A Chronicle of Renewal and Revival

Archive for May, 2012

The Voice of the Church in the 21st Century, by Ray Overend

Ray Overend lectures at Christian Heritage College, Brisbane.  This article was presented as a paper given at the Contemporary Issues in Ministry Conference, October 31, 2002, at Christian Heritage College, Brisbane, Australia. 

A new breeze blows through secular academia.

In 1993 John Carroll, Reader in Sociology at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, brought out a book (published by Fontana in London) called Humanism:  The Wreck of Western CivilisationIn it he said that the time that Europe put man on the throne instead of God was the time from which Western civilisation began to decline.

Since then postmodernism (the fragmentation that follows humanism) has made an even bigger impact on the sanctity of marriage, on corporate ethics, on liability insurance…in fact on the whole spectrum of private and social life.  Western civilisation—founded as it was on the philosophy of the church—is being destroyed from the inside out!   Satan too has exploited the weakness of his prey by launching devastating attacks like September 11 and Bali.

Yet in the midst of the postmodern chaos has sprung up from within the secular world—indeed the academic world—the beginnings of a spiritual revolution!  Just last year John Carroll brought out a new book called The Western Dreaming: The Western World is Dying for Want of a Story.  Carroll, is right now teaching his students through a mixture of concepts, stories and paintings.

Secular university culture is beginning to change!  Indeed it is beginning to throw some bright light on the very foundations of Christianity, and on just why the Church has lost spiritual authority in the world.

In Chapter 2 of his 2001 book John Carroll says that the Magdalene story in the Gospels is one of those great expressions of Christian worldview that, traditionally, set the direction of European culture.  He says that the 20th Century left us without any such story—except for the Princess Diana story, which has, he believes, an interesting, if minor and hidden, parallel with the Magdalene story.

I do not agree with all of Carroll’s insights into the Magdalene story (if you read his book you will be equally surprised at a few things he says), but to meet such a recognition of spirituality and godliness in a prominent 21st Century secular academic must surely be a signpost to encouraging times!  Let’s read the original story in Matt. 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50 and John 12:1-9!  We can leave aside the scholarly debates about the details and recognise simply that there was a sinful woman whose childlikeness of heart struck a chord in the heart of God. [1]

The wisdom of the Magdalene story

Whoever she was, the woman who anointed Jesus in the home of Simon was totally overcome by the wonder of God in Jesus.  The importance of the story to Jesus is proclaimed in his words, “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”  (By the way, how often do we tell the story?)  Let me set the scene as Carroll imagines it, taking some of his imagery, as he does, from a Raphael painting:

The scene is Magdala, a fashionable resort town by the Sea of Galilee where rich Romans and Jews own luxurious villas, a town known for its urbane morals and religious tolerance. Jesus has accepted the invitation of Simon, a pious local Pharisee who is intrigued by him. He lounges Roman-style at one end of the triclinium couches that border the banquet table on three sides. Simon reclines opposite, his feet being washed by a servant.

There is a commotion among the servants at the villa entrance. Suddenly, the dozen or so other guests around the table are startled to observe a woman bursting through, and gliding her way quickly and silently to stand behind Jesus. The colours of her velvet dress dazzle the stately marble columned room, a flowing ruby patterned with deep-green leaves, and green sleeves extravagantly fluted, embroidered with gold. One of its loose shoulders has slipped down, exposing silky olive skin. She wears gold bracelets, and red toenails draw attention to bare feet. In spite of the casual restraint of a yellow ribbon, auburn hair spills abundantly down her back. Fiery dark gypsy eyes flash around the room, then settle.

Jesus senses her close behind him—he has been watching the wide-eyed stare of Simon tracking her, the host pale and stuttering with rage. Now he looks around and sees this unknown woman sink to her knees, tears from lowered eyes streaming down her cheeks. He recalls noticing her across the street on his way here, how she had suddenly looked at him and stopped, as if she had seen a ghost. She must have followed him.

She is bent low, loosening her hair, which cascades down, obscuring her face. He feels the tears splashing onto his dusty feet, which gentle hands caress, hair wiping them, then being kissed, then wiped again. She never looks up, and he sees her mouth hanging open in voiceless anguish, so pained and empty that she wants to sink out of existence, at the shame of what she has done with her life.

Was it miracle or curse, that infinitesimal speck of time in the street when her eyes were opened? The instant that changes a life, catching her unawares, has been like concentrated acid dropped on tender skin, the more caustic for him having been no more than the mirror. He senses her fighting against a huge weight of humiliation crushing down on her drained and tainted body.

One hand fumbles to find some hidden pocket, from where she produces a small alabaster flask. She uncorks it, and pours rare and costly perfumed oil onto his feet, tenderly massaging, regularly on impulse breaking her motion to kiss them. Tears continue to flow from bloodshot eyes. The large, airy room is filled with the powerful fragrance of myrrh, enough

to induce a dreamy intoxication in the guests if their host’s darkening mood had not infected them.

Jesus recovers from his surprise. He concentrates, bathing her in his own meditative gaze. Now he knows her, and his own mind. Meanwhile, the resentment of Simon spears at him across the table, the host mumbling under his breath that if Jesus were who he claims to be, he would know the immorality of this woman. And to let her touch him!

So Jesus turns to face Simon and poses a riddle. A man is owed money by two others—one owes five hundred denarii, the other fifty. Neither had anything, so he forgave them both their debts. Which one will be more grateful?

Simon tentatively replies with the obvious answer. Jesus tells him that he has judged rightly, but turning to the woman, he launches into a stern rebuke:

Simon, seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. Mine head with oil thou didst not anoint: hut this woman hath anointed my feet.

Wherefore I say unto thee: Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little

Simon flushes bright red with humiliation and rage and confusion. From the moment this gutter slut violated the sanctity of his home, he has been subject to insult upon insult. The great teacher whom he invited in as his guest of honour has offended him, in front of his closest friends and most prestigious associates, all intrigued to meet the rumoured miracle worker. This so-called holy man now indulges that notorious whore’s excesses as if he were one of her after-dark visitors. Not only that, but he makes fun of Simon by posing him a riddle so simple that any schoolboy could work it out, yet punishes him for solving it. Then he questions Simon’s hospitality, which has been proper, it is true, but then this is a God-fearing household that wastes not. And how can the servants be expected to proceed normally with their washing duties when chaos descended from the moment of Jesus’ entry?

Worst of all is the confusion. Simon is an intelligent man, well read, and practised in discussion. He prides himself on his scrupulous understanding. Jesus has just reversed the logic of the riddle, which had love following from forgiveness, with the more that is forgiven, the greater the debt of gratitude. Moreover, the teacher had repeated that logic in his last utterance. But he has deliberately baffled them with this scandal of a woman, forgiving her because she loved. How can that be: has he got it the wrong way round? In any case, we know the nature of her love.

This dear woman who anointed Jesus was totally overcome by the wonder of God in Jesus.  It broke her heart and she cried uncontrollably as she saw divine love.  God loved her, even her.  But what is unique is the purity of her love.  Humanly we cannot possibly explain it.  Many people talk about the depth of her gratitude to Jesus for God’s forgiveness.  But it seems that the divine beauty in the story is that she loved Jesus before she knew anything about his forgiveness.  Yes her heart would receive.  But she had not come to Jesus to ask for something, even though it would have been appropriate to do so.

Her love was transcendent.  It was worship.  She didn’t want in any way to “possess” God.  She was utterly captivated by the wonder of God in Jesus.  She gave her heart to God.  And there was not a spark of self-consciousness about her love.  It was utterly childlike.  Simply, she was blown away.  The disciples would do anything for Jesus, but Jesus had this woman’s heart.  I personally am still discovering the depth of this.  Her attitude was Theistic!  Yes, it was transcendent.

The joy of reflection

During the 20th Century, the culture of much of the world’s cities lost transcendence!  In some cases the church lost transcendence!  Some people do not have a philosophy.  Many people, even some Christians, choose not to be reflective.  They don’t ask “big” questions.  They don’t ask “why” questions.  They don’t get a “big picture” of life and creation, let alone of God.  Some people—yes even some Christians—have no conscious philosophy of life.  We are going to Heaven but we don’t really know what for!  Our life can be guided by certain quite unconscious and never examined presuppositions!

Gaining a reflective understanding of Christian worldview enables us to enter fully into the discovery of divine love.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

How many Christians in ministry spend quality time simply beholding the presence of God?  Is God more important to us than ministry?  Is God more important to us that evangelism and mission?  Is the beauty of our relationship with our wife more important to us than our ministry?

This special woman who anointed the feet of Jesus, in opening her heart to pure love, saw God in Jesus.  Seeing the wonder of God’s glory and feeling the wonder of God’s mercy and love, she never even thought to say sorry or plead for forgiveness.  She was too far down in her life to try any religious tricks.  She knew that, within her, there were no answers.  But the presence of Jesus captivated her.  She was so lost in the love of Jesus and in the vision of God’s purity and truth that her heart simply broke to pieces in a cloudburst of tears.  She was totally overcome, transformed and anointed in God’s Spirit (yes, before Pentecost).  Her spiritual lights were turned on and she saw God!  Heart was plugged into heart.  In a staggering moment she saw that God created us first for relationship.  I think that is what the story is really about.  Unlike Simon she had no religion to overcome.

So is relationship at the centre of our Christianity?  Is relationship for the sake of relationship the cornerstone of our worldview?  Nothing else will bring the full anointing of God’s Spirit upon us.  Nothing else will bring spiritual authority to the church.  I submit that Carroll is touching on the very reason why the church has so little credibility in today’s world.

Those who take time out to be reflective will discover a music to life that transcends the wonder of anything they have ever known!  We must allow God, by his Spirit, to develop us in philosophical reflection!  God wrote the New Testament in Greek and (I suggest) he

planted some of the first Gentile churches in the Greek culture because the Greek people were reflective.  In the market place they would sit and talk for hours, in the ancient equivalent of today’s coffee shops.  (The Greeks of course also worked!)

Above all else, Christianity means encounter with God.  Knowledge without encounter means nothing.  But, on the other hand, the most vivid encounter in the Spirit, without a God-given philosophy of life, leaves us almost stillborn.  When we talk with people, what do we talk about the most?  Do we empathise and discover the person in the person, and the wonders of God in the person?  Or do we talk most about the things that we do (which of course need to be talked about too)?

Our Australian culture

The conductor of a well-known French symphony orchestra was asked (on ABC FM by Margaret Throsby) how he would like to live in Australia.  He said (quite uncritically) that most Australians (including professionals) spend much of their spare time servicing their house, garden and cars.  He owns none of these.  He lives in a rented apartment in central Paris.  Instead of spending their money on the facilities of a busy suburban culture, his wife and he relax and dine every night down on the boulevard with friends, rejoicing in people, life and creativity.  He said that it is in this quietly reflective atmosphere that his music receives its soul and inspiration.

The meaning of life

What does Christ show you to be the first purpose of life?  Yes one sentence that keeps coming back to me lately is the three-word sentence in 1 John 4:  “God is love.”  The verse doesn’t say “God loves”, which he does.  Rather it says God is love.  As we walk with Jesus and enter into the heart of God, so our heart becomes a little like God’s heart.  How could a wonderful piece of music be born of anything but inspiration that comes from divine love?

So all creativity is meant to be inspired by the heart of God—everything from building houses to teaching to running a business or governing the nation.  Whatever the practical outcomes—and there must be practical outcomes—nothing has ultimate meaning unless it is birthed in divine love and divine inspiration.  Everything in life is meant to flow from our relationship to God!  This is true biblical Theism.  Talking even of the physical universe Colossians 1:17 says that, “in Christ all things consist.”

That is of course why 1 Corinthians 13 implies that what we do is not as important as who we are.  In our Australian culture, many (but by no means all) Boomers (particularly men, and that is somewhat natural) find their identity in what they do.  But many of the X generation, and more especially of the Y generation, have questioned this worldview.  And, thinking of seniors, well, the standard ‘grace’ for food was often “Bless this food to our bodies, Lord, and us to your service!”, as if at any moment of the day life was first about service.  In a course last year one student from overseas shared how in the church in which she grew up, Christianity, as she had heard it, was about two things, belief and service.

Yes, we are saved only ever by the grace of God, and through our personal belief in the death and resurrection of Christ.  But the great commandment begins with the heart, and then adds mind, and soul (life) and strength.  And John Carroll’s book The Western Dreaming is a wake up call, not only to the contemporary culture but also to the church.  The Twentieth Century demythologised the heart of our culture.  We no longer dreamt visions or saw beyond the stars.  Let me tell you a story of a Year 11 student at a weekend Christian schools conference for 11 and 12 students.

At the end of an evening session I invited my group (we were looking at Christian spirituality and philosophy) to wander outside into the vast and beautiful grounds and just, individually, find a spot and do nothing!  Next morning I invited some sharing.  This Year 11 girl said:

It was really painful.  I’ve had a very full year.  I love activity, and, sitting there last night,  I longed for something to do.  I really hated doing nothing, and it got worse, but I was determined to stay there, doing absolutely nothing.

After a while I glanced up and, through the clearest air I’d ever known, I saw a sky like no sky I had seen before.  I was overcome by the sheer beauty.

I so began to enjoy the wonder of it all that I could have stayed there for hours.  To my amazement I was actually enjoying doing nothing.  I had come through something like the pain of the long distance runner.

But then something even more amazing happened.  As time went by, in the joy of the stillness, somehow my eyes went beyond the stars.  God opened my spiritual eyes and—I saw God.

May I encourage you to stop and look up!

We can be so preoccupied as Christians that we clearly see neither God nor the people in people.  And, because we sometimes have no philosophy, we simply get driven by the secular culture around us!  So we must discover the wonder of stopping.  We must look up.  But, too, we must reflect upon life!  We must become philosophical.  We must inspire one another to reflect!  As a Christian culture we must become more philosophical!  And, as God has it, you and I now live in a world that is searching for meaning as never before.  It is a culture too that is crying out for meaningful relationship, for genuine friendship.  A new coffee shop is birthed every four days in Brisbane.  In fact in the CBD alone there are one hundred—bustling with relationship.  And, increasingly, movies (from Mr Holland’s Opus to Chocolat and beyond) are reflecting the worldview that, while achievement is essential, ultimately, relationship is more valuable than achievement.

