Monday, December 29, 2008

unChristian

This book by David Kinnaman gathers the outcomes of a three year study by The Barna Group into the way 16-29yr olds 'outside' the church perceive Christianity.

The book uncovers a hostility and skepticism towards the church unheard of in any previous generation. This serious image problem for the church centers around it being:
(a) too hypocritical ('saying one thing and doing another');
(b) too focused on getting converts (outsiders 'feel like targets rather than people' p29);
(c) too antihomosexual (for a staggering 91% of respondents - as 'hostility towards gays has become virtually synonymous with Christian faith' p92);
(d) too sheltered ('Christians seem aloof and insulated', p124);
(e) too political ('a movement that was bursting with energy to spread good news to people 20 years ago - has been exchanged for an aggressive political strategy that demonises segments of society', p153);
(f) too judgmental ( a staggering 87% of respondents - making a habit out of pointing out 'something that is wrong in someone else's life, making the person feel put down, excluded, or marginalised', p182).

[Check-out this link on YouTube for further discussion on the book.]

There is so much to like about this book. I like the humble open tone. I like the way it avoids the easy alternative of promoting a less offensive faith. NO! "We live it ... we embrace and describe all the potency, depth, complexity, and realism of following Christ." (p209) I like the way they try to be constructive. Each chapter concludes with respected leaders contributing short pieces on what can be done to change these perceptions (written in a different font to reinforce the point!). I like the eye on key biblical themes like truth:grace and salt:light (practice "proximity and purity", p133). I like the plethora of rhetorical questions which draws me into the book. I like the way we are called back to Jesus: "Christ followers must learn to respond to people in the way Jesus did." (p206)

Instinctively I like their conclusion: "I believe the negative perceptions that now exist are partly a symptom of a church that has lost its heart for outsiders ... I hope we put aside casual forms of Christianity, piercing the antagonism of our peers with service and sacrifice." (p213, 217)

Seven stats that stick with me...
1. "Among young outsiders, 84% say they personally know at least one committed Christian. Yet just 15% thought the lifestyles of those Christ-followers were significantly different from the norm." (p48)

2. "Only one third of young outsiders believe that Christians genuinely care about them." (p68)

3. "Radio, television and tracts accounted for a combined total of less than one-half of one per cent of the Busters (ie those in their twenties) who are born-again ... we found that these (mass-media) measures create three to ten times as much negative response as positive ... the collateral damage is significantly greater than the positive impact." (p70-71)

4. "For every 100 people who are not born again by the time they reach 18, only 6 of those individuals will commit their lives to Christ as an adult." (p72)

5. After a pretty standard description of the eight elements of a biblical worldview "only 3% of 18-29yr olds (inside the church) embrace such a worldview ... that is 1 out of every 22 ... With older adults, the figure is only 9%." (p75)

6. Just one-third of 18-41yr olds consider that the content of movies and TV is "a major problem facing America ... (our research) suggest a mix of two reasons: they don't care (they are not threatened by relativistic values), and they don't notice (they are not as likely to reject values that conflict with their own)." (p126)

7. For 16-29yr olds outside of Christianity the top five 'best known Christians' are: the Pope (16%), George Bush (13%); Jesus (9%); Billy Graham (7%); Martin Luther King (6%). Among 'young churchgoers' the order was Graham (29%), the Pope (17%), Bush (17%), Luther King Jr (8%), Jesus (7%), Mother Teresa (7%), Mel Gibson (7%) and James Dobson (5%)." (p154)

Kiwi Connections?
Christianity leaves nowhere near the 'footprint' in public life in NZ that it does in the US. I suspect this is significant. While we will find a similar hostility and skepticism I wonder if, with a smaller footprint, our challenge is the sheer irrelevance of Christianity and the way people ignore the church. The authors state that their purpose is to "recapture Christianity's reputation in our culture." (p221)I am not convinced that 'recapture' is the correct verb for us in NZ ... was it ever 'captured' in the first place? Does that make it easier for us?

