Thursday, March 15, 2018

theology and church as an actor in development


One of my current projects involves responding to editorial reviewer comments on an article I’m writing on theological education and development. The article began as a paper I presented, with Phil King, at a conference on Christianity and Development between New Zealand and the Pacific in June 2016. I saw this as an opportunity to get to know the story of a key partner church and helping me think more wholistically about theological education in general.

Following the paper presentation, the spoken paper was turned into a written paper and submitted in May 2017. It is one thing to talk. It is another to set out your thoughts over 6,000 words as it tests the logic of an argument over an extended period. The written paper was accepted, subject to my responding satisfactorily to reviewer comments, for Sites Journal of social anthropology and cultural studies of the Pacific Region. It is scheduled for release in 2019. It will be good to be taking theology in an anthropology and cultural studies space.

Editorial review is a wonderful thing, for it ensures allows thinking to gain critical engagement. Horizons are broadened in terms of reading and as the forest is sifted from the trees. In responding to reviewer comments, I start by categorising them as major and minor. I then create a table, in order to note the work I need to do and provide an account to the editors of how I’m responding. Here is the table for this piece of work, as at 12 March.


So the last few weeks I have been working away. Here is some writing from today …

Helen Gardner (“Praying for Independence. The Presbyterian Church in the Decolonisation of Vanuatu,’ The Journal of Pacific History, 48:2, 2013, 122-143) argues that Presbyterianism is structured in ways that enhanced its ability to be an actor in development and decolonisation. A Presbyterian church is structured with a national assembly, regional presbyteries and local congregations and these result in a cohesive interwoven identity, encourage individual capacity building and ensure an alertness to context. An interwoven identity is possible, given the interplay between national, regional and local bodies. For Gardner, Presbyterianism is a way of organising that “transcended village and island boundaries … a political form that translated readily to the standards of contemporary democracy” (128). Each body (assembly, presbytery, congregation) has a shared governance group and these provide individuals with opportunities to develop administrative and political skills. The result was that ministers were able to play a significant role in a newly independent Vanuatu (Gardner, 142). An interwoven set of governance groupings enables grassroots voices to be heard. In Vanuatu this “allowed the [church] openly to back the call for independence, as decisions were made from the body of the church rather than imposed by a church hierarchy” (Gardner, 128).

Posted by steve at 10:07 AM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Divine moves – my 8th U2 publication

I’m delighted to welcome this into the world of academic scholarship and U2 studies …


U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher, edited by Scott Calhoun, in the Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music. The book has garnered some superb endorsements: “beautiful … smart … truly excellent … lively, provocative … wide-ranging, deep and thoughtful” from the likes of Clive Marsh, Head of Vaughan Centre, University of Leicester and Rupert Till, Professor of Music, University of Huddersfield. The book builds on existing work in U2 studies by examining U2 not only theologically, but in relation to the religious impulse, in particular in relation to sound, space and the affective experience of fans.

My chapter is titled “Divine Moves: Pneumatology as Passionate Participation in U2’s “Mysterious Ways.”” It began life at a Sarah Coakley symposium in 2010. The piece was re-worked based on feedback and then submitted for publication. It was affirmed by the editors but not accepted (apparently it messed with the purity perceived to be needed in the discipline of systematic theology). Then in 2015 there was a call for papers. In between, I had been reading Paul Fiddes Seeing the World and Knowing God: Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Late-Modern Context and that gave me the impetus to develop the Coakley/Mysterious ways/Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture thinking further (here was my initial abstract). I rate this chapter the most difficult but most satisfying piece of writing I’ve done in relation to U2. In the chapter, I engage extensively with two systematic theologians, Sarah Coakley and Paul Fiddes, in dialogue with the development of Mysterious Ways. This involves tracing album covers, video analysis, live performance and U2′s place-based relationship with Morocco.

In summary, I have argued MW is a performed pneumatology, a song in which the Divine is a Passionate Dancer, intimately involved in creation, inviting us to participate in the mystery of movements that reach, teach and move

To make this argument has required a movement in two directions. Musically, what is the song saying? I have argued that U2 have a visual pre-occupation in 1991 and a sonic pre-occupation in 2009. The visual pre-occupation is clear when the design of the covers’ of the Achtung Baby album and MW single is analysed in relation to the video of MW. It makes sense of the use of the belly dancer in the live performance of the ZooTV tour. The sonic pre-occupation is consistent with the fusions of Moroccan music, U2’s hopes in recording in Fez and the “let me in the sound” themes of the NLOTH album. U2’s sonic search makes sense of the re-interpretation of the live performance of MW in the 360 tour. Hence internal factors, including the location of artistic exploration (for MW in Fez), shape live performance. Given this visual, sonic and geographic analysis, MW can be interpreted musically as a reaching for the feminine and an embodied, immersive participation in a reaching for the other.

