Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Searching for Intimacy

Lydon Bowring

The challenge of young people coming into contact with a stranger in an unmoderated chat room, and in which pornography was exchanged, came home to Childnet in 2000 when out of the blue we received an email direct to the office from a father who wrote:

‘My daughter was contacted starting in February this year by a paedophile whilst using a chat room. He quickly moved to email and shortly afterwards sent her pornography, purporting to be pictures of himself. My daughter was just 12 at this time. After grooming her for some weeks, he made telephone contact and eventually persuaded her to miss school and meet him. In total, he met her five times and took her back to his flat where she was sexually abused….I have worked in the computer industry for 18 years, latterly with the Internet, and had no idea what went on in these chat rooms. Surely there is some regulatory body that can make the ISPs monitor at least the teenage chat rooms to make sure kids aren’t in danger. Perhaps you can offer some guidance?’

The result of the email and meeting with the parents was that Childnet launched on the steps of the courthouse on the day in which the perpetrator in this case, who was caught by the police, was sentenced. The site generated huge media interest and showcased a way in which the Internet could help educate and inform at a time of public anxiety. However, not everyone agreed with our approach. Someone in America ‘webjacked’ the site and potential viewers who mistakenly typed were instead sent to a porn site. We also got criticism from some in the industry who felt we were being too negative.

The website was written with the full support of the family and aimed to tell the girl’s story in a sensitive, dignified way. Over the last three years we have received over three thousand emails through the site’s online contact form and have been able to respond personally to hundreds of parents and children who have concerns, giving them advice and reassurance. The website also helped mobilise our challenge to both government and the industry to review how children were exposed by these new interactive services. In part the campaign helped mobilise the establishment of a Home Office Task Force on Child Protection on the Internet, of which Childnet is a leading member. This group in turn challenged the government in their review of the Sexual Offences Act to introduce a new criminal offence of online grooming which has now been included. Childnet has also been active in lobbying the chat service providers to take steps to make chat rooms more child-safe and we welcomed MSN’s decision in 2003 to withdraw their chat services.

From section 3 of Searching for Intimacy – pornography, the internet and the XXX factor, published by Authentic Media 2005

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Never Mind the Joneses

Tim Stafford

I’m not totally stingy, but I’m ambivalent about generosity. Most people are, and it comes out when they raise their kids. We parents battle to get them to think ahead. We want them to plan, to think through consequences, not to waste money or to be careless with possessions. So we react when we see our children acting generous. I can’t easily tell what is carelessness and what is real generosity. (Especially since kids are generous with possessions that we, the parents, provide.)

For example, I remember a period when my daughter Katie gave lots of kids rides home from school. She sacrificed a significant chunk of her time, and she burned up a lot of gas. Rather than congratulating her on her generosity, I felt immediate concern that other kids were taking advantage of her.

We parents take risks when we let our children act generous. We must accept that some of our hard-earned money might be wasted. In fact, we can be sure it will. That is the cost of generosity.

When I lived in Kenya I thought a lot about the risks of generosity. Genuinely hungry and needy people lived near me in vast numbers. Yet plenty of crooks and swindlers also worked on guilt-stricken, compassionate Westerners. They typically concentrated on tourists, but sometimes they got me too. With such great needs so close and real, these swindles struck me as obscene. I hated to discover that I’d been taken. Yet I couldn’t always tell the real thing from the fake – sometimes not even long afterwards.

My choice came to this: either I had to stop giving altogether, or I had to accept that whenever I gave to anybody, I took a chance of being conned. I eventually arrived at this maxim: ‘I would rather be cheated a hundred times than have a heart of stone.’

From chapter 9 of Never Mind the Joneses – building Christian values into your family, published by Authentic Media 2004

Monday, September 26, 2005

Prophetic Evangelism

Mark Stibbe

The family service team had decided to do a presentation of the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. Only, instead of portraying the father as forgiving and welcoming, they decided to do an ironic reversal and portray him as unforgiving and unwelcoming. So when the prodigal son returned they presented the father saying, ‘What are you doing coming back like this? Go back to where you’ve come from. You’re not welcome here!’ Then, in the concluding part of the service, the team re-presented the parable showing the father as he really is in the story, lavishly and extravagantly merciful.

