Saturday, June 28, 2008

at the oval

What better way to mark my 100th post than to tell you about my trip to The Oval. Being raised in India I have had a lifelong love for cricket. I used to listen to the dulcet tones of John Arlott on the BBC as a lad. I have even burdened readers of this blog with my top First Eleven: Cricket highlights at the time of the last World Cup.

But over the years I have never watched a game of cricket in England. When the opportunity for a sabbatical approached so also did a visit by the NZ cricket team to England. I got out the itinerary and penned '25th June 2008 at the Oval' into the diary as the fixed point around which the entire sabbatical universe would revolve.



It proved to be a day to remember with a game for the ages.

My childhood friend (and cricket combatant) from Delhi days - Jyoti Banerjee - is now a member of the Surrey Cricket Club and so able to get tickets to the Oval. Anyhow we arrived to be met at the main gate by Sir Richard Hadlee (NZ's greatest player) which I thought was a lovely gesture on his part. The fact that he never acknowledged our presence was just a small oversight on his part.



We settled into our seats and before long I was leaping to my feet screeching to celebrate the dismissal of England's top batsman (Kevin Pietersen) for a duck. It was then I realised I was no longer in the Antipodes and I was the only one among thousands around me on my feet. I soon learned to remain seated and clap politely for every single that is scored.

The sun was intense and so I went in search of a cap and found what I thought was the Surrey County white-brimmed hat - but have since been told it is the English one. What on earth am I meant to do with that now?! Maybe a few scratches from a magic marker...?

I behaved myself impeccably until England captain Paul Collingwood forgot about playing in the spirit of the game, allowing a Kiwi player to be run-out after being tackled by the English bowler in an act deserving of Twickenham. The game seemed lost. I boldly booed Collingwood to show my annoyance. By this time a Kiwi in front of me was reaching a state of alcohol-induced aliveness and we began to high-five frequently - not to mention the high-fives with Jyoti's 8yr old son Joel who was as ardent a Kiwi supporter as one could possibly be.

Anyhow justice was served with Kyle Mills holding his nerve and NZ winning on the very last ball of the match. I floated to the train station, received gracious handshakes from the English supporters who came with us, and then eagerly awaited the newspapers the following day telling Paul Collingwood what a naughty boy he had been - and they were far more severe than I anticipated.



nice chatting

Paul

Thursday, June 26, 2008

danish ramblings

Barby and I have just completed five days in Denmark - the land of Lego, Soren Kierkegaard, Hans-Christian Anderson, a royal princess from Tasmania, Vikings, inflammatory political cartoons, Hamlet, Babette's Feast, and those industrious windfarms (while 15kms away Sweden positions a nuclear powerplant!)

I was attending the biennial meetings of a global scholarly society of teachers of homiletics (ie preaching). It was the only suitable conference I could find at this time of the year and I was glad to listen and learn. A few ramblings...

1. With preaching so much comes down to whether we lean towards the TEXT or towards the CONTEXT with what captivates us. For me this group tended to assume the text, rather than articulate it's issues - because considering the context of the listener and the society is where the real energy lay. Context plays a part. We need to be bi-lingual. I am deeply persuaded by the Stottian 'between two worlds' approach just as I am deeply ambivalent about the McArthurian approach which seems to be 'sermon as biblical exegesis spoken aloud' as the Text alone becomes what matters and, in this case, a specific American context becomes projected on all other ones. How does that respect your listeners?!
However when the Context becomes the driver of the sermon other questions emerge. How do we stop the text being reshaped in our own image? How is the harder word, from outside our experience, ever heard? How do we know what is true for all people in all places at all times?

2. The small group in which I participated was entirely (northern) European. Pastors from Iceland and the Faroe Islands, professors in homiletics from Heidelberg and Basel, a Norwegian missionary, and two pastoral trainers from Denmark - and no Americans, Brits, or Australians (the usual forum for discussions about preaching for me). I have never had a conversation like it! These Europeans love reflecting on 'what' and 'why' - with 'how' being a virtual irrelevance. This is seen in their training of ministers: six years of university education followed by 5 months of practical training (in Denmark)which includes a four week internship. And preaching is such a core indisputable aspect of this ministry. We were reminded of the Lutheran (Augsburg) Confession: "church is where faith is created through the sermon". WOW - that's a different world.


