Wednesday, May 23, 2012

dmin: the abstract

[Various people have expressed interest in my DMin project, The Role of Intrigue in the Communication with Sceptics, which jumped its final hurdle earlier this week. So I have decided to post three little pieces: (a) the opening page, or abstract; (b) the final page, a postscript; (c) the story of the project, as it has evolved over many, many years. Hope you find it interesting.]

"The preaching of the Bible is located at the centre of Christian communication. While preaching is to be honoured, increasing numbers of people in the Western world resist being drawn into the orbit of its influence. There is a rising tide of scepticism, particularly among the young. This project identifies perceptions and questions of sceptics as they face the church. It then locates the sceptic within the postmodern turn and traces its underlying presuppositions. It argues for a communication with sceptics that is distinguished by its capacity to intrigue them, softening and opening them, and nudging them towards the way of Jesus.
It is argued that a model of a communication which intrigues is found in the parable. The history of parable interpretation over one hundred and fifty years is traced through five seminal descriptions. From these, nine distinct features of the parable are drawn, each of which contributes to the parables’ capacity to intrigue. The intention is neither to find a fresh way of preaching the parables of Jesus, nor even to replicate his message [... although that is still a critical thing to be doing at another time]. The focus is on the medium of the parable form and the mechanism by which it intrigues.
The focus then shifts to the question of whether there is a dynamic equivalent to this parable located in the contemporary and public world of the sceptic, that might be employed in order to communicate with them. The world of advertising in general is examined, and the billboard more specifically. An equivalence between the nine distinctive features of the parable and Mario Pricken’s analysis of the communication strategy of the billboard is established. The case for this equivalence is illustrated and deepened through the evaluation of three contemporary examples of billboards. [NB: Just as easily, I could have focused on political cartoons as an equivalence with them can also be demonstrated].
Church billboards tend to be a collection of the cliché and the strident. This project envisions a series of intriguing billboards brought together by a team within a local church, and provoking discussion among sceptics in the wider community. Guidelines are given on how to commence with such an initiative. 
Throughout the thesis care is taken to maintain a modest set of claims. The focus is on a mere nudge, albeit one that may open the way for a journey towards Christ. And while such a modesty characterizes the thesis, the implications are significant, inviting a re-examination of the way preaching and communication is understood and practised." 

nice chatting 

dmin: the postscript

[This is the final page of my thesis, The Role of Intrigue in the Communication with Sceptics - a postscript where I try to wrap it all up with a little bow...]

"Cicero considered that intriguing oratory could be the means by which the barbarian was transformed. The claims of this thesis are not as bold, and yet they are significant. The nudge of a sceptic towards the way of Jesus, rather than a transformation of the barbarian, has been the focus. It has been established that there is a role for intrigue in the communication with sceptics. 
However to be effective this intrigue will need to focus on more than mere words and images. The intriguing communication must flow from intriguing communities, living distinctive lives with distinction. Good words operate best when they are in unison with good works. A pluralist society offers the opportunity to step forward, rather than to step back, to be more outgoing, not less. To initiate a community-wide conversation through billboards which intrigue is one such way to step forward.
To be effective this communication will need to depend on more than mere human skills. It will require a sustained, prayerful dependence upon God, the one who opens eyes and softens hearts. The blindness and the hardness in the sceptic are real but this can change under the influence of the Spirit of God. To design a series of billboards which intrigue is to supply the Spirit with some tools with which he may choose to go to work.
To be effective this sceptic will need to be seen as someone who is more than a mere project. The sceptic is to be respected, to be understood and loved. Disputes can be delayed, preferring to loiter to intrigue, rather than rushing to persuade. Of Timothy Keller it is observed that he offers the sceptic the same respect he offers to a member of his church [see here]. Kinnaman and Lyons conclude that followers of Jesus must respond to people the way he did [see UnChristian, 213, 217]. These are the examples to follow.
The pulse which courses through this thesis is a mission one. There are large numbers of ‘skeptics, critics, and cynics’ and hostile UnChristians who resist what the Christian community represents. Are they to be left alone, just ignored? No. The small nudge of intrigue may lead to the big change of entanglement in the way of Jesus."

nice chatting


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

dmin: the journey

This morning I received word that I have fulfilled all the requirements for my DMin... YIPPEE!

It has been quite a story. It starts way back in 1985 when I was required, as a brand new 'probationary' minister with the NZ Baptists, to write an essay in my first year as a pastor. I was looking for an excuse to read Kenneth Bailey's Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes (my cross-cultural upbringing resonated with his thesis) and with my love of hermeneutics at the time, I wrote something on The Progression in Parabolic Understanding. I sighted the original this morning. Plenty of white-out on display without a word processor in sight. My examiner was Ken McCormack, now an elderly retired Baptist minister in Christchurch, and his warm commendation of my work is something for which I have always been grateful. [NB: Bailey subsequently became enormously popular, but people forget that this seminal work was written as early as 1976. It was 10-15 years before he became widely read, with his insights filling many a sermon on the parables].

In 1990 I commenced part-time on the staff at the Bible College of New Zealand (BCNZ - now, Laidlaw College) working in the Extension Studies Department - thereby leaving time to commence an MTh programme with the Australian College of Theology (ACT). My first topic? The History of Interpretation of the Parables...but then on one fateful day things changed forever. My supervisor, Chris Marshall, could not attend a conference in Sydney in 1991 and I was invited to present a paper in his absence. I have people like Edward Sands and John Hitchen to blame for this! Drawing on my work on the parables and my interest in hermeneutics, I gave a talk on the New Hermeneutic. On return to Auckland I was urged to send my paper to ACT as part of a submission to have my MTh upgraded to a ThD (doctoral) project. It was all on...

In 1992 I commenced on the faculty of the residential college (BCNZ) with two courses to develop: Preaching (which eventually became two courses) and one I developed from scratch called The Gospel in a Post-Christian Society. These subjects took me deep within the world of homiletics/preaching and postmodernism. I began to see a parable-shaped gap in the communication to postmoderns. And so, when some study leave came my way in 1994, I titled my doctoral thesis as Towards an Integrative Model for Communicating the Narrative Parables in a Postmodern World. A couple of years later I developed and taught a Master's course on The Parable in the Postmodern...

Late in my time at BCNZ (1997) and then early in my subsequent time as principal at Carey Baptist College (2000) I was given additional study leaves - incredibly generous gestures from my employers at the time. I made huge progress and emerged with substantial chapters on the parables and on postmodernism - in the vicinity of 70-80,000 words each. But I couldn't quite pull the trigger on the final, and integrative, chapter 3. There were various reasons. One was the lack of confidence in my ability to complete the task as an academic. Another was the sheer complexity and endless verbage surrounding both parabolic interpretation and postmodernism. But then there were the massive demands on me as a youngish principal in a rapidly changing and growing college. Things lay fallow for some years. Maybe the naysayers had been right: 'why on earth are you going to Carey before the doctorate is completed?' God called me - that is why.

Then in 2004 ACT gave me the heavy word. I couldn't keep having extensions granted to me and so eventually my enrolment in the ThD lapsed. I looked briefly at transferring to another programme. I stared at the very real possibility of failure and a lot of wasted work. But at about this time my own sense of vocation was changing. I came to the realisation that I was never going to be a researching academic. While the college context was still my natural habitat, my involvement was more likely to be as a leader, than as a lecturer. A decisive conversation with Martin Sutherland helped change my focus...

And so against the advice of some family members and close colleagues (!), I decided to enrol in the DMin (a practitioner doctorate) in 2005. Three papers and then a thesis of 60,000 words (rather than 100,000). While probably more work in the long run, this felt more achievable as a principal and practitioner. Each year I knocked off a paper - on spirituality, on leadership, and on the book of Acts. Loved them. Stimulating and relevant. [NB: Jeff Pugh's courses on leadership are among the undiscovered jewels in theological education in Australasia].

Just as my time at Carey was drawing to a close in 2008, the ugly spectre of a thesis returned to haunt me. My thinking had continued to evolve and I had some creative ideas I wanted to explore, which were still related to the parable in the postmodern. But I needed a supervisor who would be creative with me, as well as both commend me and correct me. I found that person in Steve Taylor (formerly of Christchurch; now in Adelaide). As I wrote in my opening Acknowledgements, 'every single conversation with him has been instructive'. Out the other end emerged, in 2011, The Role of Intrigue in the Communication with Sceptics.

This is not really the place to repeat all my Acknowledgements - but, needless to say, there have been a whole heap of people who have helped get me to the finish line. To them each one I will be forever grateful, as I am to God who has enabled me to persevere. Now I can get on with the rest of my life :)

nice chatting


Friday, May 11, 2012

two women and a baby

I have been thinking deep thoughts and feeling deep felts.

