Wednesday, 30 September 2009

ESV study bible notes from Logos

Logos software are selling an electronic version of the the ESV study notes for USD 30 (approx AUD 35). Just the notes - for the ESV Bible, see here. The notes provide as good a commentary as any other (with all the normal caveats of a commentary - only the word of man, not a substitute for reading the Bible yourself, etc etc), and this seems a cheap way to get hold of it.

Incidentally - just in case anyone's wondering - I have no personal or financial interest in either Logos software or the ESV.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

New CMS online magazine


CMS ( the Church Missionary Society) have launched an online magazine, Landscape. First edition includes a challenging article on idolatry. Also a sensitive article on missionary kids growing up between cultures. And a perceptive review of Eckhard Schnabel's book Paul the Missionary, including interesting comments on homogeneous units vs cross-cultural unity - ref my own ruminations in recent posts.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Ministry to second-generation immigrants

This the last post in my series on immigrant ministry.

* * * * *

Second-generation immigrants - the children of those who migrated, or they were very young when they migrated - present their own challenges and opportunities. The same can be said for children of mixed marriages. While they grow up in Western culture, they may be subjected to surprisingly traditional expectations from their family. Kathleen Garces-Foley records how mixed marriages were a constant pastoral problem even at Evergreen church, California, a church that is purposefully multiethnic, and whose pastor has a mixed marriage. “Many of the young adults at Evergreen were raised with this double message: Be American in all areas of your life except family.” [Kathleen Garces-Foley, Crossing the Ethnic Divide: The Multiethnic Church on a Mission, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007: 113-4].

These children feel like they belong to neither the dominant culture nor their home culture. This could lead either to a sense of isolation and disconnectedness, or a genuine flexibility and ability to engage with both cultures. The question is how to encourage the later while avoiding the former.

In reply to a comment on a previous post, I said while we're free to create ethnic-specific churches, we're also free to deliberately create ethnically hetergenous churches. The best books on multi-ethnic churches I've found so far are:
  • Korie L. Edwards, The Elusive Dream: The Power of Race in Interracial Churches (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008);
  • Kathleen Garces-Foley, Crossing the Ethnic Divide: The Multiethnic Church on a Mission (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007) and
  • Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity (Downer's Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2009).
I like Rah the best - he seems to come from the most conservative-Evangelical standpoint of the three.

Anyone else got any good resources to recommend? Also - any ideas on how we encourage second-generation immigrants to be be flexible, not disconnected?

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Repenting of the motivation to immigrate

This continues my series on immigrant ministry.

* * * * *

Immigrants tend to work hard and be successful. This is for at least three reasons.
  1. In most parts of the world, mere survival requires hard work. So ‘normal’ work for immigrants is, by Australian standards, over-the-top workaholism.
  2. The purpose of immigrating is to seek a better life, so immigrants work hard to achieve this.
  3. Australian government policy has for some time favoured skilled migrants, who are more likely to have a strong work ethic.
As a result, immigrants tend to be successful. They get high marks at school; they are appreciated at work; their business prospers. They become wealthy and comfortable, their children become doctors and lawyers, and they bask in the glory of the immigrant dream.

The danger of this is that immigrants might develop a value system opposed to both the gospel of grace, and the call to sacrificial discipleship. They truly are honest, hard-working people – surely that gets them credit with God? And why should they – or even worse, their children! – give up all these honestly acquired trappings of success, to serve God sacrificially by, say, going into paid ministry?

In this case, the gospel calls people to repent of one of their motivations for immigrating in the first place: enjoying a better life.

What do you think, everyone...?

Friday, 25 September 2009

Christ, culture and parenting

Orright, following on from my previous post, I'm gonna try and use the great turning points of redemptive history that Don Carson identified in his Christ and Culture Revisited, to do a cultural analysis of parenting. This from a childless single man. Brave? Or foolhardy? Oh well...

The ability to have children is a blessing from God, part of us ruling over the earth (Gen 1:28). Even after the fall, the children of the violent polygamist Lamech have great skill and creativity in agriculture, technology and the arts (Gen 4:20). The people of Israel were supposed to teach their children about God, and how he had redeemed them from Egypt, and brought them to be his very own people in his special place, in order to live for him and worship him (Deut 4:9-10; 6:20-25; 11:19; Psalm 34:11; 78:5-8). This is a prototype of Christian parents teaching their children the gospel. The Proverbs of Solomon come packaged as parental advice to children (Prov 1:8, 2:1, 3:1, 4:1-4; 10, 20; 5:1; 6:1; 7:1; 10:1; 15:20; 23:22; 31:1). Note the inclusion of maternal teaching in Prov 1:8; 10:1; 15:20. Prov 31:1-9 is ascribed entirely to King Lemuel's mum. Parenting includes disciplining unruly children (Prov 22:15; Heb 12:7-11). Jesus himself submitted to his Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:51). Paul addresses parents and children in his letters (Eph 6:1-4; Col 3:20-21). Addressing God as "father" shows the basic goodness of parental relationships. God's fatherhood is not exactly like human fatherhood - it's an analogy, not an identification. But, for the analogy to work, there has to be some basic goodness in human fatherhood.

This shows us that parents have the right, and responsibility, to teach and form character in their children. Home is where character is forged most of all. Other institutions - school, church, other clubs & societies - certainly have a role, but their influence is less than that of the parents. Parents cannot fundamentally delegate their formative role to "professionals". Part of that character formation is restraining children from unruly behaviour, including, if absolutely necessary, coercive force. This speaks against Western ill-disciplined, self-obsessed autonomy.

However, that formation has as its goal Christian character. Parents are not to discipline their children for their own convenience, nor to be good Sri Lankans (pick a country!), nor even to be merely "good people". Their aim is that their children would love Christ because he shed his blood for them, and seek to live in a way that honours Christ above all. Jesus distanced himself from his family when they misunderstood him (Mark 3:21, 31-35), and demanded that he be a higher priority than family (Luke 14:26). This speaks against traditional cultures where family demands highest loyalty. Our children are entrusted to us, for a time, that we would, through our teaching, modelling and discipline, form Christ in them.

If our aim is to bring our children up to be Christians more than whatever ethnicity we come from, we'll allow our children the freedom to live in a new culture, as long as they continue to e Godly. Conversely, Godly children should (eventually?) realise the difference between doing things God's way and doing it just 'coz that's what the olds taught me to do.

Eg: India and Sri Lanka have a tradition of arranged marriages; here in Oz, people find their own partners. Neither is necessarily more or less Christian; both can be used in a Godly manner, or an ungodly manner. An ungodly application of arranged marriage would be the parents being more interested in a prospective partner's wealth than their Christian confession. A godly application of arranged marriage would be the parents finding a spouse for their child who loves Jesus and is temperamentally compatible with their child. I think Sri Lankan and Indian families are free to do either. I've seen both arranged and independent-choice marriages; so far, I can't tell any difference in the quality of relationships.

Um - I'm not sure how well I used Carson's categories there. Anyway - feedback, anyone...?

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Prayer request: AFES Board mtg Fri-Sat

As most of you know, I've been a member of the AFES Board for some years. This Fri-Sat (25-26 Sept), we have our major meeting. Board members from all over Aust fly into Sydney, and we discuss major issues of strategy, policy and governance. It's a "business" meeting, but the decisions we make affect the ministry of the whole of AFES all over the country. Prayers appreciated.

More articles on relationships

My series on relationships continues on AFES WebSalt, with one article on cross-gender relationships and another on same-gender relationships.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Apocalyptic weather

A dust storm turned the sky red across Sydney today. The Sydney Morning Herald has cool photos here and here. News articles here and here.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Carson on Christ and Culture

In Christ and Culture Revisited, Don Carson says that a comprehensive view of the great turning points of Biblical redemptive history – creation and the fall; Israel and the law; Christ and the new covenant; and heaven and hell – permits a nuanced Christian response to culture. He says if we keep all four turning points in our mind at all times, we might be able to discern what to affirm in culture, and what to criticise. On pages 45-59, Carson draws implications from each of the four great turning points of redemptive history.