3. The gathering was not very global. There was no one from Latin America. The only Africans were from South Africa. There were only three Asians (out of 100). But while the gathering was overwhelmingly white, the involvement of women was strong and central. It caused me to reflect on all these years in NZ of watching talented women come through preaching classes and receive heaps of encouragement, only to have them disappear into the woodwork of local churches, if not evaporate altogether. I enjoyed the contrast in a paper from German Birgit and the response from American Anna. It caused huge discussion in our small group. Birgit - abstract, restrained, stepping-back-personally as she spoke... and then Anna - applied, animated, stepping-forward-personally as she spoke. One European felt that Anna's was an example of 'violent speech' in the way it intruded into a space that should be created for listeners.

4. The inconvenient truth, as I reflect on my new job with Langham Preaching, was obvious. The participants in this conference represented mainline churches that are declining and they take an approach which is highly academic (maybe even elitist) as they gather as professionals in a guild from largely North Atlantic countries which are well-resourced (maybe even over-resourced) ... and out there beyond them and hardly mentioned at all are evangelical-pentecostal churches that are growing too fast to cope in a grassroots movement spearheaded by untrained pastors spread throughout Africa and Asia and Latin America and which is desperately under-resourced. And I suspect one is animated by leaning towards the Context and the other by leaning towards the Text...

Other highlights:
+ singing Luther's hymn - A Mighty Fortress is Our God - in a centuries old Lutheran chapel
+ gazing at the original Bertel Thorvaldsen's famous "Come Unto Me" statue of Jesus at the Vor Frue Kirke in Copenhagen and noting Luke 11:28 ringing the nearby pulpit

+ meeting the Little Mermaid after trying to cover my eyes when I first observed her as a boy - gee, she was life-size!
+ taking a Kierkegaard walking tour through Copenhagen with a marvelous communicator, matched during the week (on preaching, remember!) only by the guy who gave the lecture on Hamlet in the actual environs that Shakespeare imagined for the play
+ watching the women of Copenhagen cycling on these old-fashioned, high handle-barred bikes creating this stately, elegant style

+ enjoying a beach bon-fire on Midsummer's Day (it was as cold as mid-winter in Auckland!) known as St Hans Day, short for St Johannes (the Baptist) Day and rediscovering Luke 1:76-79 as a core text in the Lutheran understandin of preaching.


nice chatting

Paul

Sunday, June 22, 2008

movies, stories, gospel

Long-time-no-write ... because Barby and I find ourselves in Copenhagen for a conference (more on that later) with the flights over here providing the opportunity for watching some movies.

We've come a long way from The Sound of Music, a linear story (beginning at the beginning and progressing to the end) with basically a single plotline. With critically acclaimed movies like Pulp Fiction (which I am not endorsing here!) and The English Patient leading the way the presentation of stories has changed. The linear storyline is dislocated and the plotlines are multiplied.

We've seen this on TV. The multiplication of plotlines through Hill Street Blues and on to ER - where there may be up to 12-15 plots all happening at the same time - is now supplemented by Lost where any idea of a linear storyline starting at the beginning and progressing to the end is as lost as the title suggests.

A movie which caught my eye on the plane was Vantage Point where an American President is killed by terrorists in Spain and the story is then re-told from four perspectives. We have the story through the eyes of one character for about 20minutes then the movie literally rewinds in front of us to the same moment (12 noon) before the story is picked up through another character. Gradually the story makes sense - but through a non-linear storyline and multiple plots. As a piece of storytelling it was totally absorbing.

AND a person being killed and the story being told through four perspectives reminds me of another killing from four perspectives - the gospel story.

Here is the question which intrigues me. Is our gospel-telling stuck in a 'Sound of Music' world? If so, must this be the case? Would anything be compromised by being more creative and playing with non-linear storytelling with multiple plots more explicitly - even in the course of a single sermon? What would the gospel story look like in the hands of the director of Lost? Would it necessarily be incomprehensible? Probably! But maybe we can stop short of going that far?

I wonder if part of the answer might be found in the way the bigger gospel, the Genesis-to-Revelation story, can be told. Doesn't it make most sense non-linearly - by starting in the middle with Jesus generally (and the Road to Emmaus specifically) and using that then as a portal through which to travel back to Genesis and forward to Revelation, discovering multiple plots along the way?

I love the interface between gospel and culture, probing for that space where unshakeable biblical faithfulness and authentic cultural relevance coexist. I wonder whether there is some unexplored territory here?!

nice chatting

Paul

Monday, June 09, 2008

langham beckons

As many readers of this blog may be aware, I announced my resignation as Principal of Carey Baptist College last week. I have been appointed Associate Director (Langham Preaching) and will be starting in this role in 2009. The plan is to be based in Auckland for 3-4 years before relocating to somewhere in South Asia.

Langham Preaching is one of the three ministries of Langham Partnership International, a global mission initiative founded by John Stott. Check-out the website: Langham Partnership International.