Do you recall in Mr Holland’s Opus, this big-hearted music teacher frustrated because he could not help give and give his time to his students of music, even to the seemingly hopeless, yet, because of it, could never fulfil the ambition of his life to complete the writing of his orchestral symphony?  Then you will remember that, some time after Mr Holland had to leave the school, he was invited back to hear an amazing orchestral performance.  The story of the movie closed with the words from the students, “We are your opus!”  This movie, like Chocolat, is typical of the emergent culture in Western cities.

The coffee shop culture only came to Brisbane in the 1960’s, but by the 1860’s in Vienna there were already one hundred coffee houses.  By the end of the 19th Century—the finale of the Romantic and Idealistic periods in philosophy, literature, music and the arts—“the Viennese coffee house blossomed into a place where highlights in Austrian culture were written, conceived, drawn and discussed.  In particular it was said of the Cafe Central that it was ‘not a coffee house but a worldview’.”  (From Edition Skye, published by Felicia Oblegorski, Vienna)

But if you think some of this talk about ultimate meaning is fanciful, listen to Danah Zohar who lectures at Oxford University in their Strategic Leadership program.  In a recent book called Spiritual Intelligence (London: Bloomsbury, 2000) Zohar says:

The major issue on people’s minds today is meaning.  Many writers say the need for greater meaning is the crisis of our times.  I sense this when I travel abroad each month, addressing audiences from countries and cultures all over the world.  Wherever I go, when people get together over a drink or a meal, the subject turns to God, meaning, vision, values, spiritual longing.  Many people today have achieved an unprecedented level of material well being. yet they feel they want more.  Many speak of an emptiness [inside].  The ‘more’ that would fill the emptiness seldom has any connection with formal religion.  Indeed most people seeking some spiritual fulfilment see no relation between their longing and formal religion.

What you see as the most important thing in life defines your worldview.  Is it friendship with God?  (Do you give God friendship?)  Is it friendship with others?  Is it your creativity?  Is it your career?  Is it your ministry?  Yes, all of these things, and more, are vital.  But the priorities you and I set day by day, and the order in which we place them, define our worldview.

Life demands the continual anointing of God’s Spirit.  No amount of philosophy in the human sense will bring us to divine truth or divine love.  No amount of unanointed reflection will take us anywhere.  But because God is love and is truth, in his fellowship we can feel true love and in his fellowship we can see the truth behind all truths.  Humanly, this will always remain a mystery.  Our mind is like a magnificent violin.  Of itself it cannot make music.  But in the hands of an artist it expresses love and truth.  The spirit within us, plugged into the Spirit of God, is the artist.

A practical definition of worldview

In our cities there are some very well known chains of hairdressing salons.  The hairdressing leaders who run these groups of salons have a certain philosophy for recruiting and training staff.

Periodically a chain will advertise for applicants to attend a kind of “discovery” and “selection” week at their headquarters.  On the first day the facilitators will divide, say, 100 candidates into small groups.  Then one by one in each group the applicants will share where they are from, a brief story of their lives to date, the things in life that excite them most and their dream for their future.  Then in their groups (perhaps over coffee) the girls will engage one another as they “discover” their newfound friends.  The experienced facilitators will, in one day, select out those girls who enjoy people.  Of course we all enjoy people, in a sense.  But the hairdressing leaders are looking for those who spontaneously empathise, that is, those who enjoy other people for themselves, that is, those who find it a joy to “discover” the wonders of other people and therefore who make those other people feel good.  In other words, the hairdressing leaders are looking for those candidates who spontaneously and unselfconsciously love other people.  This is the first criterion in selecting candidates for training.

Tuesday begins with those candidates who have passed the first and most important test.  The facilitators explain that the salons are not first about cutting hair.  They are first about relating to people, about giving something to people.  Then on this second day the facilitators, through a new series of activities, “pick out” those girls who spontaneously love being creative.  There is still no emphasis on ability in cutting styling hair. On this second day the leaders want to know who spontaneously loves playing music, or arranging flowers, or designing clothes, or who spontaneously loves the skill and beauty of playing tennis.  The facilitators have ways of selecting those applicants for whom creativity has meaning in itself.  They are looking for people who just have to create, people who spontaneously love being creative.

So summing up so far, applicants who naturally empathise with others and whose hearts also love creativity, these people will make good hairdressers for the salons—provided they pass one more test.

In the third stage of the week, the job of the facilitators is to discover who amongst the remaining candidates prefers tennis doubles to singles, who prefers playing flute in an ensemble rather than playing as a soloist—in other words, who, amongst all the candidates, is more excited by participatory creativity than by being alone in creativity.  The sound that an ensemble creates is far more than the addition of the individual sounds of the instruments.  Music goes into a higher dimension as instruments of different tones play in harmony.  And the leaders in hairdressing know that when people are happy together in creativity, an atmosphere is generated that is uniquely wonderful..

So, in the way I have described, a selection is made of hairdressing candidates.  The chosen ones are then taught the salon worldview—and hairdressing.  The salons are not first about hairdressing; they are first about people.  I am not saying that leaders’ eyes are not on money.  Of course they are in business.  (And business is as much in promoting the purchase of hairstyling products as it is in cutting, shaping and colouring hair.)  But these leaders in their field see that business is more than money.  Another “get rich” book came out in 1999 by an extremely successful businessman, Brian Sher, called What Rich People Know and Desperately Want to Keep a Secret (Sydney: Pan Macmillan), in which we learn that, if money is our first goal, we will never make much money!  There has to be a higher purpose.

The approach of the hairdressing leaders I have described represents a growing awareness in Western society, and certainly in Australia, that there is a higher dimension to life than what modernism and postmodernism proclaim.

Let’s now think of the three things for which the leaders I’ve talked about are looking for in their candidates.  First a heart love for others, a true sense of empathy.  When a woman comes into a hairdressing salon, what is she looking for?  The contemporary woman, of whatever age, is looking for more than a hairstyle.  She enjoys unwinding.  She enjoys being able to talk with someone who takes an interest in her, who likes her for herself, someone too who is outside her “circle”.  She also enjoys being pampered.  She enjoys the atmosphere, where all the girls are having “fun” in what they are doing.  They enjoy life; they enjoy styling hair.

In short, they enjoy looking after you!  They appreciate you as a person, not as a mere customer.  You are welcome.

When a girl or woman first enters a good salon, a hairdresser will approach her, introduce herself and offer her coffee and a comfortable place to sit.  Then, in an empathic but very unthreatening way, the girl will ask her a few key questions.  “Have you had a good week?”   After a short time the hairdresser has a “picture” of what makes this woman tick.

When the client comes to the chair, the hairdresser asks her about a style.  If it’s her first time in the salon, she is probably looking for an “uplift” from what she has been getting.  She might say, “I want something different, but I don’t know what!”  The hairdresser (who knows something about her by now) will open a book of styles, flip the pages and say, “How do you like this?”   Chances are the woman will say, “That’s fantastic; let’s try it!”  During the process of having her hair done, the conversation (never imposed) develops.  The client feels “cared” for.  She feels that somebody values her.  Many women in our society, though they have family and may have many friends, are inwardly lonely.

Finally the client looks at the finished style.  It’s transforming.  She steps outside feeling like a new person.

A holistic philosophy

Now these hairdressing leaders may or may not know it, but they are seeking to express some of the foundational keys in the biblical worldview!  Implicitly they acknowledge that the first purpose in life is relationship—a giving of one’s self to others.  Secondly, the purpose of life includes a giving of one’s self to the creating of things that are good and true and beautiful.  Thirdly, the unity of hearts is a special joy in creativity.  And these three things cover exactly what Genesis shows to be the purpose of life.!

I am not of course saying that God’s anointing rests on the salons I have described.  But, through what John Stott and others call the ‘common grace’ of God (as distinct from redeeming grace), there is some measure of spiritual light in everyone born into this world. (John 1:9)

I have taken some time to open up part of the worldview of some significant hairdressing businesses.  Such a worldview we don’t always teach in practical terms in our churches!  It gives us a real life illustration of a major part of the heart of the biblical philosophy.

Our secular roles on earth are not simply “stewardship”, though they involve that.  At a higher level, all creativity—even the driving of a truck—is a ministry of love to God and to others.

Spirituality in secular dimensions

In her 1998 book An Authentic Life (ABC Books) Caroline Jones records the most significant of her Search for Meaning interviews.  Very early in the book come these remarkable but deceptively simple words from Australian writer and cartoonist, Michael Leunig:

I watched a man making a pavement in Melbourne in a busy city street: the concrete was poured and he had his little trowel and there was traffic roaring around, there were cranes and machines going, and this man was on his hands and knees lovingly making a beautiful little corner on the kerb.  That’s a sort of love and that’s important, that’s very, very important.  That man’s job is important and he’s a bit of a hero for doing it like that.  So that’s why love is important, because love involves that as much as it involves what happens between people.  It’s about one’s relationship between oneself and the world and its people and its creatures and its plants, its ideas.   (An Authentic Life, p2,3)

It seems that the man with the trowel rightly saw what he did as a celebration of life.  You and I know that all true creativity is a celebration of—God.  This is a form of love.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 states that God has set eternity in our hearts.  What does this mean?  As well as living in the space-time world, we are already, every day, connected with eternity, through God’s Spirit!

When we love a beautiful flower we are actually loving not only the flower, but also God in the flower.  As in speaking of eternity in time, this is metaphorical language, but do you get the message?  When the man with the trowel loves the beauty of what he is doing, he is loving God in that beauty.  A hairdresser said to me just the other day, “I like cutting hair!”  Although this gifted hairdresser may not know it, this is spirituality.

So while all of our creative joys and responsibilities on earth are part of our stewardship, they are actually more than that.  Ultimately our creativity is part of our love for God.  In the highest sense, all secular work is born out of relationship.  And this explains why our huge corporations based on humanism are falling apart!  And, although Christian, some churches are now suffering from the same disconnectedness.

The prophetic voice of the Church

Professor David Tacey, another academic from La Trobe University, in his 2001 book ReEnchantment, challenges the church to see that it will never impact the world for as long as its philosophy contains a humanistic dimension.  He says that people do not want to hear about a God “up there” unless they can see a God “in here” (in our heart).

I submit that the fragmentation around us in today’s world is a wake up call for the church to see that everything in life must be born out of relationship. Proverbs 11:11 declares that the lives of those in tune with God bring God’s blessing “upon the city”.    As God’s people walk with God and allow a biblical philosophy to dictate priorities, then, and then alone, will revival come upon the church.  It is our hearts and our lives that hold the key to revival, not our ministry (much as ministry is needed).  Out of revival in the church would come a new prophetic voice to the nation.

With the new yearning for spirituality that our culture is embracing, Australia could see a revival in our nation transcending anything we could imagine!

©  Renewal Journal #19: Church (2002, 2012)  www.renewaljournal.com
Reproduction is allowed with the copyright included in the text.

Renewal Journals – contents of all issues

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Life


Renewal Journal 20:  Life


Contents

Life, death and choice, by Ann Crawford
The God who dies: Exploring themes of life and death, by Irene Alexander

Primordial events in theology and science support a life/death ethic, by Martin Rice
Community Transformation, by Geoff Waugh
Book Reviews: Body Ministry and Looking to Jesus: Journey into Renewal and Revival, by Geoff Waugh

Editorial

I edited 20 issues of the Renewal Journal, beginning from 1993.   I am indeed grateful for all the contributors to the Renewal Journal.  They identified and created cutting edge issues in this momentous decade into the 21st century, now updated in 2nd editions.  Renewal Journals, 2nd edition (2012) are now available in print – see Amazon and The Book Depository.  They are available in four bound volumes

The Renewal Journal is been ecumenical and interdenominational in its scope both for writers and readers.  Renewal and revival transcend our divisions and transform our relationships.  I am grateful.  The 21st century continues to see the spread of powerful, current revival and renewal movements worldwide.

Most of the articles in this issue were presented and discussed at a Contemporary Issues in Ministry conference held at the School of Ministries of Christian Heritage College in Brisbane, Australia.  Their titles indicate their content.  They invite and challenge us to die to the old and rise to the new.

Death is painful, especially where love is deep and strong.  The longer we live, the more we have to live with the pain of that loss of loved ones (parents, spouse, relatives, friends) and the loss of loved things (possessions, activities, vocations) until ultimately our own death transforms us and unites us in perfect love.

Meanwhile, if we choose to die to self-centred living, we can live in resurrection life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Gal 2:20).

©  Renewal Journal #20: Life (2007, 2012)  www.renewaljournal.com
Reproduction is allowed with the copyright included in the text.

Renewal Journals – contents of all issues

Book Depository – $8 free postage worldwide
Book Depository – Bound Volumes (5 in each) – free postage

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Reviews (20) Life


Body Ministry: The Body of Christ Alive in His Spirit

by Geoff Waugh (2011)

Popular, updated version of his Doctor of Missiology research from Fuller Seminary, including amazing reports of transforming revivals around the world


Chapters:

Book Structure

 Part 1:  Body Ministry

 I. Body Ministry                         with                      II. Body Organization
1. Kingdom Authority                 with                     6. Divine Headship
2. Obedient Mission                   with                     7. Body Membership
3. Mutual Ministry                       with                     8. Servant Leadership
4. Spiritual Gifts                          with                     9. Body Life
5. Body Evangelism                   with                   10. Expanding Networks

Part 2:  Ministry Education

11.  Open Education: From narrow to wide
12.  Unlimited Education: From centralized to de-centralized
13.  Continuing Education: From classrooms to life
14.  Adult Education: From pedagogy to self-directed learning
15.  Mutual Education: From competition to co-operation
16.  Theological Education: From closed to open
17.  Contextual Education: From general to specific
18.  Ministry Education: From pre-service to in-service

Endorsements:

From the Foreword by Rev Prof Dr James Haire, former Principal of Trinity Theological College, Brisbane, and President of the Uniting Church in Australia:

The church needs to be analysed in order to prepare itself for mission in the changing situations of societies around the world.   However, these always must remain secondary.   Its primary self-understanding is that the church, the expression of Christianity in the world, is the object of God’s self-giving love and grace for the sake of the world.