From creation and the fall:
  • Humans are all equal, in God’s image.
  • As such, we are responsible to God, “we owe him” (p 46, italics in original).
  • As God’s image-bearers we have the privilege and responsibility of governing the world.
  • We are bodies, we must use our physical bodies to serve God, each other and the world.
  • Sin is first of all God-focused – it is rejecting God as God, it is idolatry and pride.
  • Secondly, sin is social – we break God’s law, and hurt each other.
  • Yet God, in his ‘common grace’, restrains evil, so there is yet much good in the world.
From Israel and the Law:
  • God graciously chooses a people for himself.
  • The fact that the law affected every part of life demonstrates that God demands Lordship over every part of his people’s life.
  • The Law simultaneously shows us to be guilty and stained by sin, and provides for forgiveness and cleansing.
  • Israel’s social institutions were distinct (prophet, priest, king) but were all uniformly co-ordinated towards being loyal to God. This implies that there need not be conflict between ‘church’ and ‘state’, but God can use both to advance his kingdom.
  • Israel did not exist merely for itself, but was God’s means for saving the whole world.
From Christ and the New Covenant:
  • Jesus is the mediator between God and humanity. He is the king of God’s kingdom, who has established that kingdom once for all, even though it remains contested in this age.
  • The incarnation demonstrates God’s humble self-identification with us.
  • The way Jesus established his kingdom was his cross and resurrection.
  • We now proclaim the cruciform gospel, which is God’s wisdom and power, which puts all the world’s wisdom to shame.
  • The risen Christ now pours out his Spirit upon his people, which gives his people a limited but genuine experience of God’s presence and power.
  • The new covenant people of God are not one nation but a trans-national community identified by their allegiance to Christ.
From heaven and hell:
  • Current relationships between Christ and culture are not eternal.
  • Nothing in this world will be perfect. Perfection will come when Christ returns.

In my next post, I'll try and use these to analyse a Christian approach to parenting. Stay tuned!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

CHEAP BOOK ALERT!

CHEAP BOOK ALERT!
  • James Taylor, Introducing Apologetics, Baker 2006. Good, clear intro to apologetics - which is exactly what it's title says. Takes a moderate presuppositional view.
  • Mark Husbands & Dan Treier (eds), The Community of the Word, IVP 2005. Chapters by such luminaries as John Webster, Allan Verhey and Jonathan R. Wilson. Every single chapter stimulating, even if I didn't agree with it!
Both highly recommended & both $8 at Koorong! Bargain! Make the most of it!

Incidentally - I have no personal interest in Koorong, I just love books, especially cheap ones... :)

Monday, 14 September 2009

... and another on sex and friendship

In addition to the article that there's more to life than sex, I've started a series on Websalt about different kinds of relatiosnhips. The first one is about sex and friendship. First of a four-part series.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Websalt article on sex and relationships

I've just had an article published on the AFES Websalt online mag. More to Life than Sex. It's about the difference between using sex "just for fun", and using it to enhance relationships. Co-authored with Dr. Pat ("mum"!).

Friday, 11 September 2009

Prayer request: evangelism & trials

I've got two important occasions this coming Sunday (13 Sept). In the morning, at MEPC, I'm speaking evangelistically from Isaiah 9:1-7. Please pray that people will bring friends, that I'll speak well, and that people will repent and follow Christ.

Then at 6pm, I'll be leading the meeting & preaching at Ashfield Presbyterian. This will be my "trials for license". It's one of the final steps in the processes of me becoming a fully-fledged Presbyterian minister. I'll be speaking on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, the Lord's Supper. There'll be experienced ministers in the congregation, who will analyse everything I do, and quiz me about it after the service. Please pray that I'll run the service & preach well. If I pass the trial, I'll be licensed to preach, and become a "licentiate".

Yes, I've had plenty of experience of church leadership & preaching. But it's still kind of nerve-wracking to be under that level of scrutiny, in an unfamiliar church. And the last time I did two different sermons on one day, the second one was really, really hopeless - just 'coz I was tired. This time, I can't afford to mess up like that.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Parental sex education

Tomorrow (Fri 11 Sept), Dr. Pat (better known to me as "mum") will be doing a seminar for parents on Christian sex education - as in how to teach children about their sexuality. 7pm at Matthias Church, Oxford St, near Centennial Park. She and I wrote the presentation together, so I'm going along to see how it turns out and field any "theological" questions that mum feels out of her depth with. Should be interesting - mother & son talking about parents & children and - er - sex...!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

It's 09/09/09!


It's 09/09/09!
Hooray!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Bible over culture

This continues my series on immigrant ministry.

* * * * *

Avoiding the problems of culture and capitalising on its benefits requires robust Biblical discernment and discipleship.

The Bible is not a cultural artefact, but objectively authoritative over all cultures. It has universal authority over all people everywhere, for it is the written word of the one God who created all people in his image to worship him. An aspect of being made in God’s image is that we are God’s speech-partners, able to appropriately respond to his speech-acts in his written word. The basic practices of grammatico-historical exegesis are sufficiently universal that anyone who reads a translation of the Bible in their own language will discern the gospel clearly enough to put their trust in Christ, and conform their life to Christ.

