Re-post: Unfair eschatology (from 2007)

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

1. Dismissing all premillenialism as pre-tribulational premill

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

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

2. Dismissing all belief in a personal antichrist as premill

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

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

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

Part 1: Putting things in historical order

Part 2: Resolving contradictions

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

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

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

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

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

Discovering and testing possible 'typology'

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

  • out of mere 'coincidence'

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

  • through deliberate stylistic composition by scriptural authors

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

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

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

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

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

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

So my final acronym in this series: FULFILMENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are other passages Like this one?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does the passage explain it is Intentionally symbolic?

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

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

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

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

Is this passage Mentioned in the New Testament?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the Nisan fulfilment?

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

Even those passages which most explicitly 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what should I look for? Four big things:

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

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

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Mirrors 16th December 2016

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Re-post: John Bell lecture talking about Bell Shakespeare company (from 2007)

(apologies for all the typos!)

Artistic side of running theatre company. Many people are unsure of what a play director actually does, so let me tell you.
-Director is the person responsible for the overall production. He/she has to first of all come up with the concept: what does the play mean? why does it matter? how to communicate that to the audience? how should it look? who should play the various roles? what sort of music and lighting? what other areas of expertise? acrobatics, choreography, martial arts, etc.
In all of those areas she can play it safe or take risks. a radical design concept can stimulate an audience or send them away in droves. should she go for obvious casting or cast against type and surprise the audience with a brand new interpretation - an unlikely choice of actor? and what will the impact be on box office? how much should you strive for star names and how much should you honour your obligation to the next generation by giving newcomers a chance? (in this area I'm afraid I tend to be a bit of a softy and love pushing new talent to the fore)
- I try to give myself 12 months to prepare a production, to do the necessary research, to find my designer and conduct auditions. Once I've cast the roles I call the actors in to collaborate on the costumes. the actor has to feel that this entire costume is in harmony with his/her concept for the character. the only catch is the actor saying 'But I don't know who I am until I start rehearsing with the other actors". so one has to leave as much room as possible for late decision for peopel changing their minds, while keeping happy the costume makers who are working to tight deadlines.
- When the set, costumes, props, sound, lighting equipment and area is finalised, I submit the whole lot to eh production manager for costing. my most recent experience of this was with Romeo and Juliet. My production manager looked at the designs approvingly and said "they're lovely. now go away and cut $140000." so you spend the next few months scaling down, paring back to the bone. that's all pre-production,.
- And then comes the intense five-week rehearsal period, to get the whole lot together and put the show on. one of my priorities is to create a team spirit, to make everybody feel included, to make everybody feel that they own the show, to create an emotionally safe environment so that people can take risks and reveal their innermost, private selves without embarrassment. everybody should feel empowered, so that those actors playing the smallest roles I will say, 'show us some exercise or skill we can use in rehearsal, either as a warm up or as part of the show." and when debate gets heated I pass around the director's hat. everybody's entitled to wear it to express an opinion, every suggestion should be listened to, and nobody can be shouted down while wearing the director's hat.
- Say you have to devise a battle sequence, a frequent challenge in Shakespeare. I have two options, I can either call in a fight director to devise it, teach it to the cast, or I can approach it more organically. you can split the cast into groups of 3 or 4 and say "each show me six ways of falling off a horse, each show me six ways of killing someone with an axe." and when they;'ve all had time to work out their routines, we have a show and tell. everybody gets a go and we videotape the whole lot so that nothing gets forgotten. then the fight director and i will sit down and watch the videos, we choose the best dozen or so routines and work out a sequence, with the creators of each routine teaching it to the rest of the cast. What this achieves is a feeling of spoteneity, lots of different ideas and actors feeling empowered, even those whose routines aren't used are happy to have the opportunity to the whole cast and the cast are proud of the sequence that they had a hand in creating, rather than simply learning something by rote.

- The director has to play the benign autocrat, he can't appear indecisive, because that will make for insecurity in the cast. he mustn't appear flustered and impatient. and he mustn't, above all, play favourites.
- One of his hardest jobs is to pace the rehearsal process, with everybody working towards the same goal and being fully prepared by the opening night. he has to learn who to push, and when to just let things coast along. it's like baking bread. he mustn't overdirect, but leave the actors room for sponteneity and ownership of the role. and he must be both a diplomat and a psychologist, learning how to read the signs. at times aggression, defensiveness and even laziness are a cover for insecurity. what the actor needs is encouragement rather than reprimand. the director has to mindful of every individual actor, his needs and his private process, and yet maintain an overview of the whole show.
- Some directors get emotionally need or impatient and this makes the cast distrustful. some directors actually encoruage friction and disharmony in the rehearsing room because they feed off the tension, they feel that it creates drama. I find the reverse and regard all negativity energy as destructive. I feel that I'm not doing this for the money or the fame, so why be miserable as well? in my epxerience it's only a happy and supported team that makes the effort worthwhile. rehearsing room dramas may provide a quick fix, but the long term results of a six month tour can be poisonous.
- But a director can't be too soft either. for the sake of the play he has to keep raising the stakes, encouraging full emotional commitment, pushing the actors to taking greater risks, acting like a drill sergeant when necessary, to keep the show crisp and tight and having the courage to knock back inappropriate ideas.
- Once the show is opened, that's not the end of it. the director has to keep an eye on the play when it's on the road, dropping in once or twice a week to make sure it's still on track, themorale is high and not too many little 'improvements' have crept in.

As well as an actor and adirector I am also the artistic director of the Bell Shapespeare Company. So what does that entail?
- All of the above, plus determining the policy and repetoire of the company. what plays to do and why, who should direct them and what's expected of them asethetically.
- I'm also expected to be the frontman or spokesman for the company on occasion. not so much in the business sense, I leave that to my excellent management team, my generla manager, my deputy, and other heads of department: finance, education, sponsorship, fundraising, marketing etc. but, in constantly defining the vision and mission statement and selling it to sponsors, owners and the media.
- I also see it as my duty to seek out and encourage new talent. actors, directors, designers, composers etc. i like working with young people. i hope that they keep me young and keep surprising me with their fresheness and their different outlook on life.
- It's part of my job as artistic director to keep an overview with all that's happening with our vast education program and to make sure all out touring shows are keepign up to scratch and to collaborate with all the various departments within the organisation to make sure we're all singing to the same tune.
- I have an number of associate artists both actors and directors of the company whose careers I wish to foster and whose input I welcome in the creative process.
- As an actor-director myself I belive that it's good for teh artistic director to maintain a public profile and to lead from the front occasionally as do Robert Nevan, Graham Murphy and Richard Tornetti in their various organisations. So how succesful is it, this juggling act, this wearing of two hats as artist and business person? Well for a start it's nothing new, in fact it's a time-honoured practice. William Shakespeare was an actor as well as a playwright. he acted in all his own plays as well as directing them. he also had shares in the theatre and proved to be a shrewd businessman and an aggressive litigant. he was highly succesful in attracting patronage, first from a series of wealthy noblemen, then the Lord Chamberlain and finally, the king himself - sponsorship doesn't get much better than that! His near contemporary, Moliere was another artist who had his own company and that tradition ahs continued to the present day, reaching its zenith in the 19th century... today many theatre companies, dance companies, orchestras and pop groups are headed, or at least fronted, by practising artists.
- Are there tensions? of course there are. the ideal businessperson is expected to be pragmatic, predictable, steady and strategic. Many artists on the other hand, thrive on chaos, risk, instability and emotional impulses. they can be at their most thrilling when they are erratic. but a lot of corporate people are a bit more open minded than they used to be in this area and they are looking at the values of flexibility, risk taking adn thinking outside the sqaure.

