Fifty years ago God called me to serve the church

God didn’t call me because the church (any church) was great and good. I was still almost a teenager, and I knew that was not true. (If you ever want to know what’s wrong with your church ask the teens, they have strong noses and weak stomachs for pride, conventionality, comfort-seeking, and hypocrisy.)

God didn’t call me because I was great or good. Let’s face it I am, and was even then, just as or even more likely than the next person to look for the easy way, to try to appear better than I am, and even to fool myself that I have succeeded and am better than I am.

God called me because like the church (my church, your church, every church) I am broken and twisted and not at all ‘up to’ the task we have been set. There is no task more glorious than the church’s calling: to declare the Creator’s glory in the world, to be Jesus’ witnesses here, there, and everywhere, and to set loose the power of the Spirit among dispirited people.

Those are not tasks for mere mortals, they belong to Wonder Woman or Superman, not you and me. Yet whenever my friends (or other overgrown teenagers) point out the sadness and hypocrisy of the church, or I read the latest idiocy from the US Christians, I am reminded: ‘You are part of the solution, because you are part of the problem.’

That’s the call God laid on the recently but no longer teenaged me, no more and no less, and I have tried to live up to it ever since. I AM part of the solution, BECAUSE I am part of the problem.

The church on the hill

The church on the hill

The fluorescent cross on Mt Roskill is like a church on the hill visible for miles…

Back in the day you wanted to be the church on the hill. Visible from all around the neighbourhood, ideally with a big fluorescent cross to make things more obvious – the church was the centre of the community. It was the place people went when disaster struck. There for hatch, match, and finally dispatch services, but also an ever present comfort in time of trouble.

It’s biblical, Jesus talked about a city on a hill, a light that should not be hidden under a bushel.1 So one of the features of the property that God2 has given to us – aside from the miraculous decision to add a big primary school slap next door – is its location. Just at the very top of the hill, on the edge of the ridge above the new Lakes development. Wow! A church there fronting on the new roundabout, with even a modest spire and that fluorescent cross will be visible almost all the way to the Kaimais.

And yet…

Today, in NZ, the church is no longer the centre of the community, people no longer default to churches for hatch, match, or dispatch. When they need a bridge over troubled waters it’s the insurance company they call, not the pastor. Or WINZ, or the doctor… For a church to be accessible today it does not help to be slap on the top of the hill. Fluorescent lights will be ignored.

As one of the Windsor Park people3 at our meeting last night neatly expressed it, the website is today’s hill top. If people want to find us (and Google tells me that in January people did, 800 times) they can easily get directions from GoogleMaps, and quickly decide if they like the look of us by a quick gander at the Church website.

But before they do that we have to earn their interest. We won’t earn it with flashy buildings (the Warehouse and the Casino will always outflash us) but by being a place they come to for other reasons, by being people they have learned to trust.

So, there’s no need for us to build the church slap on the roundabout, not even on the street frontage at all. Rather there in prime position we need something that invites people in, that offers the hope of rest and peace in a busy and dangerous world…

  1. Whatever one of those might have been, we must never hide our lights under them. (Matt 5:14-15) []
  2. Aided by some very generous giving, and a seesawing property market here in the Bay of Plenty, and the wonderful work of Christian Savings – back in the day when they were still just Baptist Savings. []
  3. PS I think it was Murray Thatcher. []

Revelation and Donald Trump

Recently my Facebook feed has repeatedly presented me with cartoon pictures that echo the apocalyptic imagery of Revelation, and apply that thinking to the rise and rise of Donald Trump on the US political scene. It is interesting how in even such a determinedly “secular” culture as NZ this biblical imagery still has power beyond the church.

However, some of the best sense I have read recently about Trump and Christians comes from Paul Windsor. In trump – again?! my Kiwi-American-Indian ex-boss neatly explains much of what most needs to be said about reading Revelation in the West, and about the unrecognised and so unacknowledged syncretism that continually trips us up. His scalpel is directed in this post at US Christians, but the message is for all. We build our belief systems, and so our lives, not only on the solid rock of the gospel but also on the shifting sand of the cultures we inhabit (and that possess us).

Do read his post.

Review of the Logos edition of Douglas Mangum et al., Genesis 1–11 (Lexham Bible Guide, Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012).

LexhamCoverThe series of which this “volume” is a part has an ambitious but mixed goal:

The series is designed to be a research tool. Each guide presents a wide range of interpretive issues raised by Bible scholars. These resources meet the needs of those studying the Bible in academic settings, but the broad scope of coverage also makes them useful for preaching preparation. 1

In fact, limitations of referencing (almost?) only works available in the Logos system limits it’s usefulness for scholarship, and so the work is in some ways better suited to the practical needs of a pastor or other seriously minded Bible reader.

Integration of the text with the Logos library system is of course a great strength of such this type of electronic publication, but there are times when the implementation of this integration serves Logos’ commercial ends better than it serves the user. For example when I read: “Mathews uses the analogy of a stained glass window to describe the literary complexity of Gen 1–11…” The name “Matthews” is, as one would expect in an electronic text, a hyperlink. If the user already owns the cited work by Mathews in Logos format, then I assume2 they are taken to the reference. If one does not own the work in Logos format one is offered the chance to buy it. However, if one does not already own the Logos edition, the link to the Logos sales site does inform the user what work is being referred to, enabling a search on a local library catalogue, Worldcat or Google Books.

