Mirrors 23rd March 2018

  1. Great blog post about the history of campus minsitry at the University of Arkansas. But check out those 1983 outfits and hairdos!
  2. At Citywide last Thursday, there was a question about answered prayer. In this sermon, that I delivered at Campus Bible Study in UNSW last year, I explore this question — from 26 minutes.

  3. My recent sermon on the introduction and epilogue to Proverbs

  4. There is a God, he is personal, he is inter-personal and he speaks to us (plus Q&A)

  5. Living in the Light of the End: 4 sermons on 1Corinthians by me from MYC 2017 in Tasmania

  6. "In Christian ministry our ‘Values’ are central to the goal of our Mission and Vision... In our preaching each week we get to establish our Values, so we don’t depend on catchy Values Statements". Andrew Heard on strategic documents.

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Mirrors 16th March 2018

  1. @managertools community’s list of recommended business books
  2. Rory Shiner's little (and overdue) review for @TGC_Au of the @collinhansen edited book Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor. 
  3. Great sermon on Christian marriage by my older brother
  4. @TonyJPayne interviews Kara Hartley on Domestic Violence on the @C4CL podcast
  5. Good public speaking tips, especially for those whose public speaking voice is unnatural.
  6. You can read a sample of my book online in a PDF viewer here
  7. Great idea from @citybibleforum ’s Wil Longbottom: do a Google-autocomplete event: Does Jesus…, Is the Bible… 

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Mirrors 9th March 2018

  1. Free Cru eBook for fostering student leadership.
  2. Something very Christian in this admiring review of The National's latest album. Nikki and I were blessed to be able to go and see them play at the Sydney Opera House a few weeks ago. 'Consistency is not boring. Consistency is a miracle, a small act of defiance against entropy.... There’s a reason anniversary cards say things like “All these years later, I still love you.”’ It’s because the miracle isn’t in the “love,” it’s in the “still.” The National offer testimony to something we don’t often celebrate: Enduring is a superpower of its own.'
  3. My seminar on "pushing on when growth is slow" from @genevapush #multiply16
  4. Gospel Coalition Australia's review of Chris Watkin's Thinking Through Creation
  5. A great story from a good friend about experiencing mental illness and supporting those who struggle 
  6.  @kevindeyoung7 on writing Christians books and getting published
  7. What's your favourite nickname for the 'commercial at'?

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Adulteress in Proverbs: agency, invitation & the eros of learning

I preached on Proverbs 1–9 at our Uni Fellowship of Christians Pre-Season Conference last week and it got me thinking about the recurring warnings against the adulteress. It's a major theme in Proverbs and jars against my sensibilities. Why is the woman being blamed for sexual sin? Aren't men to blame? Aren't men more to blame?

A couple of thoughts:

Proverbs is a feminine book... so the adulteress fits this theme

Although the main speaker and listener is a father and son: the teaching of Proverbs frames its vision of wisdom around feminine character. Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly are women. The epilogue presents us with the Wife of Noble Character (who is possibly the image of a home and a life built with Lady Wisdom). In this sense, it fits well to cast other characters as women. 

That's not to say that all the characters are women: we meet the drunkard, the sluggard and the mocker and others who are male characters. But it is to say that there is a certain genre logic to a major female characters throughout.

Adultery becomes a vivid case study of all temptation

Within this frame, adultery is not focussed on as if it is the worst sin. Rather, the adulteress is a vivid case study of the nature of all tempation. Ryan O'Dowd writes:

I readily acknowledge that Proverbs is interested in issues of human sexuality. But I’m concerned is that many readers have never understood the larger role of the feminine motif and the way it imbues the whole book with what we might call the eros of human learning—becoming wise means orientating our deepest human desires to a particular way of loving and learning. The man’s sexual impulse serves as a metaphor for learning as a whole.

I think that's really helpful, don't you? It encourages me, as the preacher, to also apply much of the extended descriptions and warnings about adultery in Proverbs to other "lusts":

  • of romance and intimacy - but with the wrong person
  • the temptation of drunkenness or drugs
  • or the delicious pleasure of gossip and meanness
  • or the lust for power in the in-group, the Dean's List, the HD, the student union politics
  • greed for money, travel, food, clothes, freedom
  • the pride in knowledge, being sophisticated

All of these can be alluring, attractive secretive, seemingly free of consequence... and yet all of them draw us away from godly contentment and into ruin.

Men are responsibly for not accepting the invitation of the adulteress

It is also worth pointing out that the warnings in Proverbs are not written to rebuke would-be adulteresses and prostitutes. Proverbs is a book that often talks about women... but addressing men. Even the Wife of Noble Character is first of all presented to us as one that men should praise and trust in. 

And so here, the warnings are for men to not sin by accepting the tempting invitations of the adulteress. Men are the responsible ones for their own desires and sins. They can't blame their sin on her looks, clothes, scent or wily words. They are responsible. They should avoid her. They should focus their sexual passions in the right place.

And yet at the same time, Proverbs also demonstrates feminine sexual agency... include sinful agency:

Agency, invitation and victimhood

The adulteress has power. The power of sexual desirability and persuasive words. She has the power to harness male sexual desire to her own ends and to their ruin. In this sense is active, full of agency and responsible.

Her agency here is the agency of invitation. And where this invitation is accepted with her consent she is complicit in the sin. Even if there are also larger social structures at work, social structures rarely totally remove our agency and responsibility. They mitigate, but don't erase our moral culpability. So this is not a case of 'victim blaming'.

