Sunday, June 22, 2008

Post-Regent post 2

In our final day of class we talked about how in closed countries we must be sensitive and make the most of opportunities to talk about Jesus with people of other faiths but recognise the danger we put ourselves and them in when we do so. We then went on to talk about being sensitive to those around us in Western countries who get offended when we seek to talk to them about Christianity.

I think that we have been tricked into thinking that as western Christians we live in closed countries when we in fact do not. A class mate shared how his non-Christians friends have said how they 'do not appreciate it' when he talks to them about Jesus. He, myself and others find ourselves at a loss with how to respond to this because we don't want to offend people.

I cannot speak for anyone else but there have been times when I have attempted to theologically justify not talking about my faith by saying that I do not want my persistence to create a barrier to that person exploring Christianity when 'they are ready'. Other times we act as though if we talked about Jesus the authorities would descend and bad things would happen. We retreat into the hope that if we do enough good things as Christians we will somehow earn the right to be heard (see previous post on pluralism) about Jesus.

I, and I suspect many others, have allowed myself to be tricked by the idea that we should not talk about Jesus unless invited to. As if we were living in a closed country.

But the simple truth is that we do not live in closed countries where it is illegal to talk about Jesus (that time may come but it has not come yet). The honest reason is it suits me to hide behind the fact that I should only talk about Jesus when invited to because I fear that if I instigate the conversation and maybe persevere over a number of conversations the person I am talking to will no longer be my friend or like me. Or 'worse' they may publicly reject me and turn others against me too. Or to put it another way, on some horrible level inside it is more important to me that people like me than that it is that I talk to them honestly about my faith.

Another part of the reason is that I have been tricked into believing the lie that it is intolerant and thereby impolite/socially unacceptable to say that Christianity is right and that other religions are wrong and if I do say either of these things then people will see me as a arrogant.

So much of this is flawed in obvious and less-obvious ways.

To start at the beginning: if it is okay for someone to say to me that they "do not appreciate me" talking about Jesus then it is okay for me to say in return that I do not appreciate them putting a huge area of my life in a category that is out of bounds (but I admit that this would only be fair response if I am regularly talking about how my faith relates to my life and the world in general. It would not be fair if I am only ever talking about the other persons 'need' of Jesus). To be honest, are our non-Christian friends really friends if the center of our existence is not allowed to be talked about?

Secondly, how on earth am I going to know when a person is 'ready' to explore Christianity?!? I completely accept that the Holy Spirit giving us nudges towards certain people but we have got to be more proactive than that. The book of Acts (13:42, 44, 45, 48; 14:1; 17:17) and the history of Christianity is full of people taking the initiative and persevering and people responding in a number of different ways. Sure, we need to be wise and know when to let it go but I know that if I am honest I generally back down because I am ready to end the conversation and have the person still like me rather than because it is time for the conversation to end (and maybe picked up again in the future).

Thirdly, we do need to accept that people are going to reject us for being Christians (John 15:18, 19). I want to be liked and the idea of being rejected is something I fear. I do not know why this causes me (and maybe you) so much trouble, but I suspect it is because I revere what others think of me more than I revere God. The example of the apostles in Acts 5 humbles me greatly. Sure, we need to be sure that it is Jesus that is the offense and not us but these days we are so caught up in being good (and as I have said in previous posts, we should be known as good people) that I don't think we need to worry too much about that just yet. We should worry more about whether we have even mentioned Jesus at all!

Fourthly, we need to correctly understand what tolerance means. I did a quick check on definitions (1, 2, 3) and they all talk about the acceptance or recognizing and respecting of differing views, not accepting that all views are equally right. We can respect differing views without agreeing with them. It is not arrogant or intolerant for me to say that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that I disagree with atheists, Muslims, Hindus Buddhists etc. over who Jesus is. We do not all believe the same things about him so therefore we cannot all be right. People who accuse us of being intolerant are the ones who are actually being intolerant! They are pretty much saying that you can hold any view providing you agree that everyone else could also be right. That is not tolerance it is confusion.

I must end on a personally frustrating, but honest, note. I was thinking of all the above as I flew home and got chatting with the person on the plane next to me and she asked me about what I had been studying about world religions whilst at Regent college. I am ashamed to admit that I realised after the conversation that what was foremost in my mind was how to answer her question in a way that would leave her thinking good of me. I was with a colleague at a public meeting a couple of months back and she was asked the question "you don't actually try and convert students do you?" to which she replied "yes". We chatted afterwards as to how awkward we feel saying that (in retrospect I think some of the awkwardness comes from some of the negative connotations that come with the word convert but that would take more words I have gone on long enough already). I long to be able to give an honest, gracious answer without being swayed by fear. What I am writing here is far from what I practise but it is something that with God's grace I want to strive to towards beginning to practise.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Post-Regent Post 1

Here are some of my musings regarding Christian missionaries and cultural imperialism. I recognise that some of what I say is overly simplistic and generalistic but this is a blog post and not an essay so please be generous as your read this if your understanding of Christian history is broader than mine.

