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Number 68, April 2016 ISSN 1837-8447
Brought to you by the Bible Society
Why grace is truly free Child abuse survivor turns to love
A warning about the plebiscite
Was Shakespeare really a Christian?
Obadiah Slope LEGO – THE MAG: An imaginative protest against porn mag Penthouse Australia has seen their twitter account hacked and a “Special Lego Edition” put up. But rather than being a raid by clever Christians it looks like an inside job according to the ad news site Mumbrella who suggest a superannuation dispute is behind it.
CAMPUS FUN: Obadiah takes seriously the plight of Christian campus groups like Sydney University’s Evangelical Union facing trouble because they insist on members or leaders signing up to a statement of faith. But he’s amused at the thought the Christians could get creative, joining the Liberal Club and changing the aims to promote socialism, the Labor club to promote free enterprise, and any drinking club to promote sobriety. That last one could be an improvement.
Sydney Uni EU votes to keep faithbased declaration for members TESS HOLGATE Students of the Sydney University Evangelical Union (SUEU) have voted 71-1 against removing a clause from their constitution that requires students to sign a faith-based declaration in order to become members. When members were given the opportunity to speak for or against the motion to remove the clause, more than 10 students raised their hands to speak against it; not one student offered to speak for it. George Bishop, student president of the SUEU said of the vote, “the Executive now has a clear mandate to continue to work about this issue and I’m really glad that the membership has supported the continuance of a faith-based declaration as part of the membership process.” The SUEU met with the board of the University Union on 4 March, and suggested that this ultimatum violated their human rights. When the USU did not respond to that, “we went and gave correspondence to the vice-chancellor and he’s now fully informed of the situation, and we received contact in response to that,” says Bishop. On Monday 21 March, Bishop says the SUEU received an email from the USU saying, “the process of deregistration of the SUEU had been stalled, while the USU
Sydney University Evangelical Union | Facebook
WITH MEAT SAUCE?: “Slightly wayward hipsters,” according to Radio National’s Patricia Karvelas Drive show “can get married under the auspices of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” In New Zealand at least “Ministeroni” Karen Martyn assured Karvelas that the purpose of the church is to poke fun at other religions, although she is now a properlyaccredited marriage celebrant. Obadiah stands corrected; until he listened to the segment he thought “slightly wayward hipsters” were the people who attended inner-city church plants.
SUEU votes 71-1 to retain faith-based membership declaration. Following the ultimatum, an email was sent to the roughly 600 members and participants of the SUEU by its President, George Bishop, who wrote, “the Executive believes that it is necessary, to maintain our identity as a Christian group, to maintain a faith-based declaration as part of the membership process. “The Executive believes that individuals who wish to join any society need to be able to ascribe to
reconsidered its position.” The decision follows a fiveyear series of exchanges between the SUEU and the University of Sydney Union (USU), which ramped up in recent weeks and culminated in the USU threatening the SUEU with deregistration from the clubs and societies program if they failed to remove the clause by 31 March. The USU issued the ultimatum on 17 February.
the core beliefs, objects and aims of the society – which for a Christian society necessarily include faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ.” The USU has repeatedly stated that membership of all campus clubs and societies should be open to every member of the University Union, without qualification. In practice, this means that non-believers could not only be members of the SUEU but also hold leadership positions on the Executive Committee. In late November 2015, the Clubs and Societies branch of the USU released updated regulations, including a specific requirement that clubs and societies “may not make ordinary membership or associate membership conditional on the beliefs or characteristics of an applicant, including (but not limited to) a person’s race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, religious beliefs or cultural background.” The same requirement applies to Executive positions within clubs and societies. In the United States, InterVarsity Fellowship (IVF) has been battling similar requirements for a number of years, with groups derecognised at Vanderbilt University and a number of other institutions. A 2014 decision to derecognise all IVF chapters at California State University was reversed in 2015.
Church workers work more hours than they’re paid Church leaders were asked: Approximately how many hours in a typical week do you spend in congregational/parish ministry? How many hours a week are you expected to/ employed to spend in congregational/parish ministry?
60% % of workers paid % of workers actually for these hours working these hours
50% 40% 30% 20% 10% Come along to check out the College, be involved in classes and get a taste of Moore’s in-depth theological training.
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Quotable News page 2-4 In Depth 5-10 Bible Society 14 Opinion 15-20
Michael Jensen Page 15 “The blood of our fellow Christians in the Middle East continues to flow freely, and we must weep, and cry out to God, ‘how long’?”
Quiz Worx shows kids the way MATT GORTON of Quiz Worx Don’t you just love it when something you have been working on finally comes to fruition? I certainly do. I have been writing Bible-based, Jesus-centred puppet shows for over 15 years now. And each time one is written, refined and performed I get a great sense of excitement. The theme for this year’s school show is “What is the Way to God?” This is surely one of the biggest questions a person can ever ask themselves. As I was working on the script I was aware that so many people answer this question in so many different ways. So when the question is asked, the puppet responds with a note of despair: “How can anyone know the way to God?! There are so many different opinions out there! Is it by being good? Or being religious? And if it’s by being religious, which religion is the right one; or does it not matter and they all end up getting to God in the end?” These are (surprisingly) insightful questions from our puppets. As I was writing the show I was left with the tension: How do we answer such questions in a clear, creative and respectful way? What we seek to do is to make clear what Christians believe. Christians believe that Jesus is the way to God, because that is what Jesus says (John 14:6). The puppet is incredulous. “How
In brief BIG DAY OUT: An alliance of global ministries has designated May 15 as the International Day for the Unreached. The one-day event is intended to inspire and mobilise Christians to reach out to more than 2 billion people who have yet to hear the gospel. The day is sponsored by the Alliance for the Unreached, a group that includes Reach Beyond, Bibles For The World, Operation Mobilisation and The Seed Company. DayForTheUnreached.org COME TOGETHER: UnitingCare Ageing NSW.ACT has rebranded and will now be known simply as “Uniting”. The community service organisation is hoping to distinguish itself and increase awareness in the community. In SA, UnitingCare adopted the name Uniting Communities in 2012.
Quiz Worx Performer Kim Hayde and Scruff the dog. can Jesus say such a thing? He would have to prove such a massive claim.” We then use accounts from the Gospel of John, to show that what Jesus did was like signs showing that he was God’s one and only son, and so he does know the way to God. Finally, we encourage the children to investigate the claims of
Jesus for themselves. We have just started performing this show in schools, and have been so encouraged by the positive response from both teachers and students. One teacher wrote: “The kids didn’t have time to get bored because of the constant laughs … changes in story and pumpin’ music! And yet … the serious parts of the show were just
as accepted by the kids as the fun jokes, puppets and songs.” (Paul, The Oaks) It really is great when what you’ve been working on comes to fruition! This year Quiz Worx is hoping to share the message of Jesus with over 70,000 kids throughout Australia. For more information: www.quizworx.com
PLANTING: Adelaide’s Trinity network has a new church, Trinity Grove, meeting in Pedare Junior School, Golden Grove. It is a church plant from a 2010 church plant. Meanwhile, Hillsong’s Ben Houston, based in LA, has announced a new ministry planned for San Francisco, and Grace City Church, a Geneva Push plant from early 2015, has settled into its new building in Waterloo, NSW. YOUNG MASTERS: “Masterclass,” a one-day event to train high schoolers to be Christian leaders will spread to every state capital plus Darwin this year. It’s organised by Bible Society for July/August. biblesociety.org.au/masterclass
Was Shakespeare a Christian?
Child sexual abuse survivor Mark Stiles was in a morass of anger and hate when Jesus spoke to him. An alcoholic, he had drunk three bottles of wine the night before the Holy Spirit hauled him out of bed very early one morning. He was so angry he almost pounded the table through the keyboard as he unleashed the poison inside him. Stiles had been 12 when he was sent from his home in leafy Canberra to the “dark and scary” Gill Memorial Army Boys Home in Goulburn operated by the Salvation Army. For 14 months, a Salvation Army officer sexually abused him “at least four out of every seven days.” “Many times he would drag me out of bed at 3am for allegedly making a noise,” he told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses for Child Sexual Abuse. “He would punish me by taking me down to the bathrooms and making me scrub the toilets with a toothbrush ... He would then sexually abuse me and send me back to bed at 5am. I would then have to get up at 6am to start my chores.” The trauma from those nightmarish experiences left Stiles feeling he wasn’t worth anything. His life became ruled by fear, distrust and anger. Many times he found himself putting a gun to his head trying to pull the trigger. “I wrote my story out of a place of real hate and anger, but I came to realise it was the most cathartic thing I’ve ever done,” Stiles, now 57, tells Eternity. Three days after expunging the hate inside him, Stiles was driving home to the Gold Coast from the Sunshine Coast when he heard a male voice calling to him. “I heard this voice very clear in the car and he said, ‘Mark, Jesus is alive.’ And I just had to pull over, and I totally broke down into tears. “I don’t know, maybe my heart was ready but the Father definitely called me and over time he has taught me how to love. “Some people have looked at me like my lift doesn’t go to the top floor, and I don’t care because I know what I heard and today I’m a man that’s been healed and I can love people.” Stiles’ transformation began
William Shakespeare, the English language’s greatest writer and the world’s greatest playwright, died 400 years ago on 23rd April 1616, aged 52. Shakespeare grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon. He moved to London in his early twenties, making a successful 30-year career as an actor, writer and part owner of a drama company. His greatest plays - Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth - are considered some of the finest works in the English language. Shakespeare returned to Stratford in 1613, dying three years later. The words on his grave in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church set a curse on ‘he that moves my bones,’ something carefully avoided when the church was renovated in 2008. Little is known of Shakespeare’s private life, prompting wild speculation about everything from his physical appearance to his religious beliefs and more recently, in line with modern concerns, his sexuality. Was Shakespeare a Christian? There has certainly been speculation about his personal religious beliefs, particularly about whether he was truly Protestant. Some scholars want him to be Catholic. And of course some scholars of this post-Christian era want him to be an atheist. Whether Shakespeare was a Christian was a question people in Elizabethan England would not ask. People considered themselves born Christian. English society was a Christian society. It was not perfect but people naturally grew up accepting the beliefs of their parents and community. Queen Elizabeth’s Religious Settlement Acts, while not totally removing the old Catholic versus Protestant hostilities, put them underground, as much by the length of her reign as the compromises of her laws. Sunday Church attendance was compulsory and that church was Elizabeth’s Church of England with her as its head. With Elizabeth on the throne before Shakespeare’s birth, and reigning most of his life, that was the England in which he was born and lived. There is not the slightest doubt that Shakespeare would have believed that he was a Christian. He attended church with his parents from an early age and was educated
Mark, a child sexual abuse survivor, overcame his anger through Jesus. from that pivotal moment. From habitually drinking a bottle to a bottle-and-a-half of spirits a night, he stopped drinking straight away. He found a church family at Gold Coast Genesis Church, and gradually as he was discipled his heart was miraculously changed and he was able to forgive those who had abused him. “I went from a man of hate to a man of love. I went from high blood pressure and alcoholism to being restored. I went from hating a whole range of different types of people – I was very judgmental. “And one of the gifts he’s given me – I don’t get angry at people any more. I try and see what their life’s like rather than judge people.” When he was called to give evidence at the Royal Commission he chose to use his real name rather than hide behind a code, as did other victims from the boys home. “We’ve had a whole generation of men and women who wouldn’t talk about these things and I wanted other victims to know that it’s OK.” Stiles recalls that when he ran away from the boys home, and reported the abuse to the police, “the copper gave me a belting and took me back to the home, and I got another belting.” When Stiles gave his testimony at the National Day of Prayer and Fasting in Canberra last year, he was humbled that church leaders of
various denominations washed his feet in an act of atonement. “That broadcast was shown all over the world and the most exciting thing for me was that there may well be hundreds of people out there who have been helped by that,” he says. Until he heard the voice of God in 2010, Stiles had been addicted to seeking other people’s approval “because you’re never good enough.” Now, as a child of God, he has discovered a sense of self-worth and identity. “I always believed in God, but I grew up fatherless and then having the experience in the boys home I could never ever see God as father,” he explains. “I thought he was this omnipresent being with a cat o’ nine tails that when we did something wrong we’d get a flogging for it. “Now I know my worth and my value. When you say yes to Jesus [you] become a son or daughter of the most high. You’re adopted into his family. “My identity is in the fact that he has taken me into his household. I was 52 years of age and I finally had a home to go to, I finally had a dad that I talk to and he talks to me. He told me ‘your past is not the pathway to your future. You’re my son now and you’ve come home and now life is for you. You’re free – free of hate.’ ”
John Taylor /Wikimedia
God’s call to child abuse victim turns hate to love
Shakespeare died 400 years ago this month. at Kings New School in Stratford. The curriculum was based on Latin and reading the Latin authors from which Shakespeare quoted liberally in his plays. With strict Christian teaching, pupils learned key Bible verses by heart, memorised creeds and catechisms and took part in daily Christian liturgies. Shakespeare attended church. Cynics say he had no choice, as do those who want him to be secretly Catholic. But there is ample evidence in the plays that he knew and appreciated the Book of Common Prayer. The words of the Church of England services appear throughout his plays and the impression is that he took an intelligent interest in the words and enjoyed his familiarity with the liturgy. This is even more true of the Bible. Biblical stories and allusions were a rich source for him. A thoughtful reader with Bible knowledge will sense in Shakespeare’s plays far more than mere forced familiarity with the Bible but a genuine love of it. The plays contain over 1,000 conscious uses of Scripture and many other unconscious uses of Biblical words by a person who loved and read the Bible. Shakespeare heard the Bishops Bible read in church and clearly quoted its phrases. But he used the Geneva version most, not a church version but one people themselves could own. It is abundantly clear from Shakespeare’s plays that he owned and read his own Geneva Bible. To Shakespeare, his beloved Bible was a major source of imagery - for drama, pathos, tragedy or humour. He used the Bible brilliantly with the ease of a person totally familiar with it.
