Things to click (7)

There’s no shortage of links to click if you’re a Christian seeking to broaden your thinking. Here is a small sampler of what’s on offer:

(1) One mantra oft-repeated in the West is “be yourself”. This little nugget of wisdom is appealing and self-affirming. Being genuine and true to yourself are valued traits. However, there’s a good argument to suggest that simply ‘being yourself’ is actually a bad idea. Here’s why.

(2) Recently there’s been quite a brouhaha over Religious Education in public schools, and what role religion, if any, can play in the formation of children in public education. This issue was a hot topic in our home state of Queensland (a.k.a. the best place to live in the world). Here’s a response to it. Here are some other reflections.

(3) Australian cartoonist Bill Leak talks about political correctness in the Australian context. Some great points about not taking ourselves too seriously.

(4) There’s an idea going around that taking faith or religion seriously is actually bad for you. To go to church, to read the Bible, and to identify as a person of faith, is to show you’re weak and need the help of the imaginary sky-man who loves to guilt-trip you about your sin. You actually love Jesus? You’re nuts right? Actually, there’s a growing body of evidence that says religious devotion is good for you.

(5) Our culture is actually deeply faith-centred. Especially in the western world. We have a deep belief in the gospel of self – that to love, promote, enrich, and benefit ourselves is the greatest good. But as more and more have put their trust in this idea, it’s not made us better people. It’s made many people narcissistic. Not all, of course. But many. Here’s a great piece about just that.

(6) Brett Lee-Price writes at the Thinking of God blog how, in light of encroaching secularist hegemony, a marriage plebiscite may be the last chance for a distinctively Christian perspective on marriage to be heard in the public sphere. Check it here.

(7) Finally, with a Federal election about to take place here in the land of Oz, it has been pointed out that the issue of Australia’s cruel offshore detention has not featured much in the campaigning. Simon Smart suggests that we should work to keep the treatment of asylum seekers an issue.

That’s it from me.

May God bless your clicking.

Book recommendation: “Disappearing Church”

disappearing churchDisappearing Church is the latest book by  pastor Mark Sayers. Mark heads up the team at RED church in Melbourne, Australia (considered the ‘most livable city in the world’). One of his strengths is his ability to analyse and critique broad cultural trends in the West, and what impact these have on the church.

In this book he speaks about where our culture is at, and what kind of response the church should make to the many changes that have taken place in recent decades.

Among his key points are:

  •  Western culture, while essentially post-Christian, has not moved into a kind of pre-Christian era, but instead into a highly individualised ‘hopeful secularism’ in which personal preferences and self-actualising choices are prized highly. People now preach “the gospel of self”, but our culture still retains many vestigial remnants of ‘Christendom’.
  • Most Westerners have a hunch that God is real, but form their own belief system, combining a mishmash of ideas that essentially serve the interests and preferences of the individual. He refers to this as “neo-gnosticism”.
  • While the church should seriously consider how it can engage culture with the Christian message, forms of Christianity which mess with doctrinal orthodoxy in order to be ‘relevant’ will ultimately fail. Instead churches need to accept their roles as creative minorities, working from the fringes to offer a counter-cultural narrative about God and life in which orthodox Christian teaching and practice speak coherently into real life.
  • It is possible that the church’s diminishing influence actually might be to our advantage. Being ‘the light’ works better when darkness falls across the land. As in sport, politics, and war, the advantage often lies with the underdog (ever heard of David and Goliath?).
  • In our world of images, entertainment, and the ‘good life’, many people in our culture are experiencing a profound poverty of the inner life. Referencing English philosopher Roger Scruton, Sayers notes that one of the great weaknesses of contemporary ‘atheistic’ Western culture is its inability to offer a genuine concept of personhood. The gospel message can speak powerfully to our deepest human needs in a way that secular ideologies simply can’t.

There are many other points I could add, but won’t.

When I read a book intently I usually mark it up with a pencil when I find a good quote or a profound insight. After reading Disappearing Church, I looked back – nearly every single page is marked, often in multiple places. I had more “ah ha” moments reading this book than any other book I’ve read in the last few years.

If you’re a Christian and want to think much more deeply about the state of our culture and how the church should respond, I suggest you buy yourself a copy. This book will amply reward a careful, prayerful reading.

You can buy it online here (Koorong Books, Australia), here (Book Depository, UK), or get the Kindle version here (the cheapest way to buy it).

Things to click (6)

Looking for something to get you thinking? We’ve got you covered.
Here’s another brief sampler of what you can find on the internets:

(1) Anxiety and depression are taking a huge toll on our society. And it’s not just adults feeling it. An increasing number of children are also struggling. Here are some suggestions to combat anxiety in children.

(2) We keep hearing about the demise of Christianity in the West – about how numbers are shrinking all the time. You don’t often hear much about the many conversions to Christianity there are every single day. Here’s one conversion story from an ardent ex-atheist.