If a man is the initiator and the sexual advance is unwanted (or the extent of the sexual advance is unwanted) then he is to blame. He deserves not only the rebuke of the one who engages in adultery, but also the rebuke of the 'violent man'. We could go further and recognise that where there is lack of clarity about who is to blame, we must not default to blaming the women — because of her sex, her clothing or anything else.

The risk of unintended invitation (..?!?)

A final issue that Proverbs indirectly rasies for us is a very muddy one... and should not be considered without regular return to the previous paragraph (beginning "If a man...").

But Proverbs portrays the power of sexual invitation and the various things. Consider for example chapter 7:

6 At the window of my house
    I looked down through the lattice.
7 I saw among the simple,
    I noticed among the young men,
    a youth who had no sense.
8 He was going down the street near her corner,
    walking along in the direction of her house
9 at twilight, as the day was fading,
    as the dark of night set in.

10 Then out came a woman to meet him,
    dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.
11 (She is unruly and defiant,
    her feet never stay at home;
12 now in the street, now in the squares,
    at every corner she lurks.)
13 She took hold of him and kissed him
    and with a brazen face she said:

14 “Today I fulfilled my vows,
    and I have food from my fellowship offering at home.
15 So I came out to meet you;
    I looked for you and have found you!
16 I have covered my bed
    with colored linens from Egypt.
17 I have perfumed my bed
    with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.
18 Come, let’s drink deeply of love till morning;
    let’s enjoy ourselves with love!
19 My husband is not at home;
    he has gone on a long journey.
20 He took his purse filled with money
    and will not be home till full moon.”

21 With persuasive words she led him astray;
    she seduced him with her smooth talk.
22 All at once he followed her
    like an ox going to the slaughter,
like a deer[a] stepping into a noose
23     till an arrow pierces his liver,
like a bird darting into a snare,
    little knowing it will cost him his life.

Words, clothes, perfume, food, timing... all of these things are powerful cultural and biological forces which can attract and tempt. They can be deliberately used to draw someone into sin. They can be deliberately used to draw someone in with the promise of sinful pleasure and then to manipulate them in other ways.

And they can be somewhat accidentally used. A woman might foolishly or naïvely send off cultural and biological signals that could be misinterpreted as an invitation. Because these 'signals' can have an meaning contrary to the intention of the woman. It is good for us all be aware of this for any number of reasons, including:

  • men must be wise and sensitive to the fact that these nonverbal signals can be misunderstood and so not make assumptions,
  • women can be more alert to accidentally sending nonverbal signals and so spare somethemlves some misunderstanding.

But of course it remains true that the path of adultery is wrong anyway: whether a man is right or wrong in reading the signals, he shouldn't go down that path. If a woman is considering deliberately giving an invitation she should not. And of course, if a man wrongly interprets the signals and pursues a perceived invitation against the consent of the woman he is doubly guilt, both for adultery and for violence.



Tricky stuff : keen to hear your thoughts?

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Strategically taming the madness of an impossibly busy season

I'm on the bring of our student leaders day and Pre-O-Week Conference (Pre-Season Conference), following by our huge O Week Mission. Added to this some big family events, a laptop and shower head that needs to get fixed, a staff member who twisted their ankle, the launch of a new not-for-profit association (New Front Door: The Church IT Guild), and a few other major fundraising grant proposals: there's a fair bit on! 

So how do you wrestle the chaos into control in these kinds of intense seasons that make you feel like you are drowning and kind of going mad, even before they've begun?

Firstly, procrastinate by watching the Winter Olympics, and writing a blog post about it.

Secondly, drink a bit less coffee to manage the anxiety, make sure you breath and walk slowly and read the Bible and pray and sleep and exercise.

Thirdly, in terms of the actual logistics, here is something of my process:

1. Start Planning Early

I'm always fully of bewilderment and pity for those who start planning and working in earnest for the new church/Christian Union year in January... or even in November. We really start planning and working towards these busy seasons 6 months out. Anything that can be done mega-early will bless you later.

2. Out Of Office Reply

I set up an Out Of Office reply on my email, telling people I will be probably slower in responding than I'd like to be. This takes a bit of pressure off my mind, feeling like those emails piling up, that I'm not getting to, I don't feel crushed by it. I know that they know that there'll be a delay.

3. Cancel the things that can be cancelled

I can't do everything, so I need to figure out what stuff I can, at least temporarily, not do. This is not the time to major on principled consistency. A few weeks won't hurt. So things like regular staff 1:1 meetings, other regular appointments, committees I'm not really needed on. Also, with family, we do our best to look at our schedules and figure out what can give. Thanks to Nikki and the kids for bearing with me!

4. List out the main projects

In some ways the next few steps are just David Allen's Getting Things Done on overdrive... I kind of pluck out of my more global system, a little emergency system for the short term.

So I scan through my paper inbox, email, TODO software (I use Asana) and try to pull out: what are the projects and TODOs that really must get done in this period of time. I list them out, so I can see all the hats I'm wearing:

  • Family
  • New Front Door
  • Home Church Welcome Team
  • Campus Patrons
  • Sermons
  • Evangelism Team
  • Fundraising
  • O Week Mission
  • Support Raising

There are some small TODOs that also must get done that aren't tied to a project, so I put them in the second list.

5. List out all the TODOs that have to get done

Then I list out all the actions associated to these projects, as well as other floating once-off TODOs that really have to happen between now and the end of the O Week Mission season. Things like

  • Can Xavier's BeIn Sports subscription
  • Announcement email
  • Blurbs for sermon series
  • Reference check for new staff applicant
  • Bookmark Elvanto Forms on iPads
  • Reminder for Welcome Team
  • Alumni Fundraising Drive email
  • Reply to Campus Patrons email
  • Reminder for Welcome Team meeting
  • Plan O Week contact tables for gaps when staff aren't there

And on and on and one.

