Saturday, December 17, 2016

An Alternative to Secret Santa

For a few years now the adults in my family-in-law have not bought each other presents but have indulged in a Secret Santa so secret that no one know who they are getting a present for. Everyone buys a gift and then they are distributed randomly. Last year I decided to codify and develop the rules for this game in order to make it more methodical and to eliminate the ability of couples to work together to get the gift they wanted.

This is good fun. Takes about an hour and is usually a source of much hilarity and mirth. Last year we tried these rules for the first time and it was a great success, for everyone except me. I had bought a truly awful booby prize (a giant second hand soft toy Santa) and delighted in seeing someone else open it with horror and revulsion but with almost the last stroke of the game I ended up holding it much to everyone else's amusement.

Robinson Rules for Secret Santa Distribution Game, version 1

Friday, December 16, 2016

Three Christmas Blogs

At this time of year, when for the 10th, 20th, 50th, time in your ministry you are trying to find something fresh and orthodox to say about Christmas reading blogs can be a real boon. Here are three good thoughts, all of which could become your best Christmas sermon yet . . .

The (Real) War of Christmas

A Reluctant Evangelist Journeys with a Magi 

Making the Nativity a Bit More Terrifying with the Help of Revelation 12

Bonus feature: And of course people still don't really care that Jesus was not born in a stable of an inn, or anywhere near an inn really.  Which is why despite this being known for decades now, every church will still have a nativity in a stable. Except perhaps where Ian Paul has been preaching?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

6 Principles for Christian Political Engagement

I don't know how I haven't come across it before but the Lausanne publication, Global Analysis, looks to be a very useful Evangelical publication with high quality content you wont find anywhere else. I mustn't spend my day trawling through back issues, as tempting as that may be, but may I recommend to you a helpful article on Christians facing political crisis in Brazil over the possibly-corrupt impeachment of a possibly-corrupt president? The six principles, which are enlarged upon in detail in the article, are equally applicable to other contexts, they are:

  1. Knowing how to behave is more important than knowing what position to adopt
  2. Cultivate Christian political reticence
  3. Distinguish the different debates
  4. Avoid dichotomous thinking and recognize the many possible positions
  5. Go beyond simplistic moralism in the Christian perspective on corruption
  6. Distinguish between an ideal and the carrier of that ideal
I recommend reading the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Often it has been said, and sometimes by me, that most "successful" church plants in the West in recent times have simply been transfer growth in action. Church growth through siphoning people out of older churches into the new ones. Result: some large churches growing, while many others struggled to compete, and overall the church shrinks. The whole thing is equivalent to rearranging the deck chairs as the Titanic sinks, it may make some people happy and more comfortable but it is doing nothing to address the fundamental crisis. Ian Paul uncovers some unpublished research from the UK that pushes back against this assumption. Well worth a read.

Let me know what you think :-)

Monday, December 12, 2016

No God, No Science: Michael Hanby

This may be old news for some, but thought this was both an interesting autobiographical account of an academic journey and also a really fascinating and important project. Enjoy

Michael Hanby's book is on Amazon and kindle, if I ever get round to reading it, I'll let you know!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Orthodox Christianity and the Original Manuscripts

Shane Pruit has been sharing his wisdom about out of context scripture use. It is a reasonably useful piece, although perhaps more helpful in critique than construction (but then the latter is always much harder to do). However he begins with a most extraordinary statement:
Orthodox Christianity believes that in the Scriptures in their original manuscripts are without error and fault.
Which just blows the mind. Clearly Shane is making a value statement here, "orthodox Christianity" is a judgement as to what Shane finds orthodox rather than a historical or sociological claim, but even so what are these original manuscripts he speaks of? Certainly, when dealing with a letter from Paul, e.g., we can posit at some point there was just one original version. But what do we do with Genesis, Job, Isaiah, or the Gospels all of which were composed over time, combining various sources, being edited and added to by different folk depending on the needs of the day and the Holy Spirit? What does it mean to speak of an original manuscript? At what point in the history of composition and editing do we say, "that's it, that is the original!"?

Even if we are comfortable positing the past existence of some final form of any particular Biblical book neither we, nor the historical church, have ever had access to such manuscripts. So how does any statement regarding their lack of error or fault help any discussion of anything? What would be much more helpful would be a statement about what the Bibles we actually have today are and what they can be relied on for.

Worse still, the doctrine of inerrancy encourages the sort of magic-book-from-the-sky thinking that is true of Mormonism or Islam. Instead orthodox Christianity recognises that God has spoken in many times and in many places through his prophets, and in these last days through his Son, and that his ongoing willingness to reveal himself through human beings and human processes (such as the formation of the canon) is far more wonderful, gracious and miraculous than any supernatural Kindle delivery could ever be.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The false link between suicide and mental illness

One characteristic of human society is the tendency to keep doing something over and over again despite it not working. One example would be our approach to incarcerating criminals to punish them instead of rehabilitating them, compounding their trauma and making it harder for them to live productive law-abiding lives when they get out. But this is the "common-sense" approach, the intuitive human response to the failings of others, punish them and they wont dare do it again. It has never worked, ever, but let's keep doing it. Secular society is screwed because it cannot comprehend that its vision is blurred by sin and therefore knee-jerk, common sense solutions are usually destructive and counter-productive.

So it is with our response to suicide. To kill yourself must be the response of the weak minded and sick - so the thinking goes - so to combat rising suicide we treat individuals medically. Yet suicide is a perfectly rational response to a world as broken as ours and the hopelessness engendered by the dominant forces of our society that push us to live meaningless lives as consumers and victims without transcendent meaning or purpose.

Professor Said Shahtahmasebi, Director of the Good Life Research Trust Centre and editor of Dynamics of Human Health, writes:

Over the last 20 years, I have repeatedly challenged the conventional wisdom about suicide, emphasizing that suicide rates follow a cyclical pattern (the sequence of downward and upward movements of suicide rates). Instead of concentrating efforts on breaking the cycle, decision makers, mental health services, and researchers claim credit for lowering suicide rates when the cycle is on the downturn, then demand more funding to continue with the same services. But when the cycle is on the upturn, they claim suicide is a very complex issue with many socio-economic and environmental risk factors and that they, again, require more funding to extend the same service to more people.

