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Thinking About...

Play Volume 3, Issue 1 - January 2012

The teaching faculty of Ministry, Theology, and Culture at Tabor Adelaide are committed to serving the church by thinking about the gospel. We believe that individuals and the church can be transformed by the renewing of our/their minds. Too often college lecturers are characterized as “living in an ivory tower” and “being too theoretical.” This stereotype doesn’t apply at Tabor; we are part of the church, and we want to see it grow in faithfulness to Jesus. This is why we have committed ourselves to producing this themed magazine for free distribution to the churches of South Australia. There are three issues of Thinking About... each year; we trust you find them helpful. We value your feedback and your contributions; please email me at Rev Dr Stephen Spence Deputy Principal (Academic)

Thinking About...Play


saw “Tintin” and “Hugo” (both in 3D). I am reading my third Harry Boesch novel (a series by Michael Connelly). I watch TV (Bones, Castle, and NCIS - likable people working together to catch the “bad guys”). I like to take pictures and edit them in my iPad’s photo apps. I post status updates to Facebook. And when the season is right, I watch the football (and not just my own team).


nd while I am doing all this “playing around” I have books in my office that need to be read. I have lectures that are waiting to be updated. I have sermons to research. I have agendas, and minutes, and action points to be followed up on. I have blogs, eletters, and “Thinking Abouts” to write and edit. And since I started writing this I now have two more emails to answer.


certainly have enough work to fill all of my non-sleeping hours. And, of course, I don’t even begin to spend enough time in prayer and quiet reflection. Or on physical exercise. Or on community service. Or catching up with family and friends. Or any one the multitude of other worthy things I could be doing instead of working or playing.


have so much left undone it’s hard to believe that I take time to play. Or, perhaps that’s the problem? Because I take time to play I have so much left undone.


s taking time to play what the Apostle Paul meant when he told the Ephesians to “make the best use of the time because the days are evil” (5:16 ESV)? Or, in the language of the KJV I grew up with, is

taking time to play really “redeeming the time”?


s there a biblical mandate to play? Or have I been drawn away from more worthy tasks by our frivolous culture of entertainment and self-indulgence?


e each have to make choices about how we spend our time. In this issue of “Thinking About” we explore Christians and play.


n this edition we will be Thinking about...Play, with Aaron Chalmers, Bruce Hulme, David McGregor, David Turnbull, Graham Buxton, Lesley Houston, Matthew Gray, Melinda Cousins, and Stephen Spence.

Does God play? E W

instein famously declared that “God does not play dice.” But does God ‘play’ at all?

Rev Melinda Cousins is the newest member of the Tabor faculty. She has been appointed Lecturer in Biblical Studies and will help lead our first study tour to Israel in June. In first semester Melinda is teaching Understanding the Biblical Narrative.

e praise God for His work of creation, and yet there seems to be a sense of delight and playfulness in what He has made. Have you ever taken a good look at a platypus? Or a camel? Surely God was smiling when He made them! What about the sheer variety of colours, or flowers, or amoebas? Were these all necessary? Or was creation an activity that God found pleasure in? Meaningful but not necessary – is that a definition of play?


n Genesis 1 we read that God created Sabbath, when He rested from His work of creation. In our culture we tend to assume that the word “rest” has to do with tiredness and the need for a break. We can think that to ‘rest’ means to lie down and do nothing. But I’m pretty sure that God didn’t take the seventh day off because He was exhausted from working too hard! The Sabbath is the day on which God sits back and admires what He has made. When He delights in and engages with His wonderful creation. It

2 Playing at Outreach A

David Turnbull, Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Studies. He is enrolled in the PhD program at Flinders University. In first semester, David is teaching Introduction to World Religions.

ll work and no play can rob Christians of the opportunity to venture out into local communities to build genuine relationships. An increasing number of Australian churches are recognising this and investing in leisure activities for outreach purposes. One church netball club is connecting with over 300 young women, mostly unchurched. Some churches have built or are managing sporting venues which are used through the week by the community and on Sundays become a worship centre. This is not new. In my teens I played in my local church’s junior cricket program in the regional churches competition and had friends who played in the local churches basketball competition. These sports/leisure ministries build on the Australian passion for leisure pursuits; they provide valuable bridge-building opportunities between church and community.


owever, as such involvement is time-consuming and heavy on church resources/facilities, the question of the value, impact and effectiveness of leisure-based ministries needs to be explored.

seems to me that there is a link between the Hebrew idea of Shabbat (rest) and the idea of play. Certainly for God, the first Sabbath seems to be a day of true recreation.