A few years ago my wife and I were invited to duntrune to give a Shakespeare recital for teh young officers of ADFA. before the recital I asked the commandant why he had invited us. he said 'tomorrow's soldiers are a new breed. they're going to be sent to all sorts of trouble spots. they can't just jump out of a plane and start shooting at people. they're going to have to learn immediately to assess the situation, empathise with the locals, and exercise diplomacy. they can learn a lot from actors. and especially from Shakespeare, noone has understood better what makes people tick."
- The artist's chief tool is imagination and as Einstein pointed out, imagination is the basis of all science. artists teach us to see life not just as it is, but as it could be. they teach us about innovation, creative speculation, selfknowledge and resiliance. the stifling of the imagination results in drudgery, dullness and the lack of inspiration, inertia. as individuals, art has to power to transform us, to expand our horizons, and give us deeper insights into the human condition. it can teach us to empathise, to put ourselve in other people's shoes, to see things from their point of view.
- I regard it as an enormous privilege that i've been able to spend the best part of the last 16 years working day by day in the company of William Shakespeare, to share something of his vision of the world, his joy, his despair, his indignation and healthy scepticism. i it weren't for him, I don't know if I wouldh ave devoted my life to the theatre. but through his work I have been able to conduct a fascinating and neverneding investigation of life, of peopel and of myself. his plkays empower actors and give them an unrivalled range of self-expression in tackling roles of such magnitude, such passion, such truthful insight. through Shakespeare's characters, actors can feel their innermost selves. Shakespeare challenges directors to bring his stories to life with clarity, with emotional prevcision and with simplicity.
- All of us within the theatre industry regard ourselves as fortunate that we're able to exercise wahtever talent we have in order to make a living in a profession that gives so much variety, excitement and satisfaction.

John Bell (Bell Shakespeare Theatre Company)
Radio National 'Summer Talks' from accessed 28th Feb 2007 [link no longer active]

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Mirrors 9th December 2016

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I get the ministry conference challenge… but what do I do on Monday morning?

I've known lots of people who are totally on board with the kind of challenges to rise up and do better and lead (by God's strength and for the glory of God in love for others). They hear these sessions and they get the theory.

But these people say "I don't get how to actually apply this week to week — what do I do differently on Monday morning?"

It's that challenge of implementation. How do I actually implement these things?

I get the theory that I should be spending more time on leaders and the lost. I get that I should work on the church not in the church. Or whatever. But how?

The kinds of things I might need to do more of

Although you need to actually figure out what will be the most effective and strategic thing in your particular context at any particular time... I think getting into the groove of doing these things more, and blocking out time for these things regularly will be of benefit even if they're not the precisely strategic things. Deliberate action is beneficial in and of itself, most of the time:

How could I start building into my week/month routine an hour or so for some of the following:

  • Getting feedback on and doing a second draft of the sermon to make it engaging, relevant, well applied and so on.
  • Looking at my strategic plans and commitments and making sure I am taking next steps for each. And if I'm not sure what the next steps are, think that through or get help.
  • Meeting with key leaders briefly, to build relationship, stay on the same page with vision, and get updates on how they are progressing.
  • Getting good and detailed reports on all areas of ministry. Figuring out what data you need and how to collect it. Chasing it up. Analysing it. Being familiar with every aspect of 
  • Planning and running meetings and events that train and support leaders and help recruit new leaders: semi-regularly gathering together, communicating with, training, envisioning and supporting your existing ministry leaders and team members.
  • Planning and running meetings and events for non-Christians and young Christians. Investing good consistent time in evangelistic courses and newcomers courses.
  • Writing up job descriptions, organisational charts, guidelines and other things that will make it easier to pass ministry on to others.
  • Planning and implementing communication to my staff, leaders, ministry team members, congregation and others.
  • Planning and seeking external funding and other support.
  • Getting 'professional development' in an area I know I'm weak, or in leveraging an area of strength — whether coaching, conferences, books or podcasts.

Some things I might need to do less of

What are the kinds of things that fill your ministry week that can mean we have no time or energy left to make changes in terms of ministry leadership?

The list is endless, really. But it's 

  • Doing the bits and pieces of ministry myself, because it's 'easier to do it myself': from weekly emails to stacking chairs, to opening up the building for those who want to rent the church hall.
  • Overly fussing about relatively unimportant details: fiddling with the details of a new app or something.
  • Academic pedantry: there's a point where extra burrowing into the exegesis or theology of my sermon will reap little benefit for the edification of the church
  • Paraministry activities: being consumed with committees, letters to the Editor/local member, Facebook debates, weddings, funerals.
  • Undisciplined meetings: meetings with late start times, no agenda, no end time.
  • Over-delivering in pastoral care and community life: my whole week can be spent in the more 'chaplaincy' and 'public figure' sides of ministry. 
  • Procrastinating and not working hard: getting the perfect crema on my coffee during my lunch break, watching YouTubes, chit chat, knocking off early, starting late.
  • Overworking and not resting well: it's hard to be creative and strategic if I'm in an overworked frenzy, working hard and dumb, rather than working smart.

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Mirrors 2nd December 2016

I stopped posting these roundups, because I was noticing that I was doing this all on Twitter, feeding to the Christian Reflections Facebook Page.

But I thoughtlessly didn't consider just cutting and pasting my Twitter links into an email once a week.

Well here we go:

  • Rory curates your media consumption @Roryshiner
  • .@managertools in the Wall Street Journal
  • Lol! Every episode of Black Mirror ever
  • This @spaciestribe quiz will tell you what TODO list app is best for your needs.
  • Sorry all, but because of an iTunes issue we had to create a new @ufc_utas podcast. Re-subscribe here

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The problems with protest movements: from feminism to evangelicalism

It seems the internet amplifies protest movements in helpful and unhelpful ways.

It is a powerful tool to highlight a whole range of media: from academic aritcles, to news stories, to marketing, to artistic expression to personal experiences and opinions.

But it seems to also create a setting where outrage can dominate and where 'staying on message' can trump more measured discussion. And these tendencies in some ways seem to also be enhanced by the particular postmodern awareness about tone and motive and privilege.

So on a bunch of topics — women in the workplace, children's education, theological education, domestic violence, racism, gay marriage — I see things buzz across my internet in a way that makes me uncomfortable. Things are expressed in a simplistic and overstated way, and then any attempt to soften and clarify is dismissed as 'minimising' or 'not emphasising the message we really need to hear right now'.