There is however a welcome but odd inconsistency, when the references are to further reading suggestions offered as bullet points rather than inline citations, they do give at least the title of the work, without need to access the Logos.com website.3

Hypertext links also provide convenient popup explanations of technical terms, enhancing further the educative possibilities of the text, and making it accessible to a wider range of “lay” readers. They also enable jump navigation within the text, and this is enhanced by a preview popup showing the beginning of the text of the section to which the link leads.

The work offers a neat clear and concise overview of (almost always, but not exclusively, Evangelical) scholarship on the issues and passages treated. This is a superb resource to begin studying a passage or topic, Mangum et al. Offer clear concise summaries of important issues that will be really useful to any pastor or amateur biblical scholar. They are also potentially really useful to students and their teachers, though this usefulness would be enhanced by referencing that included some mention of work not published in Logos format..

Within the limits of works published in Logos format (I have yet to find any reference to other work) these summaries and the suggested readings are very useful. The restriction of the references to the Logosworld generates the restriction noted above to predominantly only Evangelical scholarship, and very predominantly American scholars4 This parochialism is sad!

A byproduct of this limitation is scholarship that is also very predominantly male and white. Since women and non-Caucasian scholars are more likely to have significant work in journals and less likely to have breached the portals of book length works with publishers who make their list available in Logos format.

On the other hand, the fact that such a useful compendium can be offered despite this restriction of horizon to Logosworld is a tribute to the extent (if not always variety) of that world today. Logos is not yet a universal biblical studies library, but it is far closer than one might have expected only a few years ago.

A student today will need to seriously consider whether to accept the limitations of horizon imposed by the choice of Logos as their exclusive supplier, wholeheartedly making Logos their library system, or on the other hand if financial constraints or a desire to be open to a wider world of scholarship will severely limit the usefulness of a work such as this. I wonder how long it is before Logos offers a subscription service modeled on Amazon’s “Prime”?5

Without such a service, or without the financial resources to pay to own an extensive private Logos library, users are given a glimpse of the world of American Evangelical scholarship, but taking a closer look is made difficult by the exclusively in house referencing.

In short this work highlights the huge usefulness and potential of the Logos system (for those rich enough, and selfish enough, to be willing to spend enough on a library devoted to their private use). It also highlights the exclusive nature of this system by making the use of external resources (in an institutional or public library, or on Google books, for example) more difficult even than it would be in an obsolescent print codex.

  1. Douglas Mangum et al., Genesis 1–11 (, Lexham Bible GuideBellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012). []
  2. I have yet to find a reference to a work that I spotted as being included in my Gold collection, or among the other works and texts I have bought. So I could not check this assumption. []
  3. A one step rather than a two step process. []
  4. The JPS series, and the out of copyright ICC commentaries, along with some classic works like Gunkel and Westermann provide welcome exceptions. []
  5. If such a service were cheap enough it could provide mean someone could use the Lexham guide to the full without being restricted to only purchasing biblical studies works in Logos format. []

Excellent resource for Bible readers, and those who want to understand Chinese Christians

A friend of mine in a comment on Facebook pointed to Jackson Wu’s blog.

It is excellent, Jackson is a theologian (like me his PhD is in practical theology)1 who teaches at a seminary. He is also passionate about helping people read the Bible better, and about the health of Chinese churches.

His blog contains, among other things including explanations of Chinese culture and Christianity ideal for beginners in either, many posts giving simple helpful advice on how to read Scripture better. A bit like the goal of many of my 5 minute Bible podcasts, and particularly my new project Reading the Bible Faithfully. I thoroughly recommend Wu’s work to anyone to whom my description sounds at all interesting. It is excellent :)

PS, I wonder if one of the reasons we are both so concerned about helping people read Scripture “better” is because both of us did PhD work in Practical Theology ;)

PPS I am sure we disagree about many things, I also suspect that by following either his, or my, versions of the 5 step process we would quickly know where and why we disagree and so have a basis for talking further :)

  1. See below ;) []

An Evangelical Pope?

Vinodh Ramachandra has produced another excellent polemic.  In Reformed Amnesia? he presents another side of Calvin, even proposing him as “the first liberation theologian” as well as praising the way in which the Catholic Church (for all its failings) has become a voice for justice and peace.

The part of the post most Western Evangelical Christians will find most difficult is his blistering critique of “missions”. The example he gives is distant from most of my readers, but he neatly skewers the arrogant cultural imperialism that stains the story and the present of Western Missionary activity.

I was interested to read Richard, a commenter, claim that Langham is different. I suspect most Christian missionary and aid organisations in the West would swiftly claim to be different. (Though surely they can’t all be out of step ;) From what I have heard and seen Langham1 is indeed less imperialistic. They certainly (like many other agencies) try to minimise the inherent risks. But rather than (as Richard wants to do) seeking to exonerate “our” mission it would be so much better to listen to Vinodh and seek to identify the places and actions where we are in danger of falling back into colonialist ways. (Or in the case of Koreans, neo-colonialist ways ;)

Is it appropriate to point to Vinodh’s post on Good Friday? Surely a time when we remember all that God sacrificed (gave up) to be our saviour is just the time to examine ourselves and ask how far we cling to our petty wealth and the power it gives us? The cross is the ultimate sign of mission as weakness and gift.

  1. I am picking on Langham partly because “Richard” raised their banner in his comment, and partly because I have had direct and indirect contact with their work recently. []