Doing what we should have always been doing

Doing what we should have always been doing

When Danica Roem became the first transgender person elected to a state legislature in Virginia last month, there was outrage from some sectors of the American church. One affronted church leader tweeted, “Christian parents, the nation’s first transgender elected official enters American history tonight. What are you doing to prepare your children for that?” In response, bestselling author and University of Houston professor, Brené Brown tweeted:   We’re doing what we should have always been doing: loving God and loving others. But are we? Is that what we’ve been doing, because if it isn’t, I suggest the church should get back to it. In my homeland of Australia, we recently had a national survey on the question as to whether same-sex marriage should be legalized by the parliament. There was a hard-fought campaign waged on both sides of that debate. It wasn’t always very pretty or edifying. In the end, the Yes vote romped it in – 61.6% to 38.4%.  For some perspective, if a federal election was won by that margin it would be the most comprehensive landslide in Australia’s history. As a result, many church leaders are asking a similar question to the one we began with here: what are we doing to prepare ourselves for being the church in the new era of Australian society in which

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Which Christ are you trying to keep in Christmas exactly?

Which Christ are you trying to keep in Christmas exactly?

Why is it that the people most likely to demand that we “keep Christ in Christmas” seem to know so little about the historical birth of Jesus! If they did, they would have no sentimental attachment to traditional nativity scenes and they definitely wouldn’t want to have them placed in centers of commercialism like shopping malls. This isn’t so much to grouse about the chintz and cheesiness of traditional Christmas celebrations as it is to bemoan the widespread ignorance of the gospel story by the very followers of Jesus.   If you knew and believed the story of Christ, you’d know a trad nativity scene is a cartoonish representation of what really happened in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. This was highlighted for me again when I read about Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler defending the actions of senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of initiating several sexual encounters with teenage girls, including one who was only fourteen, when he was in his thirties. Ziegler’s justification for Moore’s behavior was breathtaking (and not in a good way): “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.” Aside from the reprehensible action of using the gospel

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A sign pointing to God

A sign pointing to God

In his best-known book, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Nobel laureate, Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells of an isolated jungle village called Macondo in which the entire population has become infected with insomnia and associated amnesia. To avoid forgetting important things, the inhabitants begin labeling everything. One of the first signs they erect reads, “God exists”. But the main protagonist José Arcadio Buendía begins to dread what will happen when the Macondans have even forgotten how to read. He sets to work trying to make a daguerreotype (photograph) of God, to prove His existence and help everyone not to forget Him. I fear we live in a similar time. Our culture is in danger of forgetting that God exists.   But God’s intention was that the church would be the sign that would help people never to forget. This is why some people talk about the church being “the hope of the world.” Technically, the church isn’t the hope of the world – Christ is (Col.1:27). But the church is the sign, the last hope for a world suffering from spiritual amnesia, saying “God exists.” Sadly, while José Arcadio Buendía’s fear was that his village would forget how to read, ours might be that our neighbors can read only too well. When they look at the contemporary church, instead of reading “God

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The Impunity of Male Power

The Impunity of Male Power

Donald Trump. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Bill Cosby. Dustin Hoffman. Bill O’Reilly. Jeremy Piven. Brett Ratner. James Toback. George H W Bush. Hamilton Fish. Black, white, straight, gay, the one thing they all have in common is they are men. They are men who have either admitted to or been accused of sexual assault or sexual harassment. And they are powerful men in their respective fields who believed they could assault or harass others with impunity. The recent stories of actor Kevin Spacey routinely groping and soliciting men (one a boy of 14) reveal the true nature of these cases. A member of the Old Vic theatre company, where Kevin Spacey was artistic director, has claimed that everyone knew Spacey was a serial offender. He simply groped whoever he wanted to, whenever he wanted. And nobody said anything. Bill Cosby’s criminal activity is another case in point. Nearly 50 women have claimed he sexually assaulted them over a 40 year period across 10 US states. And Donald Trump’s pre-election boast that he could “move on” any woman he wanted was explained by him because “…when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” This included his notorious comment that he could even grab women’s genitals without repercussion. So while these assaults might have been sexual in

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Why should women have all the fun smashing the patriarchy!

Why should women have all the fun smashing the patriarchy!