So while realising there is a place for marketing, and advocacy and shouting loud enough to be heard and 'changing the conversation' and being timely and appropriate, here are some risks if most of our public converation is determined by a 'protest movement mentality'. With each of them, I will use ministry/theology protest movement examples below, but the same points could well apply to all sorts of social and political matters as well.

1. Focussing on a single issue is inevitably distorting

You have to speak loudly and bluntly to ‘cut through’ and get a hearing. You have so much pushing back against you, so you have to shove really hard back. I get that. I’m a preacher. There’s an important place for activist rhetoric. 

But there is also a danger here. If most of your cultural output is driven by this approach, then you will distort things. Your issue will become bigger, and every manifestation of it will become equally terrible. But there is more to life, art, politics and theology than your hot button issue. And something that “could be problematic” is not as serious as an “actual problem”.

From my experience, it can be hard to to provide gentle qualifications to those in protest movements. Because we have adopted a single stance, we are always seeking to correct what we consider to be the ‘bigger problem’ that we struggle to concede any point.

So the 'every Christian an evangelist' line often adandons the actual biblical data about evangelism and gifts of the body, because it is convinced that the key pastoral mesage must always be 'you must evangelise' otherwise we will 'let people off the hook'.

2. A tendency to be simplistic and idealistic

Problems everywhere, and we want them all fixed. But this prophetic stance often hasn’t figured out the details of its ideal future, and hasn’t figured out what to do with people who might disagree.

We do need larger, idealism-driven cultural conversations. But we also need measured, realistic solutions for everyday life. Is the solution workable for society? Is it liveable for real human beings?

Ideals around missional and organic church movements often become unrealistic. Or else they create subcultures of people who happen to be able to live the ideal and exclude those who don't fit the mold.

3. Socially radical rather than socially conservative

Radicals want fast, discontinuous change, they are convinced that the status quo is bad, and that their proposal is good. Social conservatives are not fundamentally opposed to change. But they are wary of radical disruptive change and unforseen consequences. Revolutions can be horrible, bloody things that don’t necessarily change things for the better, right?

Something about the prohetic idealis mentioned above drives protest movements to be socially radical. Ironically, even many so-called 'conservative' movements often become 'radical' in their push for rapid and disruptive change 'back to the way things were'!

Protest movements don’t need to buy into the extreme end of conservatism. But they need to hear the caution. Two good questions to ask, as we are trying to address much-needed change are: 

1) Why have most societies in all of human history had this problem? Is there possibly an unavoidable reality that causes this, even while the abuses are inexcusable?

2) What are the possible negative side effects of our proposed changes? Is it possible that some groups might actually lose out if our program for change advances?

Is there a reason why many churches are ordinary when it comes to effective ministry outcomes? Is there a reason why many pastors are ordinary when it comes to leadership? If we were too 'strict' with outcome KPIs would we actually lose sight of the ordinary weakness of ministry as treasures in jars of clay? Could it distort our ministry ethics to hit our targets?

4. Assume that those they advocate for are always right

That is, not only do we need to take the time to give the disadvantaged a hearing, but we should agree with their analysis and their solution.

It is true that the powerful won’t see everything clearly, and so their solutions won’t be the most helpful: they need to hear other points of view. But it is equally true that those with less power won’t see everything clearly either, and their solutions won’t always be right. Power distorts our outlook in particular ways; weakness distorts our outlook in different ways. 

There are uniquely bad things about discrimination that those in power practice. By the position of power these can have uniquely destructive effects. This doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as discrimination of the powerless. Racial minorities can be racist and women can be sexist, too.

In a strongly traditional church, the non-Christian and new convert need to be spoken for. The structures and systems of the church are not ordered for their needs and interests. In fact because of our doctrine of sin and our doctrine of regeneration, there are theological reasons that their voices are 'silenced'.

To help a traditional, inward-looking church consider needs of non-Christians and new converts we need to speak loudly, and emphasis priorities of love, mission, listening, being flexible on matters of conscious. We need to raise their importance in the thinking and decision making of the church and its power structures. 

But it would be a great foolishness to slip into thinking that the non-Christian or new convert are almost always right. Their critique of the church might be the result of a wrong worldview, mixed motives, or spiritual immaturity. 

5. Aggressive and doctrinaire

When you are passionately seeing to solve a big problem that you care deeply about, it is good and right to become emotional and forceful. Often this adds extra authority and urgency. At the very least it is a legitimate reaction. 

But sometimes this always understandable and sometimes effective reaction needs to be reigned in. Sometimes it gives way to meanness and hatred. For every smug and belittling stereotype there is also a sneering and mocking revenge stereotype.

And sometimes protest movement advocacy lapses into to a Pharisaical policing of any failure to comply with the agenda of the protest movement.

And so sometimes it actually fails to be persuasive. It becomes divisive and alienating. And so it becomes counter-productive. When a protest movement regularly gets a reaction to its slogans and approach, rather than criticising those who reaction, the movement should also consider whether they are communicating clearly. 

Ever been in a situtation where someone has been 'pinged' for using the word 'worship' to talk about singing (worship is whole of life don't you know?!) or using the word 'church' to talk about the buidling (church is the gathered people of God around his word don't you know?!).  Even though it is true that using clear words helps us think clearly, sometimes this kind of word policing is just vexatious and inflexible, sacrificing gracious fellowship in favour of correct terminology.

When someone reacts to the MTS movement with concerns about preserving value for all Christian work and creating 'second class citizens' in the church, we can sometimes go on the attack too quickly, correcting them and even accusing them of idolosing career. But perhaps it would be more persuasive to concede that this can be the risk of MTS. Perhaps this might sometimes lead to being better understood?

6. Not fully representative

It’s important for us to be careful whom we presume to speak for. The larger the group of people, the more diverse their opinions, desires and needs. Presuming to speak for others is a way of leveraging power, and can be a very important thing. When people realise how big an issue is, it rightly grabs their attention. But it is dishonest to claim to speak for all people, and cynical to claim to do so in order to get more political leverage.

Especially those of us who write and speak in public for Christ, we need to be careful that we don't give the impression that somehow on all Christians, or all of a certain sub-category of Christians, agree with us. We need to be sure to qualify such declarations with 'many', 'a large number' or even 'most'.


So there is an important place for protest movements. And an important place for the various types of rhetoric that protest movements employ. But if we only speak in the language of the protest movement, we will do much damage to our cause in the end.

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Why we have the moral intuition murder of humans already born is worse than early term abortion

The strongest and most passionate Pro-Life advocates want to make me as emotionally horrified by very early term abortion as I am about the murder of a 3 year old. But this is hard to do. There feels something amiss with this emotional appeal. Our moral intuition suggests there is a difference here.

But what is the difference? And how can you talk about the difference, without therefore suggesting that early term abortion is ok?