‘Bapta-costals’: new breeds of Baptists ROB WARD Victoria has more going for it than football and trams; it is the home of large and vigorous Baptist churches. Crossway Baptist with 7,000 attenders meets at Burwood East, New Hope with 3,000 attenders had its main campus at nearby Blackburn, and Barrabool in Geelong is roughly the same size. (These are Eternity estimates from attending these churches.) Crossway is Melbourne’s second largest church after Citylife which is non-denominational. There are about 230 other Baptist churches in Melbourne, making up a diverse tribe of about 30,000 people. At one end there are the
‘Baptacostal’ churches, such as Crossway where Pastor Dale Stephenson freely accepts the Baptacostal title, seeing people using spiritual gifts not only inside the church but also in everyday life as a key to sharing the life of Jesus. Crossway is continuing to experience growth, not only at its home base but also in an exciting cutting edge initiative, “Church Online” with almost 3,000 people ‘attending’ virtually each week. At the other end, there are the more liberal churches such as the much smaller South Yarra Community Baptist Church led by Nathan Nettleton, one of a number who have adopted an approach on such issues as samesex marriage which is at odds with the mainstream Baptist position.
South Yarra for instance has a more liturgical/sacramental style when compared to Crossway, which is more of a charismatic/ Hillsong worship style service. In the middle is the traditional conservative Baptist church, still singing one or two hymns and preaching that is more expository than simple story-telling, often smaller but still attracting families. One such church in Melbourne’s outer east has grown to nearly 500 in recent years, and has a wide demographic. Mentone Baptist, led by Murray Campbell is a “big E” evangelical church, one of about ten in a slowly growing conservative wing. Last year the issue of same sex marriage was put to a vote. The Baptist Union voted to endorse
traditional marriage by a two thirds vote. Apart from the sense of mission, usually spelled with a capital “M”, two other common denominators were evident. One was community engagement. Every church was enmeshed in the local community, soup kitchens, school programs, counselling services; you name it the church was there. New Hope, led by Alan Demond is a great example of this. The second was a sense of tension about identity. A concern about where leaders, the next generation of leaders, were coming from. Given the breadth of the Baptist movement and its capacity to hold such diversity, this was mentioned a number of times. Not with a sense of panic, but that it was something to watch,
important if Baptists were to remain true to mission. Daniel Bullock, Director of Mission & Ministries at the Baptist Union of Victoria (BUV) says the family is doing well. In this role since 2012, Daniel has accepted responsibility for what might be considered a ‘renewal’ within the family, a program called “Innovate” which is designed to help the church refocus on mission. Bullock responded to the question as to what he would count as a “job well done”, with a number of key markers, but the one that impressed most was this one: Seeing the Church reach out to those outside. To reach people we have never reached before, we need to do things we have never done before.
Radical Paul and what’s so amazing about grace. – Page 8
A dementia-friendly church service is held at St Swithun’s Church in Pymble in Sydney’s north, designed to “maximise participation by memory”.
Collective memory KALEY PAYNE On Thursdays, a church service is held in the little chapel in the middle of the Hammondcare aged care facilities in Miranda, in southern Sydney. John goes every week, though a few weeks ago something seemed unusual, but he stayed anyway. John had come to the Catholic service, not the Protestant one he was used to. He’d forgotten that the services rotate and arrived out of habit. It’s not the first thing John has forgotten. He’s getting used to that now. In 2010, John, who turns 77 this month, was diagnosed with dementia. His wife, Beverley, says he was “very accepting of his diagnosis, which is something to be thankful for.” John has started to lose his shortterm memory and some days he finds it difficult to speak. But it’s a good day when I sit with him for a few hours. Before going into care, John had to stop going to a Bible study run by a group of retired men at his local church. “This dementia, it blanks everything out,” he tells me. “They’d be talking about something and by the time my turn comes, I’d lost the plot.” It’s a big disappointment to John that he can’t attend that group anymore.
He says it had been a big influence on his personal faith. It’s not an unusual feeling for those with dementia to feel as though they’ve been removed from their communities, according to Professor John Swinton, Chair of Divinity and Religious Studies at Scotland’s University of Aberdeen. Swinton is the author of Dementia: Living in the memories of God. “One of the first things that happens when you get a dementia diagnosis is that your friends begin to peel away,” Swinton tells me, because many people want to remember their friend “the way they were.” But “if that person still lives, who are they now?” “Most of what I do is wrestle with the question of what it means to be a human being,” says Swinton of his research. “Dementia raises that question quite sharply. What do you have to have in order to be human? “The way we understand our identity – certainly in Western culture, is that we remember who we are. It’s an autobiographical memory. If you ask yourself, ‘Who am I?’ you immediately think back to a series of stories you can remember about yourself. Now, in order for me to know who I was as a kid, I have to ask my mother. Then I can take that memory into
myself and pretend I remember, but of course, I don’t. Other people remember it for me. “The problem is that if that’s what you are – what you can remember – then when you begin to have memory issues, the assumption is that you’ve forgotten who you are. But there is a real sense that actually a lot of the things you remember about yourself – your identity – are things remembered by other people. So you really need other people to be yourself. Your story is important to you, of course it is. But in the end, we’re deeply embedded in a community of memory.” Swinton argues that we become who we are as we relate to others and to God, who made us and gave us our identity in Christ. If you start to forget who you are, you’re still “you” but you rely on other people to hold your memories for you. Christine Bryden has been living with dementia for over 20 years. She has written four books about her experience, which she describes as “glacially slow decline”. Her most recent book – Before I Forget – is a memoir and she tells me that writing it was like “putting together a patchwork with family and friends and trying to stitch it all together.” Her memories have been
kept by those around her. While there is no “usual” for dementia, Christine’s experience of dementia is rare. Even her neurologist can’t explain why Christine can still do many things, given the extent of her brain damage. “Because it’s been slow, it’s like I’ve been given time to try and work out new ways to do things … working out ways around the damaged bits,” she says. For her, being part of the body of Christ in her church in Queensland is incredibly important. “You feel confident that even if you forget all sorts of stuff, the body of Christ will hold you gently in their memories. In a secular sense, friends rely on you remembering significant things in their lives and what you told them last time you met. I can’t do that anymore. I can forget that friends even exist. But in the body of Christ, people are as Christ to me. They remember me. They call me. They care for me.” Swinton says that even the “broken bits” of the body of Christ are significant. “The different gifts of the body enable us to function as a whole. When we become broken, we need to discover what our new function is amidst the body of Christ. If a person is a Christian, they are a disciple and they have a
vocation within the body of Christ. That doesn’t disappear because a person can’t remember what it is. “We need to find ways to recognise and nurture that vocation,” says Swinton. It could be the non-responsive lady in the advanced dementia care unit who suddenly starts to pray fervently out loud. Or the man who bursts into Jesus Loves Me in the middle of a church service. “This is real prayer, and real worship. It’s the outworking of a person’s spirituality,” he says. Christine loves to be part of the fellowship at her Anglican church in Queensland. She finds it hard to keep up with the words, and she doesn’t always sing. She often gets confused about the order of events. “But it’s lovely to feel part of the fellowship. To always feel welcomed and just be able to ‘be’. I don’t have to ‘do’ anything.” Swinton says it’s important that the church community help those with dementia find their place in the body. “Their new vocation may be to do nothing. We need to help them do that well and in a safe way.” St Swithun’s, a church in Sydney’s northern suburbs, began a dementia-friendly service just over a year ago. It’s called Blessed continued page 7
‘Never an empty shell’ KALEY PAYNE Talking to me now, Christine Bryden says she can’t relate to the person she was before her dementia diagnosis. “It’s like someone I might have once known.” Christine was 46 years old, an adviser to the Prime Minister on science and technology and responsible for millions of dollars of research programmes when she was diagnosed with dementia and given only a few years to live. And yet, 20 years later, Christine has written four books and is a sought-after speaker about her experiences with dementia. She is exceptionally positive about her condition, though she says it certainly wasn’t always that way. She tells me she can see parallels in her own story with Job’s experience in the Bible. “I see that as a parable for all of us living with dementia, actually. Job says, ‘Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me and what I dread befalls me.’ That’s definitely how I felt in the beginning. You’re gutted in all directions.” Christine says she had a “razorsharp” memory, with space for hundreds of research projects, policy and space-related activities. “Now, I can’t remember yesterday necessarily. It’s like being fractured in splices of memory. Bits and pieces like edited tape on the cutting room floor, and every now and then there is a pool of
light cast on some bit of it.” Doctors don’t seem to be able to attribute Christine’s current condition to anything other than the fact that she was exceptionally bright prior to diagnosis. But Christine says her Christian faith has been her “mainstay”. She is articulate, though she speaks slowly and deliberately – much slower, she says, than she used to. Words don’t come easily. And yet she still talks like a scientist – exploring a new world within her own mind. “I feel like an early explorer, setting sail to the edge of the world, not knowing where I’m going … how long will I survive? How long will I be able to talk? What can I tell people about my discoveries? How long can I keep doing that?” Of course, she doesn’t know the answer to those questions, but through it all she’s come to an understanding that regardless of whether she can continue to speak, or what she forgets, she’s still fully human in the eyes of God. “When you become a Christian, it’s through a spiritual awakening. It’s not through me reading texts and struggling to understand God. It’s got nothing to do with thinking. It’s a work of God.” In fact, Christine says in many ways she’s more open in her relationship with God now, with dementia. “Before, my head was full of stuff. Sometimes now (though not
always) I can just relax and be with God. I see that as a real gift.” Getting through the days requires great effort for Christine. She says she often struggles to remember to speak, to walk, to talk, to understand. “I feel like a pressure cooker about to go off.” She describes escalators as “moving nightmares” that are difficult to navigate, public bathrooms with their shiny surfaces and mirrors as “really difficult to comprehend”. “I feel wobbly, and that’s to do with how I see the world. I don’t perceive it fast enough. It’s slow input and interpretation. It’s difficult to see something new properly. I often have to pause and let my brain tell me what it’s seeing before I can process it.” Every afternoon Christine takes her poodle for the same walk near the lake close to the southern Queensland home she shares with her husband, Paul. It’s a “walking prayer time”, to take away some of the anxieties she’s dealt with throughout the day. “My prayers are a big muddle, but I’m sure God doesn’t mind. It’s interaction and a thank you now and then. I pray that tomorrow will be
better. At night, I try and settle myself with the Lord’s Prayer, but I often forget huge chunks of it.” Christine says she and Paul are a team, navigating the unknown.