Instead Shahtahmasebi relates how projects where community relationships and family support is increased show that suicide rates can be substantially reduced. Why should this be? It seems obvious to me, instead of being considered as individual consumers with a medical condition to treat, they are having their social bonds and meaningful relationships reinforced and being supported in the existential crisis of life. In meaningful human relationships they find purpose and support for living life.

Suicide is a rational response to hopelessness: why suffer longer if things will not get better? Drugs to ease the pain cannot change the cause of that pain or the futility of a life without hope. Here is one of the greatest gifts Christianity has to offer our world, the hope, the faith, that this world is not all there is, but that there is so much more to being human than what our consumerist individualist materialist society has to offer us.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Why You Want to be "Left Behind"

Two different posts on the rapture came across my desk this morning, and I thought, surely I have blogged on this myself? But no, I have not. I must have preached on it at some point, because I can remember pontificating on this subject, but not here. Well in order to make good for the omission enjoy Rhett Snell and Doug Chaplin as they explain why being "raptured" or "taken" is not actually the Christian aspiration.

Image result for bed rapture funny

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Need for Humble Atheists (and Theists)

Read the rest of this helpful article by John Thamatil. (I'm not sure about his frequent, continual, undefined use of liberal - but never mind) HT

What binds many atheists together is an unshakable conviction that they know everything there is to know about religion, namely that it is irrational bondage to immutable doctrine. No amount of counterevidence can convince such atheists otherwise. What irony! But where do they come by this knowledge about religion? Their expertise seems to be derived by virtue of sheer sentience alone.

By contrast, if a theologian were to broadcast her convictions about molecular or evolutionary biology without some years of careful reading and study, she would be met with jeering laughter and summarily dismissed. Why then are uninformed atheists who have never read in theology exempt from similar derision? Sadly, every pedant believes himself entitled to his unearned convictions about religion.

The Addictive Power of End Times Speculation

The mighty Rhett Snell has picked up his blog again (I wonder how long he'll last this time), check out his theory on why people get so into annoyingly unbiblical end times nonsense.

I think that where codes-and-calendars end times theology is dangerous, is that it can give a sense of false growth. We read a theory online, or hear it from some bible teacher, and we come to think that we have mastered an area of our faith. A bit like levelling up in a computer game, or Popeye after he’s eaten some spinach. At worst, we begin to believe that we’ve taken a step that other Christians have not; that we’ve entered an elite class of Christianity.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Measuring Success or Faithfulness

[This is first in a series of posts reflecting on the last six years of pastoral ministry in a NZ Baptist church. I'm not looking for sympathy (seriously), or to whinge, I'm trying to reflect on real issues in our theory and practice of ministry.]

At one of my interviews for the role of pastor at the Bay I was asked, "How do you measure success, is it just numbers?" At the time I confidently declared, "Success is about being faithful to Jesus, the numbers don't mean anything." If I'm honest though, at the back of my mind was the firm belief that my ministry would be both faithful to Jesus and show numerical increase.

At the end of six years of ministry at the Bay the numbers are pretty bleak. Each of those years after the first we have seen a decrease in people attending Sunday services, the main yardstick used by our denomination. Baptisms have more or less equalled funerals, and new families have just about equalled those leaving, but each year the church has been less full on a Sunday morning. The other hard data is offerings. For the first four years we increased our income each year, but the last two have seen it dropping, and next year looks lean for the church. If they don't reverse the trend or find other sources of income they will need to start cutting back on ministry.

Have I been faithful? I'm certainly conscious of areas of failing, of mistakes made, of opportunities missed, but overall, in honesty, I think I have done a good job. I've got it right more often than I've got it wrong. I think the congregational decline we have experienced is due to cultural and demographic changes. My ministry has not been sufficient to reverse those trends, but it has not been the cause of it. I can't take responsibility for rising house prices and families moving out of the city. I can't take responsibility for social trends away from institutions and regular attendance. I can't take responsibility for increased religious diversity in the community or a secularising nation. I can't take responsibility for money being tight, people getting older, or wages not increasing relative to living costs.

That is what I know logically, but psychologically that is not how I feel. Anyway, success is not about effort but about result. I am not a successful pastor. My faithfulness has not been sufficient.

Then I grow uncomfortable with the question. Since when have I cared about my success or my faithfulness? What sort of a question is that? What about the faithfulness of Jesus? Didn't he call me to this role? Isn't he the Lord of the church and the harvest? Is my lack of success a failure of his? Did he send the wrong guy for the job? Did he fail to deliver on something he promised? Did he not give me what I needed to succeed?

My ambition and hope for the church during my ministry has not been fulfilled. Who am I to say that Jesus feels the same? It is entirely possible that Jesus is not remotely interested in increasing numbers on a Sunday morning or balancing the budget. These certainly aren't things that crop up in the gospels.

Jesus has been faithful.

Every time I faced a challenge or situation I didn't know how to handle, he led me through. Every time I ran out of energy, compassion, wisdom or strength, his grace was sufficient. Every time I wanted to quit and run, he renewed my call. Every time I was wounded, he healed my hurts. He never abandoned me, my family, or the church. Whenever we met in his name, he was there. Whether we succeeded or failed, he was there.

I'm tempted to say I've done great work despite the conditions; that I've laid the foundation for the next pastor to build on, cleared away the deadwood and weeds of the past; that my ministry will bear fruit in the years to come as seeds I sowed finally mature. Perhaps I am a success, just success delayed? Perhaps, but I think it is probably just more of the same horse shit.

