Saturday, April 28, 2012

the future of the global church

Patrick Johnstone's The Future of the Global Church is one for the ages.

I'll leave you to check out the website. Make sure you click here for the full Table of Contents and some sample pages from the book to get a quick sense of what the book covers. Here are my reasons for loving this book:

It is visual
The graphs and tables, the colours and maps, all combine in a stunning presentation. So many are so intriguing. Like the graph showing Mexico's collapse in population in the 16th century (8) - or, the really cool graphs like 'Two Millennia of Superpowers' (34) and 'Global Political Freedom' (16) which are filled-in, multi-coloured and track the changes across history.

It is informative
It is such a smorgasbord that it is critical that one eats slowly in order to digest it all. The material on the the major World Religions, particularly Islam (73-78), is useful. Johnstone's characteristically friendly engagement with things Charismatic-Pentecostal has always helped me see upsides that do not come naturally, as it is not my background. His passion is most evident when he engages 'The Unevangelized' (161-224). It is partly because people are so uninformed that they remain so unevangelized. There is so much for me to learn in these pages.

It is short
For all that it tries to achieve, it is still only 240 pages. There is so much crammed into so few pages, while still being visually appealing and readable. It is a remarkable achievement. I hope that academics, Christian and otherwise, don't get all elitist and critical about the book because of its brevity. Afterall the flame in this book is the very one that colleges and seminaries around the world have had a nasty way of extinguishing. Let's appreciate it for what it is and make it known.

It has lots of numbers in it
'It cites statistics in such a way as to incite hearts' (ix) - and it succeeds. I've always pored over population statistics. Love it. Love it. Love it. These numbers are even able to distract me from cricket statistics - and that takes some doing. For example, who would have guessed that Pakistan would be the fourth largest country in the world in 2050 - and just think about the lack of attention it receives when compared with the three countries above it: India, China, USA (3).

It equips
The aim of the book is to better prepare Christians for the 21st century. When it is devoured alongside its cousin, Operation Worldthe string of books by a person like Philip Jenkins (some of which I have reviewed here and here and here)- and that gem of a book by Miriam Adeney ... the reader is brought right into the heart of what God is doing around the world. It makes some of our debates in the West, like the 'emerging church' one of yesteryear, seem so very eddy-ish to what God is doing.

It is subversive
It offers a view of the world that is very different from that presented by the media and educational institutions. In these pages you find History, Geography, Anthropology, Sociology, Religious Studies etc - but, as a refreshing change, it is not tainted with the anti-Christian bias that seeps into secondary and tertiary curricula in so many parts of the world. It is another voice which does need to be heard if the analysis is to be fair-minded. The book opens with the 'Nine Global Challenges' (1-20) and these pages are loaded with information for school projects.

It innovates
For me, the undisputed heavyweight highlight of the book is the section on History. Johnstone writes 'I realized that no one had pulled the information together, century by century, to show the rise and fall of empires and the advances and retreats of the Church around the world' (viii). And so on double facing pages each century is covered, with the 'Empires' on the left hand page and the corresponding 'Christian World' on the right side page (21-63). It is the most remarkable visual and informational presentation on the history of the world I have ever seen.

It provokes
The book is littered with 'Burning Questions for Today' and 'Food for Thought' boxes. In the Preface, Johnstone writes that in designing the book he wanted 'passion and vision to be paramount'. He achieves this. There is a verve in what is written, and the way it is written, which engages both head and heart.

It is multi-purpose
Like Operation World, it belongs on the coffee-table in every mission-minded home. I think it will be the next book which we buy for each of our kids, for example. Every church Mission Committee needs to have it at its right hand. It is a text book for theological colleges, and a resource book for other colleges. It is a prayer book. It is a rallying cry to be join God in His mission in the world.

It is accessible
DVD-Rom, eBook, book ... take your pick. In time the website is going to have hundreds of ppt slides/presentations and all kinds of other downloadable components. As with Operation World, there is a refreshing servant-heartedness which characterises the people who lie behind this ongoing project. They are more concerned about getting the information out than with lining their pockets.

The only caution I can muster up is similar to the one I have with Operation World. All the acronyms and colour-codings and classifications can quickly become a confusing foreign language, if you do not keep speaking that language. You almost need to memorise pp x-xi, or at least sticker it for easy access.

Be in

nice chatting


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

chasing the apocalypse

I'm confronting my fears. Like so many preachers I have done my little series on the seven churches in Revelation (ch 2-3), but never have I worked right through the rest of the book. I could use the excuse that my time as a preaching pastor was just five years and I couldn't cover every book of the Bible ... but that would be a half truth!

