Repost: Brief for a wedding sermon (October 2007)

Here are the suprisingly detailed but surprisingly wise instructions given me by a couple I am to marry this year:

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Review: Ideas that Changed the World (video course about the Reformation)

Dominic 'Introducing God' Steele has just produced a new 4-week course about the Protestant Reformation: Ideas that Changed the World. This comes in time for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation: an occasion/excuse to highlight the theological ideas that lie at the heart of it, ideas that not only changed the European world, but also have the power to change the lives of individuals for eternity.

The course involves some written content, video content filmed beautifully on location in the key locations like Wittenberg and Geneva. Each course covers one key Reformation idea, and one key Reformation leader: 

  • Luther and faith alone
  • Calvin and grace alone
  • Tyndale and Bible alone
  • Cramner and Christ alone

Strengths of the course

The production values are high. Going to the various sites gives a sense of depth and reality to the story, and brief interviews with key Reformation historians works well. Even making sure that the people who read quotes from the various figures have the appropriate accent (a German for the Luther quotes, for example).

As an engaging preacher, Dominic is a great host for the video content. He makes the ideas 'sing' to our hearts at various points, rather than just conveying the information.

Each study also includes Bible study questions that help you wrestle with the biblical teaching, rather than simply discussing and interacting with theologicans, which might give the impression. Many of these Bible bits unpack extended passages, and so avoid a string of proof texts, which also enhances the sense of heading the Bible speak for itself.

Each study also has a testimony from someone raised in the Roman Catholic Church how later came to discover the gospel, especially an aspect of these four themes.This underlines two things: that the Catholic distortions are still alive today, and the truths of the gospel are still life-changing today.


Who is it for?

Of the making of training courses there is no end. So I am always concerned to know, how vital will this course be? Will it have a place in the ongoing teaching/training/evangelism ministry of a church year after year? There seems only a little point in purchasing a course that will only be used once, in my opinion.

The course could work very well:

  • As part of an evangelistic and follow up strategy for reaching out to cultural Roman Catholics, whether in historically Catholic areas, or among migrants from Catholic countries. 

  • As a part of a regular training/church conference/growth group program to give 'the basics' of church history to your 'average' churchgoer.

  • In later year primary school and early high school settings at school or church.

The course would not work well in the following contexts:

  • In a university ministry setting: where students might encounter criticisms of these Reformation figures. The more simplified portrayals may seem jarring and unsatisfying.
  • Among more theologically informed and devout Roman Catholics: who would have a nuanced understanding of Catholic doctrine and apologetics. They may even find the testimonies of more 'cultural Catholics' as unfair and unrepresentative: picking a 'straw man'.
  • Among liberal or charismatic Catholics, we don't identity strongly with traditional Catholic doctrine.

The course is available for hard copy order through Matthias Media or digital delivery through their Go There For platform.

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Mirrors 24th February 2017

  1. A great article from Sandy Grant on two perspectives on the venue of the Bible Society 200th celebration.
  2. Church secretary chooses every font know to man on potluck flier
  3. Welcome back Ministry Principles and Prags!
  4. "Late people are more creative and successful": Very sloppy argumentation... but don't care because it tells me what I want to hear
  5. My home church has a new purdy website

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Repost: Some infant baptism thoughts — negative (from September 2007)

1. "Believer-baptists accuse us of baptising unregenerate people, but believer-baptists do it all the time! How can they live with the fact that people fall away?"

This is unfair. What the believer-baptist is saying is that infant-baptists *delieberately* baptise people who are not regenerate.

For an infant baptist, the church kid who chucks in the faith in high school is a true member of the visible church who has betrayed of their ultimate calling. For the believer baptist, the convert who falls away was never a true member of the visible church - their membership was a sham.

2. "Don't call us 'infant baptists", call us 'convenant baptists'".

Seems sneaky to me. Believer-baptists believe in covenants too, and they believe that baptism is a sign of the covenant. They just happen to believe that the covenant is restricted to regenerate believers.