As the team leader asked me to come and give the blessing, I sensed a very strong impression that the presentation had powerfully impacted someone in the church. I spoke out the following words that just dropped into my heart quite suddenly:

‘There is someone here today who has been living with a deep sense of fatherlessness. You have been looking for your father all you life. Recently you have found him but you were really disappointed. Today, hearing about God the Father, you have realised that this is the Dad you’ve been looking for, and the Lord is saying to you, "It’s time to come home."’

After the service people came forward for prayer. One of the people was a middle-aged lady called Mandy, [who was] not a Christian. She had been abandoned by her dad as a young girl and had been looking for him all her life. Recently she had discovered that he was in the Navy and had gone to meet him, but had felt bitterly rejected. That morning God had indeed been speaking to her about what a loving Father he is. She was powerfully impacted by the prophetic word uttered before the blessing and gave her lie to the Lord Jesus Christ. That morning the ‘father-shaped hole’ in her heart was filled by the power of God’s love as she received forgiveness and was filled with the Holy Spirit.

From section 2 of Prophetic Evangelism, published by Authentic Media 2004

Friday, September 23, 2005

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

Bill Easum

Often an unspoken uneasiness lurks just beneath the surface of many Christians. No one wants to talk openly about this uneasiness, but they talk to me about it privately, as you will see later. I don’t mean any disrespect by what you’re about to read. I just think it’s time some of us faced reality: many Christian leaders (clergy and lay) have been duped into following the wrong call and are wasting their own lives and the lives of those under their influence.

Give me time to explain before you start heating up the tar and ripping up the pillows. For most of the last fifty years, when someone received a call to preach, it mostly meant that God had chosen him or her to become pastor of a church. To make matters worse, ministry was mostly relegated to the paid clergy. Most calls sent the person to seminary to some form of full-time Christian service. Very few understood that laypeople could be called to serious ministry in their local church. I can still remember saying ‘I surrendered to the ministry’ [emphasis on ‘the’] as if there were only one form of ministry. Can you hear those nails being driven in?

Not until recently have established congregations begun to understand and practice the belief that all Christians receive a call from God to ministry. This means that there isn’t such a thing as ‘the’ ministry. There are ministries galore, open to all Christians. One doesn’t have to go into ordained ministry to be in ministry.
If this is an accurate view of what has happened, then there are probably a lot of ordained clergy who were never called to be the pastor of a congregation. Some were called to be apostles, and others were called to ministries such as chaplains and counsellors, but not to be pastors of congregations. It also means that there are a lot of Christians who have never heard God’s call nor been involved in ministry because they assumed one had to become a pastor to answer ‘the’ call to ministry.

So, what can be done about this mess? It’s time we got honest with ourselves. We need to wake up to the fact that God calls Christians to some form of service that has absolutely nothing to do with seminary, formal ordination, or full-time service. When Christians fully understand that God’s plan includes everyone doing the actual work of ministry rather than a special few, things will change in our congregations. But more important, lives will cease to be lived without experiencing the joy of reaching God’s potential.

Also, I’m convinced that some of the pastors who are not functioning as pastors (that is, they are taking care of the saints instead of equipping them) are doing so because laity have been convinced that caring for people is their pastor’s job and the laity are forcing pastors to play ‘pastor fetch’ and private counsellor. I want to give these pastors permission to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ There’s still time to get retooled. All you have to do is want to badly enough. If you get retooled and your congregation kicks you out, don’t fret; if God called you to be a pastor, there will be another church waiting for you. What you need to remember is there are far more churches now than there are ordained clergy.

From section 5 of Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First – rediscovering ministry, published by Abingdon 2004

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Lies that Go Unchallenged in Popular Culture

Charles Colson

When actors or directors are asked what attracted them to a particular project, the answer is nearly always the same: the story. Whether or not it’s true, it’s the right answer. Love of stories is in our very nature as humans. The problem is that nearly all films leave out an important part of many good stories: the role of faith. A welcome exception to that rule is the film called Gods and Generals. It is written and directed by Ronald Maxwell and produced by Ted Turner. Yes, Ted Turner, the man who called Christianity a ‘religion for losers,’ has now produced a film that highlights strong and credible Christian faith.

The film is a prequel to the 1993 film Gettysburg and tells the story of the first two years of the Civil War. The first hint that the film deviates from Hollywood’s usual treatment of faith can be found in the trailer that tells us, ‘They read the same Bible,’ and ‘They believed in the same God.’

These believers were the men who fought the Civil War, and in particular, the central characters of the film: Confederate legends Robert E Lee and ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, and Union hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. While these men were on opposite sides of the war, one important thing they had in common was their Christian faith.