In this very helpful and timely book, the Rev Dr Geoff Waugh takes up the implications of these issues and applies them to ministry within and beyond the church, the Body of Christ.   As the framework above indicates, Dr Waugh’s analysis, evaluation and application of the theology of the living Body of Christ inevitably is no less than truly revolutionary, as is his analysis, evaluation and application of the theology of the living Spirit’s work.

Dr Waugh has had a long and distinguished mission career, especially in education, in addressing the central Christian issues outlined above.   It has been my honour and my privilege to have served alongside him for eight years (1987–1994) in Trinity Theological College, in the Brisbane College of Theology, and in the School of Theology of Griffith University, in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.   He has been a dear and valued friend, and especially one who day-by-day in his life has lived out what he taught.   Moreover, he has had vast experience in his long teaching ministry, not only in Australia, but throughout the South Pacific, Asia, and in Africa.

His work is thus very important reading indeed for us all.

From Rev Dr Colin Warren (former Principal of Alcorn College, Brisbane):

I acknowledge that Geoff has had a very big impact on my life, both by the witness of his own life and by the quality of his teaching.  I pray that you and your church will be greatly blessed as you read and put into practice these basic biblical principles to reach and bless the people who are searching for the living Christ but often  do not know what it is they are searching for.

Geoff and I have worked with students and on mission enterprises together over many years.  His writing has come from years of practical experience and a vast amount of prayerful study.  He has pioneered a work the results of which only eternity will reveal.  He has never sought recognition for his tireless and faithful service in honouring the Lord, in continuing to teach and to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.  He writes out of varied experiences.

He was the inaugural Principal of the Baptist Bible College in Papua New Guinea (1965-1970).  He has taught at Alcorn College and Trinity Theological College (1977-1994) and at Christian Heritage College School of Ministries (from 1995).  He is the author of fourteen books, mostly in Christian Education with the Uniting Church, but also on Renewal and Revival.  ”Geoff Waugh” on amazon.com lists some of these books.

It is important to note that in this important work, Geoff explores the ministry of the whole body of Christ when Holy Spirit gifts are recognised and are encouraged to be exercised.  Then the artificial division between clergy and laity or pastor and non-pastor is removed.  At the same time there is the recognition of Holy Spirit endowed leadership gifting such as that between Paul and Timothy.  This means that Kingdom authority is expressed through Divine headship.  His emphasis on body ministry thus becomes a reality.

Geoff illustrates this clearly with his Case study Number 2 on page 34. There the church no longer consists of passive pew sitters but participants in fulfilling the command of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach repentance, heal the sick and cast out demon spirits, having the certain knowledge that He is with them as He promised “to the end of the age”.

Geoff points out that if the church is to live and grow in today’s world, it must recognise the need to emphasize relationships and adapt to change. This change will include such simple things as the way men and women both old and young dress, and allow others the freedom to dress differently as they attend places of worship in a non judgmental atmosphere.

There is, too, the need to realise the reality that many are affected by a global sense of fear of nuclear destruction and of accelerated and constant change and uncertainty.  The church can provide an atmosphere of security through rediscovering the unchanging gospel in a changing world.

Denominations that once were able to be exclusive and hold their numbers in rigid theological disciplines, have been invaded via cassettes, CD’s, DVD’s, and the internet that have widened the thinking horizons of their often theologically bound members, resulting in communication at spiritual levels not possible previously.

Geoff points out that if we are going to fulfil the Great Commission, we must first live the life of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is only then that we can do the work of fulfilling Christ’s command to go.

I commend Body Ministry for you to read.  All Christians will benefit greatly from reading this insightful book.

From Rev Dr Lewis Born, former Moderator of the Queensland Synod of the Uniting Church in Australia and Director of the Department of Christian Education.

Body Ministry and Open Ministry Education come in its right time for adult education, gospel communication, and the growth of the church.

Open Education promises to become the most commonly used adult educational methodology of the new millennium.  The demand is likely to increase.  This indicates that the work of Geoff Waugh is a significant contribution to the current educational enterprise.  It is particularly valuable to Christian Educators.  The author’s orientation is theological and his target audience is the faith community, its nurture, growth and outreach.

To this point in time the educative process has been inhibited by dependence on structured courses, the classroom and qualified teachers.  Accelerated technology, as Mr Waugh observes, has made modern resources commonly available to individuals, churches and schools in every village community.  By this medium Open Education for the first time in history is able to offer high quality education from the world’s best teachers to people in their own lounge, church or local group meeting place.

All this coinciding with the renewal movement has stimulated interest in theological learning to an unprecedented degree in the history of Christendom. The incredible numerical religious revival in the illiterate Asian and Latin church has been stimulated and served by modern technology.

This gives Open Ministry Education and therefore Mr Waugh’s work a global relevance, which he has applied in the Australian context.

As a fellow Australian I am appreciative.  My appreciation is greatly enhanced by a deep respect and affection for the author.  He is a competent teacher, an excellent communicator, an informed, disciplined renewalist and an experienced extension educator.

All these qualities combine to commend the author and his work.

Sample from the book:

Case study 1: traditional ministry

Peter was deeply committed to his calling to the ministry, ably supported by his wife, Petrina.  His many talents found full expression in his ministry: preaching, teaching (including school Religious Education), counselling, visiting, chairing committees, leading meetings, representing the church on denominational boards and in civic functions, administering church activities, interviewing people for baptisms, church membership and weddings, conducting weddings and funerals, and fitting in a bit of study when he could as well as attending seminars for church leaders.

The phone rang constantly, especially at breakfast or dinner when people hoped they could catch him before he was off again.  He wished he had more time for his family, and knew that the strain was showing in family relationships and in his own reaction to stress, inevitable with the constant demands of the ministry.  He wished he could find time for waiting on God and quiet reflection as well as study, but there was so much to do.  His work was less than his best, because he had so little time to pray, wait in God, and prepare well, and because the constant demand of meeting people’s needs saps energy and consumes time.

Case study 2: body ministry.

Paul and Pauline were both deeply committed to their ministry. They recognized that they had different gifts and calling within that ministry.  They also believed strongly in the need for all Christians to minister in the power of the Spirit.  They prayed regularly with people about this and saw their prayers answered.  The members of their church asked for, expected, and used spiritual gifts.  Church members prayed together for one another and for others.   Most of the pastoral care and outreach happened in the home groups.  Paul met with home group leaders one night each week, and enjoyed that.  Mary met regularly with the leaders of women’s day time groups, social caring groups and the music team in the church.

Paul usually preached once on Sundays, and the home groups, study groups and youth groups used the summary of the message.  He encouraged gifted preachers in the church who also preached.  Church members did most of the teaching (including all the school work) and those gifted with administration organized it all, usually part time with one specific area of responsibility they had chosen and loved to do.  A small caring group organized volunteers to visit all the sick people.  A keen task group made sure all visitors were contacted by phone or a personal visit during the week after they came to a service.  The elders insisted that one day each week was family day for the pastor and his family so they encouraged them to spend time away to wait on God and bring their vision and the Lord’s leading clearly in their ministry.

__________

From pages 16-19

Accelerating social change

Alvin Toffler wrote about the Third Wave in sociology.   He could not find a word adequate enough to encompass this current wave we live in, rejecting his own earlier term ‘super-industrial’ as too narrow.  He described civilisation in three waves:  a First Wave agricultural phase, a Second Wave industrial phase, and a Third Wave phase now begun.

He noted that we are the final generation of an old civilisation and the first generation of a new one.  We live between the dying Second Wave civilisation and the emerging Third Wave civilisation that is thundering in to take its place.

Think of church life during those three sociological waves.  Church life changed through the agricultural, then industrial, and now the technological ‘third wave’.

1. Churches for most of 2000 years of the First Wave agricultural phase were the village church with the village priest (taught in a monastery) teaching the Bible to mostly illiterate people, using Latin (and Greek and Hebrew) parchments copied by hand for 1500 years.  Worship involved chants without books or music.  These churches reflected rural life, with feudal lords and peasants.

2. Churches in 500 years of the Second Wave industrial phase (co-existing with the First Wave) became denominational with many different churches in the towns as new denominations emerged.  Generations of families belonged there all their life and read the printed Authorised (1511) version of the Bible.  They have been taught by ministers trained in denominational theological colleges.  Worship has involved organs used with hymns and hymn books.  These churches reflected industrial town life, with bureaucracies such as denominations.

3. Churches in 50 years of the Third Wave technological phase (co-existing with the Second Wave industrial phase in towns and cities and the First Wave agricultural phase in villages and developing nations) are becoming networks of churches and movements, among which people move freely.  They tend to be led by charismatic, anointed, gifted, apostolic servant-leaders, usually trained on the job through local mentoring often using part time courses in distance education.  Their people have a wide range of Bible translations and use Bible tools in print, on CDs and on the internet.  Worship involves ministry teams using instruments with data projection for songs and choruses.  These churches reflect third wave technological city life.

Many churches, of course, live in the swirling mix of these phases, especially now with the Second Wave receding and the Third Wave swelling.  For example, some denominational churches, especially those involved in renewal, may have a gifted ‘lay’ senior pastor not trained in a theological college or seminary.  Some denominational churches function like independent churches in their leadership and worship styles.  Some new independent churches have theologically trained pastors with doctoral degrees in ministry.

These changes have become increasingly obvious in the last 50 years.  Many of us became involved in renewal and revival ministries both in denominational churches and in independent networks and movements.

I give many examples of those developments in my autobiographical reflections, Looking to Jesus: Journey into Renewal and Revival (2009), and in my accounts of revivals in Flashpoints of Revival (2009) and South Pacific Revivals (2010).

These books on renewal and revival are one small example of rapid change.  They describe the swirling changes renewal and revival bring as they recapture New Testament Christianity in our day and 21st century context.

Even more!   Telling the story has changed.  You can read about it right now on a Google search and on many web pages such as www.renewaljournal.com.

Furthermore, this book is updated regularly also – for free with Amazon’s Print on Demand (POD).  Check out the “Look inside” feature in a year’s time and you may see more changes.  No longer do we need to spend thousands of dollars to stock pile resources, when we can freely update and adapt them.

We live and minister in this revolutionary ‘post-modern’ era, full of freeing possibilities and challenges.

Subsistence villagers still think and act in a First Wave mode, rural townspeople tend to think and act in a Second Wave mode, and urban people in megacities usually think and act in a Third Wave mode.

The norms of the Second Wave Industrial Society still influence us all strongly.  We are familiar with the organizational society of the town and its bureaucracies, especially the religious and educational ones.  We organized the church around denominational bureaucracies.

However, the Third Wave megatrend swirling around us now involves adapting to different and smaller social groupings, more transient and diverse than ever before.  Denominations continue to exist, of course, but now mix with many flexible, changing structures, such as networks of small groups or house churches and national or global networks for prayer and mobilising action together through websites and emails.

We have a mixture of both Second Wave people and Third Wave people in local churches.  Second Wave people tend to emphasize institutional roles and responsibilities.  Third Wave people tend to emphasize relationships and adaptation to change – as in renewal and revival.

Read current examples from this book (pages 76-82) in Geoff’s article in this Renewal JournalCommunity Transformation

Looking to Jesus: Journey into Renewal and Revival

by Geoff Waugh (2009)

Autobiographical discoveries of renewal and revival by this Australian Baptist minister and missionary.

Chapters:

Preface:  thanks
Introduction:  Waugh stories
1. Beginnings:  state of origin
2. Schools:  green board jungle
3. Ministry:  to lead is to serve
4. Mission:  trails and trials
5. Family:  Waughs and rumours of Waughs
6. Search and Research:  begin with A B C
7. Renewal:  begin with doh rey me
8. Revival:  begin with 1 2 3
Conclusion:  begin with you and me

This book traces the author’s journey through a lifetime of discovering renewal and revival. He explores the transforming and unpredictable nature of God’s Spirit now touching and changing people in all denominations and in all countries. The book will interest people who love to read about renewal in the church and revival in the world. The author’s other books such as Flashpoints of Revival, Revival Fires and Revival in the South Pacific give fuller and more general descriptions of God’s transforming work around the world. This autobiography gives a personal account of the author’s experience of renewal and revival in Australia, the South Pacific, and in other nations. “Looking to Jesus” points continually to Jesus, the One who renews and revives us by his Spirit within us and who is so powerfully at work in the whole world.

By Rev Dr John Olley, former Principal of Vose College, Perth.

Invitation to a Journey
Geoff Waugh’s life and ministry have influenced people all around the world. This autobiography with reflections will be of interest not only to those who know him. Beginning in Australia, then Papua New Guinea, his invited ministry in renewal and revival has involved every continent. While he has written “Flashpoints of Revival” (recently updated) recounting revivals in the past three hundred years around the world and many books of bible studies this book “Looking to Jesus” has a different focus, as Geoff traces his journey from strong roots which remained the solid core of his life from childhood to marriage to retirement. Here is a personal journey with reflections that will enrich the lives of all readers. As he ?looked to Jesus? along the way he was opened up to many exciting new ventures in Australia and into countries where revival and renewal is vibrant, changing many lives. Although a biography, many others are involved. Geoff?s journey is like a rose bush with strong roots and branches. He is one bud of many, opening into a beautiful bloom as he opened himself to God?s leading into an exciting journey. A bonus is an appendix with outlines of his other works.

By Romulo Nayacalevu, Pastor and Lawyer. Fiji 

Faith journey
Dr Waugh’s account in “Looking to Jesus” demonstrates his passion and servanthood life, displayed in his calling from the pulpit to the mountains and valleys of the Pacific and beyond.  His passion, zeal and commitment to the Gospel makes Him a true missionary to places where we wouldnt dare.  I would recommend this book to all, the story of a man who is truly sold out to His King and Master – the Lord Jesus Christ.  Dr. Waugh’s personal journey and convictions is a testimony to people like me who are trying to be available to God’s call.  Dr Waugh remains a mentor and a friend and “Looking to Jesus” is the simplest way of describing Dr. Waugh’s faith journey.  His testimony will challenge us all about our priorities and the true meaning of Obedience. A strongly recommended read.

