Ministry and theology… like a ninja.


Thinking through baptism prep

Yesterday in one of my college discussion groups we were talking about baptism, especially how we go about helping people prepare for it.  Some were saying very little prep happens in their church, others maybe five or six 1 hour sessions.  Some went through a book like ‘A Sneaking Suspicion (with high school students).

It got me thinking back to an essay I wrote in 1st year on the Didache (a 2nd century Christian document describing church practice).  Those guys back then made people go through a ‘catechism’ (pre-baptism teaching) for three years before they were allowed to get baptized and take communion.  Until then they were asked to leave the meeting room, along with all the unbaptized visitors, at the part of the church service where communion was shared.

That seems ridiculous now, with most churches seeing baptism as something which they want to encourage people to do with little or no requirements other than profess a faith in Jesus.

But perhaps we need to go back to being a bit more 1st century hard core.

Most agree that baptism is one of the most important steps in a Christians life, whether you have a sacramental view of it or not.  My own church tries to review its growth not on numbers coming to Sunday services, but based on how many people are getting baptized.  And yet when was the last time you heard baptism preached?  Have you ever been to a church that has a high view of baptism?  Where preparation is not just a cursory glance over the gospel of Mark, but a serious process which includes serious teaching on Christian life practices, ethics, theology, prayer, evangelism… the list could go on?

The leader of our discussion group pointed out that the Catholics really have it over us evangelicals in this area.  Their preparation course runs for an entire year, from one Easter to the next.

Today many people are still getting their knickers in a knot over infant vs. believer’s baptism.  Maybe we should stop arguing over that and start wondering if the people we are baptizing, or confirming, are actually prepared enough to take this step and hit the ground running towards the finish line.


Guy Mason on the ‘Transvestite Jesus’

Guy Mason, pastor of my church in Melbourne, on Sunrise responding to the latest controversial Jesus art.

How do you think he went? Would you have said something different?

Watch it here.

Video of the Day

Man, words cannot describe how much I love this guy.

10 Habits of Highly Effective Listeners

No I haven’t suddenly become a John Maxwell fanboy.  I have however, just read a great post by Howard Culbertson on some tips for effective listening by .  I’ve always struggled with paying attention in sermons (and lectures) and I’ve found these tips really helpful!  What do you think?  Any other things that help you to listen?


1. Choose to find the subject useful.

Poor listeners dismiss most lectures as dull and irrelevant. They turn off quickly.
Effective listeners separate the wheat from the chaff. They choose to listen to discover new knowledge.

2. Concentrate on the words and message, not on the professor’s looks, clothes or delivery.

Poor listeners notice faults in a lecturer’s appearance or delivery.
Effective listeners strive to pick every professor’s brain for self-gain.

3. When you hear something you’re not sure you agree with, react slowly and thoughtfully.

Poor listeners stop listening to the speaker and start listening to themselves. They either passively reject what is being said or they launch into impassioned rebuttals (to themselves).
Effective listeners don’t jump to conclusions and then disengage. They keep conclusions tentative while getting more information.

4. Identify the “big ideas,” those fundamental concepts to which everything else in the lecture is related.

Poor listeners say, “I listen only for facts.” They may retain a few of those facts, but the information is usually garbled.
Effective listeners look for foundational concepts. They grab key ideas and use them as anchor points for the entire lecture.

5. Adjust your note taking system to the lecturer’s pattern.

Some poor listeners attempt to outline everything, believing an outline and notes are the same thing. They get frustrated when they cannot see “points A, B and C.”
Effective listeners adjust their note-taking to the organizational pattern used by the lecturer.

6. Stay attentive.

Poor listeners let their minds to wander.
Effective listeners remain focused and actively try to absorb material.

7. Aggressively tackle difficult material.

When poor listeners encounter a tough topic, they stop absorbing and let things start bouncing off them.
Effective listeners condition themselves to be interested in challenging matters. They find a challenge in grasping the meaning of what is being said — no matter how difficult the subject.

8. Don’t get derailed by emotionally charged “buzz” words that trigger negative responses.

Poor listeners tune people out on the basis of a few words.
Effective listeners don’t let the emotional baggage of a word hinder them from getting at the substance of a lecture.

9. Get to know the professor personally.

Poor listeners see professors as talking heads.
Effective listeners like to pick up interesting facts about professors (personal history, family life, hobbies, etc.).

10. Understand and use the differential between the speed of speaking and the speed of thinking. We think at about 400 words per minute. That’s four times faster than most speakers can talk.