With Paul’s help, and faith as her anchor, she has “been able to turn the suffering around – the shock, the horror, the fear, the trauma, which was true for a couple of years – to try and use it for God’s glory and to benefit the church.” Through her talks and her books, she says she hopes she can encourage families of people with dementia, ministers and pastoral carers to see dementia through a “faith lens”. “So they realise that no matter how severe the dementia, we are fully human and loved by God. We are embodied souls and endowed with the breath of God. We’re animated by God. Never will I be an empty shell.”
In God’s Work, in God’s World
Help us do what medicine just can’t. HammondCare is an independent Christian charity with a vision to care for people in need irrespective of their background or financial status. It’s what we have been doing for more than 80 years. Every day, our pastoral care team seeks to share the love of Christ with over 3,000 people facing the hardest times life has to offer. People living with dementia, suffering chronic pain, and people in their final days. We care for them in residential care, in our hospitals and hundreds of homes. With your support, we can do even more. Your donation will help us build this team to grow this ministry of love and hope. Donate today to help us share the message of life with people who need it most. www.hammond.com.au/about/support/donate
CMA National conference | 7-8 June Seaworld Gold Coast For Christian Leaders, Managers and Board members INTERNATIONAL KEYNOTE SPEAKERS: GARY HOAG
Gary – ‘The Generosity Monk’ – is International Liaison for ECFA, co-author of ‘The Choice’, and former VP of Advancement at Denver Seminary.
Wesley is a prolific author, respected speaker, and has held senior leadership positions at ECFA, Prison Fellowship Ministries, and many other organisations.
with your peers through dozens of electives across wide range of organisational leadership topics for church and ministry.
through Knowledge Hubs, Peer Learning, Networking Sessions and in the large Exhibition Space.
with the CMA Standards Council and see how it can assist you and your organisation.
Early-bird discounts available until Friday 3rd May Register on-line at cma.net.au/conference
from page 5 Assurance and runs once a month. The service, run in partnership with Anglican Retirement Villages as a pilot intended for other churches to replicate, runs for about 30 minutes and has been carefully designed to make it possible for those with dementia to continue to be part of Christian fellowship. Everything has been thought through to “maximise participation through memory,” says Roger Chilton, St Swithun’s senior minister. From five minute, simple sermons, to familiar hymns and lyrics printed in large type on a high-contrast background to make it easy to read, the church is thinking practically about how to serve those with dementia. Only one speaker appears at the front at any one time, with longer pauses to allow participants time to focus on someone new before they speak. The church building itself also helps – a traditional setting of wooden panelling and stained glass is familiar for those who don’t quite remember that church was a regular feature of their lives. During communion, a lady in the front row needs a friendly prompt to eat the small wafer that she takes by habit. Another takes the cup but doesn’t want to drink it. And that’s OK. “Ritual is a powerful way of accessing memory,” says Swinton. “Sometimes, it’s not so much that the memory has been lost, but the connection between the memory and the ability to cognate that memory is broken. Ritual or liturgy can fix that for a time.”
Something like communion can be really important for a Christian with dementia. “What you see there is people who have practised spirituality over time and their bodies have taken that form. And when they can’t cognate [what’s going on], their body still continues and the Holy Spirit continues to work through them. The things that they’re engaging in are not just meaningless, they’re intentional. And in the midst of that, God is with them.” Back at Hammondcare, Beverly says her faith helps her cope with John’s condition. “I know God has John in his hands. He is in control. I have no fear, no fear at all.” Christine, too, says “I feel confident that God will always remember me. He holds me in the palms of his hands.” There’s a difficult tension, says Swinton when it comes to coping with a dementia diagnosis, particularly for family members. “It’s a delicate balance between grieving for the past and hoping for the future,” he says. “Very often when we talk about people with dementia, we’re always talking about the past. And we have various techniques to bring the past to the present and help them to be as close an approximation in the present to what they used to be. But nobody is what they were in the past. Everybody wants to have a future. A person’s spirituality and their vocation in the body of Christ, their calling – that is still present – is a pretty hopeful thing. “I think it’s pretty clear that Jesus goes with us into the confusion, into the difficult places that we encounter.”
The perils of falling away GEOFF ROBSON Sometimes, ministry hurts. Among the few negative things about being a full-time, vocational gospel worker, there is one thing that is far and away the worst: seeing one-time followers of Jesus give up on their faith and give up on Jesus. I tried it once myself. Growing up, I had the privilege of hearing about Jesus from an early age. At 16, life got busy. Jesus was squeezed out. Over the next few years, I fooled myself into thinking that I could find greater meaning apart from Jesus than I could find with him. It’s no surprise when people walk away from Jesus. On the contrary, the famous “Parable of the Sower” (Mark 4:1-20) guarantees it will happen. I’ve noticed a few typical exit doors for young adults. Some people arrive at university calling themselves Christians, but it soon becomes clear they’ve been piggybacking off mum or dad’s faith and have never grabbed hold of the gospel for themselves. Some aren’t even this self-aware, assuring themselves that they “still have a faith” while wandering aimlessly into a vague deism. Some decide that it’s too unenlightened or awkward to follow the Bible’s ethical teaching. Some buy into pseudointellectual arguments, convincing themselves that these arguments are original and irrefutable. Some start their time at university with every intention of continuing as
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Geoff Robson at an Orientation Week stall for the Christian Union. Christians, only to be enticed away by the party scene. Some will do as I did and simply drift away slowly – no climactic moment of rejection, just a painfully pedestrian lack of decision. I was lured away one small step at a time. What brought me back to Jesus? The persistence of trusted Christian friends, who kept encouraging me to come back to church and to remember God’s place in my life; the emptiness of the many alternatives that were tried and found wanting; a complete stranger, who boldly shared the gospel and planted a splinter in my mind; and, no doubt, the prayers of many. After numerous invitations, I eventually returned to the very same church that I had attended growing up. The message was the same, but God graciously opened
my ears to hear it very differently. No longer was being “Christianised,” getting an occasional spiritual boost, or having a “good moral framework” enough. Jesus invaded my life, renewed my mind, and captured my heart. But I recognise that I deserve none of it; that I wilfully ignored the greatest gift a person can ever be offered. God was gracious, but I was foolish. Today, if you’re trusting and following Jesus, please do it again tomorrow. Please prayerfully resolve to keep trusting and following him. Do not harden your heard (read Hebrews 3-4). Fix your eyes on Jesus. Delight in how good and kind he is. Geoff Robson works for the Christian Union at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.
What’s so dangerous about grace?
Biblical scholar John Barclay explains why Paul shocked his religious peers – and reminds us how radical the gospel really is. Interview by Wesley Hill. Barclay’s Paul and the Gift was published by Eerdmans in 2015
God doesn’t give discriminately to seemingly fitting recipients. He gives without any regard to their social, gender, or ethnic worth.”
is destroyed. Paul discovered that God’s act in Christ transforms the conditions of reality. Is it fair to say that Paul’s view of grace arose, in part, from personal experience? Yes, experience is an integral part of Paul’s theology. Before his conversion, Paul was absolutely committed to a certain set of norms and values. He was persecuting the churches of God. Then he encountered the truth about Christ. And this experience subverted everything he thought about right and wrong. He thought he was 100 per cent right and found he was 100 per cent wrong. Christ’s grace reached him despite his being completely wrong. Some aspects of what you are talking about seem to align with what has been called the “New Perspective on Paul”. Yet other elements seem to resonate with the traditional Protestant view. How does your work fit within the debate between the New Perspective and the traditional perspective? It is unfortunate how polarised the discussion has become. Ever since the 1970s, the New Perspective has set itself against Reformation readings of Paul. It has criticised Luther especially for fundamentally misreading Paul. But what I see in Reformers like Luther and Calvin is a brilliant rediscovery of Paul’s theology of grace. Of course, they had to re-contextualise Paul’s theology in order for it to take
maximum effect, so they directed it against the notion that we can make ourselves favorable to God by doing good works. The New Perspective has tried to rediscover the original historical context in which Paul himself was ministering. And this context is completely different from the 16th century. The New Perspective also believes that Paul’s theology was formed in his historical context, in and for his mission among non-Jews. As a result, the New Perspective has focused more on the social dimensions of Paul’s thought, and has sidelined grace. But grace really was at the centre of his theology. So while I disagree with the New Perspective in its sidelining grace within Paul’s thought, I agree with its emphasis that Paul was fundamentally concerned with creating new communities that crossed ethnic and social boundaries. So in moving away from caricatures of first-century Judaism, we need to be careful not to diminish Paul’s radical stance. Yes. The New Perspective rightly insists that Judaism was not simply a religion of works-righteousness and legalism. Scholars like E.P. Sanders and N.T. Wright have insisted that Judaism was a religion of grace. But what do we mean by grace? There are many different understandings of it. What is distinctive about Paul is his emphasis that grace is not just a gift given generously or in advance, but a gift given precisely without considering [the recipient’s] prior quality or worth. Various Protestant groups contrast themselves with others based on their understanding of grace. Do some Protestant traditions interpret Paul better than others? A good theological interpretation, in my view, never just repeats the biblical text. Rather, it gets to the heart of the text and makes it real in a new context. That was the genius in Luther’s rediscovery of Paul, I think, and has obviously influenced the whole Protestant tradition. But Luther was incredibly anxious about any notion of circularity – that we give back to God so that God can
While there is no prior worth for receiving the gift of grace, God expects something in return. Paul expects those who receive the Spirit to be transformed by the Spirit and to walk in the Spirit.”