In this article, Christopher Kazcor spells out some reasons given by Andrew Peach for this moral intuition, while arguing that abortion is still wrong, whether early term or late term:

  1. A murder by torturous means is worse than a murder by painless means. So an early term abortion, a foetus might not feel pain.
  2. To fail to meet a moral obligation when it is easy to do is worse due to its laxness. To fail to carry a child to term late in a pregnancy is an 'easier' prospect (all things being equal), since it has already advanced so far.
  3. The humanity of a fully developed human being is more evident and so intuitively obvious.
  4. Deliberate immoral action is worse than immoral action taken when in a state of panic.
  5. The length of the relationship with a person makes a crime against them more severe.

Kazcor concludes:

All intentional killing of innocent human beings violates that right, which all of them enjoy, but killing an embryonic human being and killing an adult human being are not equally wrong in other respects. Killing an innocent adult harms the communities that the person contributed to and makes other adults fear for their own lives. None of these harms is involved in taking unborn human life. Similarly, killing a private citizen and killing a prime minister are equally wrong, because the two have an equal right to live, but killing the prime minister may also harm the economy or social stability and perhaps even prompt retaliation or war. 

The common intuition”shared, in general, by advocates and opponents of abortion alike”that late abortion is worse than early abortion seems to undermine the basic equality of all human beings and to help justify early abortion. In fact, it implies no such thing. Circumstantially, no two cases of intentional killing of the innocent are exactly alike. Intrinsically, however, every case is identical, as an act that unjustly deprives the victim of life. That it is worse to kill a human adult than to kill a human being in utero, and worse to kill a child already born than to kill one at the embryonic stage, does not in any way justify the killing of the latter. 

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Move your campus ministry student executive from working group to governance board

Most campus ministries/'Christian Unions' in Australia, especially those connected with AFES are groups affiliated with their local university union or 'student guild'. These affiliated associations are governed by an 'executive committee' 

The role of the executive committee in smaller Christian Unions

In smaller campus groups (under 50 active students), the executive committee might be the majority of student leaders in the group. This group are also the small group leaders, evangelists and so on.

There are rarely big needs for a formal executive committee at all for these groups. It is a 'letter of the law' requirement. Most of the issues of governance are sorted out relationally and by consensus. As a result it's much more common to forget to tick the legal boxes at this stage.

The role of the executive committee as the Christian Union grows and builds teams

As the group grows, more 'ordinary members' get added to this committee, not as treasurer or vice president, but simply as another leader joining the leadership team. It becomes natural for this committee meeting to continue to be a place where collaborating, planning, training and relationship building take place.

But as a group grow larger than 50–70 active students, and the leadership team larger than 12–15 students some changes happen:

  • The committee becomes too large to function as one group, and so quiet voices remain unheard, or discussions drag on too long.
  • The committee becomes vulnerable to matters that require a formal vote. If all its members are constitutional committee members and a serious matter of doctrine, morality or strategy required a vote, things might get tricky.
  • Much of the committee functions are now happening in other team meetings. As you need to build teams for evangelists, or for small group leaders, more of these functions are happening there.

But until we realise this, we can carry on running the executive committee meetings the same way. But I want to suggest a better way.

The benefits of making the transition to more of a governance board model

Once the CU grows larger enough to strat running multiple ministry teams, I suggest shrinking the size, scope and meeting regularity of the executive committee. Move FROM:

  • A large group that meets for all sorts of planning and training on a regular basis TO
  • A smaller group that meets for higher level governance on a semi-regular basis

So the executive committee might just consist of its 4 or 5 office holders, and meet quarterly for 90 minutes to discuss major decisions.

What are the advantages of this approach?

  • It frees up time. Becuase students and campus staff have more flexibility with time, it can be easy to become inefficient with time. But we still only have limited time and energy. Time freed up in unnecessary meetings can be put elsewhere.
  • It trains student leaders in a lifetime skill of doing good ministry governance. God-willing our student executive members will go on to be pastors, elders, parish councillors and board members of other Christian organisations. If we can figure out theologically informed, ethically constrained and wisely effective 'best practice' for committees, we can equip them to be a force for good in a context where often professional adults waste lots of time in sloppy meetings.
  • It dignified and empowers the highest level of student leadership. Campus ministers often assume that empowering student leadership is about collaborating with students. Or leaving them to do what they want. But this misses out that the formal, constitutional power to make high level decisions about the association is a unique power that student committees have. By treating the executive meeting 
  • It clarifies the role of ministry teams. When the student executive meeting is clarified in its role, it really enhances the importance of the other ministry teams. For here is where the collaboration, planning, training and relationship building take place. This is where the day to day 'action' takes place.
  • It forces a decisions about the bits and bobs of ministry planning that are still with the student executive. Sometimes matters like Mid Year Conference (MYC)/Summit or Semester 2 Mission might still be on the student executive's agenda for no other reason than we haven't yet thought where these projects 'belong'. By making this move, it forces us to think about the organisational chart and figure out where these projects should be managed now. Should MYC be managed by the Student Events Team? Or should we form a new temporary ministry team each year especially for it?

The danger of making this transition

If we are not careful, we could create a problem in our CUs that is already present in our churches: we could have a class of leaders who make decisions for the ministry but are not actually involved in everyday spiritual activities at all! Elders/parish councillors who don't evangelism, edifiy, serve: but simply meet to say No to proposals from eager members.

While training students in the areas of governance leadership, we must keep investing in them the more foundational skills of prayer, Bible teaching, evangelism and practical love.

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Micro-aggressions: weaponised words and weaponised sensitivity

Weaponised words

Those who follow the teacher of the Sermon On The Mount are open to seeing the deep and awful reality of small things. A lustful look and a hateful word are in the same moral realm as adultery and murder.

So the newish language of 'micro-aggression' to describe apparently small words and actions ought to ring true to us. We know how a choice of words can crush, dismiss, tempt, distort. Sticks and stones can break your bones and names can really hurt you. Words can, as I read somewhere recently, become 'weaponised'.

Words draw their meaning from social contexts and personal experiences. A word or action can become very loaded with powerful and painful social connotations. So in addition to guarding our motives, we ned to also consider the other person and how they will hear us. More than this, we need to ask and listen carefully to understand how words and acts that seem like 'no big deal' to us might actually carry enormous significance to others!

In this sense, 'political correctness' is about love. About courtesy and considering the other person, over and above ourselves and our rights to say what we jolly well like. The burden of 'getting our language right' is the burden of living well with others. It's not something to grumble about, but something to step towards.

Weaponised sensitivity

The human heart is crafty and sinfulness is universal: it corrupts the powerful and the oppressed, the hurtful and the insulted, the loud mouthed and the fragile. And so it's possible for those who advocate for courtesy and sensitivity to lose sight of the right goal of love and become fixated. The wonderful critical tools of especially the last half-century have equipped us to think well about how words can become weaponised.

But these same critical tools, when wielded recklessly, give a new form of power-play: what could be called 'weaponised sensitivity'. Although a massive burden of responsibility lies especially on the shoulders of the powerful to use their words in love, there remains a general responsibility that we all share: to be resilient in the face of hardship, to seek to understand the intent of the other person no matter how thoughtless they might be, and so on. Otherwise, 'weaponised sensitivity' can fuel hatred in our hearts.