hristians tend to think about Sabbath through the lens of the Pharisees, and so it becomes a list of negatives, a series of “don’ts”. I’ve had the privilege of celebrating Shabbat in Israel, and what struck me most was the palpable sense of both anticipation and celebration. Passing spices around the dinner table so that each person could smell and soak in the aromas; dancing and singing in the public square; families gathering together to retell the great stories of their history and to appreciate one another. These are all experiences which are meaningful without necessarily being ‘productive’. I think perhaps there is something like ‘play’ going on here.


oo many people in our culture think of God as a killjoy and fun-hater. But Jesus calls us to be both like our Father in heaven, and like little children. Perhaps there is more playfulness in our God than we think?


he challenge, as I see it, is the need to think through creatively how to maximise the effectiveness of these opportunities and become intentional in providing opportunities for people to go further and participate creatively in the proclamation of the Good News. It is easy to be passive and wait for people to initiate spiritual conversations but this is unlikely to be effective.


o ensure leisure ministries are fully incorporated into the missions strategy of the church, churches should consider providing a chaplain to their sports teams and they should ensure that members of the church who participate in the team are extensively equipped in evangelism. Have creative family-centred events built around the Christian calendar and activity programs for the children/youth to attend that foster social relationships beyond their playing time.


ports and leisure ministries do have a place, and we need to ensure their effectiveness by taking time to evaluate them.

Sport: An Icon of the Triune


ome say that sport fosters unhealthy competitiveness, an “us versus them” attitude. And because Christians see the gospel as being about breaking down barriers and creating a greater sense of community, some believe that sport is entirely contrary to the gospel message. Matthew Gray is Lecturer in Church History. He is enrolled in the PhD history program at Adelaide University. In first semester, Matt will teach The Story of the Church and Introduction to Christian Ministry.


similar concern has been raised about Richard Dawkin’s evolutionary theory, articulated in his 1975 work, The Selfish Gene. There, he argues that the prime virtue in a secular evolutionist world is selfishness, a competitive dismissal of others’ needs for the sake of self alone. Former Australian of the Year, Tim Flannery, criticises Dawkins on this very point, in his latest book, Here on Earth (2010). He argues instead that evolution is about cooperation, not competition, with different species inevitably developing mutual reliance for survival.


lannery uses sport as his analogy for his point. He recognises that sport may seem driven by competition, but closer inspection will reveal it is “a miracle of cooperation” (p31). Team members cooperate in their teamwork, and spectators’ cheers make them become participants,

to “reveal a union of feeling in the spectators that lies at the very heart of sport”. But even the battle with the opposition is cooperative: “In sport, winners can only survive if losers do too: otherwise, there’d be no game. Our planet is rather similar.” Lions may seem to compete with antelopes for survival, but if the lions were to kill all the antelopes, they themselves would die. Even their competition is co-operative, regulating each species.


urely Christian theology can only enrich Flannery’s point here. Christians serve a cooperative Trinitarian God, in a constant “dance”. And God has created the entire world to reflect His Triune cooperation, making humanity in “our image”, in community, to foster and regulate such cooperation. A good passage of play in a sport is itself a “dance”, with the teammates’ cooperation potentially becoming an icon of the Triune God (I have actually explained the Trinity this way to some footy fans, and they loved it!). Sport is a microcosm of humanity’s responsibility to discourage our “selfish gene”, and instead to love our neighbour, and to facilitate healthy ecosystems across the globe.


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Playing to Learn W

Lesley Houston is the director of Tabor’s TESOL program Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. She is enrolled in a PhD program at Flinders University. In first semester, Lesley will teach the TESOL Foundations subject as an intensive.

hen I saw the topic for this edition of Thinking about... my immediate response was – what on earth do they mean by play! We play sport. We play games. We can go to a play at the theatre. We can play the fool. None of these really seemed to fit the bill so like any good student, I asked a librarian. Her answer was very enlightening - “it’s learning...having fun... laughing...communicating!” What a wonderful definition of play – thank you Helen!


s I’ve pondered the concept of play as learning, I remember some of the most effective English language classes I taught in Thailand involved play. • With the children at the orphanage, we played games to demonstrate and practice language items. • At the university we prepared scenarios for role-plays to simulate real verbal interaction. We wrote, rehearsed and presented plays. We learned. We laughed. We had fun and we built relationships. So how do we invite play into other learning,

especially the study of God’s word?


everal years ago I attended the Post-Modern Hermeneutics intensive here at Tabor. One of the most intriguing concepts explored during the week was ‘godly play’. Godly play is a way of creating a space in which children can explore biblical stories; but it’s equally valuable for adults. In the intensive, the lecturer used a variety of every-day materials to illustrate the text (for example a piece of cloth as the road, figurines for characters), building the story by bringing them out one by one and asking a question beginning I wonder... to lead participants deeper into the story. The resulting insights were both creative and quite profound as each of us responded to the story in our own way. y engaging in play based on Scripture, we made a sacred space in which we learned, had fun, laughed and communicated – with each other and with God. Perhaps it is a concept worth exploring in our own contexts?