3. "I don't want my kid to go to Hell. Therefore infant baptism is true"

This is emotional, immoral and illogical:

Emotional: Things are not true cause we want them to be true.
Immoral: Why can you sleep better knowing *your* kid won't go to Hell, but don't care two hoots about the child of the non-Christian?
Illogical: It does not necessarily follow that belief in infant baptism means belief in salvation of your kid.

4. "Baptism is God's promise.... we raise our kids in faith not in fear"

Belief in infant baptism does not mean belief that your kid will go to heaven. Clearly many kids from Christian families fall away from the faith and *don't* go to heaven. So there is some fear, isn't there? And if kids from Christian families don't go to heaven, what do we make of God's alleged 'promise'?

We need far more clarity here. I would prefer to remove these vaguely worded promises altogether. But for the sake of clarity let's map out three possible infant-baptist views:

Presumptive regeneration: Baptism is a sign of God's promise of regeneration and eternal salvation. We presume that all children of Christians are regenerate and predestined. We know that in the mystery of God's will some are not, but our default position, and expectation, is that they are. (I don't like this view, but it is the one where is 'faith not fear' sort of logic works best)
Sign of external blessings: Baptism is a sign only of the external blessings of belonging to the visible church and hearing the gospel, nothing more. Baptism, then says nothing about the salvation of the individual.
Sign of internal and external blessings: Baptism is a sign of God's promise of regeneration and eternal salvation. But we do not give it to children of Christians because we presume they have received the reality. Rather, we consider that it is fitting to give them the sign of regeneration, even though they aren't necessarily regenerate.

5. "Household baptisms in Acts."


6. "We believe in the unity of the covenants."

So does a believer baptist. We both believe that there are some points of discontinuity. The believer baptist just draws the line at a slightly different point.

A strength of Reformed theology is that it is integrated and it joins the dots between its various doctrines really well. The problem is that as a result, Reformed theologians can often argue that every peculiar Reformed doctrine is central and fundamental to the gospel itself. I once read an article that said that Amillenialism, paedobaptism, presbyterian government and limited atonement were all totally central to the gospel and to deny any of them was to let the gospel itself crash down in a heap.

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Mirrors 17th February 2017

In case you haven't noticed, I've been cheating with 'Mirrors' and just posting the things I link to on Twitter. Only two this week, which is a bit dismal:

  1. Round 3 of Tasmanian Christian Fund now open. Including new tier of $20 000–$50 000.
  2. My sermon-lecture on Existentialism as a part of the Uni Fellowship's series on Identity.

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Repost: Some infant baptism thoughts — positive (from September 2007)

