Monday, 30 March 2009

Justice in the city

I just opened the envelope with the latest copy of CASE magazine. I was quick to open it because it has an article Mark Glanville (a PTC graduate) and I wrote on "Justice in the city". It isn't about batman (we aren't that cool - we'll I'm not).

We look at how the city highlights issues of justice and intensifies the challenges and argue that the evangelical church can not leave this issue to the "liberals" while we get on with mission. A concern for justice (not simply charity) has to be part of the scope of our part in God's mission.

We use the Ten Commandments to sketch out what justice should look like, because any account of justice is always grounded in an anthropology. Justice can't be just "treating everyone the same", it has to have some goal. Even if we have an "autonomous ethic" and we let people choose their own story, that comes from a view of human nature (a view which says human nature is does not exist or at least has no goal).

You can't read the article on-line. You'll have to subcribe (which you can do here) or you might be able to find it in your local theological library. You'll find a copy in PTC library.

Monday, 23 March 2009

A Timely look at Calvinism

Time magazine
has nominated the resurgence of Calvinism as one of the top ten ideas changing the world right now. While the essay may not be altogether flattering to those who stand in the legacy of John Calvin, it acknowledges the Reformed faith as a cultural force to be reckoned with in Christian circles and (at least in a north American context) to be noticed more widely.
Our own conference coming up on the debt we owe to this remarkable exponent of the Christian faith is not an exercise in irrelevance, but a Timely event.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

How students suffer at PTC

Some lecturers at PTC are so cruel. Any one who has spare Arctic gear please send it to the Greek class.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Missional chemistry

Eugene Hor comments on a trend in the US to move to smaller churches as part of becoming more engaged in the mission of God. It makes sense, and fits with something I've thought for a long time. Years ago when I did chemistry I learned that one of the key variables which increases the rate of reaction is the surface area. So if a solid is reacting with a liquid it will all happen faster if the solid is broken up into a powder than if it sits in a single lump. In ministry it is often better to have a lot of little things happening than having it all happen at one place.

It is a common claim (which I assume is right) that churches are most likely to be in effective contact with their communities when they are a new church plant. So constantly spinning off new churches can keep evangelistic momentum. Also in a smaller church it is more likely that more people will be called on to use their gifts and people are more likely to be in the kind of person to person relationships in which they will care for each other and mature together. (Of course it is only 'more likely' a small church can be just as unhealthy as a large one, and being small can be a symptom of being unhealthy).

Increasing surface area for ministry can be a challenge. A church of 70 adults might manage to support a pastor and have a few good musos and a small children's ministry and see a few people becoming Christians each year. It can be a lot more exciting to go to a church of 700+ with several specialised staff and great music team and cradle to the grave programs that meet all your "needs". More exciting, but it is unlikely that you will get ten times more "ministry" happening, though there might be hundred times more "buzz". Being a pastor for a smaller church doesn't feed the ego as well as leading a big church. Lots of small churches can be harder for a denomination to "control" and service. So there are lots of reasons why we might think bigger is better, but I suspect it isn't so.

I would also add that "spinning off" new churches has to be done with genuine mission motivation. It can not be simply a way to move off a group of people who don't quite fit the "sending church". That will do no good for the sending church nor the new church and will simply show our lovelessness. So I am not suggesting "homogenity" as the main feature of new small churches.

Of course there can be a "critical mass" needed (though that changes the metaphor to nuclear fission!). Churches working deliberately working together can provide that.

Missional chemistry is a reason to keep starting new churches, with the aim of keeping them small. It is a Kingdom strategy, not an empire one.

It might seem strange in denomination of mainly small churches to bother making this case. However I think that the PCNSW often longs to have big churches, while letting our smaller churches feel a bit second rate. It's time to help smaller churches see that they can be right in the middle of mission.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Commencement and Graduation

Last night we had our annual Commencement and Graduation. It was great night. We welcomed lots of new students (John Davies told us that there had been a 17% increase in enrollments and it certainly feels like that). Here is a shot of the new students being welcomed.

We graduated our first Doctoral Student, Max Gilbert (below) who wrote a thesis on Jesus claim to divinity in his use of Ps 110:1; and David Balzer who teaches NT recieved his MTh for a thesis on temple in John's Gospel.

