Volume 3 Number 1

December 2004

Because of the nature of these reflections they have also been sent

to people not normally on the list so that you can get some thoughts

on 'Introducing God'.

The Christian Reflections for this month are on the 'Introducing God'

seminar that was run in Hobart on Wednesday 17.11.04. Dominic Steele,

the author of the course walked us through the course and here's what

I have thought about it:

1. The way he ran the seminar was superb. because:

a) He didn't do a Moore College one hour intro about the Bible being

the word of god and the gospel being the centre of the Bible and the

Bible's storyline is..... he just gave a punchy sermon (very good

sermon) on: 'the son of man came to seek and save the lost'

b) he went through the whole 'this is a postmodern society' stuff and

showed how to respond as evangelistic christians to these issues. it

was a real 'the making of' semianr that could be applied to all sorts

of things, not jsut introducting God

c) he prefaced his broad comments on postmodernism with a statement

that this was 'slip slap slop' philosophy... 'that way you know that

i know that this is very broad and general'. this is much better than

christians pretending or seeming to claim that they are being

academic when they are really being overgeneral (like 'Does God

Believe in Atheists?' etc)

2. Thoughts on Introducing God (IG) and what's already happening

at Crossroads/Hobart Central:

a) A lot of the comments about how to run evangelistic meetings and

how to evangelise postmoderns are things that happen already in our

weekly Sunday meeting. That is good to see how sensitive we are to

philosphical climate, and therefore an encouragement to us

b) A lot of specifics about IG we are already doing with

'Island Gospel Lounge/Beer and Bibles' and the SUS courses on a

Monday night - going

through the Bible's storyline, allowing people to ask questions etc

c) In fact, an advantage of our Island Gospel Lounge model over 'IG'

is that because it is not multi-media heavy our studies do not take

over the whole venue. We can run several studies for non-Christians,

and a follow-up course for those who have done the original studies

and a evangelism training course for Christians all at the one place.

d) Dominic encouraged leaders to run the plug for IG at the venue and

in the same style as it will actually be run when the course begins.

We follow a similar approach at Island Gospel Lounge - inviting

Christians from the various Growth Groups to come along to 'shout'

food and coffee for the evening, and running evanelistic training

courses at the same venue. This gives the Christians a 'feel' for the

night so they know what they would be inviting their friends to.

e) Good food and drinks at the meeting is clearly so much better than

just weak church cordial.

f) Following the Bible's storyline is being done. Scripture under

Scrutiny definately does that through following Romans 1-5 (FYI this

is one of Don Carson's suggestions in Gagging of God [p. 504]), the

Ethics course does this in a more circuitous way by looking at

christian ethical issues and the foundations for them.

3. Some more negative thoughts about IG:

a) Some of the graphics of IG are a little daggy, but you can never

totally win with that.

b) i like the fact that there are quite a lot of passages in Luke's

gospel over the eight weeks and weekend away. Still, i think that the

selection of passages feels a little haphazard to my neat mind. that

is more meaning liking things tidy rather than anything else :-)

c) As it is, the 'large venue' approach to IG i don't like the feel

of. Of course for many churches it would be totally unrealistic for

them to do anything else but in an ideal world, i think there would

be a better way to manage things.

As it is, the 'large venue' IG seems to be the same as the 'seeker

service', with many of the same criticisms levelled at seeker

services applying across. in fact it is worse in some ways since it

is also repetitive and distant (since the preacher is always

preaching the same message on the video).

It ends up saying that there is one big church meeting for

non-Christians and then our normal worship service for the

christians. that's clearly not a good road to go down. once it gets

to big church size, i think we need to own up and say that's what it

is - its a church. a seeker service church meeting. what i think

would be better if you are going to run it for the entire church,

evne move the whole church to a resaturant for the 8 weeks if need

be. Then there should just be separate tables for all the churchgoers

who haven't brought friends along. granted this would not work so

well for churches who need to cater for kids and so on. also it would

be spending extra resources on getting the other people along.

nevertheless i think that when things get so large-scale it is better

to put them in the 'church' category than the 'para-church' category.

if it is uunrealistic to shut down the main public meeting, then

perhaps all the growth groups could shut down, or whatever. i just

like the idea of keeping such a big group meeting as a church


d) I can imagine once Christinas have been through the course a few

times that maybe the 'vibe' of the meetings might suffer a little as

Chrsitians glaze over during the talk. Maybe the high of seeing new

people coming along and worrying about what they think would offset

this, but still it would feel a little funny I think, having say 40%

of the group knowing the talks word-for-word.