  1. Believers-baptism is the default position. It does take time and care to argue for infant baptism, just as it takes time to argue for predestination or the Trinity or the two natures of Christ. This doesn't necessarily make it 'too many steps of extrapolation'. Some theological structures just take time to establish. Especially if we are clearing the ground of pre-existing ideas and assumptions.
  2. Baptism is never defined in Scripture as being only for believers. It is often used in metanomic figures of speech (eg Rom 6, Gal 3) to stand for repentance, faith and conversion. But this does not mean that baptism is primarily a sign of faith. The closest we come to this is 1Peter 3:21. But even here, is God saying 'baptism can only be given to someone who is capable of a rational pledge of conscience' or 'baptism is only true, saving baptism when it is accompanied by a rational pledge of conscience'?
  3. Better to see baptism primarily as a sign of God's grace, God's gospel, God's promises. Adult converts receive the gospel, and hence the sign of the promises of the gospel. Children are raised under the preaching of the gospel, raised inside the visible church. On this grounds alone, it is fitting to mark them with the sign of the gospel which has been held out to them from birth. But more, the OT and NT argue that God has a 'general electing love' for the physical offspring of his people (see 8 below). Baptising them is an expression of this love.
  4. I like the section in Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion on infant baptism. A lot of arguments for infant baptism that have become simplistic and sloppy in the hands of later apologists - such as 'Let the little children come to me' - are written with care and subtlety by Calvin.
  5. A believers-only view of the visible church feels very 'modern': a voluntary society of individuals. Do you know what I mean?
  6. From a believers-baptism point of view, it is hard to know how to make sense of children of Christians. Are they the same as any other non-Christian guest? Not really. Surely they are 'members of the church' in some sense.
  7. Baptising a child at birth is said to be artbitrary and without scriptural warrant. At the same time, most believer-baptists hold off on baptism until some arbitrary point. Few believer-baptists baptise confessing two-year-olds. If we are going to baptise kids of Christian parents at some abitrary point, perhaps birth is as representative as any other time.
  8. John 1, Romans 2 and other such passages are not saying that physical descent has no significance whatsoever. They are merely saying that physical descent is not the *necessary* nor *sufficient* ground for eternal salvation. Romans 3, 9, 11 and 15 all teach us that there is significance to physical descent. There is a 'general electing' love of God as well as a 'individual electing' love of God.
  9. Colossians 2 does not say (as some infant-baptists argue) that baptism *is* the New Testament's circumcision. There are four steps (1. In Christ circumcised 2. With circumcision of sinful nature 3. Having been buried with Christ 4. Through baptism) not two steps (1. In Christ circumcised 2. Through baptism). But what it does teach is the the spiritual significance of circumcision and baptism is the same. They may not be identical but they are parallel.
  10. We must pay more careful attention, brothers, to the way we use Covenant of Grace and New Covenant. As a rule, the believer-baptist has a stronger emphasis on the distinctions between Old and New Covenant. They tend to use 'New Covenant' to speak about the things that are particularly unique about the new dispensation. Infant-baptists are a little more vague. 'New Covenant' can mean simply 'the Covenant of Grace as experienced in the new dispensation'. For a believer-baptist, 'member of the New Covenant' means 'regenerate, predestined person who *will* go to heaven'. For an infant-baptist, 'member of the New Covenant' can often just mean, 'member of the Covenant of Grace, even purely because they are members of the visible church'.
  11. Believer-baptists often consider the visible church to be responsible for making sure the church is only made up only of the Elect. It is an "opt-in" ecclesiology: you can only join if you can prove your conversion. You might say the believer baptist *presumes* to purify the visible church. Infant-baptists often consider the visible church to be responsible for accpeting all who confess faith, and disciplining those who betray their confession. It is an "opt-out" ecclesiology: you are only rejected if it your unbelief can be proved. The infant-baptist *assumes* that a person's confession is true unless evidence is given to the contrary.

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The fundamental failure to train in ministry

A great excerpt from The Vine Project:

In our conversations with pastors over the past six years, we have found — almost universally — a quite remarkable lack of equipping, training and mentoring at level 3 [specialised training]. This is especially the case with small group leadership. Very few pastors are satisfied with the nature and quality of the equipping that they provie for their small group leaders (whether in initial training or ongoing support). This seems to us to be (in most cases) a strategic mistake in the allocation of time and resources. Small groups have enormous potential to move people to the right — but their frequent failure to do so is in very large measure due to poor quality leadership. Whatever energy or resources we put into receruiting and equiping small group leaders will pay enormous dividends over time.

Overall, our observation is that most churches don't understand the improtance of level 1 equipping [grasping the vision to serve], and so rarely plan for it. This means that when they do try occasionally to do some level 2 equipping [basic skills] they are frequently disappointed at the response or level of take-up — because there is not the heart or motivation to be involved. This in turn leads to a dearth of candidates for level 3 training [specialised ministry training]. (page 277)

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Mirrors 10th February 2017

  1. Why bother with women's ministry?
  2. One 20something’s experience of dating in the 2010s. Guesswork, feigning casualness & indirect communication.  Blerg  *language warning*
  3. 9 ethical questions all skateboarders should ask themselves
  4. For the 1st time, ACNC has revoked charity status on grounds of political involvement: Catch the Fire 
  5. Yes to these critiques of Desiring the Kingdom
  6. My sermons on Galatians 3-4 from Credo Conference in Perth last May
  7. Pastor, defend Christian liberty
  8. Getting clarity ontology and ethics, normal and normative, law and principle regarding gender roles 