Theologically, I have argued that God is not male, remote and coercive. Rather God can be imaged as feminine – moving, reaching, teaching – inviting us to participate in immersive, embodied, ecstatic Divine life. The work of two contemporary theologians, Sarah Coakley and Paul Fiddes has been considered. Both understand God in Trinitarian terms, as three movements in which the Divine is passionate, self-giving love and participates in creation in ways that are ecstatic, sonic and participative. Considering U2’s live performances of MW on the ZooTV tour in conversation with Sarah Coakley allows us to see prayer as ecstatic participation in the Spirit. Considering U2’s live performances of MW on the 360 tour, can be interpreted as God in three movements – reach, teach, move – with and for creation. A theology of sound allows us to see the interplay between Divine and creation as a sonic atunement in which all of creation is invited to freely participate in multiple ways. This ensures Christian particularity, consistent with U2’s stated religious beliefs, while providing freedom in which varying degrees of incorporative participation, from any and all concert goers, is possible.

Hence theology provides a way to parse the complexities of U2 and religion, offering a set of analytical frames that clarify the development in U2’s performed pneumatology. Equally, what emerges is a quite a different place in which the mystery of religious experience can be located. Live performances at a rock concert become a “thin place” for Divine encounter and ecstatic experience an ideal way to encounter the Divine.

It is my 8th U2 related publication – made up of 5 book chapters from 5 different international publishers, along with 1 dictionary entry and 2 popular pieces. When I began academic writing, I would not have dreamed that I would be published in places like religion and popular music. But as a theologian of culture, a missiologist interested in life outside the church Western and a practical theologian with a commitment to embodiment in practices, it has become a rich and life-giving vein of inquiry.


“Saying no: U2’s response to the evils of the refugee crisis.” Zadok (in press).

“Divine Moves: Pneumatology as Passionate Participation in U2’s “Mysterious Ways”” U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher (Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music), edited by Scott Calhoun, Bloomsbury Press, 2018, 43-60.

“U2 Praying the Pattern of the Psalms in Paris.” Equip 30, 2017, 20-21.

“Let “us” in the sound: the transformative elements in U2′s live concert experience,” U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments (For the Record: Lexington Studies in Rock and Popular Music), edited by S Calhoun, Lexington Books, 2014, 105-121

“Public Lament,” Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament, edited by MJ Bier & T Bulkeley, Pickwick Publishers, 2013, 205-227, (co-authored with E. C Boase).

“Baptist Worship and Contemporary Culture: A New Zealand Case Study,” Interfaces. Baptists and Others: International Baptist Studies (Studies in Baptist History and Thought), edited by David Bebbington and Martin Sutherland, Paternoster, 2013, 292-307.

“U2,” Don’t Stop Believin’. Don’t Stop Believin’: Pop Culture and Religion from Ben-Hur to Zombies, edited by Craig Detweiler, Robert K. Johnston and Barry Taylor, Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, 125-127.

““Bullet the Blue Sky”: the evolving live concert performances,” Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 edited by Scott Calhoun, Scarecrow Press, 2011, 84-97.

Posted by steve at 10:13 AM | Comments (0)

Friday, February 23, 2018

research play in the inbetween spaces

Unknown I’ve had a rich, demanding, draining and playful 24 hours. It has involved 24 hours gazing out the window of the Business School at Auckland University, finding generative space in a conversation between social entrepreneurship and theology.

It began last year, when we at KCML piloted the Lighthouse, an educative weekend encouraging local churches in innovation. Funded by an external funder, the funders challenged us to draw on resources from outside the Presbyterian theological world. A number of conversations and networks over the next few months resulted in working with a lecturer from the Business School at Auckland University. As we began she challenged us: what does Christ-based innovation look like? What in Christian resources might encourage the making of all things new?

The result was a rich weekend, in which I worked through the 6 images of innovation in my Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration, while the lecturer introduced contemporary innovation practices liked the Innovation Canvas and Rituals of dissent. Participants loved it.

As the weekend concluded, we wondered aloud about doing some writing together. Hence the last 24 hours. Having listened to each other teach over a weekend last year, we met yesterday and began to toss around possibilities for publications. We searched the web for journals. We shared the things we had learnt:

  • could the social entrepreneurship of Joseph Schumpeter provide a way to understand the church as apostolic?
  • could Jesus as fool in 1 Corinthians 4 be read in light of the Biblical Wisdom literature as a way of encouraging resilience and risk-taking in social entrepreneurship?