4 What if God was to bring the nations to your local neighbourhood would your church be ready to welcome them in Jesus’ name?

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Foundations Intensive 2012 Through lectures, discussions, and workshops, this TESOL Intensive will give you the basic skills you will need to teach English to speakers of other languages by providing an overview of the central concepts of English language teaching. By the end of this intensive, you will be ready to use a range of resources to write successful, life-changing, lesson plans. For more information, contact Lesley Houston today at or telephone (08)8373 8777.

6-10 February 2012, 9.00am-4.00pm, at Tabor Adelaide (Millswood)

God is Playful K

David McGregor is Senior Lecturer in Theology. He is enrolled in the PhD Theology program at Newcastle University In first semester, David will teach Creative Living, Ethics, and a postgraduate seminar on Doing Theology with Karl Barth.

arl Barth insists that playing is the only human action that is truly good! Listen to his startling claim: ‘Ultimately, in the last resort, our life is truly only a game … As God’s children we are in fact released from the seriousness of life and can and should simply play before God’ (1928). arth says that life is ‘truly only a game’ because it requires nothing else to be meaningful. As playing is an end in itself, so life is good in itself. We play before God when we simply exult in the sheer goodness of being alive. God is playful. He enjoys his life. Creating us was a playful act. He did not create us because he needed us but to enjoy us. We could say that in the exuberance of his playfulness, He made us to play with – and he made us to play with him.



o one has to play – we get to play. The frustrated mother’s command “Go outside and play” is an impossible one – how can one be told to play? Play is not an imposition. It is spontaneous and free, imaginative and creative. Yet the paradox is that all games do have rules and without the rules they are no fun. If you want to play you must willingly choose to follow the rules of the game.


his is another reason why Barth insists that truly good human action can only be play –it is freely choosing to do what God wants. Barth’s ethics of playfulness is not about doing whatever you want but wanting to do what God wants. It is the freedom to obey. Obedience that is not free is simply compliance and no fun at all. But working at play ends up just being work - as many religious people have discovered. This is why we need to remember we do not play alone. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to play this game with God.


t is because God is our Father and we are his “little children”, as the Bible says, that we are to play before him. This is simply what little children do. As God’s children we have been relieved of all worry and anxiety - the “seriousness of life” as Barth says. Yes, we are to be serious - to care deeply about the world’s problems and to work hard at addressing them - but not with ultimate seriousness, for we know as Bonhoeffer says, our efforts can only be penultimate - the final outcome is in our Father’s hands. Even in eternity, Barth reminds us, we will always remain his little children, and our future prospect is to simply play forever in the Father’s house.



Study Opportunities at Tabor Adelaide TM1101 Creative Living (with David McGregor) Introductory level; suitable for new and exploring Christians TM1102 Introduction to Christian Ministry (with Matt Gray) Introductory level; suitable for those exploring their calling TM2110 Understanding the Biblical Narrative (with Melinda Cousins) Introductory level; suitable for Bible Study leaders TM2115 Introduction to the Old Testament (with Aaron Chalmers) Introductory level; suitable for Bible Study leaders TM3131 Story of the Church (with Matt Gray) Introductory level; suitable for the curious Christian TM5203 Introduction to World Religions (with David Turnbull) Introductory level; suitable for the curious Christian TM6110 TESOL Foundations (Intensive with Lesley Houston) Introductory level for those seeking to work/minister in this area FEE-HELP may be available if a subject is studied as part of a diploma or degree.

Semester One at Tabor Adelaide February 20 - June 6 181 Goodwood Road, Millswood

WANT DETAILS? contact Samantha (08) 8373 8777

Did Jesus Play? T

he available information is limited, but we do know that first-century Jewish children, like Jesus, played ball games, board games, “make believe”, with toy carts and wagons, and with the farm animals. Adults typically played dice games, made music, danced, told stories, shared humour, and enjoyed feasting and drinking.