I cannot put "success" on my C.V. and I'm actually glad of that. Not because the numbers don't hurt or depress me, but because, despite my insufficient faithfulness, I have learned more of Jesus' all sufficient faithfulness. I remember the reason I followed this call, to this church. Yes, I thought I'd be able to buck the trends and show everyone how it was done, so much for that, but I also just wanted to be somewhere where I would have to rely utterly on God; where if Jesus didn't show up I would be sunk; where I would be pulled deeper and closer into his grace. I'm sorry if it seems selfish, that I've let the church or the denomination down; but I think that of the two things, the one I have been granted, it is the better.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Wars and Rumours of Wars

I write in the morning after the USA 2016 Elections, which featured the historic election of Donald Trump. Apart from my personal interested as a resident of planet Earth at this time, it is interesting to note some of the apocalyptic language emerging in discussions of what this means. Even archaeologists are turning to the medium of prophecy. Hear the word of Tobias Stone,
So I feel it’s all inevitable. I don’t know what it will be, but we are entering a bad phase. It will be unpleasant for those living through it, maybe even will unravel into being hellish and beyond imagination. Humans will come out the other side, recover and move on. 
Stone suggests that future historians will be able to draw clear lines from Brexit to Trump to the 3rd World War, or something equally bad. Mind you, just because historians can draw those lines doesn't mean they are here.

Then there is the word of Thom Hartman who is more interested in the domestic fallout than the fallout shelter. 
The last time a Republican president was elected with both a GOP House and Senate was 1928—Herbert Hoover. Yes, that Herbert Hoover. The one of the Great Depression. Get ready.
The fun thing about Trump of course, is none of us, himself included, have any idea what is going to happen next. He didn't expect to win. He doesn't have a plan or any policy commitments that can't be explained away as campaign bluster. Yes the way he is talking sounds a little like Adolf, but this is a different century, Trump's USA will not be able to run on the same rails as Hitler's Germany. Technology offers both hope and increased danger in this situation. The GOP may be rallying around their new messiah but will he be loyal to them?

The world will be watching, and holding its breath.

Kyrie eleison.

Monday, October 17, 2016

George Athas on the Bible's Attitude to Rape

This will be my last George Athas share for now, another lecture I haven't had time to watch, so saving this for later. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

George Athas - The Bible's attitude to Rape from Reason for Hope on Vimeo.

George Athas on the Tearing of the Temple Curtain

I've really been enjoying the blog of George Athas, OT lecturer at Moore in Sydney, he puts up brief but useful and challenging posts. He's doing some really interesting research as is obviously not afriad to slay the odd sacred cow. Fancy, for example, daring to suggest that Christian preachers have had it all wrong about the significance of the temple curtain being torn, I've been taught one meaning for this since I was knee high to a grasshopper, it's all about how Christ's death removed the barrier between God and humanity. George would beg to differ. Let me know what you think :-)

Hays on Figural Reading

I saw this posted on BW3's blog, and don't have time to watch it now so am putting it here for later. Should be good. Let me know what you think if you watch it.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Breaking news: Lot finally vindicated!

My earlier post about the story of Lot came down particularly hard on Lot for his callous attitude to his virgin daughters. However, it seems I may have fallen for a narrative trap and committed an injustice of my own. George Athas suggests an intriguing alternative in his article Has Lot lost the Plot?

It is free to view on Academia.edu so click on it, and don't forget to tell him I sent you. :-)
Let me know what you think.

Monday, October 10, 2016

I'm now a PhD candidate!

So, I am happy to announce that as of Feb 2017 I will be a PhD student at Otago University in Dunedin, NZ, working under the supervision of Prof Paul Trebilco. Paul is a highly respected NT scholar, probably best known for his work in Christianity in Ephesus/Asia Minor and early Christian self identification. My own research is (at present) going to be in the area of Mark's Gospel, Christology, narrative, and scriptural intertextuality.

My last stint as student was when this blog was birthed and it received a lot more attention when I wasn't trying to lead a church, so without making any promises I'm optimistic that this blog will find a new lease of life. A number of other blogs were reallly helpful in putting my PhD proposal together and while a scholar needs to consult articles and books, etc, blogs are often a wonderful source of concise information and cutting edge ideas that 90% of the academic world seem uninterested in. So, I'm also looking forward to engaging more fully in the "blogosphere" once more and expect blogging to benefit my research immensely.

I expect there will also need to be some reflective stuff on my last 6 years of pastoral ministry, I"ve got a lot to process and the blog is often a good way to get thoughts down in words.

Hope you'll join me on the journey!
Pax vobiscum.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Baptist Ecclesiology: On the Way and in the Fray

If you are interested in such things don't miss Drs John Tucker and Andrew Picard's article.
When we gather together, Christ is present in our midst and we can expect to hear his voice in the gathered community by the Spirit. Secondly, the promised presence of the Lord Jesus in the gathered community sets the church free from all other lords or rulers. Final authority over a congregation rests not with a pope or creed (or senior pastor,
or elders or national gathering resolutions). Final authority rests with the risen Christ who is present as Lord in the midst of a congregation. These twin emphases form something of the Baptist dynamic, a Baptist way of being.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Diagnosing the Demonic

Do we really believe in the demonic anymore? Or can everything be treated with the right pills? What do we do with the fact that in Mark's gospel Jesus is a full blown exorcist but by John's gospel he seems to little interest in it? Was there more demonic activity in Jesus' time as a reaction to him? Is demon possession just what the ancients used to call mental illness? None of these questions are answered by this fascinating article, but read it anyway. Alternatively some of those questions are broached by an extraordinary panel of N.T. Wright, Richard Beck, Greg Boyd, Tony Jones and Tripp Fuller on this podcast (if you've got time to kill).

Let me know what you think :-)

Monday, July 4, 2016

Dark Satanic Book Mills



Well, of all the ways in which we dehumanise our fellow humans and alienate each other form the rewards of our labour can there be a more insidious and reprehensible form than the academic book mill? My mind had not conceived of such depravity till today.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Centurion's Gay Lover?

Ian Paul goes into great detail debunking numerous myths and falsehoods surrounding the story of Jesus healing a Centurions servant in Luke 7:1-10/ Matt 8:5-13 and the way it is used in the church's debate around sexuality. Well worth a read.
The rhetorical move here, via the story in Luke 7, is that, far from the traditional reading of the NT where same-sex relations are rejected as incompatible with the kingdom, gay people don’t simply become acceptable in the kingdom; they become the archetypal members, in much the same way that Jesus holds children before the disciples as archetypes of kingdom membership. So rejecting this is not just a problem of rights; it is rejecting the central way that God pursues his kingdom purposes. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Miracle of Thiselton's Theology



I now repent of all my unbelief and cynicism. If you need any further proof of supernatural intervention in human affairs it is this:

The man who required 1492 pages to write a commentary on 1 Corinthians.