give further again to us. Luther was anxious about any language of obligation or obedience if it implied trying to win favour with God. As a result, some Protestants believe it’s inappropriate for God to expect something in return, because it would somehow work against grace. They believe a gift should be given without any expectation of return. However, that can lead to notions of cheap grace – that God gives to us and doesn’t care about what we do. On the other hand, the Calvinist and, in different ways, the Methodist–Wesleyan traditions have rightly understood that the gift of God in Christ is based on conditions, in a sense. While there is no prior worth for receiving the gift, God indeed expects something in return. Paul expects those who receive the Spirit to be transformed by the Spirit and to walk in the Spirit. At the end of your book, you suggest that Paul’s view of grace should constantly question the norms by which we evaluate ourselves and others. What does that mean for churches today? First, it means there are no
You argue that Paul’s view of grace is bizarre and unsettling, even “dangerous”. Why was Paul’s view of grace so radical? Paul did not have a special word for “grace”, so he used the common language of “gift” [charis in Greek, sometimes translated as “grace”]. Gifts in his day – and in most cultures throughout history – were given to people who, in one way or another, were worthy recipients. People gave gifts in order to create a relationship, most often with people like themselves. We do this today. We give money to causes that represent our values. Or we give prizes to people we deem worthy recipients. Paul talks about Christ as the gift of God, the grace of God. What is striking about this is that this gift is given without regard to the worth of the people who receive it. God doesn’t give discriminately to seemingly fitting recipients. He gives without regard to their social, gender or ethnic worth. Nothing about them makes them worthy of this gift. Think of someone who sits with a homeless man on the street and listens to him, or the pope taking time from his official engagements to visit prisoners, or those who give up “good jobs” in order to spend their lives with people with severe learning difficulties. These are all “gifts” that seem inappropriate or risky by cultural standards. So what was distinctive about Paul’s message was not grace per se, but how he talked about it? Yes, Paul was not the only Jew of his day who talked about God’s grace. We need to shy away from caricatures of [first-century] Judaism as a religion of worksrighteousness or legalism that knew nothing about divine grace. Compared with his fellow Jews who also talked about divine grace, Paul emphasised grace given without regard to worth. This is the root of Paul’s radical social policy. Paul’s theology of grace is not just about an individual’s selfunderstanding and status before God. It’s also about communities that crossed ethnic, social and cultural boundaries. This is what made Paul so controversial in his day. His mission to the Gentiles involved telling them that they didn’t have to fit within the cultural boundaries of the Jewish tradition. You write that what bends Paul’s theology in this direction is Christ. What is it about Christ that requires Paul to radicalise the concept of grace and thus distinguishes him from fellow Jews? At the core of Paul’s theology is not some general notion about God, but a discovery of the gift of God in Christ. And this gift, given in the death and resurrection of Christ, works against all the categories according to which we expect God to act. According to Paul, everything about our former systems of value
limits to the reach of God’s grace. Both Paul and Jesus stood alongside people who were not at all respectable. In doing so, they took big social risks. God’s grace operates beyond our norms of what is civil, proper, or fair. And it challenges our hidden prejudices. Why do we distrust immigrants, stigmatise the poor, or disdain certain socioeconomic groups? Why are we tempted to think that people who do not have a spouse or a job, or who do not have a physique matching cultural ideals, have somehow failed? Whose values are we applying? In Paul’s day, the main forms of hierarchy were built around gender, ethnicity and legal status. Men were considered more important than women, Jews were considered more valuable than non-Jews, and a free person was considered more valuable than a slave. Paul says that in God’s eyes, none of these social boundaries matter. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female” (Gal 3:28). What counts before God is not what we pride ourselves on – or what we doubt ourselves on. What counts is simply that we are loved in Christ. That’s why some of the most exciting churches today are not necessarily the big ones, but rather the small, multicultural, urban churches where you discover that different ethnicities and languages don’t count before God. Our education, our age, our job, the kind of music we listen to, the books we read – these do not ultimately define us. What defines us is who we are in Christ. We all are on the same level together and are therefore able to form countercultural relationships despite our differences. And that opens up the possibility for hugely creative Christian communities. John M.G. Barclay, Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at Durham University, UK, is recognised by his peers as one of today’s most influential New Testament scholars. Wesley Hill is Assistant Professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. Unedited version is online at biblesociety.org.au/radicalpaul
‘My brokenness is no more or less broken than yours’
Until 2013, Greg Lake worked for the Australian Immigration Department as a director of various immigration detention centres, including Christmas Island and Nauru. He continues to work with government to help build stronger diversity and refugee policies. Greg attends Seaforth Baptist Church on Sydney’s northern beaches. He recently announced on Facebook that for as long as he can remember he’s been more attracted to men than women. Eternity caught up with Greg, to find out more. TESS HOLGATE
Why have you decided to go public with this now? People who know me well already knew that this has been something I’ve lived with for a long time, and they knew that it isn’t in the top ten things that define me. I guess I’m just at a point now where I don’t feel like there’s people left in my life who I need to have told personally before it just becomes publicly known, and it’s not something that I feel like is a big feature, so why not? This is an issue the church has to confront more today than it ever has, at least in living memory. I am disappointed by the lack of grace and thoughtfulness that I often see in the words spoken by some Christian leaders, when speaking about this issue. It’s something I care about personally, not just because of my own attraction, but because I know a lot of people who suffer the effects of these comments and words. Can you tell me some of the ways you’ve suffered under the weight of people’s comments around this issue? I’m fortunate in that I don’t let it get to me the way I think some people kind of have to. I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a pretty comfortable and accepting kind of environment. But, especially in the church, people are constantly trying to set me up with people. As a single person in a church there’s always an expectation of marriage, especially as a bloke I think, and the pressure on a guy to be married is ridiculous and completely not at all scriptural. It’s just not. At times it’s been enough for me to want to leave churches, because I’m so sick of people trying to set me up – people who have no way and no language to support me in the ministries available to me by virtue of my singleness. I saw a comment on Facebook
“I pray that in whatever situation I’m in ... that I’ll be driven to the foot of the cross,” says Greg Lake. recently that simply said, “the LGBTQI community is wrong.” And I questioned it. They’re the kind of comments you hear all the time. When I hear comments that fail to see people as humans, that upsets me. Either because they’ve said it about me, not realising that I’m one of them, or they’ve said it about other people who I care about. When did you first know you were more attracted to men than women, and when did you start telling people? I have known for as long as I’ve been sexually aware, so since I was about 11 or 12 years old. All the way through high school I had a lot of people – youth group leaders, friends at school – who I’d told for the purposes of keeping me accountable, or being encouraging or you know, just being someone I could go to when it wasn’t going very well. So I’ve been surrounded for a long time by people who’ve known, and who I could go and speak to about these things if I ever needed to. What was it about those relationships that made you feel comfortable to tell them these big and taboo feelings? As a teenager, for example, I felt wrong. I felt, I knew it was bad, that’s how I thought of it. And I think it wasn’t so much that they were accepting that made me feel comfortable – it wasn’t comfortable. It was more that the idea of accountability for our sin among our Christian family was such a feature of how we went through church. When you struggle with something, you get someone to be accountable to, especially on the sex stuff as a teenage boy – you make sure you get people to keep you accountable. I felt the obligation to share it, in a way. And I am fortunate that a lot of the people I shared it with reacted well, although some of them didn’t. In hindsight, my youth group leaders basically just booted me off any involvement in leadership
or any formal role in the youth group, to the point where I ended up leaving my church’s youth group and finding another one. I could understand it if I was in a practising relationship, but all I’d done was express that this is a sexual struggle, and I bet if you’d asked any of my Christian mates they would have all expressed that they have struggles, sexual struggles, as people. I mean, why was mine somehow worse? I don’t think that’s how God views it. I think he sees us all as both beautiful people and at the same time corrupted. And my corruption is no worse or better than yours, it’s not like that, it’s just corruption and thankfully it’s dealt with in Jesus.
This is an issue the church has to confront more today than it ever has, at least in living memory.”
When you were younger did you wish you were different, or think it would pass? I knew it would never pass. But I did then, and I still believe now, that God is capable of changing people’s sexual orientation, either drastically or minutely, but I also am convinced that he doesn’t promise to. Do you pray for that? I have at times; I don’t always. Now I think I see it differently, where, while all that is true, I don’t think this change [of sexual orientation] will somehow make life easier. The sexual frustration that is sourced from our
brokenness as humans is evident in all of our experiences, whether we’re gay, straight, single or married. It’s just the reality. And if that’s the case, well I’m not so sure that having [my sexual orientation] change would make my life any better, easier, or more or less godly. Actually, what I pray for is that in whatever situation I’m in, be it with this attraction or anything else in my life, that I’ll be driven to the foot of the cross, thankful for what’s been achieved, regardless of what my sin looks like. I don’t pray for change very often now, but as a high school kid I definitely did, and I didn’t feel it would happen. And it was the source of a lot of mistrust of God as a kid, where I wanted to know why he made me like this, and why he wouldn’t change me. I was never angry, but I was definitely depressed. What does attraction look like for you? I’ve always been sexually attracted to men. But sexual attraction isn’t the only thing that makes a person attractive. A person isn’t the sum of their looks and their name; they’re the sum of a whole complex thing that God has done. I’ve definitely been attracted to women, just not sexually. What is life going to look like for you? At this point in my life I’m very happy and comfortable and content in my singleness. I don’t have any sense of urgency to enter into a relationship. I’m never going to get married to a bloke. I would never be in a relationship with one. It’s because I’m a Christian that I couldn’t and wouldn’t. If I wasn’t [a Christian] there’d be no reason not to. I have very strong views about God’s stance on human marriage. And I think his stance is quite clear in Scripture that marriage under him is between a man and woman under God. So I don’t think it’s possible for me to marry a man, and for that marriage to be under
God, because I just don’t think that works, it’s not a marriage anyway. I would never say I’d never marry a woman, but I don’t think it will happen. With my current orientation, I think it would be unfair on a wife and I don’t believe getting married would make me more able to love and serve people. Some Christians would disagree with you. How do you want to respond to them? I don’t need to. My job is not to acquiesce to views, or even to take a public stand on that. If people feel the need to ask me whether or not I plan to enter into an active same-sex relationship, well that is just no-one’s business, unless they get to know me and invest in a relationship with me, and learn why I might not. ‘Cause the other thing I’m conscious of is that I’m not perfect, and I might stuff up, because we all might, because we’re sinful. With the Spirit we are in good stead to win, but it doesn’t mean we always will. We all know that; we still sin. And I hope I don’t. But I might, and if I do, I want you to know me, and where I’m coming from and why that’s significant, rather than assume that my one answer given on some Facebook post when I was 32 is the thing I’m always going to live by. Because I just don’t want to promise that I won’t fall. Have there been any negative responses? I have been very disappointed by some responses where people have just automatically questioned my theology, asking why I wasn’t more explicit about my faith, or why I didn’t make a stand on living a celibate life, or why I didn’t use it as a gospel opportunity. A lot of people have asked me to confirm that I’m not in a relationship. They’ve been really quick to care not at all about me, but jump immediately to the common issues that people have, and in doing so they have betrayed their lack of commitment to me as a person, or their lack of understanding of the seriousness of this issue in someone’s life. It makes me hugely angry. I can cope with it because I know where I stand before God, but some of the people they’ll speak to don’t. Regarding this issue, what do you want the church to be? The struggle of the Christian life is hard enough, for all of us, to then add to that the struggle that someone has to live with privately, if their church is unwilling to support them. What I would love to see churches do is be places where people who have this as a feature of their sexuality, would feel that they are a valued member of God’s community, encouraged to live a godly Christian life, with the support of the people who ought to be the ones who love and know them best. At the moment we’re not there. I get that churches are full of broken people, but my brokenness is no more or less broken than yours, and what we need to do is understand that until we get our own house in order, perhaps taking a public stance on a political topic that in many ways is at arm’s length has meant we’ve forgotten to take an opportunity to speak prophetically into the world about the way God views people and the way God views human-to-human relationships.