Although hateful words are in the same category, as Jesus teaches, that doesn't mean that they are absolutely morally equivalent. Although hateful words can be deeply hurtful, to the point of leading to effect that can be profoundly harmful, this doesn't make the words in and of themselves harmful. Although it is common for the powerful to minimise their guilt, it is also possible for the oppressed to exaggerate it, in a resentful power play of their own.

Even while we hurt, we have the responsibility to seek, as much as we are able, to be generous and gracious and flexible with others. Even while we are vulnerable, we have the capacity to grow in resilience. The burden of 'having to put up with this crap' is actually the burden of living well with other people. It's not something to get fed up with, but something to patiently bear with.

Speak the Truth in Love and Seeking Justice with Grace

If we maintain the freedom to speak the truth but have not love, we are merely rude Philistines.

If we advocate for courtesy but have not love, we are merely resentful Pharisees.

We need to cultivate love in our hearts and an ethics of love in our civic life.

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Helping people understand the necessity and diversity of administrative costs in ministry

The Australian Charities and Not For Profits Commission has published an article on the necessity of administratie costs and the diversity of ratios between admin and direct action cossts in various charities.

The article reads a bit like an email rant that slowly evolved into an article. But it's pretty good.

In summary, their advice is:

Low administration costs alone do not necessarily indicate an effective or well-run charity. Similarly, higher administration costs do not necessarily indicate that a charity is ineffective or poorly-run. There are inefficient charities with poor outcomes that report low administration costs, and there are charities that spend more on administration and have efficient programs and successful outcomes. In deciding which charities to support, you should look at the work that charities do and the impact that they have.

It helpfully points out that the simple, obvious fact different charities might report what things count as 'admin' different. Do you call someone an 'administrator' or 'project overseer'? Are the related costs to travel (like insurance) an 'admin overhead' or part of 'travel to the site of the project'?

In fact they even say :

All charities incur administration costs. Even small volunteer-led charities that employ no staff and have no property will incur costs, for example simple things such as stationery or travel expenses.

Charities that promise “every dollar will go to X” are not helping the sector or the public to understand these matters.

Later on they explain how there are all sorts of factors that affect how large the overheads are:

  • Charity size: some charities are big with extensive programs and operations, and the related economies of scale while others are smaller with narrower focuses;
  • Charity location: some charities operate in low-cost areas, while others are located in more expensive cities; some charities operate nationally or internationally, while others operate in a single location;
  • Charitable purposes: some charities work with high profile or popular causes and can attract funds easily, whereas others are focussed on causes with lower profiles and need to work harder on fundraising and awareness;
  • Charity life-cycle: some charities are new and have a lot of start-up costs, and others have been around for a long time with established processes and a strong base of supporters and donors;
  • Charity activities: some charities engage in direct charitable work and incur a range of costs, while others act as grant-making or fundraising bodies which distribute funds and do not engage in direct work.

Using ratios or percentages of administration costs as a point of comparison is unreliable as they don’t indicate the extent to which a charity is achieving results and making a difference in the community.

A very helpful article to think through the issues involved, and help explain them to others!

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Depression may manifest itself differently in men than women

I've found Arch Hart's books helpful in understanding myself as well as others. His one on Adrenaline and Stress was especially helpful to me a few years ago. But also Unmasking Male Depression had some really illuninating sections.

One point, kind of obvious when you think about it, is that men often experience and manifest depression in different ways than women. And somes this means that men don't recognise it for what it is. Some generalisations he observes:

  • Men tend to blame others for their depression where women tend to blame themselves.
  • Men tend to act out their inner turmoil, through anger for example, where women tend to turn inwards.
  • Men sturggle to maintain control at all costs, where women might have difficulty maintaining control.
  • Men can become overly irritable and hostile to others where women tend to be nice.
  • Men tend to attack when hurt where women tend to withdraw.
  • Men try to fix depression by problem solving where women try to fix depression by trying harder.
  • Men turn to sport, TV, sex and alcohol where women tend to turn to food, friends and emotional needs.
  • Men feel shamed by depression where women tend to feel guilty.
  • Men can become compulsive time keepers where women can procrastinate.
  • Men can be terrified to confront their weakness, where women might exaggerate and obsess over their weaknesses.

It doesn't matter if you are a woman who relates to lots of the more generally male traits or vice versa. The point is that recognising that depression can express itself in less typical ways might help you notice it quicker.

I notice I'm becoming angry and overly concerned with time, performance and control. Maybe I'm actually depressed? You see what I mean?

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Preaching advice: must a sermon be polished?

There's a stream of oratory that's polished and measure and crafted and delivered to the second. This is the kind of thing I guess TV hosts and national leaders have to speak to, to make sure they say the right thing, in the time allotted.

We can learn a lot from those who craft speeches in this way. And some preaches are naturally inclined to a style that could be prepared the same way.

But there's also a stream of oratory that's raw. The speaker works off notes, ad libs, expands on thoughts in a freeform manner. Some standup comics and public lectures fit into this category.

And you know what? There are strengths to this approach too. And some preachers wll be more comfortable in this style.

A minor point, really. But worth putting into the same category as the endless debates about how long a sermon should go for, as if there is a 'right answer' out there. 

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A personal history in books 3: According to Plan

Dan, a guy who became a Christian around the same time I did is now the pastor of my church. His dad used to work for a Christian bookshop and has remained a big reader of Christian books. He was also the elder of the church where I became a Christian.

He gave me a book, within 12 months of me becoming a Christian from a non-Christian family. Maybe for Christmas? I'm not sure. I didn't know anything about it. Never heard of it or its author. The cover was a bit childish but kind of approachable in a late 90s book cover sort of way.

Anyway I read it because I read pretty much anything anyone gave me at this point in those eager early days. And it blew. My. Mind.

It gave the Old Testament to me as a book I could read.

I'd read the whole Bible as a young convert, and been amazed, sometimes bored, always intrigued by it. But I wasn't super sure how to make sense of it. The Israelites gave up their piercings when they left Egypt... should Christians not have noserings?

But According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy told me that 'all I had to do' was place whatever bit of the Bible I was reading into a phase of salvation history... and then see how it contributed to my understanding of the Kingdom of God.

So I remember trying it out on all the baffling bits I had encountered as I'd read through the Bible. And it really helped me see through the confusing details to the big picture. 

So awesome.

Now since then I've learned lots more and become a better Bible reader in lots of different ways. But this book is still a formative one for how I think about, read, and preach the Word of God.

And for what it's worth, although longer, its opening chapters and closing examples provide a way more accessible entry point than Goldsworthy's shorter but denser Gospel And Kingdom.

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Encouraging words: Ministry

A couple of months ago Stuart Heath published a post that appeared on the Gospel Coalition Australia site: 'Discouraging Words: Ministry'.

He claimed that the use of the word 'ministry' to desribe 'Christian things' — like working for a church or stacking chairs at church — is unhelpful. More: it is discouraging.

The reason, he argued, is twofold:

  1. It 'reinforces a false division between the sacred and the secular': so that stacking chairs at church is more spiritual than stacking chairs in the break room at work.
  2. It 'reinforces a false division between clergy and laity': so that those paid to lead churches are 'ministers'. 