The Biblical narrative of salvation-history is vital to this hermeneutical task. It also provides the resources for Christian engagement with culture. Don Carson says that a comprehensive view of the great turning points of Biblical redemptive history – creation and the fall; Israel and the law; Christ and the new covenant; and heaven and hell – permits a nuanced Christian response to culture.
[T]here are elements in any culture to which the gospel may legitimately appeal, even if […] the adoption of the gospel will inevitably transform that culture in important ways. [Don Carson, Christ and Culture Revisted (Eerdmans 2008): 61]

We may add to this Jesus’ example of using culture to subvert culture. In the first century, eating with people meant accepting them. So when Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, he communicated that he had accepted them. This counter-cultural acceptance was often resented. So we need to use culture to subvert culture. We need to exploit culture ways of behaving and relating to clearly communicate Christian counter-culture.

Okay, that all sounds very grand, but how does it actually work...? What does enculturated counter-culture look like? I'll post some thoughts in a coupla days, based on Carson's work. Stay tuned!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Homogeneity, homophilia and ethnically-specific churches

This continues my series on immigrant ministry.

* * * * *

Pragmatically, the homogenous unit principle would encourage ethnically-specific churches. In 1970, Donald McGavran stated that people “like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers”, [Donald A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, (Fully Revised) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980 [1970]): 223] and cited research that 60-90% of converts were brought to church by a friend or relative [McGavran: 225].
Not much has changed: in 2008, Edwards noted that the “homophily principle”, which “says that people like to hang out with others who are like them”, has often been used to explain the success of homogenous churches, because “people are recruited into voluntary organizations through social networks made up of people who are similar to them.” [Korie L. Edwards, The Elusive Dream: The Power of Race in Interracial Churches (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008): 118].

But this homophilia could lead to an inward turn, a complacency, because we are amongst people who are 'just like us'. This is not unique to ethnic churches - homophilia is broader than ethnicity. People could be happy merely becuase they're with people of their own profession, or social status, or whatever. We must be wary of the 'comfort zone', which could turn our church into a mere social club.

The question is: what are the warning signs that this is happening? I can think of one: a loss of interest in evanglism. Anyone got any others? Also, if this complacency is setting in, what do we do about it?

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Integrity but non-independence of local churches

This continues my series on immigrant ministry.
* * * * *
Planting ethnic churches presupposes that people of different ethnic backgrounds may legitimately worship separately. Theologically, the Knox-Robinson model of church asserts the integrity of the local assembly as a spontaneous, Spirit-guided expression of the heavenly assembly. But integrity does not entail independent self-sufficiency. Catholicity is an aspect of the heavenly assembly around the glorified Christ, not its earthly expressions. On the contrary:

Both Christians and congregations need fellowship to grow in Christ-likeness [for] they are part of the larger heavenly church of Christ, and [they need] to experience that wider fellowship. This is the contribution that denominations make to the spiritual growth and joy of the Christian and the congregation. [Collected Works of D. Broughton Knox, Vol. II: Church & Ministry: 95-96]

This is because the Christian life is about fellowship.
A fellowship […] must be absolutely other-person-centred, knowing no limits to its fellowship. Such is the fellowship of heaven, and the limits we know in our earthly fellowship are simply the limits of human life and not of attitude. (DBK Collected Works II: 97)
I see no great difference between Knox and the classic 'low church' Reformed view of the integrity but non-independence of local churches, exemplified by Louis Berkhof:

Protestants insist that the invisible Church [which is the earthly Church as God sees her] is primarily the real Catholic Church, because she includes all believers on earth at any particular time… [Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, New Combined Edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1996 [1932]): 575. For insertion re the invisible church, see Berkof: 564]

I think the only difference between the two views (Knox vs low-Reformed) is that the low-Reformed view might have a slightly higher view than Knox of the authority that inter-church fellowship gives over churches in their fellowship. Both Presbyterian and Northern European Reformed churches operate on a hierarchy of councils, with the higher council having authority over lower ones. I don't know what Knox would think of this; it depends on the boundaries of what he means by "fellowship".
Getting back to immigrant ministry: this implies that ethnic-specific churches are true, but not independent. They must consider themselves part of the broader visible ‘catholic’ church, and seek mutual enrichment through fellowship.
The question is: how to actually do that. Some thoughts:
  1. Attend conventions eg Katoomba conventions;
  2. Deliberately pair up with a different church & collaborate in ministry;
  3. Get involved in para-church ministry eg ECOM City Bible Forum & AFES.

Other ideas...?