While I was in Canada there was a formal apology from the leading political parties regarding the residential schools that were started by churches and funded by the government. Children from the age of six to sixteen were taken from their native Indian homes and placed into one of the boarding schools. They were beaten if they used their native language, and many children were both physically and sexually abused. Many of the children never saw their families again. The schools operated for some 80 years with the express intention of to "kill the Indian in the child".

I am not quite sure why but being in Canada I felt a need to apologise too. I have previously resisted being held accountable for the actions of previous generations, after all they were nothing to with me, I wasn't even born! But this time I came to realise that I need to recognise and where appropriate apologise for actions committed by my people. Not that I am in any way personally responsible for what happened, but as the representatives of those who have gone before we need to recognise the damage that our ancestors inflicted and respond appropriately. My changed reaction also highlighted to me how I identify myself: I am firstly a Christian and secondly English. The fact that it was primarily English settlers that started the schools did not grieve me as much as the fact that is was Christians who started these schools. It was primarily as a Christian that I am sorry for what happened. It was at least mildly encouraging that the churches in Canada had formally apologised some ten years previously.

The same day the apology was issued we reached chapter 15 in the book of Acts which is the council of Jerusalem where the early church leaders met to discuss whether the Gentile believers should be required to be circumcised. The council agreed that it would be wrong to require the Gentiles to continue a practise that was primarily Jewish and had no value regarding salvation. My mind immediately skipped forward nearly two thousand years to the early Christian settlers in Canada (and New Zealand and Australia for that matter) who arrived with the view that in order to be a Christian you had to basically abandon all indigenous cultural practises and practise Christianity as the settlers did. Now this is not to say that all Christian missionaries held this view, and I recognise that the missionaries did much to help the Aborigines that they encountered, and I recognise that there are various practises that the indigenous peoples who became Christians would have to break from (same as when the council of Jerusalem reminded the Gentiles to abstain from the sexual immorality that was common place at that time). But the language of "kill the Indian" shows that then as now Christians still wrestle with a number of issues as to what Christianity should look like in different cultural contexts. Makes me wonder how much of what I see as Christian practise is cultural and how much of it is biblical. Bearing in mind the Jerusalem council and that Christians have struggled with this in the last one hundred years we would be foolish to think that any of us are beyond making similar mistakes.

An editorial in a Canadian newspaper the following day was very striking. The title was "Apology meaningless without atonement". The understanding of Christ atonement on the cross has come increasingly under attack (I suppose it always has been in some way or another but I am particularly aware of it at present) from various Christian leaders and academics. The view that Jesus took the punishment for the sins of those who put their faith in Him seems objectionable to some. I find it interesting that inbuilt into the way the world thinks is that where someone is wronged there is a price to be paid. The editorial in the newspaper recognised that it was not enough for the government to apologise, there was a price to be paid in order to make things right with the Indian peoples but that it still would not undo what had been done. In the same way there is a price to be paid in order for sin to be dealt with. It is not enough to only apologise to God. Jesus death on the cross pays that price. Because the one who committed no sin died in our place, God no longer sees what we have done as what we have done. He sees us as being right with Him.
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:11 - 21
Thinking about how I cannot atone for what was done in the name of Christianity has made me realise in a new way again how amazing it is that Jesus death on the cross atones for all of my sin.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


So having 10 or so hours in Sydney on the way back to New Zealand I thought I'd go for a bit of an explore.

Sydney Harbour Bridge View from Sydney Harbour Bridge

I paid about $10 and climbed some 200 steps to a look out point on from the Sydney Harbour bridge. The bridge is quite a site to behold, having been built some 70 years ago, and the view over the city from the top was breath taking.

Sydney Opera House Sydney Opera House

I guess the other obvious land mark is the Sydney Opera house. It really is an interesting shape and I had not realised before how if you put the shapes of the building together it makes a sort of oval.

Flying Fox
I also had time to explore some of the gardens where I was surprised by the number of flying foxes (the bat-like creature above) there were sleeping in the trees (literally hundreds!) as well as some of the more colouful wildlife that was still around.