The statistics relating to biblical worldview are just appalling (#5 above). Probably the most depressing part of the book for me. 3%? 9%? No wonder the church is so ineffective! Part of what is needed is a fresh commitment to the best in both systematic biblical preaching and serious theological training...

We need to let the grace at work in our lives channel out to what and where the New Testament says it should channel: to the life of good works both among the insider and the outsider.

If I was a pastor, I'd take a few initiatives in 2009. (i) I'd buy a copy of this book for all the church leadership team and at each of the first six meetings of the year we'd discuss one of these themes, reflecting on it's presence within our context; (ii) I'd plan a topical Sunday sermon series for Oct-Nov during which we would discuss each one of these perceptions; (iii) I'd activate an artistic bunch in the church to fill the billboard space outside the church with self-deprecating, subversive imagery that constitutes a public confessional for our 'unChristian' behaviour and creates discussion in church and community; and (iv) I'd hold an open forum at the conclusion of the series to find ways to move forward.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

reflecting...

Our 25 years with a NZ-focus in our ministry lives is drawing to a close. I am a sentimental-type and find myself doing a lot of reflecting on these years - and have even been given the opportunity to do so in the company of others.

(a) The first opportunity came with the Baptist Historical Society back in August where I was invited to reflect on my time in theological education in NZ. I titled the talk Populating the territories - a personal reflection on a decade (or two) in theological education in NZ. Five territories were named - territories that had been surveyed but were still needing to be more fully populated: the Mission, the Bible, the Churches, the Academy, the E-word (evangelical). Email me at paul.windsor@carey.ac.nz for a copy of this address, if you are interested.

(b) The second opportunity came at the annual Baptist Assembly where Barby and I were invited to reflect with pastors on our years in Baptist leadership. We called it The Good, the Bad, and the Blessed as we zig-zagged between Barby responding to questions and me speaking to images that were on the stage.

Barby reflected on the importance of the 'withingness' of the spouse in carving out long-term effective ministry, nurturing the faith of children by putting them in the path of blessing, and managing the stressful times in marriage. I spoke to the koru (the indigenous fern that unfurls with such perfection), two suitcases (on the importance of the word and the world), binoculars and bifocals (on the importance of vision, far and near), and a bathtub (on the emotional drain associated with leadership). There is an audio of this talk - just click here, if you are interested.


nice chatting


Paul

Saturday, December 20, 2008

soil, seed, sower

When it comes to the 'word' Jesus told a foundational parable. The writers of the Gospels considered it to be so important that it appears in Matthew (ch13), Mark (ch4), and Luke (ch8). The same parable told three times is unusual. It is commonly known as the Parable of the Sower.

It is a story about a seed, a sower, and four soils. Another unusual thing is that the Gospels record the meaning of this parable. The 'seed' is the word, or the message of the kingdom. The 'sower' is the one distributing that message. The 'soils' are the human responses to the message - and the fact that are four of them shows this to be the variable dimension in the story.

Herein lies a fundamental problem in the way we view 'ministries of the word' today, including preaching. Rather than functioning like the story really is about ONE sower, ONE seed, and FOUR soils...

either
we default to it being about FOUR sowers, ONE seed, and ONE soil.

or
about FOUR seeds, ONE sower, and ONE soil.

It is fascinating to reflect on the implications of these changes. It is subversive fun to retell the parable in these contrary ways ... because it surfaces some massive shifts that have taken place quietly which undermine our confidence in the word - and ministries of the word, like preaching.

nice chatting

Paul

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

cross country to christ

As a preacher the other challenge I have given myself in 2008 relates to a series in my home church at Mt Roskill Baptist. Given the prevailing discomfort which people have with the Old Testament, I determined to preach a series in which I used an entire OT book as the text for the sermon. But here was the challenge: I wanted to get cross-country to Jesus at the end of each sermon and do it in a different way each time.