Has managed to cover the entire Christian faith (and atheism!) in only 467 pages in his Systematic Theology.

Having read Thiselton on a few occasions I can relate to the reviewer who complained:
Thiselton tries to elucidate his subject using terms and concepts that are as difficult to understand as the original subject, if not more so.
The chap is just too smart for most of us to follow and too hard working for most of us to keep up with. We rejoice if he has been triply blest now with the spiritual gift of brevity!

(seriously though, he is an amazing scholar and is always well worth reading)

Monday, June 20, 2016

12 Reasons for All Age Worship

I know 12 reasons sounds like a short sharp and succinct blog post, but it aint. Thaliakr will take you on a long and winding tour of the twelve reasons in the second longest blog post known to humankind. Still, there is lots of helpful reflection and practical suggestions in there.
Since my time as pastor of West Baptist (2008-2011), I’ve become a huge fan of all-age church, where everyone is all in together, and people of all ages are warmly invited to engage in what’s going on. I’m not talking about a place where the kids are allowed to be in the room but expected to be quiet and do colouring-in. At West Baptist, there’s no separate Sunday School, and everyone of every age is actively included and considered in how things are done, on Sundays and beyond. This system was already in place when I arrived. I was a bit sceptical at first, but now I reckon it’s fantastic – and truly possible for most communities.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Ben Myers Campaigns against Unnecessarily Slanted Words

This is funny, but also points to a genuine issue of modern communication: The felt need to ram home your point instead of trusting the reader to do the work of appropriating it for themselves.
The overuse of italics has, today, reached plague proportions. Writers sprinkle their sentences with italics merely because they would like you to notice these particular words. But if I am reading the sentence, how could I fail to notice those particular words? Why, author, do you need to give me such emphatic and overbearing guidance? I am already reading your sentence; I am already committed to it; I am already willing to hear what you have to say.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

What I Think About the Orlando Shooting

Sometimes being a Baptist pastor can be uncomfortable as people hear other Baptist pastors saying things in the media and wonder if that is what you think too. The Baptists are a very broad church with divergent beliefs and practices across the globe. So if you are concerned about what I might be thinking, here is what I do think. I'm not speaking for anyone else here.

1. Every person who was killed was a precious child of God made in God's image. Every death was a terrible tragedy and waste. Our world is terribly broken by sin and needs a saviour.

2. For whatever motive, and it seems complicated, the killer targeted these people because they were part of the LGBT community, this is therefore a hate crime against LGBT people as well as an act of terrorism. Those who try and downplay this are badly mistaken. Regardless of your beliefs on personal sexual morality we should all be saying: this was not acceptable, we love and accept LGBT people as part of our society, we must keep them safe. LGBT people are persecuted for their identity around the world and Christians should be standing up for them as we should for any other vulnerable people group.

3. Some people, among them some allegedly Christian pastors, have suggested that the fact that the victims were LGBT makes this act acceptable or even to be celebrated. Those who call themselves Christians while espousing such views are abominations who have perverted the Gospel of Christ beyond all recognition. Theirs is not a point of view but rank heretical poison direct from Satan.

4. Those who continue to work to block gun reform law in USA for the sake of profit have an ever increasing amount of blood on their hands. They will face the judgement of God for it, and it will have been better for them if they had never been born.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Using the Trinity to Keep Women in their Place

While there are some reasonable (if ultimately unconvincing to me) arguments for the complementarian position there is no excuse for the sort of mummery where one tries to argue such a position from the Trinity. This novel doctrine is known as Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS). It is, to coin a technical phrase, arse-backwards (and this goes for any other attempt to prescribe human activity based on what the Trinity is like). Don't miss Darren Sumner as he takes those turkeys to task:

The EFS mode of reasoning is what Barth decried as human projection misidentified with divine revelation. Ware takes a human cultural construct and, mistaking it for revelation, reads it upward into the life of God by means of an analogia entis. When he in turn derives from this divine relation a proscription for human gender relations, the circle is complete and the exercise in natural theology is made infinitely more egregious. Ware first reads the authority-submission structure from creaturely existence into the life of God; then he reads it back out again from God to human creatures — only now switching from the parent-child relation to male-female relations. The procedure is entirely self-referential, a theological systole and diastole: Ware has derived from his doctrine of God exactly what he put into it.
Not only that but until today I never knew what systole and diastole was. I had assumed it was some classical reference beloved of theologians akin to Scylla and Charybdis, but turns out it is a medical metaphor from the cardiac cycle. Alright Darren, no one likes a show off.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Burden of Belief

I realise I am late to the party on this one, but a fascinating article (and further links for the time-rich) from the Guardian about a Canadian pastor who has embraced the title of atheist.
“I do not believe in a theistic, supernatural being called God,” says Gretta Vosper, the United Church of Canada minister who has led West Hill since 1997. “I don’t believe in what I think 99.99% of the world thinks you mean when you use that word.” Tor her, God is instead a metaphor for goodness and a life lived with compassion and justice.
The ecclesiastical ruptures Gretta Vosper has and is causing are on thing, but her relative success in forming a community as an atheist pastor is also worth noting: 
Some, such as Eve Casavant, 44, recently started attending West Hill after hearing about Vosper among atheist circles. She was delighted to find the same sort of church she had been raised in, save the burden of belief. “It’s like that sense of community without the barriers,” she says. “It’s a beautiful thing and it is too bad it’s not being as embraced as it should be.”
Speaking from my own experience, you would be surprised how many people go to church primarily for the community, rather than for belief in God. On the other hand, it is well documented how many God-believers now seldom darken the doors of a church. The real kicker though, is this,
Stripped of God and the Bible, services here are light on religious doctrine and instead emphasise moral teachings. The service begins with a nod to the First Nations land on which the church stands and goes on to mention human rights in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Palestine. Global concern is coupled with community-building, with members invited to share significant moments of the past week.
The idea that the way to moral action on social, environmental and historical issues is through atheism is a real challenge to us God-botherers. How often does Christian piety become an insulation from the pain of the world?   Matthew 5:20 could well be re-written for us as
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Atheists and the Unbelievers, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Big House - A parable of Colonisation

I posted earlier about the latent racism in New Zealand, especially (but not exclusively) against the Maori. Moana Maniapoto says the same kind of thing but, uh, better. Well she has the dubious advantage of being on the receiving end, rather than a spectator like muggins. Be sure to read the whole article.