To their credit, the actors who portrayed these characters understood the centrality of their faith. Jeff Daniels, who plays Chamberlain, told writers that Chamberlain’s faith was the most important thing in his life. Stephen Lang, who portrays Jackson, went even further to say that his character’s relationship with Christ was the lens through which he viewed the world – or as I’d put it, his worldview. In Lang’s words, Jackson was ‘an Old Testament warrior with a New Testament theology.

The film shows the vital role that Christianity played in the lives of these men, and the audience can see how their decisions and their character were shaped by their beliefs.

Thus, when Jackson tells a minister that they will see each other again in heaven, it feels natural. It is what the audience comes to expect from Jackson. Similarly, when he and Lee speak of something as being God’s will, there is not the slightest hint of irony or cynicism. We know and accept that this is what they believed.
The film accomplishes this without being preachy or leaving audiences with the feeling that they are being proselytized. Instead, they are entertained and left with something to think about.

I don’t hesitate to criticize Hollywood for the garbage they often release. It is only fair, then, to thank them for movies that Christians can and should support. So thanks to Warner Brothers and – I never though I would say it – to Ted Turner for Gods and Generals, a film that in telling a good story remembers to include the most important part.

From section 4:5 of Lies that Go Unchallenged in Popular Culture, published by Tyndale 2005

Friday, September 16, 2005

Grace and Necessity

Rowan Williams

[Eric] Gill’s first exercise in rendering [Jacques] Maritain into his own terms was his 1925 essay, Id Quod Visum Placet – the title taking up Aquinas’s definition of beauty, which Maritain had made his own. He takes as foundational the principle that art aims at the good of the thing made – so that an artistic product is an object made in the chosen medium, not an imitation or reproduction of something else; consequently it is a mistake to aim at beauty as if it were anything other than the effect of the work’s integrity.

In the many essays that followed, especially in the years up 1933, and in his voluminous correspondence, Gill elaborated his assimilation of Maritain’s themes. ‘Art is skill,’ he wrote, a habit nurtured by practical apprenticeship which develops a natural capacity; we do not need any doctrine of mysterious giftings, spiritual genius, in an artist. The truest art is anonymous; emotions are never the ground of artistic work, only some of the consequences; ‘high art’ or ‘fine art’ is essentially a distraction, and the bulk of post-Renaissance art is a disaster. It has encouraged us to think of painting not as a sharing in the creative labour of God for the world’s eventual fulfilment but as the record of a particular individual sensibility looking at the world from outside.

True art is in some sense a part of nature, nature in its human embodiment pursuing its natural intellectual and formative character. Art is ‘metaphysically superior’ to prudence in its aspiration to collaboration with God. But prudence is more important for the human being as such, more in tune with what human beings concretely are and need. The two exist in a perpetual ‘lover’s quarrel’ (art being male and prudence female): prudence is suspicious of art’s concern with things in themselves, art is equally suspicious of prudence’s utilitarianism. We are lost if we try to separate the two: the truth is that prudence aims at the true good of human beings, but that true good includes, crucially, happiness. And ‘happiness is the state of being pleased with things, of being pleased with things.’) Art must aim at products that please the whole person. And the good of the whole person is something specified by that doctrine to which prudence tries to conform us. Art is good when it relates to the sort of creatures we know ourselves to be.

From chapter 2 of Grace and Necessity– reflections on art and love, published by Morehouse Publishing 2005 – reflections on art and love, published by Morehouse Publishing 2005

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

God in Ordinary Time

Pat Stevens

How many times have you heard the old joke about the believer who attempted to discern God’s will through the practice of ‘Bible Roulette?’ Prayerfully she took her Bible and opened it to what she hoped would be words of direction. Her first attempt landed her at Matthew 27:5, speaking of Judas’ actions after the betrayal: ‘He went off and hanged himself.’ Convinced of the need for a second attempt, she closed her Bible and then opened it up again, this time to Jesus’ words: ‘Go thou and do likewise.’ She decided to put her Bible away and to explore God’s will through other means.

I remember one of my own feeble attempts. I was in Los Angeles, trying to decide whether to accept a job offer there. I asked a priest to pray over me for enlightenment and direction.

I went to bed that night still undecided about what to do. I awoke to the sound of dogs barking, car alarms ringing, and the room shaking. The Los Angeles earthquake was upon me! As I fumbled for my glasses, the thought went through my mind: ‘Boy, is that priest a powerful pray-er! This is sign enough for me; I’m out of here.’