After that is was time to head back to Windy Wellington. However this time rather than being windy it was foggy. At close to midnight we got diverted to Auckland because it was too foggy to land in Wellington. So at about 1am I joined a queue of 7 other planes full of people who found themselves in Auckland unexpectedly. Air New Zealand did a great job finding hotels for us all to stay in. So after 5 hours sleep in Auckland I then headed back to the airport and flew on to Wellington. It's good to be back.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

An end has a start

The title of this post is taken from an album by the Editors which I am enjoying, but today also marks the end of my trip to Regent. I have had an encouraging, humbling, strengthening, tiring, rejuvenating and envisioning time. I have some musings in my head that I am hoping will come together more in my head on the flight home. But I wanted to say a HUGE thank you to the Reese-Thomas family for being such amazing hosts, they have just been brilliant to live with. I am also thankful to the my class mates, students and staff at Regent who have obviously been vital to my experience at Regent.

On the last but one day of the spring school a couple from globalization class very kindly took the class teacher and I out sailing into the harbour. We had an amazing time and I am very thankful! My first trip out on sail boat too! Above is a picture taken from the boat of Vancouver city.

It's Saturday night here and I'm about to board my flight to Sydney and I've managed to sort an electronic visa to go out an explore Sydney (seeing as I have about 10 hours there!) so will go out to explore for a bit and hopefully take some more pictures.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Regent Post 3: Pluralism Ah-ha

Today saw a very early start for me: I was out of the house by 6:30am in order to be on campus for 8am! Feel okay so far by the end of the week I think I'm going to be exhausted. I don't really do mornings!

So today we spent some time thinking about pluralism and it has helped me begin to get my head around some issues.

Pluralism used to pretty much mean "all religions lead to the same God in the end", the different religions are "different approaches up the same mountain". But that definition has had to be changed because not all religions even have a God. All religions lead to God is too theistic so it has now become: "different religions are how we approach the real". The 'real' becomes a blanket term for God, nirvana or enlightenment (depending upon which religion you follow).

This in and of itself is a tremendously arrogant statement because it redefines what different religions believe in a way that followers of each religion would not agree with. The pluralists are still looking in from the outside saying "we know best", they are just doing it to more religions.

The appeal of pluralism is obvious on some levels (it allows for all religions to more or less be dismissed and elevates each individual to supremacy as they are free to chose for themselves what it right/real) and not so obvious on others (any exclusive truth claim might result in another religious group responding in violence. If we can agree that all religions are basically the same then religiously motivated violence might be avoided).

But what was a key understanding for me was realising how pluralists compare the different religions. Their primary criteria is practical: how good the followers of each particular religion are. Doctrine/belief is a lesser criteria.

If the primary criteria is how morally good we are then on some levels you can see why some pluralists reach the conclusions that they do. Each religion has followers who have had tremendous effect for good as well as for bad. Much as it may grieve us to admit it this is true of Christianity.

But as a result of this I think some Christians have been tricked into fighting on the pluralists ground. We try and prove how good we are (be it campaigning for social justice through to acts of service in our community) in order to appeal to people to consider Christianity. Now at this point don't miss-hear me, I am convinced that as Christians we should be involved in these things, it is clear outworking of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. But it is not the grounds that we should use calling others to follow Christ or to prove Christianity. When we do that we are playing the pluralists at their game and we will lose because they will still say that there is no significant difference between our good deeds and the good deeds of those who aren't Christian.

So what is a way forward? We ran out of time to discuss that in class but here are some of my reflections so far:
  1. Fight on the real battle field. The real criteria is not how good people are, but how the things that we have done wrong are dealt with. When people try to argue that Christians are no different, we shouldn't get sucked into comparisons over how good Christians have or haven't been (now or in the past). Point them to the certainty that only the gospel of Jesus Christ gives for forgiveness of sins. People are repelled by this and always have been but that is not an excuse to point them to things they may find less objectionable.
  2. If people are looking for an example of what it means to be 'good' point them to the best example: Jesus.
  3. Recognise that we are called to be different and in God's grace and with His help, live differently, and be willing to admit our mistakes.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The weekend

me on Cyprus MountainAlastair and Nancy on Cyprus Mountain
So today (Saturday) Nancy and Alastair took me on a sight seeing tour of Vancouver. We went up Cyprus mountain which has an stunning view over Vancouver. In the winter you can actually ski/snowboard down Cyprus and it will be one of the venues for the 2010 Olympics. We also went through Stanley park which is a huge reserve pretty much right on the edge of the central district. In many ways Vancouver reminds me of Auckland (but with way better surroundings). It has a central city with lots of residential areas sprawling out around it.

We also went to the Space center where there is a huge sculpture of a metal crab outside and I got to take another shot of a eagle (much clearer this time) in a nearby tree.

Crab Sculpture
We also drove by a river side to visit Alastair and Nancy's niece's birthday party. Everyone got a bit of a surprise when a naked bicycle (as in people riding bicycles without clothes) tour group turned up! Very interesting cultural experience!