I suspect it would be better to run the official IG video on a

on-again off-again cycle. first time you play the video, second time

the preacher prepares some sermons that do a similar sort of thing.

This would be particularly good if the 'whole church' idea in point

(c) were applied. Once series of sermons a year the preacher would

plan to be IG/postmodern/firstdate/Biblcestoryline talks.

3. Here are the things which were challenging and helpful and which I

hope to take on board more at Crossroads/Hobart Central:

a) Dominic told us that he works hard to move people in IG from being

'customers' to being 'owners'. This includes things like being open

to the idea of them brining food, helping with the washing up, being

involved in a joke telling competition (wasn't so keen on this one

but hey?) or helping choose dinner music for the following week. This

is a thought that we ought to apply more to both Island Gospel Lounge

and Sunday night church (of course not inviting non-christians to

preach or whatever!)

b) The weekend away. i was definately not keen on this idea before i

came to the seminar. Now I am open to the idea, provided that a lot

of work is done to make the paricular group/table discussion group

develop over the whole time and do stuff outside of the set course

time as well. I think provided that is all done well and it is only

people who have gotten to know each other, it would work great.

c) The idea of the 'first date' approach rather than the 'proposal' i

quite liked. We don't want to propose to people the first time they

come along, rather we want them to come on another date. Very good

idea for people, particular when they want to invite best

friends/family etc. This idea of not coming on 'heavy' at first but

rather just listening and discussing makes a lot of sense. Of course

I think there is still a time and a place for a gospel blast too!

d) The idea of the DVD meaning that people can do peer-to-peer or

even subordinate-to-elder evangelism is cool. The fact that this

also allows for free discussion since the speaker is not actually

present is good too.

e) A long-term course is definately cool if you can get people to

come. The idea of always mentioning the length of the course as you

go along and making a real effort to make it something people want to

come back to is good. Having a calendar of all the dates is a good


f) The planning which means that the IG discussion tables can move

seamlessly into Growth Groups I really like. rather than chanelling

young christinas into our existing growth groups, instead start a

whole new Growth Group and make the christian who invited their mate

change Growth Groups in the process too! This seems to be an organic

way of re-shuffling Bible studies groups so they don't get stale, let

the gospel re-shuffle them.

g) The introductory night is a very good idea, rather than launching

straight into the whole course

h) Running an evening where the welcome, the study and the

after-teaching discussion are all 'items' in the evening is great

since it turns the whole evening into an 'event'. At the moment, I

think the Island Gospel Lounge can sometimes be a bit like an

adult-ed course where people turn up and do the course and although

the Christians work hard at discussino afterwards it is not clearly

seen as a whole

'event'. consequently people stop coming after the 5-week course

because they have done their course. They don't own the entire event.

i) the division of different types of evangelists was good: the rock

star (Billy Graham) the cowboy (invited by a christians to come and

chat with his non-christian mate and then rides off) and the everyday

(as it sounds). Little ideas like these are good to use when talking

and thinking about evangelism

j) the division of 'evangelees' (ugly word) was also good: the back

packer (talk once and drive for a gospel challenge once-off. this can

work, trust god!) the speech pathologist (one-dimensional

relationship, for a short term, try to get to the gospel, and get

multi-dimensional quickly) the work mate (longer term but one

dimensional, take time but otherwise same as speech pathologist)

brother (slower slower slower). 'Most confusion and angst comes from

treating everyday evangelists as if they were rock stars and treating

brothers like backpackers'

k) The whole concept, already referred to, of moving people from

being 'one dimensional' relationships into multi-dimensional

relationships is a great way of putting a very good principle. That

we should both 'enfolding into the community then...' and 'become

convinced of the gospel then...'

l) A passing comment: it is better to give non-Christians a new word

- 'autonomy' - than to try to redefine a word they have so many

misconceptions about 'sin'

4. Some thoughts about the practical application of these things for

Crossroads/Hobart Central for 2005:

a) Run IG for whole church once a year, during normal meeting time,

since our venues and style are suitable for guests. Maybe not full

dinner, but we'll see. Then the following year, write our own series

and then the year after that use IG or something of that sort

b) Run the Island Gospel Lounge evenings more as 'events' with a big

group welcome and a short 'item' and other bits and pieces of that

sort. Make it clear that there are several parts of the evening, that

the study is the central and longest part but that the discussion

time is also a segment of the evening.

c) Publish little calendars of the dates of the course, showing the

follow-up courses and the weekend away date as well, so that the

follow-up courses aren't introduced for the first time at the end of

the course

d) Make a much higher priority of doing social things with the group

outside of Island Gospel Lounge times, press this on the leaders

e) Use a non-multimedia version of IG as one of the courses available

at the Island Gospel Lounge.

f) Think about ways to make the move from 'customers' to 'owners'

both with people at Island Gospel Lounge and with church.

g) Try to slide the Bible Study groups into Growth Groups and be more

mindful of that strategy and goal.