We used the 40 paragraph technique, chose two different journals, one business, the other theological and began to map out what we might say. We had coffee and mindmapped. We challenged each other and made new connections. We shared journal articles and insights from previous writing.

We now both step away, to meet other commitments. Yet we have a clear map and enough structure to keep on writing. We are both working on our strengths and will need each other to ensure the interdisciplinary conversation continues.

It was rich, demanding, draining and playful. It is interdisciplinary, seeing what emerges in the inbetween spaces. It is a form of benchmarking – taking my speaking and exposing it to another academic, seeing what is making sense and what needs clarifying.

Posted by steve at 04:08 PM

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Re-weaving creation and redemption in light of Oceanic epistemologies


This project will examine the relationship between creation and redemption as they relate to the missio Dei.   This has particular relevance in Oceania, given the unique water-based geographies that shape history and epistemology. It also has global relevance, given that the Pacific Ocean is the planet’s beating heart and the Cartesian dualisms inherent in the European authors’ who in the twentieth century articulated the missio Dei.

The project will involve a bi-cultural partnership between two authors, one Maori, the other Pakeha New Zealand. Together they will read the Waitangi Tribunal 1999, Whanganui River Report (1999) to articulate how water is understood and consider the implications for Christian understandings of creation and redemption. This will foreground indigenous epistemological realities, in particular threads of ancestors and gift exchange.

The initial working proposal is that creation and redemption are woven together in multiple ways. Water is neither accident nor afterthought. It is the place where one is fully human, connected to ancestors and blessed through Divine gift exchange.  This allows the missio Dei to be located amid Oceanic realities, as a challenge to anthropocentric and individualised notions of missio Dei.

For a baptismal liturgy, that began this project see here.

Posted by steve at 11:44 AM

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Shape of Water: film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 135 plus films later, here is the review for February 2018.

The Shape of Water
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

The Shape of Water is an extraordinary movie, a splendid example of the power of visual storytelling. Director Guillermo del Toro is a master, and his attention to visual detail is exceptional. He has a history of exploring strange creatures (cue Pan’s Labyrinth) and Hollywood action (cue the Hellboy series). The Shape of Water merges both these genres, in a fantastical fairytale located in the dramatic realism of Cold War America.

Strong characterisation is used to develop both action and romance. A strange creature (Doug Jones as The Asset) is captured from a river in South America. For the military (Michael Shannon as Richard), the Asset is something strange needing to be killed. For the scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr Robert Hoffstetler), the Asset is something rare needing to be investigated. For a lonely cleaner (Sally Hawkins as Elisa), the Asset is something special, needing to be understood.

Elisa is mute, able to communicate only through sign. The Asset is not human, unable to communicate in words. The result is a number of extraordinary scenes, including one in which Elisa insists that her older friend (Richard Jenkins as Giles) give voice to her signing. It provides a profound reflection on the nature of communication, including our passion to be heard and our need of the other in the art of connection.

Another key scene in The Shape of Water involves Elisa tracing the fluid shape of water droplets on the window of a moving bus. Beautifully constructed, it brought to mind Maori understandings of water. Water is essential in Maori creation accounts. When Ranginui, the Sky Father and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother are separated, one sheds tears that are rain, the other cloaks herself in mist and weeps in springs and rivers. In other words, water is a sign of love. Together – rain from the sky as wai mangu and springs from the earth as wai ma – are wai rua, the spirit that animates all forms of life.

These Maori understandings echo the way water is depicted in The Shape of Water. The film opens and closes in water. Elisa is an orphan, found by a river, while water is essential to the life of The Asset. Water is a place of intimacy that fluidly connects love and life. This provides viewpoints in stark contrast to water as valuable only in support of industrialised farming or summer recreation.

A review of The Shape of Water is not complete without noting it is rated R16, with themes that are certainly adult. An essential dimension of Elisa’s loneliness is depicted in relation to sexual need, explored in a number of water scenes. Love is thus portrayed as highly sexualised, a search for bodily need and intimate communication. This co-mingling of water, life, love and people certainly provides a way to respect the compelling final plot twist, in which water animates the love between Elisa and The Asset. But it does raise questions regarding whether The Shape of Water accurately portrays the entirety of the shape of love.

