Monday, September 15, 2014

How Baptist Are You?

The other day I had to do a short talk about being Baptist at a youth service. Of course I laboured the point that we need to be Christian first and always express our differences with other Christians with humility, respect and love. But I structured the talk around the following metrics as a way for folks to see how important Baptist distinctive were for them. It was a fun way to have the discussion and get them to think about their own beliefs. Afterwards I wondered about turning it into one of those annoying facebook quizzes or putting on the church website.



How Baptist are you?

(0=don’t agree, 1=don’t care, 2=I like the idea, 3=I agree with this, 4=this is important, 5=this is essential)

Credo/Believer’s Baptism Only (vs paedo/infant)            0 1 2 3 4 5

Baptism by Immersion Only  (vs sprinkling, etc)               0 1 2 3 4 5

Soul Competency/Liberty (vs church, govt, family)           0 1 2 3 4 5

Salvation by Faith Alone (vs religion, good works, etc)   0 1 2 3 4 5

Scripture Alone Authority (vs tradition, hierarchy, etc)     0 1 2 3 4 5

Congregational Autonomy (vs hierarchy, etc)                     0 1 2 3 4 5

Priority of Evangelism and Mission                                   0 1 2 3 4 5

Totals
0-7 =  Definitely not a Baptist
8-14 = Vaguely Baptist Compatible
15-21 = Luke Warm Baptist
22-28 = Strong Baptist
29-35 = More Baptist Than John


What was your score? 
How could I make the test better? 
What have I missed out?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Newbiggin on the church in via

The church, therefore, as it is in via, does not face the world as the exclusive possessor of salvation, nor as the fullness of what others have in part, the answer to the questions they ask, or the open revelation to what they are anonymously. The church faces the world, rather, as an arrabon of that salvation - as sign, firstfruit, token, witness of that salvation which God purposes for the whole . . . It must therefore live always in dialogue with the world, bearing its witness to Christ but always in such a way that it is open to receive the riches of God that belong properly to Christ but have to be brought to him . . . It will continue to change as it meets new cultures and lives in faithful dialogue with them. 
Newbiggin, Open Secret, 1995, p180
Let me know what you think :-)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Newbigin, Mission and the SSM Debate

One of the authors who never fails to stimulate my thinking is Lesslie Newbiggin, I'm currently reading The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Towards the conclusion of a long and nuanced discussion of the relation of (cross-cultural) ethical issues to Christian conversion Newbiggin states,
As a learning community that can only press forward from partial to fuller understanding of the Father's reign, the church will know that it cannot impose it's own ethical insights at any one time and place upon those whom the Spirit calls into its company. It must always press on toward fuller obedience but at the same time proclaim Christ as Lord and beyond its own faulty obedience, and expect and welcome the correction of those whom the Spirit calls into commitment to Christ. (p140, rev. ed. 1995)
His argument is in relation to cross-cultural mission and how missionaries (presumed western) impose ethical requirements upon new converts (presumed non-western). It is a convincing argument and I found no fault in his logic, but the only example he gives is polygamy. The story (possibly apocryphal) comes to mind of the African convert who is told by a missionary that as a Christian he cannot have more than one wife, so the faithful new Christian goes home and kills the four other wives that he is not allowed. A horrible result and if true reveals as much about the missionary's obsession with sex than the Bible's teaching against polygamy (try and find some).

My question, and I don't find an easy answer, is how this might relate to our western context in NZ where we have been increasingly (and rightly) taught to consider evangelism in western countries as cross-cultural. In a sexually permissive 21st C. western society is same sex marriage parallel to polygamy in 19th C. Africa? Is the gay community an unreached people group that needs to be allowed to establish it's own ethical convictions in relation to the gospel without the colonial imposition of standards from Christendom? Certainly that might provide a way out for the current Baptist Union discussion, to view the small number of churches accepting SSM to be frontier mission churches where the rules need to be looser. But that feels a bit difficult to swallow, after all even if we categorise the gay community as an unreached people group (I don't know if we should or how they might feel about that) it is one thing to permit ethical flexibility among marginal groups coming into faith it is another thing to have established churches preside over and facilitate the ceremonies that confirm people in that behaviour.