It’s patriarchy that says men are stupid and monolithic and unchanging and incapable. It’s patriarchy that says men have animalistic instincts and just can’t stop themselves from harassing and assaulting. It’s patriarchy that says men can only be attracted by certain qualities, can only have particular kinds of responses, can only experience the world in narrow ways. Feminism holds that men are capable of more – are more – than that. ~ Chally Kacelnik   In my previous blog I identified how our culture is shaped by patriarchy and how Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God totally subverts the patriarchal system. But I didn’t offer much practical advice on how to actually do that, so a few male readers asked me for a follow up article. I’ve read a few posts recently, offering advice on how to move forward on this, and gleaned ideas from a few sources. Here are some suggestions. After all, why should women have all the fun smashing the patriarchy! 1. Take seriously the fact that Jesus instituted a new family of God, one that included Gentiles, foreigners, widows and orphans. This isn’t to say he rejected the Jewish understanding of marriage. Actually he reinforces the sanctity of marriage in his teaching on divorce. But he sees marriage operating within a broader, new context, a

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#MeToo: Don’t just say sorry, smash the patriarchy!

#MeToo: Don’t just say sorry, smash the patriarchy!

Following the allegations against Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, women who have been sexually harassed have been tweeting or posting the hashtag “Me too” to show the mind-blowing magnitude of sexual assault. And men are also showing they are prepared to listen and believe the women who report harassment and assault, and to say they’re sorry for the abuse they’ve experienced. It feels like a new day is dawning, a day in which men are finally acknowledging the scale of sexism and mistreatment perpetrated against women. This week, Christian blogger John Pavlovitz, speaking for all men, wrote, We are the other side of the #MeToo stories. We are the writers of these awful stories. It’s time we owned this sickness. It’s time we stopped it. But I wonder whether mere acknowledgement is enough. Will anything substantive change while ever we operate in a patriarchal system like ours?   WHAT IS PATRIARCHY? It’s not just that our society is male-dominated, or that most of our politicians and CEOs are men. And it’s not just about the gender pay gap and the glass ceiling. These things are symptoms of a more pervasive system called patriarchy. We live in a patriarchy because our society has been shaped by European culture, which was organized around the centrality of paternity. The lineage of the great houses

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Do you have a radical Christian faith or just a radicalized one?

Do you have a radical Christian faith or just a radicalized one?

After a terrorist attack in the West, it’s not uncommon to hear the parents of the attacker reveal how shocked they were to discover their son or daughter had become radicalized via the Internet. Muslim families are regularly counselled to put in place safeguards to ensure that the process of radicalization doesn’t take root with their children. But radicalization isn’t only a Muslim issue. You and I need to be aware of what radicalization is and how to avoid it, not because it will necessarily lead us to commit acts of terror, but because it monkeys with our capacity for empathy and morality. Earlier this year I heard a stimulating paper on the Internet as a 4th Space presented by Jessie Cruickshank. She has a Harvard degree in neuroscience and is particularly interested in how brain development is affected by our screens. She began by pointing to a number of studies that have shown that there is an inverse relationship between screen time and empathy. In other words, the more time you spend looking at a screen (texting and on social media) the less importance you place on moral, ethical and spiritual goals. Higher texting frequency was also consistently associated with higher levels of ethnic prejudice. Jessie Cruickshank writes, “Part of the struggle with the high engagement of social media

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Bear Arms and Submit: the strange schizophrenia of the American evangelical soul

Bear Arms and Submit: the strange schizophrenia of the American evangelical soul

There is a strange contradiction at work in the American evangelical soul. I see it emerge every time there’s a discussion about either gun control or public protest. And as one who has promoted the benefits of strict gun control and who has been involved in my fair share of public protests, I have heard both of these seemingly opposing arguments many times.   FIRST, THERE’S THE RIGHT-TO-BEAR-ARMS AMERICAN When the topic of gun control comes up, some evangelicals are quick to defend the 2nd Amendment, saying that banning firearms from law-abiding citizens would only give the state the advantage to rule over and dominate them. In claiming this, they echo the American Founding generation’s deep mistrust of governments and their standing armies. Having just freed themselves from English colonial rule, many Founders believed that central governments simply couldn’t be trusted not to oppress the people. They figured if they could limit the new American government from having a standing army, the chances of an oppressive regime emerging to dominate their citizens would be reduced. But what if a foreign adversary were to invade? How would America defend itself without a standing army? Simple. Guarantee the citizens the right to bear arms and to organize into a “well-regulated militia” whenever such an emergency arose. As a non-American, it sounds pretty dicey

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Hey Bart, progressive Christians aren’t the only ones on the road to atheism

