Fair enough?

We have just finished building an investment home and are about to sell it.

I have spent some time over the last few days shovelling dirt around the place to get the levels right for brick paving, so I know where every pile of dirt is on that block now! The guy in the house next door dumped a pile of his dirt on our block before any building started and the mound still sits there. Its not huge, but its probably half a trailer load and I asked him to shift it quite a while back.

I am pondering how it would be to shovel the whole load onto his brand new liquid limestone driveway… I’d love to do it…

The funny thing is, I reckon he’d complain!

It seems its ok to dump crap on vacant blocks but not on finished ones…

I’m still debating whether I will test the theory…

Is Universalism the New Social Justice?

Its sad to say but in recent years it has become quite fashionable to focus on the place of the poor and marginalised in our society – well to talk about it – because the hard cold reality is much different to the romantic notions.

In the last 10 years the ‘social gospel’ as it was once called has become quite mainstream. No longer is it just for dreadlocked hippie radicals or aging Uniting church women – it has come on the radar of most churches and the ‘social gospel’ is no longer ‘liberal’ territory, but rather an integral part of most protestant churches.

Who’d have thought it?…

For some reason we now believe that acts of kindness are actually intrinsically valuable rather than being simply hooks to lure people to faith. (I grew up in the old world and have seen and participated in the shift so I am not having a dig at anyone here!)

As we look back its quite sad to see how wide of the mark we were with our understanding and how further wide we were with our action. Of course the challenge now is to translate current rhetoric into more substantial action, but that’s another story.

The reason for this post is to ask about how theological shifts occur and what drives them. Clearly there has been a theological shift on this issue of justice and compassion and no one would doubt its validity (I think…)

What other shifts are in the wind for conservative evangelicals and more importantly why do we shift?

Evangelicals are well known as ‘people of the book’, nice in theory, but in practice I would tend to suggest it is much more complex than that. We are people of the book as it is read at this place in history. I wish it were as simple as God’s words speaking to us clearly from the pages, but we are deeply influenced by our culture and we need to be aware of this.

I mentioned previously that I was involved in a unit on The History and Form of Evangelicalism at the Baptist Theological College in Perth. I audited the unit and did it simply for the ‘fun’ of it. And it was great fun, talking and wrestling with the issues we face and will face in this diverse movement. (As an aside if you thought ’emerging church’ was hard to define try defining ‘evangelical’!)

Perhaps one of the most telling realisations for me was that despite our ‘people of the book’ rhetoric we are deeply influenced by our surrounding culture and without exception evangelicalism has morphed in different ways to reflect the culture. The problem is that we aren’t usually aware of this element forming us because our culture is the ‘sea we swim in’.

If we look at the church in the 20th Century we see a church that was deeply influenced by the rationality and fact based nature of modernity. It gave form to much of our understanding of the Bible and we debated long and hard over fine points of truth and the questions of inerrancy etc. We saw those issues as vital because questions of empirical proof mattered to the surrounding world we lived in.

As we discussed shifts in evangelicalism in our class we observed some quite radical shifts even in our own lifetime. For example in many churches women are now allowed to be in leadership, and divorced people are not just allowed in leadership, but as pastors.

Did the Bible change?

Do we just understand it ‘better’ now, or has our culture pushed us to shift this way?

I think we’d like to say we have come to better understanding, but I wonder if it wasn’t our culture nudging us and actually propelling us? I wonder if in 20 years time we won’t have also shifted our views on homosexual relationships to accomodate the shift if culture.

Don’t laugh – who’d have thought we would be so open to divorced people in ministry 50 years ago? I imagine this shift will gradually creep into churches and one day we will wonder what all the fuss was about. (I say that as a person who holds pretty conservative views on the topic.)

Which brings me to the question of universalism.

I am not an expert on this subject so I won’t purport to know more than I do here! However what I do observe is both greater openness to this concept than before, as well as some level of acceptance amongst those who would be part of mainstream Christianity.