6. Write down due dates and estimate time they will take

Then I mark each with when they need to be done by and how long they will take. Some things will only take 15 minutes. Some will take 2 hours.... I rarely estimate in less than a 15 minute incremenet, because in this way I make space for procrastination and unexpected stuff that will inevitably come in as well. 

7. Schedule the week

Then I schedule out all the TODOs into my actual week. And God-willing there's enough space for it.  If not, I have to do some last minute delegation, cancelling, culling, simplifying and panicking.

I also work on the basis of where my energy is at its highest, and adopt a schedule, where possible, that can trade off that. In my case, I'm a morning person, so wherever possible I will try to plan for early bed-times and stupidly early wake up times.

In this process, I need to actually figure out where the 'breather' places are. Even in mad crazy seasons you need to plan to stop and breath and reast and walk in the sunlight. Can I carve out an even slightly slower morning? Or a half hour break one afternoon?


So there you go. Hope that's helpful? What's your system? Anything I've missed out? Help! Please! :-)

By the way, this is also the kind of process you want to go through with staff who might work for you, who are starting to feel overwhelmed and want to drop things. Rather than simply complying with whatever things they say they must drop... instead this process helps work with them in a more systematic way that you can collaborate and guide a bit more.

Now I have to stop delaying that process by blogging about it... and start DOING it.

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Mirrors 9th Februrary 2018

  1. Do we need a video like this for "Am I running a church or parachurch?"
  2. Churches: support fewer missionaries at a higher amount. It builds relationship and accountability, frees up their time from visiting heaps of churches so they can focus on the work  says Mark Dever. Of course this means that the missionary is more vulnerable if you pull your support.
  3. Mark Dever on the reality of privilege, the sins of past Christians and much more
  4. Great warning not to assume the only moral vote is a single issue vote... and how the black community has learned that historically. Starts around 15mins
  5. A good analogy for silly science over-reaching about ethics and religion. If your science says The Beatles are average, maybe you're science if wrong?
  6. Lots of intriguing stuff from @MarkDever on discipling. Pastors explain people need to work around our schedules sometimes and forgive our unavailability. Look for both hungry and teachable people. Curiously: Dever says paid staff shouldn't do 1:1 during work hours. Rathey they should model it as a part of ordinary Christian life. Also curious: Dever invites people he'd like to disciple to come and 'hang out and read a book in my study' why he's working on a message, so that they can chat during mental breaks. 
  7. ""The Christianity Richard Dawkins objects to is the Christianity a smart 13 year old boy objects to." Jordan B Peterson

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Mirrors 2nd Februrary 2018

  1. Abortion doulas: This makes me feel so sad, and sick in my stomach. What a dark strangeness. 
  2. What does the Screwtape Letters have to say about flippant jokes at the expense of rollerblading?
  3. I use Relax Rain (and just discovered Relax Sea) to sleep on planes and other power nap situations. But then @lookupANDY showed me this. Something soothing about knowing your coworker is killing it next to you on their laptop, so you can zone out. 
  4. How fast do you type? Are you a T Rex, a Tortoise or an Octopus? Quick online test.
  5. Carl Trueman on the parachurch
  6. Kevin de Young and Ryan Kelly’s positive case for the parachurch 
  7. Lots of gold in this little workbook on how to lead church leadership teams and committees 

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Review: The Tony Payne Collection

Matthias Media sent me a copy of The Tony Payne Collection to review late last year. It was a great Christmas present! I spent the summer break reading it and tweeting some of my favourite bits (http://twitter.com/mikey_g_lynch). It's a great little collection worth getting hold of.

Tony was one of the people who discipled me. Not that we met up and read the Bible or anything like that. I didn't even have a face to face conversation with him until last year. But in addition to those who met with me in person, one of my mothers in the faith, Jo, gave me her backlog of The Briefing—all the way back to the black and white #1 issue—and I binge-read them the way I binge-watched Stranger Things 2 recently. Along with other favourite authors like Don Carson and John Stott, Tony Payne helped form my Christian mind and ministry.

So it's great to have to have a Best Of anthology to put Tony's articles back into circulation. I know The Tony Payne Collection is going on the list of books we give away during the year to students at the University Fellowship of Christians (we give away 2 different books a month to one guy and one girl). It would also be great to dip into to read and discuss with a ministry team or an individual you are training. The articles are varying sizes, on a vast range of topics, so that you can cover a series of great, biblical ideas that suits the occasion.

Personally, I even found it refreshing for me to check back in on some core ideas that matter to me in life and ministry. A reminder about what things I might be in danger of assuming and forgetting to explicitly teach.

The Tony Payne Collection is also a fun historical artefact. Many of the articles are editorial pieces responding to the issues of the day, and even the more 'timeless' pieces bear the marks of particular issues, errors and fads of Australian Christianity in the last 30 years. It was surprising to me how little this large collection of articles manifested some of what I consider to be the fair critiques of the 'conservative camp of the Sydney Anglicans'. Tony wrote positively and openly about emotions, for example; about doing church well even in aesthetic matters; and his critiques of other movements struck me as even-handed. There are of course other criticisms of thef 'conservative camp of the Sydney Anglicans' that I don't consider to be criticisms at all, and this volume probably gives further fuel to those who would be critical. It is interesting to note that the issue of women in ministry is absent, although there are a couple of articlces on manhood.

The one thing that is curious in retrospect is the sheer amount of energy put into clarifying whether or not we should call what we do on Sunday 'worship'. Although I agree with the guts of the argument, the amount of energy that is expended on it stirkes me as a little quaint now.

So grab a copy and buy another one to give to someone else. It really is a great volume!

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Mirrors 26th January 2018

  1. Have trouble sleeping? Or power-napping? Try an hour of rollerblading skating and grinding noises. Can be downloaded off iTunes/Stitcher etc too.
  2. Scroll down and check out the Virtual Tour. What do you think?
  3. Have you thought how to make attending and serving at your church accessible to those with disabilities?
  4. Sandy Grant on domestic abuse by Christian ministers 
  5. Origin of expression 'going gangbusters'
  6. Gotten back into a @managertools binge. So good. Don't email for urgent things, bad news, building relationships or to follow up on emails already sent...
  7. My year in podcasts, films, blogs and books

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The horribly confusing and archaic epexegetical ‘even’ in the NIV

This came up in staff Bible study time yesterday, as we looked at Acts 3. There's plenty that's interesting about Acts 3, including the last verse—when is Peter referring to? Jesus' earthly ministry, his resurrection appearances or his coming through the apostolic preaching? But one thing that caused some confusion for us was verse 20:

and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.

Not only our Nepali staff member who speaks English as a second language, but even our native speakers were confused. What does the 'even Jesus' clause MEAN? It doesn't mean flat and smooth, or divisible by 2... but it doesn't work as an adverb of emphasis, because what verb is it qualifying? 

I said I thought it was the more rare meaning of 'even' that translates as something like 'namely' or 'that is'—an epexegetical 'even', you could say. So the verse can be translated something like:

and that he may send the Messiah who has been appointed for you—namely, Jesus.

Immediatley one of our staff said: "So is THAT what is going on in Ephesians 1:10?

to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment - to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

Big Aha Moment follows. So this verse isn't a parallel text to 1Cor 15:28, saying that all things, including Christ, will be brought together under one head. After all, the rest of Ephesiasn emphasises that Christ is the Head. No the one head is Christ—'namely, Christ'.

I knew this was a rare and clumsy, but I didn't realise quite how rare. Most online dictionaries don't even mention this definition at all! And the Oxford English Dictionary lists it as 'archaic':

(under "even" adv 8a) says: Prefixed to a subject, object, or predicate, or to the expression of a qualifying circumstance, to emphasize its identity. Obs. exc. arch. Also in 16–17th c. (hence still arch. after Bible use) serving to introduce an epexegesis; = ‘namely’, ‘that is to say’.

So what's an archaic use of 'even' doing in the New International Version? Thankfully the NIV11 has removed the 'even' in Ephesians 1:10... but oddly kept it in Acts 3?! It's even stranger, because this clusmy use of 'even' doesn't even reflect any word in the Greek of either passage:

So they didn't even need to find a more common adverb like 'namely'. They could have just used a comma! It's not like Galataisn 6:10 which possible has a (rare in Greek) epexegetical 'kai', which the NIV84 uses the archaic 'even':

Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God. (see interlinear here)

Although interestingly the NIV11 swaps out the 'even' here for an em-dash. So peculiar. Anyway, the moral to the story is: if in doubt: check the Greek. If you don't know Greek, check the Greek interlinear, or just check the Holman and ESV.

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Book Review: Great Thinkers: Jacques Derrida by Christopher Watkin

Great Thinkers: Jacques Derrida, by Christopher Watkin

I had heard of Christopher Watkin, professor of French thought at Monash University, a few times through friends who work for AFES at Monash and those who go to his church. But it was only when I did an Open Learning course he was teaching, 'Postmodernism and the Bible: Derrida and Foucault' that I became a fan. Christopher and I share the same desire of seeking to listen carefully to the ideas of others, and then interact with those ideas from a Christian point of view. This book covers a lot of the territory from the Open Learning Course, but then the second half of the book, where Christopher brings the ideas of Derrida into conversation with those of Reformed philosopher Cornelius Van Til, was largely new to me.

Great Thinkers: Jacques Derrida is an excellent, accessible example of how to listen really carefully to another person's point of view, and then engage with it fairly. For those wanting to get a grasp on what postmodernism is all about, and a guide through how to think about it from a Christian point of view, this is a great place to start. Christopher Watkin writes with great clarity, and his illustrations, diagrams and section headings all illuminate the ideas he is unpacking. For the tertiary educated reader, it is stretching without being such hard work you need to be fully awake, brow-furrowed and prepared to re-read dishearteningly dense paragraphs.

In the first half of the book, Christopher seeks to unpack key aspects of Derrida's thought without critical assessment, looking at Deconstruction, Ethics and Politics and Theology. In this first half he corrects against common misunderstandings of Derrida's thinking, and draws us closer to his unique contributions, rather than a more generalised and simplistic caricature of 'postmodernist' thought. These first 3 chapters would make the book worthwhile on its own. It provides a clear summary of Derrida's ideas, with a decent number of excerpts from Derrida's own writings and an annotated bibliography for those who want to explore further.

In the second half of the book, Christopher seeks to find points of agreement, disagreement and fruitful conversation between the philosophy of Jacques Derrida and the Christian faith. He uses Cornelius Van Til (and almost as much John Frame) as a theological partner in this conversation and focusses his biblical exposition on John 1:1–18, with extended reflection on Colossians 1 as well.