By Jo,  Pastor and college graduate


Essential reading

I have been blessed to be a student of Geoff Waughs in the COC Bible College in Brisbane. This book was such a blessing. It showed how God has been such a huge part of Geoffs life, since he was a young boy. It was really inspiring to read the book and to realise all the amazing things God has done through Geoff, that he is not just a teacher on revivals, he is really someone who lives it! I highly reccommend this book. We need more fathers in the faith who have walked with Jesus for so long and who have seen real moves of the Holy Spirit to share with us and encourage us like Geoff does in this book.This is not just a biography, it is a book that will teach and inspire you in your walk with God.

 

By Daphne Beattie, sister

Insightful, inspirational, informative
An interesting survey of 70 years from his early life as the son of an evangelical minister, to becoming a minister and missionary and a leader in renewal and revival through his teaching in Australia and overseas.  Revival – stirs both curiosity,excitement and anticipation in God’s people. Geoff shares his personal journey with humour and life flowing out of it, always directing us to follow Jesus’ example alone.  I strongly recommend this book and found it easy to read but at the same time it stirred up a deep longing in my heart to reach a more intimate relationship with God.  Thank you Geoff

©  Renewal Journal #20: Life (2007, 2012)  www.renewaljournal.com
Reproduction is allowed with the copyright included in the text.

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Community Transformation, by Geoff Waugh

Geoff Waugh (D.Miss.) is the founding editor of the Renewal Journal and author of books on renewal and revival.

 

Whole communities transformed by God now give witness to his power to heal the land and the people when we repent and unite in obedience to his requirements.

Fiji now has significant examples of effective community transformation, based on honouring God.

The 2005 documentary report titled Let the Seas Resound, produced by the Sentinel Group (www.sentinel.com), identifies examples of transformed communities in Fiji, featuring reconciliation and renewed ecosystems. The President of Fiji, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, and the Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, include their personal comments in this video and DVD report, now distributed worldwide.

Essential components of this community transformation include these elements.

1. Honouring God. Community leaders acknowledge that God creates and sustains life. They rededicate their land and their people to Him. This approach transcends doctrinal divisions, emphasizing the universal laws of God that apply to all people of all nations.

2. Honouring people. Community leaders acknowledge the importance of respecting all people. This results in personal and public reconciliation. It is both compassionate and inclusive, transcending division through mutual respect and unity.

3. Honouring justice. Community leaders consult widely with diverse groups to identify and address injustice. Issues are complex, and solutions not simple, but a common commitment to God’s justice with mutual respect can open the way for community transformation. God’s inclusive justice transcends sectarian divisions and conflict with reconciliation and unity.

Many examples illustrate these global principles. The following brief examples provide powerful case studies of community transformation. Often a crisis, such as escalating crime, ethic conflict or a political coup, becomes the motivating catalyst for change. For example, community and church leaders may be motivated by the crisis to act. However, communities can be transformed without waiting for a crisis to motivate change.

Fiji, South Pacific  

In September 2004, 10, 000 people gathered to worship together in Suva, Fiji, drawn by reconciliation initiatives of both government and church leaders. Only four years previously such unity among government and church leaders was unimaginable. Ethnic tensions flared in the attempted coup of May 2000, when the government was held hostage for 56 days, and violence erupted in the streets of Suva.

The President of Fiji, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, called the churches to unite in repentance and prayer for the nation. At a united rally in 2001, Laisenia Qarase, later elected as Prime Minister, confessed: “Our efforts in building the country will come to nothing if they are not rooted firmly in the love and fear of God. I ask Him to forgive me for the times I have been neglectful and cold in my relationship with Him. With Your guidance Lord, this sinner will renew himself; will find new purpose in the pursuit of Your will. Lord, I entreat You, again, to forgive me, to save me, to capture my heart and hold my hand. I honour You as the King of Kings.”[1]

The Association of Christian Churches in Fiji (ACCF) emerged as one structural response to this desire for reconciliation and unity among Christians and in the community.

As people of Fiji unite in commitment to reconciliation and repentance in various locations, many testify to miraculous changes in their community and in the land.

Three days after the people of Nuku made a united covenant with God, the water in the local stream, which for the previous 42 years had been known as the cause of barrenness and illness, mysteriously became clean and life giving. Then food grew plentifully in the area.

Fish are now caught in abundance around the village of Nataleria, where previously they could catch only a few fish. This change followed united repentance and reconciliation.

Many people of Fiji acknowledge that these changes in reconciliation, unity, and in the eco-systems confirm God’s promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 – “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, I will forgive their sin, and I will heal their land.”

Almolonga, Guatemala

The town of Almolonga in Guatemala in South America, typical of many Mayan highland communities, suffered from economic depression, inebriation, and crime. The four gaols were full this town of 19,000. Many criminals had to be transported to gaols in the capital city.

Guatemala City pastor Harold Caballeros reported that, “the town suffered from poverty, violence and ignorance. In the mornings you would encounter many men just lying on the streets, totally drunk from the night before. And of course this drinking brought along other serious problems like domestic violence and poverty. It was a vicious cycle.”[2]

Donato Santiago, the town’s chief of police, said, “People were always fighting. We never had any rest.” Now with crime dramatically diminished and the gaols no longer needed, police chief Santiago, says with a grin, “It’s pretty uneventful around here.”

A few Christian leaders began regularly praying together from 7 pm to midnight in the 1970s. As they continued to pray in unity, increasing numbers of people were being healed and set free from strong demonic powers or witchcraft. Churches began to grow, and the community began to change. Crime and alcoholism decreased.

Within twenty years the four gaols emptied and are now used for community functions. The last of Almolonga’s gaols closed in 1994, and is now a remodeled building called the ‘Hall of Honour’ used for municipal ceremonies and weddings.

The town’s agricultural base was transformed. Their fields have become so fertile they yield three large harvests a year. Previously, the area exported four truckloads of produce a month. Now they are exporting as many as 40 truckloads a day. Farmers buy big Mercedes trucks with cash, and then attach their testimony to the shiny vehicles with huge metallic stickers and mud flaps declaring, ‘The Gift of God,’ ‘God is my Stronghold’ and ‘Go Forward in Faith.’

Some farmers provide work for others by renting out land and developing fields in other towns. They help people get out of debt by providing employment for them.

On Halloween day in 1998, an estimated 12, 000 to 15, 000 people gathered in the market square to worship and honour God in a fiesta of praise. Led by the mayor and many pastors, the people prayed for God to take authority over their lives and their economy.

University researchers from the United States and other countries regularly visit Almolonga to investigate the astounding 1, 000 percent increase in agricultural productivity. Local inhabitants explain that the land is fertilized by prayer and rained upon with God’s blessings.

Cali, Columbia

Columbia in South America has been the world’s biggest exporter of cocaine, sending between 700 to 1, 000 tons a year to the United States and Europe alone. The Cali cartel controlled up to 70 percent of this trade. It has been called the largest, richest, and most well organized criminal organization in history.[3]

The drug lords in cartels ruled the city through fear. At times 15 people a day were killed, shot from the black Mercedes cars owned by the cartels. Car bombs exploded regularly. Journalists who denounced the Mafia were killed. Drug money controlled the politicians.

By the early 1990s the cartels controlled every major institution in Cali including banks, business, politicians and police.

The churches were in disarray and ineffective. “In those days,” a pastor recalls, “the pastors’ association consisted of an old box of files that nobody wanted. Every pastor was working on his own; no one wanted to join together.”

A few discouraged but determined pastors began praying together regularly, asking God to intervene. Gradually others joined them.

A small group of pastors planned a combined service in the civic auditorium in May 1995 for a night of prayer and repentance. They expected a few thousand people, but were amazed when 25, 000 attended, nearly half of the city’s evangelical population. The crowd remained until 6 o’clock the next morning at this the first of the city’s now famous united all-night prayer vigils held four times a year.

Two days after that event in May 1995, the daily newspaper, El Pais, headlined, “No Homicides!” For the first time in anyone’s memory, 24 hours had passed without a single person being killed. Then, during the next four months 900 cartel-linked officers were fired from the metropolitan police force.

By August 1995, the authorities had captured all seven of the targeted cartel leaders. Previously the combined efforts of the Columbian authorities, and the American FBI and CIA had been unable to do that.

In December 1995, a hit man killed Pastor Julio Ruibal, one of the key leaders of the combined pastors’ meetings and the united prayer gatherings. 1, 500 people gathered at his funeral, including many pastors who had not spoken to each other in months. At the end of the memorial service, the pastors said, “Brothers, let us covenant to walk together in unity from this day forward. Let Julio’s blood be the glue that binds us together in the Holy Spirit.”

Now over 200 pastors have signed the covenant that is the backbone of the city’s united prayer vigils. What made the partnership of these leaders so effective are the same things that always bring God’s blessings: clean hearts, right relationships, and united prayer.

As the kingdom of God became more real in Cali, it affected all levels of society including the wealthy and educated. A wealthy businessman and former mayor said, “It is easy to speak to upper-class people about Jesus. They are respectful and interested.” Another successful businessman adds that the gospel is now seen as practical rather than religious.

Churches grow fast. One church that meets in a huge former warehouse holds seven services on a Sunday to accommodate its 35, 000 people. Asked, “What is your secret?” they point to the 24-hour prayer room behind the platform.

A former drug dealer says, “There is a hunger for God everywhere. You can see it on the buses, on the streets and in the cafes. Anywhere you go people are ready to talk.”

Cali police deactivated a large 174-kilo car bomb in November 1996. The newspaper El Pais carried the headline: “Thanks to God, It Didn’t Explode.” Many people noted that this happened just 24 hours after 55, 000 Christians held their third vigilia – the all night prayer vigil that includes praise, worship, dances and celebration mixed with the prayers and statements from civic and church leaders.

City authorities have given the churches free use of large stadium venues for their united gatherings because of their impact on the whole community, saving the city millions of dollars through reduced crime and terrorism.

Teen Challenge, America

Illicit drug abuse and addiction create social and personal devastation internationally. Federal dollars in USA allocated for drug treatment climbed from $120 million in 1969, to $1.1 billion in 1974, to $3 billion in 1996, even though the number of illicit drug users by 1998 was half the number of the same group in 1979.[4] However in spite of massive government spending on drug rehabilitation, concern remains about the low cure rate of programs funded by public dollars.

Research published in 1999 included comprehensive statistical analysis comparing drug rehabilitation success rates for Teen Challenge (130 centres and 2885 beds) with public funded and insurers’ funded programs, particularly the popular Short-Term Inpatient (STI) drug treatment programs of one to two months. The study surveyed key areas of rehabilitation including freedom from addictive substances, employment rates, productive social relationships and better quality of life.

Evaluation of the Teen Challenge program conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 1975 found that 87% of former abusers were abstaining from Marijuana seven years after completing the program, and 95% of former heroin abusers were abstaining from abuse seven years later. Similarly, the 1999 research found that 86% of former abusers were abstaining from drugs after their Teen Challenge rehabilitation. No public funded program showed such success rates. Most research showed that less than 10% still abstained from drug abuse five years after treatment.

Research identified the following factors as the most positive, helpful and effective dimensions of the Teen Challenge rehabilitation program, in this order of importance:

  1. Jesus Christ or God (the NIDA report called this the “Jesus factor”).
  2. Schooling, teaching or the Bible
  3. Advisor, staff, love, encouragement.
  4. Fellowship, unity, friends, living with others.
  5. Discipline, structure, work.

Graduates of the program identified other helpful factors as seeing lives changes, self-motivation, prayer, outings, helping others, forgiving self, changed thinking, hope and good food.

A powerful dimension of the Teen Challenge program, particularly relevant to this article on community transformation, is the significance of the inter-cultural, inter-faith and inter-racial communities in Teen Challenge. These communities transcend racial barriers, such as noted in these comments: “I loved to be around these people from different places, I wished I could have got their numbers; it was a beautiful thing, living with them with no prejudice or racism. We loved one another. It was a beautiful thing. We all learn something from each other; I still learn from them today.”

These brief sample case studies of community transformation provide hope for change and a way ahead. It is possible. It is happening.

The conclusion may be stated in words from the timeless biblical record, spanning many millennia and diverse national and cultural communities:

Then that honour me, I will honour (I Samuel 2:30).

If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked way, then I will hear from heaven my dwelling place, and will forgive their sin, and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Hosea 6:8).

Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you (Mathew 6:33).

© Renewal Journal, (www.renewaljournal.com).  This article may be reproduced as long as the copyright information is included with the text.


[1] Information from the Sentinel Group 2005 video/DVD, Let the Seas Resound (www.sentinel.com).

[2] George Otis, 2000, “Snapshots of Glory” in Renewal Journal, Issue 17 (www.renewaljournal.com) and the Sentinel Group 2000 video/DVD report Transformation.

[3] Information from George Otis, 2000, “Snapshots of Glory” in Renewal Journal, Issue 17, reproduced in www.renewaljournal.com.

[4] Information for this section on Teen Challenge is from the article “Teen Challenge’s Proven Answer to the Drug Problem” in a review of a study by Dr A T Bicknese titled “The Teen Challenge Drug Treatment Program in Comparative Perspective” on www.teenchallenge.com/tcreview.html.

©  Renewal Journal #20: Life (2007, 2012)  www.renewaljournal.com
Reproduction is allowed with the copyright included in the text.

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Primordial events in Theology and Science support a life/death ethic, by Martin J. Rice

Martin Rice (Ph.D.) has written and taught in science and theology, including teaching at Christian Heritage College School of Ministries in Brisbane where he completed his Graduate Diploma in Ministry Studies.  This article is a shortened and adapted version of a paper, given at the Contemporary Issues in Ministry Conference, 2003, at Christian Heritage College, Brisbane, Australia.

Summary: Primordial events in both theology and science support a basic life/death ethic

Several remarkable coincidences between some primordial events described in the Bible and, independently uncovered through the programmes of modern science, facilitate the derivation of basic, binary ethical principles.  Such broadly-based principles are potentially widely influential, by virtue of their primordial and grand, contextualizing character.  Whilst the time-scales of these events are always likely to be contentious, the biblical and scientific events themselves are strikingly similar, and generally not contentious.  Although it could be argued that the coincidences are artificial, the Bible having influenced the scientists’ interpretation of their data, an even stronger argument can be made for independence of the two data-sets.  Such coincidences, therefore, suggest nature itself (for example the night sky, the reef, and the rainforest) advertises a grand context; a life/death context, that conditions all ethics.  Common principles, derived from the science and the theology of primordial events, clearly modulate the viewpoint that ethics are an entirely culturally-determined, social construct.  They also add an ethically instructive note to our enjoyment of the harmony of our spectacular environment.

This hybrid paper, is offered with something of the attitudes of Arthur Peacocke (1996, p.94), who writes, “But to pray and to worship and to act we need supportable and believable models and images of the One to whom prayer, worship and action are to be directed.”; and of Hugh Ross (1999, p.47), who says, “Rather than elevating human beings and demoting God, scientific discoveries do just the opposite.  Reality allows less room than ever for glorifying humans and more and than ever for glorifying God.”

Introduction: evangelism goes out and meets people where they reside (Acts 1:8).

Scientifically trained people sometimes ask challenging questions of the Christian faith.  For example, among believers it is not usual to ask, “Why did God create a universe having the observable characteristics of our one?  Or, “What is the connection between the invisible God and our visible space/time reality?”  Or, “How does eternal Life compare with earthly life?”  If asked, they are usually answered with general truths, like, “It is to give God glory”, or, “Because God is a loving, creator God”, or, “Because God’s Word says so and I believe it”.  However, most contemporary thinkers seek more technically specific answers.  Failing that, they are likely to turn off from hearing the Gospel.  In addition, ethical relativism thrives in situations where a connection between God and human society is perceived as distant, tenuous, or imaginary.  Such negative outcomes make it pertinent for theologians, students of the Bible, ethicists, and evangelists to be aware of the actual questions being asked, and to work at addressing specific issues, in terms of appositely contextualized biblical revelation (see Carson, 2000).  Jesus guaranties the power of the Holy Spirit for those who will witness to the Gospel in diverse situations (Acts 1:8); however, it is not reasonable to expect God’s Spirit to over-ride sound logic and reason, since these come from the same Spirit (e.g. 1 Kings 4:29; Romans 12:2; Ephesians 1:17; 4:23; Hebrews 8:10; 1 Peter 1:12,13).  As Mark Ramsey, a well-known preacher, puts it, “The Bible says you are transformed by the renewing of your mind, not by the removal of your mind!”.  This means transformed cerebration but also standing out, being different, being a loving community of ‘resident aliens’ in an over-individualised world (see Carson, 1996, p.478).

The substantial contributions of intellectuals who submitted to God, such as Isaiah, Saul of Tarsus, Luke the physician, Augustine of Hippo, Hildegard of Bingen, etc., demonstrates that evangelizing thinkers could be worth while.  Great minds are created by God to do great good but, without Christ, they may do great harm.  Evangelising intellectuals is a priority: what the University thinks today, Society will enact tomorrow!  Might our society be reaping a bitter harvest from its earlier neglect of sowing well- reasoned seed, and its failure to cultivate the fields of academia with the Gospel?  Empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, academics who are Blood-washed, born-again, and Bible-believing, should be able to produce wiser and more powerful intellectual advances.  Did Jesus ever say to steer clear of academe and the intellectual knowledge enterprise?  Matthew 13:52 would suggest otherwise; here the learned of God’s Kingdom are told to become wise in applying both ancient and contemporary knowledge.  Matthew 6:33 emphasises, that for those who are submitted to God’s rule, everything else follows.  Pearcey and Thaxton (1994), and Murphy (2003), provide excellent philosophical underpinning for the harmonizing of science and theology.

Thoroughly intellectual Christians are capable of the best.  J. Rodman Williams (1996) has set a bench-mark in producing, Renewal Theology – Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective.  C. Peter Wagner is another author from the pentecostal stream, who writes at a high academic level.  In addition, there are many from the evangelical stream (most famously C. S. Lewis) able to reach the intellectuals, including thinkers like Francis Schaeffer, Ravi Zacharias, Os Guiness, Nancy Pearcey, D. A. Carson, Gordon D. Fee, and many others.  In Australia, Kirsten Birkett, author of  Unnatural Enemies – an introduction to science and Christianity (1997), edits Kategoria, an excellent, Christian, critical review, published by Matthias Media, Kingsford, NSW.  A new frontline, research journal has appeared called Theology and Science (Volume 1, Number 1, April 2003, sponsored by The Centre for Theology and the Natural Sciences, Berkeley).  Whilst some of the papers in this journal and its progenitor (CTNS Bulletin) may be insufficiently founded on Holy Scripture for many believers, they do at least address controversial issues in the theology, science, philosophy, and society interface, and thus invade the academic strongholds of atheism, with ideas of God.  With the confidence of God’s judgment against worldly wisdom (1 Corinthians 3:18-20), the academy of pentecostal thinkers is surely even more mandated to invade every domain of thought with the light, life, logic, and love of Jesus Christ (e.g. Colossians 2:2-4).

To the ends of the Earth: a scientific world-view

Much that is written in science and technology has powerful theological overtones (usually without the conscious knowledge of its authors!) and often has implications for human culture and ethics.  In 1959, C.P Snow’s The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution appealed for greater acknowledgement of the relationship between the arts, government, and science.  Snow would have been amazed how drastically things had changed, 40 years on, when Willimon (1999) wrote, “It has been one of the great postmodernist discoveries that almost everything is opinion.  Almost everything is value laden.  We have no way of talking about things except through words, and words, be they the words of science or the words of art, are more conflicted than they may first appear, more narrative dependent, story based.  Science is as ‘religious’ as religion.”  Historian, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970), alerted scientists to the tremendous influence their imagination has in directing the path of science.

Philosophers of science (such as A.F. Chalmers, in the 1999 edition of his, What is this

thing called Science) are now thoroughly cognizant with the apparent impossibility of finding a truly objective foundation for the scientific endeavour.  That is not to say that science isn’t largely objective; after all, no one has to think twice before getting into a motor vehicle or using a computer.  It does mean, however, that any opinions that science expresses on why its products work, or what the larger context is, are fraught with contradictions.  Science on its own is able to tell us how things work (within limits), but it is unable to say why they work, nor what the overall grand story is.  The “why” question is intimately linked to questions about the origin and destiny of all things, and it is here that science becomes inarticulate.  In fact, as this paper moves to demonstrate, science needs Christian revelation to support its major world-view, and to complete its contextual integrity.  Science and Christianity are great partners but awful opponents.  The common view that they are separate and irreconcilable ways of knowing [or NOMA, non-overlapping magisteria {cf. the late Stephen J. Gould’s Rocks of Ages (1999)}], should never be acceptable to a Christian.  In contrast, Richard H. Bube (1995) has derived a taxonomy of the variety of possible productive relationships between the Christian faith and science.  Carlson (2000), provides a thorough debate of this issue. In this paper there is no attempt to dictate from parts of Holy Scripture as to what scientists must believe.

Creation Scientists have fully occupied that area, loyally and creatively defending the Word of God, and producing a library of literature and multi-media (e.g. see web sites: http://www.icr.org; http://www.ChristianAnswers.Net; http://www.answersingenesis.org; etc.).  Whereas, much of Creation Science can be seen as a form of apologetic defense and of confrontational rhetoric {e.g. In Six Days – Why Fifty Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation, edited by John F. Ashton  (2001)}, the approach outlined in this paper is frankly evangelical, and essays to be eirenically logical.  This, different type of approach, does not overtly contradict but reaches out to encounter science where it is, and enlivens and elevates it through biblical insights, built around a philosophy that could be called ‘Invasion Theology’.  At no stage does invasion theology attempt to prove science wrong by quoting scripture, but neither does it compromise God’s Word by syncretising it with un-Christian views of the meaning of scientific discoveries.  The vision is to meet an enquirer on their own scientific territory and, right there, to demonstrate that God’s Word stretches into science, and that the living Word is able to lead scientists intellectually and personally into the arms of Christ.  The apostle Paul was comfortable to be a Jew with Jews, a Gentile with Gentiles, and weak with the weak. Paul teaches Christians to focus on winning as many souls for Christ as possible, by any fair means that work (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).  He also warns Titus to avoid futile arguments (Titus 3:9).  In the same ethos, invasion theology consciously evades religiosity.  For a variety other points of approaches to the Genesis issue, see Hagopian (2001).

The most profound place of encounter between science and Christianity is at the primordial events that generated the observable universe we live in.  To find out ‘how science thinks’ is not problematic; a web subscription to the weekly, world-leading science journal, Nature, is sufficient to provide clear information on the latest discoveries and developing theories.  Science is renowned for the instability of its theories of origins, but most of the time in recent years it has considered our universe of space/time to have originated from nothing, by means of a ‘Big Bang’.  In big bang theory, a non-space/time ‘singularity’ becomes (against all statistical probability) unstable, and generates the commencement of our universe, in the form of a gigantic bubble of expanding space, light, heat energy, and time.  The energy then produces matter: subatomic entities such as quarks, that eventually cooperate to form the simplest of all chemical species, hydrogen atoms.  Billions of tons of hydrogen become attracted together by gravity and eventually form stars.  Stars are hydrogen-consuming, thermonuclear, fusion reactors, generating heat and light on a grand scale.  Stars also manufacture the lower atomic weight elements, and, when a star eventually ages and explodes as a supernova, it also synthesises the higher atomic weight elements.  This generates most of the chemical elements of the Periodic Table and widely scatters them through space, to form inter-stellar dust clouds, which are able to aggregate by gravitational attraction, to form planets, satellites, meteorites, and comets.  Some of these may then revolve around a star, to form arrangements, such as we observe in our own planetary system.  Science then proposes that (if conditions are right on the surface of a planet) microbial, plant, animal, and even human life may develop.  Generations of human societies accumulate knowledge and skills to the point where they invent science and technology, develop radio-telescopes and cyclotrons, and begin speculating about primordial events!  This story depends upon profound cooperation (including loss of personal identity) among the diverse varieties of cosmic entities.  It is the standpoint of this paper that far too much emphasis has been placed on competitive interactions and this now needs to be adjusted to reveal the extent to which our universe depends upon cooperation.

Just as science has originated a detailed narrative to explain the birth of our universe, it also attempts to extrapolate from its data to predict how the universe may die.  The earth first, scorched by an expanding red-giant sun; the universe next, as it attains maximum entropy and time ceases.  Such a simplistic, atheistic cosmology is deeply unsatisfying to any thinking, feeling human being.  In the cosmogenesis of unaided science (which in parts can yet be extraordinarily detailed and well substantiated) everything happens by accident, with no meaning beyond the mechanics of existence and survival; ethics are simply a by-product of an arbitary requirement for social stability.  Science’s non-theological universe is thus deadly cold; a place of frustrated hopes; a frantic, meaningless interlude of light, life and pain-wracked consciousness, caught between two periods of unstructured, lifeless, utter darkness.  This raw scientific vision mocks at the beauty and meaning of light and life and love, by chaining it between preceding and succeeding eons of darkness, death, and empty loveless-ness.  Truly, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5).  The very rawness of this unadorned scientific worldview cries out for the Christian ministry of wisdom, faith, encouragement and, indeed, for deliverance.

The indispensable Word of God: the Bible adds meaning to science’s worldview

The Biblical story of primordial events is largely found in the early chapters of the book of Genesis.  The first part of the first chapter of John’s Gospel is crucial, and there are key verses in the Psalms, Job, Isaiah, Matthew, Romans, 1 Timothy, Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation.  The Christian understanding of the origins of our universe can never be separated from Christology, since it pleased God the Father to make his Christ the creator of all that exists, in the spiritual, as well as the material universe; the Christ antedates all things, and entities only obtain their meaning and function from him (Colossians 1:15-19).  Polkinghorne (1988, p.69) writes, “One’s instinct to seek a unified view of reality is theologically underwritten by belief in the Creator who is the single ground of all that is.”  The challenge for a Christian thinker is to come to such a knowledge of God’s Word, as to be able to provide a bridge from Christ to the lost world of scientism, described at the end of the section above.    In order to achieve that, it may be necessary to re-examine cherished beliefs (like the sexual transmission of ‘original sin’) that have come down the centuries from early church fathers, like Augustine.  A thoroughly biblical worldview is required, to meet science and the intellectuals at the place where they labour today, not where they loitered many centuries ago (cf. Mt 13:52).  Paul instructs Timothy to make full use of the holy scriptures (verses that are full of God’s life-giving breath) to teach, train, and equip for good works; and to correct error, and rebuke wrongdoing (2 Timothy 3:16).  Inspired by the Lord, the Holy Spirit, this surely must be a life-giving journey into God’s reality, and never a matter of dead religion.

In such a short paper as this, it is not possible to fully develop major theological points, and that work has to be left for another venue.  However, to develop the basic argument, summary positions have had to be taken regarding the nature of God, the origin of evil, the sequence of primordial events, the reason for our universe to exist, and the predicted outcome of it all.  Much further reading is available, and authors such as Southgate (1999) have developed excellent teaching programmes at the interfaces of science and theology.  Multi-disciplinary courses in this area are proliferating and becoming popular in many good universities.

It is not hard to convince many scientifically educated modern or post-modern thinkers that science is inadequate to measure ethical qualities such as: faithfulness, kindness, justice, mercy, humility, righteousness, love, joy, peace, holiness, forgiveness, patience, self control, etc.  This then permits the suggestion that there are entities beyond the containment of our space/time universe; a suggestion confirmed by fundamental physics in regard to the mathematical value of constants governing the forces that subtend the material universe.  Our universe very clearly has inputs from outside its ‘box’.  That those inputs are highly tuned to produce circumstances conducive to human existence is also demonstrable.  The scientific evidence for design (and hence the Designer) grows stronger every year (e.g. Dembski and Kushiner, 2001).  A scientifically-literate enquirer might then be led to consider the possibility that the God of Christians is truly the same person as the unseen designer of our universe, the originator of uniquely human persons; an inspiring, self-giving God of light, reason, life and love.