And so I find myself wondering… is this going to be one of the next significant theological shifts for the evangelicals?…

During the course I was informed by the principal of the college that the dominant view of hell among evangelical scholars these days is ‘annhilationism’ where people simply ‘cease to exist’ rather than living in eternal torment. This is quite a shift in the centre of gravity of this topic alone from 20-30 years ago – a shift I was unaware of being removed from academia.

Are we going to see a soteriological shift to match it as universalism becomes more popular?

The primary reason for the shift in view of Hell (Brian tells me) has been a response to our notion of God and the struggle to see a loving God even allowing for eternal torment – an idea our culture would find abhorrent. So if that one has happened what’s to stop a shift to universalism in some of its different forms becoming popular around our churches, because no one likes a gospel where some in get in and others get left out… A palatable form of universalism may well emerge as we try to accommodate this issue in our culture.

To get you thinking here’s a post by a Baptist Theological College lecturer in the UK asking this question.

Of course the question then emerges ‘how do we deal with this and other theological shifts?’

Do we go with them, or do we resist them and fight them? How do we respond with integrity?

As I spoke with Danelle about this last night we both saw ourselves growing into those older people in church who shake their heads and lament the state of the church ‘these days’. The people today who still frown at divorcees and women in leadership, may well be the anti-universalism people in 30 years time…

Of course we could just go with the flow…

Kid Theology

It is our dinner time custom to read a short Bible story with the kids.

Last night we read that bizarre little passage about Jesus having to pay temple tax and sending Peter out to go fishing, telling him that he would find a coin in the fish’s mouth. (That’s gotta be one of the strangest stories in the book I reckon…)

Tonight Sam (who has finally got over his fear of my outbaord motor) was asking if we could go fishing so he could catch a fish.

‘Yours can have a computer in its mouth and mine can have a new toy’

If you know Sam you’ll know he wasn’t kidding…

Cop That

Its about time someone drew a line in the sand!

Freo have taken the big step of dropping Antoni Grover, Steven Dodd, Brett Peake, Paul Hasleby, Des Headland and Dean Solomon for missing training or being out on the turps. It is in effect sacrificing any slim opportunity of making the finals because their chances of winnning this weekend are now virtually non existent.

Maybe if someone shows they mean business then these guys will pull their finger out and perform as they could.

Maybe…lawman dvdrip

Evangelism & Empowering Peacemakers

Jarrod McKenna Empowering PeacemakersEmpowering Peacemakers


Guest in the backyard: Jarrod McKenna

Can we separate living the gospel from sharing it? Evangelism from the invitation to follow Jesus?

Last night I arrived back from a country tour with ‘Empowering Peacemakers’ (or EPYC) inviting High School students to forsake lives wasteful consumption and dare lose their themselves in lives of compassion on behalf of Jesus’ message for the poor and the earth.

I’m always amazed (!) at the responses.

Yesterday I was ambushed by students wanting to give me hugs (a bit awkward), ask for Bible’s (not something we offer just something they wanted after exploring Scripture in the workshop!!), committed themselves to the FACE UP TO POVERTY campaign and gave up their lunch time to talk about Jesus, their lives, their concerns about the world and the gospel.

-What’s EPYC’s secret that has kids that aren’t Christians queuing up to talk about Jesus after workshops?

-Why is it that young people run up wanting to give hugs and share their stories?

-Why is it that students (who aren’t Christians) ask for copies of the Bible and want to start social justice groups in their schools when many youth pastors have talked to me about difficulties in getting their church youth groups into the Scriptures and moving their focus off themselves!?

-And how is it that EPYC gets asked back into public state schools?

worshopping God's revolution

Some thoughts:

1. The Means is the Message

EPYC believes only way to share ‘Jesus is the Way’ is to do it in ‘the Way of Jesus’. The Early Christians where known as ‘people of the Way’ because they were filled with the Spirit to obey everything Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). Their is no point teaching the texture of the kingdom (nonviolence) if you are going to go about it in forceful ways (the ways of the fallen world).