Imagine you and your extended family lived in a big house. One day, a group of strangers knocks on the door and asks if they can move in. You welcome them. But more and more keep coming. So you and the visitors sort out a tenancy agreement, just to be on the safe side.

As more of their mates pile in, your family is forced into the basement.

By now, the visitors are in the majority. They paint, plumb, rewire and transform the house without checking with you. You wave the agreement in their faces. After all, no matter how much a tenant pimps the property, the landlord is still the owner. But the newbies talk about how, thanks to them, the house is so much nicer. More modern even. “Look at all the bells and whistles,” they say. And they’ve got new rules, too. They suggest that if you want to challenge the alterations, “you could vote — just like anyone else in the house. That’s democracy. After all, we’re all one people. All equal.”

Robert Myles on the Quest's for the Historical Jesus

If you haven't already, check out Myles' short but stimulating essay on Bible and Interpretation.

Jesus is not merely an object of historical interest, but a figure of immense cultural significance and authority today, in that any statement made about him is simultaneously a statement about the contemporary world we inhabit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Curse of Ham

Every now and then a blog post comes along that is an education all in itself.

Check out Esau McCaully on the Curse of Ham

From childhood, I had known about the curse of Ham. I knew that it meant I was supposed to be inferior. Thus, black slavery in the past and our present second-class status was a manifestation of the will of God . . .

For many at my seminary, a world in which black people struggle with questions of identity and worth and their place in the biblical narrative was as foreign to them as New England was to me. They did not realize how often Black Christians have to struggle and strive to prove to skeptical friends and family members that Christianity is a religion that has a place for black folk. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Beginning to read the Bible?

I was asked recently for some suggestions on how to get into reading the Bible from someone without a church background (or a personal faith that I know of). I quickly became aware that most internet resources are huge, not suitable for beginners and generally assume a rather conservative faith stance, not conducive to curious agnostic Bible readers. So I wrote a shortish email with a few points. Obviously I could have said more but I tried to keep it simple. My intention is to provoke curiosity rather than to achieve indoctrination. This was my response, let me know what you think.

Hi

The Bible can be confusing because it is not really a normal book. Some basic points help when you are trying to get into it.

1. It is not one book but 66 different books (by about 40 different authors)

2. These books have been arranged (roughly) to tell one big story, from the creation of the world (Genesis), to the saviour of the world, Jesus (gospels), to the end of the world as we know it and the ultimate salvation of the world (Revelation) with a whole bunch of stuff in between.

3. There is lots of double ups. 2 different stories of creation (Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3). 2 different accounts of Israel's kings (1 Samuel - 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles). 4 accounts of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

4. There are many different genres. E.g. poetry, history, biography, prophecy, songs, letters, myths, genealogy, law, etc. And often books seem to have more than one type of genre in them. 

5. Not many people succeed in reading the whole thing straight through (at least not on their first attempt) because after Genesis and the first part of Exodus, we start to get bogged down in lots of laws and this goes on for 4 books!

6. I would normally suggest to people to dip into a few different sections first before trying to read the whole thing through. And if you do read the whole thing through don't worry about skipping some of the more tedious bits, you can always go back and read them later. Some ideas to start with,

Mark: the shortest gospel of Jesus, probably only 30 mins to read.
Genesis: The introduction to the whole Bible, Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Joseph.
Psalms: a collection of songs expressing a wide range of emotion, not all of it positive. Psalm 23 is the most famous. 51, 121, 113, are good ones too.
Jonah: More than just a guy who got swallowed by a whale.
Judges: R18 level violence
Ruth: The love story that gives hope to the story of Judges
Acts: This is the sequel to gospel of Luke and tells the story of the Early Church and introduces Paul who wrote many of the letter in the OT.
Esther: The girl who saves a nation.
Philippians: A letter from prison
Song of songs: Ancient erotic poetry (I kid you not)

7. As you read through you'll realise that lots of the books reference each other, it is a very interconnected set of books and even by dipping in and out you'll start to get a sense of the whole thing.

8. I've read it through several times, but it usually takes me more than a year. If you read three chapters a day you get through it in a year, I think. Good luck!

Feel free to throw any further questions my way. I am a Bible geek so always happy to do my best to answer.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Andrew Judd and Racism in New Zealand

This fascinating and terribly titled video exposes what most Maori and many migrants have long known: White New Zealand is endemically racist. Now before you turn away in disgust at my unfair judgement, let me explain. White New Zealand is not racist because the people are mean and nasty. When we hear the word racist we think of horrible angry people blaming others for their misfortune and frothing a bit at the mouth. New Zealanders of all colours are the most generous and kind people you could hope to meet, of course there are always exceptions, but as a whole they are really not bad people, so to be told they are racist it is hurtful. If they saw someone in need, no matter the race they would help. If a neighbour moved in, no matter the race they would welcome them. If two people fall in love, no matter the race, they can be together. If someone does a good job (especially in sport), no matter the race, they deserve to be celebrated. I truly believe it and have seen it. So how can we possibly be racist?

We are not racist because we are horrible people, we are racist out of ignorance. And this is why when someone like Andrew Judd gets a bit more knowledge, the scales fall from his eyes and he zealously seeks a better world!