Better, Stuart says, to avoid the word 'ministry' altogether and instead opt for other terms like 'Christian leadership' and 'serving and loving others'.

Discouraging culture vs discouraging word

Now in this post I don't intend to address Stuart's argument point by point. It seems that a larger Christian culture that creates a sharp division between the sacred and the secular and the 'clergy' and the 'laity' might be discouraging... but I don't think such a culture is as universal as he seems to suggest. Nor do I think that the alleged misuse of the word 'ministry' is all that significant in creating such a culture.

Moreover, I detect a particular theological emphasis in Stuart's post that leads him to be 'discouraged' where others might not be. For example, what if you thought there was something of a distinction (although not a sharp dualistic one) between the sacred and the secular, unlike Stuart? In this case you might see a difference of sorts between stacking chairs at church as opposed to stacking chairs in the break room. In this case you wouldn't be 'discouraged' by a word highlighting that difference.

Stuart's article is his read of the culture, plus his proposed solution, all informed possibly by a particular theological slant, and I don't really want to wade through that. 

Instead I want to paint a different picture of 'ministry', by going back and doing a word study on the 'diakonia' word groups (diakonia, diakoneo, diakonos).

Ministry just means 'serving'?

Well it's not that simple. The words often translated ministry, like most words, has a spread of meanings:

1. To wait on tables: often carrying with it the idea of bringing hospitality from the hosts to the guests (like Acts 6 for example).

2. To be an emissary: bringing a message or other work from a sender to a recipient. See 2Corinthians 8–9, where the delivery of the financial collection from the Gentile churches to Jerusalem is called 'ministry'. This also an important theological usage: the 'ministry of the gospel' is the bringing of the gospel message from God to the world. See the end of Colossians 1 for example.

3. To have an official role: sometimes this 'bringing from one to another' emphasis is lost in some usages. Then a 'minister' or a 'ministry' is simple a formal role. So the governors are ministers of God in their administration of justice, for example. Likewise perhaps this is the sense of 'ministry' in the New Testament letters: the job given to the apostles and others.

4. To fulfill some other benefit or help or duty: in a less formal way, we may bring help, or other assistance, or submit in duty to another, and so 'minister' to someone above us (in dutiful service) or below us (in charitable help). Think about the women who 'minister' to Jesus' practical needs in Matthew 8, or Jesus teaching about how those who are great should be the 'ministers of all'.

So ministry has a range of meanings, most of them more narrow than 'just serving people in love'. It is important to check to see in the context of a particular biblical usage whether a stronger meaning is meant: one that connotes something of the 'emissary' overtone, for example.

What kind of service depends on context

Even where it seems that 'ministry means serving', this does not necessarily mean that the broadest of possible definitions is called for: if I am 'just serving' you in a restaurant setting that is different to 'just serving' you in a hospital context.

So in the context of church, it seems that many of the times the 'ministry' word group appears, it is in contexts where the kind of serving is 'serving by building up in the gospel'. Romans 12, 1Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 and 1Peter 4 are like this.

So there is a range of possible uses for 'ministry' from narrow and formal, to broad and general.

Where is gets muddy: giving general ministry the theological weight of specific ministry

There is probably need for another post on a particular kind of equivocation that sometimes happens around the word ministry. This is where we call a general act of serving 'ministry' in order to give it extra theological weight. So 'my job as a school teacher is my ministry',means 'it is as much my ministry as leading a Bible study is your ministry'.

Now on one level this is true. We all serve the Lord in whatever we put our hand to, it is good and pleasing to him, and so it is sacred work: whether stacking chairs at church or in the break room at work.

Only the word 'ministry' is not the best word for this purpose. Because 'ministry' does have a narrower and more 'loaded' definition. In this sense my 'Ministry-to-the-church' is a different KIND of ministry, a different USAGE of the word ministry to my 'service of the Lord' in another area of life.

By blurring the terms we lose sight of how church ministry, whether through teaching the word, or supporting the ministry of the word, is part of the ad-minister-ing of God's gospel.

Maybe it would be easier, as Stuart suggests, to avoid the word 'ministry' altogether? After all, it is an word not that much used in modern English anyway, outside of church and government settings. Apart from the fact that it would be almost impossible to stop the general use of the word 'ministry', I want to suggest that provided we are careful, there are some great things about this word, with its connotations, that make it an Encouraging Word:

Why is ministry an encouraging word?

1. 'Ministry' is an encouraging word because it ties together our duty to God and our service to our neighbour in the way we think about the work of gospel preaching.

2. 'Ministry' is an encouraging word because it groups the larger set of Christian activities that support and facilitate and accompany gospel preaching together in the this larger entreprise of 'gospel ministry'.

3. 'Ministry' is an encouraging word because it nests unique 'sacred' gospel service within a larger 'secular' duty to serve others in love.

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‘Family’ is a slippery word!

Family has high cultural currency. And for Christians is has high theological currency as well. So it's not suprising that the correct application of the word gets used, claimed and argued about.

It's also not suprising that more metaphorical uses abound.

But it's a slippery one to tie down. And sometimes we slide from one usage to another without noticing that we are doing it.

Here are just a few quick observations:

1. Family as biological relation

  • In the biggest sense, the common brotherhood and sisterhood of the human race makes us responsible to one another: a duty to love and a duty to treat one another equally.
  • In the more narrow sense, most people think it right that biological relations have some claim upon our loyalty, care and identification.
  • This bond might be broken, denied, replaced, but it is a starting point of human relationships.

2. Family as legal relation

  • Of course for families to continue, there needs to be procreation — and so there comes an indirect relationship of the 'in-law' for example.
  • And families open themselves up to others as well, through things like adoption, to legally bringing someone into their biological lineage.

3. Family as home

  • But none of these immediatley require the establishment or recognition of a home. For home is another concept of family, and one that is most commonly talked about in the West.
  • What makes a legitimate 'family'? What alternative forms of 'family' must be accept or recognise? In these conversations we are talking about what makes a 'home' (or pattern of alternating homes) 
  • And the definition of 'family' and 'home' here is an expectation of stability and contiuity — despite mobility.  This kind of family establishes a legal entity. 
  • So a share house, or a friendship is not a 'home' in this sense. These temporary 'homes' are not 'homes' in the sense that we talk about when we call them 'families'. 
  • But more things can and should be a 'home' than simply a nuclear, biological family. Single parents, Uncles and Aunts who become primary carers, gay parents, single bachelor brother and spinster sister committed to support each other in a long-term way, extraordinarily devoted platonic friendships and so on. Some of these might be legally protected and recognised, others not.
  • And these 'homes' can bring into them people who are legitimate, if temporary, participants in the family: live-in family empoloyees (including servants), foster children, boarders, extended families members studying abroard and so on.