Regarding the nature of God, the Bible clearly states that he alone is immortal, dwells in unapproachable light, and is impossible for a human being to see (1 Timothy 6:16); that God is love (1 John 4:8), and is spirit (John 4:24); that his invisible qualities can be clearly learned from unbiased examination of the world around us (Romans 1:20); and that everything we need to know about God has been revealed to us by the life and teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (e.g. Philippians 2:6; John 6:36; 10:30; 14:9).

Since God, and God’s dwelling place, are full of light, life, love, holiness, and perfect order (e.g. 1 John 1:5), the question arises as to where the disorder described in Genesis 1:2 comes from.  What is the origin of the pre-existent darkness, formless emptiness, and watery depths (perhaps a hebraism for ‘rebellion’).  This question is rarely addressed theologically but, in the context of outreaching to those scientists aware of the yawning nullity proposed to precede the Big Bang, it is especially pertinent.  Theologically, the answer can hardly be less than that the Genesis 1:2 situation, described by Moses, is evidence for the revolt of Satan and his rebel angels.  Jesus said that he saw Satan fall like a bolt of lightening and that could well refer to an incident before the creation of our universe (Luke 10:18).  Darkness in scripture is almost always (though not invariably) associated with evil (2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 5:11; 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 6,13, etc.).  A foundational proposal, here called ‘Invasion Theology’, is that a pre-existing negation of God’s immortal, life-giving love, a rebellion, locked in the deepest darkness, has been laid bare, and exposed in its minutest detail, by the Christ of God.  It is proposed that Christ achieved this by invading that dark, chaotic pre-primordial place with our universe of light, life and love.  This concept is bolstered by 1 John 3:8, when the verse is taken as a statement regarding the eternal work of the Christ, not just his earthly mission revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.  In that sense, when Jesus says, “It is finished” (John 19:30), are there not overtones of his unceasing work, that started with the most primordial of events (Gn 2:2)?  Whilst this may be an unusual view to theologians, it functions well as a bridge between the understanding of primordial events proposed by science and that revealed in the Bible.  Invasion theology makes it almost inevitable that there would be a deceitful, death-dealing serpent loose in God’s Garden, at the ‘start’ (Genesis 3:1-4)!  Invasion theology would view Adam, Eve and their children as delegates of God, mandated to extend the invasion throughout the earth, revealing and destroying the various levels of the princedom of darkness.  As God’s people, Israel inherited the same sacred task, and Christ’s church is commissioned for similar work today.

Finally, Jesus Christ appeared in the flesh and, by his life and teaching, comprehensively demonstrated the victory of life over death. The invasion was complete, empowered and now to be extended to every creature.  The resurrection of Christ is, in that sense, the most important event of cosmic history.  The Resurrection guaranties his words regarding the forgiveness of sin, his prophesies about end-time events and the regeneration of all things.  These are processes and events beyond the direct reach of science, though the evidence for Christ’s resurrection is objectively excellent (Stroebel, 1998).

Consequences of an invasion theology worldview: a basic binary ethical overview

A crucial point in any scheme of ethics is the definition of GOOD (e.g. Honderich, 1995, p.587).  From the invasion theological perspective, ‘good’ is seen in the invasion of negation.  That is, God’s activity in creating light, logic, life, and love; bringing into being a whole cosmos of meaning, reason, beauty, and worship.  This may provide a way out of the dilemma first formulated in Plato’s Euthyphro, in that good is good both because God commands it and because of what it enacts (Honderich, op. cit.).  It may be thought that there could be no coincidences here between theology and science, simply on the grounds that whilst ‘good’ is a proper object of study for ethics and theology, it falls outside the boundaries of science. Surely science is concerned only with the accuracy of data and the productivity (truth) of its hypotheses, theories, and laws?  However, upon reflection that judgment might have to be revised.  Science simply cannot avoid conceding that those factors that enable it to exist and to operate successfully are essentially ‘good’.  Science did not exist, nor could it exist, in the pre-existing darkness of negation.  Such a darkness and negation are not neutral, they are inimical to, and clearly subvert, the essential foundations of science itself, and so science would not be remiss in referring to them as objectively ‘evil’.

Factors such as light, logic, life, and love are essential for the very existence of science.  Without light scientists could not see, without logic (part of wisdom) there would be no rational basis for science, without life there would be no humans to work in science, without love and cooperation our society would be so violent as to afford insufficient opportunity for science.  Science must admit that the pre-primordial darkness of negation  (revealed in the Bible and independently described by science) is evil and its invasion by light, logic, life, and love is good.  The work of establishing order, understanding, and cooperation in our universe is unarguably the basis for the scientific endeavour; any resurgence of chaos and confusion is an anti-scientific force.  So at its very heart, science is far from being an ethically-neutral discipline.  This truth may come as a shock to most practicing scientists and technologists!  Factors that facilitate science are unconsciously accepted as ‘good’, and those that degrade the scientific process are ‘bad’.  Working scientists are in the habit of applauding research work as either ‘good science’ or denigrating it as ‘bad science’.  To be meaningful and productive, science relies completely upon the immanence of logic and reliability in the universe, upon the integrity and skill of the scientists themselves, on the probity and standards of the community of scientists, and ultimately upon the sustaining interest and/or support of Society.

Peacock (1990, p.129) quotes atheist, Stephen Hawking, “Why does the Universe go to all the bother of existing?  Is the Unified Theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence?  Or does it need a Creator, and if so, does he have any other effect on the universe?”  Peacock (1990 p.132) writes that Hawking, examining the uniformity of the initial state of the Universe, concluded that, so carefully were things chosen that, “it would be very difficult to explain why the Universe should have begun this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”  Peacock (1990, p.143) also writes, ‘in a letter of January 1633 . . . Galileo wrote, “Thus the world is the work and the scriptures the word of the same God.”  Truth itself is one, yet lies make it into a binary system.  Peacock (1990, p.88) again, describes Fred Hoyle’s attempt to dispense with the idea of a creation moment by introducing a steady-state model, based on ‘continuous creation’ at the centre of the Universe and dissipation at the edges; an effort that was criticized by Stanley Jaki as, “the most daring trick ever given a scientific veneer”!  Science is full of such binary ethical judgments; and examples range from honest mistakes, through weak thinking, right up to outright fraud and corruption of the scientific process.  Scientific truth is subject to the same limitations and degrading influences as any other branch of truth and, indeed, the created universe itself.  It, we, and God’s own Spirit all groan over this painful situation (Romans 8:22,23,26).  The whole cosmic enterprise is attacked and harassed, being subjected to frustration and decay, living in hope of the emergence of humans who are pleasing to God (Romans 8:21,22).  The whole of creation finds fulfillment in the revelation of the true followers of Christ; who are the harvest the universe is scheduled to produce (Romans 8:19).  The book of Revelation is primarily concerned with the final exposure and destruction of the rebellious work of the devil, and the identification of the faithful co-workers of Christ.  In one sense, the whole cosmic story is summarized in those two events, both of them giving great glory to God.

Independently, Christianity and science have revealed remarkably coincident views of primordial reality:

  1. Good is the desirable overall context and precedes evil;
  2. Evil is an aberrant subset that separates from good;
  3. Good is logical, orderly, consistent and reliable;
  4. Evil is unreliable, treacherous and chaotic;
  5. Good, by its nature, invades evil;
  6. Evil resists and corrupts good;
  7. Good does not rest until evil is eliminated.

The visible reveals the invisible: binary ethics gazes out at us, wherever we look

Of all the visually spectacular features of our universe, the greatest must surely be the night sky, viewed from a high place or country area, free from obscuring clouds, air pollution, and light contamination.  The awesome beauty and breathtaking wonder of the endlessly diverse, and seemingly countless, stars, and of our Milky Way galaxy, beggar rational description.  In our age of science, an observer can be expected to read much more meaning into that scene than simply its awesome beauty.  Primordial negation is the backdrop, a thing of timeless darkness: energy-less, substance-less, lifeless, inhuman, loveless; a murderous place of death, darkness, deception, and hate.  But countless beautiful lights burn in that darkness; time extends its merciful reign; planets revolve around suns; life flourishes on planetary surfaces, and it challenges the very teeth of negation; consciousness bursts forth, accompanied by conscience; literature and the arts flourish, and the dear Lord becomes known by name.  Is it any wonder that God drove his prophets and his people into the wilderness so often, where the visible sky teaches of the invisible majesty of the Lord?  The scientific details of modern cosmology contains many more parables that supports the ideas of invasion theology and of a basic binary ethic.

Australia still has some relic rainforests remaining.  They are places of extraordinary biological variety, productivity, and unusual longevity; highly diverse and highly stable ecosystems.  Rainforests rarely have any one species in large numbers, instead they seem to be knitted together by levels of multiple mutualism.  Cooperation between species is their dominant motif.  Rainforests advertise to humanity the advantages of unity and mutual help, as effective means of withstanding the assaults of chaos and destruction.

The Great Barrier Reef is justly one of Australia’s most renowned biological resources and arguably the largest living thing on planet Earth.  The GBR is about 2,000 km long, occupying an area of about 200,000 square km, where the requirements for clear, unpolluted, shallow, warm, salty, moving water are satisfied.   The GBR depends for its existence upon a minute organism – the coral polyp.  Without countless trillions of these tiny anthozoans, building their colonies and providing food and shelter to a dazzling array of much larger and more sophisticated animals, there would be no reef.  The coral polyps themselves are of about 400 varieties.  Their beautiful colours are mostly provided by the symbiotic algae that live within their bodies.  The glory of the reef is thus sustained, at its base, by the humble mutual service of two very different types of simple organism.  The life of corals, though simple, provides for a profusion of amazing, and often subtly complex living beings (including delicious species of fish, crustaceans and mollusks!), that would otherwise not exist.  The many ethical messages of this scenario need little emphasis.

It is remarkable that though the night sky, rainforests, and the reef are some of the most photographed objects in existence, yet their use as teaching examples for ethics courses would not be so well known.  They contain countless spectacular examples of invasion theology and its perennial ethic of the boldness of light, transparency, order, cooperation, and life penetrating and flourishing over the spiteful negation of concealment, darkness, chaos, antipathy, and death.

Conclusion:

It is hoped that this paper’s melding of science, theology, ethics and nature provides a useful starting point for thinking about the very foundations of life and death.  Certainly the postmodern dilemmas (e.g. “The pursuit of knowledge without knowing who we are or why we exist, combined with a war on our imaginations by the entertainment industry, leaves us at the mercy of power with no morality.” Zacharias, 2000, p.23) cries out for an objective reality.  Perhaps science and theology, in an uncharacteristic symbiosis, are together becoming strong enough to point convincingly to the Rock of reality.

Bibliography

Ashton, J. F., editor (1999). In six days. Sydney: New Holland.

Birkett, K. (1997). Unnatural enemies. Sydney: Matthias.

Bube, R. A. (1995). Putting it all together. New York: University Press of America.

Chalmers, A. F. (1999). What is this thing called science? Brisbane: UQ Press.

Carlson, R. F. (2000). Science and Christianity. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP.

Carson, D. A. (1996). The gagging of God. Leicester: Apollos.

Carson, D. A. (2000). Telling the truth. Grand Rapids, Mich.; Zondervan.

Dembski, W. A. and Kushiner, J. M., editors (2001). Signs of intelligence. Grand Rapids,

Mich.: Brazos.

Gould, S. J. (1999). Rocks of ages. New York: Ballantine.

Hagopian, D. G., editor (2001). The Genesis debate. Mission Viejo, Cal.: CruxPress.

Honderich, T. (1995). The Oxford companion to philosophy. Oxford: OUP.

Murphy, N. (2003). On the role of philosophy in theology-science dialogue. Theology and Science 1:79-93.

Peacock, R. E. (1990). A brief history of eternity. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway.

Peacocke, A. T. (1996). God and science. London: SCM.

Pearcey, N. R. and Thaxton, C. B. (1994). The soul of science. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway.

Polkinghorne, J. Science and creation. London: SPK.

Ross, H. (1999). Beyond the cosmos. Colorado Springs, Col.: NavPress.

Southgate, C., editor (1999). God, humanity and the cosmos. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.

Stroebel, L. (1998). The case for Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.

Williams, J. R. (1996). Renewal theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.; Zondervan.

Willimon, W. H. (1994). The intrusive word. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

Zacharias, R. (2000). In Carson, D. A., editor (2000).

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The God who dies: Exploring themes of life and death, by Irene Alexander

Dr Irene Alexander wrote as Dean of Social Sciences at Christian Heritage College, where she taught subjects which focus on personal transformation. She has interests in spiritual direction, integration of faith and counselling practice as well as contemporary spirituality.  This article was presented at the Contemporary Issues in Ministry Conference, 2003, at Christian Heritage College, Brisbane.

A central theme of the Word is the recurring pattern of life – death – life. “Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, ..emptied himself, ..and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” And the cross, and what it represents, has become the symbol of our faith, faith in a God who dies to give life.  The spirituality of our faith is thus a spirituality of descent – knowing this descending God who seeks to serve, not to be served.  And with this spirituality we become men and women who can reach out to those around us who are broken, and we can befriend our own places of woundedness.

One of the great themes of the Bible is the recurring pattern of life – death – life.  In the first chapters God creates life in the garden where stands the tree of life.  But we, foolish beings, chose death, and separation from life.  The rest of the Bible tells of the finding of our way back to Life, and eventually a new heaven and a new earth.

The story of the Exodus is of life once held, lost in slavery, and then journeying through death, through the wilderness, to life again in the promised land.  The promised land is a place flowing with milk and honey, but through turning away from relationship with God, the only true life, the Israelites find themselves in death again – in exile, until God brings them through to life again, redeeming them.

The very theme of the Christian life is death to the old, symbolised by baptism and new life in Christ.  Baptism is an identification with the life-death-life theme of God’s own life, death and life.   What does it mean that God himself chose this theme, this process to win us to himself?  And that he wove it into the seasons of the year, reminding us over and over that death comes, but through death, the rising to new life?

God on a cross

I remember being struck, when reading C.  S.  Lewis’s biography, that one of the things that brought him to salvation, rather late in life, was his pondering on the idea of a God who dies.  Apparently a colleague remarked one day, casually, and with only passing interest “Rum thing that, God on a cross”.  The idea confronted C.  S.  Lewis and he mused over it eventually being totally challenged by this God who died.

Sometimes as Christians we get so used to the idea of the Cross that we lose the shock of it – God, the life-giver, the almighty, the Creator – giving away his life, his might, his being.  Yet this is the central theme of the Bible and of the gospels and of the life of the Christ.  “Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2: 6-8).

The crucified God is the centrepiece of our faith.  And those of us who grew up with an empty cross as our focus knew it was only empty because life is born out of death, because God himself had died so that we too may live.  And the cross, and what it represents has become the symbol of our faith, faith in a God who dies to give life.

A descending God

Cosby (1998) explains that the God of Philippians 2, and of the gospels is a ‘descending God’.  Whereas the focus of much of the western world is ascent to success and status and power, the way of the Christ is through taking the form of a servant, humbling himself even to death.  Says Cosby, “In the Gospel it is quite obvious that Jesus chose the descending way.  He chose it not once but over and over again.  At each critical moment he deliberately sought the way downward” (p.  28).

Again, “..it becomes plain to us that God has willed to show his love for the world by descending more and more deeply into human frailty…God is the descending God.  The movement is down, down, down, until it finds the sickest, the most afflicted, the most helpless, the most alienated, the most cut off.  The truest symbols that we have of Jesus are the lamb – the lamb led to the slaughter, a sheep before its shearers being dumb.  Total poverty: a dumb sheep, the Lamb of God, and the Servant Christ kneeling with a towel and a basin, washing feet on the eve of his crucifixion.  The weeping Christ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey” (p.  29).

And wonder of wonders it is not the Lion of Judah who is worthy to open the scroll which ushers in the end of time, but rather the Lamb.  The apostle John tells in Revelation 5:4 “I wept because no-one was found who was worthy to open the scroll…Then one of the elders said to me ‘Do not weep! See the Lion of the tribe of Judah… is able to open the scroll..  Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if he had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne.’”

Through being the Lamb, Jesus conquered death.  It was through his dying that he defeated the powers and authorities, “triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15).  And Cosby (1998) notes that it was his death that turned our hearts to him also.  “What was it that captured our hearts?  It was that figure dying on a cross… If the Lamb of God…  the form of the Servant Christ giving his life away for others – for me – if those deep expressions of reality captured my spirit, literally broke my hard heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh, ended my captivity and delivered my spirit, why do I think that the expression of authority or power or success or efficiency is going to break anybody’s heart?” (p.  30).

A self-emptying God

The God who Cosby (1998) calls the descending God, Maggie Ross (1988) in Pillars of Flame explores as the self-emptying God – this is the meaning of kenosis: “The heart of Christianity is the self-emptying, kenotic humility of God expressed in Jesus the Christ… At the heart of God’s humility is this: God willingly is wounded” (p.  xvi).  “…a kenotic living God who is unceasingly self-outpouring, compassionate, and engaged with the creation….  God’s inviolable vulnerability, God’s unswerving commitment to suffer with and within the creation, to go to the heart of pain, to generate new life, hope, and joy out of the cry of dereliction, out of the pain to utter self-denudation, utter self-emptying, utter engaging love” (p.  72).  Indeed this is the character of the prodigal’s father – the willingness to give, to suffer the pain of loss and wounding, to hold back in patient waiting, to respond in self-forgetting joy and forgiveness.

The spirituality of descent is the practice of a spirituality which knows this descending God.  Rather than the all-powerful Zeus-god of the Greeks, prodigal children know the God who gives, the God who waits, the God who experiences the shame and brokenness of his own.  This descending God seeks to serve, not to be served, not just in the life-time of Jesus but in the millennia following, in the present world, where it is so easy to choose ascent, success, status, positions of power in our churches and ‘Christian’ institutions.

Jesus deliberately broke the purity codes of his culture in order to include the outcasts (Sims 1997).  Time after time, at meals, in the homes of Pharisees, in public places, he knowingly touched the untouchables – the bleeding woman, the leper, the Samaritan woman.  “Suppose the only God that exists is the descending God.  Suppose the only way we can know God is to go down, to go to the bottom…If God is going down and we are going up, it is obvious that we are going in different directions.  And we will not know him.  We will be evading God and missing the whole purpose of our existence” (Cosby 1998, p.  31).

The descending God then, is one who serves, one who lets go of position and status and power, in order to touch the lives of those around him.  “We have seen what Jesus was like.  If we wish now to treat him as our God, we would have to conclude that our God does not want to be served by us, he wants to serve” (Nolan cited in Sims 1997 p.  16).

It is significant to note what John says about Jesus at the beginning of the story of the Servant Christ who washed his disciples’ feet: “Jesus, knowing that the father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God… girded himself with a towel” (John 13:3).  Jesus was a servant who also knew his identity – he was not serving as one who did not know his boundaries, or one trying to earn approval.  He knew who he was, but knowingly chose to serve.

Servant leadership

In his book The Leadership Paradox Denny Gunderson (1997) notes that Jesus said very little about leadership.  Rather his lifestyle demonstrated servanthood – “I came not to be served but to serve”.  This book explores a number of stories of Jesus’ life to help us discover what servanthood meant in the reality of daily relationships.  Gunderson notes that the Greek word Jesus chose for servant was ‘diakonos’ which literally mean ‘through the dust’.  He tells the story of a servant who leads a caravan to safety through a dust storm even though it meant sacrificing his own life.  Our word deacon comes from this Greek word and is translated servant, deacon, or minister.  Gunderson then explores other gospel stories showing a God who walked through the dust of earth to his death in order that we might find what it is to live as servants, loving our God and loving each other.  This is what Gordon Cosby means by the spirituality of descent, that we learn to live as deacons, servants, who are not afraid of walking in the dust, and in the dark places of people’s lives – and of our own.

Henri Nouwen (1989) tells the story of confronting his own dark places and learning to care for others in theirs in his powerful book on Christian leadership In the Name of Jesus.  Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest who became a lecturer at Harvard and Yale.  He was an extremely popular speaker and writer.  As he entered his fifties  though, he realised that he was “living in a very dark place and that the term ‘burnout’ was a convenient psychological translation for a spiritual death.

In the midst of this I kept praying, “Lord, show me where you want me to go and I will follow you… In the person of Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche communities for mentally handicapped people, God said, “Go and live among the poor in spirit, and they will heal you.”… So I moved from Harvard to L’Arche, from the best and brightest, wanting to rule the world, to men and women who had few or no words, and were considered, at best, marginal to the needs of our society… the small, hidden life with people whose broken minds and bodies demand a strict daily routine in which words are the least requirement does not immediately appear as the solution to burnout.  And yet, my new life at L’Arche is offering me new words to use in speaking about Christian leadership. (pp. 11-12).

Nouwen focuses on servanthood and the specific barriers which might prevent us from being true servant leaders – the need to be relevant, the need to be spectacular and the need to control, to be powerful.

In another of his books, Return of the Prodigal Son, Nouwen (1996) helps us identify other blockages to serving others.  He describes us – the prodigal – discovering the utterly endless, ever responsive love of a Father – who would pick up his robe and run to meet us as we are – foot-sore and ragged, dirty and wounded – and take us in his arms in delighted self-giving welcome.

And as I discover that totally accepting love, which takes me to himself – and holds my pain and my shame, my sin and my brokenness, and simply holds all in his love, so I dare little by little to see myself as I am, to lower my defences enough to see my own brokenness.  And part of my seeing is a recognition that I, too, am the elder brother.  In me is judgement and resentment, envy and exclusion.  In me is reaction that causes me to exclude myself from the celebration of grace – the grace of a Father who embraces the sinner, who goes towards the outcast and the shameful ones, who indeed runs to bid them welcome.  And slowly, slowly I too acknowledge in myself the judgements and criticism, the self-righteousness and legalism which hold me aloof from my brothers and sisters, which indeed hold me aloof from the broken and sinful places of my own being.  And I seek to learn what it is to embrace my own fallenness, and that of my brothers and sisters.  And too, to let them see me as I am and to hold me in grace.

A difficult lesson this one – to know it is my own self-judgement that causes me to hold others at arm’s length lest they see me too well.  And so I hold myself back from receiving their embrace, and the grace of the Father mediated through them.  I prefer my image of my own self-righteousness and hold myself in isolation in order to retain it.  But slowly as I receive the love of the Father I can allow my defensiveness to thaw little by little and allow others to see the imperfect being that I am.  It is only as I learn to hold the paradox of my own mix of light and darkness, that I can learn to celebrate with another their own pattern of shadow and light.  And the willingness to walk in humility, says Nouwen (1989), will lead to “a leadership in which power is constantly abandoned in favour of love” (p.  63).

A God “disenthroned”

As we reflect on the prodigal’s father, who stoops to embrace the sinner, we know that Jesus is indeed God’s self-disclosure – “the cosmos is ruled by a self-giving Love who chooses to endure crucifixion rather than decree any abridgment of human freedom” (Sims 1997 p.  17).  “We cannot have it both ways.  We cannot have a God who is an iron-handed ruler in remote control of the cosmos and, at the same time, a historic incarnation of that God who consistently defines himself as a servant… [We must] choose between a God enthroned in the power of imperial privilege and a God “disenthroned” in the more exquisite power of servanthood” (p.  17).

And the paradox is that once we have glimpsed this servant-King, who tells us that his flesh must be our real food, that we must learn to feed on his brokenness and self-giving, that even though we may be tempted to draw back, we are so drawn to him that we say, as Peter did “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (John 6: 68).  And even then we may, as Peter did, be prepared to give our lives to fight for him, but not know how to give our selves in the surrender and powerlessness of the Lamb.  But this is the way to life.

“Just as crucifixion and resurrection form the centrepiece of the life and work of Jesus, so too the cross and its promise of life reborn are central to his invitation to live” (Sims 1997, p.  48).  The crucifixion is not just a plan God thought up to ‘fix things up’ after humans rebelled.  “The Crucified God is simply the eruption into history of the cosmic redemptive love that is built into the structure of the universe from its start.  The book of Revelation speaks of Jesus as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8, KJV)” (Sims 1997 p.  58).  Relationship with the God who dies is relationship with Life.

The God who dies

One of our difficulties in talk about dying is that it touches on our own very natural fear of death and the process of dying.  Nouwen (1998), in noticing his own fears suggests a key reason for this: “You are still afraid to die.  Maybe that fear is connected with some deep unspoken worry that God will not accept you as his.” For death has to do with separation and the death God speaks of in the Garden – when you eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall die – is the death of separation from God.  One of the purposes of life is to lose our fear of death.  It is only in deepening our revelation of God’s love for us that our fear of death is lessened.  John speaks of our growing understanding of God’s love (in 1 John 4: 18) “perfect love casts out fear”.  If I truly know I am loved I am no longer afraid.

But what of the fear of the other death?  The death that is part of this process of our living through the seasons of life?  The death represented in the Wisdom literature by the wilderness, exile, the dark night of the soul?  We draw back from these dyings too, afraid that questionings, doubt, old answers that no longer fit, will be death to us.  The mystics assure us that these too are the way to life.  “She came up out of the wilderness leaning on her beloved” (Song of Solomon 8:5).  And Rilke (1996) in his direct, even raw, poetry notices how our own need, our own darkness, can lead to God:

“Then suddenly you’re left all alone
With your body that can’t love you,
And your will that can’t save you.
But now, like a whispering in dark streets
Rumors of God run through your dark blood” (p.  76).

 It is in these dark places, these places of liminality, that transformation takes place.  But so often we shrink from this as if it were death.  If we understand the process of life-death-life we dare to respond to pain and death as possible resurrection – as Eucharist.  “The pain of transformation is morbid [ie death-dealing] only if we choose it to be, only if we do not want to look beyond and through it.  If only we allow, the pain itself is transformed and becomes Eucharist; and Eucharist deepens us until we burn with Love in God’s very heart.  If we spend all our time trying to block out pain with illusion or to twist it to inflate our egos, we will stagnate; we will cause in ourselves the destructive pain of disintegration” (Ross 1988, p.  133).

The mystics understood this process and assure us that it is in the darkness that we find the Beloved.  In  The Dark Night St John of the Cross names the darkness, the absence of God’s felt presence, as the very place that we will be united with the Beloved, and indeed transformed:

Oh guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
The Lover with His beloved,
Transforming the beloved in her Lover.

 This then is true relationship with God – a faith that God is present, that even though the floods may come, and the fire, God is present.  And this relationship enables us to journey with others in their wilderness and their darkness – having faith that God too, is for them, and with them.  “Faith is not assent to doctrines or surrounding ourselves with props and propositions.  It is trust that God – as Christ shows us – has been there before us, goes within us, waits to find us beyond the edges of utter dark.  And, found by God, we become aware that God is closer to our being than we are” (Ross 1988, p.  135).  This then, is the God who has lived through life, death and life, has shown us the way through, and now is present with each of us as we walk the same journey.

References

Cosby, N. G. (1999). By grace transformed: Christianity for a new millennium. New York: Crossroad.

Gunderson, D. (1997). The leadership paradox. Seattle: YWAM publishing.

Kavanaugh, K. (trans). (1979). The collected works of St John of the Cross. Washington: Institute of Carmelite Studies.

Nouwen, H. J. M. (1989). In the name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian leadership. New York: Crossroad.

Nouwen, H. J. M. (1996). The return of the prodigal son: A story of home-coming.  London: Continuum.

Nouwen, H. J. M. (1998). The inner voice of love: A journey through anguish to freedom.  New York: Doubleday.

Rilke, R. M. (1996). Rilke’s book of hours: Love poems to God. Barrows, A. and J. Macy, J. (Trans). New York: Riverhead.

Ross, M. (1988). Pillars of flame: Power, priesthood and spiritual maturity. San Francisco: Harper and Row.

Sims, B. J. (1997). Servanthood: Leadership for the third millennium. Boston: Cowley.

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Life, death and choice, by Ann Crawford

Pastor Ann Crawford (Ph.D. candidate) is the Pastor-in-Charge of Citipointe Transformations in Christian Outreach Centre, and teaches Pastoral Care subjects at Citipointe Ministry College, the School of Ministries of Christian Heritage College, Brisbane. This article was presented as a paper given at the Contemporary Issues in Ministry Conference, September 11, 2003, at Christian Heritage College, Brisbane, Australia.

Abstract

God’s command in Deuteronomy 30:19 – I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; choose life that you and your descendants may live… – sounds simple and extremely logical.  Most would agree that, in practice, following this command is not that simple.  Many factors cloud these choices, detract from the logic and create a complexity that causes people to continue to walk in the wayward footsteps that led Adam to a finite existence on earth.

As these issues of life and death choices are fundamental in the individual’s quest for wholeness and therefore pertinent to the people-helping ministry of today’s church, this paper explores these concepts by examining life, death and choice; by identifying blockages and deceptions experienced in our twenty-first century life-journeys; and by delving into the philosophy of existential suffering.

Introduction

“Throughout the whole of life one must continue to learn how to live, and what will amaze you even more, throughout life one must learn to die” (Seneca in Peck, 1997: 89).  These words penned centuries ago contemplate the paradox that is life and death, for to consider one is to be conscious of the other.  In accordance with Hebraic philosophy, we do not have an “either/or” choice for ultimately every person encompasses the “also/and” of living and dying.  So it would seem that the issue for the human person is not so much a choice between life and death but that “a deep consciousness of death ultimately leads us on a path to seeking meaning” (Peck, 1997: 88).

Abrahams (1961: 242) quotes from Jewish philosophy as he writes, “Much of the difficulty of the problem of evil is . . . due to the human belief that he (the individual man) is the centre of creation.  There is evil: but many so-called evils are nothing other than features of a life which includes death.”  Jesus’ expounds this philosophy as He tells a story (Luke 12:16-21) of a successful farmer whose bumper crop could not be contained in his storehouses.  The farmer’s decision to tear down his barns to build bigger ones was not the evil that incurred the wrath of God.  After a lifetime of living, this man had missed the meaning.  “Soul, you have many good things laid up, [enough] for many years.  Take your ease; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself merrily.”

For those in the people helping professions, this “missing the meaning” of life – and death – is of vital significance, both in our day-to-day stories and in what Snyder (1995: 194) terms the “Divine Design” story, characterised by “finding and doing the will of God”.  Consider God’s reply to the farmer where he not only paints a graphic picture of human mortality but he also highlights the consequences of the choice to find meaning in self-achievement and material possessions.  “You fool!  This night they [the messengers of God] will demand your soul of you; and all the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

It would appear that, in God’s economy, a meaningless life equates to a meaningless death and both incur his displeasure.   Therefore, another avenue of thought emerges from this story that further augments this investigation of life, death and choice.  This is the existential search for meaning described by Corey (1996: 171) as the struggle “between the security of dependence and the delights and pains of growth”.   Security is one of the person’s basic needs, and, in a postmodern society which Snyder (1995: 218) sees as being “the triumph of the contingent, the transitory and the ironic”, security is often sought in codependency and pain is to be avoided.  These choices side-track the meaningful process leading from suffering to peaceful wholeness.

Deuteronomy 29:29 reminds us that “the secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but the things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever that we may do all of the words of this law”. This paper will presuppose that the text of Deuteronomy 30:19 –  “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; choose life that you and your descendants may live . . .” –  is the revealed word of God and will undertake this  investigation of life, death and choice, not primarily from a theological perspective but from relevant literature, particularly that which pertains to people-helping and pastoral caring.  From this vantage-point it would appear that not only do the topics of life, death and choice warrant a deeper probing but that there are other issues that are inextricably intertwined into their inter-relatedness.  The existential search for meaning, freewill and freedom, and the over-shadowing limitations and extremes of worldview and culture add to the complexity of the life/death-decisions that human beings are faced with daily.

Life

The Hebrew word commonly translated “life” means alive, fresh, strong and is explained by Lockyer, as the “physical functions of people, animals and plants” (1986: 649).  This writer continues, “because God is the source of all life, it is a gift from Him.  He first filled Adam with the breath of life (Gen. 2:7), and He continues to be the source of all life”.  In the New Testament the Greek “psyche” describes the breath or spirit of life.  “The word ‘life’ began to refer to more than physical existence.  It took on a strong spiritual meaning, often referring to the spiritual life that results from man’s relationship with God” (Lockyer, 1986: 649).

From these interpretations it could be deduced that “life” can be defined on several different levels.  The most rudimentary of these indicates any form of living thing but even this basic understanding proposes a mystery that scientists down through the ages have sought to unravel. For the last half-century, biochemists have sought for a mechanism by which non-living molecules could make the transition to living systems.

Transcending these empirical deliberations, Holmes (1983: 121) comments that a Christian worldview understands “human life as a body-soul dualism in close organic unity, so that we function in many if not all regards as holistic beings.”  Boivin (1995: 157) describes a Hebraic model of the person as conceptualising “the various dimensions of personhood as existing along a mutually interactive continuum to which the divinely inspired aspects of the human condition are directly apparent in the biopsychological aspects, without intermediate metaphysical states or constructs”.  Paul preached to the Greeks, “in him I live and move and have my being” (Acts 17:28), echoing the holistic theories of these scholars and challenging the Platonic philosophical dualism that the body is the prison of the soul (Moreland and Ciocchi, 1993: 39).

Death

Death could be described as the absence of life.  However, the American President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioural Research (1983: 174-75) defines death as, “the state in which all components of mental life are gone, including self-awareness, thought, emotion, feeling and sensation.”  In an effort to clarify the dilemma of organ-transplant doctors, this definition admits that a human being is more than physiological by incorporating elements that are more usually associated with the “soul” to identify human life – or the absence thereof.   This definition would indicate that, at some point in the dying process, there is a separation of body, being the material part of the human person, and the immaterial soul, a position confirmed by the writer of Ecclesiastes 12:7:  “Then dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it”.  Moreland and Ciocchi (1993: 39) comment that, “this combination of material and spiritual resulted in a holistic ‘living soul.’”  However, these authors continue with the observation that, “there is no indication in the creation account that this combination was ever intended to be separated.”

This notion of separation leads to the contemplation of another dimension of death.  “Death occurs when something is separated from that which is its life.  Since the living God is the ‘fountain of life’ (Ps. 36:9), the action of man turning from him can only result in death” (Moreland and Ciocchi, 1993: 46).

Choice

Choice creates the impression of selecting from presented options and consequently is predominantly associated with freewill and the consequences.  Scriptural references, like the one from Deuteronomy 30:19, portray God, at various times through history, as offering his people a choice, delineating the options and describing the consequences both positive and negative, both good and evil.  Once the information has been delivered, God then allows His Image Bearer the freewill to not only make that choice but also to bear the consequences.

The first biblical choice encountered is the choice Adam and Eve made when confronted with tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  God had commanded that they “may freely eat of every tree of the garden but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it for in that day you shall surely die” (Gen 2:15-17).  The Genesis account of the fall graphically illustrates the significance of the exercise of freewill, as Adam and Eve are banished from the garden and from the sweet communion with Father God they had experienced there. Peck (1997: 150-51) writes about this relationship between choice and freewill.  “What I do know is that we have the power of choice.  It is said that God created us in His own image.  What is meant by that, more than anything else . . . is that He gave us free will.  We are free to choose, for good or for ill, according to our will, and not even God can heal someone against her will”.  Jesus did not minister or teach in his own home town as the family and friends of his childhood had set their freewill against him and the healings and the miracles experienced by others passed them by  (Luke 14:23-30).

In Frankl’s account of his experiences in the Auchwitz camps he delves deeper into the questions of choice, freewill and suffering.  “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:  the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”  (Frankl, 1984: 86).  Frankl’s observations of the human person, trapped in the horrendous circumstances of a Nazi concentration camp for a protracted length of time, revealed to him that it is possible to make choices, and, in fact, to make choices that would enable a man or a woman to craft excruciating suffering into bravery, unselfishness and dignity and to “add a deeper meaning to his/her life” (1984: 88).

The philosophy of the various dimensions of human freedom, while being a fascinating study, is far beyond the scope of this paper.  However, for the purpose of this essay, a summary of Satre’s observations (in Corey, 1996: 174) is sufficient: “We are constantly confronted with the choice of what kind of person we are becoming, and to exist is never to be finished with this kind of choosing”.

God’s blueprint

I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction (Deut. 30:19)

Human beings must then choose between two covenantal ways, the two possible responses to God’s laws for our life.  We cannot not respond.  We live only in covenant relation to our Maker.  We exit only in response to his sovereign rule (Walsh and Middleton, 1984: 65, 66).

This is a God of justice.  As the above authors allege, whether the choices are understood or even known, God still holds every human being accountable for these choices.

The pastoral carer is not only confronted with these choices in the course of his/her own existence but is called to work with people who are also in the process of becoming.  Those who have no cognition of the covenant relationship God has ordained necessarily suffer from a warped ability to make choices. As outlined in scripture (eg. Deut 27,28), all behaviour, all choices have consequences and the curses that result from choosing death are just as real as the blessings that flow from life choices.  Does this mean that those who are unaware of their choices, who believe they have no right to make a choice or who have been programmed with wrong information with which to choose, are doomed to death?

However, “Just as we cannot be neutral in relation to him, so he is not neutral towards us”  (Walsh and Middleton, 1984: 66). The cross is ample evidence of a merciful God who actively upholds his covenants.

Underpinning the ministry of pastoral caring is the biblical mandate to bring to the broken-hearted the message that God is not neutral.  He is a Father who is vitally interested in the well being of his children and he has a plan and purpose for each one.  At the opposite end of the scale is an awareness that no human being is able to be neutral and this revelation opens the way for the covenant to be proclaimed and the choices to be revealed.

The place of suffering in making choices

But, could it be that we often do not recognise the life-choice before us because the death-choice presents as the “soft-option”?  A loving father nurtures and protects his child.  However, that does not discount the inevitability that the child will, at times be exposed to pain, grief and suffering.  A loving father will not, in fact cannot, prevent his child from suffering but he will teach and guide his child to choose the life option despite the pain.  So it is with Father God.

Peck cites missionary/physician Paul Brand’s research into leprosy and explains that most “of the devastation of leprosy is caused by a localised absence of pain” (Peck, 1997: 28).  When there is no pain, injury and infection remain unnoticed and untreated, eventually leading to disfigurement and death.  Pain is a signal that something is wrong, that something needs to change.  Although physical pain can range from unpleasant to unbearable there is usually some treatment that can be administered that will relieve the discomfort.  However,

We do not like emotional pain any more than physical pain, and our natural instinct is to avoid it or get rid of it as quickly as possible.  We are pain-avoiding creatures.  Since it is a conflict between our will and reality that causes our pain, our first and natural response to the problem is to deal with it by imposing our will to make reality conform to what we want of it (Peck, 1997: 63).

Pastoral carers predominantly work with people experiencing emotional pain.  It is this emotional pain that often drives the sufferer to choose the death-option – not physical death or suicide but the kind of choice that focuses on gratifying and comforting self and/or projecting the pain onto others.

As mentioned earlier in this paper, the philosophy of postmodernism dictates that we construct our own reality, that we impose our own reality upon the facts.  The  consequences of imposing our will upon our circumstances opposes the commands of God to follow his statutes, to choose to allow him to impose his will upon us.  The natural projection of this would be that people in a postmodern society would be likely to experience a considerable amount of emotional pain.  Pastors and those in the people-helping professions, would, I am sure, support these observations.

Frankl (1984: 154-155), in his dissertations on suffering, emphasised “that human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death”.  He identifies the components of that meaning: hope in the future; experiences of the past; unconditional love; and purposeful sacrifice.  People-helpers have a mandate to know that, “the world in which we live is divine destiny.  There is a divine meaning in the life of every individual and of you and me” (Buber in Bruno, 2000: 29).  Those suffering emotional pain are searching for that meaning, whether they are aware of it or not, and the people-helper is called to encounter, empower and encourage these fellow children of God.

Conclusion

Frankl (1984: 95) quotes Spinoza when he writes, “Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it”.  By defining life, death and choice, and the intertwining and interrelated aspects of these topics, perhaps a clearer picture of the human sufferings and the human joys of life and death may be better understood.  There is a curious security, a peace that passes understanding in being in intimate relationship with a God of paradox – justice and mercy, majesty and love, law and grace – with a Father who beseeches us to “choose life, that you and your descendants may live”.

On further reflection, life redefined becomes a pilgrimage, a deliberate journey of valleys and mountain tops.  In God’s entreaty for us to choose life, perhaps he is longing for us to extract from this time we have here on earth as much meaning and purpose as we can, that while we live, we really live, and that we can take this divine energy called life and, in some way, impart it to those who experience this journey with us. Death, that dark foreboding that looms over us all, is not the destination of life but maybe even a facet of life that helps us to extract the last residue of meaning from suffering and joy alike giving us the choice to make the transition from one state to the other in unbroken fellowship with our Maker.

Bibliography

Abrahams, G. (1961) The Jewish Mind. London: Constable.

Boivin, M.  (1991)  “The Hebraic model of the person:  towards a unified psychologican science among Christian helping professionals.”  Journal of Psychology and Theology.  19 (2), 1991. p. 120.

Bruno, T. (2000)  Jesus, Ph.D. Psychologist.  Gainsville, FL.: Bridge-Logos.

Corey, G. (1996)  Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy.  Pacific Grove, CA.: Brookes/Cole.

Frankl, V. (1984)  Man’s Search for Meaning.  New York: Washington Square.

Holmes, A. (1983).  Contours of a Worldview.  Michigan: Eerdmanns.

Lockyer, H. (Ed.) (1986).  Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Moreland, J. and Ciocchi. D. (1993)  Christian Perspectives on Being Human.  Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker.

Peck, M.S. (1997)  The Road Less Travelled and Beyond.  New York: Simon and Schuster.

Pohl, C.  (2001)  “Life and death choices.”  The Christian Century. Chicago:  Aug15-Aug 22, Vol.118, Iss. 23. p.14.

Snyder, H. (1995)  Earth Currents. Nashville: Abingdon.

U.S.A. President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioural Research  (Washington D.C. Government Printing Office, March 1983), p. 174-75

Walsh, B. and Middleton, J. (1984). The Transforming Vision.  Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity.

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