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Mirrors 3rd February 2017

  1. Francis Chan rant: be willing to model gospel mission to your family, not merely bunker down in a gated community. 
  2. Australian Stories: On resting in and wrestling with the paradox of modern Australia on Australia Day as a Christian.
  3. Funny video about how altruism can be a power play. So gross. But so true in work (and ministry) patronage.
  4. Listen to these 3 old John Woodhouse sermons on Ezekiel & have your mind blown (search ‘Ezekiel’ from drop down).
  5. Ooh! The ranty ‘Why Bishops are Deacons’ Phillip Jensen lectures now up on Proc Trust. #mustlisten Scroll down to 1988 EMA.
  6. Stern critique of James KA Smith’s ‘You Are What You Love’ by @PeterWoodcock58  and Tom Sweatman. What do you think? 
  7. Ten simple steps to writing a book.
  8. Helpful NDIS infographic article on difference between reporting on outputs/activities and reporting on outcomes

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Repost: UTAS O Week Mission 2016 — Part 1: Overview of Process (June 2016)

Late last year I posted a bunch of ideas and resources from Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) that we used for inspiration for a bunch of new ideas for O Week that we trialled this year, made possible by a grant from the Tasmanian Christian Fund.

In the next few posts I want to share our experience, results, and lessons learned for next time.

Three preliminary comments

1. Not really that different: just bigger and more focussed

We weren't doing a whole heaps different to what lots of AFES groups and other campus ministries already do. Heavy broadcast promotion, attempts at gathering large numbers of contacts, providing a mix of social and ministry events to connect with, and personal follow up.

For that reason we probably haven't learned much that a larger campus group hasn't already figured out. But perhaps we can provide some pointers to other medium sized groups we want to stretch their reach.

But maybe one or two of our ideas will be fresh, or maybe the overall 'spirit of the project' will be inspiring to other groups.

2. Not directly applicable to church ministry, but plenty of things will be

Campus ministry is unique in its sprint-lull rhythm, its demographic focus and its concentrated seasons where a large proportion of the target group will all be in a few locations with an interest to joining new things. In that sense what we have discovered won't easily translate to church ministry.

However, I think there are lots of things that will translate well, perhaps with thoughtful adjustments. The principles around large scale promotion and connection and personal follow up will definitely have their place in church ministry. And speeding up the pace and drive of a local church could well be a good challenge.

I'm keen to hear from those who are doing some of these things in church ministry, or who have stolen and adjusted some of our ideas.

3. Spending money on mission

A lot of the scale and quality of what we did was made possible by the grant, that we spent a lot of time applying for and keping records to report against. But since we feel the O Week Mission was a success, we are resolved to spend money on this next year.

And I want to say it's worth it. If spending money helps connecting with more people more meaningfully, why be a cheapskate at this point? That's a big mindset shift though. Rather than running a campus group on a shoestring budget, to proactively plan to raise and spend more money to reach more people.

Also we have more staff than the equivalent sized local church (1:25 ratio is pretty common in campus groups in USA; these stats are similar in Australia): so we are 'spending money' at this point too. There's a bunch of reasons for this ratio... but one point is to say: to do mission really effectively and broadly 'costs' in people time too. There will be a limit to what we can attempt in outreach and promotion if it depends on one 'generalist' pastor and a bunch of volunteers.

Purpose of O Week Mission

1. Provide face to face opportunities to discuss the gospel with hundreds of university students

We wanted to stretch and push ourselves to be more present and 'ubiquitous' on the campuses of UTAS, so that there were heaps of opportunities for that connection to take place. The 'gospel opportunities' would be light touch: but a face to face invitation to find out more.

The spirit of the mission was to do more. How could we logistically stretch our group, that normally only had one 'contact table' or point of presence? How could we instead be present on multiple campuses or multiple sites on the campus at the one time?