With Exodus...
I focused on God as the hero of the story (designing a destiny, appointing leadership, freeing people to worship, guiding and providing, making contracts ...) and then I used Exodus 33:12-23 as my bridge passage and the God who refuses to reveal his glory to Moses. This refusal was lifted in John 1:14 where we discover the truth-full and grace-full Jesus to be the revelation of that glory of God. John 1:14 becomes a 'table of contents' for a Gospel in which we discover Jesus to be designing destinies, appointing leaders, freeing people to worship, guiding and providing and making contracts with people ... John as fulfilment of Exodus?

With the Psalms of Ascent...
I plunged the depths of the emotion in which virtually every psalm is borne: lying, fear, hatred, anger, despair, injustice, guilt, pride... And then how - still deeper than this emotion, at bedrock - we find the living and active God: protecting, showing mercy, helping, restoring, judging, forgiving, stilling... Then my bridge passage was Luke 24:13-35 where despairing hearts make way for burning hearts because minds (not hearts!) gain a deeper understanding of the Jesus revealed in their Bible.

With Amos...
The God of Justice is every bit as important as the God of Mercy. The searing judgements on the people of God are heard, particularly as they came through the images of the plumbline, the basket of ripe fruit, the sieve - just before being arrested by that merciful Amos 9:8b ("yet I will not totally destroy...") and the images of hope which then take over: the tent and the vineyard. Then I crossed over to another image, the image of the cross: the cross "where heaven's love and heaven's justice meet." My bridge passage? Acts 15 and the way James uses Amos' tent to resolve the biggest crisis the church has ever faced: do Gentiles have to become Jews on their way to becoming Christians? I am still reeling from the revelation that in the climax of a book with such judgement is found the passage that provided the rationale which enables me to be part of the people of God because of the cross.

With Ecclesiastes...
Here we find some pre-evangelism. I like to focus on the three-fold refrain which repeats and which exposes life for so many even today: (a) it is smoke-like ("vanity"): there is nothing left IN it; (b) there is no gain: there is nothing left OVER from it; (c) it is "under the sun": there is Someone left OUT OF it. The writer exposes such a life on the way to providing an alternative in living in the fear of God. Ecclesiastes 11 becomes his climactic response stacked as it is with imperatives ... while also serving as a bridge passage which opens the way to hear John 10:10 in such a fresh way: "I have come that you may have life and have it to the full", thereby undermining (a),(b), and (c).

With Nehemiah...
We find ourselves in the final story of the OT, a story of renewal with seasons of sowing (ch1&2) and nurturing (ch2&3) and weeding (ch4&6) and pruning (ch5) and blossoming (ch7&8) and ripening (ch9-12) as a people are re-established in Jerusalem as the worshipping and consecrated people of God. BUT there is a 13 - a chapter 13. It is the bridge passage. Here is yet another season of withering as the people fail yet again. As the curtain falls on the OT, the orchestra in the pit starts playing "There is a redeemer" as the Jesus of Hebrews - the "once for all", the "better", and the "how much more" Jesus is anticipated and able to deal decisively with this endemic sin-problem.

With Malachi...
The debate between God and his people is heated and even sarcastic. It is disturbing. After their long history with God the people do not seem to have a handle on his love, his worship, their promises, his judgments, his blessing - or their own service of Him. It is a mess. But the 'Day of the Lord is coming' when the mess will be sorted out. But thankfully - and graciously - before that Day, the prophet will come (4:5). Here is the bridge passage with the prophet being John the Baptist, most famously known as the one who prepared the way for Jesus. The salvation found in this Jesus enables us to prepare for 'the Day' with far greater assurance and even excitement.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

preaching: acts and now

This year I've been reflecting on preaching in the book of Acts. Here are ten things that I've been learning:
[NB - I have brought these observations closer to home with the use of 'Auckland' as it is my home town. Feel free to make the appropriate substitution!].

1. As in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Rome, we must acknowledge in Auckland that a divine initiative lies behind this human speech. The challenge is a theological one before it is a methodological one. God chooses to use preaching as a vehicle for the advance of his unstoppable word.

