.



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A few notes on power and problematic things

  1. Just because something could plausibly be explained by a framework of power or desire doesn't make this explanation the right one.
  2. A group or person may lose the 'right' to the dominant view on a topic. But it's not true to say "You have no right to comment on this".
  3. Something can be 'problematic' without it necessarily being a Problem.
  4. A word or act can be possibly expressive of a greater abuse of power or corrupt desire, but this doesn't make it as bad (or necessarily bad).
  5. There's something cruel & vengeful about saying someone has no right to suffering if they have previously been (or still are) privileged.


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Analysis of the dangers that lie in Christian ministry ambition

In a great section of Col Marshall and Tony Payne's The Vine Project they say "one of the culture changes that many churches need is a revolution in their level of gospel ambition. Putting it baldly, we need to think big." They make a biblical case for gospel ministry 'ambition'. Yes!

But then they have a few really searching paragraphs that analyse the dangers for finite and sinful people in gospel ministry ambition:

There are of course dangers in thinking big. There’s the credibility danger of creating disillusionment in the congregation by setting some pie-in-the-sky goal that we’ll never achieve. And if we talk big but act small (like not providing for more people on Sunday, or not equipping ministry leaders), then no-one will believe us. 

There are also spiritual dangers in having ambitious plans:

  • you might begin to lust for the glory and reputation that accrues to the minister of a large and growing church
  • you might be tempted to build a feel-good, people-pleasing ministry in order to attract the crowds
  • you might start to treat people like objects, and lose the compassionate inefficiency that leaves the 99 in order to seek after the one
  • you might start exaggerating or fudging the facts to protect your credibility (i.e. by making out that goals are being achieved when they’re not)
  • you might fall into the unprincipled pragmatism that follows any ministry method that ‘gets results’. 

(Page 300, emphasis mine)

'Compassionate inefficiency' is a lovely turn of phrase, isn't it? But the whole thing is spot on. It's helpful to take the time to list these various temptations and corruptions like this. Rather than careless and general warnings, this kind of specificity is really shocking in a good way.



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Mirrors 23rd April 2017

  1. An unrequired love letter to the lost rollerbladers of Brisbane. Nothing to do with 'Christian Reflections' particularly.
  2. Do I lead my ministry/organisation in such a way that it won’t be too bad if I left? Awesome article
  3. Simone Richardson responding to the Twitter hashtag #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear. I like how she categorises 4 different types of quote, it makes it a lot easier to hear when quite different things aren't conflated in one stream. I do wonder, regarding 'category 1': what IS the acceptable way to talk about modesty in dress?. And with category 2, I'd suggest it's not just 'wrong view of highest callings' but sometimes rather an 'over-extension of right view recognition of very common calling'.
  4. Nathan Campbell tells us how we can like Frozen BETTER.
  5. John Calvin on Christian liberty (Institutes III.XIX) could have been written yesterday. Still so wise, insightful and pastorally sharp.


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One of the first books on church planting I ever read

Is there anything more gross than this?

It's almost so disgusting it's cool again. It's one of the first books on church planting I ever read. Back in 1999 or something, when Limp Biskit and Korn were considered to be a good idea and every Christian Union in the country was doing Matrix-themed evangelistic sermons. Evidently I thought there was something good on page 33 and 41.

It seems you can still buy the book from Koorong.

I found the book thrilling: it laid out the need for new churches and steps to starting one. It gave warnings about things that could get in the way of a new church thriving and advice on how to help it grow.

I also found the book boring, for the same kinds of reasons I still find church planting plans boring: stuff about demographics and finances. Kill me now. But it also provided a fairly simple way to think about those things.

Thinking about it now, there are clearly things that are dated, just because culture and technology have changed.

But also most of it is the same as every book on church planting since. In the end you figure out what you're going to do, gather people, and do it!



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Mirrors 14th April 2017

Happy Easter!

  1. Join me in Sydney on 22/5 to discuss a super important topic: 'Living well in God's creation, or dying to self in the last days?'
  2. My @ufc_utas sermon on Hebrews 10:19-39
  3. I've started a podcast about rollerblading :-P
  4. The Gospel Coalition Australia is going to do a series of posts on Tim Dreher's book on the Benedictine Option. Here's the first installment.


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