What do you think?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Narcistic Pastors

I've just finished reading Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times by Peter L Steinke. He has three slim  books published by the Alban Institute on different aspects of how emotional system and group psychology give insight to situations faced in churches, all are essential reading IMHO. This book has, as a postscript, an essay entitled "People of the Charm" on the subject of narcissistic leaders (not always the pastor!) in churches. A very brief and rough summary,
  1. Churches/public ministry naturally attracts those with a narcissistic.
  2. A narcissistic leader requires followers to feed their narcissism, the followers in turn need the leader's certainty, approval and reflected importance creating a self-reinforcing, self-sustaining and self-protecting circle/system which is very hard to challenge.
  3. A natural outcome of the "circle of charm' is a polarisation towards those not in the circle and a loss of objectivity hence why this syndrome is so destructive to churches.
  4. Churches often focus on the short term benefits of narcissistic leaders (strong leadership, growth, etc) rather than the long term less public issues (loss of other leaders, spiritual abuse, eventual scandal) which make them less likely to take effective action in good time.
It is a great essay and should probably be read carefully by every church pastoral search committee. I just want to add some of my own quick reflections at this point.

Steinke notes that narcissism is generally a product of insecurity. The pastoral role is one that naturally generates a great deal of insecurity: The multiplicity of different tasks and skill sets required makes it very unlikely that any one individual can do everything well; The experience of being employed by a lrage group of people rather than (as in most jobs) having just one boss to report to; The unlimited nature of ministry meaning the job is never finished and no matter what you do achieve there will always be a sense of needing to do more; The fact that all these could be remedied by a healthy spiritual life but that being a pastor is often detrimental to our spiritual walk; all this adds up to making narcissism, even for those of us who feel unlikely candidates for it, a very real temptation as an escape from a near constant feeling of inadequacy.

Secondly, the very real and unreflective pressure (at least in most evangelical churches) for results over principle and success and glamour over holiness and integrity means that we are unlikely to see the end of pastoral scandals, burnout and church splits. Deeply discouraging in one way but in another there are concrete ways we can positively influence the systems we are part of, as a pastor the cultivation of personal and structural honesty, accountability and vulnerability is essential (even though people often interpret it as you complaining) and as congregation members loving and objective interaction with pastors about issues of concern and weakness can help keep them off the pedestal. On a larger scale I would love to see a cultural movement within the western evangelical subculture towards holiness and integrity over success and image, if only I had enough success and enough of my own hair to be an influence! ;-)

Let me know what you think, :-)

PS are you impressed how I got through this entire post without mentioning Mark Driscoll?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Polanyi and Tolstoy on Emotion and Truth

A current area of increasing interest and usefulness for me, personally and professionally, is the role emotions play in our perception of and ability to encounter reality and relationships. In my reading this week I came across two quotes from very different authors in very different books that both give expression to the reality distorting potential of emotion. (I think there is also a reality revealing potential to emotion but that is for another time) And then I found another good one as a searched for a source for the Tolstoy quote. Suffice to say I am increasingly convinced that theology, epistemology, pastoral praxis and even exegesis that doesn't take a full (and yes I mean more than cursory) appreciation of emotional factors is only doing half the job. Let me know what you think. :-)


I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.
Leo Tolstoy, What is Art? opening to ch 14, 
Translation from: What Is Art and Essays on Art 
(OUP, 1930, trans. Aylmer Maude)
This is the characteristic structure of what I shall call a dynamo-objective coupling. Alleged scientific assertions, which are accepted as such because they satisfy moral passions, will excite these passions further, and thus lend increased convincing power to the scientific affirmations in question - and so on, indefinitely. Moreover, such a dynamo-objective coupling is also potent in its own defence. any criticism of its scientific part is rebutted by the moral passions behind it, while any moral objectives are coldly brushed aside by invoking the inexorable verdict of its scientific findings. Each of the two components, the dynamic and the objective, takes it in turn to draw attention away from the other when it is under attack.
Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, pp229-230

The way scientists try to convince people is hopeless because they present evidence, figures, tables, arguments, and so on. But that’s not how to convince people. People aren’t convinced by arguments, they don’t believe conclusions because they believe in the arguments that they read in favour of them. They’re convinced because they read or hear the conclusions from people they trust. You trust someone and you believe what they say. That’s how ideas are communicated. The arguments come later.