Poor listeners drift back and forth between a lecture and thoughts about other things.
Effective listeners use the thinking/speaking differential in three ways:

  • Riding the crest of the wave by trying to anticipate the next point of the lecture.
  • Evaluating what the lecturer is using for supporting evidence.
  • Periodically summarizing the lecture to themselves.
Thanks to Nathan Bingham for reposting these tips.

Ministry and Politics

Funnily enough I wasn’t at the Melbourne Anglican Clergy Conference on the weekend (presumably my invite was lost in the mail). However, today I’ve been hearing about the crazy goings on up in Bendigo, especially an address by Peter Costello. My very reputable source was saying today that Mr. Costello gave the clergy some advice on being involved in the political arena. His advice was this: Don’t repeat what the Right is saying, or what the Left is saying. Politicians hear this every day. As Christian ministers, say something that has a gospel distinctive.

I think that there is really something good to hear from this. Too often I see ministers and bishops trying to do the job of politicians. Others try and stay out of politics all together. Both of these things are fraught with danger. It seems to me that what we should be doing as Christians, whether in leadership or not, is to talk about political issues from a gospel perspective. Leave secular politics to the secular politicians. Let’s be a voice in society that is radically counter-cultural, because the gospel is radically counter-cultural.

Sometimes this will take a lot of work. Trying to figure out what God has to say about something like the carbon tax, or the immigration issue, can be really tricky. And sometimes there are no simple answers. But isn’t it something to really work hard at?

(btw, I am not saying that Christians shouldn’t become politicians, but for the majority of Christians who aren’t, maybe this is helpful…)

In remembrance of John Stott

John Stott will be greatly missed.  He fought for the cause of the gospel for the better part of a century.

He tirelessly proclaimed Christ, preached the word and wrote brilliant books to ensure that the good deposit was guarded.  If you are a Christian today you owe a lot to John Stott!  His legacy lives on in the 1974 Lausanne Covenant, promoting world-wide evangelism and Christian social action, and Langham Partnership International.

I look forward to hanging out with Stotty in heaven and hope he lets me call him Stotty.


Lennox vs. Singer Debate

Last Wednesday I went to the debate between John Lennox, professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, and Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton.  The topic was ‘Is there a God?’

Due to the amount of publicity in churches around Melbourne, the debate had garnered quite a buzz, and so there was a sense of expectation as we rolled up to the beautifully ornate Melbourne Town Hall.  Lennox of course, has reputation as a well-respected and admired Christian apologist, being the author of more than a few books on apologetics.  Singer, on the other hand, is more of the infamous variety.  He is well known for being a staunch proponent of utilitarian ethics, especially his controversial views on late-term abortion.

In the opening statements both men scored points for succinctly putting forward their personal view.  However, Lennox easily wooed the crowd right from the start with his folksy Irish style.  More than a few of my friends vocalized their wish that he was their grandfather.  He spoke with warmth and conviction.  He quickly picked up the classic argument of if our minds are just neurons produced by millions of years of random mutations, then there is no reason why we should trust anything that they come up with.  Therefore a belief in evolution is every bit as irrational as a belief in God.  Lennox also brought made his argument personal by speaking of his own relationship with God. (Singer never really responded to this point.)

Singer was quite eloquent himself, but lacked the warmth of Lennox, coming across as just being a bit grouch in comparison.  He quoted LaPlace’s famous response to Napoleon’s inquiry as to where God fitted into his work on the orbits of Saturn and Jupiter: ‘I had no need of that hypothesis.’  He followed this by responding to the Christian argument of ‘First cause’ by saying that as far as he was concerned the universe may just as well have existed forever, and therefore there is no need of God as ‘first cause’.  However, he admitted that he couldn’t prove this, since scientists simply don’t know what happened before the Big Bang, thus his point didn’t really hit home.

A particularly crowd-pleasing moment came when Singer was attempting to discredit Christianity with the ‘Christian by environment argument’ – people are only Christian because of their environment and culture growing up.  Lennox, without a moment’s hesitation shot back ‘Yes Peter, but tell me, were your parents atheists?’  ‘Well…. errrrr… yes…’  Enough said.

The debate then headed into a time of moderated questions, where the moderator picked up on different things the debaters had said and asked the other to respond.  Lennox spent a lot of time insisting that his faith was based on evidence, and he was often convincing but not always so.  However, Lennox on the whole responded well to his questions, which was not an easy thing since much of Singer’s critiques of Christianity were not what you would expect from an academic of his calibre.  Singer’s shots were often badly researched – he questioned the historical validity of the Gospel of Luke, pointed out ‘contradictions’ in the gospels, questioned the reliability of biblical texts, suggested that it was clear that Jesus  and Paul expected that Jesus would return within the lifetime of the disciples and expressed extreme doubt about the Resurrection.  Lennox did his best to dispel these badly aimed shots, and for the most part did a good job, even quoting Mark 9:1 verbatim in response to the latter (while admittedly skipping over Luke 21:32).  However, considering he has just written a book on the evidence for the Resurrection, I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t go into things like the proof of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, where Paul says that Jesus appeared to over 500 of his followers, especially since most scholars agree that 1 Corinthians has a very early date of authorship.