It is the following video which I have found so compelling, having watched it numerous times over the past two years. I cannot think of anything more strategic in the mission of God in the world and never ever seriously entertained the thought that one day I might have the delight and privilege of being involved in this work.



It is a big change for our family. It is an earlier move on from Carey than we expected. It is possible that my first month in the job will be twenty years to the month since I was first invited to consider a role at the Bible College of New Zealand. And so it will bring to conclusion two decades in theological education and the training of preachers here in NZ. These twin passions - theological education and biblical preaching - are at the core of Langham's global ministry.

One more thing... As you watch this clip from youtube you too may feel stirred by Langham's vision. Well, Langham Partnership (NZ) is just a few months old and while mine is an international staff appointment, LPNZ is having to set up an office and being asked to contribute to my support. Barby and I warmly welcome the opportunity to build a team of people who will stand with us in this ministry, praying and giving as they are able. If you'd like to register that kind of interest, send an email to tony@langhampartnership.org.nz and we will begin to communicate with you. Thank-you!

[added later, in July 2008 - a second video of Langham Preaching, this time in Vanuatu]


Meanwhile I need to focus on finishing well at Carey :)

nice chatting


Paul Windsor

Thursday, June 05, 2008

the reason for god

Here are ten reasons why you should have a garage sale in order to raise money to buy this book for every Christian young adult you know. Timothy Keller, The Reason for God; Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Dutton, 2008)

Keller is pastor of a church in Manhattan. One over-indulgent (!) Keller fan has brought together much of the material on him that is available on the internet. And then there is the site related specifically to the book itself and the one where free downloads of Keller messages are available.

But back to my Ten Reasons:

1. Keller has the courage to face the issues which dominate the water-cooler conversation about Christianity and which are so tough for pastors and churches that they tend to be consigned to the too-hard basket. The Table of Contents reveal "the seven biggest objections and doubts about Christianity I've heard from people over the years" (xix) including 'how could a good God allow suffering?", 'how can a loving God send people to hell?', 'there can't be just one true religion', 'science has disproved Christianity', 'you can't take the Bible literally...

2. I have always considered that while you can't judge a book by its cover, you certainly can judge it by what is just inside the covers. I've mentioned the Table of Contents. But I am grateful for being left-handed because my natural flick through a book starts at the end with the bibliography. So crucial in my choice as it shows me what is informing the mind of the author. Keller's 'Notes' section at the end is breathtaking for the breadth and depth of his reading - but also for how contemporary his reading continues to be.

3. Maybe the most remarkable thing of all is that complicated though these issues are and deep though his background research may be, he covers all seven of them in just 114 pages. Astonishing! Here is a collection of short, readable chapters that cover complex issues with a light, but profound, touch. 'Science has disproved Christianity' in a mere 13 pages - and 19 footnotes! So while Keller isn't trying to answer everything and cover everything, he certainly sets the reader up to face the right direction.

4. I love this one. What I detest about the apologetics of my tertiary years was that the field was dominated by people who were full of truth and empty of grace. I remember taking an Irish friend called McPhillimy to hear the greatest Christian apologist of the age ... and if that presentation and follow-up conversation one-on-one ever led to McPhillimy's conversion it would have been a remarkable act of God's grace. Up close and personal the guy was just so arrogant - and yes, I am still angry about it. Keller finds a gentler, gracious, respectful way to engage the views of others - without ever compromising his understanding of the truth. The lines on the page are great - but the tone between those lines is just so appealing.

5. Keller has done his homework. But this book is more than the fruit of library research. It responds to the 'view from Manhattan'. It is sparked by listening to countless people in real-life conversations with everyday doubts in the course of his pastoral work. Keller must be a prototype of one of the great needs of the church today - the pastor-scholar. Then when I hear on the grapevine that he is resistant to speaking out on the circuit because of his commitment to his local church - I am all the more impressed.

6. Keller has a high view of 'twentysomethings'. He respects them enough to listen to them. He believes in them. He is not dismissive of them. He engages their doubts and skepticism. Gee - the book emerges from his pastoral care of them. And I am with Keller on this one - I reckon they are a different breed from what has gone before. If pastors were better equipped to engage their questions and more motivated to care for their souls - the last issue we'd be facing is the question of why young adults are leaving the church.

7. The anti-Christian bias that leaks out of lecturers in the secondary/tertiary institutions of this nation just amazes me. And this supposedly from the bastions of objectivity and fairmindedness. Christianity gets whipped. Christian students can read this book and follow its footnote trail all the way to their own essays with its footnotes. On his scholarly merit Lamin Sanneh will find his way into that anthropology essay. On his scholarly merit Rodney Stark will find his way into that history essay. And on and on it goes ...