Chapter 4 was a real highlight for me, where Christopher considers the places John Frame's critique of postmodernism misses the mark. This is a great example and warning of how careful we need to be in listening well to those with whom we disagree, so that we can be clear on why exactly we do disagree. I love this kind of close, rigorous interaction, that really gets into the weeds, rather than deals in over-simplified generalities. It's a great fun, dramatic chapter.

In Chapter 5, Christopher, with the help of Van Til, shows how a Christian view of the world provides a framework within which the ideas of Derrida don't quite work. The sharp distinctions that Derrida sets up in his philosophy (between ontotheology and différance, the one and the many, abstract generality and concrete particularity, radical monstrous openness and pre-programmed predictability and so on) do not quite represent the world as the we find it in Scripture. So Christopher argues that Derrida's critiques and proposals don't quite stand up.

At the same time, Derrida's way of looking at things provides us with a fresh way to think about and re-state biblical ideas. Christopher is careful not to simply adopt his concepts and baptise them. At the same time, there are points of agreement which are more than mere surface similarity. Derrida's critique of pure human objectivity is something we would agree with, even if we would structure it differently. Likewise, Derrida's description of a future hope as 'monstrous messianicity' is a colourful way to emphasise the shocking 'new thing' that God has done in the cross of Christ.

Chapter 5 was so long (at 50 pages, it was twice as long as any other chapter in the book) and rich I am curious to know why it wasn't broken up into several smaller and more digestible chapters. In its current form, it is easy to get lost in the argumentation and for some of the stronger points to get lost in a single paragraph.

In the end I still came away from the book more annoyed by and dismissive of Jacques Derrida, and especially his infuriatingly antisocially opaque writing style, than Christopher is. He mentions a cutting critique of Derrida by philosopher John Searle, but doesn't really unpack how this debate unfolded. I would have loved to hear more of this controversy. Searle's comments gave voice to my annoyance at trying to read Derrida on several occasions over the last 20 years, and I didn't feel like Christopher's apologetic fully answered Searle's critique. But I guess this makes Christopher Watkin the author I need not the author I want! I am better served by a book like this, than a book that tells me more of exactly what I'd like to hear the way I'd like to hear it.

A few other minor notes of a more critical nature:

  • The illustration about the French and English words for river and stream (or fleuve and rivière) on page 19 didn't convince me of the point he was trying to make.  I understand that language is somewhat arbitrarily constructed. But only somewhat. Regardless of the precise distinctions between stream/river and fleuve/rivière... these distinctions are still subtle ones describing flowing bodies of water. To be more fully convinced I'd like to see some more substantive examples.
  • In rightly distancing Christianity from the 'God of ontotheology' (page 46) I wonder if Christopher throws out too much of the baby with the bathwater? So much powerful theological language comes to Christian theology from classical philosophy and has been digested and reframed in the process... I am wary of being too simplistic in us accepting Derrida's dismissal of it all.
  • Contrary to Christopher, I think John Frame's critique of Derrida's ethics (relativising moral discourse while requiring everybody to conform to his values, p. 60) largely sticks. Derrida relativises moral discourse by relativising it to the peculiar situation, the unique individual. But in order to make this 'every other is wholly other' and this 'democracy to come' work as an ethic, he has to beg a whole lot of questions. In the end, Derrida's ethics isn't far off assertion, in my assessment.
  • In the same way, while Christopher is helpful in tightening up the terms of John Frame's critique of Derrida on page 64, I still think Frame's point stands. A lot of his 'close reading' of texts strikes me as forced and 'clever' and dependent on wordplay, rather than actually careful reading.
  • On page 80 Christopher writes 'Logic is reliant on God, not determinate of him', which is misleading, in my view. In this sentence 'logic' needs to be put in scarequotes — 'logic-understood-as-a-separate-thing-to-God-himself'. Better to say what he goes on to say "Logic is the product of God's character and part of its expression in creation. There is nothing before, behind, or underneath Go upon which he relies."
  • I'd be curious to have another pass through Christopher's responses to Derrida, his 'diagonlisations' (as he puts it), to explore how Derrida might reply to Christopher's replies. When might 'diagonlisation' simply be perceived to be a rhetorical or philosophical sleight of hand? How do we bed down the assertion that the biblical framework truly does resist Derrida's categories?
  • On page 92 Christopher rightly describes the unifying interpretative role that Christ playes in all of creation, as described in Colossians 1. I would like to also see more time given to the second order reatlity that 'in Christ and for Christ' produces: which is a created order ordered-alongisde itself. Where Christ actually gives meaning and order to each thing as it relates to every other thing. There becomes an internal logic to the world.
  • On page 95, it seems that the biblical and theological concept of transcendence is reduced to merely 'covenant rule'. This doesn't preserve enough place for the many places where the Bible does assert a distance and unknowability and 'otherness' to God. 

A must read for anyone interested in the intersection between Christianity and modern philosopher. And a great training tool for upcoming Christian leaders. I look forward to reading Christopher's contribution on Michel Foucault, which I believe may well be forthcoming?

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Review: Thinking Through Creation by Chris Watkin

Thinking Through Creation: Genesis 1 and 2 as Tools of Cultural Critique

by Christopher Watkin

I had heard of Christopher Watkin, professor of French though at Monash University, a few times through friends who work for AFES at Monash and those who go to his church. But it was only when I did an Open Learning course he was teaching, 'Postmodernism and the Bible: Derrida and Foucault' that I became a fan. Christopher and I share the same desire of seeking to listen carefully to the ideas of others, and then interact with those ideas from a Christian point of view.

After completing the course, Christopher asked if I would like to receive free copies of some of his forthcoming books, in exchange for reviewing them online: I happily agreed — free things!