We are racist because we are ignorant of our own history.
It is no accident that Judd's conversion came after reading a history book. If people really understood what Maori have been through they wouldn't complain about having Maori issues "shoved down my throat". Try having your own language banned for 100 years by a government you didn't get to vote for. Hows that for having something shoved down your throat? Being forced to learn about Maori issues (as if anyone is) is not force feeding, it is education about your own history. Yes it will make you uncomfortable but nothing worth comparing to how uncomfortable the Maori's have been made in their own country.

We are racist because we are ignorant of democracy.
Much of the dissension in the story revolves around Maori seats on councils. White folk get upset because (in their minds) it is special treatment for a person who otherwise wouldn't be elected. But the purpose of modern democracy is not mob rule, but representative rule, The reality is councils with all white boards are not representing the Tangata Whenua in their regions. A seat or two for Maori representation would not have given any real power (more's the pity) but it would at least have given a voice to a minority who deserve to be represented just as much as "Grey Power". (oh the irony of that title) [A side issue is all the councilors getting paid not to turn up to meetings, the citizenry should have been up in arms about that, but instead, as usual the powerful scapegoat the minorities]

We are racist because we are ignorant of social legacies.
The whole "why don't they just sort themselves out" reveals the suspicion lurking in so many people minds that Maori have higher rates of poverty, crime, addiction and abuse than the rest of the population because they are too stupid or immoral to pick themselves up. They are blind to the reality that most of us have not dragged ourselves from the gutter to our current lifestyles and neither can we claim everything we have is a result of our own hard work. The families we were born into have a huge amount to do with it. Why did I stay at school and go on to university? Was it because I am smarter and more moral than a brown person? Or is it because my parents went to university, supported me to go and set me an example I could follow? In the same way when a group of people have been systematically oppressed for over a century simply ceasing oppression is not sufficient. The damage has been done the legacy has been created. While individuals may well break the mold, as a group the social legacy needs redressing to rebalance the scales. Maori can't "just get over" history because it is still affecting them now.

We are racist because we are ignorant of theology.
Perhaps the most galling for me was the the "Christian" involvement in this. Now there are always going to be idiots carrying Bibles that don't know how to read them. But how is it that with all the churches in New Plymouth no pastor sought Andrew out to encourage him and give him a different view of what Christians might think? Yes we are all called to be one in Christ (Gal 3:38). But one what? Not one monocultural society where everyone is as white as the next guy. What makes us Christians one people is not conformity to each other (and definitely not to white NZ culture) but conformity to Christ. The Bible celebrates the unity of all tribes and tongues (Yes, Te Reo!) in worship of God (Rev 7:9) and any Christian worth their salt should be doing the same.

We are racist because we tolerate Paul Henry and Mike Hoskings.
The two high priests of Middle New Zealand Racism are terrible broadcasters, joyful wallowers in the most bestial ignorance, and by reputation (it's a small town) utterly unpleasant people. Why do we continue to adore them and applaud their hateful rhetoric? Because they reflect us so well and say things we like to hear. Because we are a racist country.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

When the Rock Star met the Bible Scholar

Fascinating little video here

I was struck, one, by Peterson's focus on the task in hand (not being distracted from his deadline by a world famous rock star's invitation. Surely an indication of how he has acheived so much in life, focus!

And two, by Bono's comment about the dishonesty of Christian art and worship music. Ouch!

Enjoy, let me know what you think,


Monday, April 11, 2016

The Secret Life of Bible Societies

Scot McKnight offers a fascinating precis of John Fea's book The Bible Cause. It is not for nothing that many countries ban the distribution of Bibles, it is a highly political act, but not just the distribution, a Bible society's decisions about what to include or exclude can have far reaching effects. Forget the Illuminati we should all be worrying about the agendas of the Bible societies.

Easter, that famous pagan festival, not.

We've probably all heard how the celebration of Easter is based on the pre Christian celebration of the goddess Oester, from who we got oestrogen, and that Christians just tacked on some cute stories about Jesus to fit in with it. Of course that is a rather revisionist approach to the Christian explanation which is that Easter is the Christian celebration of the passover, fulfilled as it was by Jesus in his death and resurrection. And it also rather neatly ignores the fact that Christianity did not start celebrating Easter in Europe (where it could conceivably have been borrowing the fertility rites of a fictive German goddess) but in the Middle East. But never mind. Anyway if you are interested, I thought this was a helpful article on the subject. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Going further with Hebrew

So last year I did the introduction and intermediate course in Hebrew with Laidlaw College. I had previously self taught myself enough Hebrew to engage with commentaries, do word studies, etc, but it was good to go systematically through a course with the aim to actually read something off the page. So like many Hebrew students I am left with the question, "what next". What I wanted was a list of easy-ish Hebrew texts I could work my way through, to help me practice what I had learned without becoming hopelessly discouraged by coming across passages I had no chance with. I found this list on a blog copied from a book. All I wanted was the list but if you want more assistance I suggest you buy the book.

I'm going to be working my way through the list which will hopefully result in me not forgetting all I learnt last year! I'll let you know how I get on. Are there any other lists like this that you are aware of? Dan Wallace provides this list of how to read through the New Testament in order of difficulty (easiest first).

Law

1. Genesis 1:1-5 – In the Beginning
2. Genesis 2:1-3 – The Seventh Day
3. Genesis 26:1-6 – God’s Promises to Isaac
4. Genesis 35:9-15 – God’s Promises to Jacob
5. Genesis 43:1-8 – Jacob Sends Benjamin to Egypt
6. Exodus 3:1-12 – The Burning Bush
7. Exodus 6:1-8 – I am the LORD
8. Exodus 34:1-6 – The LORD Proclaims His Name
9. Leviticus 19:1-4 – The Demand for Holiness
10. Numbers 6:22-26 – Aaron’s Blessing
11. Deuteronomy 6:1-15 – The Shema
12. Deuteronomy 11:18-23 – Teach These Words to Your Children
13. Deuteronomy 31:1-8 – Be Strong and Courageous