Hey Bart, progressive Christians aren’t the only ones on the road to atheism

You might have seen various conservative Christian bloggers and websites reporting on Bart Campolo’s recent announcement that progressive Christians are on the road toward atheism. Bart Campolo is a “humanist chaplain” at the University of Southern California, where he says he inspires and supports non-believers to “band together to actively pursue goodness in an openly secular way”.  In a recent podcast and an interview, he made the claim that so-called progressive Christianity is merely a doorway to unbelief. This was Campolo’s own journey, at least. The son of well-known evangelical leader, Tony Campolo, Bart says he started tweaking his theology to account for the poverty and suffering he encountered in urban ministry. When his prayers for the poor went unanswered, he eventually rejected the whole idea of an interventionist god, which in turn led to his flirtation with progressive Christianity. But rather than providing a way to remain a Christian, progressive Christianity was the doorway toward his current atheism. Campolo explained, “I passed through every stage of heresy. It starts out with sovereignty goes, then biblical authority goes, then I’m a universalist, now I’m marrying gay people. Pretty soon I don’t actually believe Jesus actually rose from the dead in a bodily way.” But Campolo wasn’t only reflecting on his own experience. He thinks progressive Christianity is the last stop

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The danger in loving preaching too much

The danger in loving preaching too much

Some people have to preach; they can’t last without preaching. Some leaders, when they leave the pastorate for a non-pastoral leadership role, almost feel an emptiness when they are not preaching. ~ Ed Stetzer     This quote comes from Ed Stetzer’s recent defence of David Platt’s decision to accept the role of teacher pastor at a local church while also serving as the director of the International Mission Board. I have no particular insight into Platt’s decision. It doesn’t really interest me. But Ed’s words about preaching have stuck with me. And I don’t think Ed is alone in this view. I regularly hear people tell me they love preaching, or that they were born to preach. Or as Ed puts it, that they have to preach. But when preachers say they have to preach, what exactly do they mean? According to Ed, non-preaching preachers experience a kind of emptiness that literally enervates them (“they can’t last without preaching”). It seems that in some people there’s such a deep-seated need to preach that quenching it has debilitating effects. Conversely, when these people do get to preach they feel a rejuvenating sense of deep pleasure. They come to life.  Joseph Stowell, writing in the Moody Handbook of Preaching, describes this when he says, … we should love to preach because you

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Can the seminary produce visionary leaders?

Can the seminary produce visionary leaders?

Recently, I was teaching a class on missional church when, in a moment of unguarded clarity, one of my students said, “I like hearing about all these new ways of doing church, but I don’t know if I could do them because I’ve grown up in church and I love it.” The unspoken end of that sentence was, “the way it is.” Don’t you love the honesty of some young people? Without knowing it, he had just spoken a mouthful. Can we expect people who have grown up in church and have enjoyed their experience (hence they’re still in the church) to renegotiate the church contract, to rethink how church could be done in a new era?   When I was doing my diploma of teaching (many years ago) one of our professors was introducing some new educational methodology when he broke off in the middle of his presentation, and with obvious frustration in his voice, said, “I’m not even sure why I’m teaching you this stuff. You’re the success stories of the education system as it is. You made it through. Better than that, you want to go back into it to teach others. You’re the last people who would ever try to change the way we do education.” That stayed with me. He was right. If you loved

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Things to do before I die

Things to do before I die

Each year at Morling College I teach a subject called the History of Christian Mission. Since I’m a storyteller and not an historian, I tell my students this course is church history minus the boring bits. They like that introduction. So they hear all about Adoniram Judson strung up by his feet in a Burmese prison cell, and Lillias Trotter and her Bible-reading drum circle in a native cafe in the Casbah, and David Livingstone slashing his way through the Okavango. They get stories of morphine-addicted CT Studd going bonkers in the Congo, St Boniface chopping down the Tree of Thor, and Francis Xavier and his Samurai warrior sidekick, Anjirō, traveling to Japan. We cover the Haystack Prayer Movement, the Student Volunteer Movement, and the Church Growth Movement. They look at the Nestorians, the Hibernians, and the Moravians. It’s all very exciting actually. Well, the way I tell it, it is. And then I heard recently that an old colleague of mine had died. Rev Mike Dennis was full of years and wisdom, a fellow minister in the same family of churches as me. He was old enough to be my father, but he treated me like a brother. Mike was superb preacher and a remarkable leader. He was humble and godly. And he was funny. And the guy had

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