4. Family as the people of God

  • Now then Christians are also adopted into God's family. God the Father is our Father, God the Son is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters, and so we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • There is a new priority and duty to this heavenly father, and these spiritual siblings, that in certain contexts overrules our loyalty and commitment to our biological and legal family. There is a protection and accepatance here that might substitute for reject from our famliy home.
  • But this relationship is not a full replacement or nullifying of our biological families, whether Christian or not. In many respects the loyalties and duties of our biological family remain and should meet certain needs rather than the church.
  • Indeed, clearly I can't give the same intensive and lifelong devotion to all my millions of Christian siblings around the world that I can and should give to my biological siblings. So clearly I need to be careful with how I think through the application of this spiritual relaitonship.

5. Family as the local church

  • The local church is called the 'household of God', so in some ways this provides a much more bounded sphere of responsibility, than all the people of God around the world. It is easier to love them as 'family' in a way that gets closer to a normal family.
  • Although even then, even a smallish church of 50 people is larger than a nuclear family: very few families have 25 brothers!
  • Moreover, the mobility of Christians means that we leave local churches and cleave to other local churches, in a way that we never do from our biological or immediate families.
  • Once again, this means we must be careful about carelessly and recklessly importing all sorts of expectations into the local church simply because we think we know what we mean by 'family'.

6. Organisational or community family

  • Lastly, sometimes Christian organisations speak of the relationships within the organisation as 'family': 'the Geneva Push family', 'the St Mark's staff team family'.
  • This is not exclusive to Christians, the metaphor is a natural one, and so can be adopted by subcultures (the rollerblading family) and businesses (the Vodafone family).
  • But there is extra weight to this concept in a Christian organisation: for we ARE brothers and sisters in Christ, and so it seems to be at first hearing a very legitimate concept.
  • The important distinction, however, is that in these contexts, the bond that is being described is the bond created by the organistion. The peculiar affection or loyalty is a loyalty created by both being in the organisation, not fundamentally by our faith in Christ.
  • So properly speaking, this use of family is really closer to the secular usage—the Vodafone family—than it is the spiritual usage. To fudge this one is to impose onto organisational relationships certain levels of spiritual and relational depth that are not required simply by virtue of being part of the organisation.

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Getting from the Old Testament to the New Part 2: resolving contradictions

Part 1: Putting things in historical order

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

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

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

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

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

Part 2: Resolving Contradictions

Some apparent contradictions in the Old Testament text are not bound up with biblical theology, and so are not relevant here:

  1. Mysterious aspects of God's nature and his interaction with space and time
  2. Apprent factual discrepancies

But a bunch of others are created by the fact that the Old Testament is preparatory and incomplete: it is slowly revealing the full nature of God's saving plans. In fact God sets up 'imperfect shadows' of the things to come, and so there is a kind of 'contradiction' between commands related to these shadows and the ultimate reality.

So another unfortunate acronym: PRIORITIES

Is the Paradox Resolvable?

This first step is to check whether the kind of apparent contradiction we are dealing with is actually a 'contradiction' cause by biblical theology. That is, it an unresolveable mystery of God's nature? Or simply a matter for harmonisation? Then that's different. But if it's not those, then we might be dealing with a biblical theology matter.

Is something Ineffective because of sin?

Some things put forward in the Old Testament fade away due to their inadequacy, because of sin: the specialness of Israel, the kingship of Israel, righteousness by the law. This suggests to us that they are not the 'full story'.

Is something merely Outward?

Another kind of ineffectiveness is beacuse of weakness. So the law is external: it doesn't change the heart. The temple is too small: not even the highest heavens can contain God. Geneological Israel is just about human descent, not genuine faith.

What thing is more Recent (and so clarifying) or more Intial (and so fundamental)?

There are two ways the New Testament shows us that something passes away: sometimes a former thing is superceded by something that comes later. And sometimes an earlier thing 'trumps' later, lesser additions. And sometimes it's both. So in Hebews 7 we are told both:

  1. The Melchizedek priesthood is announced in Psalm 110 in a way that supercedes the Levitical priesthood AND
  2. The Melchizedek priesthood comes before the Levitical priesthood and is paid tribute by the Levitical priesthood

A similar argument is found in Galatians 3, about how the promise is an initial priority, being given 430 years before the law.

Is the Termination announced?

The  flow of biblical theology is seen especially clearly when the God prophetically announces the termination of Old Testament shadows and types. The prophets are full of declarations that the 'time is coming' when things will 'no longer' be the same. These texts make it especially clear how 'apparent contradictions' will be resolved in the gospel.

Is an Improvement announced?

Sometimes the way in which a 'contradiction' is resolved is by God promising to 'improve' the Old Testament shadow: offering a divine king, for example; or writing the law on our hearts.

Is something Established?

So then, we need to ask how it is that God decisively establishes one aspect of his Old Testament revelation in a way that abolishes/improves/fulfills the partial Old Testament revelation. So in establishing the promise to Abraham which is received by faith, the law of Moses — as a distinct covenant — is abolished. Or by declaring all foods clean, the reality that all of the Creator's world is to be received with thanksgiving is established.

What Solution is offered?

And finally, where the 'contradiction' in the Old Testament presents us with a problem of sin, then the gospel provides a 'solution' in pardoning sin and transforming human beings.

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Polished preaching vs raw preaching

There’s no one way to deliver a good sermon. The strengths of one preacher mean that they lack the strengths of another. A short sermon has weaknesses, but then so does a longer sermon.

Another area where preachers differ and advice on preaching diverges is how polished the sermon is. 

Some advice speaks of massive amounts of rehearsal and drafting, seeking feedback in the composition process, careful systems of illustration filing and so on. So we might be pointed to the carefully crafted political address and carefully composed speechwriting skill.

And yet there are other forms of effective public communication, and analagous preaching styles, which are less crafted. Think, for example, of some stand up comedians, who speak with a great degree of thought and planning, but not from a teleprompter. So also I have heard preachers who are more ‘free’ in the precise form and content of their sermon, and yet equally effective in a different way. I’d hate to lose the benefits of that kind of preaching by conforming them to the polished approach.

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Getting from the Old Testament to the New Part 1: putting things in historical order

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1: Putting things in their historical order

The first and most obvious way to move from the Old Testament to the New Testament can be found in narrative texts, especially those that are clearly part of the larger narrative that begins particularly with Abraham and ends in the New Creation.

In this way of moving from Old Testament to New Testament, we are not working with complex things like ‘typology’, but simply plugging the small story into the larger story, showing how the small story contributes to the flow of the larger story and then giving the ultimate ‘spoiler’ of the gospel.

A clums]y acronym of 3 pairs and 1 triplet gives some ways this works: STORY’S END:


1. What Sting is Taken away?

Some Old Testament stories end in tragedy or judgment or failure. The end of the book of Judges, or the exile to Babylon, for example.

These ‘cliffhangers’ in the Old Testament text drive the narrative forward into the next step in God’s dealings with Israel, and never find ultimate resolution until the Christ returns at the second coming.


2. What Obedience does only Christ’s Righteousness perfect?

Although the Old Testament is more than a series of moral lessons, some stories are told in a way that clearly celebrates or condemns the behvaiour of the characters: Joseph showed integrity in his sexual morality, while David failed disastrously in this same area. in addition to this, there are also explicit laws and commands given of a general nature: such as that first command to Adam, or the law to Israel.