Rev Dr Stephen Spence (PhD, NT, Fuller) is Deputy Principal (Academic). In first semester, Stephen will teach TM3201 Trinitarian Theology. Stephen blogs at



ow it may have been that Jesus was unusual; perhaps he was too serious-minded to spend time playing. But the Gospel evidence suggests otherwise. They tell us that Jesus’ opponents thought he was irresponsible and irreverent – not seriously-minded enough!


esus was known as a “drunkard and a glutton” (Mt 11:19). This, I am sure, says much more about Jesus’ critics than it says about Jesus’ behaviour. But it certainly tells us that Jesus was no killjoy. Jesus attended the parties and feasts that were part of community life in Galilee - and he was not the quiet guest in the corner, he was in the midst of it all; so much so that Jesus’ critics thought he was having way too much fun. Jesus’ attitude to

the Sabbath also created problems for his religious critics. While those around him wanted to identify what should (and should not) be done, Jesus looked for ways to make the Sabbath a celebration of God’s rest and new creation.


he Gospels show Jesus to have a quick and lively sense of humour. Images of camels trying to fit through the eye of a needle (Mt 19:24) or people with a log in their own eye trying to remove a speck from the eye of another (Mt 7:3) works because while we are laughing we suddenly see ourselves from a fresh perspective.


e don’t know how, or even if, Jesus played. There is no way to know if Jesus would ever go to a movie or play a round of golf; these were not options open to him. What we do know is that Jesus was not so intense that he was always working. And we do know that Jesus was no killjoy; people enjoyed his company, and he enjoyed their company. Perhaps that can be our starting point for a Christian practice of play.


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Theological Seminary) OT scholar and author of commentaries and Old Testament Theology (3 vols, 2003-2009);

Dr Stephen Barton

(Durham University) Theologian

and author of Life Together: Family, Sexuality and Community in the New Testament and Today (T&T Clark, 2001); and

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Overseas Council) OT scholar and author of When We All Go Home: Translation and Theology in LXX Isaiah 56-66 (T&T Clark, 2001).

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Tabor Adelaide brings to Adelaide a number of internationally respected scholars whose research and writings have greatly contributed to the church. These are rare opportunities to hear from people who are helping the church think through its life and mission.

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Life-Enhancing Prayerfulness and Playfulness


Rev Dr Graham Buxton (PhD, Flinders) is the Director of PostGraduate Studies for the School of Ministry, Theology, and Culture. He is also the Director of the Graeme Clark Research Institute.

lark Pinnock once wrote that play bespeaks eternity, which is why we human beings love to play even in the midst of the seriousness of ordinary life: play is a ‘gesture of hope’ in the midst of the pain and sorrow and evil that surrounds us. However, too many Christians are trapped in a form of super-spirituality that exalts prayer over play and leaves little room for the liberating joy that is at the heart of all true play. he snare of super-spirituality has dogged the church for centuries. There is an amusing anecdote about a bishop who made a visit to a church known for its ultra-pietism. Sitting cross-legged on a table, he casually asked the children: “What is grey, has a bushy tail, and eats nuts?” There was an uncomfortable silence, until one little boy put up his hand, and answered uncertainly; “Please, sir, I know the answer should be Jesus, but it sounds like a squirrel to me!” f all people, Christians are privileged to enjoy life as a gift: we are free to embrace every opportunity to experience the fullness of our

humanity. Eugene Peterson’s insight into the twin blessings of play and prayer is particularly helpful to those who are caught up in what someone has called “the bondage of ought-age and must-ery”! “Prayerfulness and playfulness” writes Peterson, “are life-enhancing not life-diminishing. They infuse vitalities, counteracting fatigue. Playing and praying counter boredom, reduce anxieties, push, pull, direct, prod us into the fullness of our humanity by getting body and spirit in touch and friendly with each other.” he holistic conjunction of play and prayer leads us away from legalism and into liberty – indeed, the more we discover play as gift from God, the richer will be our praying…and ultimately the fuller will be our living. Indeed, true Christian living has a lot to do with how free we are to enter into the dance of God as Trinity. Dancing to the tune of other Christians is less exhilarating than dancing in the arena of God’s grace, in which we joyfully anticipate the Sabbath play of God’s new creation.