I ended up staying in Los Angeles. The freeway I needed to take to my alternate destination had collapsed, and there was no other route available to me. Humorous, indeed, are God’s ways.

From page 27 of God in Ordinary Time – Carmelite reflections on everyday life, published by the Carmelites of Indianapolis 2001

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Alister McGrath

Augustine [says] we have been created with the intellectual resources which can set us on the way to finding God by reflecting on the creation.

In more recent years, the importance of this point has been explored by the physicist turned theologian John Polkinghorne, formerly professor of mathematical physics at Cambridge University. Polkinghorne points out that some of the most beautiful patterns thought up by the mathematicians are found actually to occur in the structure of the physical world around us. There seems to be some deep-seated relationship between the reason within (the rationality of our minds – in this case mathematics) and the reason without (the rational order and structure of the physical world around us). The two fit together like a glove. So why are our minds so perfectly shaped to understand the deep patterns of the world around us?

For Polkinghorne, we need to understand why the ‘reason within’ and the ‘reason without’ fit together at a deep level. Christian belief provides us, he argues, with a rational and entirely satisfying explanation of that fact. It affirms that the ‘reason within’ and the ‘reason without’ have a common origin in this deeper rationality which is the reason of God the Creator, whose will is the ground of both our mental and our physical experience of the world.

Polkinghorne argues that there seems to be some kind of ‘resonance’ or ‘harmonization’ between the ordering of the world and the capacity of the human mind to discern and represent it:

‘If the deep-seated congruence of the rationality present in our minds with the rationality present in the world is to find a true explanation, it must surely lie in some more profound reason which is the ground of both. Such a reason would be provided by the Rationality of the Creator.’

From chapter 6 of Creation, published by SPCK 2004

Monday, September 12, 2005

What the Bible Really Teaches

Keith Ward

I have tried to set out what the Bible teaches on a number of issues that fundamentalists get wrong. What fundamentalists say about the coming in glory of Christ, about the Sermon on the Mount, about the possibility of universal salvation, and about the resurrection and life after death seems to me to be pretty obviously wrong. On all these subjects the Bible actually teaches the opposite of what fundamentalists say. When it comes to specific topics in morality, like issues of gender and sexuality, of politics and medical advances, my main point has been that the Bible challenges us to think through these things for ourselves, giving guidelines, but not issuing definitive commands. I would expect disagreement on some of these issues. But that disagreement is not about what the Bible teaches. It is about what we conscientiously decided when we seek to apply biblical principles to hard moral issues. That disagreement is something we find within the pages of the Bible, something we should expect, and something we have to work through prayerfully and charitably.

So I will end where I began, distinguishing evangelicalism from fundamentalism. Evangelicals have been a major reforming influence on Christian faith. They have made the reading of the Bible by the laity in the vernacular important to Christian life and prayer. They have successfully criticised some of the exclusive and authoritarian practices of traditional Christian Churches. And they have made a living experience of Christ the centre of Christian faith.

Fundamentalists, however, subtly pervert these evangelical insights. They impose an authoritarian interpretation of the Bible that is as dogmatic as any medieval Catholic theology, and usually less informed. They make their faith even more exclusive than that of those Catholics who claimed that there is no salvation outside the Church. And they make intellectual assent to ‘sound’ doctrines amore important test of Christian faith than life in the Spirit.

The greatest tragedy of fundamentalism, however, is that it gets the Bible wrong. Fundamentalists read back into the Bible a sort of literalism that could only have existed after the sixteenth-century growth of science, which suggested that only literal truths are real truths. They impose on it a millenarian belief that became outdated in the second Christian generation, that ignores all scientific knowledge about the universe, and that betrays a deep fear of science and reason. In this respect, they betray the long Christian tradition that always saw the universe as the work of the divine Wisdom (and thus as supremely reasonable), and that gave birth to science as rational investigation into the handiwork of divine reason. And they distort the basic nature of Christian revelation, which is in the person of Jesus and in relationship to that person, and not primarily in the words of any book and intellectual submission to those words.