2. Connect interested non-Christians with multiple formal and informal opportunities to investigate the gospel of Jesus Christ 

3. Connect committed Christians and nominal Christians coming to uni with a vibrant and robust Christian community to help them grasp the spiritual, personal, intellectual and lifestyle implications of the gospel 

4. Train Christian students in public marketplace evangelism, formal event evangelism and informal personal evangelism, for their ministry at university and church, both now and into the future 

5. Test effectiveness of mass promotion

For us, this O Week Mission experiment was an opportuntiy to test a couple of things. First of all, we had noticed over the last 6 years that by far the most effective way for us to connect with new people is:

  • Facebook promotion
  • A really good Pre-O-Week Conference (our Pre-Season Conference)
  • Informal word of mouth advertising

We decreased our amount of fliering and cold contacting, and yet saw an increase in the size of the group. And very very rarely did our mass promotion lead to fruitful gospel opportunities or actively involved Christian students.

And that is true more generally in the Geneva Push network I'm involved with: vibrant, growing church plants rely predominantly on social media and informal invitations, rather than printed, published or cold contact evangelism.

So I wanted to test if there was a place for mass promotion and cold ontact Or is it just a financially expensive or time expensive activity that bears little fruit?

6. Test saturation of the campus

Short of revival, most ministries will reach a point of saturation, where any further growth will be slower. This is because you have engaged most of the Christians who will ever be engaged by your particular ministry and you have connected with the 'low-hanging fruit' in evangelism. All other growth will be the slow but worthwhile trickle of evangelistic growth and maturity-leading-to-more-regular-attendance growth.

I was curious to know what the saturation point for our Hobart campuses of around 14 000 undergraduates. At what point will your group reach a 'cap' on its growth, short of significant spiritual, sociological and ecclesiological changes?

The O Week Mission Strategy

Basically the whole thing was one massive funnel:

1. Broadcast Promotion

We threw money at a whole bunch of things to see what would work:

  • Radio advertisements on the Christian radio station and on the community radio station that broadcasts from the uni,
  • Corflute signage out the front of the building where we hold our main evening 'Citywide Gatherings'
  • Paid Facebook advertising and 'boosts'
  • Fliering at orientation lectures
  • Giveaway BBQs in Week 2 (so not competing with all the other free stuff in Week 1)

2. Brief surveys on all campuses of UTAS with gift incentive

  • We positioned ourselves at contact ables at multiple points at the largest campus of UTAS Hobart, as well as the other satellite campuses and residential colleges
  • Invite any and every passerby to complete a short, 3 question survey and in return we will give them a gift bag with a KeepCup and free coffee voucher from an awesome boutique cafe.
  • The third questions was: "Would you like to find out more about the Uni Fellowship of Christians' events and activities? YES/MAYBE/NO

3. Live data entry and afternoon follow up

  • Previously we had left data entry and follow up calls to the evenings of each day of O Week.
  • But this year, because we were inviting people to things that very day (see 4, below), we sped up this process.
  • We had people rostered on to do data entry at the same time that new contacts were being made.
  • We recorded the raw survey data in Survey Monkey and plugged all the Yes and Maybe data into our Elvanto database.
  • All the Yes and Maybe answers then received a generic 'Welcome from Uni Fellowship' email, as well as a personal call/SMS/email inviting them to the pizza parties:

4. Pizza Parties Monday-Wednesday of O Week

  • We invited new contacts to come to free pizza parties (or dessert on Wednesday) each night of O Week.
  • This was meant to be an opportunity to connect with people personally and socially straight away, rather than just inviting them to a public ministry event (Bible talk, for example).
  • At this event we gave a brief explanation about our group and encouraged people to sign up to evangelistic courses or Fellowship Groups.

5. Personal follow up coffees

  • Staff and student leaders contact each person who said Yes or Maybe, to invite them for coffee (our shout) to find out more about the Uni Fellowship and ask any questions.
  • We extend this invitation 3 times before giving up.

6. Invitiation to Public Meetings Faculty Cluster social events, Fellowship Groups and Chrsitianity 1A

  • Our pattern of regular meetings also became part of our follow up: inviting people to plug into our small groups, evangleistic course and public meetings.
  • We also gave money to our Faculty Cluster groups to organise social events on a faculty basis.

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