Volume 7 Number 6

Review of Introducing God... the book
(Dominic Steele, Introducing God: meeting the God who loves us, Media Bible Fellowship: Annandale, 2006)

I was sent a copy of this book in order to review it on my blog. I'm afraid it's not the most glowing of reviews. I pray that I am not speaking out of some Aussie tall-poppy thing, nor trying to show off how different I am. I am totally supportive of the Introducing God thing and am sure that this book will be a saving blessing to many. However, here are my comments, for what they are worth:

1. Some general comments about evangelistic books

I don't particularly like them, and have not given them away much either. I read many of them when I first became a Christian back in 1997, some were painful, others were very influential. If My favourites, not counting the Gospels, are:

Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis
Escape from reason, F. Schaeffer
The Case for Christ, L. Strobel
More than a carpentar, J. McDowell
A Hell of a life, J. Dickson
Basic Christianity, J. Stott
A Fresh start, J. Chapman

It is a special sort of person who would read such a book as one of their first steps in exploring Christianity. They are often pivotal after the person has looked into Christianity a little bit already, and want something to chew over on their own.

This is one reason why I think it is a mistake to write 'evangelistic books' with the absolute outsider too much in mind.

2. Some general comments about Introducing God... the course

These can be found in an ancient version of Xn Reflections when it still just an email thing. I have put them in my blog archive.

3. Some general comments about Introducing God... the book

The book is good. It looks nice. The spiritual bios are really good. I was worried at first that they would all be people who were converted through doing the IG course, but that's not the case. The most heartwarming, and non-formulaic would have to be the charismatic-feeeling bio of Maureen Drummond in chapter 2 and the conversion in later life of Vince Williamson.

It's a straightforward evangelistic book. It would be good to give to non-Christians interested in finding out more on Christianity. In that way, it is a great blessing. But, since there are other great evangelistic books already out there, this one left me fairly underwhelmed. Dominic Steele is a great preacher, and the IG course is pretty cool. I don't think his sermons translate to great reading material. I think that rather than transcribing the sermons, it would have been better to write different material that would really work in print.

The book was deliberately written to pair up with the course. I was therefore struck by how they are almost identical, except for spiritual bios at the end of each chapter. The book refers to the course. I imagine it would be very boring to attend the course after reading the book or reading the book after the course.

I know, I know, it's probably deliberate, to make sure that people really get it. Hearing things in different media, learning styles and so on. But it still feels a little redundant if not patronising.

It would also be nice to have reflected some of the inventiveness of the course. Apart from images matching the text and discussion questions at the end of the chapters, there is little of the multimedia, community, postmodern sort of gimmicks in the book. It's a pretty standard little volume. And by the way, I didn't actually like the photos scattered throughout the book, it felt a little tacky to me.

Appendix: Little fiddly things

Dominic Steele introductory chapter

- The dating metaphor is introducing rather jaggedly on page 9. I think that it is a very helpful metaphor in explaining to Christians how to approach evangelism, but not so helpful when explaining the non-Christians experience of 'seeking'.

- Often there comments in parentheses made sentence read with clumsy informality. An example of this is also found on page 9.

How can we know God? introductory chapter

- Bible verses often appeared in bold. This seems unnecessary.

- I haven't chased this through carefully, but I think there was inconsistency in placing full stops inside or outside quotation marks.

- '15 years' should be written 'fifteen years' on page 16.

- Athens is introduced as city like ours, where there is a massive diversity of religions. We are then shown how, in addition to actual religions, sport and materialism also function as religions for many people. From this point on, all of Paul's critique of human religion is applied only to these metaphorical religions - materialsm, sport and selfishness.

This is inconsistent, unhelpful and even feels a little sneaky. The people of the West do have actual religions beliefs. God speaks against actual religious beliefs in Acts 17. The IG book even recognises that our world is full of religions - Islam, Buddhism and so forth. But when it comes to applying God's criticism of human religion, we retreat to the safer territory of metaphorical religion.

I think this is a common tendency in preaching. We assume that we have to apply the Bible's condemnation of idolatry to materialism and other 'religions'. I think it is a mistake to only go at these metaphorical religions.

- The verse numbers should be removed from sections of Scripture quotes in the book.