Posted by steve at 09:34 AM

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

the beatitudes of waitangi day

Walking up the hill to our house yesterday evening, I composed a Waitangi Day grace:

Blessed are those who first said haere mai (welcome),
for with them was the grace of God

Blessed are the truth tellers of Te Tiriti,
for through them is the beginnings of change

Blessed are the meal makers,
for by them is the hospitality of God,

Blessed are strangers,
for in each is a waiting friend, Amen

I wrote this grace for a social event I was part of hosting on Waitangi Day, February 6, 2018. The evening involved entertaining around 30 KCML interns, staff and families. Many of those coming were arriving as strangers to each other – different year groups, overseas scholars and their families – and I wanted to name that reality, yet frame it as opportunity (Blessed are strangers, for in each is a waiting friend). The food was a Team Taylor effort and I wanted to express my gratitude to my family (Blessed are the meal makers, for by them is the hospitality of God). The meal was held on Waitangi Day and I wanted to connect our hospitality with what I have learnt from manaakitanga (hospitality) from Maori culture.

The couplet framing – Blessed … for – has a nod to the beatitudes of Matthew 5. It seemed fitting for a grace, connecting our gathering with the values and commitments of Jesus.

The couplet framing was also shaped by U2 and Kendrick Lamar and the spoken word cameo that ends U2′s recent release “Get Out Of Your Own Way.” I like the way it updates the beatitudes of Matthew 5, bringing in contemporary categories. “Blessed are the bullies/ For one day they will have to stand up to themselves…/ Blessed are the liars/ For the truth can be awkward.” LA Times call it a “short sermon“.

Glad of the song, enjoying the Songs Of Experience U2 album, I began to think about the contemporary categories if I was doing a Kendrick Lamar, but “blessing” not America, but New Zealand and the Waitangi celebrations. Hence the couplets about Maori as those who “first said haere mai” or welcome; and “the truth tellers of Te Tiriti” – those who speak for truth about the history of the Treaty signing.

Of course, U2 were contemporising the beatitudes of Matthew 5 before Kendrick Lamar was born (in 1987). Bono wrote “Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland)” when he travelled to Ethiopia after Live Aid (around 1986). The song was reworked and released in 2007 as part of the 20th anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree. The two lines of a couplet are evident “Blessed … for.” They are also contemporised, into those “meek who scratch in the dirt,” “the voice that speaks truth to power.” and “tin can cardboard slums.”

Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland) is a song I love – brooding, justice-focused – with a clever set of lyrics that reframe Ethiopia with the dignity of “ancient holy scrolls.” Again, an echo of my beatitudes of Waitangi Day, which sought to honour Maori as sovereign actors, extending to a visiting Captain Cook and so many subsequent migrants a welcome that for me speaks of the grace of God.

Posted by steve at 09:06 PM

A millennial stare: Zadok column

zadok I have been asked to be a regular columnist for an Australian magazine, Zadok. Having read my film reviews for Touchstone, they requested a 860 word column every 3 months. I see is as an opportunity to write a lay focused piece of theology. They are happy for me to blog the columns I write, which makes them accessible not only on paper in Australia but digitally for everywhere. Here is my second article, for the Summer 2018 edition:

A millennial stare
Steve Taylor

I am a dinosaur. It is a recent realisation. I attend a student church in which my wife provides pastoral leadership. Making a joke about 80s music, the blank stares of the young adults around me revealed the uniqueness that is my species of dinosaur. I am shaped by different music, and thus experiences, than those born around the turn of this millennium.

Generational theory gives voice to my blank stare experiences. Sociologist Karl Mannheim noted that age-related generations share a view of reality shaped by the times in which live. Hence we get Boomers born 1945-1961, Gen Xers born 1961-1980, and Gen Y and Gen Z, the two millennial groups, born 1980-1994 and 1995-2009 respectively. Hence the music woven through my teenage years means little to my student companions.

Douglas Coupland’s 1991 book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture shifted Mannheim’s academic work into the mainstream of popular culture. Coupland described the accelerated lives of young adults, who share with each other their experiences of popular culture in order to make their own lives worthwhile tales in the process. Generational theory presents challenges for mission and ministry. How do different generations form faith?

Not all are convinced. Some find the boundaries between an X and a Y artificial. Others argue that humans have more in common than in difference. While the sociologists and theorists argue, I remain a dinosaur, faced with blank stares and that nagging sense of cultural disconnect. What to do? How to connect with worldviews and cultures not our own?

The best way is to listen. We have two ears and one mouth for good reason. Jesus encouraged those who called themselves disciples to interpret the signs of the times. Christian faith involves listening to culture and culture change. For Reformed theologian Kevin Vanhoozer, the competent disciple must be able to read culture and doctrine (Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends (Cultural Exegesis), 2007). Theology is for Monday, not just Sunday, and so the church needs to be a community of competent cultural interpreters.