The climax came when the issue of suffering was put on the table.  Singer brought out the good ol’ ‘how can a good God allow evil’ argument.  Lennox’s response was almost exactly what I wanted to hear.  He admitted that he had no good answer to this question.  Now there’s any number of legitimate arguments he could have trotted out to explain God’s sovereignty, but instead he simply pointed to the cross, to the Suffering Godman, one who is not unconcerned with our plight, but has experienced it himself in every way.  I think this was the better way to go.  To trot out a few clever apologetical tricks would have put the audience immediately offside.  In my mind Lennox gained more than a few points by being willing to admit that there are no easy answers to the question of suffering – especially none that could be adequately explained in the few minutes he had.  The only unfortunate part of his answer here was him saying that the wonders of heaven would more than make up for the sufferings of this life.  While this is true, he neglected to mention that this only holds true for Christians, and that for those who reject God, the sufferings of human life will be nothing compared to the eternal torment of separation from God.

To sum-up, it was an enjoyable evening, mostly because of the generous nature of both men.  Lennox was keen to establish which points were agreed upon by both parties.  Singer was also fairly restrained, and resisted taking too many shots below the belt.  However, one couldn’t help but notice that many of his responses seemed to be along the lines of ‘Well, you’re irrational’.

For the Christians in the audience, it was wonderful to see a man like Lennox passionately and eloquently defend his faith – my hope is many there were inspired to themselves study to be able to ‘give an answer for the hope that we have’.  For the unbelievers, hopefully some there will have food for thought in the coming weeks as they wonder if possibly Christians aren’t quite as irrational as they thought.

Campus Crusade becomes ‘Cru’

Toronto rowing team

Image via Wikipedia

When the girl from Tennessee in my small group told me that she had been at ‘Cru’, I proudly used my cross-cultural expertise to engage with her in a discussion about competitive rowing as a convenient segue into The Social Network.  Of course, she had simply meant that she was part of Campus Crusades for Christ.

Campus Crusades is a great college student organization in the States, of which I have much respect for.  And it’s about time they changed their name!  I think that detaching themselves from the word ‘crusade’, which suggests that unbelievers are infidels that need to be converted by force, is a wise move.  ‘Cru’ has already become a well-used shortened term, and so is a perfect replacement.  Some might say they should have gone further, but ‘Cru’ will do!

Read the Christianity Today article here. WebBible 2.0

It seems that the reign of may be coming to an end.

I’ve been exploring and I’m liking what I’m seeing! looks and works like the Google site.  It is sleek, uncluttered and user-friendly.  A single search form is all you need to look for references, topics or word searches.  The look of the Bible itself is eye-friendly, with much a much nicer font and layout than Bible Gateway.  And best of all, gone are the endless ads for conservative evangelical texts and reference books.

But the cool thing about oobible is the social networking capabilities.  You can easily link it in to facebook and see which passages your friends have been reading.  Notes added onto passages by your friends can be viewed by you, in a similar ‘status/comment’ style to Facebook, and it wonderfully has incorporated a highlighting tool.  Also, you can follow your favourite Christian celebs (Carson, Keller, Piper and the whole gang) and when you view passages oobible will automatically search for sermons/blogs by these guys related to this particular reference.

The downside is that so far ESV is the only really decent translation, but they promise to add NIV, NLT and NKJV soon.  The NRSV and Message would be nice too, but no word on those.  Also I can’t seem to figure out how to search for topics without the site thinking its a word search, but there may be an easy answer.  Also I’m not sure if your notes are always public to your friends… so you may need to watch what you write.

I hope that this site gets a lot of support, as the possibilities of Infinite Bible are… well… endless.

Real Life Caped Crusaders

Just... wow.

With the proliferation over the last few years of superhero movies, I’ve often wondered how long it would be until someone with a bit of combat experience and an overactive imagination would actually get around to donning some tights, a mask and a cool name and take to the streets.

Well it’s happened.

Phoenix Jones leads a real life group of 10 self-proclaimed heroes in fighting crime in Seattle, complete with costumes.

So far it seems he’s only managed to stop one guy from drunk driving, and one would be car thief (but he got away).  But let’s face it, it’s still pretty much the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.


p.s. Yes I know that this is scarily similar to the plot of Kick Ass.  Don’t let it spoil it for you.