There is Mary (not her real name). Mary and I worked together for seven years in a previous life. I think she would say that we were good friends. She had been a missionary overseas. There were little glimpses of life being difficult for her back then and I tried to listen and to love. Then we went different directions and lost contact, although she popped-in for an event when I started with Langham. In retrospect she did seem more subdued, a little spark-less, on that occasion. Mary went on to battle with clinical depression and one day decided that her best option was to take her own life. I was in Thailand when I received the shattering news - but made it home in time for her funeral.

There is Elizabeth (not her real name). Another mission worker. Another woman in her 60s. Unlike Mary, Elizabeth's story has been in the headlines. In fact she was receiving an award from Obama at the White House just before she came to NZ. Her husband and nine others were ambushed and murdered in a remote area of a Central Asian country a few months ago. I was in Thailand for her visit to NZ - but made it home for the final meeting. It was good to hear her story for myself. I was impacted by the willingness of her little family to remain in a war-zone decade after decade. They became known as 'the people that stayed' and this is what won the hearts of the locals. It intrigued them and their hearts were opened.

There is Micah (his real name, my grandson!). I was in Thailand when my daughter went into labour and she was still in labour when I got home. Being with Barby in labour five times was enough for me. I didn't like watching her in such pain - and now to think that my lovely Lys suffered for even longer... God knows (as do all the mothers in the world) that I couldn't go through it myself. But as with marriage, labour and birth is a picture of profound truth. The groaning of creation, the suffering in life which is healed, finally and climactically, in the second coming of Christ. The midnight gives way to dawn - eventually. It is the big hope that holds us. And it is the littler hope of holding Micah that helps enable labour to be endured.

Mary and Elizabeth and Micah have been happening while I've been studying Jeremiah 29, 1 Peter 2, and the book of Revelation - all at the same time.

Jeremiah 29 was for a sermon tomorrow and just when I am all hot and heavy about putting 'Jer 29-I know the plans I have for you-11' in its context back then and for people now, I discover the church has double-booked and my services will not be required... :) 1 Peter 2 is for a sermon at a conference in Malaysia next month. Although scholars (as far as I can tell) only ever see Jesus' light in 1 Peter 2.11-12, I am convinced that these two verses are light and salt remixed. Then as I prepare for Langham seminars in Asia next month, I am being reminded that Revelation has features in common with prophecy. For example, its symbols remain encrypted so that its relevance can have multiple fulfilments. Fulfilment works like climbing a range of mountains, not a single peak. There are lots of fulfilments, littler hopes, on the way to the higher and bigger hope - the glorious peak of Christ himself.

Jeremiah 29 is true for Mary. Let's stop being clumsy and cruel with verse 11. Let's place it within the eternal timeline with its supreme truth that 'we have been saved, we are saved, and we will be saved'. This is Mary's future and hope.

1 Peter 2.11-12 is true of Elizabeth. The life which intrigued for so long in Central Asia is now intriguing far more widely and will do so for much longer. This is because this life captured the tension in being salt and light: living a distinctive life with distinction right in there among those who do not believe.

There is even a hint of Revelation being true in Micah, together with his mum and dad. He is a little picture of hope fulfilled after hours of labour and weeks of discomfort. In that experience is glimpsed the big fact of history: there is something in the future which pulls us, and our world, through the present.

nice chatting


Saturday, May 05, 2012

smiley and laughey

After my grumps and glooms, I was watching the Footy Show out of Sydney (for the first time in years) with Barby last night and this segment appeared. May it bring you as many smiles and laughs as it has done for me - although that will be unlikely:
Cut and paste and split your sides with me.

And I might add that underneath the sporting humour this 5 minutes could benefit from some deeper cultural exegesis. In this smorgasbord of juvenile reflection on sport, politics, music, and media - there are all kinds of windows on the world:

1. beauty
[did I hear that the babies of celebrities are more beautiful than other babies?]

2. relationships
[did I hear a sharp conscience about cheating on girlfriends?]

3. media
[did I hear an ease in the recognition of tv shows and their personalities?]

4. culture
[did I hear a perception of cultural difference, starting with wrestling and burger size?]

5. power
[did I hear an expression of hatred towards a political leader?]

