ANTI-ACADEMIC or PRO-REPRODUCIBLE?

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I have just had an argument with myself.  I’m not going to tell you who won because I don’t want to sound either arrogant or depressed.  It has to do with the mountain range that has been built in western Christian culture through academic study.  My argument was to question whether something I was writing was going to sound banally anti-academic.  I wouldn’t be able to say that I am tribally anti-academic.  By that I mean, I don’t like reading or studying, so I belittle people who do.  I spent seven years in theological training before my ordination.  Three different institutions.  I reckon I read a new book every fortnight.  Then there are audio teaching, podcasts and the like. I would say that would put me to the right of centre on the spectrum.

What I am critical of is the idea that more study and greater learning will make a person a better follower of Jesus.  More to the point, that academic work will enable a person to be better at reproducing disciples or exercising kingdom ministry in general.  I am not convinced of that.  I see all of the places where Christian people go to learn how to serve God and find that many of the people doing the teaching are hardly serving God at all – apart from gathering, analysing and representing information.  I know, I know, it doesn’t apply to everyone who does academic work as part of their training.  I just notice that academic training, in and of itself, does not necessarily equip a person for reproducible ministry.  It often just makes them academic experts.

There is a branch of philosophy that studies epistemology.  It is researching the theory of knowing, or how we come to know things.  Its original meaning was made up of two Greek words, one referring to “justified belief” and “knowledge.”  So it studies how we know things and come to conclusions about what is true.  This is a crucial issue for Christians of course.  We are people who are convinced that Jesus is the “way, the truth and the life.” (John 14).  We also have a book that we believe is revealed truth.  My problem is that I am not sure that the epistemological process is the same for embracing Christian truth as it is for mainstream academic truth.  For example, I am not convinced anyone can discover the truth just be gaining a body of information.  My observation of the regular academic world (and I may not have done sufficiently extensive research) makes me conclude that it is possible to do academic study in a particular field nd then spend the rest of your life teaching about that area without any involvement in actual practice.

I am convinced that this is not possible when it comes to Christian revelation (knowledge of God).  At the risk of oversimplification, I would offer Jesus’ quote on the subject of epistemology:   “So Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you live by what I say, you are truly my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31,32).  This is my proposition. I think academic research is helpful when the researchers are willing to put into practice what they have discovered and present their findings by telling the stories of their implementation.  Until then I think academic research has limited value and can often get in the road of best practice Christian living.

The same goes for background study or elaborate philosophical speculation about the simple message that is represented in the stories contained in the Bible.  It is even worse when someone comes to read a particular incident or section of the Bible with a rigidly presumed systemic view (e.g. Calvinism, pre-millennialism, etc.).  The stories in the Bible are meant to connect us with Jesus.  When we get connected to Jesus, we gain the life and liberty that comes with truth.  When we decide to live by that life and liberty, we will know things.  The most important issue here is re-producibility.  That simple process is re-producible.  Everyone is in, and no one is excluded.  It works the same for everyone no matter how old, young, educated, uneducated, rich or poor.

So I am only interested in theories that have become practices.  There is no such thing as theoretical  Christianity.  And there is no such thing as a Christian truth that is not able to be reproduced in anyone, anywhere no matter who they are and what their capacity.

And I don’t need to tell you who won the argument.  My great humility makes it impossible.

BEING INTENTIONAL !

FINDING A WAY

 

Some time ago I was sitting at a lunch gathering of leaders and opposite to me was a young man from New York who was visiting Australia.  He was a very passionate, confident young bloke and we connected well.  In the course of the conversation, we discussed some of the critical features of high-quality leadership.  He asked me this question:  “If you had to put a percentage on the importance of intention over against strategy or method how would you compare them?”

My thoughts immediately focused on how many meetings I had been to where ambitious intentions and goals were talked about but where little was actually done.  So I said that it should be twenty percent intention and eighty percent strategy, i.e. (in my way of thinking) work !

He said that I was making a distinction between real and spurious intentions.  He suggested that the matter of accomplishing a goal or task as a leader depended solely on intention.  There had to be one hundred percent intention.  If you fully intend to do something, there may be fifty different ways, and you might fail fifty times. If the intention is one hundred percent, all of those things will be relatively insignificant.  The total commitment or intention will see them as mere stepping stones or minor disruptions and simply get on with the task of finding the way to accomplish the goal.

I agree with him.  It does come down to intention.

What I had experienced so often in meetings with leaders was much more about ideas and opinions rather than real intentions.  I then realised how rarely I had been with a group of leaders who had the ability and the opportunity to see breakthrough and change who were actually willing to commit totally.  We live in a culture that is plagued by all kinds of broken commitments.  People say words but mean little.  They set out on a journey but rarely reach the destination.  I started in a class of twenty-four at theological college.  Less than five are still doing what they committed and trained to do.  Now we run on short term contracts and half-hearted commitments.

I remember what Jesus said when three people offered to follow him – he didn’t challenge the sincerity of their offer.  He did challenge their expectation and level of commitment.  In the story from Luke 9, Jesus said that the first person was in danger of dropping out because of it would be too uncertain and uncomfortable.  The other two were going to fail because they would be drawn to pitting following Jesus against family obligations.