What are we to listen to? Alvin Gouldner (The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology: The Origins, Grammar, and Future of Ideology, 1976) coined the phrase ‘newspaper sociology’ to encourage a listening that includes the reading of popular culture. The signs of the times are found in cultural artifacts like newspapers, film and social media.

The blank stares of my millennial companions pushed me toward some ‘newspaper sociology’ at my local cinema. Recent millennial movie, The Big Sick, provided a way to listen. The movie tells the true-life story of Pakistani migrant Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and American post-graduate student Emily (Zoe Kazan) as they tumble into love. It is a window into the lives and values of twenty somethings in the United States.

Central to the millennials in this movie is technology. The relationship between Kumail and Emily is sparked by Uber, nurtured by text and matured through following on Facebook. When Emily falls sick, it is technology that enables Kumail to connect with her family. Emily might be speechless, but fingerprint recognition on her iPhone allows Kumail to email her family. Dinosaurs like me might pine for face-to-face, but, for these millennials, technology is an extension of being human.

Participation shifts. Community in Big Sick is built not through the regularity of shared friendships but through events, in this case evenings of entertainment at the local stand-up comedy club. Building community occurs in the moment rather than through planned and systematic relationships.

In the secular West, religion remains. However, it is present, not in the life of American student Emily, but through the Islamic practises of Kumail and his family. Yet even here the practice of faith formation is being challenged by Western individualism. Kumail’s parents think he has retreated to pray in the downstairs basement. In reality, he spends his time practising cricket and watching YouTube videos. The interplay of faith and culture is angrily challenged. ‘Why did you bring me to America, if you wanted me to marry a Muslim?’, Kumail asks his disappointed parents.

So what does this mean for my experiences of being a dinosaur? Seeking clarity, I realised I needed to enrich my ‘newspaper sociology’ with empirical research. Ruth Perrin, in The Bible Reading of Young Evangelicals: An Exploration of the Ordinary Hermeneutics and Faith of Generation Y (2016), wanted to know how ordinary millennials are actually forming faith. She provided groups of millennials with Bible texts and watched how they engaged with the supernatural and with Divinely sanctioned violence.

The results of her research provided me with an observation, an affirmation and a gift. Perrin observed an ever-extending season of faith formation. The twenty somethings are now taking a decade to engage in genuine exploration. As is evident in Kumail’s challenge to his parents, there is intense questioning and an eclectic gathering of ideas from diverse sources. Perrin affirmed the value of consistent Biblical teaching ministry but only in environments that encourage exploration and value authenticity.

It makes those blank stares of the young adults around me an important gift. Different generations offer invitations to enter worlds we do not know. In doing so, we will encounter important questions. Is my faith more than a cultural overhang? How does a God of love square with the violence and patriarchy of the Christian past? Faced with the blanks stares of a millennial generation, I can tiptoe back to the safe ground of easy hallelujahs. Or I can see the millennial stare for what it is: the future of a questioning faith.

Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership in Dunedin, New Zealand, and author of Built for Change. He writes widely on theology and popular culture at

Posted by steve at 01:30 PM

Monday, February 05, 2018

Anna, Simeon and the mission of the church (at Candlemas)

February 2nd in the lectionary is a Feast day in the church; when Jesus is presented at the temple. The Bible text is Luke 22:22-40. In terms of speaking parts, the main characters are Anna and Simeon. They are presented in the Bible text as elderly. So today, in our intercession, we pray for elderly.

God our friend, we give
Thanks for the elderly, for those in our family photo album who are going before us in time
Thanks for our parents and grandparents, those we know who have gone before us.
Thanks for those in our congregations and placements who are Anna and Simeon, who are elderly.

We name the reality of aging. We name the losses that can be physical, psychological, spiritual, financial, social and of autonomy. In every loss is grief and so we pray for grace. For space to name the changes and honestly confess the reality.

In every loss is an invitation to change and so we pray for grace to be adaptable, to find God in the process of aging, to trace the grace of God’s presence in every day, in every breath, in every memory. In the way we pause with examen and seek your grace in our day, we pray that aging may be a step into the examen of a lifetime, and so an experience of grace, mercy and new hope.

Thanks for those who care for the elderly, who provide meals, who offer medical advice, we pray. We ask for good humour, for people centred care.

For policy makers, making decisions about New Zealand future, setting codes of practice for care, we pray for wisdom;
For the medical decisions that surround ageing we pray for wisdom, for listening ears, for full disclosure;
For those wrestling with decisions about the types of care of retirement homes, we pray for wisdom;
For those experiencing dementia and those watching people experience dementia, we pray for ability to find faith in a God who holds all memories.