Prophets

14. Joshua 24:14-18 – Joshua’s Challenge to Serve the LORD
15. Judges 3:7-11 – The LORD Delivers Israel with Othniel
16. Judges 10:10-15 – Cry to the Gods Whom You Have Chosen
17. 1 Samuel 15:10-24 – To Obey is Better Than Sacrifice
18. 2 Samuel 7:1-9 – David’s Desire to Build the Temple
19. 1 Kings 8:22-26 – Solomon’s Prayer
20. 2 Kings 17:34-40 – You Shall Fear the LORD
21. Isaiah 43:1-6 – You Are Precious in My Eyes
22. Jeremiah 31:31-34 – A New Covenant
23. Ezekiel 37:1-6 – The Valley of Dry Bones
24. Joel 3:1-5 (2:28-32) – I Will Pour Out My Spirit

Writings

25. Psalm 23:1-6 – The LORD is My Shepherd
26. Psalm 100:1-5 – Hymn of Praise
27. Psalm 121:1-8 – The LORD Will Keep You
28. Ezra 7:6-10 – A Model for Generations to Come
29. 2 Chronicles 1:7-10 – Solomon Asks for Wisdom
30. 2 Chronicles 7:1-4 – The Glory of the LORD Fills the Temple

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Tanya Riches: A new (to me) blog!

A little while back on facebook I came across this gem of an article about citing people (even if they are female and/or Australian). I think Tanya is too soft on cheating scumbags who want to pass off other people's work as their own, but never mind, and otherwise she is spot on.

But the blog also includes theological music reviews and commentary on aboriginal rights among other things. So check Tanya out. I've added her to my feed reader.

Jospeh's Bones (Genesis 5:24-25)

I've been thinking this week about the bones of Joseph. There is a strange little bit at the end of the book of Genesis where Joseph tells his family that when the time comes for Israel to return to the land of Canaan he wants his bones taken with them (Gen 50:24-25). I've read it many times and not given it much thought. But this week I was struck by the fact that this is really strange.

Think about it for a second. Joseph has seen four generations of his children born in Egypt (50:23). He was given the highest non-hereditary office in the land of Egypt (41:41-3). He married into a high status family in Egypt (41:45). He became the saviour of Egypt and surrounding lands during a terrible famine (41:56-57). So in Egypt he has family, wealth, success, prestige and honour, everything that the world could offer. What better resting place could there be for his bones? Why would he want his bones taken back to Canaan, the land of his childhood where he was a spoilt brat hated by his brothers?

But it is not nostalgia that motivates Joseph. He does not call Canaan "the land of my childhood", but "the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." Jacob's motivation is not in the past but in the future. Even after all he had in the land of Egypt his heart was in the promises of God for the future. What a challenge to us! How attached are we to this world and what it gives us? Is our heart really in the future promised by God or are we happy for our "bones" to rest for ever in the blessings of this world? For as Jesus said, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt 6:21).

Monday, February 22, 2016

NZATS conf and call for papers



If you love a good acronym, then this is the conference for you!
NZATS Conference

Keynote speakers will be Murray Rae, Tim Meadowcroft and Rebecca Dudley.

Conference Announcement And Call For Papers


New Zealand Association of Theological Schools (NZATS) and it’s member institutions are coming together for a combined conference in 2016.


– Aotearoa-New Zealand Association of Biblical Studies (ANZABS)


– Aotearoa-New Zealand Association of Mission Studies (ANZAMS)


– Systematic Theology Association of Aotearoa-New Zealand (STAANZ) and


– Religious History Association of Aotearoa-New Zealand (RHAANZ)


– Network for Pastoral/Practical Theology in Aotearoa New Zealand (NPPTANZ)


Conference organiser on behalf of NZATS: Dr Myk Habets (myk.habets@carey.ac.nz)


All scholars and students involved in theological education or Christian ministry are invited to attend.


The 2016 NZATS Combined Conference will be hosted by Carey Baptist College, 473 Great South Road, Auckland, NZ

Just watch out for the NPPTANZ vs ANZAMS volley ball match, things could get bloody.




For more click here

Monday, February 15, 2016

Yes They Are The Same God

All the kerfuffle over that poor professor, it really is remarkable that intelligent people can find it so hard to understand.

Yes. Yahweh, Allah and the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ are all intending to refer to the same object - the creator and soveriegn of the Universe, the one true God.

Nick Norelli (PBUH) makes the usual mistake of thinking that just because someone is wrong about an aspect of the object they are therefore referring to a different object altogether.

Here's the thing, saying we mean the same God is not the same as saying that we are all correct in our beliefs about that one God just as the Flat Earth Society live on the same Earth that we all do they are just wrong on the subject of its basic shape. And thank God for that else we'd all be unable to pray to or talk about the Most High on account of the smallest imperfections in our theology.

Put this another way, some people think I am a really cool guy, other think I'm a complete moron. Whether they are right or wrong (or the answer is a bit of both) they still refer to the same chap when they talk about me, even if they are fundamentally wrong about my character.

Don't they?


Where Does All Our Time Go?

Came across a fascinating (if slightly hyperbolic) article the other week. Well worth a read

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the – universally reviled – unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.

Let me know what you think :-)

The Honest Christian Worship Album


Though this was pretty funny, if also a little painfully accurate? (source)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Liberalism has Started to Eat Itself: Jacob Williams on Free Speech

So this is an interesting discussion affecting Oxford University at the moment.

Here's one side of the story


And here's another.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Bauckham on "Deliberate Hindsight"

"If God crucified introduces radical novelty into the identity of God, wherein lies the consistency of identity? The first point to make is . . . that Jewish monotheism did not characterize the uniqueness of God in such a way as to make the early Christian inclusion of Jesus in the unique identity of God inconceivable . . . However, this - so to speak - negative consistency was clearly not sufficient for the early Christians . . . they developed their fresh understanding of the Christological identity of God through creative exegesis of the Hebrew Scriptures . . . Precisely at points where they appreciate most fully the new identity of God in Jesus, they are engaged in exegesis, the process of bringing the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures and the history of Jesus into mutually interpretive interplay. We misunderstand this process if we see it as an attempt, by reading Christology back into the texts, to pretend that actually nothing at all was unexpected . . . With deliberate hindsight they understand the identity of the God of Israel afresh in the light of his new identity as the God of Jesus Christ."