The first of these new books, Thinking Through Creation is a great read, and I hope it will quickly became a classic among those, like in AFES, who are seeking to equip Christians to think deeply and Christianly. This book is the first of a much larger work that Christopher intends to produce, doing similar stuff across the whole Bible: not just reading what the text of Scripture says, but unpacking the underlying ideas, and the values and actions which flow from these.

Chirstopher looks at the philosophical and ethical implications of the doctrine of the trinity, of creation, humanity, personhood work, Sabbath, power, functionalism, environment and much more. For those who have already read a bit in this, much of the content will be familiar, but it is great to have a one-stop-shop for all these ideas. 

Likewise, Christopher is not the first writer to expose unsatisfactory dichotomies, by finding a more sophisticated middle way (his term for this is 'diagonlisation'). But his contribution to this area of nuance and synthesising approach is a highlight of the book, as he uncovers so many of these false dichotomies: 

  • Impersonal structure vs Unstructured personhood (tackling the Euthyphro Dilemma masterfully)
  • The one vs the many
  • Reality is transparent to language vs Language imposes an alien structure on reality
  • Functionality vs beauty
  • Fact vs value
  • Nature vs culture
  • Intellectual work vs manual labour
  • Sacred groves vs trees as facts (you'll have to read it to see what on earth that means?! :-P)

A particular strength of the book is the way in which Christopher provides substantial quotes from and interaction with various philosophers and other theorists. This is more than the easy grab-quotes from an IVP apologetics book, but rather genuine contact points with different philosophical views. Reading the footnotes and supporting material gives you heaps of leads to explore further, both Christian and non-Christian thinking.

There were a few points where I raised an eyebrow or wanted more:

  • I am not convinced that love comes before power, as Christopher argues on page 35ff. Why not both? If power is seen as secondary, then, as it seems Christopher goes on to argue, we cannot form an ethic were the possession and use of power also has a place. Power is entirely subservient to love. While, love, service and personhood are fruitful paths to explore social ethics, I also think the just and proper use of (and restraint of) power is also a fruitful and ethical path to explore at the same time.
  • Some of the political and social applications left me wondering how this would work out 'in the real world' of globalised economic. Footnote 7 on page 57 points to The Jubilee Manifesto edited by Michael Schluter and John Ashcroft to explore further, so it's great to have a good pointer. However, I would love to have a bit more meat on this occasionally, to stop this ethical reflections from seeming like thin idealism.

  • On page 94 he writes "Christ is the only normal human being to have ever lived, and his character defines perfect humanity". And I am cautious about this statement. Is it a bit too Barthian/supralapsarian? The unfallen Adam was a normal human being... and defines perfect humanity, too, no?
  • I think there is more to the ethical caution against 'playing God' than Christopher gives credit on page 114. You know, Jurassic Park I, II, II, Jurassic World and now Jurassic World II.
  • I would have liked to hear an explanation for why, if the biblical worldview apparently solves to many problems, Christians have not historically been more consistent on all these matters. But then maybe this is for Volume 2: Genesis 3 and beyond?

The writing is clear and engaging, although there are extended quotes from philosophical sources and a decent smattering of technical terminology ('basicity' was one that particularly made me laugh). The text is broken up with simple diagrams and helpful headings which help you keep track of the argument.  Each chapter ends with a summary of basic ideas and rich tutorial-style questions for further reflection or discussion. There is also a glossary at the end of the book.

The book would be a great training text for uni students, MTS apprentices or theological students. It would also be enriching reading for the tertiary-educated Christian keen to keep thinking deeply. The would would serve preachers as a great companion book for sermon preparation, to help apply theological concepts to everyday life.

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‘I’m Love By God’ or ‘I’m In Christ’ is a hopelessly incomplete answer to the question of identity

It's super common to hear Christians say that 'What defines us is being in Christ' or 'What really matters for our identity is being loved by God'.

We say it a lot because it's true. And because this is a central and interpreting factor in our identity. The problem comes when this idea is over-stated and over-preached so as to actually erase our identity.

The issue is, 'I am in Christ' does not fully tell me who I in particular am. It doesn't tell me my identity, so as to identify me in distinction from you, me or the the apostle Paul. Yes being in Christ is a fundamental part of who I am. But what makes me Mikey-Lynch-in-Christ as opposed to Don-Carson-in-Christ? What makes me Me-In-Particular?

And this is where we need to own that all our other particularties are indeed parts of our identity. We are, in a sense the sum total of our all generalities and distinctives. I am human. An Australian citizen. Some who sinned in these ways. Who was sinned against in those ways. Someone who has this patchwork of preferences of dislikes. A person who has been in these places and seen these things. I am someone who has these abilities and incapacities. All of these things go into making me me.

To deny these things play any part in my identity is not only oddly irrational, but also denies that all these things are also the work of God and of Christ. He is the creator. To be loved by God is to be loved as a particular creation he made and placed in a certain place in the time and space of his creation. 

So what does it mean to say that 'we are first of all loved by God', or 'the key thing that defines us is being in Christ'? What we properly mean is that these things are fundamental, central, defining and interpretive. I am MORE defined by being in Christ than by being in the lowest maths class. I am MORE defined by being loved by God than by being a sinner. Being a Christian is more important than being a member of my biological family.

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Different types of discrimination have different boundaries

Not all discriminations are bad. There are legitimate and justifiable and legal forms of discrimination. Then there are illegitimate, oppressive, unjustified forms. We have cultural expectations and even laws to prevent illegitimate disriminiation. 

