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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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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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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Is it Christian to love your country?

Is it Christian to love your country?

I don’t love my country. There, I said it. I’m a citizen of Australia, a relatively peaceful, prosperous, liberal democracy with a pleasant climate, kangaroos, beautiful beaches and an impressive opera house. I’m grateful for the considerable benefits my citizenship brings. I’d rather be Australian than Syrian or North Korean or South Sudanese. I cheer enthusiastically for our national rugby team and politely explain to Americans how Australia and New Zealand are different countries and why being Australian is better. But I don’t love my country. (I don’t even really think it’s better to be an Australian than a New Zealander). In fact, whenever I allow myself to give into those tribal inclinations to defend my country as better than any other I can’t sense the Holy Spirit behind that at all. It’s tribalism. It’s factionalism. It’s divisiveness and superiority. It deceives me into overlooking the racism and injustice perpetrated in my country’s name and to focus on flimsy and ill-defined definitions of my national “character”. And yet so many Christians appear to equate national loyalty with faithfulness to God. Billy Sunday, the most celebrated and influential American evangelist during the first two decades of the 20th century, once wrote, “Christianity and Patriotism are synonymous terms, and hell and traitors are synonymous.” It’s a trap, surely, to confuse the Christian

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At worship in the church of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

At worship in the church of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Watching One Love, the concert for those affected by the recent terrorist bombing in Manchester, was a strangely quasi-religious experience, and a fascinating insight into the secular rituals that have come to define public mourning in the secular West. Scheduled on a Sunday, the event was designed partly as an act of defiance by Ariana Grande and her management team, and partly as a semi-religious grief ritual for the city of Manchester. Some of the songs performed at the concert made passing reference to religious themes, like the Black Eyed Peas’ song Where is the Love, a kind of prayer for world peace, which includes the line, “Father, Father, Father help us/ Send some guidance from above.” Robbie Williams sang his oddly quasi-religious song, Angels, and Coldplay did Viva la Vida with the cryptic lines about the bells of Jerusalem, missionaries in a foreign field, and something about St Peter not calling my name. While other songs, although not specifically religious, were performed with a kind of gravity befitting a secular hymn. Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Don’t Dream It’s Over and Don’t Look Back in Anger united the audience in a type of collective optimism usually reserved for religious singing. Or football anthems.   Of course, there were some explicitly religious moments, like when Justin Bieber declared that “God is good

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A tale of two Christianities on its knees

A tale of two Christianities on its knees

They’re both Christian footballers and they’re both known for kneeling on the field, although for very different reasons. One grew up the son of Baptist missionaries to the Philippines. The other was baptized Methodist, confirmed Lutheran, and attended a Baptist church during college. Both have made a public display of their faith. Both are prayerful and devout. This is the tale of two Christian sports personalities, one of whom is the darling of the American church while the other is reviled. And their differences reveal much about the brand of Christianity preferred by many in the church today.   First up, there’s Tim Tebow. Tebow was homeschooled by his Christian parents, and spent his summers in the Philippines, helping with his father’s orphanage and missionary work. During his college football career, the Heisman Trophy winner frequently wore references to Bible verses on his eye black, including the ubiquitous John 3:16 during the 2009 BCS Championship Game. He has been outspoken about his pro-life stance, and his commitment to abstinence from sex before marriage. He is a prominent member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an organization which insists that leaders sign a Statement of Sexual Purity, stating that sex outside marriage and homosexual acts are unacceptable to God. He has preached in churches, prisons, schools, youth groups, and a welter

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#ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear shows it’s sexism not hermeneutics

#ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear shows it’s sexism not hermeneutics

Feminists: “A strange sub-strata of women with a peculiar inferiority complex”   That isn’t a quote from some ignorant, aging Fox News commentator. It’s from one of the rising young stars of the conservative movement, writer Daisy Cousens. In this week’s edition of the Spectator, she refers to feminists as being “obsessed with picking at the scab of women’s lib, trying to draw fresh blood, often being seen prowling (or lumbering) around, attempting to sniff out sexism in every nook and cranny.” According to Cousens, women who complain about sexism are whiny and pathetic. And they lumber (whatever that’s supposed to mean!?!). She concludes, “The idea women that in our society are still somehow under the thumb of men is a fallacy; every opportunity available to men is also available to us.” The same day I read Daisy Cousen’s diatribe against feminism, I discovered that Canadian Christian blogger and author Sarah Bessey had just launched the Twitter hashtag #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear and it was trending. Big time. Woman after woman (including many personal friends of mine) tweeted the passive aggressive put-downs and out-and-out sexist statements they’ve heard in churches over the years. It seemed cathartic. Like lancing a boil. Years of snubs, sneers and rebuffs flowed like puss. For me, reading it was like passing a car wreck on the freeway. I

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They’re dying in Egypt while we’re whining about Easter hat parades

