Monday, July 30, 2007

the problem with preaching?

For those of you interested in the ministry of preaching...

There is a spirited discussion going on in the pages of the magazine of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand at the moment. David Allis - with a breadth of experience in church and mission life in NZ and overseas - contributed an article in the July issue entitled "The Problem with Preaching". It is uploaded here:

ProblemWithPreaching.pdf

I was among those who made a response in the August issue of the magazine. It is also uploaded here (with the formatting included that inadvertently dropped out of the print version!):

AResponse.pdf

enuf said - nice chatting

Paul

Thursday, July 26, 2007

streams and banks

I've just entered a new chapter in my life. I have started teaching 'spirituality' in our BAppTheol curriculum at Carey Baptist College. It's going to take me a few years to feel confident with the material - but, hey, you gotta start somewhere!

On the first day we did an exercise where students put 30 different words/phrases on the whiteboard which immediately come to mind when the word 'spirituality' is uttered. 20 years ago there would be a few empty spaces as we didn't tend to use the word. And 10 years ago you could have guaranteed that two little words would have made it onto the whiteboard: "new" and "age"! But those two words were nowhere to be found. I've spent the week since trying to decide whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. Has 'spirituality' got so good that it has purged itself of harmful influences? Or has 'spirituality' got so bad that we just don't notice harmful influences anymore?

I am not sure! I guess I will find out. However I think we face this dilemma as followers of Jesus because of the image about spirituality which prevails among us today. Richard Foster is one person who has popularised it. It is the image of streams. Spirituality is like a river in which many streams - or traditions - mix and mingle and flow together.

There are any number of these streams. In one place Foster identifies six: the Holiness stream (a focus on being pure); the Contemplative stream (a focus on prayer and meditation); the Charismatic stream (a focus on the Spirit and spiritual gifts); the Incarnational stream (a focus on keeping sacred and secular together as we live in the world); the Social Justice stream (a focus on helping those less fortunate than us); and the Evangelical stream (a focus on the scriptures and sharing the gospel). A bit brief ... but that is the basic idea!

Now I confess that I find this image of the streams of spirituality to be far from convincing - both in theory and in practice.

In practice Foster's stated (and laudable!) intention to bring balance into spirituality doesn't easily happen. The tendency is for spiritually-minded Christians to hop into their kayak and find their way into the stream they prefer. "Sure - over there you can be into the Charismatic with a sprinkling of the Incarnational - but as for me I prefer the Social Justice with a hint of the Contemplative." I fear that Foster's desire for balance gets swamped by the tsunami of consumer choice. Balance too easily becomes preference. And preference always finds it hard to choose what we don't like ... and what we don't like is probably exactly what we most need.

In theory I remain unconvinced about the 'Evangelical' (not really the right word!) stream being just one of the streams in the river. This is the one which nurtures a focus on the scriptures and sharing the gospel. Is this just another stream? Really?! Surely this one is more than just a stream in the river? Isn't it more like the banks for the river? It is the one which determines the course of the river. It reaches right across the river providing the channel to include things from every stream. And it discerns what is a bit toxic and is able to divert it out of the river altogether.

My suspicion is that "new" and "age" should still be on that whiteboard - as well as a number of other words like gnosticism and mysticism. We need a clearer discernment with these words. However my suspicion is that because the Word of God can tend to be seen as just another stream in the river rather than the banks for that river of spirituality, we lose the ability to use the Word to carry out a more objective and critical discernment of what is happening. My difficulty is not so much with Foster but with those who apply Foster's image in a way he probably didn't intend. And my suspicion is that because of this there could well be much in so-called 'Christian' spirituality that isn't really 'Christian' at all. But I guess that is still up ahead of me.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Thursday, July 12, 2007

faces on the fridge

While I was overseas I was stunned to hear more than one person tell me that when it comes to missionaries raising their financial support, New Zealand is gaining a reputation for being very slow - the slowest of them all.

I wonder if this is true. Are we becoming stingy? Are we growing less committed to the financial support of missionaries in cross-cultural settings? I offer a few comments on which you can chew...

One For about a generation now we have been told that there is nothing special about missionaries. They are not super-spiritual. 'Pull them down off that pedestal.' There is truth in this. However maybe the pendulum needs to swing back a bit. The reality is that the missionaries which I have just met are special. They are making sacrifices that very few of us are willing to make. They should be prized. And part of that 'prizing' should be making it very easy for them to raise their support because we are all so generous.

Two While it is hardly the best incentive maybe the easing of tax laws regarding rebates on charitable giving can be used of God to build a fresh wave of generosity?