(3) David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) was an American novelist, essay writer, and professor of English. In a famous commencement speech delivered in 2005 Wallace spoke on the topics of thinking, self, and life. His speech has some great insight into the human condition. Check it here. Note: language warning.

(4) American scholar Roger Olson asks some serious questions about the meaning of “transgender”.

(5) Is there a tension between Genesis chapter 1 and modern science? Most people today would say ‘yes’. Check out Rory Shiner’s thoughts at the Gospel Coalition blog.

(6) People will say “you can’t believe in Jesus just because the Bible says he’s real”. Really? Actually, most historians today treat the New Testament documents as legitimate sources of historical information. But if you’re looking for confirmation of the historicity of Jesus Christ there is plenty of evidence outside the Bible. Find some here.

(7) Ok. Let’s finish with a link about Donald Trump. That’s right – Donald Trump. Over at Nerdwriter’s Youtube channel you can find a great analysis of how Trump answers questions. It’s pretty interesting!

May God bless your internet travels.

 

 

Quote of the week – Concern for the poor, a Christian idea

Recently I saw a person on Facebook arguing that Christianity’s main contribution to Western culture was to make people feel guilty, whilst trying to force a rigid morality on them. And in some ways you can understand why a person would say that. Often the church has failed to be clear with its message of hope in the gospel and given people the impression that the main message of the Bible is “be a good moral person”. That’s not it. The main message of the Bible is we need to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ in order to find the kind of life and hope God intended for humanity.

However, the claim that Christianity hasn’t made many good positive contributions to society at large is manifestly erroneous. This is especially true with regard to our Western concern for the poor and the downtrodden. Scholar Edwin Judge makes the following observation:

“In the classical world of Greece and Rome it was regarded as philosophically illogical and positively immoral to focus one’s care and attention on the weak and poor of society. And now everyone in the West thinks the opposite. Christianity turned the world upside down!”

Quote of the Week – Sabbath rest

Here’s a quote from a New York Times Magazine article (2 March, 2003) entitled “Bring Back the Sabbath”. It was written by Judith Shulevitz, who was raised in a Jewish family. She has some interesting insights into finding rest in a workaholic, stress-addicted culture.

“There is ample evidence that our relationship to work is out of whack. Let me argue on behalf of an institution that has kept workaholism in reasonable check for thousands of years.

Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily. This is why the Puritan and Jewish Sabbaths were so exactingly intentional. The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. Interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will – one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction.”

Reasons people don’t go to church (part 1)

The number of people regularly attending church in Australia is declining. On any given Sunday somewhere between 7-10% of the population attends church. Have you ever wondered why this figure is so low? Why don’t more people go to church?

As with most things in today’s world the answer is probably quite complex. There are a number of reasons, and combinations of reasons, why people don’t attend church. I thought it might be a helpful exercise to briefly sketch out a few of them.

I want to clarify that I’m not trying to judge those who don’t go to church. I want to understand their reasons for being part of the 90+% who don’t have much to do with church. I genuinely want to understand where they’re coming from. And I’m not trying to be negative about the church either. I love the church. Perhaps in future posts we can explore these issues and consider what the church can do to address them. Either way, it’s worth reflecting on.

Here are 7 reasons (in no particular order) why Aussies don’t go to church. I’ll give you 7 more reasons in a future post.

  1. IGNORANCE

The reality is that most people in Australia don’t know much about Christianity. They know a few things (gleaned from movies, books, and funerals), but really don’t know what the Bible’s all about. They don’t understand the doctrine of the Trinity. They don’t understand where Jesus really fits in to things, and why he matters.  They don’t know how the Old and New Testaments are meant to relate to each other. They are largely ignorant of most of the basics of Christianity. So why go to church when you don’t know anything about it?

Furthermore, few people in our society are friends with a Bible-believing, church-attending, Jesus-loving Christian. So they have little convenient access to information about Christianity and the church.

  1. WORLD WAR 1

As the social commentator Roy Williams points out, a key reason why many people don’t go to church is grounded in the experience of the First World War.

In the lead up to World War 1 most church leaders strongly supported the war. They prayed for the destruction of the enemy. They encouraged that men sign up and nobly fight for freedom.

When our ‘diggers’ came back, many of them had changed their views about church and the God they thought they believed in. After the horrors they’d seen – and knowing the church had supported it- the church lost any real moral authority in the minds of a lot of the men. They were hurt, confused, and jaded. So were their sons, and their sons after them.

  1. SCIENTISM

Scientism is essentially the belief that only scientifically-proven knowledge is worth believing. If you can prove something through an experiment, or via direct observation, it’s worth believing. Nothing else.

In a way this seems very appealing. Many of the great advances in medicine and technology are due to scientific inquiry. Science ‘works’.