These stories and commands give us an opportunity to praise virtues and decry vices. But they also give a legitimate opportunity to speak more widely on the Bible’s teaching about God’s perfect standard, our universal human inability to meet that standard, and Christ’s active righteousness of life, passive righteousness in his atoning death, imputed righteousness to those who trust in him and transforming righteousness by the Spirit both now in part and in full when he returns.


3. What Yearning does the gospel Satisfy?

The Old Testament also presents us with ‘problems’ that are not quite tragedies or judgments or failures, but rather godly desires for something more.]

For example, when Moses longs that all God’s people would be prophets, he is yearning for a good, additional thing, which ultimately God does grant in the pouring out of the Spirit on all those in Christ.


4. What Explicit promise find its Normal fulfillment or Deeper fulfillment in Christ?

The LORD often makes explicit promises about what he will do in the future. And occasionally these promises find their immediate and explicit (‘normal’) fulfillment in Christ Jesus himself. This is the easiest kind of passage to apply to Christians today. The promise that the seed of the woman will one day crush the head of the serpent, in Genesis 3:16 is perhaps one such promise.

But at other times, the promise has more immediate fulfillments in the Old Testament history itself, while its ultimate, ‘deeper’ fulfillment is in Christ. The promise to Abraham is a promise like this.

I will unpack this more in a coming post.

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When do you accept an invitation to speak on a ministry you don’t agree with?

It can be a luxury to be an unknown pastor: you don't get too entangled with ministry politics, you don't get invited to speak at things, so you don't have to make too many tricky decisions in this area.

But if you happen to be even a little bit networked in your local area, every now and then there will be invitations for you or your ministry to share in the ministry work or stand on the ministry platform with others, where you might have concerns.

This is not an exhaustive post, but rather just raises a few notes:

1. Doctrine matters

Kind of simple point. But it's worth saying again and again and again. Christiannity is a confessional religion. Your bond of fellowship with others is a fellowship in the truth. Doctrine outlines truth. It's not about shared interest in sociology, spirituality or some kind of emotional devotion to Jesus or the Bible or Christian heritage. 

Don't link arms with people on the assumption that you are fellow believers...if you don't share a common faith!

In fact, I urge you to be cautious about endorsing ministries whose doctrine on secondary (or perhpas even tertiary) matters is problematic. There's not a hard and fast rule here, but it is a matter that should concern us greatly.

I've noticed that sadly people can become loose on theology when they find another point of agreement they are passionate about:

  • Church growth people suddenly grow fuzzy on theology when they find others who share their 'how to's,
  • Political-engagement people link arms with quite extreme theonomists or Roman Catholics when they share agreement on certain social issues,
  • Charismatic-worship-style people draw close to people from properity theology churches because of shared taste of musical style and emotional expression
  • Denominational sentimentalists tolerate liberalism becuase of a shared love of ceremony and heritage


2. Philosophy of ministry matters

Doctrine and practice are intertwined. Good doctrine can lead to reformation in practice. But poor practice dishonours good doctrine, and over time can have a corrosive effect upon doctrine itself.

Being generous and flexible on matters of indifference, or even tertiary matters is good and right. 

At the same time, when it comes to what ministries we throw our time and energy behind, what ministries we support with our presence: sure these should be ones that we believe are good for the Christian community in a deep way — in their sound doctrine and practice.

And while there are a few contexts where a very broad base of very loose and general agreement might be wise and godly... in most cases I believe that smaller fellowships with closer agreement of doctrine and practice are better. By investing too much, too often in fellowships of 'lowests common denominator' theology and practice, you are actually pursuing and supporting a philosophy of ministry in and of itself: broad interndenominationalism.


3. Speaking at a ministry event usually says something about that event: endorsement 

Don't be naive: in most cases, your generous, flexible, open-handed partnership with other ministries will be perceived as an endorsement of those ministries. By speaking on their platform you are usually implying support for their platform. If you happen to be something of 'well-known' speaker, then you might be helping advertise that ministry, or even give it credibility among those who value your ministry.

You might have a very qualified support of this or that ministry or event. But think of others who might think: Oh well Pastor So And So supports it so it must be good. In fact they might even perceive you as endorsing other events, speakers or resources from this ministry.


4. Speaking at a ministry event usually says something about your ministry: alignment

The reverse might also be true. Not only might you be communicating something about the event, by agreeing to speak at it, you might begin to convey something about your own ministry.

An overly suspicious and paranoid spirit is nasty. It's true that sometimes Christian networks can be 'tribal' in a bad way, that draws all sorts of unwarranted conclusions about someone based on flimsy evidence.

And yet, there is also a degree to which such conclusions, if thoughtful, measured and cautious are totally justifiable. 


5. Is it understood that I am free to publicly critique this ministry?

A great test is to ask how free will you be to publicly critique the ministry or event you are invited to speak on.

Let me give an extreme example from the world of politics. Remember when Bill Shorten was invited to speak at an Australian Christian Lobby event? Certain groups complained that by doing so he was somehow endorsing them. Not at all! Everyone was clear that he was not a supporter of the ACL. And everyone was clear that he was free to share his disagreements with them. That's not complicity: that's civil discussion.

In the same way, there are some platforms where you are invited as a partner, fellow-worker, co-religionist, likeminded friend. In these settings, to be overly negative about minor points of difference would be 'bad form'. To use an event intended to celebrate your major points of agreement as a platform to talk at length about points of contention is out of order.

However, there are other situations where you are being invited in as something of an 'outsider'. In those situations it might be worth talking about the points of difference and your freedom to name them, whether at the event, or in your other public communications.

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Do you have the character that can resist once-in-a-lifetime opportunities?

In his Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf gives a chilling, but believable quote from Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, talking to his daughterabout the temptations of ambition:

You must realise that at the age of 32, in my capacity as an architect, I had the most splendid assignments of which I could dream. Hitler said to your mother one day that her husband could design buildings the like of which had not been seen for 2000 years. One would have had to be morally very stoical to reject the proposal. But I was not at all like that

(S. Hauerwas, Truthfulness and Tragedy, 1997: Notre Dame cited in Exclusion and Embrace, p 255-56)

In later excerpts, Speers says:

I was above all an architect

...fear of discovering somehting which might have made me turn from my course...

... I had closed my eyes...

... [unable] to see any moral ground outside the system where I should have taken my stand.

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Startup: such a good podcast for church planters

By Alex Blumberg, original from This American Life, comes a podcast on starting a business.

The first season documents Alex starting his own media company — Gimlet Media. And then subsequent seasons follow other businesses.

What I found enthralling was how close his experiences (and others on the show) were to some elements of starting a new Christian ministry: the awkward interactions with major donors who give mixed messages about what they think you should do and make you feel small and silly; the seaons of profound self-doubt; the peculiar dynamics between you and your partner; the need to make complex inuitive ethical decisions about what you stand for and so on.

It's well worth subscribing I reckon:

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