Richard Bauckham, "God Crucified," Jesus and the God of Israel, 2008: pp53-54

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Scholarly Bunfight Brewing Over Peter

If you like a good scrap between Bible scholars (and I do!) you should get in at the start of emerging hostilities between Larry Hurtado and Robert Gundry. They are both top rank NT scholars (IMHO) but come from very different approaches.

Larry started it in this scathing review of Robert's latest book about the apostle Peter.
For readers of any persuasion, however, the thesis advanced in Gundry’s book will come as something of a shock. Gundry insists that, just like Judas Iscariot, the Peter of the Gospel of Matthew is presented in a very negative light as a total and final failure. Other scholars might hesitate to defend such a view, given that it appears that no one previously in the 1900 years of reading of Matthew has advocated it.
While Robert has riposted on Scot McKnight's blog with a equally scathing attack on Larry's review.
In every instance of my argument, observes Hurtado, I have “to urge an interpretation, an inference” (emphasis original) rather than something “explicit.” Is that observation an argument? It sure looks like one. For if not, Hurtado needn’t have made it. But if so, am I to understand that he and others don’t engage in interpretation and inference?
Hopefully this is only the beginning of an all out flame-war between the two of them and their acolytes! Keep it clean chaps, Marquis of Queensberry rules!

Beards, Beards, Beards.

While I have commented before on the theology of beards in the feeds last week there were two beard related articles worthy of mention.

One on the health benefits for all humanity

And one on the missional benefits for Anglican clergy in London

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Call for Posts and Free ANE Resources

Tim Bulkeley is looking for posts for this month's biblical studies carnival, drop him a line if you want to nominate a post.

Tim has also has a chapter in a new SBL publication, THE BOOK OF THE TWELVE AND THE NEW FORM CRITICISM, Mark J. Boda, Michael H. Floyd, and Colin M. Toffelmire (eds), which is, amazingly, available for free download! Not only that but they have a whole series of impressive tomes on the ANE available for free download.

SBL are to be commended for such a commitment to open source scholarship and genuine "publication."

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A New (to me) Blog!

Just come across this blog through a friend's facebook feed, been very impressed with the range and quality of the writing.

It's called Thicket of the Jordan by one Esau McCauley, an African-American Anglican Pastor.

Among other things, he writes about being a Black Anglican,
Easter and the Lord of the Rings,
and Star Wars.

Check him out and enjoy.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Chicken Theology


This came through the post on Facebook, thanks to G.E. Cockrell (a coincidence? IDK). Some deeply insightful analysis here:




Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? (Theological Version)

Rick Warren: The chicken was purpose driven.

Pelagius: Because the chicken was able to.

John Piper: God decreed the event to maximize his glory. OR . . . it was an act of Christian hedonism. The chicken realized that his greatest joy would only be found on the other side.

Irenaeus: The glory of God is the chicken fully alive.

C.S. Lewis: If a chicken finds itself with a desire that nothing on this side can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that it was created for the other side.

Billy Graham: The chicken was surrendering all.

Pluralist: The chicken took one of many equally valid roads.

Universalist: All chickens cross the road.

Martin Luther: The chicken was fleeing the Antichrist who had stolen the Gospel with his papist lies.

Tim LaHaye: The chicken didn’t want to be left behind.

James White: I reject chicken centered eisegesis.

John Wesley: The chicken’s heart was strangely warmed.

Rob Bell: The chicken. Crossed the road. To get. Cool glasses.

Joel Osteen: The chicken crossed the road to maximize his personal fulfillment so they he could be all that God created him to be.

Roger Olson: The chicken recognizes no clear evangelical boundries.

Driscoll: A [bleeping] chicken crossed the road to go get a beer.

Gary Demar: The chicken was fleeing the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. That’s it.

Jim Wallis: The chicken is an organizer for Occupy Barnyard.

Emergent: For this chicken, its not the destination that’s important. Its the journey itself.

N.T. Wright: This act of the chicken, which would be unthinkable in British barnyards, reeks of that American individualism that is destructive to community.

Al Mohler: When a chicken begins to think theologically, he has no other alternative but to come over to the Calvinist side of the road.

Michael Horton: The chicken was forsaking the kingdom of this world to live solely in the Kingdom of Christ.

John Frame: The chicken had an existential need to change its situation according to a new norm.

T.F. Torrance: The inner logic of the incarnation proved an irresistible draw to the other side of the road.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: He was abandoning cheap grace for the costly discipleship of risking the dangers of crossing the road.

Karl Barth: The crossing of the road, like all true theology, was done for profoundly Christological reasons. Because Christ came as the judge to be judged, all chickens cross the road in the end.

Paul Tillich: Because he sensed that the other side of the road represented the ground of all being.

New Ager: Because he saw the light beckoning him forward.

Fundamentalist: Because his pastor told him so.

Any additions you would make? :-)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

December 2015 Biblical Studies Blog Carnival

It's been a while since I have been active with the carnival in any capacity whatsoever, and in all likelihood that is not about to change but it is good to see it is still going strong. Check it out. I probably will while I'm waiting for my brother and fam to arrive from the UK at some unearthly hour tonight. :-)


PhD Scholarships with Torrance and Wright

So personally, being overseen by both Alan Torrance and NT Wright sounds terrifyingly intimidating, but if that floats your boat there is still time to apply.
The University of St Andrews and the Templeton Foundation are funding six doctoral scholarships to cover all fees for doctoral research undertaken in the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology in St Andrews. This is open to overseas, European and UK students.
Studentships will be awarded to doctoral research in the following general subject-areas: 
1. The relationship of God to time/history;
2. The Christian doctrine of forgiveness - its grounds, nature and implications;
3. Personhood: divine and human;
4. Human uniqueness and the question of human purpose.

Barclay on Grace

Barclay's 2015 book on grace, Paul and the Gift, has been gathering momentum as a push back against the New Perspectives' (alleged) minimisation of the radical nature of Paul's view of God's grace. There is a nice interview in  CT about it, which also presses him to apply (albeit too briefly) his view of grace to churches today:
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.