Well - this year I have been asked specifically to do a session on Preaching from Apocalyptic Literature in one of the countries where I work. "Ahh - here is my opportunity." While in India through March I worked hard on a fresh set of notes and sent them off to be translated (with Laurie Guy's Making Sense of Revelation and Paul Spilsbury's The Throne, The Lamb, and the Dragon being helpful). As I worked I was overwhelmed by the relevance of Revelation. It may have been written for churches in first century Asia, but the churches in twenty-first century Asia need it just as much.

So I have set some goals to stick at it.
I've put a little strategy in place that keeps me chasing the apocalypse throughout 2012.

I am going to read through the biblical text with Murray Robertson's The Future of Humanity (all the very best in trying to locate it, as it is 'out of print' - but it is a short and simple gem) and Eugene Peterson's Reversed Thunder at my side, chapter by chapter. In the background I will be reading Richard Bauckham's The Theology of the Book of Revelation

Then it is off to the two largest M-majority countries in the world, just one week adrift from each other, to do my best to equip preachers in preaching from the book of Revelation. WOW - what a privilege that will be.

Returning home, I am going to chase the apocalypse a little more. This time it will be back to the biblical text with Craig Keener's Revelation and Darrell Johnson's Discipleship on the Edge at my side. And in the background being absorbed this time will be Michael Gorman's Reading Revelation Responsibly.

Then it will be off to Dunedin for a training weekend for preachers in the lower part of the South Island and I am going to make a case for doing a session on preaching through Revelation in the context of New Zealand.

After all this chasing and exertion, I will have a 'warm-down' (I think that is what the gym-junkies call it?) by reading N.T. Wright's Revelation for Everyone.

Then in 2013 I am going to have a serious crack at preaching a bit from Revelation...

nice chatting


Saturday, April 14, 2012

smart phone, dumb user

Once upon a time the telephone would ring and either we would ignore it, or we'd encourage people to leave a message to which we'd give our attention at a later time. Why?!  Because the people with whom we were sitting face-to-face took precedence - every time, every single time. It was seen as a simple common courtesy that respected and valued the person in our midst.

Not so anymore. What has happened to those days?

In the first three months of this year I have found myself in six different countries - India (2x), Sri Lanka, England, New Zealand, China and Australia. In each place the same thing has happened again and again. There is a meeting of some kind, or a conversation taking place ... and someone's mobile phone makes its imaginative noise, signalling a communication from some person, unknown and unseen to the gathered company. Immediately the mobile-mediated message takes precedence over everyone else. Sometimes it is a case of someone tuning-out for awhile to attend to the message. On occasion the person leading the meeting leaves everyone frozen in time and responds to the one who is unseen and unknown.

Remarkable?! How has this transition become acceptable? I am not sure. But I am trying to shape a response. Maybe you can help me...

(a) People seem increasingly addicted to the immediate. Life becomes a sequence of 'immediates'. And there is that sense of being crushed by the rush of life. It feeds an inability to wait, or to pause. And so when the mobile makes its noise, or sends its vibration, a kind of compulsive behavioural disorder is triggered which means that the message must be read immediately. In this world every sound the mobile makes is something urgent and important - certainly more so than the company being kept.

(b) Twenty years ago I developed a course which discussed the issue of technicism and Neil Postman's 'technopoly'. I've been a watcher of technology ever since, even if I am not wired to be technophilic. There is an idolatry out there. Sometimes even a salvific intent is ascribed to it. Nowhere was this more evident than with the arrival of the i-phone and then the rush by competitors to develop something similar. People the world over were dazzled and infatuated by what they held in their little hand. I wonder, I just wonder, if this all worked to make people more tolerant of discourteous behaviour? "Of course I understand, go ahead, respond to your message, play with your phone - it is so cool, isn't it?!" But the innovative has become ubiquitous now and so should not the amnesty on discourteous behaviour be over as we return to being civil to the person in front of us?

Those are two of my responses to what has been happening.

And yes, I can hear you going on about 'what about emergencies', 'my phone is my means of doing business' etc etc - but I don't really find them as convincing as they sound. Something de-humanising is girdling the globe and it strikes me as sad and wrong. The upsides of newer technology are easily worshipped - but what about the downsides? Are they critiqued as they need to be?

For the record I am into my fourth year of not wearing a watch so that I am less constrained by time when I am with people. I feel I can attend to them better without a watch on my wrist and, if I need to know the time, invariably a clockface of some kind is within eyesight. And yes, I wouldn't dream of responding to my phone when in conversation with someone unless I have asked their permission, with a good reason to do so. My apologies if that frustrates you - but maybe we need to learn to wait and to recreate a world where the flesh-'n-blood person in front of us is valued a little more :).

nice chatting


Monday, April 09, 2012

appetising menus

I have started a collection...

My favourite menu entries from the places to which I travel. I'd like to say that I eat them before I photograph them, but that would be an untruth. And the fuzziness is due to my difficulties with the elementary facts of camera focus, rather than any peristaltic fussiness in my alimentary canal.

All the best for your dinner tonight.

nice chatting