Chapter 1

'If we came about by accident, then we are purposeless. However, if we are made by a creator, then our creator gives us a purpose, a meaning, a morality, a right and wrong.' (24)

This teleological argument is a very powerful one for the existence of God. However in this common form of expression, it is not fully articulated. As it stands, this argument falls foul of the Eurythro's paradox:

Are things good because God says so, or does God say they are good
because they are?... if the former, good becomes arbitrary. If the latter, God is subject to a higher reality 'goodness'.

Being created by a god gives us relative, subjective purpose. We are meaningful as far as he's concerned. It is because we are created by the God who is good, valuable and meaningful in himself that makes us truly valuable.

- The quote from the Enuma Elish on page 25 is really helpful, but it isn't given the dignity of being quoted in the same format as the other quotations in the book.

Chapter 2

- 'Autonomy' is defined in a footnote on page 37 as 'a self-governing state, community, group or individual'. This is one definition of autonomy, but it is not the definition most often used in the book - including the sentence which has this footnote. It is most often used in its abstract, rather than concrete sense - 'the condition or quality of independence'.

- The illustration of sin on page 38 is quite unhelpful to me. The illustration is about ignoring speed limits and drink-driving legislation and setting my own standards. I think it is a muddy illustration. It seems to imply that the government is necessarily right in the limits it sets. For a somewhat irreverent Australian, comparing godliness to being a sensibile, law-abiding citizen doesn't enhance the horror of rebellion against God.

- Double quotations marks appear to be used inconsistently, see for example the double quotations marks around 'good' on page 39.

- The Christian cliche 'anger is not the opposite of love, indifference is' pops up on page 43. This is a sloppy use of language. Anger is the opposite of love. Love is postive concern. Anger is negative concern. Indifference is the opposite of all forms of concern. It's like saying
'death isn't the opposite of life, non-existence is'.

- 'What would happen if Rupert Murdoch was immortal?' page 45 asks. This is a distracting illustration. I am immediately thinking that sooner or later he would be ousted by another.

Chapter 3

There are a lot of family illustrations. Perhaps too many?

Chapter 8 (did I run out of steam?)

Hell is described in purely negative terms, as the horror of being cast out of God's presence. Although it feels awful to have to advocate for thinking of hell in stronger terms, it seems that you can't go past much of the active element of hell - God is present in wrath and judgement.

- Further, God's judgement is said to be because he 'respects our decision'. In a sense, of course, this is true. But it is pretty misleading language to use.

Volume 7 Number 5 (bonus post)

Tim Keller cites a book by David Brooks named 'Bobos in paradise':

Over last hundred years there was always a cultural war between the bourgeois and the bohemians.

Now we have a hybrid of the two: 'bobos'. They have the moral relativism of the bohemians with the materialism of the bourgeois.

Tim Keller suggest urbanised Christians need to be the opposite type of hybrid: love of diversity of teh bohemians with the moral seriousness of the bourgeois.

Perhaps they could be called 'obobs' he says...

Volume 7 Number 5

1. God hasn't just opened his home to us, he has opened up his family to us. For us to be like him is not even just to have peopel in our homes on our terms, at our times, when we're in control. It is to welcome brothers and sisters into the fabric of our lives.

2. Acts 6-8 contains an interesting irony: The apostles appoint deacons to free them up to preach the word, and yet in the end it is these deacons who also turn out to be gospel preachers.

I don't think this is because the apostles weren't doing their job necessarily, but I think it is an encouragement about how things pan out.

3. A preaching book I am currently reading speaks of 'verfremdung' as a preaching technique. The term is German for 'alienation', and was used by Bertolt Brecht, the situations Berline cabaret dude.

The idea is we have become over-familiar with things (eg the gospel). Therefore the artists (preacher) needs to confront peopel with familiar things in unfamiliar ways. This alienates peopel with the familiar so that they acutally hear it afresh.

Verfremdung. Do it.

4. The same preaching book observed that lower class people in West Berlin respond well to highly referential, symbolic language. Perhaps the highly referential nature of hiphop, developed in American slums is another example of the same principal.

It made me reflect on simplicaity, clarity and so forth. I think that for some people when you speak in a clear, precise way, they often react as if you are being technical, confusing, or irrelevant to them. Perhaps over-precision, and even the drive to John-Dickson-liek simplicity are quite bourgois things.

If we want to reach the lower-class or the uneducated, perhaps rather than striving for crisp, simple, precise language, we need to embrace more refernetial and symbolic language. Living cliches, pictorial language etc.

5. Phillip Jensen says: "The symbol of Christianity if not the fish. it is not the cross. It is our love for each other."