What does ‘eff ective’ youth ministry look like in Australia? ADRIAN BLENKINSOP
On most Friday nights across Australia, groups of young people gather together. Some come begrudgingly – they attend at their parents’ insistence, and the highlight of the night is the free food at the end of the “sermon”. Others are there because their friends have invited them, and they enjoy an environment where they can feel accepted and safe. For others, it’s where they can discover what it means to be a Christian in a world that is increasingly hostile to anyone professing to be a follower of Christ. To build a snapshot of what different youth ministries are doing, and how they’re responding to these sorts of challenges, Christian Research Australia spent time with 21 church youth ministries over 3 years, observing them and talking with their young people and leaders. These stories and case studies have been published in a book titled A Vision for Effective Youth Ministry: Insights from Australian Research. Faced with alarming statistics in Australia, for example, that 50,000 young Christians are moving from identifying as a “Christian”, to identifying as a “none” (no faith), or that 90 per cent of young Australians are
How can we help young people “own” their faith? outside our churches, we need to be able to understand and respond appropriately to the rapidly changing culture around us. Sitting down over coffee with a group of youth leaders I knew well, I asked them to share how things were going for them. “Often it’s just hard work, and really complicated,” one offered. “I’ve got parents who see me and my leaders as professional babysitters. We’re supposed to keep their kids safe, while entertaining them, while also growing them into strong Christians. I’ve always got someone who’s not happy with me … parents, my church elders, my senior pastor, my small group leaders, my worship band … and
the church neighbours who often call the police to complain about the noise!” In A Vision for Effective Youth Ministry, Philip Hughes observes that, “through most of human history, religious traditions were major contributors to the development of the spirit. The religious traditions told stories of the universe which explained why human beings are here and the purpose of humanity. They told stories of how one can achieve a good life and how one can redeem a life which has been misused.” Without a framing metanarrative, or a sense of how and why things came into being (i.e., the story told in Scripture of
a creator God), how do young Australians begin to define their own story, and find their own place in this world – other than to come to the conclusion that life is just “random”? The message pumped into young people today is that they “deserve” to be happy, and they can achieve happiness by obtaining the right “things”. That message primarily comes from clever marketing departments, which convince young people that they “need” the latest smartphone, car, clothes, sunglasses, holiday, gaming console. A vital element in the journey of a young person “owning” their faith, are safe spaces to express their doubts and questions. For many churches, this can be really confronting. I was disappointed in the research finding that “most youth groups provide few structured opportunities for young people to explore fundamental questions of faith. In many cases, youth groups were not offering sustained opportunities to explore the big questions of life. In other cases, answers were too readily given.” We know that young people learn differently, and to most effectively engage them, youth ministries need to have an understanding of their young people. Hughes suggests four expressions of faith based on
personalities and learning styles: The Nerd, The Drama Kid, The Practical Helper and The Party Animal. He describes the traits of each of these, and how they are best engaged. There were some areas not fully addressed in these case studies, or that were identified as being challenging. For instance, in a society that views Christians with suspicion, how do youth ministries connect with non-churched young people, and avoid creating the “Christian bubble” in their youth ministries? How might we move beyond the intent of Bible “study” being about learning information, to being about young people “experiencing” the Bible? If engaging with Scripture is one of the vital ingredients of growing into a life-long follower of Jesus, then it has to be a priority in our youth ministries, not just a token ten-minute “Bible message” at the end of the night. There are many youth ministries exploring creative Bible engagement – and doing great things! I really value the groups where the leaders make room for young people to share what they are discovering through Scripture, and what questions they are asking. Often they’re really good, difficult questions about God and the Bible, and as they explore them, God turns up – often in surprising ways!
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THE BIG PICTURE
Sweet 2016 ... and still looking for love MARK HADLEY It was W.S. Gilbert, of the musical duo Gilbert and Sullivan, who first observed, “It’s love that makes the world go round.” He might have penned the line for the comic opera Iolanthe but the sentiment is anything but a laughing matter. Humans often live and have frequently died in the name of love – but are we any closer to understanding it? 133 years after Gilbert’s words and, to borrow another songwriter’s phrase, one look at this year’s television schedule suggests we still haven’t found what we’re looking for. Of course it’s not the first year Australian networks have gambled on love to make the ratings go round. The Nine Network is currently airing its ninth season of Farmer Wants A Wife, suggesting love will always overcome the city-country divide. In May, Nine will also bring back Married At First Sight, in which contestants say “I do” and then work out whether that’s enough to keep them together. Network Ten is also airing its fourth season of The Bachelor. Like a modern take on King Xerxes in the book of Esther, the show offers a harem of potential wives to a well-to-do man who goes on intimate dates until he discovers the one who pleases him best. Ten has also committed to a second season of The Bachelorette in 2016 where the roles are reversed. Even the ABC is replacing past series like Making
First Dates is among a variety of TV shows testing theories of love this year. Couples Happy with the comedy investigation Luke Warm Sex. However it’s the Seven Network that seems most committed to love. In 2016 Seven will introduce three new programs, each pushing a particular perspective on love. Straight off the block is First Dates where men and women agree to go on a blind date in Seven’s romantic restaurant. The staff play cupid, doing their best to stir in equal amounts of interest and jealousy as newly minted couples get to know each other. Love is a word participants clearly associate with a serious relationship. What seasons the romance though is the rational evaluation: what does this prospective partner bring to the table? Are they good looking? Do they have a steady job? Will they
match my personality? According to First Dates, love is the result of carefully sifting the choices to discover the perfect fit. If candle-lit dinners fail to find love then Seven is hoping desperation will serve. The network recently released the Australian version of Seven Year Switch. “Seven years marks a point in many marriages when couples find themselves restless and dissatisfied; and some even wonder what it would be like if they had picked a different spouse,” according to the show’s US producers. Four struggling couples agree to test that theory. Seven Year Switch is an upgraded version of Wife Swap where participants move into a new home and share
the bed of someone who isn’t their partner. This “switch therapy” is pitched as a last-ditch effort to save a relationship that has reached breaking point. The hope is these “experimental marriages” will rekindle the magic the original couples once shared – or start something new altogether. Though trialling a new partner might drive couples back into each other’s arms, Seven Year Switch is still likely to sow seeds of distrust to be reaped for years to come. Seven is placing its final bet on the seemingly timeless suggestion that sex gives birth to love. Kiss Bang Love’s title tells you everything you need to know. Ten single Australians will be matched up with 15 potential suitors. The would-be lover is then blindfolded and kisses each of the prospects. The blindfold comes off for a repeat performance with the best five, and the contestant’s final choice will then spend the night with them in a luxury hotel. Seven’s done its best to maintain a serious face for what amounts to televised sex by suggesting an unnamed study has found that the average person kisses 15 people and has two onenight stands before falling in love. This dubious truth underlines Kiss Bang Love’s premise: love requires physical gratification. According to Seven, love is selective, love is arousing – it does not settle for less than satisfaction, so it keeps no record of those it sleeps with or hurts along the way. By contrast the Bible points us
to a love that is fundamentally selfless, bears with rejection and seeks a union so profound it surpasses even sex. It talks about couples who submit themselves to each other’s needs, who use their love to cover over a multitude of sins, who use sex to reach the real goal of becoming one flesh. I think the world’s concepts of love are poor, anaemic things by comparison. Too often Christians tut-tut over poorly informed programmes and waste their time telling unbelievers what love really looks like. This might increase their appetite but it runs the risk of making TV’s own mistake: pitching love as a formula. Love is not the result of a carefully followed plan but the revelation of a person: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16). You can’t have real love without God, only its reflection. In fact the power to produce true love comes from the Spirit Jesus places within those who first give themselves to him: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him ... We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:9,19). So love does in fact make the world go around, even though the world does not know him by that name. But the world has got it right in holding that love rises from the perfect relationship – it’s just not the relationship they’re thinking about.