From chapter 11 of What the Bible Really Teaches – a challenge for fundamentalists, published by SPCK 2004

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Gift of Being Yourself

David G Benner

Knowing ourselves as we really are inevitably brings us up against what the Bible calls sin. It doesn’t take much self-awareness to recognize that there are some very basic things about us that are not as they should be. Let me speak for myself. If I am honest, I must admit that my motivation is never as pure or noble as I wish it to appear. My ability to realize my potential as a person made in God’s image seems to be sabotaged by some inner agenda over which I have no control. This is an important part of what it means to be a sinner. Daily experience impresses upon me the painful fact that my heart has listened to the serpent instead of God.

As James Finlay says with brutal honesty, ‘There is something in me that puts on fig leaves of concealment, kills my brother, builds towers of confusion, and brings cosmic chaos upon the earth. There is something in me that loves darkness rather than light, that rejects God and thereby rejects my own deepest reality as a human person made in the image and likeness of God.’

Some Christians base their identity on being a sinner. I think they have it wrong – or only half right. You are not simply a sinner; you are a deeply loved sinner. And there is all the difference in the world between the two.

Sin is a corollary to our primary status a greatly loved children of God. First we were loved into being, created in the good and sinless image of our Creator God. And although sin damaged that which had been utterly good, it allowed us to discover that God’s love is directed toward us just as we are, sinners. The sequence in important. We must never confuse the secondary fact with the primary truth.

Real knowing of ourselves can only occur after we are convinced that we are deeply loved precisely as we are. The fact that God loves and knows us as sinners makes it possible for us to know and love our self as sinner. For it to be meaningful, knowing ourselves as sinners must involve more than knowing that we commit certain sins. Sin is more basic than what we do. Sin is who we are. In this regard we could say that sin is fundamentally a matter of being, not simply morality.

If all we know about ourselves is the specific sins we commit, our self-understanding remains superficial. Focusing on sins leads to what Dallas Willard describes as the gospel of sin management – a resolve to avoid sin and strategies to deal with guilt when this inevitably proves unsuccessful. But Christian spiritual transformation is much more radical than sin avoidance. Knowing our sinfulness becomes most helpful when we get behind sins to our core sin tendencies. Now we shift our focus from behaviour to the heart.

From chapter 4 of The Gift of Being Yourself – the sacred call to self-discovery, published by IVP 2004

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Don’t Waste Your Life

John Piper

There is no point in overstating the case for the value of secular work. [Work] is not the Gospel. By itself, it does not save anyone. In fact, with no spoken words about Jesus Christ, our secular work will not awaken wonder for the glory of Christ. That is why the New Testament modestly calls our work an adornment of the Gospel. In addressing slaves, Paul says they are ‘to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.’ The point here is not to endorse slavery (which Paul undermined more indirectly by calling the converted slave, Onesimus, ‘no longer a slave but a beloved brother,’) but to show that the way we do our work ‘adorns’ the doctrine of God.

In other words, our work is not the beautiful woman, but the necklace. The beautiful woman is the Gospel – ‘the doctrine of God our Saviour.’ So one crucial meaning of our secular work is that the way we do it will increase or decrease the attractiveness of the Gospel we profess before unbelievers. Of course, the great assumption is that they know we are Christians. The whole point of the text breaks down if there is nothing for our work to ‘adorn.’ Thinking that our work will glorify God when people do not know we are Christians is like admiring an effective ad on TV that never mentions the product. People may be impressed but won’t know what to buy.

There is another place where Paul expresses the modest role of our work in relation to the Gospel. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11 he tells the church, ‘Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.’ The point here is not that our work will save anyone. The point is that if we live and work well, obstacles will be removed. In other words, good, honest work is not the saving Gospel of God, but a crooked Christian car salesman is a blemish on the Gospel and puts a roadblock in the way of seeing the beauty of Christ. And sloth may be a greater stumbling block than crime. Should Christians be known in their offices as the ones you go to if you have a problem, but not the ones to go to with a complex professional issue? It doesn’t have to be either/or. The biblical mandate is: ‘Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.’

We make much of God in our secular work by having such high standards of excellence and such integrity and such manifest goodwill that we put no obstacles in the way of the Gospel but rather call attention to the all-satisfying beauty of Christ. When we adorn the Gospel with our work, we are not wasting our lives. And when we call to mind that the adornment itself (our God-dependent, God-shaped, God-exalting work) was purchased for us by the blood of Christ, and that the beauty we adorn is itself the Gospel of Christ’s death, then all the tender adornment becomes a boasting in the cross.