They’re dying in Egypt while we’re whining about Easter hat parades

This week I was interviewed by a local radio station about the place of Easter in the post-Christian West. Specifically I was asked how I felt about schools removing references to Easter in their annual hat parades. I told them I couldn’t care less. I honestly don’t care if schools want to run a “happy hat parade” or a “crazy hat day” instead of an Easter hat parade. I just don’t. And then I heard about the two suicide bombings at Coptic churches in Alexandria and Tanta and the deaths of 44 worshippers on Palm Sunday at the beginning of Holy Week. And then I didn’t just not care about Easter hat parades, I was outraged at our insensitivity and complete lack of perspective on these things. And then I saw this photo (above) of a shocked and grieving nun staring blank-faced into the debris caused by the bombing at St George’s Church in Tanta, and I remembered that there are Christians in the West who actually talk about experiencing “hostility” because of their faith. They say they are being persecuted and marginalized, silenced and ignored. This Easter, Egyptian Christians will have to clean the blood spatters from the marble pillars of their church and grieve the deaths of worshippers and priests and choristers. And I really hope no one tells them

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Please Lord, send me a sign

Please Lord, send me a sign

Recently, I’ve been writing about ways we can listen to our neighborhoods. I’ve been saying we need to lean in closely and hear the deep yearnings of those around us. Only then can we create bespoke ministry responses, not the off-the-shelf, prefabricated religious goods and services available in so many churches. This process of digging deep into the soil in which we’re planted and designing truly contextual practices is called cultural exegesis. And it’s an essential part of the work of missional leaders. Last week I introduced Michael Mata’s work on social research and began exploring how we can read the five S’s of any town or neighborhood – structures (which I looked at here), signs, spaces, social interactions, and spirituality. Later I want to add a sixth S of my own. In this post I want to look at the second S in the list – signs. Remember that scene in Bruce Almighty, when Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is at the end of his emotional rope, driving through the darkness, begging God to send him a sign? He passes a flashing caution sign, but ignores it. Then a truck loaded with road signs reading Wrong Way, Dead End, and Stop veers in front of him. Still no reaction from Bruce. Caught up in his own worries and feeling sorry for himself,

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In Praise of Protest

In Praise of Protest

I recently came across these two photographs on social media. They both depict elderly protesters at recent anti-Trump rallies in the United States. The photo on the left is of a woman named Shirley, attending her first protest rally at the ripe old age of 93. I found it on a Twitter feed of people posting that they were attending their first public protest. Most were young. But some were old. Like Shirley. What’s happening in America when a frail 93-year-old is moved to protest for the first time? And is it a good thing? Some are saying that such protests are just made up of sore losers who can’t deal with Donald Trump’s election victory. I’ve heard (often), we need to stop complaining and just allow duly elected officials govern. But protest shouldn’t be dismissed so readily. Indeed, protest is a noble cause, a collective responsibility, and a necessary form of self expression. Here’s a few reasons why I think we shouldn’t be afraid of mass protests. Protest is Essential in Liberal Democracies   Dissent is what forged democracy in the first place, and it remains essential in fomenting change in democratic societies. In fact, it moves those societies forward. It always has. Protests nearly always arise in response to social or political changes and can therefore be rightly

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LIVE: the more we watch, the less we care.

LIVE: the more we watch, the less we care.

“Sony wants you to stream your whole life online.” “Show off how marvelous your life is.” “Stream your world live to Facebook using the ‘Social Live’ camera feature.” “Fill YouTube with constant videos of your cat sleeping or your baby dribbling, thanks to the new Live on YouTube app.” These are actual advertising slogans. If you use social media you’ll know live video streaming is being pushed pretty hard these days. Facebook has changed its algorithms to ensure live videos appear in your notifications and fill your newsfeed. Sony, Apple and Samsung are falling over themselves to develop the necessary products to make live streaming even easier. I expect the boffins who decide these things think that video will overtake text as the primary way we share stuff online at some time in the near future. And of course it’s pitched to us as a way of boasting about our fabulous lives. Post a vid of you arriving at a big concert, or dancing at a music festival, or sailing on the harbor, or singing along to the radio on a road-trip with friends. Everyone’s life is meant to look awesome online. Except if it’s not.   On December 30 last year, a 12-year-old girl in Georgia live streamed her own suicide after telling the world that she had been

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To be shaped as much as to shape

To be shaped as much as to shape

I love this image of a tree growing in a barren plaza, its root system spreading across the cement pavers. I love it, not only because it’s an image of organic life bursting forth from a pretty ugly built environment, but because the trees roots have been shaped by that very environment. They extend across the plaza, zig-zagging at the same angles as the pavers. The tree is conquering the plaza, but the plaza is shaping the tree. It’s a beautiful metaphor for the church. We too have been planted in a dry and barren place. We long to grow in a verdant forest, but we find ourselves here in this strange, broken place, trying to figure out how to be in this world, but not of it. This makes me think of the experience of those great exiles of the Old Testament – Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, and Esther in Persia. Like us, and this tree, they too were planted in foreign soil. Literally. All three were forced to live in foreign lands and, like this tree, all three adopted many of their host cultures’ values and practices, while remaining faithful to Yahweh. They flourished like the tree, but were shaped by the contours of their captors’ cultures. Joseph, Daniel and Esther all prospered in their host

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