Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why we failed at 'Total Church'

On Friday I sat in on a session at college with aspiring church planters and Steve Timmis. It made me realise something that I think I'd not quite grasped previously. That is how "radically radical" the reshaping around community really is.

I first read Total Church back in 2008, and it really resonated with me (as it did for many others). I suspect the call to a reshaping around gospel and community filled something of a void for many Sydney-siders, who generally feel ecclesiologically lite and have a slight suspicion (a fundamental conviction in my case) that maybe the Anabaptists were right on this one all along.

Listening to Timmis talk on Friday, and field questions from the students, I was struck by how different his life is shaped. Their community group really does 'do life' together - eating, going out, leisure, errands, jobs, and so on. Whereas in our culture (and I imagine UK culture too), we are conditioned around doing things in family units at best. What is it truly like to spend most meals with people not from your family? To have a fairly open drop-around culture with fellow christians? To never have the sense of 'this is my time to do solely as I please', but always to be asking what it is to love those around me, which will then include time for myself and my wife?

The reason why Sydney (Anglicans) love and fail at a total-church model is that we're not truly convicted enought to embrace the communitarianism that it's suggesting. We're looking for sunday service + home groups on steroids. But it's more than that. It's a counter-cultural pattern of communitarian life that will upside-down our individual and individualistic agendas.

The two best things we did in my context were for our evening service to share dinner every fortnight (not my idea), and for my home group to eat together every week. These two factors by themselves greatly increased our sense of 'community', but they didn't challenge our underlying cultural assumptions and commitments. We never quite got to 'doing life together' in a full-time capacity, and so we never quite got to 'doing mission as community'.

Timmis and Chester's suggestion for those in a position where they aren't leaders or have some kind of reshaping power, is simply to start living it out, set an example. But I suspect this is not quite enough. We need to grasp and thus to be challenged and provoked to see and to believe this reshaping around community. Living in each other's pockets in a post-community 21st century atomistic and alienating society is a radical break, and it's not one that comes from a few shared meals, but from a shared gospel understanding.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why solid reformed doctrines are the basis of a biblical pacifism

Thanks to the insights of a good friend doing some work on Yoder as part of his doctoral thesis, I'm inclined to think that Yoder has a similar problem to Hauerwas, a gaping hole in his theology of atonement, that undoes the central theological underpinning of pacifism. In this post I want to explore how the kind of pacifism I advocate is theologically grounded in classical reformed doctrines. I wish I had a snappy name for it, but really I just think it is a deeply biblical pacifism.

I suppose that a logical place to begin with is with total depravity. To recognise that all human beings are born in sin, are affected by sin, are shot through and through with the corrupting and tainting power and influence of sin, so that in every aspect of their image-bearing being they are sinful, is the frank and stark assessment of humanity that comes from this reading of the scriptures. The corollary to this is that it is through the original sin, the Fall, that death enters the world as judgment, so that all have sinned and so all fall under the judgment of God, the sentence of death. Death is inevitable, and deserved. Those two twin facts underpin this biblical pacifism.

That all have sinned, that sin is judged, that God opposes evil through his judgment, set the frame against which a doctrine of substitutionary atonement makes sense. That the Christ died in our place, to pay the penalty for our sins and so ransom and redeem us by the price of his blood, is the good news, the gospel, which means both that neither do we have a judgment to pay (death), nor a judgment to enact.

Closely linked to the doctrine of atonement though must be an eschatology of Christ's return, his second coming not to die a second time, but as judge of the earth. So that, those who have rejected the atoning work of the cross will face the defeat (as evildoers) and their judgment (as transgressors and rebels), as eternal death, even as Christ's return brings vindication for his forgiven people and resurrection to eternal life. The sure hope of eternal resurrection life is a necessary hope for those who would embrace biblical pacifism.

Lastly in this whistlestop tour, biblical pacifism is grounded in a high view of the Sovereignty of God. That he is the almighty transcendent Creator who made all things, rules all things, works in and through all things to achieve his good and glorious purposes, is the basis of a faith that can trust in his outcome, more than our methods.

If you don't believe in total depravity, then some are more deserving of death than others, because sin is not innate and all-encompassing, and so some have more right than others. biblical pacifism rejects the pride that privileges the life of self and kin over the stranger, because it is no respecter of persons.

If you don't believe in God's judgment, then this life is the only context in which good can triumph, justice can be done, and vengeance taken. Which means that if men don't do it in this world, it won't get done. biblical pacifism rather trusts that God will bring justice, and if not in this life, how much worse in the final judgment.

If you don't trust in the atonement, then there's no surety of forgiveness, which means you have no basis to extend forgiveness to others.

If you don't believe in the second coming, then God's ultimate judgment will never come, and so evil must be defeated in this life, in this world.

If you don't believe in the resurrection, then life is worth killing for.

And if you don't trust in the Sovereignty of God, you must seek to control and determine things for yourself.

It's not any kind of optimism about our world that drives this biblical pacifism, but a profound optimism about God and his redemptive and ultimate purposes.

And you see, this is why biblical pacifism can play the card of "It's more important to be faithful than to secure the right outcome." It's because (a) the 'right' outcome is ultimately secured not by our actions so much as God's goodness, sovereignty, justice, and atoning death in Christ. It's because (b) means create ends, ends do not justify means, and so faithfulness in act will result in faithful outcomes, even if these seem bad or wrong. It's because (c) ultimately we trust that faithfulness will be more effective in securing right outcomes, but we don't lose anything when they don't. It's because (d) we have already died to self, lost all, and been forgiven with a resurrection hope, so we have nothing to lose in martyrdom, but everything to lose in unfaithfulness.

How misunderstood: America and Australia

We've had a week now of our MA course on American Protestantism. We haven't actually covered that much temporally, a lot of work understanding the founding fathers, puritans, the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings, early American Methodism, and a final lecture on Abraham Lincoln and American Civil Religion.

I think it was this last lecture that really brought home the major and remarkable differences between Australia and America. The idea that many Americans sincerely believe in America's exceptionalism, and a mission of sharing the blessing of democracy of the world, alongside a historical period where virtually the whole (European) population was evangelical, are things very, very strange to us. The whole cult of American civil religion, of public discourse about the relationship between 'God' (however vague) and the nation, and the trappings of ritual, of pledges of allegiance and flag-reverence, are entirely foreign to Australians. We regard them with incredulity, cynicism, and fail to understand that Americans take these things seriously.

As to a sense of national identity and shared national destiny, we have little. Australia has few historical defining moments, except perhaps for the mythologising of Gallipoli, and little in the way of shared national cultural values. That underlies some of our ongoing and endless debates about what Australia stands for. Our political discourse cannot sustain anything like the self-assured bombast of Bush or the optimistic high-flying rhetoric of an Obama. Politicians here all lack the integrity to pull it off, and we are too cynical to believe them anyway. That's why our current election is dominated by 'the economy', the only transcendent we can generate (except for the growing and competitive worship of 'the environment'). Most Australians avoid the big questions of life, have little sense of eternity, and when those questions arise our culture encourages suppression of reflection in favour of binge-drinking.

If I sound down on our nation, by no means think that I've come to some new found admiration of America! A new found appreciation for your history, perhaps, but my own cynicism of politics runs deep, and your civil religion dances dangerously with nationalism, fascism, and an idolatry of the state.

Our nations are further apart than many superficial similarities would suggest.

Life beyond Facebook

I'm not sure how long it's been. Perhaps a month? Perhaps less, perhaps more. No, at least I month I think, since I deleted my facebook account.

At the time it was a combination of two factors. Firstly I was pretty fed-up with fb's changing terms of service and privacy policy. It was about the time of that last, latest kerfuffle over that issue. I'm not interested in fb linking and co-ordinating more and more data and making it more and more available to more people.

Secondly, it was about time. At my desk the need is for focus, sustained attention to my work. And fb, regardless of whether at work or home or anywhere, is a terrible, addictive substance. The desire to be connected, and to know what is going on, and to refresh endlessly to obtain either the latest trivia from people I half-know, or validation on the social propriety and wit of my own latest status update.

I am not much inclined to moderation. on/off is how my brain likes to work. so i just deleted the whole thing.

One of the things I feel is a sense of liberation. i'm *free* from fb. life carries on and i'm none the worse for it. it certainly has helped focus my work day. and oddly, ditching fb is it's own kind of cutting edge of valueless cool.

The other side of it though, is that I'm still quite aware that fb is a rapidly but well-entrenched part of many people's social life. There are conversations and connections that happen in a web of connectivity that i'm no longer part of. Things occur that I don't know about, or am not invited to, simply because of technological hermiting. Occasionally someone gets personally frustrated with me for not being on fb, like it's some kind of violation of a new social contract.

Which it's not. Social networking is just another tool. A tool like no other tool before it, but a tool nonetheless. And one you can live without.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thesis writing and MA auditing

Well, it looks like all the dramas of moving are over, except for initiating some kind of complaint process with our bad cleaners.

I'm trying at the moment to write my thesis in some kind of earnest. If you recall my basic premise: to test for the presence of 9 specific criteria that will help cast Chrysostom in a pro-Nicene camp for his hermeneutical method, then what I am currently doing is working criteria by criteria, browsing through my extensive notes on the Homilies, and writing a section on each criterion. I find a number of key passages, quote them in translation (my own), cite the greek in a footnote, and then talk about what Chrysostom is doing and how the criterion is in operation. This should form the bulk of my 30,000 words. Once I finish this, I need to do some work in section 2, which is introducing the criteria and my rationale for them, along with some non-Chrysostom illustration (perhaps) of them. And then I need to step back to section 1, which is introductory material, to cover Eunomius and a few other things.

So, considerable work to be done. I still have some other secondary literature I need to read, as well.

At the same time I am auditing some MA subjects, which graciously my college permits research students to do at no extra cost. This week and next I'm sitting in and enjoying (so far), "American Protestantism" with Robert Lindar. American history in general, and religious history at all, is really a hole in my understanding of world history, and this is certainly filling in some gaps, as well as a very non-related area to most of my studies. I'm also down to do Galatians with Philip Kern, which should be excellent. The only downside of this is that it's chewing up 18hours of my week, so I'm not as focused and productive elsewhere as I could be.

So these two commitments have put some other things on hold. Once these 3 weeks are up I hope to find a bit more time to allocate for the McGuffey, Orberg, and Gregory side-projects. Ideally, I'll finish up the thesis ahead of the end of the year, and if I don't immediately fall into a job, I'll be able to get the Gregory reader completed quickly.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The dramas of moving

Well, we moved. And I thought it was all over, but alas no.

I spent the bulk of the first week packing up our house, which was time consuming but necessary. Removalists cam on the Friday and were quite efficient, and we were all moved over in a few hours. Just a matter of unpacking all those boxes! Which we made a start on the following weekend.

Back at the old place, I did a few trips to clear out the last of our stuff, and we arranged for some cleaners to come in, and finally I sold up a few items on ebay. The keys were handed in on the Thursday, and I thought we had seen the last of things. Over the weekend then we managed to acquire 3 wardrobes (with thanks to my good friend and handyman (aka Math teacher) Dave).

Alas, on Monday our former real estate got in touch to say the house was not up to scratch. The cleaners had left several things undone or not done well. Plus, there was some gardening they wanted done too. So today I was back over at the house in the rain, gardening away. And probably some more gardening in the rain tomorrow.

All this amounts to about 3 weeks in total disruption to my studies, which I'm none too pleased with. I was hoping to settle back into routine this week and get most of my thesis written up. Instead I am disrupted for most of the rest of the week again. The following 3 weeks I have some scheduled classes to attend on American Protestantism and Galatians, so less time than usual there.

Anyway, tonight is a good night, since our internet has finally been moved over to our new place, and that's why you're getting a little blog post to update you on life. Once things get a bit more settled, then we'll see about some more Greek/SLA/Thesis/Patristics related posts.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

On Impassibility, a sermon

I have uploaded a text roughly corresponding to a sermon I preached in college chapel today, On Impassibility. I had hoped to record it, but my plans were not carried to fruition by my agent. The text was written post-sermon, so it is neither a transcript nor an accurate record, but it is most of what I said plus just a little extra. I did edit out some seminary in-jokes that peppered the introduction.