6. music
[did I hear a capacity to live within the narrative of contemporary music?]

7. community
[did I hear 'under-9s' being affirmed and valued by a distant generation?]

8. communication
[did I hear - and see - the value of image supplementing word?]

maybe you can hear even more...

nice chatting


Wednesday, May 02, 2012

grumpy and gloomy

Today I am a grumpy and gloomy sports fan. In a matter of days the transcendent Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls has gone down with a season-ending, maybe even career-slowing, knee injury ... and then, horror of horrors, New Zealand Cricket has let John Wright walk away from being the coach of the national side. I can't believe it.

In need of a cleansing cathartic flush, I thought I'd spread my grumps and glooms a little further and trawl the inner sports fan for more moans and groans and see if I can rid myself of the whole lot, all in one go. Here is a list of things that make me moan the most as a Kiwi sports fan (in no particular order):

1. So we have the Wellington Phoenix (soccer/football) - but why are the Warriors (rugby league) and the Breakers (basketball) described as New Zealand - rather than Auckland? Looking down the NRL table to find a bunch of Sydney suburbs followed by 'New Zealand' seems so odd to me. I think I know why it happens. So sensitive is everyone in NZ to the attitudes about Auckland that an effort is made to make these two teams to be 'teams for all New Zealand'. It doesn't work for me. [NB: this comment takes nothing away from back-to-back wins for the Breakers, the second time Penney-less - which not many would have predicted a year ago].

2. I enjoy following golf. Michael Campbell in the ascendency ten years ago was one of my great sporting delights. But why, oh why, are our male golfers - including Campbell - often so soft mentally? Time and time again they start a tournament well, and time and time again they fade in the final round. It is so frustrating. Some of them need an Ulmer-transplant, or a Devoy-bypass, or a Baker-retread. It is amazing how many of our solo female athletes have been just so mentally tough... Maybe Ryan Fox has the right genes!?

3. I've started watching a bit of the English Premier League from time to time. As my son said to me yesterday as we watched the Manchester Derby together, 'the commentators are like poets'. They are - they are wonderful to listen to. And across the Atlantic in the American sporting scene I am always so impressed by how much fresh and interesting information the commentators dredge up about players and statistics and the like. We don't seem to produce knowledgeable poets behind the microphone. Maybe we don't want them because they'll sound a bit smart for us - but I do miss them.

4. Speaking of the Premier League, it kinda annoys me that only four teams have won the trophy in twenty years. I know its popularity is staggering - I see it in every country in Asia. And in Africa they'll watch Chelsea vs Arsenal before Ivory Coast vs Cameroon. But it is a bit like the America's Cup in that it is the domain of the very wealthy and only the very wealthy can win it. I can't get too excited about that. They need a salary cap and keep a lid on things.

5. Speaking of the Premier League, one of the most intriguing aspects to follow is the promotion/relegation battle each year. When will NZ rugby embrace this fun fully? I suspect the smaller unions have far too much power and are too obstructive behind closed doors. And as soon as Super Rugby was introduced there was one too many layers of rugby in New Zealand. The provincial competition needed to become the new club rugby and then be energised by dramatic, cut-throat annual promotion/relegation battles.

6. As a basketball fan I have had to acknowledge that netball has some great qualities - but when will it embrace a true professionalism? The incessant whistle-blowing of the umpires, the tight non-contact rules which no longer seem to reflect the way the game is evolving, and the fitness of players all need an overhaul - not to mention the sensitivity to critique. The game has the potential to be a captivating Olympic sport, but please...

7. I am watching carefully, very carefully, to see how the NZ media and public handle Jacko Gill, this remarkable shot-putter, over the next ten years. The early fascination may be giving way to the 'tall poppy' syndrome, with a little bit of cutting him down to size and hanging him out to dry. We just are not good at nurturing this kind of talent without things going sour. But maybe this time will be different.

8. If the International Cricket Council is going to open up a window for the Indian Premier League (IPL) so that players can make their millions and India can show its power, please make the IPL a little more accountable to the good of the global game. One thing on which to insist is that the quota of overseas players in a team be lifted from 4 to 5 or 6, at least. If world cricket has to bend to this club competition in a single country, then lets have it contribute to the global game more fully.

Having said all that, I am not sure I feel much better!
As for John Wright and Derrick Rose - it sure was nice while it lasted.

nice chatting