’ve come to think about play and spirituality in two ways. he first is to see our play – our re-creation – as spirituality. The practice of Holistic Christian living means being aware of the presence of God in every nook and cranny of human experience. This must include the myriad of ways in which we like to play and embrace the joy of living – sport, jokes, rumbles with kids, art, reading, sex, and so on. As Andrew Dutney reminds us, the very nature of play is spiritual, for play takes [us] out of [ourselves], past the limitations and boundaries of [our] particular circumstances, into an experience of other circumstances and identities. That is, it is an experience in transcendence and, in that sense, a spiritual exercise. And so, Paul exhorts us to do all – including our play – to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).

risk – traits of a gregarious God who so enjoys his kids. “Christ plays in ten thousand places,” writes Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his to the Father through the features of men’s faces”. Ultimately a spirituality of play is founded upon a God who in Christ is at play in and through his marvellous creation. ou can nurture your sense of play by finding some space to reflect and pray on the following:



7 Play and spirituality I T Bruce Hulme is a lecturer in Practical Theology and is completing his MTh. In first semester, Bruce will be teaching Pastoral Care and is responsible for the Spiritual Formation Program and the Supervised Field Education Program.


he second is to see our spirituality as play.

How odd that we sometimes become dreadfully serious in our relationship with a God who delights in us! Play is characterized by hope, imagination, openness, possibility, experimentation, healing and


Y •

Do I take life and ministry too seriously? How might I attend to Jesus’ presence in my recreation?

Is there a lightness to my walk with God? How does it make me feel to know that Christ ‘plays’ through me?

God, I just love it and feel completely alive when …

God, I’m sorry – sometimes I take myself too seriously when …

The Wisdom of Sabbath and Ecclesiastes I A T ’m not sure who suggested this topic, but it obviously wasn’t one of the biblical scholars.

Dr Aaron Chalmers (PhD, OT, Flinders University) is Head of the School of Ministry, Theology, and Culture. In first semester, Aaron will teach Introduction to the Old Testament and OT Prophets.

part from musical instruments, the language of play is hardly found in the OT; that is, unless one includes the numerous references to Israel “playing” the harlot, which we encounter in the prophets (but which hardly provide a model for modern Christians!). How, then, can we approach this topic from an OT perspective? Two possible avenues lie before us.


he first is to recognize the importance of the Sabbath. It is often emphasized that people in the modern, western world are incredibly busy, or, to use the common cliché, we are “time poor”. And this is true – many of us have significant demands on our time which are often difficult to balance out. We need to keep in mind, however, that this is hardly a modern development. The people of ancient Israel, the majority of whom dwelt in a marginal, agricultural context, also lived incredibly busy and hard lives, usually working from dawn to nightfall just to eke out an existence.

Yet it was to these people that God gave Sabbath observance, the call to set aside a day each week to rest and enjoy God’s good creation. Work was not to be the sum and total of the people of God’s lives – then or now! he second is to recognize the OT’s focus on enjoying this life. Without a developed eschatology, the OT emphasizes making the most of life in the present. This focus is perhaps most clearly seen in the book of Ecclesiastes which frequently encourages its readers to enjoy life – • to enjoy their work (3: 22), • their wealth and possessions (5: 19), • their marriage partners (9: 9), • and their food and drink (8: 15). Surely it would be legitimate to add to this list play and recreation, two activities which bring so much joy to our existence and which allow us to enjoy a fullness of life here and now in the present, not just in the future.

8 Master of Divinity Following an accreditation process with the government, Tabor Adelaide has been awarded the right to teach the Master of Divinity (MDiv). Tabor Adelaide is the only Adelaide-based college currently able to offer the MDiv. This degree in Ministry and Theology is the standard first degree for those heading towards professional church-based ministry and/or postgraduate studies in North America and in many parts of Asia. It has been available in Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, and Melbourne; now it is available in Adelaide at Tabor. The MDiv is a graduate-entry degree. To qualify for entry you must already have completed a Bachelor degree at an Australian University (or equivalent) in a non-theological discipline (e.g., BA, BSc, BEd). MDiv students cover similar content to students enrolled in the BMin and BTh programs, but they do so at graduate rather than undergraduate level. This means that their study and assessment is at a deeper and a broader level of enquiry. Graduates from an MDiv program often seek ordination with their church or continue their studies by entering into a post-graduate Theology of Ministry course (e.g., MMin or MTh). Students eligible for FEE-HELP can use it to pay for their MDiv study.

Creative Commons License We are happy for you to reuse any of the material in this journal. We do require, though, that you clearly identify the source by “author’s name,” Tabor Adelaide, School of Ministry, Theology, and Culture (Jan 2012) This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Australia License. To view a copy of this license, visit licenses/by-nc/2.5/au/.

Previous editions available:

WANT DETAILS? contact Samantha or (08) 8373 8777

1.1 Kingdom of God; 1.2 Discernment; 1.3 Lament; 2.1 Giving; 2.2 Vocation; and 2.3 the Mind.

Thinking About - Play 2012  
Thinking About - Play 2012  

Thinking About - Play 2012