In the evening I went to visit the local Intervarsity (equivalent of TSCF/UCCF) group summer bible study meeting. Was nice to be able to visit another IFES group and get a glimpse of how they operate.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Regent post 2

So today I narrowly avoided a near death experience by looking the wrong way when crossing the road and walking in front of a car. I realised in time so no harm done!

I am loving the fellowship and teaching at Regent! Today I had lunch with some of this years new students (A swede, a Canadian and an Australian) and heard their reflections on life at Regent and how they've found studying. Everyone is so friendly, it's great!

Today's class provided more food for thought:

We reflected on the experience off some of the 19th century missionaries to India and how what they thought were Theological statements (e.g. "Your sacred texts are not divine in origin") were heard as insults (e.g. "you are abusing our religion"). I had been taught similar things in Thailand, what Buddhists think we mean when we use the phrase "born again" (i.e. reincarnation) is very different from what Christians mean by it. It is stating the obvious to a degree but thought we may speak the same language as other people, we cannot assume the words we use carry the meaning we intend to all those who are listening - especially when working cross-culturally.

The other interesting reflection of the day was on how the word "religion" has pretty much become a dirty word associated with oppression, lack of openness, boring institutions and ritualism. The word "spiritual" on the other hand has become far more popular and associated with freedom, flexibility, openness, and personal experience. Which leaves me with question of should I describe myself as a spiritual persons? Using the term "religion" when talking about Christianity has carried negative connotations for a while so has stopped being used by many and I can understand why. But I am not comfortable with what it means to be "spiritual" either. I recognise that there is definitely a place for creativity and that we will spend the rest of our lives exploring what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. But there are boundaries between being a "spiritual person" as the rest of the world seems to define it and being a Christian. But I suspect there is much discussion to be had as to where those boundaries lie. Praise God that He didn't leave us in the dark but gave us the bible, His Spirit, and each other as we explore these kinds of issues.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Regent post 1

So I am now 3 days into my studies at Regent and I'm having a great time! The book store has a wonderful collection of books and is having a sale. The students studying the same course as me have been really friendly as have the students who are here longer term. It has been great chatting over coffee and lunch and hearing other peoples experiences of Christian work and study at Regent. I have also been encouraged by the warmth and enthusiasm that there is from both staff and students (several of whom have worked with IFES in various countries around the world)towards IFES and the pivotal role it has played in the discipleship of so many. It has reminded me again of the privilege it is to be involved in student ministry and how God has and continues to use the work of IFES.

The classes have been very stimulating. It has been really interesting and helpful hearing reflections and thoughts from people in the class as we come from varied backgrounds and perspectives. A couple of particular interesting points in our studies so far have been:
  • Exploring the run up to the Great Commission in the Gospel of Matthew with particular reference to Matthew 5 as an explanation of what it means to be a disciple and how that might be worked out in our making disciples
  • Looking at definitions of the words 'culture', 'worldview' and 'religion' and how we sometimes interchange the words culture and worldview when they mean different things, and how all three terms mean distinct things but in practise are closely related and how what they relate to overlaps

Monday, June 02, 2008

Day 4

Got a surprise this morning in that I looked in the mirror to find I have got a sunburned head! Not as bad as times I have burnt it in NZ but it is a little sore none the less. Does still seem a little bizarre that I could get sun burn on a mountain where there are people skiing but hey. Having confessed that I had done some singing in my dim and distant past I got asked if I would be up for singing in the music group at the church that Alastair and Nancy were visiting today. I really enjoyed it. Not last because the group were a joy to be a part of but also because of the songs we got to sing including some great hymns that I have not sung in a long while. We also sung the hymn "Come, Thou fount of every blessing" which I have not sung before but found the words helpful and the tune very memorable. The church was really welcoming and overall an encouraging time.

In the afternoon Alastair took me out into the river on their boat which was heaps of fun! I nearly fell in the river but it was only nearly. I have come to realise that I do like going fast. Yesterday it was the ATV today it was a boat! I am having a great time!

Tomorrow is the start of classes at Regent and I am looking forward to getting into it. May not blog again for a couple of days but we'll see how things go.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Day 3

So today I got to go on the All Terrain Vehicle tour! It was amazing! After a quick (and mildly terrifying: "If you feel your vehicle overturning don't put your foot down or the vehicle will land on you and break your leg") we got going. We drove through mud pits, round mountain tracks, fast and slow. Personally I'd have loved to go faster but that probably would have ended up with me hurting myself and or others. All in all the five of us on the tour had a great time. After that tour the five of us went for lunch together and chatted about where we were from (Canada, New Zealand/UK and Jamaica). Which is a great example of how friendly Canadians are. There are not many places I can think of where four complete strangers would suggest that we have lunch together. It was really nice.

From there I caught the train back to Vancouver where I was picked up by my very kind hosts. Below is a picture of the train and some of the beautiful scenery that there is around Vancouver.