Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book Review - Australian Soul - Gary Bouma

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Australian Soul (Religion and Spirituality in the 21st Century) – Gary Bouma (2006)

As Bouma unpacks cultural particularities of varying Christian expressions (:86-95), his bias clearly shows towards following orthodox traditional churches (e.g. Catholic, Anglican, etc). While he refrains from overtly expressing his opinion, he has an element of sarcasm and distain to Pentecostalism and ‘mega-churches’ to which he frequently refers. While at one point he mentions the growth of churches such as Hillsong, and those of a charismatic/Pentecostal nature, he then mentions later (: 206), that Religion and spirituality, ‘will take forms that are quieter, less charismatic and more towards to the low-temperature end of the scale of religious intensity than elsewhere’. The quote and his mentioned statistics do not correlate. Maybe his bias against emotionally laden churches vs. rational based churches is being shown; the latter being his preferred religious context. When mentioning having a memorial service, possibly outside of an Anglican Cathedral and rather in a mega-church, Bouma sarcastically writes, ‘Of course their facilities hold more people than most cathedrals, they have better sound systems and, what is more, they are more likely to have parking’ (:117-118).
 The author expresses opinions that are controversial within Christian circles. He seemingly alludes to the idea that, issues like same-sex marriages and homosexuality only fail to be acceptable because of the fundamentalism of the Christian church, and that we should let diversity reign. Bouma’s thesis appears to be, ‘If Christians were just more open-minded, there would be more room for freedom of expression of spirituality’.  He believes in diversity and that spirituality should bring hope. He mentions, ‘Some see the spread of Pentecostal Christianity and the renewed energy of Islam as signs of hope’ (: 204). It is difficult to gauge whether the author is supportive of this statement or passionately opposed to it. Does a pendulum swing towards freedom of expression, diversity, and an encouragement towards a spiritual smorgasboard of whatever suits YOU, the right way to go?  
From a literary stance, Bouma presents sound statistics and a well studied exposition on spirituality in Australia, though at times he makes assumptions, for example, ‘Few protestant Clergy are respected for their ability to make real a sense of the presence of God’ (: 100).  
He describes the downward spiral of Christianity in Australia in relation to attendance, moral values, etc. Bouma’s thesis is seemingly one of embracing this decline for the sake of religious diversity and people’s freedom of expression. So at times you are left agreeing with Bouma and interested by statistical data and other times disappointed and frustrated by liberal approaches to religious diversity and spirituality. All that being said Gary Bouma's Australian Soul (Religion and Spirituality in the 21st Century), is worth a read and will get you engaged and thinking.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Innovation, Adaptation and a Passionate Cry

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Innovation, Adaptation and the Christian Gospel

What is innovation? Does the church need it today? Can the church learn from the business world in relation to innovation? Does the Bible challenge followers of Jesus to be innovative and adaptive or is it merely a 21st Century business concept?

Innovation is not just a goal to reach, it is a mindset. Innovative people are on the prowl for breaking new ground. In Fast Thinking Magazine (Autumn 2010), Steve Rust says, 'Innovation isn't something that can be switched on at the beginning of the quarter in an attempt to boost the numbers or suddenly to counter a competitive threat. Innovation is a habit that grows with the organisation and becomes part of it fabric' (: 14). Glenn Wightwick, director of IBM Australia says that Innovation is a part of their company's DNA. The question I ask is not so much whether innovation is important to business but whether innovation is important in the Church today. 

In Fast Thinking Magazine, I recently read, from a business perspective, "There is an explosion in innovation across the board and, importantly, it's not coming from the big companies - most of the activity is now found in the small and medium arena." Why is bigger business struggling to keep up with innovation? Mostly because larger companies have stifling bureaucracies that do not encourage new exploration. They spend their time predominantly maintaining the busyness on products/concepts they have previously innovated! What striking parallelism this has to the Church universal, when we consider stifling bureaucracies, lifeless churches and drawn-out decision making by professional clergy, and our general inability to break new ground around us. 

Euguene Peterson's adapts the words of Paul in 1 Cor 9:19-22 (MSG). He writes, 'Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life.'

Paul is innovative and has the ability to adapt to the environment around him. He changes the way he speaks depending on his audience. He adapts the way he shares the message of Jesus so that the differing crowds can understand and connect with his content. Maybe Paul is the first innovative Christian in the beginnings of the Christian Church?

The Salvation Army began under the leadership of William and Catherine Booth. This couple are known for their pioneering work that began a movement that has now spread to over 120 countries and counting. They were innovative and were willing to adapt the methods of preaching the gospel to (initially) their East London audience and then many other provinces and Countries around the world. Catherine Booth writes in Aggressive Christianity of our lack of desire to be adaptable, 'We are so conservative in our relationship by nature. We have such a rooted dislike and almost hatred for anything that would disturb our carefully constructed, comfortable Christianity' (: 66). In reference to adaptation, Catherine writes, 'While the Gospel does not change, we are given complete freedom to adapt the way we bring it to people in the circumstances, times, and conditions in which we live' (: 67). 