People graduated with other awards as well. Hamdy Awad and Roland Lowther with MA (Theology); Cornelius Nel, Joel Radford and Ian Stenhouse with MDiv; Clare Aroney, Robert Aroney, Karen Astles and Virginia Fay with Grad Dip of Div; Brett Graham with BTh (1st class honours) and Matthew Hong, Jimmy Liang and George Medvedsky with BTh; Steve Pym and Russell Smidt with Advanced Dip Theol and Farid Awad and Jillian Patterson with Cert Theol. Stephen Gould, Russell Smidt, Brett Graham, Ian Stenhouse, Kyou Hong, David Yu and Steve Pym also recieved our Diploma of Theological Studies which is the academic qualification for ordination. Congratulations to everyone for all the hard work that these awards represent. We are excitied about the prospects for service of Christ which all our graduates are taking up.

We also had a wonderful version of "Nothing but the Blood of Jesus" from our student ensemble put together for the the evening. I think this should not be their only gig. Here is a shot of the singers.

The evening finished with a excellent address by Sandy Macmillan (minister of the church in South Wagga Wagga). Sandy took us to Ps 67 and challanged us to thank God for his blessings and aim for his glory. Great words for a graduation.

Out Of The Mouth Of A Babe

As I was racing around getting ready this morning, my four year old son Joshua said to me "Mamma, my Alex the Lion toy (a character from the movie Madagascar) is broken.  His tail's come off."  I sympathised but that wasn't the reaction he wanted.  So he said "But Mamma, he's broken, so I have to throw him away and get a new one."  I knew how hard it had been to buy the toy so I said "Well Joshie, have you thought of looking after him even if he doesn't have a tail anymore?  Maybe you could love him even though he's broken?"  I could see the cogs spinning in his brain and after a little time of silence he said "OK. I'll do that.  'Cause that's what Jesus does with me.   He loves me even when I'm naughty."  I couldn't have said it better myself!  How I love it when my children teach me about God's gracious promises.   "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus ..."  (Romans 8:1) and "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us."  (Romans 8:33-34).  

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Get to know the classics - Augustine

The outline from my talk on Augustine and the audio are available now at PTC online. The reading for Anselm will be there in the next few days. Murray Smith will introduce Anselm on April 6. See lots of you there.

Friday, 6 March 2009

While I Wait ...

I hate waiting - ok well, maybe "hate" is too strong a word. But I don't like it much.  I think waiting means 'nothing to do'. Boring!  So wherever I go, I take stuff with me to do in case I need to wait. I take my diary to catch up on my "to do" lists. I take a book (lately it's been Cosa Nostra - A History Of The Sicilian Mafia by John Dickie or Feminine Appeal - Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife and Mother by Carolyn Mahaney).  At the very least, I make sure I have chewing gum with me so I can chew out my frustration at having to wait!

Yesterday, while reading my Bible, God showed me that there are some great things we can do while we wait for Jesus to return.  For the Christian, waiting is not 'nothing to do' time.  And it's all got to do with verbs - doing words.  In 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul praises the church because:

• the word of the Lord has sounded forth from them in Macedonia and Achaia (verse 8);
• (and even more than that), their faith in God has gone forth everywhere so that Paul, Silvanus and Timothy need not say anything (verse 8);
• they turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (verse 9).

The Thessalonians were doing all of this while they waited for God's Son from heaven (verse 10) - the very Son whom God raised from the dead - Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.  I was struck.  Waiting is not such a bad thing.  Like the Thessalonian Christians, while I wait for Jesus to return, I can sound forth the word of the Lord, I can make sure that my faith in Jesus goes forth everywhere and I can continue to turn to God from idols to serve the living and true God - and all this, while I wait for God's Son to return.  A new perspective on waiting.  Thank you God.
P.S. I have been using The Daily Reading Bible, volume 12 by Matthias Media.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Wisdom, Glory and Virtue in Colossians.

I've recently listened to these talks by N.T. Wright given at the IVF USA "Following Christ" Conference. They are gold. He gives a great example of reading the Bible in context and applying it to our thinking and living. He paints a big picture of God's work in Christ so powerfully and shows how it comes from Paul's theology specially in Colossians. The conference is for emerging academics, and he has some perinent applications for them.

Listen, it will be good for mind and heart.

If you are someone who disagrees with "Tom" on things, I'll be interested to know what you disagree about from these talks. Let me know if you do.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Augustine's best prayer?

Tomorrow night I am presenting an introduction to Augustine's Confessions at Get to know the Classics. It is a wonderful book and as I've been preparing I've been tempted just to read great slabs of Augustine's poetic prayer. I won't do that, I'll give some background and orientation which helps people read Confessions for themselves. I will, however, quote these wonderful words which are a summary of Augustine's reflection on his life in Book X. It captures his Christian theistic worldview in its Neoplatonic expression, his view of sin and his wonder at God's grace. Is it his best prayer? It certainly beats "Give me continence but not yet"!

"Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved
you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace."