Monday, 21 June 2010

Distorted echos of a manic logic

Reading the new atheists for an assignment when I worked for UCCF, I became rather frustrated. Not because they were attacking Christian belief, but precisely because they weren't. They didn't appear to know Christian belief, so made up their own version to attack. And when they did know something about Christian understanding, they played God and fabricated stones out of nothing, to throw. So, I read Nietzche. Few students would be reading him, admittedly. But I became convinced that our culture lives in his shadow. 

My frustration with our contemporary god-rejection is that it is that - a shadow. Nietzche got the cross, though he despised it. He saw that we worship not a God of the gaps, but a God who contracted himself into history and reigned from the tree. He considered the values of a messiah a horrendous thing - care for the weak and outcast, humility, repentence and trust in someone outside of oneself. Better by far: strength, pride, greed, and getting rid of the weaker ones in the way of man's progress.

Today's atheists play around with Christian ethics, while making vain attempts at logic and far-fetched attempts at philosophy, to deny a god in whom none of us believe. Our cultural thinking has been in Nietzsche's shadow, but it has been just that: an insubstantial ghost of his thought, a distorted echo of his manically logical laughter. Martin Downes quotes a brilliant essay in a recent post, by David Bentley Hart, who explains and analyses this far better than I do (and fairly amusingly): New Atheists in Short Trousers.
[T]he latest trend in à la mode godlessness, it seems to me, has by now proved itself to be so intellectually and morally trivial that it has to be classified as just a form of light entertainment, and popular culture always tires of its diversions sooner or later and moves on to other, equally ephemeral toys.

The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that today’s most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness.
What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply, with the sort of boorish arrogance that might make a man believe himself a great strategist because his tanks overwhelmed a town of unarmed peasants, or a great lover because he can afford the price of admission to a brothel. [Read the whole.]

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Racial euthanasia

Why don't we make ourselves the last generation on earth? 
What kind of people are we, to bring children into a world so full of frustration and suffering? 
Why would we fill the earth more full of children, who will then struggle with all the results of an environment we have made hostile to us, not to mention more directly sinful acts? 
Is it not cruel and wanton, to subject new life to this?

So asks Peter Stringer, notorious 'bioethicist'. 
So, before him, might Adam have asked Eve.

So, what's the answer? Colin Hansen reports and offers Biblical reflection here.

(And yes, it would effectively be racial euthanasia. An entire race killing its future generation.)

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Urban planting

On 22 May, 2020 Birmingham was launched. I was able to attend half of the day conference, and felt a tremendous privilege and thankfulness to God as I looked round the room at such gospel-hearted pastors and church workers from across the city, most of whom I knew from my time serving the churches through UCCF: The Christian Unions

Not wanting to miss the second half, I've just caught up on the talks from the conference.
All very helpful. I just wonder about Al Barth's perspective. I don't doubt his experience, and the number of churches he has supported in planting in various nations is wonderful - praise God. He raises interesting points about the influx of people to cities, globally, the dynamic of cities as cultural and racial melting pots, and how the church in some places largely abandonned the cities for the suburbs. But sometimes I really wondered how 'global' the perspective was. He stated that in cities, people are open to evangelism. His examples were from Manhattan. It reminded me of how I've been told of committed American church-planters who have come to the UK and given up after 5 years, because they expect to have a large church established within three. Our cultures are different, and cities are not the same world-over. Then again, Bournville has always claimed to be a village in a city. We have so much to learn from others, and from what the 2020 Birmingham steering committee indicate, we owe much gratitude to Redeemer City to City and Al Barth in particular. But perhaps it could be recognised as an American perspective rather than a global perspective. I will be fascinated to see what's made of it in Cape Town 2010 in October, when Tim Keller presents his vision.

I was encouraged to hear from all of the speakers, examples of local partnership, consultation and church renewal as well as church planting. The article by Tim Keller, on the 2020 Birmingham website, was rather lacking in this. It can't cover everything, but to me it could have easily given sociological excuses to someone to church plant without reference to other evangelical, actively evangelistic fellowships, ignoring the theology of the church. Pragmatics of reaching new people groups seemed to trump theology of the church - unity and fellowship particularly. 

In terms of the pragmatics / cultural understanding, there just didn't seem to be space in the thinking of Keller's article for a church which was anything between stagnant in structures and self-care without outward movement, and a church plant/planting church. Apparently after 5 years a church loses outward vision (I want to know how this is judged and whether the statistic is American - most surveys are!) How about a 20 year old church which is faithfully reaching out, engaged in the community, continually seeing folk saved in ones and twos, discipling them, seeing some fall away or get choked by the world, seeing others thrive, sending them off as missionaries or into pastoral training, regularly re-evaluating evangelism, dropping what isn't serving the church or outreach, trying new things, preaching the word,... and staying small, and the surrounding area staying remarkably, painfully hard? Perhaps that never happens in America. 

Keller's article would imply that the best thing for such a church would be for a church plant in the same area. Now, no-one would resent more workers in the harvest field, and if the second church grew, the first would rejoice inasmuch as there was partying in heaven. But the nature of the gospel is not that of business. Two balti houses next to each other get more business each than one. Usually true. But the gospel is not curry, and the reason for lack of growth is not one of taste or decor. The nature of church must reflect the nature of the God who plants: the God who invites us into his community, one in him. The non-Christian sees it as hypocrisy: 'So you believe the same things? You're not trying to recruit me for your club? Then why are you separate to the other?' Is Christ divided? 

Understand, I am not suggesting that we never plant where there are already some churches. I'm just suggesting we take care that our pragmatics doesn't undermine the Christ we proclaim.

Note - those concerns were mostly with the Keller article, and don't apply to the vision of 2020 Birmingham. 2020 Birmingham seemed to address these in a very healthy dynamic of partnership. Listen to the mp3s, see what you think, and perhaps take the idea to other cities as well as coming to Birmingham!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Quote of the Day: A million more mirrors

In a perceptive review of Donald Miller's latest, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Chris Brauns praises Miller's vivid writing and use of story. "He told a story to teach about story and it really worked." I've been trying to do this increasingly - teach a poem poetically, a song tunefully, an image with imagination and imagery, and the drama of doctrine dramatically. Certainly Miller seems like an engaging writer. But as his engaging style and likeable personality resonate with us, Brauns is concerned that we'll all the more readily be pulled into his content, which will also resonate with us - naturally. His concern is that the stories are all about ourselves and our little lives, without much on God's big story enacted in history to give us hope and a future. Brauns comments:
We spend too much time looking at ourselves.  We don't need a million more mirrors all pointed back at our small stories.  Rather, we need to see how our individual episodes relate in a Christ-centered way to the story of creation, fall, and redemption.
For a wonderfully clear and engaging use of story to communicate God's big story, do get hold of Andrew Wilson's God*Stories. I'm using it for church teen Bible class - but honestly anyone would benefit from it. Top writing, clarity, systematic & Biblical theology, in short chunks using Biblical stories. And that doesn't quite convey it. I picked up a colleagues copy when I was manning a stall at a summer youth festival last summer - and couldn't put it down, so that he lost it for the week, and I then bought several for myself and others.