Reconciliation and Truth

Posted in Australia, Church, Reconciliation with tags , , , , on March 15, 2011 by stephengardner

I’m currently thinking a lot about the Australian Church and reconciliation. At the more theoretical end, I’m thinking through what the essence of the Church’s ministry of reconciliation is; and to what extent can we presently experience the final reconciliation that God promises when he makes all things new. While, practically, I’m fascinated by what are our particularly Australian stories of reconciliation that need to be told; what opportunities there are for reconciliation to occur in our societies; and how the Church can be involved in all of this. A big chunk of my time at college this year will be thinking through these things – and I hope to post some reflections from time to time.

Today I had the great joy of reading Colonisation and Christianity by 19th Century, English Author William Howitt. It is a painful read – recalling to mind seemingly endless evil often committed in the name of the Church’s Master. But Howitt zealously called into question European colonisation, and its relationship to Christianity – and named it for what it was, evil.

To comprehend the full extent of atrocities done in the Christian name, we must look the whole wide evil sternly in the face. We must not suffer ourselves to aim merely at the rediness of this or that grievance; but gathering all the scattered rays of aboriginal oppression into one burning focus, and thus enabling ourselves to feel its entire force, we shall be less than Englishmen and Christians if we do not stamp the whole system of colonial usage towards the natives, with that general and indignant odium which must demolish it at once and forever (Colonisation and Christianity, 10).

How many Waterloos can the annals of the earth reckon? What Timour, or Zenghis Khan, can be compared to the Napoleon of Modern Europe? the (sic) greatest scourge of nations that ever arose on this planet; the most tremendous meteor that ever burnt along its surface! (p, 4)

But most monstrous of all has been the moral blindness or the savage recklessness of ourselves as Englishmen. (p, 6)

In hindsight, Howitt’s attempts to bring into light the evil of the past did not go far enough, but it is a valuable example of, what seems to me, to be a universally recognised essential starting block; That in order for reconciliation to occur between two parties with a history of bad blood, then there must be a revelation of the truth. A painful, honest look at the past – painful for the offender, reminding themselves of guilt and leaving them vulnerably in the hands of shame. But likewise, and particularly, painful for the victim – again, leaving them in a vulnerable position where they might be forever labelled as ‘victim.’ But if a genuine reconciliation is to occur then this pain must be exposed.


the line is fine between zealot and jerk

Posted in Church, Leadership on February 9, 2011 by stephengardner

Mike W has a great post called gospel assholes which has prompted me to post some thoughts on leadership and jerkiness and how all too often the two seem to be intrinsically connected. Mike reflects on how easy it can be for a preacher/minister to take pride in any conflict/’persecution’ they might encounter – telling themselves ‘oh, its for the gospel’ when really it could just be because they’re being a jerk.

I am increasingly convinced that the number one problem in Christian leadership is a lack of clear, Jesus formed identity. To steal from Larry Crabb – this becomes a problem when one ceases to find their security and significance in Jesus Christ. Personally, as I look to head out into parish ministry, God willing, for the rest of my days, I know this is something I will need to keep coming back to, daily. The temptation to find security and significance in anything but Jesus is massive in Christian ministry. How much easier it is to have your identity shaped by your effectiveness, your successful track record of church growth, or even in Mike’s example, your jerkiness.

There are lots of ways we can see this insecurity in Christian ministry but, I want to suggest just two symptoms.

1. an inflated sense of your own importance

The minister/preacher/wannabe minister/wannabe preacher becomes the centre of the universe for his/her congregation, or anyone who will listen really. They must contribute to every conversation, they must not ever appear to not know the answer to someone’s question, they seem to delight in people needing their advice or wisdom and their status updates on facebook almost always seem to be about their next preaching gig. While this symptom is more funny than harmful it is still, I think, a sure sign of a lack of clear, Jesus formed identity. If your identity is threatened it feels desperately important to reassert yourself at any given time.

2. a suspicion of others

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 27-28).

This symptom is less funny and more harmful than the first, it destroys communities. When the pastor/leader acts towards a community out of suspicion, then that community will never flourish. The pastor/leader is again showing that he/she is deeply insecure – others, even their own community, become a threat to their identity. This is where Mike’s post is really helpful. When others threaten our security there is a temptation to go on the attack reasserting oneself over and against the other, perhaps accompanied with the comforting thought that ‘I am defending the truth and this person is just being subversive.’ Or you could just be a jerk!

The Church Needs to Get Scandalised!

Posted in Church, Reconciliation with tags , , , , , , on January 24, 2011 by stephengardner

One thing that will sell a newspaper is a scandal. One thing that will sell a newspaper and incite mobs of angry people is a scandal within the church. However, Miroslav Volf, in his book, Exclusion and Embrace,  argues that the Christian community needs to a scandalous one. A community that is willing to get scandalised because that is exactly what God has experienced in event of the gospel:

At its core, however, the scandal of the cross in a world of violence is not the danger associated with self-donation. Jesus’ greatest agony was not that he suffered. Suffering can be endured, even embraced, if it brings desired fruit, as the experience of giving birth illustrates. What turned the pain of suffering into agony was the abandonment; Jesus was abandoned by the people who trusted in him and by the God in whom he trusted. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15.34). My God, my God, why did my radical obedience to your way lead to the pain and disgrace of the cross? The ultimate scandal of the cross is the all too frequent failure of self-donation to bear positive fruit: you give yourself for the other – and violence does not stop but destroys you; you sacrifice your life – and stabilize the power of the perpetrator. Though self-donation often issues in the joy of reciprocity, it must reckon with the pain of failure and violence. When violence strikes, the very act of self-donation becomes a cry before the dark face of God. This dark face confronting the act of self-donation is a scandal. (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 26)

