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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