From chapter 8 of Don’t Waste Your Life, published by Crossway 2003

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Jubilee Manifesto

Paul Mills

Whilst the Old Testament model endorses the role that lending can play in poverty relief, the sorry tale of low-income countries’ debt in the 1980s and the later hesitant attempts at debt relief indicate that we are still a long way from understanding international development finance. The confusion comes from blurring the distinction between lending for poverty relief – which should always be interest-free and capable of forgiveness if the borrowers are incapable of repaying – and commercial finance to support economic development.

The latter goal has led to the establishment of multilateral agencies (such as the IMF and the World Bank) to channel loan finance to middle- and low-income countries on quasi-commercial terms. However, these agency balance sheets need to be run on a solvent and prudent basis; their constitutions prevent ad hoc loan write-offs in response to borrower repayment difficulties. There is great scope for bilateral loans (those from one government to another) to be written-off, but here domestic politicians need to demonstrate that they are imposing conditions on borrowers (to justify debt forgiveness to taxpayers), and show that other rich lenders are not benefiting from their country’s charity in relieving debts. Hence, whether the debt is to multilateral agencies or bilaterally between countries, our current reliance on interest-based lending for development always has the potential to reinvent the international debt crisis, not matter how many current debts are relieved.

If wealthier governments wish to provide true development finance to low-income countries, they should do so through equity participation in commercial projects whereby profits and losses are shared (such as equity partnerships in power generation or toll-charging transport projects). That way, the governments would be more circumspect about the projects they choose to finance in the first place and, if a project proves to be uncommercial, the borrowing economy is not saddled with an ever-growing debt burden. Otherwise the net transfer of resources from poor to rich countries will continue.

One way for richer countries to participate more fully in development at a local level in low-income countries would be to provide equity capital for microcredit lending organisations, such as the Grameen bank in Bangladesh. Although operating on an interest-basis, it provides small loans on tight margins to poorer households to finance small start-up enterprises. Nevertheless, it has a default rate (c.5%) lower than comparable commercial banks because it lends predominantly to women and emphasises the need for repayment in order to enable the bank to lend to new borrowers. Such an approach facilitates local development without recourse to moneylenders whilst emphasising the need for neighbourly solidarity in preserving access to finance for others.

From chapter 11 of Jubilee Manifesto – a framework, agenda and strategy for Christian social reform, edited by Michael Schluter and John Ashcroft, published by IVP 2005

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Pursuing Justice in a Sinful World

Stephen Monsma with Larry Baldock

Honour, acclaim and fame may or may not come to a Christian serving in the political arena. Whether or not they do is irrelevant. Exercising political authority as a faithful servant of the public is what God calls the servant-politician to do. Whether faithfully doing so leads to acclaim and higher office or to anonymity and a shortened political career is for God to decide. Just as coaches subordinate their needs and desires to those of their players, and parents subordinate their needs and desires to those of their children, so servant-politicians must subordinate their needs and desires to those of the public.

A servant-legislator will pursue a cause that is just, spending precious time and effort doing so even though no one may notice and no acclaim may follow. It may even result in criticism and the loss of votes in the next election. Nevertheless, he or she persists, because there are people in need and the legislator is their servant.
The servant-judge or the servant-bureaucrat acts in the same way as the servant-legislator. The servant-judge will be helpful to a confused witness, patient with an overbearing attorney, and committed to giving a fair trial even to an apparently guilty defendant, and even when the community is calling for a quick trial and harsh punishment. He or she does all this because – while exercising immense authority – he or she is a servant of the witnesses, attorneys and defendants that appear before the bench.

The servant-bureaucrat will apply the law fairly and equally, whether dealing with a large, powerful corporation that has friends in high places or with a small, weak business that has few friends in the capital. When interpreting the law, the servant-bureaucrat will be guided by fairness, equity and need, not by what is the best career move.

The servant-legislator who risks electoral defeat by voting for a measure that is unpopular but necessary to promote a more just order for all citizens…the servant-judge who insists on a fair trial for an arrogant, obnoxious defendant…the servant-bureaucrat who is fair to the power and the powerless alike – all these are turning the other cheek and going the second mile. They are living according to the stirring and challenging ethics of the Sermon on the Mount, which puts others and their welfare before self. Paradoxically, power and servanthood do mix as long as power is exercised in true service to God.