I'm calling for the church to be passionately innovative and courageously adaptable to the culture we live in. We by no means undermine or alter the unchanging message of the Gospel, but through the power of the Holy Spirit we become missionaries in our own backyards. We are no longer building ghettos of Christian Hymn Singing, but radical, innovative expressions of Christian faith, that revolutionise the communities we inhabit.

Innovate. Innovate. Innovate. Adapt. Adapt. Adapt again. Change. Try something new.

Who knows... it might just work, and God will get all the glory.

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Romans 1:1-7 - The Beginning of Paul's Letter to Rome - Pete's Bible Commentary

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Romans 1:1-7 (NRSV) - "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures: the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. Through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

Brief Exegetical Summary of Romans 1:1-7

Paul writes the letter to the Romans from Corinth around the time of late 55AD/early 56AD. In contrast to other Pauline literature, Paul knew very little Christians in Rome, and did not play a vital part in the evangelism and growth of the church. Conversely, he knew extensively about the political and religious movements in Rome.

Romans 1:1-7 is the beginning of a cohesive letter to the Romans, although some have argued against the coherency of ‘one’ letter. This letter begins with the self-identification of who Paul is, ‘a slave of Christ Jesus’, ‘called to be an apostle’ and ‘set apart’; almost an intentional self-promotion to the church at Rome, so as to build credibility for the rest of the letter. After then outlining what he is called to (the gospel), he gives a description of who he is addressing, ‘to all those in Rome’ and then a familiar Christianized greeting, ‘grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Dunn, 1988: 5).

Why does Paul not start off his letter with the name, “Saul”?

Interestingly Paul does not begin any of his writings with the name ‘Saul’. The name Saul, most likely, represents his former days as a zealous Pharisee (Phil 3:5-6), who persecuted the new followers of Jesus, and was indebted to fulfil every iota of the law of the Old Testament. Paul’s theophany of Jesus on the road to Damascus, came with a name change, and one that Paul embraced and used from that day forward.

Verse one begins with, ‘Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus...’ What is Paul highlighting to his readers?

The life of Paul is consumed by the Christ who transformed his life. Some translate ‘servant’ (δουλος - doulos) to be ‘slave’ which expresses with greater clarity the reality of Paul’s calling in life. No other calling, religion, philosophical idea or cultural idol could distract him from being a servant of this Messiah. The challenge is outlined, right from the start, to the Roman readership, that no less than full commitment to Christ is what Paul stands for, and they should consider the same.

Paul says that the gospel was promised beforehand through the prophets (v. 2). Can you recall prophecies from the Old Testament that Paul may be referring to?

Micah 5:2 says, ‘But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.’ This is but one example of a prophet who declares something of the nature of the coming Christ (see also: Prov 30:4, Is 9:5-7, Ps 2:6, 110:4, Deut 18:15, Dan 9:24-26). Paul was well versed in the Old Testament Scriptures, and was able to understand and teach that particular OT references can be now be revealed with the light of Christ shining upon them.

Why does Paul mention that Jesus is a descendent of David (v. 3)?

Paul is not the only NT writer who makes reference to Jesus as a descendent of David (see Mt. 1, Lk. 3). There are Old Testament references that explicitly outline that from David will come someone who will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. The most popular of these, no doubt, is Isaiah 9:1-7, ‘to us a child is born...’ ‘Prince of Peace’, ‘He will reign on David’s throne’, etc. Paul is declaring to his readers, that those many verses that allude strongly to the idea that from David’s line YHWH will establish his throne, has occurred in Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:1-7 is part of Pete's Bible Commentary, written by PeteBrookshaw.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Australians should eat more Camel and other News

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At times the latest Australian news keeps you informed but at times it makes you opionated:

* Australians are being encouraged to eat more camels! There are millions roaming central Australia, and The Camel Industry Association is finding ways to capitilize for our sake. Apparently the camel has 85% less fat than beef. So don't have a cow!
* To what point do Politicians stick to their beliefs and convictions or bargain and change their policies to gain support from independents?
* Greenpeace is attempting to highlight to the world that we have a TUNA problem. According to these activists, those that fish for tuna, fish excessively and also kill off turtles and sharks at the same time. John West works hard to get us the best hey?
* Paul Hogan is travelling back the USA. Tell your friends.
* 60% of all assaults in the Northern Territory and 67% of all domestic violence incidents in the Territory are caused by alcohol abuse. We have a problem here. In Australia we have come a long way to curb excessive smoking and the perception of smoking has generally changed in Australia. When it comes to drinking, the culture tells you to get sloshed and catch a taxi home. When will Aussies see this as pathetic? 

Romans 1:1 says, 'Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus...' - I serve Jesus. My life is not about alcohol consumption, strip joints and simply working 60 hour weeks to merely pay a mortgage and go on a family holiday. My life is about serving Jesus, and making him known throughout the world. Turn to him today.

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