I wonder what it would be like to have a one hundred percent intention to follow Jesus?  It would involve a one hundred percent intention to discover the fulness of everything he commanded.  There’s a place to start.  Start with a one hundred percent intention to see a single commandment completely fulfilled in your life.  Then go to the next and then the next.  Then make sure that you know what the Holy Spirit is telling you and have a one hundred percent intention of doing what the Holy Spirit says.  Don’t just make a silent private decision.  Tell one or two people who love you and ask them to help you fulfil your intention.

I am of the view that ALL Christian enterprise requires only one thing:  ONE HUNDRED PERCENT INTENTION.

WILL PRAYER DO IT?

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I have a dilemma.  I am a committed prayer person.  It’s not something I can brag about, but just to give some idea, I normally need to pray between two and three hours most days.  That’s where I process everything.  It is where I worship, moan and groan, question and try to get connected with God.  It doesn’t always happen the way I would like, but it is an essential shaping and energising part of my life.  I am also a practitioner.  I am trying to simply DO what Jesus said and help others to do the same.

I get frustrated with people I meet – wonderful, special people who love Jesus deeply – but who try to convince me that prayer is the thing that will bring a visitation from God that will more than satisfy our grandest longings.   I simply don’t believe it.

I have lived through a wonderful period of time where there has been a resurgence of prayer, especially in the western church.  It started somewhere in the last quarter of the last century and has continued until today.  There are many people around the churches for whom prayer is their calling and identity.  That worries me.  We have so many tribes that gather around totem poles that disproportionately represent various good and essential Christian activities.  But they make part of the agenda the whole agenda or near to it.

Some people have heard the great commission of Jesus say this:  “Go into all the world and pray and I will preach the gospel instead of you and make disciples instead of you.”

I don’t think so.  But the problem is that it sounds soooooooo spiritual when people talk like this.  So I went and had another look at the ministry of Jesus to see whether this kind of emphasis is easy to see.  And it is not.  As far as I can gather, Jesus did at least five things every day:

  1.  He shaped his agenda from his clear sense of vision and call.
  2. He obeyed and followed the initiative of his Father.
  3. He offered the very best of the kingdom of God to everyone
  4. He trained disciples by taking them with him.
  5. He spent time in prayer.

He did all of these things in a natural interactive way – every day as far as I can tell.  So that’s what I am going to learn how to do.  Some of these five things come easier to me than others, but I cannot afford to simply allow them to fill my agenda at the expense of the others – no matter what my particular passion or natural gift may be.  I want to share Jesus’ passions, not just my own and I want my gifts to be supernaturally imparted, not restricted by my “being-sanctified-but-still-a-work-in-progress” personhood.

I am more than willing to embrace whatever assistance you may be willing to offer me in this quest.

BEWARE THE RABBIT HOLE !!!!! ???????

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I would consider myself to have a healthy, open-minded interest in what goes on in the world.  If you were to look at the list of bookmarks on my webpage, it would cover issues spanning the social, political and spiritual spectrum.  On an average day, I would spend around fifteen to twenty minutes – maybe half an hour catching up with general news and with the specific areas I have personal engagement.  In fact, if I don’t check myself, I can be found clicking those news tabs three or four times in a day.  The options on offer are always trying to tell me that there are things I MUST know about, and I can find myself agreeing and heading down the Lewis Caroll rabbit hole just because I want to know what’s down there.   Soon I am in “news-wonderland.”  There are so many endless trails there, and characters that one can remain lost way beyond your regular bedtime.

I realise that news chasing can be like a drug.  You find yourself having to get the next fix whether you need it or not.  And it seems that news media are well aware of this.

So I am taking charge of my news consumption with a simple self -directed question:  Will it make any qualitative difference to my life and life purpose if I access this information?

Now I am all for the idea that a portion of my weekly time allocation should be given to healthy relaxation – and therefore entertainment.  So I am willing to be entertained.  But I am finding that news media as entertainment is often not very healthy at all.  I’d be better clicking over to the Disney Channel and watching Mary Poppins for the sixth time.

It has been a  fascinating journey for me recently as I have taken steps to deal with my news addiction.  There is so much out there that I don’t need to know – and there is so much that I desperately DO need to know – but they are not the same.

I JUST GOT OFF THE PHONE TO MOHAMMAD

 

 

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Mohammad is a mate of mine from Sydney.  He is one of the most passionately committed people I know.  He is a supporter of the Iranian Opposition (in exile) group based in Paris called the National Council of Resistance for Iran (see www.ncr-iran.org/en).  We have just returned from attending a Rally in Paris involving 100,000 supporters of the NCRI.  This eight-hour rally is one of the most amazing events I have ever been to.  Along with passionate Iranian political refugees from the current mullah-led regime in Iran were over 600 representatives (mostly political) from more than 65 nations.

I have been connected with this group for nearly a quarter of a century, since 1992 when we provided hospitality for thirteen people who came to Canberra to protest the human atrocities committed by the Iranian government against innocent individuals.  In some scuffles that ensued, thirteen of these people were charged and four were given custodial sentences.  Among those they ended up fighting were current staff members of the Embassy who had been their torturers in Iran prior to their escape.  We came to love them, respect them, pray for them and pray with them.

It has been a very unexpected but rewarding journey as I have witnessed a people being maligned, misrepresented, oppressed and mistreated and even killed.  In response they have refused to seek revenge and have worked quietly but strongly for the freedom and respect they, their families and the people living in Iran deserve.

And Mohammad is a constant source of inspiration for me in my desire to be like Jesus.