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From China to Sydney, a call to mission REV ANTHONY BRAMMALL In 1890, Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission, toured Australia to make his work known, and to recruit new missionaries for cross-cultural gospel ministry in China. A bright, young Hobart man listened with rapt attention over several evenings, as Taylor put the needs of this huge harvest field before gatherings of Christians in Hobart. Charles Benson Barnett, just twenty years old and newly graduated from university, was already turning his thoughts towards China – the sleeping giant whose doors had opened to Christian missionaries. After training in Adelaide, Barnett served in China from 1893 until 1907. He stayed through the perilous years of the Boxer Rebellion, when almost two hundred Christian missionaries were martyred. After returning to Australia, he pastored churches, before becoming convicted of the pressing need for a missionary training college in the eastern states. God’s hand was guiding Barnett to Sydney. The Barnett family arrived in Sydney in January 1916. They gathered around them a small interdenominational group of keen, evangelical, missions-minded supporters. Barnett found a suitable house to
Barnett in Chinese dress, following Hudson Taylor’s principles. rent in Croydon, in Sydney’s inner west. There, in April 1916, Sydney Missionary and Bible College began. Two intrepid students enrolled on the first day, soon
joined by others to make a first cohort of eight. Barnett’s aims for the new college were clear: to prepare Christians for ‘any Christian
service they may wish to undertake. ‘ The Bible is the ultimate and infallible authority for guidance in all conduct and belief. Students here gain such knowledge of God, that they shall truly “know him,” and go out and be strong and do exploits, as a result of that knowledge. ‘Not only are we a Bible college; we are a missionary college …Our Lord’s word is plain and insistent: Go ye into all the world.’ Before long, the numbers of zealous Christian women applying to serve with Australian mission societies exposed a crying need for systematic missionary training for women. In response, SMBC opened a women’s department in 1927, with residential accommodation. Within three years, many of the college’s female graduates were serving in Australian indigenous missions as well as in China, India and the Pacific. Mary Andrews, a 1936 SMBC graduate, was one of many to serve cross-culturally. She ministered in China throughout World War II, from 1938 to 1951. She became principal of Deaconess House, renamed Mary Andrews College in 1997. In the absence of any denominational support, money was usually tight. Life at the college has always been lived in faithful dependence on the
sovereign God. As in their anxious China years, persistent, undoubting prayer characterised the principal, as it did the college as a whole. ‘God supplies all our needs,’ Barnett wrote. ‘He is supreme, and must do his work as he will and not according to the dictates of any. ‘Those who know what prayer is know it is a labour, and at times a travail. It is believing when the blackness of night hangs over one. It is trusting God when there does not seem to be any God to trust. It is spending the last penny when you cannot see where more is to come from. Principal and students alike thank God for every time we have been driven into a corner, for there we have proved God to be a God of Deliverances.’ Still a residential college at Croydon after a century, SMBC continues to prepare Christians for ministry in Australia and overseas. Its commitment to the Bible and cross-cultural mission has never wavered. Under God’s merciful provision, it continues to fling Christian men and women out across the globe with the gospel, to call people out of darkness into new life in Jesus Christ. Read about the people, and the stories, of God’s great faithfulness to SMBC over the last 100 years in the centenary history, Out of Darkness, available for purchase from smbc.com.au/store
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Reaching the unreached in Vietnam This woman is exactly the type of person that Bible Society in Vietnam is praying will be able to hear the gospel when the Bible translation into the Tay language is complete. KALEY PAYNE Morning brings the mist in the northern mountains of Vietnam. Low clouds hide the towering peaks and the air is cool. We’re visiting a Tay village today, on a trip with two of Bible Society Vietnam’s workers. It’s about five hours north of Hanoi, close to the Chinese border and the village is only accessible by boat: long, narrow blue boats that float gracefully over Ba Be Lake, Vietnam’s largest natural lake. The region is speckled with small tribal villages, mostly belonging to the Tay people, one of Vietnam’s largest minority groups. Tay villages are generally found at the foot of the mountains, where they can be near water to fish and grow wet rice. The lake narrows into a deep stream, and ahead of us a line of water buffalo slow us down as we watch them scramble up the riverbank. A Tay woman in a low wooden boat is washing clothes as we drift by.
The Tay village we’re visiting aren’t expecting us, my Bible Society colleague tells me. But they’re friendly and it’s the week before Tết – Vietnamese New Year – so families are at home preparing a feast and a grand celebration. Visitors are expected and welcome. Because the Tay people live in some of the most remote parts of Vietnam, they are relatively untouched by modern Vietnam. Farming is still done manually, with water buffalo, and slash-andburn techniques. It’s a tribal group also relatively untouched by the gospel. Traditionally, the Tay people worship multiple gods. Ancestor worship is commonplace, praying to the deceased for protection and guidance. The tribe is also animistic, believing non-human entities have spirits they can worship. The Tay alphabet was developed by Tay people themselves in the mid-20th century, but written materials are scarce. There is no Tay Bible.
As we walk from our boat into the village – just three or four scattered thatched houses connected by a dirt road – we come across a man wearing a large robe back to front, sitting on a plastic chair in the middle of the track. Another man joins him with a pair of scissors – it’s time for a haircut. Our guide greets them and after some initial translation problems between Tay and Vietnamese, the men offer us enormous smiles and beckon us towards the house. This family, which we’ve descended upon unannounced, welcomes us with open arms. The mother is warm and friendly and invites us inside. The house is dark and sparse, just one room with an annex-style kitchen that’s open to the elements. My guide tells me there is limited electricity, and only at night. There’s a naked bulb hanging in the corner of the large room. The only furniture is three plastic chairs and a makeshift crate table. This family doesn’t own much. But we’re offered tea and sweets. A little girl is curious to see
my camera. She’s shy but lets me take her photo. She giggles, face in her hand, when I show it to her. Christians don’t hold a monopoly on hospitality. We are welcome here. But a family like this is exactly the type of people that Bible Society in Vietnam is praying for. They will be able to hear the gospel when their work is done in translating a Bible into the Tay language. There are about 1.9 million Tay people scattered across northern Vietnam. It’s a huge number of people who have never heard about Jesus. Kan*, a Bible translator working as a volunteer on the Tay translation, tells us there are many similarities between the creation story in the history and tradition of the Tay people and the biblical account. Other biblical stories like Noah and the flood, and some of the gospel parables, are similar to stories the Tay tell among themselves. The familiarity of some of the stories, says Kan, would make the Bible particularly
interesting for the Tay people, if only they could hear it in their own language. “I believe there is a big opportunity to get the Bible into the hands of Tay people as one of the first books they might ever see written in their own language,” says Kan. * Name changed for security reasons.
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Barney Zwartz on how to take part in the plebiscite Greg Clarke asks, “Who’s going to save us?”
Michael Jensen on anxiety and xenophobia
How should the Christian community respond to Islam, and to the Muslims who live among us? Many people have expressed to me the concern that a “soft” response to Islam is at best naïve and at worst a form of cultural suicide. Now, let me say that some of this has come from ignorance, xenophobia and a tinge of racism. But not all of this anxiety does come from that place. Some of the people who have spoken to me are intelligent, reflective, and compassionate Christian individuals, who are usually deeply respectful of people of other racial
and cultural backgrounds. Let me see if I can articulate their worry. They would say that Islam is more than simply a cultural or racial difference. Islam is at heart theocratic – which is to say, it is interested in pluralism only up to the tipping point where it can actually achieve dominance. Islamic countries like Malaysia, for example, offer a level of tolerance to non-Muslims, but only so long as they don’t threaten the Islamic identity of the Malaysian state. Persecution of non-Muslim minorities is endemic across the Islamic world, from Africa to Asia. But applying the generous
liberalism of Western democracies – designed to allow Christian sects to live side by side without rancour – to Islam invites into our midst an ideology that isn’t ultimately interested in social harmony, but is rather committed to a hostile takeover. This seems suicidal, and is reflected in the bizarre spectacle of left-leaning groups like the Greens making gestures of support towards Islamic groups – which have completely incompatible (you would have thought) ideological views on things like women, gays and social policy in general. Is the idea of a takeover remotely possible? You certainly don’t
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have to spend long in the north of England, in a town like Bradford, to feel that the mosque is becoming the dominant culture. The same could be said of parts of France. Fear of the growth of Islam has seen the rise of the right-wing UK Independence Party, which garnered some three million votes in the 2015 UK general election. Now, I follow some of this reasoning. I think the lame tolerance of Western secular liberalism is ultimately selfdefeating, and representative of a decadent culture, which has become individualistic to the point continued page 16
The BEST response to Islam
from page 15 of narcissism. Selfies, anyone? I think Islamic culture, which is strong on social cohesion and family life, and has a story to tell that gives its adherents a hope, exposes the lack of a soul at the heart of our own culture. We should be concerned about the strength of Islam, because it reveals the soul-lessness of our own culture. I am also appalled and alarmed by the spectre of ISIS, and its willingness to employ perverse means to achieve its diabolical ends. The blood of our fellow Christians in the Middle East continues to flow freely, and we must weep, and cry out to God, “how long”? But is every Muslim in Australia a potential agent of ISIS, if only they could be told what true Islam is? I don’t think so! Are we potentially coming under Sharia law? Unlikely! Many Islamic people are, like many Christians, nominally and culturally Muslim, but as interested in living a peaceful and safe life in a prosperous country. They are genuinely appalled and ashamed by the behaviour of ISIS, as I am of the Westboro Baptist Church. What’s more, with our usual blindness, we forget to see that inter-Islamic struggles are often more fierce and deadly than the struggle of Muslims with others. The Hazara people of Afghanistan, who are Shi’a Muslims, have been fleeing persecution in their homeland from the majority, who are Sunni Muslims. Our Muslim neighbours may have come to Australia to escape attack by fellow
Muslims. These seem unlikely terrorists to me. The issues are complex, and Christians of good will seem to disagree about how to respond. Some of us seem too afraid; some of us seem not afraid enough. But I think there are a number of principles that Christians could agree on here. We should put aside the argument about whether Muslims are arriving in Australia in order to take over our nation and way of life or not. The real issue is not “what do we feel?” but “what are we going to do that is distinctively Christian in this situation?” It seems to me that, even if this were the case, the Christian way to respond should begin with Jesus’ command to love our enemies. And how should we do this in the case of Muslims living in Australia? First, we in the churches should extend help and friendship, even when we are afraid. The power of actually getting to know someone
is, trite though it may be to say it, extraordinarily powerful. Many Muslim immigrants may not know a single non-Muslim Australian, and live in isolation. Why does the Muslim mum at the school gate stand alone, or alone with other Muslim women? Why does the Muslim guy at work who doesn’t feel comfortable coming for a beer get left out all the time? This should extend to leaders, as well. How remarkable would it be if Christian leaders could say, readily, that they know the Muslim leaders in their community personally? This requires compromising not a single thing about the distinctiveness of Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t it be extraordinary if Islamic immigrants to Australia were able to say: “it was the church in Australia that made me feel welcome, more than anyone”? Secondly, we should make common cause when and where we agree. That is not papering over the
cracks of our massive differences. But we can agree about matters of social justice, family life and religious freedom, just to name some. This is invitation to Muslims to contribute positively to the making of our nation. Thirdly, we shouldn’t pretend a difference isn’t there, but we should be able to model respectful disagreement. It is simply lazy and actually disrespectful to Muslims to call them “brothers and sisters” or to say “we all worship the same God”. It isn’t true. And it helps secular people simply say “Oh, all religious are the same, so I can ignore all of them.” Actually, I think the outcome of this kind of conversation could be a raising of the level of religious discussion in Australia. We need robust discussion of theological views, not the bracketing out of God from the public square. Christians and Muslims together can do that well. Wouldn’t it be interesting for a secular friend to overhear a Christian and a Muslim having an informed and respectful but robust discussion about God? Fourthly, we should show generosity where we can. A friend of mine – who is deeply concerned about Islam’s influence across the world – out of his concern sponsors without fanfare a number of Muslim teenage girls to go on an Outward Bound camp, no strings attached. To me, this is an extraordinary model of Christlikeness, because his deep concern has been expressed in an act of generous love for these girls. They are given the opportunity of social inclusion, and to build friendships that will last. It’s this kind of act that messes with everybody’s
head in just the right way. Aren’t Christians and Muslims supposed to hate each other? Aren’t we supposed to look after our own? In fact, as Kanishka Raffel pointed out to me recently, the persecuted churches of the Middle East, under enormous pressure, have become our models. There are extraordinary examples emerging from Syria and Iraq where Christian churches have opened their doors and given aid to Muslim refugees as well as Christian ones. Can we imagine how afraid they are, and how difficult this is to do? And yet, it is a perfect example of the kind of compassionate and yet uncompromising response that is a hallmark of authentic Christianity. It is a witness, a compelling and often converting witness, to the reality of Jesus Christ. Lastly, if we are afraid of the advance of Islam in Australia, then the best thing we can do (after messing with everyone’s heads by being radically generous!) is to make sure that Christianity is itself hale and hearty. And that means you, reading this article now. Are you attending church regularly, and bringing your family along? Are your children being brought up to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ? Is your local church a vigorous, active community of people seeking to love Christ in word and in action? Do you know your Bible well? Are you inviting your friends and neighbours in? The spiritual lethargy of Australians is, in the end, a far greater enemy to our way of life than Islam ever will be. Michael Jensen is the rector of St Mark’s Anglican Church in Sydney and the author of several books.