2. As in Jerusalem, Samaria, Caesarea, Pisidian Antioch, and Corinth, we must focus in Auckland upon Jesus Christ - ensuring that the proclaimer in the Gospels becomes the proclaimed in the church as we build on the gospel events (the death and resureection of Jesus), the gospel witnesses (the Scriptures), the gospel promises (the offer of salvation) and the gospel associates (repentance, faith, baptism, Spirit-filling etc). [Using a little John Stott with that one!]

3. As in Pisidian Antioch, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus, we must persist in Auckland with opening and explaining the text of Scripture - in its fullness and depth and over a lengthy period of time - so that the revealed and sufficient word of God can mature the people of God.

4. As in Jerusalem, Pisidian Antioch, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Rome, we must expect in Auckland a divided response to faithful preaching as we encounter both acceptance and rejection of the message. We must recoil from the cultural forces which would have us 'accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative' in an effort to market the gospel to consumers.

5. As in Thessalonica, and in comparing Athens with Pisidian Antioch, we must be flexible and fulsome in Auckland - ensuring that preachers and preaching teams include 'information, declaration, exhortation, persuasion, and conversation' (Peter Adam) in their preaching. Afterall stott-ing, graham-ing, campolo-ing, carson-ing, and bell-ing are both distinctive from each other and yet still overlap with each other.

6. As in Jerusalem, Pisidian Antioch, Philippi, Athens, and Ephesus, we must identify the spaces in Auckland with equivalency to the temple courts, the synagogues, the riversides, the marketplaces, the lecture halls, and the homes and occupy those spaces with an appropriate communication of the gospel.

7. As in Caesarea, Antioch, Pisidian Antioch, and Philippi, we must free the gospel in Auckland to cross boundaries thereby enabling the 'turn to the Gentiles' to be ongoing as it seeks out the lost and the last and the least and maybe even discovers some of them to be part of a God-fearing fringe in society.

8. As in Lystra and Athens we must be prepared in Auckland to commence a gospel presentation from a point of contact with our audience that is outside the Bible - such as those provided by our own contemporary philosophers expressed in the billboards and lyrics, the advertising and cartoons of our world.

9. As in Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, and Ephesus, we must loosen preaching in Auckland from its monological stereotype and welcome the interactivity which comes with dialogue and debate.

10. As in Jerusalem, Damascus, and Caesarea we must in Auckland be well-acquainted with both the biblical story and our own personal story - and be able to testify boldly to the significance of both as we bear witness to Jesus.

And my favourite resource as I've reflected?
I reckon Michael Green, Thirty Years That Changed the World (Eerdmans, 2002) is just fantastic. So readable - yet covers the territory well.


nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Saturday, December 06, 2008

tony and austen, kirk and nick

I never knew that reading a newspaper could be so exhilarating. So it has proved to be today with NZ's leading newspaper, the New Zealand Herald.

First they choose to name Tony McLean and Austin Hemmings as their NZers of the year. What an inspired choice! And what compelling evidence of the impact on this nation of these two young Christian men (both pastor's kids!) who gave their lives for others. I have commented on these stories more than once: here and here.
Lives like these help make the gospel of Jesus plausible in New Zealand. This is one of our most desperate needs. Some good stories to trump the bad ones.

But it didn't stop there. I love my basketball and so to read the featured back-page interview on NZ's best player, Kirk Penney, and discover that he is a committed Christian was fantastic - just as turning to the sports pages to be reminded again that Nick Willis (Olympic bronze medalist and oh, how I screamed when he rounded that final bend in the 1500m; a Sportsperson of the Year) is also a committed Christian ... For years I have longed to see high profile Christians, particularly in the influential world of sports, adorn the gospel with a grace and humility that draws people to the Jesus living within them.

With the challenge of winning Kiwi males to Jesus here are four testimonies in which I find so much encouragement in 2008.

nice chatting

Paul