Volf goes on to say that ‘there is no genuinely Christian way around the scandal’ (26). Volf explores such practices of self-donation in the political sphere but his challenge, I think, is just as valid for the way our church communities relate to one another.  Getting scandalised, in this sense, is a non-negoitable for our churches. He goes on to write:

the only available options are either to reject the cross and with it the core of the Christian faith or to take one’s cross, follow the Crucified – and be scandalized ever anew by the challenge. (26)

I love it when different thoughts from different books collide. I find Volf’s challenge resonates deeply with much of the work of the brilliant Christian psychologist Larry Crabb. When it comes to thinking through how the Christian life should be expressed in relationship with others, there is no one sharper than Crabb. In his book Encouragement, he argues that too often we are motivated by fear to serve others, or that we hold back from serving because we are self-protective and anxious that we must first have our need for encouragement met by others before we can give of ourselves, or ‘self-donate’ as Volf would say.

What radical a call the cross makes on our communities, and yet isn’t it odd how few of our churches come close to resembling  such radicalness. Imagine the difference it would make if we actually believed that our security and significance was found in Jesus Christ alone.

A warning to preachers

Posted in Church, Leadership with tags , , on January 18, 2011 by stephengardner

I believe that one of our big weaknesses is in what is called ‘application’ in imparting God’s Word. I don’t mean a personal appeal tacked on to the end of a sermon. I mean an awareness on the part of the speaker of the condition of the audience, and the addressing of his utterance to that particular condition. Or to put it in more personal terms: a knowledge of the people on the part of the person who speaks…The personal relation between pastor and people, between friend and friend, is absolutely integral to effectual imparting of God’s Word…Yet a chief defect of modern preaching is that it is so often fundamentally impersonal: no amount of earnestness, or desire to get decisions, or shouting, or belabouring the audience, or tricks of rhetoric, or even conversational tone, will make up for a lack of awareness on the speakers part of just who he is talking to, and what their spiritual condition is in the actuality of their daily lives, and what they are likely to make of what he says. Nor will it make up for, above all, a lack of love for them which, even while he knows himself to be the messenger of the Lord, constrains him to be their servant, and to frame him message in such a way as fits their need rather than his own.

D.W.B. Robinson, ‘The Theology of the Preached Word’ in Donald Robinson Selected Works: Volume 2 – Preaching God’s Word. p146-147

The Atonement: an introduction to an introduction

Posted in Theology with tags , , , , , on November 12, 2010 by stephengardner

During study for my end of year doctrine exam today, at Moore Theological College, I did some thinking about the atonement and thought I might blog some initial thoughts. I have (at this stage) seven introductory aspects of the atonement I want to explore – but I’m open to your suggestions too.

But, to kick off, as a kind of introduction, I thought I would post some helpful words from T.F. Torrance. Having argued that the atonement is, firstly, a profound mystery, he concludes that there is ‘no logical relation’ between the cross of Christ and our experience of forgiveness of sins.

There is of course a mighty continuity between the death of Christ on the cross and the forgiveness of our sins, but it is a continuity that God himself achieves and makes through his atoning act and the intervention of his own being. And therefore the cross provides a wisdom that ‘the Greeks’ or humankind in general know nothing of. Thus we cannot begin to understand the atonement by bringing to it principles of formal rational continuity or by adopting an abstract theoretic explanation. In seeking to unfold the meaning of the death of the Son of God, therefore, we must have recourse to putting together conjunctive statements based upon the inherent synthesis to be found in the person of the mediator and not in any logical or rational presuppositions which we bring to interpret what he has done for us. Here above all, then, in seeking to understand the death of Christ, we must follow Christ, and think only a posteriori, seeking throughout to be conformed in mind to Christ himself as the truth. That is the only way to understand and at the same time to reverence the infinite mystery and majesty of this atoning deed on the cross which by its very nature reaches out beyond all finite comprehension into eternity.                                                                                                                              ( T. F. Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ. 2-3)

Taking on board Torrance’s encouragement to follow Christ as a first and foremost outcome of ‘studying’ the atonement, what would you included as a must have in introducing the idea of the atonement?

Anglicans for Restitution

Posted in Australia with tags , , on November 10, 2010 by stephengardner

Check out this organisation, Anglicans for Restitution. The organisation was launched in the wake of Peter Adam’s 2009 lecture. At the moment it is a purely Melbourne based initiative, do you think something like this will happen in Sydney?

Thanks to Mark Eargney for the tip off.

Barth on Obedience and Prayer

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 10, 2010 by stephengardner

In prayer, he (the Christian) makes use of the freedom to answer the Father who has addressed him, or, to put it in another way, to go to meet the Father whose goodness he proceeds, or, to put it in yet another way, to give direct and natural expression of the truth of the situation in which the Christian finds himself as a Christian. When he prays, he puts himself in the position in which faith and obedience can always begin again at the beginning. As this primitive movement, prayer, which is the basis of all other activity, is included in obedience. It is itself the act of obedience par excellence, the act of obedience from which all other acts must spring. (Church Dogmatics III.3 49.4. p.265)