Erik Erikson calls this stage of life a journey into an age of integrity. In that sense we give thanks for Anna and Simeon, for their integrity as they waited in the temple, for their commitment to prayer, for their willingness to hope, for their ability to let go and trust the future to another generation.

We ask that grace for the elderly.

We ask that grace for the church. We have many congregations entering this age of integrity. We pray that like Anna and Simeon, they would have a commitment to prayer, a willingness to hope and an ability let go and trust the future – of their church, of their denominational identity, of their buildings, of their polity structures – to another generation.

And so we pray for ourselves, that like Jesus in the temple, we will commit ourselves in this internship, to increase in wisdom, and in favour with God and in our intern placements.


Posted by steve at 09:39 PM


(part of a work project I’m playing with)


During Lent 2018, KCML is offering (free) web-inars. Weekly, two of the contributors to Snapshots in Mission will be interviewed via online video conferencing.

  • What sparked their writing?
  • What piece of music speaks to their article? What are the implications, for church, ministry and mission?

There will be time for Q and A, using video conferencing technology. Thursday’s (February 22; March 1, 8, 15, 2018, 4:30-5:15 pm). Attend one. Attend them all. Learn how to link to the Lent-inar by emailing

Posted by steve at 09:11 AM

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

word craft

writing-1-1314626-639x477 Intensives are intense. Running from morning to evening, from 8:30 am to 4 pm, stacked day after day, a lot of information and experiences are pushed together. One way people process is through group discussion and lecturer interaction. But there are other ways. In the intensive I co-taught last week, Church in Mission, I decided to explore processing through writing.

In the programme, I set aside 55 minutes each morning. Before the intensive started I wrote, asking students to come prepared to write. If they wrote by hand, then bring pen and paper. If they wrote by laptop or Ipad, bring that.

Writing is a “practice of care” (Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for getting published, 4). It is a major way by which knowledge is shared. Words written emerge from the internal work we do. Hence writing is a spiritual practice, that invites us to attend to self-awareness, our passions and vulnerabilities.

However, while writing is an essential skill, it tends to be taught informally. I did not receive any formal advice on writing during any of my undergraduate or postgraduate degree training. So over the last few year, wanting to take writing as communication seriously, I have read, reflected and refined my writing. The results have been encouraging. Last year I wrote 8 academic pieces (4 book chapters and 4 journal articles) and 9 industry focused pieces (plus my annual 11 film reviews for Touchstone). So I was keen to see what would happen in a class if given space to write.

Each morning of the intensive last week, I offered a few minutes teaching on writing skills. On Tuesday, warm up exercises; on Wednesday, writing habits, on Thursday, tiny texts; on Friday, structures. These were drawn from sources like Pat Thomson, Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for getting published and Helen Sword Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write and Stylish Academic Writing.

Then I simply invited people to write, whether to summarise the course in preparation for the first assignment or to report to their church leadership on learnings from the week of study leave.

The quiet tap of keyboard and scratch of pen enveloped the class.

As the writing time drew to a close, I invited folk to do two things. First, to count the number of words. Second, to note a few dot points of what they would do next. So that come the next morning, after a few more writing tips, they could climb back into the keyboard tap and pen scratch.

The first morning, in trying to framing why we might do this, I asked folk to brainstorm the forms of writing they might be expected to do in their ministerial context. The list was extensive and together we realised the value of writing, and the need to think about and practise together the skill of writing.

Feedback from participants was very positive, with writing mentioned every day in the daily debrief and in written class evaluations at weeks’ end.


Posted by steve at 08:01 PM

Monday, January 29, 2018

tiny text of Church in Mission: Theology in Changing Cultures

A tiny text is a miniature version of the whole. It has been applied to academic work by Pat Thomson. So here is a tiny text, a summary of what I was trying to do in Church in Mission: Theology in Changing Cultures, the week long intensive I taught last week for University of Otago/Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership (in partnership with Doug Gay) . I offered it to students as the course progressed and as I challenged myself: could I, in around 350 words, summarise the week of teaching, including linking to assignments, course learning outcomes and each of the course readings.

globe-trotter-1-1531337-640x480 Mission can be defined as joining what God is up to in the world. This human response emerges from the conviction that God sends the Son and Spirit. Humans partner with God, including in resistance of evil, the making of all things new and expressing God’s life in the indigenous particularity of local contexts.

This understanding of mission defines the church as willing to be sent beyond existing locations into liminal spaces; to pay attention to contexts; and to participate in discerning the patterning of God’s movement. However, the sheer complexity of our global world suggests that no one size fits all. Further, the ongoing unfolding of our cultural contexts requires us to listen afresh to context and to respond appropriately in change.