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The plebiscite requires decency BALLOT P A
Barney Zwartz on the importance of tone Australia is heading for trouble with a capital T, which rhymes with P, which stands for plebiscite (with apologies to The Music Man). The national temperature is rising, and the angry words are increasing, even though we don’t have a date or a question or much certainty about anything of what the mooted plebiscite on same-sex marriage will involve. There is one point about which Christians (some of whom, it should be acknowledged, are in favour of same-sex marriage – and for various reasons) should remind ourselves daily. That is the importance of tone, which must be reasonable, loving and gentle. Any false steps here will be remembered long into the future, and there are issues at stake that go beyond the plebiscite (important though that is), such as how Australia will function in the future as a pluralistic society. There is another capital T about which Australians talk a great deal, and that is Tolerance. I’ve never admired tolerance as a virtue, as I wrote recently in a short column in The Age. It ranks well behind compassion or empathy, let alone encouraging or identifying with someone. Australians pride ourselves on being a tolerant people, but what we are praising in ourselves is often far closer to apathy – we simply don’t care very much. When something actually impinges on our daily lives, we may find that vaunted tolerance is merely a thin veneer. But however substandard tolerance may be as an attitude, it is very much superior to its opposite. I fear very much for the tenor of the debate in the coming plebiscite. People on both sides have already given and taken offence, and this will probably only escalate as discussion gets under way. That said, it is no reason not to have the conversation. The idea of offence, increasingly built
SAME-SEX MARRIAG E
YES or NO
“Christians who read their Bibles know they must do much more than tolerate LGBTI people in the community.” into some anti-discrimination codes, can disguise a good many unconsidered assumptions and is often used to close down discussion that interest groups might find inconvenient. Anti-discrimination laws are important, along with laws banning incitement, but offence is a very unsatisfactory rubric because it is so subjective. Recently many people were offended by the Australian Christian Lobby seeking to repeal vilification laws for the duration of the debate. I thought the idea misguided because it implied that those opposed to same-sex marriage were wanting to vilify. However, the request is understandable when the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart faces discrimination action for advocating what is still the law of the land, marriage only between a man and a woman. Opponents of same-sex marriage can and must make their arguments without contempt or vilification. (As, indeed, ACL managing director Lyle Shelton did, speaking calmly and without
vilifying on the ABC’s Q & A current affairs show recently.) Christians who read their Bibles know they must do much more than tolerate LGBTI people in the community, many of whom also identify as Christians. They must love them as themselves, and wish only the best for them. At the very least, this demands respect and simple human decency. But the same obligation extends to supporters of same-sex marriage, who are often quick to dismiss any arguments against it as pure homophobia. Sometimes this might be true, but often they flow from a real investment in what society should look like and from genuine concerns about the direction it is taking. Same-sex marriage has become a sort of litmus test about wider social issues. In January the world’s Anglican leaders met in England to try to avoid schism over sexuality, a possibility that has cast a pall over the worldwide Anglican Communion for two decades. The primates managed to avoid
this yet again by voting to uphold the traditional understanding of marriage. This outraged many secularists, including The Times whose leader writer fulminated that the church had no right to maintain its traditional view. As James Mumford wrote in The Spectator, this indicates a disturbing trend. It is one thing to tell the church it can’t impose its beliefs on the rest of society; quite another to say it shouldn’t hold those beliefs at all. The once-august and conservative newspaper apparently holds that Christians should not only not advocate beliefs against samesex marriage, they should not be allowed to think them. Mumford wrote: “It is easy to overlook how ominous this shift really is. The conviction that organisations and communities cannot determine their own distinct ethos, their own rules for membership and their own criteria for leadership imperils the very survival of a pluralistic society. “Consider a different case. Imagine that a female student
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leader of a church group at a university is expected not to sleep with her boyfriend. Now, one may think chastity a ridiculously outdated ideal, even a damaging instance of repression. One may think that group’s policy, and the way they justify it, is de facto judgmental about people who don’t live by their ideal. You may think it’s harsh that those leaders get removed from ministry if they break those rules. But for all our talk of diversity and pluralism, in reality this is what it looks like. Communities in society which look and feel very different from yours being allowed to look and feel very different from yours.” Mumford asked readers to “indulge my alarmism a little further. Could the paradigm shift in view here – that communities shouldn’t be allowed to adhere to certain principles – not presage something even more ominous? We are not bereft of historical precedent when it comes to public opinion paving the way for state intervention.” Actually, I think that is a little alarmist. Certainly in Australia we are a long way from closing down churches or banning the Bible because they condemn homosexual activity. Christians can hold these views without vilifying anyone. The Concise Oxford defines vilify as “defame, traduce, speak evil of”, modes of speech that are strongly counter to the biblical exhortations. But if someone had suggested 10 years ago that Hobart Archbishop Julian Porteous would be brought before the anti-discrimination tribunal in Tasmania because he distributed a booklet advocating what is, in fact, the current legal position in this country and suggesting children should have both a mother and a father, that suggestion would have been ridiculed. Yet so it has come to pass, and that is a little alarming. One thing I can guarantee: between now and the plebiscite there will be lots of suggestions, claims, statistics and analyses that will offend people. Christians should take the lead in the tenor of the debate, respecting their opponents (on both sides) as holding beliefs in good conscience, even good will. In short, applying simple human decency. Barney Zwartz is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity. This is an extended version of a column that first appeared in The Age on February 29.
Letters Same God, reader response Tim Costello on the springboard of doubt One point in the story of Jesus where all four gospels agree is the reaction of the women at the tomb when they find the stone rolled away and they realise that Jesus’ body is not where they expected it to be. The first reaction at the sight of the risen Christ is not wonder or praise but doubt and confusion. And when the women told Peter what they had witnessed, he too, at first, did not believe it. Yet Peter was dissatisfied with doubt and got up and ran to the tomb to see for himself. Later on, two of the disciples encounter a stranger on the road to the village of Emmaus. They tell him of what has happened in Jerusalem, of Jesus’ death and of the women’s story of his being alive. Yet at first they do not recognise their companion as Jesus, until they break bread together and their eyes are opened to the truth. The story powerfully reminds us that doubt and faith are not opposites but two parts of a single journey. It reminds us that scepticism, uncertainty and confusion are all processes that people experience in the course of finding faith. The reaction of Jesus’ friends and followers to his resurrection is one of great reassurance, that our humanity means we are not expected to be perfect. In my work with World Vision I constantly encounter doubt and pessimism, even among many good-hearted Australians and people of deep faith. The fact is that modern media bombard us with bad news, of wars and disasters, violence and terrorism, and it is very easy to become jaded and disillusioned and feel powerless in the face of evil. It is challenging to assure people that their prayers, their volunteering, their donations and their hard work are really restoring hope and a renewed chance at life for children and communities caught in some of the toughest situations imaginable. But Jesus’ story reminds us that doubt can be a springboard to believing that life wins, that more is possible than we first imagine, and to giving our commitment to building his kingdom by doing as he taught us: the most we can for “the least of these”.
Dear Editor, In seeking to provide an answer for the question: Do Muslims worship the same God? (Eternity, Feb 2016) John Stackhouse has expressed a very stimulating and challenging point of view. Mark Durie also wrote a valuable, though one might add expected, response for the negative. John’s “outside the square” approach, yet inside the borders of God’s revealed word, was a reminder to me that we can often superimpose our own narrow framework on how God chooses to reveal himself. C.S. Lewis tackled the same theme in The Last Battle where Aslan says to a pagan, “Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.” As much as I love Lewis’ writing, to this day I still don’t agree with his illustration. John Stackhouse has made a much more compelling case. Stephen Fry, Hoppers Crossing, VIC
The same God
It is mischievously divisive to suggest that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God (Eternity, February). For sixteen years I taught in a Melbourne Muslim school while at the same time regularly attending my local Anglican church. I could not help noticing the similarity between the two sets of worshippers (humble, pious, family-centred and well-read in Scripture) and their understanding of God (omniscient, omnipotent, benign, compassionate and merciful). Of course we worship the same God, as do the adherents of other sacred traditions (such as native Indians and their Great Spirit)! What varies, both between religions and within religions, is understandings of God. It is hard to see how Mark Durie arrives at the conclusion that Islam “completely lacks a theology of the presence of God.” What about the verse: “He is nearer to you than your jugular vein?” And who can forget the wonderful sense of the comfort of the divine presence in a time of trouble when, in the film Lawrence of Arabia, T.E. Lawrence finishes a reading of the sura “The Brightness”? Exclusivist theology needs to be abandoned in this light. Nigel Jackson, Belgrave, VIC
Not the same
The Arab-speaking Christians used the word Allah before the Muslims, so we have to be careful that we do not credit Allah with Muslim beliefs. We have to keep in mind when looking at these things that each year more than 400 evangelicals, even some missionaries, convert to Islam. Also
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How on earth do I get over this? according to the French news Vingt Heures, 20 per cent of ISIS are converts! not born Muslims. Firstly, the Koran contradicts itself on a number of things and, in general, what is thought to be the latest view is accepted; this is called abrogation (Q.2:106 13:39). As a result someone looking for similarities with the Bible may not realise that certain views have been annulled. Secondly, this annulling of certain ideas fits in with the Muslim God who calls himself a deceiver (Q.3:54 6:39 8:30). The Bible calls Satan the Liar (John 8:44) and Deceiver (2 John 1:7). Indeed, the Bible warns us that very clever deceivers will come so that even God’s chosen will almost fall for it (Matt 24:24). Because the god of Islam is a deceiver, Muslims are also allowed to deceive if they think it is to the benefit of their religion (Taqiya). This means that one has to be very careful with statements, contracts and promises by Muslims. Indeed, many persecuted Christians have stated that long-term Muslim friends turned against them when persecution started. Harry Kloppenburg, Thornlie, WA
Hilary + Donald
A short note to congratulate you on a well-balanced magazine covering a wide range of Christian activity and opinion. I would request that you do the world a favour and send a copy of Greg Clarke’s article (“Who wants to rule the world, and should they?” Eternity, February) to both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump as I feel we, even in this part of the world, need to be sure they are fair dinkum and they are
looking after the welfare of others. Thanks, Greg. David Forward, Wakerley, QLD
I write to express my concern at the populism of the ‘Christian’ social action movement that picks and chooses its moral causes. I read and watch how today, March 20, 2016, thousands of people, including doctors and churchgoers, are involved in the ‘Welcome Refugee rallies on Palm Sunday’ calling for compassionate treatment of asylum-seekers. Over 100 churches around Australia are ready to offer sanctuary to people at risk of deportation. How is it that liberal social action Christians have the commitment and the energy for such populist causes, and yet are unable to mobilise themselves against the Humanist onslaught against the fundamental tenets of Christian faith and life? Where is the outrage at the endangerment of our children’s well-being and safety from the prolific pollution of free access to pornography? Children have never, ever been in such danger from predators, sexual bullying, sexualised exploitation, sexting, rape and prostitution. Where is the outrage against abortion? A crime against humanity; the holocaust of our times. Not even a whimper any more. Where is the outrage against the ungodly who attack the core and fundamental God given sacrament of heterosexual marriage and faithfulness. No rallies here. No commitment to core Christian values here. Nick Wagner, Barossa Valley, SA