From chapter 2 of Pursuing Justice in a Sinful World, published by Lifeway Publishing 2005 [Revised NZ edition]

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Nomadic Church

Bill Easum and Pete Theodore

Unleashing the church-in-a-box involves setting up a seemingly endless list of essential equipment that a stationary church might easily take for granted: sound systems, speakers, staging, video projectors, portable screens, musical instruments, risers, pulpits, Christian education supplies, lights, folding chairs, meeting tables, sign-in stations, drama sets, carpets, clocks, curtains and dividers, communion tables, banners, plants, literature kiosks, refreshment centres, resource carts, information booths, and more. Adding to the strain is that some of these items must be set up in several places for the different ministries spread throughout the facility. We observed people at one church assemble six different projection systems for different groups. At New Hope in O'ahu, an overflow room requires setting up extremely large systems for crowds up to six hundred in number.

In addition, people engage in various aspects of assembling nursery areas, arranging multiple classrooms, posting internal and external directional signs, and making many other facility enhancements. Since some sites are regularly dirty and cluttered when the facility crew arrives (move theatres are among the worst offenders), a few busy themselves vacuuming, mopping, picking up trash, wiping down sinks, and doing other forms of cleaning. The longer it takes to complete their tasks, the more the church has to pay for the space, and the harder it is to attract new helpers.

It’s almost a joke at some Nomadic Churches. You can tell who’s on the facility crew by the sweat on their foreheads. Because of the demands, replacements don’t eagerly ‘line up’ to cover for them. Especially when the church is newer, most facility workers are part of the faithful core who fill more than one ministry role. Later on, some churches find it necessary to pay a facility co-ordinator in order to keep someone in the demanding position of overseeing this whole process each week.

When we inquired about the average tenure of a set-up/breakdown worker, one facility co-ordinator told us with a wink, ‘Until they burn out!’ He further noted, ‘There’s usually a new guy to train.’ Perhaps this issue can best be summarised by one written response to our question about how many people assist in set-up and breakdown, ‘Too few. This is an ongoing challenge!’

From chapter 4 of The Nomadic Church – growing your congregation without owning the building, published by Abingdon 2005

Friday, September 02, 2005

Scripture and the Authority of God

N T Wright

Not only does the Bible declare that all authority belongs to God revealed in Jesus and the Spirit; the Bible itself, as a whole and in most of its parts, is not the sort of thing that many people envisage today when they hear the word ‘authority.’

It is not, for a start, a list of rules, though it contains many commandments of various sorts and in various contexts. Nor is it a compendium of true doctrines, though of course many parts of the Bible declare the great truths about God, Jesus, the world and ourselves in no uncertain terms. Most of its constituent parts, and all of it when put together whether in the Jewish canonical form or the Christian one, can best be described as story. This is a complicated and much-discussed theme, but there is nothing to be gained by ignoring it.

The question is, how can a story be authoritative? If the commanding officer walks into the barrack-room and beings ‘once upon a time,’ the soldiers are likely to be puzzled. If the secretary of the cycling club pins up a notice which, instead of listing times for outings, offers a short story, the members will not know when to turn up. At first sight, what we think of as ‘authority’ and what we know as ‘story’ do not readily fit together.
But a moment’s thought suggests that, at deeper levels, there is more to it than that. For a start, the commanding officer might well need to brief the soldiers about what has been going on over the last few weeks, so that they will understand the sensitivities and internal dynamics of the peace-keeping task they are now to undertake. The narrative will bring them up to date; now it will be their task to act out the next chapter in the ongoing saga.

Or supposing the secretary of the club, having attempted unsuccessfully to make the members more conscious of safety procedures, decides to try a different tack, and puts up a notice consisting simply of a tragic story, without further comment, of a cyclist who ignored the rules and came to grief. In both cases we would understand that some kind of ‘authority’ was being exercised, and probably all the more effectively than through a simple list of commands.

There are other ways, too, in which stories can wield the power to change the way people think and behave – in other words, can exercise power and/or authority. A familiar story told with a new twist in the tail jolts people into thinking differently about themselves and the world. A story told with pathos, humour or drama opens the imagination and invites the readers and hearers to imagine themselves in similar situations, offering new insights about God and human beings which enable them then to order their own lives more wisely.

All of these examples, and many more besides which one might easily think of, are ways in which the Bible does in fact work, does in fact exercise authority. This strongly suggests that for the Bible to have the effect it seems to be designed to have it will be necessary for the church to hear it as it is, not to chop it up in the effort to make it into something else.

From chapter 3 of Scripture and the Authority of God, published by SPCK 2005