However, the kinds of differences for which people might be discriminated against are different, and so the points at which discrimination is legitimate are also different. Here is a slightly editing list from the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Irrelevant Medical Record
  • Gender Identity
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Sexual Practice
  • Relationship and Martial Status
  • Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
  • Religion Belief or Affiliation
  • Religious Practice
  • Political Belief or Affiliation
  • Political Activity
  • Disability
  • Association with Any of the Above

These are not all the same and so we should be careful in our thinking, laws, memes, rhetoric, preaching, moral outrage, Faceobooking etc from drawing total analogies between them. At the same time, it's worthwhile noting that there are some similarities: they are all things that someone could be unjustifiably excluded or criticised for. Many of them are things that are a significant part of a person's sense of self and experience of life.

 A bunch of reflections:

  • Everyone changes age, but it is much harder to see how a person can change race or disability.
  • There are legitimate contexts where one might legally discriminate based on these things:
    • age-based programs
    • certain restrictions for minors based upon age of consent
    • cultural groups for particularly ethnicities to preserve culture
    • religious and political groups for particular affiliations to further their cause
    • biological sex-restrictive groups/service and spaces for the particular issues relate to that sex
  • Some of these categories have more distinctives than others:
    • There are very few matters of significance that distinguish people of different races. And so there are very few justifiable grounds for discrimination.
    • There are some biological differences between the biological sexes that might allow for more forms of legitimate differentiation.
    • There are many ways that we can make more and more space for those with disabilities, but there are limits to this, and so at some point, there will be justifiable ground for discrimination. The category of irrelevant medical record recognises that there might be relevant health issues.
    • There are some significant developmental differences between age.
    • Relationship status, gender identity, sexual practice, religious belief and practice and political belief and practice are all in part exercises in human intellectual and moral choice.. As a result they are much more complex than inherited or acquired characteristics outside of our intellecutal and moral control.
  • Some forms of discrimination happen due to not making ways for people to be more fully involved — eg for disabilities or women having children or single people in a culture that is built around marriage couple and families. These are more 'sins of omission' rather than 'sins of commission'.
  • Affirmative action is a peculiar kind of positive disrimination to counteract historic negative discrimination and is a very complex minefield to be discussed another day
  • There is a distinction between religions affiliation and religious practice, just as there is between sexual orientation and sexual practice. It is possible for someone to identify as Anglican and never go to church, and likewise it is possible for someone to have a sexual orientation but not be (or want to be) sexually active.
  • We need to be careful about creating to simplistic a hierarchy of which things are foundational parts of someone's identity and which are incidental: is sexual orientation necesasrily more fundamental to a person's sense of self than their political affiliation? We must be careful to jump to conclusions on this.
  • On the other hand, it is possible that some of these things are a minute part of a person's sense of self. They are incidental to their identity and lived experience, and so their sense of frustration comes when they are excluded or discriminated against in some way that reduces them to this or that matter.

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Mirrors 10th November 2017

  1. A silly article about a silly argument against the existence of God.
  2. How do you philosophically justify your hobbies?
  3. "No Lutherans, Zwinglians, Calvinists or Anabaptists were harmed during the making of this episode." Carl Trueman being interviewed on First Things about The Reformation.
  4. The Pyramid of Clarity for organisational leadership.
  5. Carl Trueman’s reservations about The Nashville Statement from 43:15-50:50
  6. If you’ve not heard John Sikkema’s story, maybe you could tune into this free webinar? 

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What ‘We’ Have Gotten Wrong in Cultural Engagement… and Why It Wouldn’t Have Mattered

There's a lot of helpful stuff out there about how Christians and Christian organisations can interact more skillfully in a social setting where Christian ideas and institutions are not necessarily perceived as normal, acceptable and persuasive. Accepting this reality will stop Christians from coming across as rude, mean, oppressive or gospel-less. Becoming more thoughtful in this area might help us be more persuasive in general, and more distincitvely Christian.

I don't agree with everything that gets said on this topic. Sometimes the recommendations are bad. Sometimes they are overstated, reactionary, narrow, too morally and theologically soft.

But in this post there's two particulary things I want to touch on about this chatter. 

There's No Simple 'We'

The problem with some of this talk is that it speaks about a global Christian 'we': WE have done this that or the other. WE have failed in this or that way. Generalisations can of course be made. However generalisations are extremely clumsy tools for analysis. 

Generalisations also confuse and blur culpability and agency in all sorts of ways. The 'we' could be seen to be 'leading institutions'... or 'vocal Chrsitians in the media'... or 'patterns and tropes in preaching, book writing and Facebooking'. But these are not things that can easily be laid on the shoulders of the whole Christian community. Nor can they be easily fixed. Institutions have a stubborn and slow life of their own. Patterns of speaking and writing are perceived to endure and predominate even when they are in the minority or have been in decline for a long time. Vocal Christians in the media often don't fairly represent every other Christian.

Bold and universal declarations about what 'we' have done and what 'we' should do need to be toned done and balanced out.

It Wouldn't Have and Won't Matter Heaps Anyway

The strong implication in a lot of this talk is also that if 'we' had done things differently, then Chrsitian ideas and institutions would have been more persuasive or if 'we' do things differently now, we could in the future have a greater opporutnity to be persuasive.

There's some truth in this, for sure. But only some. 

Because the movement of culture ideas and practices are out of our control. The creates books and Chrisitans and culture— like those by Don Carson, Andy Crouch and James Davison Hunter— all point out that the larger the cultural artefact or grouping, the less we can control or predict its effects. 