Understanding our Australian Christian Heritage http://www.chr.org.au/ ETERNITY NEWSPAPER Print Co-ordination and Distribution by
Also speaking, Revd Dale Barclay, BCA Field Staff worker, Red Cliffs, Vic 6.15pm drinks for 6.45pm Annual Meeting followed by Spit Roast Dinner Child Minding will be available (please advise) Only $30.00 per person. RSVP Friday 29th April – 03 9457 7556 or email@example.com
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Peter Jensen wants to teach you to read. He’s the ex-Archbishop of Sydney (Anglican version) but don’t hold that against him. He is a great reader, and he recently sent a note out urging the value of good reading. It’s so good, I will share it. “Now I always think that there are two basic rules in all reading. “First, read with love. That is, our love for an author should mean that we take them at their word. We should presume that they are trying to communicate. Thus, our aim is not to read what we want to into the word, but, as far as we can, what the word actually says. We need to observe such things as genre and language – as we do all the time when we are reading. What we read may fill us with disgust or dismay, but it has to be read for what it says, not for what we want to see in it. “The reader is not the author.” Good advice even for readers of Eternity. Christians should be good readers. It is important to us. And Jensen goes on to reveal exactly why: he’s really talking about reading the best thing of all. “Second, read in context. This, of course flows from reading with love. But it is particularly important to read the Bible this way. The Bible is a unity, inspired by God. It has many facets to it, but it is united in its source (the Spirit), its theme (the kingdom of God), its central character (the Lord Jesus) and its framework (the Covenants of God). There are many rules to good reading, but the basic one is this: the Bible interprets the Bible.” John Sandeman
What women really want
An Australian church leader recently said that men should assert their rights over their wives’ bodies. Simone Richardson explains why this is not a good idea. SIMONE RICHARDSON
I was thumbing through an Australian Christian magazine recently, and an article about sex caught my eye. The writer was bemoaning the fact that many couples were having “infrequent” sex. He presented this as a pressing pastoral problem and described non-voracious couples as “sinful”. He argued from 1 Corinthians 7 that sex is a debt we owe our spouses, and while allowing that age, accidents and illness may create exceptional circumstances, said that the biblical norm is that a couple will be having sex “frequently”. He went on to define “frequently”, placing once a week at the outside edge of acceptability but stating that the biblical ideal is probably close to every night. He acknowledged that between husbands and wives there may be a difference in libido, but argued that men have “legitimate needs” and that any marital compromises should bring the couple closer to the “biblical norm” instead of towards “sin”. The most bewildering part of this article was the writer’s assumption that his argument would make a positive difference to a couple’s sexual habits. Who was his target audience? Was he writing for husbands? Were they to read this and tell their wives to up their game? Or was he writing for women? Did he want us to read this, repent of any lower libido and enthusiastically jump into bed? Because that isn’t going to happen. I read the article, bemused and infuriated, but at one level I did sympathise with the writer’s concerns. A husband and wife have promised to love and cherish each other. A cold and sexless marriage couldn’t be in keeping with this. But by arguing the way he did, the writer revealed his profound ignorance of the dynamics of
Simone Richardson responds to this recent article. female desire. Does he not realise that pressure is the number one libido killer for women? Can he not see that nothing will turn her anticipation into dread faster than feeling that she must, that it’s expected, that she owes it and that he’s entitled to it? Under such circumstances, what could be a delight will become burdensome for her, a chore. But what of 1 Corinthians 7? Does Paul not say adamantly that we are not to deprive one another? Wasn’t the writer just echoing Paul at this point? I would argue that Paul wasn’t addressing libido issues in 1 Corinthians 7, rather the false teaching of asceticism. The Corinthians thought that abstaining from sex would make them more spiritual. Paul vehemently denied this. I cannot help but think that if he had been addressing the complex relational issue of sexual desire rather than the error of asceticism then he would have written differently. Perhaps he would have sounded more like he does in 1 Corinthians 13, speaking about patience and kindness and gentleness and self-sacrificing love for others – and urging husbands to have the laying-down-your-life leadership that Jesus so embodied, rather than a laying-down-of-the-
law approach. But when it comes down to it, I wonder if God is much less interested in how much sex we are having, and much more interested in how we are loving one another through the frustrations. For given the differences between men and women, frustrations in this area seem somewhat inevitable. What might love for one another actually look like? As I see it, for women, love for husbands is best not expressed through short-term gritted teeth submission, but in a long-term quest to actually want it more. This may involve a change in attitude towards sex (and towards him), better communication skills and compromise. Our libidos are something that we can control – to some extent at least. Exerting control over her desire may be something a wife chooses to do to enrich her marriage. Husbands will need to take seriously their call to self-sacrificing headship. There is no place anywhere in Christian marriage for demanding, bullying behaviour, and especially not in the bedroom. Being Christ-like in marriage may mean deciding to be satisfied with less sex than you’d like for the sake of your spouse. Notice here that I am using the word “like” instead of “need”. Sex is not
“I wonder if God is much less interested in how much sex we are having, and much more interested in how we are loving one another”.
something essential like water or oxygen. No one has ever died from not having it. If it were a need, then how could we ask the single and those who experience same-sex attraction to abstain? Grown-up men know that sex isn’t about having a bodily lust satisfied. It is a relational oneness so much more profound and wonderful and complicated than the mere fulfilment of fleshly desire. It’s an expression of affection and trust and selfgiving. A mature husband will communicate to his wife that she is desirable and desired – she specifically in her own personal embodiment of the female form. She is, for him, what the Shulamite was for Solomon. He sees her and his heart will sing out:
SUPER THAT’S CHANGING THE WORLD
How beautiful you are, my darling, How beautiful you are! She satisfies him physically, but that is the least of what she does. She gives him connection, a home. He reaches for her and she accepts him. Receives him. He is affirmed at the very core of his being and stands taller and walks more confidently because this person who he adores has adored him back. Because he has been able to please her as she certainly pleases him. This kind of love-making is simply not possible to demand. It is always a gift given freely from one to the other, a joy passed back and forth between the two and enlarged with every giving. She glories that he glories in her body. It delights her that he delights in her. And it is her triumph that he who is her strength and comfort should find strength and comfort in her. He gives her pleasure and she is as pleased with his pleasure in pleasuring her as she is with the pleasure itself. Such is the mutuality of their love-making that it is hard to tell in which direction the gift is being passed. Both emerge from it stronger and closer. He feels profoundly grateful for her. She echoes the Shulamite and confidently asserts “My beloved is mine and his desire is for ME.”
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Only a God can save us
A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth (Ecclesiastes 7:1) Martin Heidegger was a 20thCentury German philosopher (he died in 1976), a very deep thinker and, unfortunately and as a side point, a Nazi sympathiser. During his high school years, he started to think about the “meaning of being”, what it means to “be”. This topic never left him, which is a reminder of the impressions of youth. No matter how long your life goes on, you will in many ways be shaped by the experiences of your youth. In fact, this is Heidegger’s key idea: that experience shapes you, and that humans are uniquely equipped to reflect on their existence, their “being”. We can observe ourselves “ being in the world”, “ being a certain way towards other people”, and, most
Greg Clarke on the problem of dying
importantly today, “being on our way to death.” Heidegger thought that “ beingtoward-death” as he termed it, was the only way to live an authentic life. Remember you must die – memento mori, as the earlier Latin thinkers said. Your history stretches out in one direction towards your demise. Those around you will lure you into a kind of group-think avoidance of this fact (what he delightfully calls “constant tranquillisation about death” by your “they-self”), but you must face it in order to truly live. Of course, such thinking is much older than Heidegger, and the millennia-old Bible quote from Ecclesiastes at the top of this column has provided a surprising angle on the subject. It praises death. Or perhaps, at least, the awareness that you will die. If you are going to live a worthwhile life, you have to recognise the problem of your death. Plenty of people today get this, and desperately endeavour to compensate for the fact that we are headed for the dust. Through achievements, political, artistic, career; through reproduction, attempting to out-do death by producing more life. We humans are very inventive when it comes to death-defying. The newest way is to spruik your Personal Brand online. At this
Martin Heidegger, a 20th-Century German philosopher. point in history, more people than ever before have left a “mark” on the world. That mark is most often digital. Your social media profile means you are “published”, you are immortalised in your tweets and Facebook posts. Beyond your death, your social media branding remains. As the old wall graffiti said, You Wuz ’Ere. I’m not the first to note that there is something desperate in all this status updating. What we all want is “A Good Name”. It smells better than perfume. It’s so wonderful to have people like your Facebook posts, retweet your tweets, to rate you. This is what we want, and we have wanted it since at least 900 BC – to be known and to be valued. That’s what really smells sweet to us.
But stupid, unstoppable death stands in the way, so our chance to gain a name is time-limited. Back to Heidegger. This Nazisympathising, difficult and somewhat depressing philosopher seemed to understand that human knowledge is partial, incomplete, and dissatisfying in the face of death. He also recognised this left humans with a very specific, singular hope. In a famous interview for Der Spiegel newspaper in 1966, Heidegger made a fascinating remark. When asked whether individuals could really make any difference to the fate of the world, in particular whether philosophy could guide human activity in a meaningful way, Heidegger said the following: “If I may answer briefly,
Bible Stat 12 million Bibles were printed in China in 2015 at Amity Press in Nanjing.
DEMENTIA AND FAITH 2016
and perhaps clumsily, but after long reflection: philosophy will be unable to effect any immediate change in the current state of the world. This is true not only of philosophy but of all purely human reflection and endeavour. Only a god can save us …” To find personal value beyond the grave: that’s what every Facebook account is in the end for. So that people know you, even when you are gone. The Christian view of life offers such a comfort, such an identity, in being known by God. It suggests that you don’t just have a Personal Brand by which you might be remembered, but that you are also Personally Branded by the God of the universe. You belong to him, he wants you and remembers you, and longs to connect with you, not through Facebook, but face-to-face. “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known,” says Paul. To have a good name before God, to be fully known by him, that is sweeter than perfume. The impending day of our death awakens in us the reality that we are hopeless in the face of the world’s immensity. Unless someone can save us, in which case we just might gain a good name long beyond when people care about our Facebook posts. Greg Clarke is CEO of Bible Society Australia.
Why grace is truly free; Child abuse survivor turns to love; A warning about the plebiscite + Was Shakespeare really a Christian?
Published on Mar 31, 2016
Why grace is truly free; Child abuse survivor turns to love; A warning about the plebiscite + Was Shakespeare really a Christian?