Analysis of history, for example in Classic Texts in Mission and World Christianity, enables a global and in-depth understanding of the resources of the Christian tradition (Assignment 1). One way to categorise the range of church responses is using the headings of resistance, innovation and indigeneity. Because of the unique relationship between theology and culture, each of these responses will have strengths and weaknesses.

As we learn from the past, we gain insight for the present. We can understand the present as we engage in mapping cultural hermeneutics: listening to the cultural complexity of New Zealand today, including at micro, meso and macro levels (Assignment 2). Mapping is then followed by discerning which of the responses – resistance, innovation and indigeneity – the church might adopt. The re-forming that results is part of the churches ongoing participation in the unfolding mission of God (Assignment 3).

Hence the three assignments will demonstrate a theologically rigorous and culturally informed understanding of re-forming Christian communal identity: past and future. The three assignments will bring together perspectives of global theology (Classic Texts in Mission and World Christianity), contemporary cultures (mapping cultural hermeneutics) and ecclesial study of resistance, innovation and indigeneity in a critical and constructive dialogue.

Posted by steve at 09:42 AM

Monday, January 15, 2018

Where does mission come from? The genealogy of Jesus as deep mission

ajms Delighted to have an article published in the Australian Journal of Mission Studies December 2017, Volume 11, 2, 28-35. Titled – Where does mission come from? The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 as deep mission it notes first that we inhabit a geographic region in which for many cultures, genealogy is essential to knowledge and second the absence of genealogy in the work of missiologists like David Bosch and Chris Wright. Given that the gospel of Matthew begins the story of Jesus with genealogy, what are the implications for mission?

We work in a region of the world in which for many cultures, genealogy is essential to knowledge. Given that Matthew begins the story of Jesus with a genealogy, I have considered the genealogy of Jesus as a starting point for mission. I began by noting the absence of the genealogy of Matthew 1 in contemporary Western missiology. Three important contemporary missiology texts make claim that Matthew 1 is important in the mission of God. Yet the genealogy garners little attention: gaining a minimal mention in David Bosch (Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission) and Chris Wright (The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative) and none in Senior and Stuhlmueller (The Biblical Foundations for Mission). None of the three missiology texts show an appreciation of genealogy as genre or consider the way that genealogy might function as a distinct and important approach to epistemology and identity.

However, when indigenous understandings are applied to Matthew 1, the missiology of the genealogy acquires great significant. Two indigenous texts were examined, one located in Aotearoa New Zealand, the other in Australia. Both stress that for indigenous cultures, knowledge must be located in relationship to ancient memory. One (Tangata Whenua: A History), provides a mechanism, that of genealogy. Genealogy provides knowledge that is worthy of respect as it functions in ways that are replicable, rigorous and reproducible. The other (“Mission in the Great South Land” in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific), provides an invitation to value deep memory. It also provides an intercultural hermeneutic, in which the knowing of deep memory is parsed into beliefs, values and modes of teaching. This provides a further set of rich insights into genealogy; that the genre invites modes of teaching that are replicable, rigorous and reproducible; that the genre communicates beliefs and values worthy of deep respect. Thus indigenous scholarship offers a rich set of resources by which to approach the genealogy of Matthew 1.

This insight has been tested in practice, in teaching on mission in one indigenous context. This teaching demonstrated the vitality of the genealogy of Matthew in framing mission as an ancestor story, a structured transmission in which God as the primary actor is weaving ordinary and indigenous people into the Messiah’s story. It is time that indigenous scholarship, in particular the role of genealogy in structuring knowledge and affirming deep mission, is respected in both the theory and practice of mission.

Posted by steve at 02:40 PM

Thursday, December 21, 2017

learning with Doug Gay: Church in Mission summer intensive

dougrecording Doug Gay is in New Zealand for a summer intensive – Church in Mission: Theology in Changing Cultures. A Kiwi summer has many attractions, so why am I spending a week of it with Doug?

First, Doug has a gift for liturgy. I use one of Doug’s recent calls to worship with our KCML interns . Tasked with a call to worship for the induction of an artist as a pioneer minister.

Doug brilliantly framed theologies of reformation with a missional trajectories. Beautifully word-smithed, theologically rich, I use it with interns to consider how historic theologies are reforming, shaping future vision.

Seccond, experience in innovation. Doug was part of pioneering one of the first alternative worship communities, the Late Late Service in Glasgow. This was in the 1990′s. There were very few maps, certainly no emerging church and fresh expression books. Here is their Christmas service, televised live on Channel 5.