Three I am less and less convinced that the practise of tithing is meant for the New Testament era. [Please correct me before I fall into heresy - there is still time!] This is because, in practise, tithing simply becomes a mandate to keep 90% for myself. And yet the bottom line is that all we own comes under the Lordship of Jesus. 100% is his - not 10%. Followers of Jesus living way above something like the minimum wage should be considering giving way above 10%. And those who do will one day have honour heaped upon them by God ... and in the meantime more missionaries (among other people and projects) will experience quicker and fuller support.

Four There is generosity in NZ. Look at the growth in Child Sponsorship through the likes of Tear Fund and World Vision. It is staggering. In NZ homes photos on the fridge are almost as common as the fridge itself. It is a phenomenon - and it is good! But it is just a starting point, not an ending point, for our giving. Our fridges need to be populated with other faces - the faces of missionaries. I reckon that for every sponsored child on our fridges we should aim at having at least one missionary face as well!

nice chatting

Paul

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

out of (central) asia

I am on my way home from ten days in this region speaking at the annual conference of a 'company' with its 'workers' gathered together from throughout the area. Sorry - I have to be a bit vague for security reasons.

Here are a few observations...

a church
While the church is not a building one building does stand out. A church in the UK embarked on a massive rebuilding programme and decided to 'tithe' their costs ... and as a consequence it paid for two churches to be built - one in Africa and the one I entered in Central Asia. WOW!

The church as a people in Central Asia has known the tide come and go. Before about 1450AD it was thriving as the Nestorian church with archealogical sites to prove it. Then it died out. Centuries later along came the repressive Stalin who sent various people groups into exile as a way of maintaining control. And so off went the Germans and the Koreans to Central Asia and with them came the good news! WOW!

a beauty
There can't be many places in the world where you encounter 40degree temperatures and then lift your eyes to the hills to discover snow-clad mountains ... or turn into multiple city streets to find those same mountains lurking at the end of them. The conference was held at a lake lined with snowy mountains as far as the eye could see - a lake so big it makes NZ's Lake Taupo look like a substantial puddle and mountains so tall that they routinely double the height of Mt Cook.

a diversity
What a 'company'!! Among the 90 adults were people from England, Malaysia, Romania, Australia, USA, Scotland, Korea, Germany, Canada, Holland, Singapore, Switzerland, New Zealand ... with a range of vocations including health care, youth work, community work, English-teaching, prison work, university lecturing, IT specialists, and schools together with business ventures in the areas of second-hand clothing (import), candle-making, freight moving, cafe, and construction. As a speaker who tries to honour the context as well as the text, this diversity proved to make it the most demanding setting in which I have ever spoken.

And yet amidst the diversity, a remarkable unity around a person and a purpose which they all hold in common.

a hangover
I grew up in post-British India. Here is post-Soviet Central Asia. What a contrast in hangovers. There is a PhD here for someone.

Creativity and initiative and excellence still remains under-developed here. The botanic gardens are left to become an overgrown ramble. I was asked the routine question: "how old do you think this apartment building is in which we live?" It looked about 40-50 years old, but sensing a trick question I respond cleverly with "20-30 years". The right answer? 10 years.

The British left a better legacy in health and education. Many 'workers' commented on how caring for people did not appear to be integral to the medical profession. One 'worker' is trying to initiate the first emergency/trauma care programme in the country. Another is trying to establish the first hospice care programme.

After years of repression distrust is endemic. Checking in and out of a hotel is a prolonged process ensuring that nothing has gone missing. Taking the room towels down to the lake was tantamount to inviting explusion to a new gulag in Siberia.

Ironically (and sadly) a free-er society has led to one where the people are far worse off than they were under the Soviets. Progress is going to be slow...

a library
I visited the leading cross-denominational theological college in the region, principal-ed by a Kiwi. It is 10 years old. A 3 year programme in Russian and a 2 year programme in the indigenous language. 75 graduates spread around the country. A distance programme underway. It is just SO strategic ... if the church is to grow it will be through these graduates.

... and then I was taken to the library - in a room the size of a bedroom in my home and a collection about half the size of my own. It stirred me. So much so I am going to launch a Project 200 on return to NZ, raising the money to buy 200 Russian-language books for this college. What I have in mind is to approach people who value their (theological) education and encourage them to cull their own personal libraries, selling unused books and so 'out of our plenty supply their need.' Each Russian-language book will cost about NZD25 and so people will commit to buying a certain number of books. I am aiming to provide the first 40 books by culling my own books and praying that others will join me with a book here and there. If you are interested contact me at Carey Baptist College and I will send you an explanatory letter.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor