Tuesday, February 27, 2007

can all deeds lead to eternal life

“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

This exchange between Jesus and a lawyer (Luke 10:25-27) should initially trouble those who believe in the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ. Consider that in this exchange, eternal life is defined as loving God and loving neighbour. It is a fusion of two Old Testament texts; Dueteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. So on this basis surely a good Jew who follows the Old Testament gains eternal life. And perhaps a good Muslim, who follows God as Allah and enacts charity? And perhaps numbers of my friends, who tend to their own spirituality, often outside the established church, and live generously toward their neighbours. (And often more generously than many churchgoers.)

My ability to seek both a generous orthodoxy and a conviction of the uniqueness of Jesus has, in recent months, been greatly helped by the following quote from Julian of Norwich.

“the atonement is necessary because without it we would only have our own judgements to rely on, and we are notoriously bad at judging both ourselves and others. In the passion, Christ … has shown us that we must trust God’s judgements more than our own … and this teaches us to love God graciously”

The quote reminds me that salvation in Christ includes an objective reality outside our own frames of reference. Jesus teaches us what love of God and neighbour is like. In the face of the uniqueness of Christ, I can only say “God in Jesus, please teach me to love and be loved.” In this cry for help, I enter into the love of the Triune God. My actions become God-filled, an extension not of my own efforts, but of the love of Christ. In the Triune God, I love God and neighbour. I can affirm a generous orthodoxy empowered by the uniqueness of Christ.

Posted by steve at 03:15 PM

Sunday, February 25, 2007

would Jesus carry a tract?

Excerpt from Sunday sermon:
Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher what do I need to do to get eternal life?” Luke 10:25.

And what does Jesus do? Does he pull out a tract from his back pocket


Posted by steve at 04:57 PM

Friday, February 23, 2007

Reel spirituality

I read this to start my Reel spirituality class at BCNZ last nite. It was a great night. I’d forgotten how much I loved teaching this class in 2005:

I have a secret. It is deeply personal, so please treat it with respect. This is my secret: God speaks to me in the dark. With my eyes wide open.

I am talking of course, about movie watching. My secret is that my spirituality has been profoundly shaped by movie moments, including the ending of The Matrix and the honesty of The Interpreter.

And I am not alone. While historically many Christians grew up thinking film was bad, the reality is quite the opposite. Movies today are an essential vehicle for the formation of spiritual and cultural identity.

In fact, if the apostle Paul were to wander our cities today, I have a hunch he would stop outside our movie cinemas. He would point at the latest movie blockbuster. Just like in Athens (Acts 17), he would applaud the box office for taking religion seriously.

Movies are a mirror on contemporary culture. If Paul took the time to read his culture’s poetry, then Christians today should take movie going seriously. And I am not only talking about The Passion of the Christ or The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe.

The task of being a Christian has always been a conversation between faith and culture, between our stories and God’s story. The apostle Paul had developed the skills to engage the spirituality of his culture. Can we?

“Who are we?” is the question being asked by movies like Sione’s Wedding. “What is wrong?” is the question being asked by Crash or Out of the Blue. “Is there a remedy?” is the question being asked by Shawshank Redemption, The Interpreter or The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

(A piece that I wrote for CS Arts and Touchstone back in December06).

Posted by steve at 09:22 PM

Thursday, February 22, 2007

celebrity pastor match: taylor and tamaki

A few weeks ago I was phoned and interviewed by a Christian newspaper about people leaving the church. The article has now appeared. I get the first 2 paragraphs, and am then juxtaposed against TV info-gospel-man Brian Tamaki.

Taylor: “The worst thing we can do is call these people backsliders. It is not the function of the Church to draw these ones back into fellowship, but it is our responsibility to support them.”

Tamaki: “There is no room for the belief that you can be believers outside the Church… How can I watch over them as a pastor if they are not connected to the church? They have no accountability and are susceptible to mistaken versions of the Christian doctrine. They are like lost sheep and we need to have a sense of inclusion, to welcome them back if possible.”

Taylor is very happy to be quoted and juxtaposed against Tamaki (The full article is here).

A Scriptural reflection
The parable of the “searching shepherd” (a better name than Lost Sheep) occurs in two places in Scripture: In Matthew 18:12-14 it is in the context of searching for little ones, those who are struggling because of the actions of Christians believers. In Luke 15:1-7 it is told in the context of the prostitutes and sinners that hang around Jesus. Luke seems more outward focused on the oft-called “non-churched”, Matthew seems more focused on the “dechurched.” Both groups receive the care and support of the searching shepherd.

Practically, at Opawa we support and celebrate a group called Spirited Exchanges, which meets monthly and aims to provide a support for people struggling with church. We also work hard at providing spiritual resources (for example, Lent and Advent art postcards) so that people can be nurtured without having to turn up at church.

Place of technology in our contemporary landscape
The article caused me to ponder the place of technology in our contemporary Christian-scape. Here is a quote from an Ian and Phyllis Ford,who pastorally visit people who feel called out of the structured Church.

“I met a woman in the South Island who had been out of church for seven years, but she radiated Christ,” said Mr Ford. “You can’t tell me it’s impossible to grow in God outside the Sunday church.” He said many people he visited used Radio Rhema’s Word for Today devotional and DVDs to get their spiritual feeding.”

Help me with the logic here: So if you are visited pastorally by a pastor and attend church where you get input from a sermons … you are churched.

But if you are visited pastorally by Mr Ford and get input via sermon on DVD … you are unchurched?

Which leads to a multi-choice quiz for you to answer:
Are the resources of Christian radio being used to
a) sustain believers
b) keep the body of Christ isolated and fragmented
c) both
d) another option.

I wonder if we are seeing the use of technology to liberate practices – sermon listening – from a local, embedded community. 80 years ago you had no DVD and no Christian radio in TV, so was it much harder to survive outside a local, embedded church community? I wonder what the long-term place of embedded relationships will be in our increasingly technology-saturated world. I wonder if Rhema, when it was founded, would have been happy to see their resources used in this way. I wonder, when Steve Taylor produces Lenten and Advent resources, if he is happy to be used in this way?

Thirdly: the practise of a individualised faith
What is the place of the practise of an individualised faith (whether sustaining by lighting a candle in a cathedral or reading blogs or listening to Christian radio or TV), in a Christian understanding of God as Triune and relational? and for being church (ecclesiology)?

Posted by steve at 11:05 AM

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

lenten resources

Some excellent Lenten resources floating around. Cityside Baptist are offering a digital prayer and art-making process.
desertfiles250.jpg Go to their website and you face four choices – a theme, a media, a prayer path, and a recording process. Resources are offered daily, including a Friday special in the form of a creative, lateral stimulus. A digital way of letting people individually create art and engage in prayer through the whole of Lent. Excellent.

Lenten 7-pack; practice1at250.jpg at Opawa (and other participating churches).

Urban seed have 40 creative readings in an attractive, wallet-sized format.

I have blogged in previous years about the personal Lenten value I have gained from 40x196.gif Si Smith’s “40“. It’s a CD-Rom with a visual reflection on each of Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness. It can be used for contemplating an image a day for individual preparation; it could be used as one of a number of worship stations; it could be used as a visual meditation in a more established church setting. (There’s an e-interview with the creator here, and again, antipodean’s can buy it from the future church nz website.

detox cover.jpg Peter Graystone’s Detox your spiritual life in 40 days is a great travelling companion. Aimed at 20’s-30’s, it’s a helpful mix of readings and action steps for each day of Lent. (And great to see that it is coming out in the US, as I have been asked to provide a review for promotional purposes).

lentscifi.jpg A few years ago I used Richard Burridge’s Faith Odyssey; 40 readings that use science fiction to engage the Lenten themes.

Posted by steve at 08:22 PM

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

out of the blue film review

Here is my latest film review; of the New Zealand film Out of the Blue.

This is the conclusion:
“Out of the Blue” proclaims that there is more to the New Zealand film industry than special effects at Weta Studios. We have Kiwi filmmakers who can tell our stories with style and maturity … Such questions allow the Kiwi story of Aramoana to become a universal story. It allows us to move beyond a well-made docu-drama of courage under fire, to begin to ponder the moral and ethical questions of being human in a society full of metal things “well made.” more.

My other film reviews include;
Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada; Inconvenient Truth; Over the Hedge; The Da Vinci Code here; Siones Wedding here; Praire Home Companion here; Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Mans Chest here; River Queen here; Brokeback Mountain here; Narnia here; Serenity here; The World’s Fastest Indian here; Sedition, a New Zealand film about the fate of conscientious objectors in World War 2, here; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, here

Further film resources:
Film as a point of gospel engagement (PDF).
Film and spirituality web resources.
Why gospel and film?

Posted by steve at 04:23 PM

Monday, February 19, 2007

digestion with choice

di•ges•tion n.
1. The process by which food is converted into substances that can be absorbed and assimilated by the body. It is accomplished in the alimentary canal by the mechanical and enzymatic breakdown of food.
2. Assimilation of ideas or information; understanding.
3. The name of our Sunday evening church service, where we try to “digest/assimilate” following Jesus today.

On Sunday we made a number of changes; and offered Digestion with choice. It involved tightening up what we consider the core tasks of worship; making them shorter and sharper; and then offering options, allowing people to choose the most helpful form of “digestion” for them. In other words…

We start, all together, for about 40 minutes to …
GATHER as a people of God
GIVE in offerings and prayer for the world
HEAR the HOT TEXT of someone’s favourite Bible verse and how it fits into God’s big story
LISTEN to a Scriptural passage – short – sharp – ending with 2 questions (for talkback – see below).
CONNECT through notices

People were then offered a choice: over about 40 minutes they could choose. So on Sunday we offered 3 choices:
TALKBACK; to discuss the Biblical text with preacher, on the sofas in the foyer; a chance to address either of the 2 discussion questions, or any other, in a relaxed setting. Requires no preparation from the preacher (other than usual exegesis), just a willingness to dialogue and some ability to keep a discussion on track. The image is that of radio talkback.
WORSHIP in song: in the auditorium
REFLECTIVE SPACE: for this Sunday the reflective space involved a computer; with continous looping visuals and a 6 minute meditation (words and ambient track). The use of headphones allowed a person to be alone with God.

(Other options we have brainstormed as possible CHOICES for other evenings include communion, serving practically in the community, creative response, labyrinth).

Finishing with supper round 8:15pm. A person walks around each option; offering a benediction to those gathered, and informing them of the location for supper.

Why? After 3 years of Digestion we are recognising that it attracts children, young teens, teenagers, students, workers. So rather than force all ages into a discussion, or a creative response, or singing, why not give them some choice? It also recognises that people digest in different ways and in different rates. It also possibly invites people to be more adult about what they need to digest.

I will keep you updated on how it goes.

Posted by steve at 10:18 AM

Saturday, February 17, 2007

a local church bobbing in a heavy sea

I had a fascinating phone conversation with Bernard Walker, from the School of Organisational Leadership and Development at the University of Canterbury. He had been reading my Out of bounds church? book and was making some fascinating connections with current issues facing industrial relations and labour unions. He was after a book reading list for a post-graduate research project, looking for parallels between the literature regarding church involvement and that regarding union membership. It was a most stimulating conversation that I have continued to ponder.

It is easy to get locked into the local church and to then judge mission effectiveness by the rise and fall of a local community. Yet the local church bobs on a cultural sea. Issues, for example, about membership and belonging and commitment and busy life and time-styles are not just local church issues, but are part of larger cultural currents. We ignore these currents at our own peril.

For all of the alarm in Christian literature about the decline of the church, their is as much, if not more alarm, in other voluntary sectors. (Rugby clubs, unions, political party membership lists being just three examples). In fact, some of the emerging church thinking might actually be of help to the future of other groups in society.

And vice versa, for the health of Christianity, we need to be part of inter-disciplinary conversations, talking to other groups in society, learning together.

Posted by steve at 01:31 PM

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Theological education 2.0

There is a lot of talk about Web 2.0; that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users. I have just written the following for the Course Outline of a new course I am pioneering this year: Missional Church Leadership:

This is designed to keep you in context. In other words, you read not for class, but for your missional context. At the same time, the use of on-line community and tutor engagement is designed to encourage you and give you a sense of being part of a learning community even while engaged locally.

Missional church is about the future of God among the people of God. And since course design must follow course theology, that means you can never teach missional church as a theory or set of ideas. Rather, you must allow learners to pay attention to the work of God among the people of God.

The missional church leadership course also arose because I had pastors saying to me: “Steve, how do we put these missional ideas into practice.” So the first draft of the course, starting next week, is as follows:

a : name a context: (defined broadly as a place that a person can regularly return to, listen among and start to imagine God’s future). This could include a work place, a community ministry, a local café or regular social gathering. It could equally include existing student fieldwork or recognized church ministry

b : gather monthly: we will gather around a set of practices, to hear what each other are learning, and to receive input and coaching. This places people in an accountability group and ensures we learn from each other and the gathering is shaped by what we each bring and contribute. This is not a conference or lecture, but a year of habit building. We will physically move these gatherings out of the classroom and around each participant’s context.

c : read in context: people will read in their context and name their learning using e-technology. Reading is thus grounded, yet a person remains in a collaborative learning relationship as the lecturer/tutor gives them feedback. (The next step will involve making this learning public and allowing other groups, on the same journey, to interact together. So my dream would be run this course in say Christchurch, Melbourne and South Auckland at the same time. Participants are in context, yet part of a collobarative enviroment.)

d : projects : two major projects include firstly, listening in context, asking students to identify the narratives of God at work and secondly, to name an action project that cultivates the missional imagination in their context. These projects will be shared with the group, for feedback and learning.

So I wondered as I worked and typed, is this a step toward Theological Education 2.0?

Posted by steve at 02:01 PM

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

christmas journey in the news

christmas journey2006at300.jpg

The 06 Christmas Journey, run by Peter and Joyce Majendie and Opawa Baptist and supporters, is making the printed press this month; an article in the February New Zealand Baptist and an article written by Jonny Baker (full article is on his blog), which appears in the Church Times (UK). I have suggested to Jonny that he should get Pete over to Greenbelt to do his containers and run a seminar on “Church outside the box.”

For more on the Christmas Journey: go here for Christmas 05; some missiology here; New Zealand Listener article here; photos of Christmas Journey 04 here.

I also have a DVD; 4 hours of Pete and Joyce Majendie explaining the whole installation process from start to finish. Drop me a line if you want some resourcing input in doing some art outside the church in your community.

Posted by steve at 09:39 AM

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Lenten resource: together or separate


The Lenten 7 pack went to the printers today. They look absolutely grand; 7 handdrawn images + 7 Biblical texts (following the journey of Jesus toward Jerusalem) + 7 practices + 7 questions, each on a wallet-sized card, to be carried by people out of church and into work and play.

(We are also producing accompanying study guides to allow small group and study group interaction. We have 3 other church groups partnering with us, so it’s nice to be resourcing in this way).

Now here is today’s question: Do we give all 7 out at once? Or, do we give them out week by week?

All at once suits when people are away, eg on weekends, but takes away the element of anticipation and makes it easier to peak and rush head, rather than savour each week. What do we do? Pros and cons please …

Posted by steve at 07:31 PM

questions for an absent friend

On this your 23rd birthday:

where are you?
are you wiser?
is your view of God’s Kingdom larger?
does your car go?
does your music sustain your life-gift?

Posted by steve at 11:38 AM

Sunday, February 11, 2007

the gospel according to the treaty of waitangi

This week, on Tuesday, New Zealand celebrated Waitangi Day as a public holiday. Some of you would have slept in and gone to the beach. Others of you would have had a barbeque and caught up with friends. Or watched the cricket as New Zealand lost to England.

Waitangi Day honours the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, in 1840, at Waitangi, in the Bay of Islands. It is a very moving, almost spiritual, place, an invitation to consider what it might mean for humans to show hospitality to strangers, to practise justice, and for diverse cultures to be one people.

The Treaty of Waitangi, when leaders of two peoples, Maori and Pakeha, negotiating a way to live as one people. Which sounds just like the gospel of Jesus, according to Ephesians.


Posted by steve at 10:22 PM

Thursday, February 08, 2007

the place of emerging church in theology, critique and seminary

I am in Auckland for the next 24 hours, delivering a paper at a Bible College of New Zealand Curricular Conference. I have been asked to speak to the topic: how to express emerging church in a seminary curriculum.

In my paper I attempt the following:
a) to define the emerging church. I use Luke 10:1-12 to highlight themes of missiology and contextualisation.
b) to outline a model which integrates context, Biblical text and community mission action.
c) to apply this to three papers I teach – Emerging Church; Missional Church Leadership and Gospel in a post-Christian Society – explaining how and why I teach and reflect the way I do.

The paper, if you are interested, is here (208KB). It might be of interest to anyone wanting to critically engage with the emerging church and to those teaching in seminaries.

Posted by steve at 09:55 AM