Doug then moved to London, and as a United Reformed Church minister, was part of birthing Host, exploring alternative worship in Hackney, north London.

Third, Doug is a fine public theologian. He completed his PhD in public theology at the University of Edinburgh and has written on national identity and Christian faith. In 2017, he gave the Chalmers lectures. They were described by Jason Goroncy as “informed, intelligent, lucid, timely, and hope-filled challenge not only to Scottish Presbyterianism (the prime focus of his reflections) but also to the wider church.” They have become a book, Reforming the Kirk, with St Andres Press.

Fourth, he’s a respected preacher, tag preaching in 2016 at Greenbelt with Nadia Bolz-Weber, and presenting at the sold-out Festival of Preaching in Oxford, UK in 2017.

Fifth, he is himself a gifted musician. He’s recently returned to the studio to record, a sign of a wellspring of creativity.

Creativity, worship, public theology, preaching and music. Worth a week inside, no matter how good the summer!

The intensive runs 22-26 January, 2018. Titled Church in Mission: Theology in Changing Cultures, co-taught by myself and Doug, it is a joint offering by the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Otago, and the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership.

The course can be undertaken in two way:
• for credit through the Department of Theology and Religion at University Otago course costs. For further details on this option contact Paul Trebilco, Department of Theology and Religion or 03 4798 798.

• for audit student by contacting the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. This will cost $500, with further Ministers Study Grant subsidies available for PCANZ ministers. For further details on this option : The Registrar, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership;; 03 473 0783.

The course can be undertaken in two locations:
• In Dunedin, at the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, with Doug and Steve face-to-face and a face-to-face tutor to provide interaction and contextual reflection

• In Auckland, with Doug and Steve streamed in via video and a face-to-face tutor to provide interaction and contextual reflection

Posted by steve at 10:18 PM

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

translation and cultural change: the impact of Scripture for a church in mission

jerome Jerome (347 – 420) was a priest, theologian and Bible translator. A Doctor of the Church, he is best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin. But not without conflict.

Translation threatens existing patterns. It causes conflict. When the new translation is read: “A great uproar ensued in the congregation.” (White (ed), The correspondence (394-419) between Jerome and Augustine of Hippo, 92-3). That which was familiar was now different. The church leaders are asked to intervene. Scripture is causing conflict.

Lawrence Venuti, a professional translator, uses this as an example in arguing that “a translation practice cannot fail to produce a text that is a potential source of cultural change.” (The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference, 87).

Translation of Scripture was challenging the church. It was disrupted what was familiar. It was raising questions about the location of authority. Is it in the familiarity of tradition or the pages of Scripture? Should the scholar or the bishop be making these decisions? In a church with different cultural identities, some Greek, some Latin, any use of languages from another culture challenged power. So how did Jerome bring about change? In the midst of conflict, what strategies did he use to change what was familiar and precious?

Venuti describes four change strategies (The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference, 80-1). First, Jerome took time to explain. His translations include a preface, in which he outlined what he was doing. Second, he listened to the objections. He noted the fears, including the impact on stability, uniformity and cultural identity. Third, Jerome offered a new way of looking. He framed his translation not as a replacement but as a supplement. It would aid in the tasks of understanding Scripture. It would protect the church from accusations of ignorance. “Jerome’s version was thus presented as an institutional support, assisting in … debates with the members of a rival religious institution … who cast doubt on the cultural authority of Christianity.” (The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference, 80). Fourth, he found resilience in his heart for mission. Jerome began to translate because he was part of “a culture in which sensitivity to a foreign language was an integral element.” (Kamesar, Jerome, Greek Scholarship, and the Hebrew Bible: A Study of the Quaestiones Hebraicae in Genesim (Oxford Classical Monographs), 43). Jerome’s awareness of his cultural context, when combined with his desire to offer credible Christian witness, motivated his work.

Translation of Scripture brings cultural change. It can disrupt existing hierarchies and challenge established authorities. This is evident in the translation of the Scripture into Latin. This change happens because Jerome is skilled not only technically, in translation. He also shows skill in innovation. He brings about cultural change as he listens, explains, frames and nurtures his resilience.

Christian art represents the Spirit, whispering to Jerome as he works. It suggests the inspiration of God. This inspiration originates in mission, the gospel’s inherent translatability across cultures. Inspiration occurs for Jerome not only in the hard graft and technical skill of translation. It also occurs in the skills of bringing cultural change, of listening, framing and being resilient in and through conflict.

Posted by steve at 10:28 AM