2. The Medium is the Message

EPYC is committed to embodiment. Young people can feel when people really are living an alternative or if they are just talking a good game. ‘Bait and switch’ has nothing on ’embody and let them ask’ (read 1 Peter 4:15 in the context of verse 8-14 teaching on nonviolence). In sharing personal stories of the empowerment of God’s grace to live as signs of what God has done in Jesus and giving power over to young people to ask questions in the setting of their and our worlds biggest problems

3. The Message is the Message

EPYC believes the gospel is just that… good news! 🙂 EPYC actively resists watering down the gospel, tickling ears, shying away from the demands of discipleship, bending the knee to Principalities and Powers who avoid preaching Christ crucified. In EPYC workshops we trust Scripture has a power beyond our cheap four step summations of the Bible. EPYC don’t hide students from the Bible but openly explores solid exegesis of Biblical texts with students that aren’t Christian trusting that God’s Spirit is at work drawing us to all truth and that Jesus really is good news for all that our world is going through.

4. “History belongs to the Intercessors” (sorry it didn’t start with ‘M’)

EPYC believes, as Walter Wink puts it, “History Belongs to the Intercessors”. We can do solid exegesis and prepare a good workshop but if it hasn’t been covered in solid prayer it isn’t going to have the effects it could have and I’m not going to be in a space where I’m sensitive to what the Spirit is doing.

As Scott McKnight put about EPYC on his blog he resonates deeply with “evangelism programs that invite people to experiment with the way of Christ as a way of coming to Christ.”

After all can we separate living the gospel from sharing it? Evangelism from the invitation to follow Jesus?

Thanks to all those who continue to hold EPYC in prayer.

Reaping What We Sow…

Last week a friend in our suburb told me that he had earnt $5400.00 in his new job. For most of us that’s a reasonable monthly salary, but he had achieved it in just one week as an unskilled worker. I have to admit I was a little impressed.

However as I dug a little deeper I discovered that he had to work from 5pm-5am six days a week, a total of 72 hours… Add on the 90 minutes driving time in each direction and suddenly you are away from home for 15 hours of the day and sleeping for most of the time when you are home. The only thing that is unusual here is the fact that he is doing this without flying out to a mine-site.

The lure of big $$$ in the mines has grabbed the attention of many in our community so ‘fly in/fly out’ scenarios are common as people try to earn lots of money to pay huge mortgages and credit card bills. And when there is a pay rise there is often an increase in the credit limit to accompany it. The economic boom and the lure of large incomes has many saying they will do it ‘for a little while’ or ‘until the mortgage is paid off’, but the lifestyle is addictive in many ways.

Its hard to go back when you’ve had that much money and its also hard for dads to slot back into their families when they come home. Patterns are established that can be hard to shake.


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The huge number of absent fathers, off making six figure salaries makes me wonder about the future of our young people and children in the next generation. Many will barely know their dads and the social consequences are something to be concerned about… What happens when a kid only sees their dad one week in three and is the financial gain worth the relationship loss?

We have often heard off Filipino workers heading off to other parts of Asia to earn enough money to send home so the family can survive, but here we have a parent absent much of the time not for survival, but so that the family can have all the ‘I wants’ of a consumer age.

Combine an economic boom with a consumer culture and you have an explosive cocktail. I am absolutely convinced that this obsession with affluence and acquisition will bite back sooner or later…

And when it does…

“go ye” and Gandhi

Gandhi greeting a little one


 Jarrod McKenna‘s Wednesday’s with Gandhi: “May it not be that ‘Go ye unto all the world’ message has been somewhat narrowly interpreted and the spirit of it missed? It will not be denied, I speak from experience, that many of the conversions are only so-called. In some cases, the appeal has gone not to the heart but to the stomach.”

-Speeches and writings of Gandhi: p.336, Feb. 14 1916

Gandhi’s reflections come out of his horrible experience as a child in India seeing people convert to Western ways in ‘Christian drag’ and not to Christ.

Some thought on mission and ‘go ye’

  1. Have others too experienced people “Go[ing] Ye…” but not making disciples, that is, students of the nonviolent way of Jesus?

Gandhi 'going ye'2. The biblical passage which Gandhi is referring to is Matthew 28:18-20. In part it reads, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”. Is it the ‘mission’ of the God revealed in Jesus if we are not teaching people the practicalities of what Jesus taught? If we teach a theory of atonement and neglect to teach ‘converts’ to live Jesus’ way have we really made disciples? If we don’t teach giving to the needy in secret (instead of calling a press conference), to pray for God’s will of justice,peace and joy to be done (instead of our will or the will of our nation), to seek first God’s transforming presence (instead of careers or our agenda) to first remove the plank from our own eye (instead of judging others) and to love our enemies (instead of bombing them) have we really made followers, students, disciples of Jesus?

3. Gandhi talked about “so-called” converts where the appeal has gone not “to the heart” but “to the stomach.” In your experience do evangelists today invite people ‘take up their cross’ and follow Jesus in the way of love come what may? Or simply appeal to peoples stomachs?

4. What might it look like to prayerfully seek to embody an alternative to the “so-called conversions”, the “appeals to the stomach” and “go[ing] ye” without calling people to obedience to the ‘royal law’ of Love?

For going deeper:

what difference to mission might it make if we were to spend time meditating on Matthew 28:18-20 inlight of Matthew 5-7 while praying for a ‘conversion of the heart’. Gandhi read the Sermon on the Mount daily for his mission, how much do we for Christ’s mission?

Because Size Matters

That’s right fellas – we all knew that anyway didn’t we…

I was pondering yesterday what the ideal size would be for a church.

My raw thoughts:

If there are a couple of thousand of you then you can do some incredible stuff with the resources you have. You can run quality programs, administrate well and deliver services at a level that a medium sized church just can’t compete with. You may struggle for a sense of community when you gather, but then ‘small groups’ may resolve this. Your gatherings have the potential to be very attractive and for those in the saucer you may have the most appeal by far. Maybe ‘huge’ is the key?

If there are 50 or 60 of you then you can all know each other to some degree and retain a sense of family, but you also have enough resources to do some things well. You can’t deliver what the megachurch can, but you know that and you wouldn’t choose to try and emulate them. You can have a very robust community if you are content to operate at that size and don’t struggle with ‘congregation envy’.

If there are 4-14 of you then you have a different animal again. You don’t need any kind of public facility nor do you need to meet at the same time each week. You can’t do many of the things normally considered to be ‘church’ in larger gatherings, but you can develop the feeling of being an extended family very well. You can flex easily, adapt to circumstances and maximise communal interaction.

Perhaps the only things that disturbs me is when a church sets out to be what its not. The ‘say g’day to the person next to you’ thing in large churches as a way of ‘building community’ only seems to highlight what is absent in a Sunday service, while watching a bunch of 50 elderly people try to emulate Hillsong is equally cringeworthy. I’m not sure what the equivalents are in a small gathering – maybe having a preacher speaking to 10 people could looks pretty dopey. (I have heard of a house church that set up the sound system, chairs in rows, data projector etc all in a lounge room… that’s different 🙂 )

So is there a size at which church functions optimally?

Or is it just a case of it being great that we have diversity because then people can slot into the community where they feel most at home?

The reason I ask is because it seems that our mission is almost always to grow bigger and by that I mean 50-100-200-500-1000 etc. I am yet to find a church that consciously says we want to grow and develop, but 50 is our max or 100 is our max before we plant/multiply or whether you call it.

Its partly why church planting has been such a lame duck in our own denomination – because no one is ever ‘ready’ to part with people to start anew.