8. Keller is a superb communicator. The book is littered with rhetorical questions that draw in the reader. His accumulation of deft examples and revealing illustrations is just so skillful. My own DMin thesis is built around the way the parable can be a "genre for skeptics" and I am seriously considering using Keller as a case-study of some kind. And if I am ever in New York City Redeemer Church will be as big an attraction as Ground Zero.

9. I love the way he engages the skepticism in a mixture of front-foot and back-foot play. There is a bit of offense and defense here. "In both my preaching and personal interactions I've tried to respectfully help skeptics look at their own faith-foundations while at the same time laying bare my own to their strongest criticism." (xix) And then, let's not forget that the second 114 pages of the book is all about stepping forward and winsomely commending the Christian perspective on God and sin and cross and resurrection and Trinity to his readers.

10. Keller is not just a pastor-scholar, he is a pastor-scholar-evangelist. To read through the book so full of explicit scholarly insight and implicit pastoral heart and reach the final 'where do we go from here?' chapter and encounter the gentle, insistent pleading of an evangelist. It was very moving for me.

I know that this post will appear as a high-octane rave to some. Maybe they haven't even got this far!! I cannot apologise for this. I cannot imagine a Christian tertiary student not absorbing this book. I cannot imagine a pastor not setting up a small group, hosted in their home around a meal, and reading this book together one chapter at a time with interested people in their church.

Maybe you are a little older, or a little incapacitated, or life is full with so much busy trivia - and you are wondering how you can contribute to the mission of God from where you sit just at this moment in time? WOW - I have an idea! Why not ask God to give you a burden for a twentysomething who seems to walk perennially on the edge of a faith-crisis abyss and why not invite them to read and pray their way through this book with you? Pretty radical idea, eh?!

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Sunday, June 01, 2008

if

With the surge and surgical strike of these previous posts there is something else on my mind. I continue to be alarmed at how often I hear people having a 'faith-crisis' or moving into a 'post' space of some kind where the faith-stuff they once held close no longer holds much significance for them. It is very distressing.

I find two responses well up within me. One is the desire to walk alongside such a person until their night-time turns to day. That is the pastoral response.

The other one goes something like this:

If in my understanding of the God of the Bible I see him to be something akin to a buffet from which I choose what I like and avoid what I don't like, rather than me being the buffet from which he picks and chooses...

If in my chatting with God I default to him being there for me, rather than me being here for him ...

If in my singing to God, I am full of how I am going to hold on to him forever because he is the one that I want, rather than how he will hold onto me forever because I am the one that he wants...

If in my journey with God I consider the story to be more about God walking with me, rather than me walking with God...

If in my enthusiasm for God I brim with all that I am going to do for God, rather than lingering over all that he has done for me in Christ...

If in my reflection on conversion I am more like Wilberforce's butler ("it sounds like you've found God, sir"), and less like Wilberforce himself ("no, I think God has found me")...

If I allow 'the pursuit of happiness' to jump the fence from being a human right enshrined in the American Constitution to being a truth integral to the Word of God...

If in my obedience to God I find myself embracing sundry short obediences in lots of directions, rather than a long obedience in the same direction...

(and this does tend to describe the 'faith' into which I have heard young people so often being socialised and discipled at camps and conferences and concerts over a generation)

And if all these 'ifs' are in place then I can have every confidence that faith-crises will follow me all the days of my life, if indeed I don't exit off into a 'post-' experience before I reach those final days.

Why?

Essentially it is a theological problem. It requires a theological response alongside the pastoral one. At the core the knowledge of God is all messed-up. These 'ifs' shape the Christian life with such an alarming self-centeredness. The God at work here is too small, too shallow, too marginal. He is only near and only close. He is all immanence and no transcendence. "The God of mercy has become a God who is at our mercy" (David Wells). This God thrives in our spring and our noontime but shrivels into nothingness in our winter and our midnight. This God has been tamed and domesticated. He is just not big enough to cope with today's complicated life - and so the faith-crises precipitate and proliferate.

And this is why the wisdom surge and the worship surgical strike is so desperately needed.

What did Jesus do when he encountered two disciples in the midst of a faith crisis? He walked alongside and listened to them - yes! His was a pastoral response. But he also probed them with questions. What did he discover? He discovered that they did not know their Bibles well enough. He discovered that their understanding of the Messiah was too small, too limited. Ah - a theological response as well! And the first steps from 'downcast heart' towards 'burning heart' - and the alleviation of their faith crisis - came as their minds gained fuller and deeper understanding of what their Bibles had to say about Jesus (Luke 24).

nice chatting

Paul