So when people hear about ‘faith’ and ‘miracles’ and ‘divine revelation’, it all sounds a bit subjective and uncertain. You can cure polio with science. But what about ‘faith’? You can send a spacecraft to the edge of the Solar System with science. What about the church?

When your loved one has a broken arm, you don’t take them down to the local Anglican Church. You take them to hospital.

The present efficacy of the sciences seems to suggest that scientifically-derived knowledge is worth your time. And church? Scriptures? Sermons? Not so much.

  1. PROSPERITY

We have it so good here in Australia. This is one of the most prosperous nations in the world. Naturally, not all of us have it good – take aboriginal Australians for example. They experience disparate social and economic circumstances which are the consequence of past disadvantages forced upon them.

But overall Australia is generally a beautiful, free, safe, and prosperous place. It’s a place where you can put most of your deepest existential questions on permanent hiatus. It’s where you can enjoy most of the best things that life has to offer. It’s the land of “she’ll be right, mate”.

When you live in heaven right now, why worry about a heaven above the clouds?

You can keep your pews, hymns, and collection plates – we’re doing just fine thanks very much.

  1. BAD PRESS

Turn on the TV and what do you hear? Nearly every day you hear the words “scandal” “abuse” and “church” all put together. They’re not talking about the Presbyterian Church of Australia – the denomination of which our church is a part. But people hear those words: “scandal” “abuse” and “church”. And an automatic word association forms.

People will drive past a church and in the back of their minds they’ll be putting those three words together: “scandal” “abuse”, “church”. It all sounds a bit risky. Dodgy.

Futhermore, our largely anti-religious media will often showcase the latest ‘scholar’ or author who will assert – with all the scholarly confidence one has when you’re not accountable to the actual facts of the matter – that Christianity is all bogus. It will be on Prime Time TV . . .. we’ve just worked it out: the Bible’s garbage, Jesus never existed, Jesus was married, Jesus was gay, Jesus was…. anything BUT what he himself claimed to be (the whole ‘Lord and Saviour’ thing).

If the word “church” or “Christianity” was a brand name, the manufacturer would have rebranded this product years ago. Bad press is one of most powerful factors undermining the influence of the church, and in destroying any semblance of moral or intellectual legitimacy in the eyes of many.

  1. BOREDOM

This one needs little explanation. We all know that people (including many professing Christians) think church is boring.

For far too long church has seemed like a dry, dull, dutiful thing. A place of serious faces, guilt trips, weird songs, and long droning sermons.

Who wants to be bored? No thanks.

  1. IT’S COMPLICATED

In our day and age, simplicity and convenience are paramount. If a restaurant, for example, is hard to locate, people will more likely choose equivalent options that are easier to find. That’s why McDonald’s is so successful. They make it as easy as possible. Their restaurants are easy to find. What they offer is easy to understand. Easy to order. Easy to eat. That’s how we like it.

So along comes Christianity. And like most religions or philosophical systems of thought, it’s a little complicated. Firstly, there’s all the doctrine – the Trinity, justification, sanctification, inerrancy, inspiration, adoption, ecclesiology, anthropology, and more.

Not to mention that when you get to church, usually there are  rules, traditions, rituals, expectations, unstated dress codes, strange buildings, long meetings, and a fist full of religious jargon.

There’s that. Or, a burger and fries.

We want things to be simple. And on the face of it, Christianity (and it’s “churchy” expressions) seems complex and difficult to understand.

That’s one reason most people shy away from it. They’d rather something easier to understand.

Big Mac anyone?

 

Things to click (5)

If you’re looking for some really thought-provoking reading/viewing, then get ready! I have a scoured the electric internets and found some real doozies . . .

(1) The developed world seems enamored with transgenderism. Here are some interesting thoughts from an expert on the subject.

(2) Here is a pretty long, arduous list of arguments for the existence of God. Warning: some heavy intellectual content (I’m game if you are!)

(3) Shifting gear a little, Australian author and theologian Michael Bird offers 5 reasons why the Apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans.

(4) The positive cultural impact of Christianity on the developed world is conveniently ignored or forgotten by our culture. One such positive impact was the valuing of children as individuals made in the image of God. To find out more, check this out.

(5) Which Bible translation is the most accurate? Should we go with a modern translation, or an older version like the King James Bible or the Geneva Bible? In this video, Dr. James White explains.

(6) There has been much heated debate over the “Safe Schools” programme which claims to tackle the issue of bullying, especialy with regard to children who identify as LGBTIQA. Obviously, any measures which combat bullying should be considered. But a closer look at the material has a number of people wondering what it’s really all about. Here’s something worth reading; also here are some further thoughts from the same person.

(7) Finally, here’s something different. It presents some helpful insights into one of the most popular TV shows ever – Seinfeld. It’s worth watching because of what it says about the shift in perceptions of family and life in general.

May your mouse be ever blessed.