So in the case of Christianity's acceptance and influence in the West: I very much doubt that a few thousand more tactful John Dicksons would have change things much. A larger cultural mood and trajectory was and has been happening, and our masterfu, gentle, nuanced and gospel-centred cultural engagement can only ever have a minimal effect on it.

What then?

What's my point then? What should be I do?

  • Keep praying and preaching and living the godly life. We are ultimately not just passengers on a historical or sociological journey... we are servants of God in his soverign rule over history.
  • Much of the thoughtfulness and tact is still good and right... even if it won't guarantee a different outcome. So keep working at interacting with our soceity on all its different levels with reflection, love and a desire to bring glory to Jesus.
  • I need to also cultivate virtues that will serve me in decline of influence and rise of hostility: forgiveness, contentment, courage, integrity, peace, prayerfulnes.
  • It's very likely that the future of Christianity will continue to be in the Global South and in the East. So rather than trying to 'win' amongst the secular west, we need to also play our part in investing in a healthy and rich and mature church among different cultural groups. We can share what we have learned, and hopefully protect the true emerging church (as opposed to the so-called 'Emerging Church Movement') from becoming reactionary, jingoistic, fundamentalist, theologically eccentric and so on.

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Mirrors 3rd November 2017

  1. @ArthurGDavis replies to my comments on his proposals for change to campus ministry 
  2. Final Pop-Up Blog Tour event for 2017 will be happening in Hobart on 21st November 
  3. Interesting podcast on the Reformation in this whole podcast, but last 4 minutes are intriguing: 1. Atheists must realise most people are religious and religion is a very powerful force   2. Islam is 600 years younger than Christianity, so it is going through its torments now 3. Islam doesn’t have the same distinction between church and state that Christianity has 4.  Don’t tell history in a bedtime story way, that reassures and whitewashes. History should disturb us
  4. The whole ‘generation’ thing is dumb. But I like the concept of Xennial. anyway 
  5. This event looks interesting: The Tasmanian Dilemma — Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
  6. What is slowing you down or making you mad that you should just replace?

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“Your Identity Is Valid”... surely not a blanket statement, right?

This poster has been buzzing around in various forms. A friend of mine saw this poster at UTAS recently:

Why 'Valid'?

'Valid' is an interesting choice of word. What does it mean in this context? Cogent? Coherent? Legally legitimate? I think I get what it is aiming to say: there are many identities that people can hold, that if someone holds it, they should be treated respectfully according to their expressed identity.

But 'valid' is an especially telling choice. For my identity to be respected and accepted in kindness... it must be legally validated in some way. A person cannot be received and loved unless they are affirmed and legitimised. It's not enough to have freedom to discover and/or define your identity: what you discover and define must be declared legitimate. It's not enough for me to respect your chosen identity, I need to legitimise it.

Does ANYONE Really Want to Say All Identities Are Valid?

Now I may not entirely agree with that as intended by the poster-maker, on their own terms and limitations, on transgender issues. But more: not even the poster-maker seriously believes this is a blanket statement, right? Does anyone really want to say that absolutely all identities are valid without exception?


— What of the extremely and destructively delusion identity: I am Satan?

— What of an identity of deep self-hatred: I am ugly, worthless and no one would ever love me?

—What of an immoral or self-destructive identity: sub-cultures around extreme eating disorders or extreme sexual practices?

— What of a conservative religious identity: I am not my experienced sexual and gender experiene, but am instead a child of God and should live according to God's norms as revealed in the scriptures of my religion, and not according to my experience/inclination?

We all outline certain boundaries around which identities are valid and which are not. I expect that the poster maker, and those sympathetic to its declaration would argue that such boundaries are obvious and commonsense and universally understood. But this is an assertion disguised as a fact. Manifestly this has changed dramatically in our culture over the last 100 years, and is different from culture to culture. It is not as intuitive as it might seem.

What Word Is Left to Describe Respect and Acceptance without Legitimising and Approving?

We need to work hard at treating people with dignity and respect, listening to what they saying, and accepting and acknowledging what they are going through. But part of loving other is to not entirely agree with and approve of their interpreation in all situations. The give and take of friendship, leadership, medical care and government is to respect individuals while also upholding other values and standards which may be considered unhealthy or immoral or untrue in some way.

I think we all know what this is like, when we are dealing with people whom we recognise to be severely and destructively psychologically disturbed or criminally inclined. We want to humanise the person and listen carefully to the person, while not accepting their current interpretation of their experiences.

But to use the example of the criminal or the mentally ill is painful and clumsy and ineffective. It sounds like millitant, hateful, fighting words... are you saying that X other group are therefore criminals? Is that what you're saying? How dare you...

So there is a gulf between this sub-category and everyone else. And no rational way to discuss whether something sits on one side of the gulf or the other. And no allowance that some of the realities that apply in the extreme cases, might apply in more subtle cases of psychological instability or immoral action.

We have lost words to describe this respectful treatment without agreement. For 'respect' and 'accept' and 'acknowledge' are now all loaded up with concepts of 'approve' and 'celebrate'. We need new words. It's tricky huh?

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Mirrors 7th October 2017

  1. This is a really great response to the issues around sensitivity and freedom of speech
  2. There was a delay getting a bunch of my sermon-lectures from this Semester up online, so here are 5 of them in our series on the history of Christianity:
    1. The radicals of church history
    2. The Crusades
    3. Didn’t The Early Church Invent Christianity?
    4. The Miserable Puritans?
    5. Colonialism and Missionaries
  3. Great to hear expert guests on this episode go hard against ideological attempts to legalise "sex work" 

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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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